You hear the controller say “Cessna 4-3-0-2-Lima, Runway 27, cleared for take off.” Your pilot looks around to make sure you're all belted in and then makes eye contact -- “ready to fly?” he asks. You nod eagerly. The next few seconds are a bit of a blur – the rapidly increasing sound of the engine, racing down the runway and then suddenly all that seems to fade away as the aircraft gracefully leaves the ground beneath it. You look down at the little planes dotting Oakland airport as they get smaller, and then suddenly you hold your breath – just beyond the boundary of the airport, the magnificent structure of the Oakland Arena and Coliseum have come into view – your once-in-a-lifetime experience of a flying tour of San Francisco Bay has begun!
You spend the next 45 minutes looking down on the traffic on the Nimitz Freeway, imagining what a traffic reporter's job would be like, admire the beautiful colors of the spinnakers on the sailboats in the bay, look down on Alcatraz island, as tourists disembark from the tour boat to begin their visit to the island prison, and finally, look down on the wonderful rust-red Golden Gate bridge in a way that few of your friends can.
In my own case, there was never any doubt that I'd become a pilot. I grew up on Air Force bases in India, watching my pilot father fly fighter aircraft every day as part of his job as a test pilot in the Indian Air Force.
Beside a year of gliding in New Delhi's Safdarjang airport, I never got a chance to pursue my love of flying in India. From friends who became civilian pilots in India, I heard horror stories of the challenges of learning to fly in India – the high cost, limited facilities, unreliable aircraft, unprofessional flying schools and instructors, yada, yada, yada...
But when I moved to the US, finally realizing that dream was, truly, a piece of cake. I enrolled in a flying school in Hayward, and within a few weeks, had soloed, and was well on my way to earnings my Private Pilot's License. 5 months later, I passed a 'check-ride' with an FAA examiner, and was rewarded with a typewritten document that authorized me to rent planes and carry passengers. My wife was my first passenger, and our first flight was a lovely day trip around the San Francisco bay, over the Golden Gate bridge, and then to Half Moon Bay for a wholesome brunch at the '30 cafe' at the airport there, named after one of the runways, Runway 30.
Over the years, we've taken trips as far South as San Diego, North to Oregon (Crater Lake, with another flying couple – we shared costs and flying responsibilities) and Eureka / Arcata, East to Yosemite, Lake Tahoe / Reno and a number of small places that we otherwise would never have visited. I've taken hundreds of friends on the 'Bay Tour' I described earlier. All of them return with a wow on their lips, plenty of unique photographs, and an overall feeling of awe.
Many people ask me about flying and I then realize that there are many myths about earnings a pilots license that serve as a barrier to discovering this truly fascinating sport. I hope to dispel some of them here.
The first and most oft-quoted barrier is the cost of flying. A flying license generally costs $5,000, give or take $1,000 – the actual costs depend on how long you take to earn your license, since students generally rent an aircraft and pay instructors by the hour (these represent the largest segment of costs of your training). Since most working folks can only fly weekends, this means it'll take you 5-6 months to complete the necessary hours, which means you'll end up spending $1,000 or so a month.
On an ongoing basis, you pay for the time you rent an aircraft and for the fuel you use when you fly it. I fly every other weekend, so it costs me $150-200 a month to maintain my hobby. You'd agree that's a pretty reasonable price to pay for such a wonderful and unique activity.
The economics are pretty good on a long trip too. For example, on the trip to San Diego, we flew for a total of 7.5 hours. So although we had the plane for the three days of the labor day weekend, I only paid for hours flown, and the trip therefore cost me around $600. Given that we were four of us, it works out to $150 a head, slightly under the $160 Southwest Airlines would've charged us to get there and back. The best part was, we were in San Diego by 9:30 AM, while on Southwest we would only have been there by 1:00 PM.
The second question people ask me is whether it's safe. There's no denying that there is an element of risk involved in flying, like there is in any sport. However, the risks in flying are not significantly greater than lots of other activities that we indulge in on a regular basis, including driving. Risks are minimized by doing things sensibly – training well, staying current, making the right decisions, ensuring that your aircraft is well maintained, being careful about your preflight, and not putting yourself in situations that exceed your ability. Most accidents are caused by pilots who do dumb things – flying into weather that they're not qualified to handle or in situations that are beyond their capabilities.
Flying makes you take responsibility for your actions in ways that nothing else does. When you're up there alone, there is nobody else to rely on, nobody to blame, and no Escape button to turn to. It teaches you things about yourself that you didn't know existed. A solo flight on a late evening when the setting sun paints the sky with a truly beautiful and sublime palette, even gets you thinking about god.
Of course, if I've convinced you that it's safe and the costs are reasonable, you may still ask me “Why Fly?”. There are many reasons, and each pilot probably has his own; I'll give you some of mine.
To start, I love the freedom that flying gives me – this might sound like cliché, but getting airborne is like being born again – the bonds fall away as you put more distance between your aircraft and the ground.
Second, it gives me the opportunity to visit places that I would never have otherwise considered going to. The beautiful approach into Half Moon Bay airport, for example. Or the view of the Golden Gate from the air. Or the little town of Columbia, in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada, where a short walk from the airport lies a quaint little mining town where you can rent pans and pan for gold, see people in period costumes and even see a horse drawn fire engine.
Lastly, it is an activity that leaves little room for sloppiness – I take pride in staying proficient and current and in the pleasure that a smooth landing in a stiff crosswind gives me. As I mentioned, flying is an activity that demands you take ultimate responsibility for your actions – no excuses or complaints.
How do I start?
Do I have you hooked? Find a flying school in the airport near you and set up an introductory flight with an instructor. Go up (the instructor will let you handle the controls once you are in the air) and see if you like it. If you think flying is for you, discuss a schedule with that instructor that you can financially support, and get started. There are some great resources on the web for beginner pilots -- www.beapilot.com or www.projectpilot.org, for example. All the best, and happy landings!!
Kuari Pass in winter
A few years ago, I made a resolution to try and do at least 3 Himalayan treks a year. While 2020 was almost a complete wash out, I responded eagerly when my good friend and fellow trekker Gautam Gode invited me to join him for the Kuari pass trek in the winter of 2020. His friend, Gaurav Monga, joined in and the trip was on!
The trail for the Kuari Pass trek is reasonably well marked and clearly delineated. The walk per se is not particularly challenging in normal circumstances, the only thing that was different here was that we were doing it in winter, and when we arrived it had snowed for the previous few days and there was therefore a lot of fresh white powder on the ground, something that made experience all the more beautiful.
The trek commences in the village of Kharchi, and the first day is a short 4.5 hour walk , gaining about 1900 feet in altitude, to the Akrotghetta campsite , so called for the beautiful lone Walnut tree [called ‘Akrot’ in Hindi and the local language]. As you reach the Akrotghetta campsite you look around you and see several 6-7000 meter mountain peaks covered in snow and this is what makes the Kuari pass trek especially beautiful -- spectacular views of the snow-capped peaks and the changing character from sunrise to day-time and then sunset. This continues to the next campsite, Khullara.
Since it was winter, it was cold in the morning before the sun hit you, and after the sun dipped below the Hills (which typically happened as early as 4:00 PM). While the sun was shining it was actually quite pleasant. One had to make sure that one properly utilized layering techniques to stay warm, and at night, the trek organizer, India hikes, had provided us with 2 sleeping bags and a liner each, which was more than adequate [in fact on the 3rd night I actually found myself sweating inside the sleeping bag].
The Trek to the pass itself was on the 3rd day and due to ice and snow on the route some members of the group decided not to take a chance , so 12 out of 18 of us managed to actually climb the summit. The views from the summit were even more spectacular because you could see almost 360 degrees around, peaks like Chaukhamba, Kamet, Haathi Parvat, Dunagiri , etc. You just cannot get tired of the views on this particular trek.
The trek group were a mixed bunch -- three TV serial actresses from Bangalore and a good friend of theirs who was a photographer, software engineers from Kerala , a filmmaker from Mumbai and some folks from Delhi. Gautam, Gaurav and I were the three oldest at 52, 50 and 49 years of age, but as I've seen in my half marathons, older people tend to take preparation for such events much more seriously and I do believe the three of us were fitter and therefore typically at the front of the pack when it came to actual walking.
We were also amused to see how surprised some of the folks from the south were with the cold (I've lived in Ambala, Delhi and New York, so I don't count). I guess if you haven't experienced -10 degrees C, you have no idea how cold that can be. We also observed how focused people were on getting their photographs taken, and looking good in them. I am guessing that for the Snapchat - Instagram generation, the primary purpose of the trek is to generate enough material to keep their feed busy for the next year or so!
Wildlife of Uttarakhand is legendary and this trek was no different. On the drive up we were extremely presently surprised to see a full grown leopard by the side of the road leaping up a rivulet. We got only a flashing glimpse of him but it was sure energising. On the way down I happened to see and take some nice photographs of streak-throated woodpecker who was busy pecking away at an old pine tree. I have a photograph of him with a worm in his mouth. Of course we had several Bhutia dogs following us and hanging around the camp, and one night when I stepped out to relieve my bladder, in a flash one of them snuck into my tent and if it wasn't for the alertness of my half asleep tent mate, he would probably have been comfortably sleeping inside my sleeping bag when I returned a few minutes later!
The people of Uttarakhand are special - hardy, friendly, and cheerful, despite the tough conditions under which they have to live and work. Interacting with these folks always makes one realize that there's more to life and joy than material comforts or possessions.
Another beautiful thing that we were fortunate to experience on this trek was a meteor shower. I've always enjoyed looking at the stars at night, and the Milky Way in particular. I was not aware that a meteor shower was in the offing, and was thankful to the trek leader for the heads up. When I stepped out on the night of the 12th, I saw three meteors at the same time and a few minutes later I saw two other meteors , which was an absolutely delightful experience.
The trek organiser, India Hikes, was efficient as usual, and I do think that they have gotten better over the years that I've been trekking with them. We were fortunate this time to have one of their most experienced trek leaders, Dushyant, and he certainly lived up to the reputation that preceded him . Every time I watch a good trek leader in action I have a renewed appreciation of how difficult that job is -- the participants in the trek are customers, and a bad review on Facebook or other social media could have a damming effect on both the career of the trek leader as well as the prospects of the trekking company.
But at the same time, they are team members who have to be commanded, disciplined, motivated, entertained, comforted, and sometimes told “no”. To do all this while maintaining an even keel and smiling face requires a unique set of skills, which one does not see often in the same person, but Dushyant certainly had them in more than adequate measure. Due to the snow, uncertain track, and lack of fitness of some team members, he had to modify the itinerary and order some people down by the easier route, which he handled with tact.
Kuari Pass trek was my first winter trek, and I was happy to see that I was able to handle the conditions, the cold as well as the snow, as well as I thought was necessary. I do believe that winter treks are special because of the very clear day and night skies that you get, the sight of snow on the ground, less crowding in general, and the challenge that the conditions provide. I'm not sure if I'll do one again but I'm certainly glad that I did this one and that it brought otherwise bad year to a wonderful end.
I remembered my mother, who passed away earlier this year, a lot during this trek, particularly when I was on the summit. After every trek, we would sit down and I would project my best photographs on the TV for her, and walk her through a day-by-day account of what had happened, and she would vicariously experience the trek through my descriptions and photographs. I was acutely aware that this time that would not be the case. But on the other hand, she was probably there with me, on my shoulder, finally experiencing what I could see with her own eyes.
How to think about failure
During the first workshop of the Stanford Seed Transformation Program, we play a video featuring business leaders from past cohorts, titled "Problem Solvers". One thing they speak about is how often they've failed and how they learned valuable lessons from those failures. It almost seems like they're glorifying failure (you know, the regular clichés: "if you haven't failed you aren't trying hard enough"). This prompted me to think about how we should think about failure.
While there is merit to the idea that an organization shouldn't vilify failure, or punish someone for failing, Jesper Sorenson puts it well when he says "I don't have a problem with well-intentioned failure" (emphasis added). In other words, don't encourage an environment in which people are being reckless, or failing for the sake of failing. The failure must be well-intentioned, in that you thought you had the wrong answer, but it turns out you didn't.
Second, make sure that lessons from failure are well learned, throughout the organization. Any mistakes should (as far as possible), be new mistakes. If you shrug off failure, forgive people for failing, but don't adequately learn from the failure, then you've just flushed a lot of time and money down the drain. Have a process to learn from failure and to disseminate those lessons. Some organizations have a "Fail-faire" where they disseminate these lessons. The World Bank has an excellent blog post that covers how to organize such an event.
Lastly, make sure that any experiments that are likely to result in failure are circumscribed so that they don't take down the whole organization. SMEs have limited resources, and a significant failure may bring the whole organization crashing down. Don't experiment with that important client who is fussy and demanding; find a smaller client who is forgiving and willing to take a chance. Don't roll out that new initiative throughout the organization before testing it with a smaller part first.
By all means, go ahead and fail, but ensure that failure, if it were to happen, gives you the benefits you seek from it. Test new ideas, learn new lessons, create a culture of risk taking, but manage it well.
How to love taxes
I happened to recently listen to Freakonomics episode 400 ("How to Hate Taxes a Little Bit Less") and it fascinated me.
Particularly in countries like India, where civic services are extremely poor, a tax payer feels like his or her taxes are being funnelled into a big black hole. The way it currently works is that you pay your taxes, and some opaque process involving central government bureaucrats, parliament, state government bureaucrats, state legislatures, city governments, councils, etc., attempts to funnel that money back into the hands of the local ward official. Remember, that same ward official's office is just around the corner from me, and he/she is responsible for fixing the potholes, keeping the streelights on, picking up garbage, maintaining my neighbourhood public park, etc. He feels no sense of responsibility or accountability to me, the tax paying resident of the ward, but rather to those who allocate his budget in city hall and above.
What if, instead, I could allocate a portion of my local taxes (say 50% of my property tax for example), to a specific set of heads? What if each department of the local ward office got 50% of their budget centrally and the balance from what citizens allocated to them? Then they'd have to show concrete results in our neighbourhoods. They'd have to hold community meetings in the community to explain what their plans are for next year and what they did with the money last year. They'd have to actually show results, because we'd move our money to the department that made the best use of the money we gave them. To avoid their spending a ton of money on publicizing their achievements, we'd restrict their marketing budget (perhaps just 5% of the total budget).
Radical idea, isn't it? I'd love to hear reasons why it might not work, so that I can refine this model.
Many years ago, Gautam Gode asked me if I'd be interested in joining him on the Kashmir Great Lakes trek (often referred to as "KGL"). I immediately said Yes! A group was formed, and plans were drawn up in earnest. I even seem to recall having booked flight tickets. Unfortunately, it wasn't to be. Our guide's parents won the Haj lottery, and he had to escort them to Mecca. We didn't want to take a chance with another guide, and so we scrapped our plans.
In May 2018, back in hot humid Chennai after having just completed a trek to Rupin Pass, I was itching to get back to the cool bracing air of the mountains. I pinged Gode: "Any treks that you're dying to do?". "KGL" came the prompt answer. "Let's do it in August end, by then the rains would've come and gone." A few quick internet searches later, and we were booked with Bikat Adventures, from 25th Aug to 1st Sept. As the date approached, work exigencies kept hovering over our heads like dark clouds that threaten to rain. However, this time our luck was right, and we managed to get off work, and do the trek we'd been dreaming about for a while.
KGL generally starts at Sonamarg (8,700 ft), winds its way through Vishansar, Kishansar, Gadsar, Satsar, Gangbal and Nandkol lakes, ending up at Naranag (7,400 ft). It takes 6 days, including a buffer day for bad weather.
There's a lot of climbing and descending (approx 3,000 ft each day), and lots of rocky moraines to cross along the way. You reach a point where you feet scream in protest at the sight of rocks... you just yearn for soft grass to walk on. Walking on rocks takes a special kind of foolhardiness. It is a bit like skiing - when you lose your fear of falling, is when the risk of falling goes away.
Our fellow trekkers
Gode I thought knew well, but you don't really know someone till you share a tent with them without having had a bath for 6 days. He was the perfect companion, quiet, reserved, not letting on that I stank. It was only towards the end of the trek that I revealed that I had an impaired sense of smell, a consequence of sinus surgery a few years ago. The poor man.
