Feels like heaven to be able to sit back and write something after ages :) Liking the comeback, needless to say! It's been almost three months since I moved to a new country, city and a whole new hemisphere...yeah i like to say the last one too! Being in the Rainbow Nation - South Africa - the Republic of South Africa - whatever, in the oldest city of Cape Town - Kaapstad - City of Cape Town - Ah..whatever, here are answers to FAQs...as I see it and as you like it!
  • So, how is it in South Africa? 
    • Whatever the it is, this is a beautiful country. Very new in its today's existence (the new RSA was formed in 1994 after "killing" the apartheid system) and a lot of things to offer. The country is definitely in the state of "transition"  - people are seeing colors, no more black and white, and there is definitely increased grey matter
  •  Being in Africa, has your skin color changed?
    • Putting this question quite subtly...No, not everything is black in Africa, the milk is still white and so are a few people! I am as brown as I was before coming here!
  • So have you been to *XYZ* national parks and seen the lions and the elephants?
    • No I have not yet! It is quite a disadvantage to be living in a tourists' city :( Most things are in the market for tourists and filtering the highly priced crap out of the lot is quite a task! But that said, local sightseeing is super affordable thanks to the buses and the trains! They do come at the right time and are extremely safe! Going far away from here needs a car which in turn needs a license that you can procure after an year of you landing here, unless you want to offer a help!
  • Is it safe? How about the crime rates?
    • Unfortunately this country clocks the highest numbers of rapes, murders and HIV in the world and they are form this vicious circle. There is inequality, thanks to apartheid. There is an attitude of You stole from us, now it is time we did the same. You can see magnificent buildings and envying infrastructure right next to townships that lack proper drinking water and sanitation. Like every city, there are places that you do not want to go to unless you have a solid reason. Being safe is as simple as 1-2-3. Just use common sense!
  • Is it dangerous to be out late in the night?
    • Honestly, I do not know! I have been super safe in Cape Town and when we move out we usually come back by 21 30, if we walk. Or take a taxi if it gets late. I have heard that things can get out of control when venturing around known "unsafe" places and there is definitely a reason to heed advices. 
  •  How about the people?
    • Irrespective of the skin color, most of them are sweet. No, they are not cannibals and they do not harm you, unless they have a reason to! I have had random people on the road ask me if they can carry my heavy grocery bag, or help me with my bicycle fixing, smile and say good evening, give a ride back home and wish a great stay here!
  • Cooking...how do you manage Indian cooking? Are there Indian stores?
    • This needs some history knowledge! Okay, so I do most of Indian cooking with ease and most stuffs are available here. This is not the Silicon Valley, so no Indian stores per se, but Durban (a city like Cape Town) has the highest number of Indians outside of India, most of whom are now South African citizens. Their previous generations did migrate from India during the British Raj and the world wars. And a few of them settled in Cape Town as well - so there are a few Indians here. Also, there are Cape Malays - a sect of people with Malaysian origins who were brought from Malaysia to work on the fields generations ago. Most of the spices that we use are similar to the Malay cuisine and hence there is no problem with cooking!
  • So you are in the southern hemisphere, does the water turn anti-clockwise when you flush it down the drain?
    • Okay, so this has to be a geek asking me. People do think that there is a dramatic difference when you go to the other half of the earth, but I have seen none. Neither the water turning anti-clockwise nor the sun rising in the west! Things seem all the same to me apart from a different view of the night sky. Because my husband is an astrophysicist, I do know that the axis of the Milky Way is visible from the Southern Hemisphere, the farther you go away from the equator, the better is the view. Since the city is so much light polluted, I can hardly see it yet!\
  • Looks like everything is hunky-dowry right? Good!
    • Well, no! There are same issues that plaque a developing country! There are bigger things like corruption, poverty, bureaucracy, inefficiency in the system, all kinds of mafias, power politics etc. There are also small issues like load-shedding and telecom outages. But I am not complaining :)
  • Hmm...!?!
    • Hmm...Its a great place and I am loving it!
Feels great when I have come back to blog after a long long time. And this time its after a great refreshing experience :) Well, Blogger has been too kind to me to show whats new in it and remind me that I can use these great features! Not bad at all!

That apart, let me share what my experience was. To put it as a one liner it could just be said that I had been to Infosys for an academic talk...but it was much more than just that!  Its been two months since I have started visiting Infosys but today was special. All the excitement started when I received a mail from Mr. Narayana Murthy Sir about a talk in Infosys from the Chancellor of a university. That was just enough to make me wait for this day!

And today was right here! To start with, the security person who gives me a "Visitor Pass" everyday at the gate, called me and said "You have a special pass today!". Great hospitality I must say. And then I was lead into a beautifully decorated banquet hall and an auditorium. The facilities were mesmerizing. By the time I stood on my feet and recovered from the amazement, the talk began.

It was given by Dr. Robert Easter, