Sunday, March 01, 2009

NREGA and Indian maps in R

A few days ago I was reading an article by Jean Drèze and his colleagues on how the first two years of National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (NREGA) has progressed (There was another article by Drèze on NREGA in 2007). The NREGA is empowering the rural people in a radical way:

[ ...] NREGA programmes visualise a decisive break with the past. Ever since independence, rural development has largely been the monopoly of local contractors, who have emerged as major agents of exploitation of the rural poor, especially women. Almost every aspect of these programmes, including the schedule of rates that is used to measure and value work done, has been tailor-made for local contractors. These people invariably tend to be local power brokers. They implement programmes in a top-down manner, run roughshod over basic human rights, pay workers a pittance and use labour-displacing machinery.

NREGA is poised to change all that. It places a ban on contractors and their machines. It mandates payment of statutory minimum wages and provides various legal entitlements to workers. It visualises the involvement of local people in every decision — whether it be the selection of works and work-sites, the implementation of projects or their social audit.

After going through the articles I thought about reproducing the color (gray) coded maps. Of course the best tool to do this would be R. It took a few days to figure out how to do this. The rest of the post (hopefully clearly) will be on how to produce an Indian map gray coded with literacy rate of the state.
  • I assume you have R installed. If not please go to and install R.
  • Next you have to install a CRAN package maptools.
    • Instructions on installing packages is here.
  • If you want a quick introduction to R, I would recommend this terrific tutorial which uses baseball statistics for illustration.
Now on to the exciting part of producing Indian maps:
  • First we need an Indian map. Fortunately there is a free Indian map although it is little old. You can download the Indian map from here.
    • Extract the zip file in an directory and let us call this directory "dir"
  • I got the literacy data [PDF] from the Indian Budget website and put it as a csv file here. Please download it and rename it as literacy.csv and place it in the same directory ("dir") as the maps.
    • Note: I removed a few states (Jharkhand, Chhattisgarh, Uttaranchal) from the original data since the Indian map we have is little dated and does not contain these states. Maybe later on we can figure out how to draw the boundaries for those states.
The code is straightforward. I adapted the code from more specifically fig14.R there.

# packages for manipulating and mapping spatial data

# set the working directory

# replace dir with your own path

# read the shapefile with the digital boundaries

india <- readShapePoly("india_st")


# read the literacy file

literacy <- read.csv("literacy.csv")


rrt <- literacy$X2001

brks <- quantile(rrt, seq(0,1,1/7), na.rm=T)

cols <- grey(2:(length(brks))/length(brks))

dens <- (2:length(brks))*3

plot(india,col=cols[findInterval(rrt, brks, all.inside=TRUE)])


Here is the output if everything goes fine. Darker shades means dire literacy levels.

Saturday, January 29, 2005

Sri ``Vasool'' Ram M.S., M.S. (Part 2)

Apart from K7 in late 1999/early 2000s, MS was without doubt the most popular guy in our batch. Most of his tales are legendary and worth recounting.

Why was he called Vasool?

The was named so because of our beloved sidekick Hari. Remember him from K7 episode?
Hari had a friend Lenin, named presumably after the Soviet leader. In the first year, when MS was going to his home in Delhi on a vacation, Lenin asked MS to buy few shirts for him. It was understood that the money would be paid once Lenin gets the shirts. But Lenin fluffed his lines prompting an unprecedented rage from the normal cool MS. Enraged MS chased Lenin and his close buddy Hari around G block like a mad man. This reminded people of ஈட்டிக்காரன் (money lender) and he was named Vasool.

What is his biggest claim to fame?

MS தமிழ் (Tamil), a language of his own. I thought he was doing தமிழ் (Tamil) a disservice till Udit Narayan and co. gave the language a totally different dimension.

The feature of his language was the twist to well known phrases. A sampling is given below. If you know of some more please put it down in comments. Thanks.

கப்பல் மானம் ஏறிடிச்சு
யானைக்கு மடி சறுக்கும்

Only Machi has twisted any language to a greater comic effect. Sample this, ''Face your wash'' instead of ''Wash your face ''.


Friday, January 28, 2005

Sri ``Vasool'' Ram M.S., M.S. (Part 1)

If a book were to be written on any of my classmates, the most interesting would be the one on MS. A book on K7 though funny would have share of its own tragic moments. My definition of interesting is being funny. If you are Kollywood fan then one of our fellow bloggers story will win hands down. His years in USA has led him to being the expert on all kinds questions a desi student won't/mustn't/shouldn't/ain't face in USA. We will talk about him some time later, now we will turn to our attention to MS.

Most of what follows is true.

Many people reading the title might be under the wrong impression that it was lifted from Vasoolraja MBBS. Infact, most important scene in that movie கட்டிபிடி வைத்தியம் (Kattipidi vaithiyam) was pioneered at our college by MS. The technique was originally developd by MS to calm people down not to cure people as shown in the movie. Unfortunately it did not calm down people, it made them more mad. The more they were mad more faster they got out of MS bear hug. Many conspiracy theories are abound about the reason. It is said that he used a Cuticura talcum powder tubba for 4 years.

As usual with any thinker he was derided by his own people for these kind of techniques. It took some Bollywood guy to spin money out of this simple but original idea. Unlike the dark ages, hopefully we will understand this original thinker in his own time.

MS was born in a family of winners. He never wanted to take the beaten track of being a winner i.e. going to the elite institutes of technology like his uncle/aunt/cousin did.

He persuaded his father to get a seat in an obscure college in a lifeless town. Although he had great connections in the college he never flaunted it like few of his much derided classmates did. He went great lengths to remain faceless and nameless. But his lineage was such that it was very hard for him to keep his genes in check.


Wednesday, January 26, 2005

Hockey videos

I forgot to mention that in the last post. You can watch the Dutch league and the Champions Trophy matches at
Most of the videos are free.

Also the revered Balkishen Singh, brain behind Total hockey passed away few days back. May his soul rest in peace.

Total Hockey

As the PHL gets popularity the one thing which struck me was the extra time rules. In the first extra half there are only 9 players and the in the second extra half it gets reduced 7 players. As usual it is good time for nostalgia.

I played hockey in for few years in the early 90s in my school. I was not good due to lack of athleticism and zero stamina. But I was pretty good at tackling and distributing the passes. I played at the right half for my class and keenly studied the hockey book by Horst Wein, the FIH master coach.

Wein correctly points that hockey is a highly theoretical game and for the young minds to understand there must a logical progression in the complexity of rules. He suggested that there should 5/7/9 player teams for younger ones. This will give more chances for the young players to develop their game. Alas, our coach was unwilling to accept this idea and he as usual
in India he wasn't very happy with a student suggesting something.

Our coach stressed on dribbling and he said that is going to make or break a player. Passing and receiving sadly never got a mention. I am not sure if the same outdated techniques are taught in subcontiental schools. I firmly believe that hockey has gone from being an art to that of science and we need coaches who are well versed in strategy and tactics. The one man army which was last seen when Shahbaz Ahmed led Pakistan to victory in 1994 Sydney world cup is a long distant memory.

The most interesting strategy I saw was the total hockey concept played by the Indians in 1992 Barcelona Olympics and in few years preceding it. Pargat would attack/defend and so would everybody in the 11. It was exciting as it lasted but dumped because the Indians as usual flattered to deceive in Barcelona. If I am right they were beaten by Argentina in the first match. It would be good to see some team attempt this in PHL. I don't know what formation the teams play 5/3/2 or 4/4/2 in PHL.

More memories as we get little tangential here.

As Indian hockey descended into dark ages in the 90s two matches stand out in my memory.

The SAF Games final against Pakistan when Sanjeev Kumar as the inside forward literally tore apart Pakistan. Sadly, Sanjeev was paritally blind and he was dumped by KPS Gill one of my saddest sporting memories. It is another story that Sanjeev was still the best playmaker in India despite being partially blind.

Another match which stood out was at the Hockey club of Pakistan, Karachi in 1998 when Sameer Dad scored two brilliant goals to win the match. This came after a heart breaking loss at Lahore. I don't remember much except that Dad was playing around with Pak defenders. Glad to see Sameer playing for the Sultans after being almost forgotten.

But the worst moment for the Indian Hockey came in 2000 Olympics when they lost a semifinals place by a whisker. It was golden opportunity for hockey with cricket discredited due to match fixing and as usual the chance went abegging. Then VVS Laxman came out to play an innings of a lifetime to seal the fate of hockey in India.

Hopefully KPS/Jothi will be thrown out and a professional management will take over Indian Hockey. It seems one too many wishes but for the sake of hockey it should happen.

Monday, January 17, 2005

நவாப் of குடியாத்தம்

Continuing with my recollections of the most interesting people I have met over the years. I find this an interesting exercise and if anyone finds it offensive let me know.

Tiger, The Nawab of Gudiyatham

The Nawab of Gudiyatham was known to all as Tiger Gudi and his truly inspiring story is recounted here. It is hard to do justice to all the work he done over the last 26 years in such a short essay. Hopefully the words in the blog will reflect the spirit of a truly remarkable man.

In 1969, Indira Gandhi stripped the Rajas and Princes of their titles and purses. Thus people like Nawab of Pataudi jr. had to take their baptized name. The Nawab of Pataudi jr. was credited in scorecards as Mansur Ali Khan Pataudi after 1969. He was called Tiger because he would swoop on the ball like a Tiger in the field. But our man was called Tiger for very different reasons.

Arcot was once a princely state and Gudiyatham was a part of it. In 1978, our little Tiger was born in Gudiyatham. He had been stripped of his royal title even before he was born. Thus instead of being called The Nawab of Gudiyatham, he was baptized Khalid Ali Khan. But local people still called him the Nawab. In 1993, during many of his shooting expeditions he killed a Tiger thus saving a kid la Kollywood style. So people started calling him Tiger Gudi.

In his first 15 years he led a protected life, like never visiting the town where the real people lived. At the age of 15, an incident which changed his life happened. One fine wintry morning, his charioteer being absent he took a stroll. As fate would have it, none of the palace guardians watched him go over to the real world. He walked aimlessly and found new places in Gudiyatham la Gautama Buddha. Tiger was reduced to tears seeing the poverty and took
a lorry to Trichirapalli. There he met his spiritual guru Swami Premananda.

Premananda told him,
``இராஜா! நீ உலகத்தைப் புரிஞ்க்க Polytechnic போய் படி. அதோட 7 வருசத்துக்கு நீ யாருக்கும் தெரியாம இருக்கனும்.''.
(Translation To understand life go and study in Polytechnic. Also you should not be recognized by anybody you know for the next 7 years)

Premananda subtly hinted at Sri Rama who went to 14 years in வனவாசம் (vanvasa). Tiger took his word and deciphered his hint. He took to Hinduism to avoid recognition. In 1997, after 3 years in Polytechnic he wanted to acquire more knowledge in Electronics and life. He wanted to meet Premananda to seek his advise. But Premananda caught in some sleaze scandals was spending time in jail. He had topped his class and his teachers said that he had to go to a college to get a better deal in life. Tiger thought it was divine hint for having education in life as well as Electronics. Thus Gudi spent his next 3 years in an obscure college.

His classmates behaved as if they were from royal lineage. Tiger was usually thrashed during the birthday bumps. He took all this humiliation with equanimity knowing that one day he will be able to get even.

During 1999 malicious rumors were spread about his eating habits. Tiger and Sriram aka Sethji were rumored to have survived on Tiger biscuits which cost 2 rupees per packet for the entire summer. People laughed and somebody estimated that they had spent less than 100 rupees for food over those 2 months. What a joke! Peoples imagination knows no bound. This is one of the jokes designed to malign Tiger's reputation. I felt sorry for him.

Tiger spent another year of his sanyas in an obscure company. In 2001, his sanyas was over he had a complete make over. He took a position with UT-Star in early 2001. Quite fittingly for a man of royal lineage he spent most of time in traveling in air and in 5 star hotels. The latest I heard was that he is with Cisco Bangalore. There are unconfirmed rumors that he is the
next CEO in making.

May God be with Tiger as he guides Cisco into the next level of competition.

Sunday, January 09, 2005

Everybody loves Kesavan

This post is about a fellow named Kesavan whose genius for wit is almost unparalleled. Kesavan visited me and Sree on 31 Dec 2004 at my Sister's home in Chicago. We were meeting after April 2000.

Kesavan refers himself as K7 after the Super-Spy 007. Very few people I have met or listened to, had his timing and ability to make a witty comment instantaneously. Though his detractors do not think he is that good and call him Kosavan. I am an unabashed admirer of his brand of comedy and it was refreshing to see that he has not changed one bit over the last 4 years.

There are many incidents which were hilarious but nothing tops the following incident with his unfortunate sidekick Hariharan. A word about Hari, he always had knack of wrong side of the practical jokes prepetrated by K7. To be fair, Hari was not as bad as the greatest scapegoat of all Gudi. Hopefully I will one day post a blog on Tiger Gudi.

This particular incident happened when Mama, Jagan, K7, Hari were going to an exhibition in the VOC Park. These four were the original Thunderboyz who lost the thunder as they expanded in the final year. I have not introduced Jagan and Mama yet. Jagan has become Jack Lee and he maintains a pretty interesting blog. Joseph Langton Naveen was called Mama because of his நாரதர் (Naradar) like mentality. He was interested in creating trouble and unlike Naradar he never ventured to solve them. So he was named மாமா (Mama).

On that fateful day, some of the girls from our class boarded the bus. Hari as usual wanted to put some படம் (padam) in front of girls. He wanted to show off his foot board skills to the girls. Since Mama was a rotund figure (at that time) he disappeared deep into the bus but not before being humiliated by Hari by the following immortal lines,

நிக்கிற பஸ்ல ஏற மாட்டோம்
நிக்கிற பஸ்ல இறங்க மாட்டோம்

which roughly translates to ``We won't get in or get out of a standing bus''. Fate as usual frowned upon Hari for this rude gesture and taught him a lesson in the next stop. The foot boarders usually start to get in as the bus starts moving, this time Hari couldn't get his timing right. K7 had got it right and extended his hand to Hari. Now a pure K7 magic moment.

As bus started gaining momentum he held Hari's hand tightly and made Hari run as fast as he could. Poor Hari who by now had realized that he is not going to make it to footboard starts begging K7 to let him go. Jagan who watched this says that Hari's eyes had the look of the man who had seen the ghost. K7 let him go after a few more agonizing moments. Few moments for us but an eternity for poor Hari. Jagan can help us filling in some of the missing details and what happened next to our poor Hari after they got back to the hostel

The other incident shows the little known facet of the multi-talented K7. K7 for all his comic genius was a real good student. He had misfortune of having Ghazanavi type reputation at the interviews. His legend spread so far and wide that most of the college knew his name though not his face. By attending so many interviews he attained proficiency in all the subjects we were supposed to learn but never did in our bachelors.

So proficient was he that our mutual friend Babu said he was the most complete Electrical Engineer he had seen in his life. Babu had been a colleague of K7 at his first company Dishnet.
K7 after 6 months got an interview call from CTS and he has been there ever since.

I met Babu once on a train and he told me that I must feel proud to to have known K7. True.
It is real privilege to have known this wonderful guy.

The title Everybody loves Kesavan was inspired by Everybody loves Raymond and it was suggested by Sree. Why did this title come up in the first place? Hopefully there will be an another post explaining that!

As a postscript, Mama has reduced his girth while Hari has compensated by increasing his!

Sunday, January 02, 2005

7/G Rainbow colony

Watched this movie yesterday. As with any movie had its up and downs. Sonia Aggarwal as Anitha acted beautifully. I always thought the actress imported from Mumbai were glamdolls. But Simran and Sonia are an exception. I don't think anybody else would have done the character justice. Ravi Krishna is more than adequate and the supporting cast do their job.

The main point of this post is the sort of deja vu I had when I watched the movie. In 1973, K. Balachander made a remarkable movie espousing family planning. Now it is better remembered for Kamal Hassan's acting debut as an adult. This movie was titled Arangetram and its heroine Pramila lived rather than acted in it.

If you didn't watch Arangetram or 7G, there are spoilers ahead.

In Arangetram, the heroine is forced to be prostitute to support her family. The hero Sivakumar accepts her though she is a prostitute. Just when you think the director is brave and going to challenge the societal conventions, he backs off and makes her mad. It is one of most moving scenes in the Tamil film history. Probably 30 years back, KB thought that people would not accept a prostitute marrying and had a simple solution of making her insane.

In 7G, again there was a letdown. The lead pair have pre-marital sex. Just when you thought there was going to be a bold ending, the director takes an inspiration from KB by making it even more tragic. Kill the heroine and make the hero mad.

Not many people may like 7G or Arangetram but I like them for 2 particular reasons.

1) Exploring relationships in depth
2) Having a strong role for the female

KB did both really well most memorably with Pramila in Arangetram. Sujatha in Avargal and Saritha in Achamillai Achamillai & Thaneer Thaneer were the other movies I could think of. I think Selvaraghavan is following the path of KB. Hopefully we will get to see more good movies from Selvaraghavan soon.