Chetna and Jignesh were Mumbai-born-and-raised Gujaratis who now live outside Manchester. We bonded immediately on shared hiking experiences in the Peak District. Unfortunately, they had chosen to come to KGL straight off their international flight, and therefore jet-lag, food, and water all combined to give them a tough time.
The rocky moraines didn't help either, since they were used to walking across the gentle rolling grassy hills of England. Bikat staff tried really hard to accommodate their dietary preferences (dinner at 4:30 pm!) and I think they began to enjoy the trek towards the end.
We really lucked out - Bikat's groups are small anyway (not more than 15), but it was just the 4 of us this time! I'm really thankful Bikat didn't make some excuse and cancel the trek, but I'm sure they made a loss on this one.
The small group allowed me to experience the benefits of such a size first hand. As opposed to the larger 20-25 person groups of an India Hikes or TTH. There are advantages, for sure. Most days, we left camp last (45-60 minutes after the last group), but reached the next campsite first.
Towards the end, in his usual dry style, Gode said: "you've seen one, you've seen them all." But somehow I felt each one had its own magic. Vishansar was the first lake we came upon, and so it was special. Gadsar, which is featured to the left, is really pretty. Satsar is seven little lakes, but the setting is spectacular, since you get your last look at POK from there. Finally Gangbal and Nandkol, the "money shot" at the top of this post, is what everything thinks about when they hear the word "KGL".
Most afternoons were free, and some days there were little side excursions we could take. I grabbed every such opportunity, and got to see a few lakes that few other KGL trekkers get to see. If you ever do KGL, I strongly recommend it. There are two lakes above Satsar camp, and two lakes above Nandkol and Gangbal respectively (you can't do both, but do at least one). The guides (lazy buggers) will tell you it takes a long time, but no, it doesn't. I was there and back in 3 hours.
Other trekkers and their trek organizers
We had groups from Indiahikes (IH) and Trek The Himalayas (TTH) with us, and I got a chance to compare Bikat, our organizer, IH and TTH. Both IH and TTH groups are much larger, but the TTH groups were loud (playing music past 10 pm) and didn't have the environmental consciousness that IH is known to be obsessive about. TTH's campsites were filthy. That's one organization I'm definitely not going with anytime soon. Bikat's small groups are a big advantage, but I wish they were as environmentally sensitive as IH is.
The trekkers from those organizations were interesting. A lot of them seem to have offloaded their backpacks, and yet were struggling. Young people, maybe 25-30 years old, were puffing and panting, walking slowly, or gave up and rode a mule. Arjun Mazumdar, founder of IH, has commented on this -- people's tendency to ignore the physical requirements spelled out before they start a trek. Is there a solution? Besides subjecting them to a fitness test on day 1? I'm not sure if that'll work.
The people of Kashmir
I think the one thing that I enjoyed the most was interacting with the locals. From this sheep shearer, taking a tea break from the tiring job of shearing his sheep, to these two small boys who were helping an elder relative tend a herd of goats, everyone we met was almost uniformly friendly and welcoming.
A "Salaam Aleykum" almost always got you a "Waleykum Salaam" and then a conversation would ensue. "Where are you from?" "Where did you come from today?" "How do you like our land?". The people of Kashmir, like hill people everywhere, are tough but warm, simple and welcoming.
Was I ever concerned about my safety? Never. Ever. The presence of Rashtriya Rifles posts at three points of the trek were a grim reminder that we're in a place where an AFSPA is needed, and our Army, which should be guarding the border, is employed in internal security duties. But the Army-men we met were also warm and friendly, and gave us no concerns at all. I must say that I didn't sense the same warmth for them from the locals, but that's just a gut feeling.
On balance, KGL is a great trek. Accessible, tough but not too tough, and remote enough that spectacular views are almost guaranteed, if you time your season right.
After three weeks of intense training, I had my instrument rating checkride with Richard Batchelder, FAA Designated Pilot Examiner, at his office in Concord, CA. Incidentally “Rich” was my examiner for my Private license in 1999.
We were supposed to meet at 1300h at his office in KCCR. I arrived by 1130 and checked in with him. He was happy that I was on time. I had lunch and refreshed the latest weather. I was back in his office promptly at 1300h.
He was impressed that paperwork was well organized – I had a clear sleeve folder with all documents neatly laid out. Had a print out of all XC (with distance covered and distance of furthest airport) and all Instrument flights, so it was easy for him. Wants to see all the A/C information (date of last annual, inspections, etc.) in one place / table (I didn’t do this). Make sure you’ve pulled the codes for areas where you got answers wrong on your written – it makes it easier for him.
Plunged straight into the oral – wanted me to sketch the Pitot-static (I forgot to draw the encoding altimeter) and Vacuum systems, list the equipment required for IFR flight (GRABCARDD), the mandatory reporting under IFR (MARVELOUSVFR500). Wanted me to list the total distance, time and fuel consumed for my flight plan. Verified that the numbers were close to what he got when he put it in.
We then went section by section of the ACS, with him asking me questions and sometimes putting scenarios in place. Some questions I recall are:
In summary, he went methodically through every section of the ACS and asked a few questions about each area – if he saw you were confident and answered correctly, he moved on.
We finished by 1530h.
He then gave me my faux clearance – “Cleared to KSAC via KANAN4 departure, SAC transition, climb and maintain 3,500, departure frequency 119.9 and Squawk 1200.” He told me we’d do the ILS02 into KSAC, hold at SAC, then do the VOR-A into O88, circle to touch-and-go. He didn’t tell me (but I expected it) that the VOR approach would be partial panel. Then some unusual attitude recover in that area, and then back to KCCR for the GPS RNAV 19R approach. Simple enough, airports and approaches that I had flown to many times. I took a few minutes to assemble my charts, study the approaches on last time, and then walked out to the aircraft. He asked me to wait for him to do the pre-flight, so I used that time to turn on the master and save the flight plan into the GPS.
He watched me do the pre-flight – I was careful to explicitly call out whatever I was doing. We then strapped in, he gave me some instructions on positive exchange of controls, traffic avoidance, etc. We then taxied out and took off, he was very relaxed and made me feel relaxed.
He let me contact the Travis controller and request the approach, at some point he himself cleared me down from 3,000ft (he had amended the altitude) to 2,000 and I flew the ILS well, needles centered all the way to the DH. I even remembered to switch guidance from GPS to VLOC and to identify the VORs and Localizer. As we intercepted the glideslope, I lowered full flaps like I’d been taught, and he started taunting me “full-flaps, is that the way they taught you? That’s really odd.” And so on. I realized he was trying to distract me, and I firmly but politely told him “Yes, that’s the way I’ve been taught, we can discuss it later, I’d like us to maintain a sterile cockpit now.” He stopped then.
On reaching the DH, he said “okay, execute the missed”, I did everything correctly, then we switched frequencies back to the controller. He spoke to the controller and asked for a hold at SAC, which was great because it gave me time to get set up. I switched the CDI guidance back from VLOC to GPS, and the GPS took me to the VOR and also told me which way to turn for the hold. I timed the turns and also the tracking really well, because after we reached the holding fix he said “okay, that’s enough, are you ready for the approach?”
I was, so off we went to Rio Vista to shoot the VOR-A approach. I switched the inputs again from GPS to VLOC, set the final approach course. He gave me a heading to intercept the course, I needle began to move, and I turned onto course. He then took two stickies and covered the AI and DG. I had practiced it often, so immediately went to my turn coordinator, and kept tracking reasonably well. A few times he asked me “what height are you descending to?” and I gave him the correct answer from the chart, and he was happy. Leveled off at 600 ft (MDA is 560ft), and he asked me not to look up till be said so. A few minutes later he said “you can take your foggles off now.” I looked up, and the airport was ahead, with the runway running from East to West. I turned downwind, he kept making the radio calls, and then turned final and lowered full flaps. “Just keep the speed above 65! I’m an old man and don’t like to get scared!” he said. I couldn’t have asked for a better day – calm winds, moderate temperatures, and I greased it on.
We then departed straight out, and at a 1,000 feet he gave me vectors to the South, with the AI/DG still covered. We climbed to 2,500 ft and then he took control, gave me one nose down and one nose up attitude, I recovered smartly and immediately, and he was happy.
It was then back to full panel and the Travis controller and he got us cleared for the RNAV approach. He then started meddling with the GPS (“Why can’t I get it to do that?”) and I was really afraid that he’d punch some buttons and get us into a situation where I’d have to do a lot of programming to get the procedure back. “Let me take care of it, Sir,” I said, and then I put in the KCCR RNAV approach. We were near Rejoy, so I had plenty of time to track the Rejoy-Fevta initial segment, and get ATIS, get set up for the approach.
When I got ATIS, KCCR was using Runway 1, so I expected to circle to land at the MDA of 980ft. However, when we were inbound and had switched to the tower, Rich asked the tower if we could circle to 1 Left. The tower said “we’re changing runways now, so you’re clear for 19R itself”. I descended to the 980ft MDA (this was to be an LNAV approach, although I had a WAAS GPS capable of LPV). Rich said: “Take off your foggles and land.” I took off my foggles, the runway was straight ahead, and I made a smooth landing. As we shut down, I was wondering whether I had passed or not - I knew that if I had failed, he would have told me, and was hoping that I had passed.
He then told me that I had done fine, and that I had passed. A wave of relief and emotion broke over me, all those sessions with the instructor, all that training and planning, had paid off, and I was now an instrument rated pilot!
Hats off to my instructor, Mike Korklan... I know as an older person it has been frustrating to get new ideas into my thick skull, but his work paid off. He never let me set low standards for myself, and gave me tough situations to prepare me for this day. Thankfully, conditions and the scenarios of the checkride were much milder than anything he'd thrown at me (DME Arcs, anyone? I actually like them :-)).
One last thing - big thanks to Foreflight throughout the checkride for helping me keep situational awareness. I had earlier tried to be cheap and hadn’t taken the full $200 subscription which gives you geo-referenced charts (I thought I’d use fltpan.com Go). But I’m glad that I splurged on that, because without it I might have managed, but it would have been quite a bit tougher. Foreflight has everything you need in one place, sensibly organized, and you get used to the navigation so that you’re not messing around in a crunch.
You can view my track-log here.
How do you help hundreds of millions of people come out of poverty? When faced with such staggering numbers, one has to admit the power of Government, its schemes and its reach, is the only answer. But these are often confusing, difficult to access, and beyond the reach of those who need it most – our poor, illiterate, often rural, citizens.
Haqdarshak is designed to change all that. By using a combination of technology and a network of people, we want to transform how people find out about, apply for, and benefit from, Government schemes. We want to do this at scale. We want hundreds of millions of people to get the full rights they’re entitled to, and use that to break out of poverty.
We need a co-founder to help us launch this and to make this happen. A lot of the ground work has been done, and funding is available. Field level partners have been lined up and are excited to start. We are looking for someone with the passion, energy and dedication to make it a reality. Beyond that basic qualification, if you have some experience with technology (preferably mobile technologies in remote areas) or with grassroots rights-based organizations, that would be a huge plus.
We expect that the co-founder will spend a substantial amount of her/his time on this venture, transitioning to full-time as soon as it makes sense.
A little bit about me: After graduating from IIM Ahmedabad in 1993, I spent 12 years working for the Tata Group and Infosys. I then co-founded a VC-funded start-up, which we exited, 5 years later in 2010. I then moved back to India (I had lived in the US for 11 years) and began working with social enterprises for Villgro, where I currently serve as President (India).
Write to me at email@example.com, in case this fires your imagination.
A "Candid Camera" in India?
I am a regular on the Chennai-Bangalore Shatabdi express, doing the trip at least 3-4 times a month. In some coaches, there's a TV mounted half-way down the coach, and these show various short TV shows for the entertainment of travelers. While I've enjoyed watching re-runs of Charlie Chaplin's silent black-and-white comedy clips, the one thing that always gets my attention is the version of "Candid Camera" that they always show.
You know the drill - the producers set up a prank, and then lure unsuspecting passers-by into participating in it. After the climax, they reveal that the victim has been on Candid Camera. Almost always the person who has been subject to the prank breaks out into a big smile, often of relief. (Of course, the producers could have selected only the nice clips for viewing). You can view some clips here.
I think the Candid Camera situations reveal how people really behave when they don't know the camera is looking. It offers a mirror on a society and its people. Are they honest? Do they laugh at themselves. Do they take responsibility for their mistakes? Do they own up? Do they help others? Do they run away? Do they steal when nobody is looking? Do they stand up and stop a thief when they see him/her thieving? Candid Camera holds a mirror to ourselves, and what it shows can be revealing.
I'd love to see what a Candid Camera program in India would show. How do Indians answer some of these questions I've asked? This would make for a hilarious, yet revealing TV show, in my opinion. Any TV producers interested? Film and TV production students?
It is 24th April today, and I'm standing from the fourth floor balcony of my flat in Chennai, watching the line form on the street below. I have two polling stations next door - one a corporation primary school and another a Women's social club. The trickle of keen early voters that I saw as I was returning from my run this morning has increased steadily. Unfortunately, my application to be included in the voter rolls was lost in the "system" and I'm going to have to sit this one out. My parents, who live with me, fortunately got in.
So as I returned from my run this morning, while I was performing my post-run stretches to cool down, I struck up a conversation with the security guard in the building, Rajappan. He is registered to vote in his village, which is near Thanjavur. I asked him about how he chose his candidate between the various choices available. "Our thalaivar (leader) chooses for us," he said. "He tells us who to vote for and we do it." I had known that this is the way voting happens in our villages; my previous live-in cook, Mallika, had returned to her village in the previous election to make sure she voted according to the wishes of her leader. "If I don't show up and vote, he will not help me if I need it," she explained.
We may have a secret ballot, but I suspect people like Rajappan and Mallika believe that their all-powerful Thalaivar knows how they've voted. "Who is your Thalaivar supporting this time?" I asked Rajappan. "DMK," he said nonchalantly. Lofty notions of people like himself taking power into their own hands every five years and holding those they put into power accountable for their deeds and misdeeds while in office were obviously lost on him. The election was just another ritual by which he reaffirmed his loyalty to his Thalaivar who is the only person he could go to for help if he had a problem. And that was the only power that mattered.
The argument for covert action
In a Hindu Op-Ed today, Praveen Swami comments on Narendra Modi's explicit statement that he would authorize the use of covert force against our enemies across the border (Dawood, Jihadists in Pakistan and Afghanistan, et al). Swami takes a dovish view of Mr. Modi's statement - he believes that India should not retaliate with covert action because of the fear of retaliation.
In my opinion, this view is what has emboldened our enemies over the past 60 years of our independence.
We have to moderate our policies in keeping with the neighbors and adversaries we have. The Israelis retaliated with overwhelming force whenever they were attacked, and that is the way the Arabs surrounding them stopped troubling them or sheltering terrorists who used their soil to launch attacks.
These high-fangled Western liberal notions of not using force will work very well in a geo-political environment that respects it. Unfortunately, we have a neighbor that constantly provides aid and succor to forces against us, and we have done little other than complain like a little whining child. This has emboldened the ISI, The Pakistani Army, and even democratically elected governments there to conclude that India will never take action. With impunity they incite, recruit, train and then send terrorists over the border. Pakistan Occupied Kashmir is home to many terrorists training camps where jihadists are brainwashed, trained, and then infiltrated across the border.
Like the Arab countries ringing Israel, Pakistan understands only the language of force. If we do not retaliate with force, they will continue to view us as as a weak, spineless debating society, and continue to take potshots at us. We must launch targeted covert strikes, take out leaders of any organizations that are inimical to us, and even launch missile strikes against terrorist training camps in Kashmir. Only then will we put some fear into them, and get them to stop. Even if that means there's a risk of retaliation, we must be prepared to run that risk, and raise our internal vigilance.
"Speak softly but carry a big stick," said US president Teddy Roosevelt. All we've been doing is speaking loudly, and never showing our stick. In the nuclear-armed subcontinent we now live in, open all-out war is almost an impossibility. Therefore, low-intensity, localized conflict done using non-state proxies will be the way Pakistan will mount a war of attrition. If we don't stop them by retaliating with force, we will be the only losers.
Executive, entrepreneur, investor and mentor to social entrepreneurs, golf and squash addict, author of thrillers... In short, an amateur dabbler in new experiences, and provoker of thoughts.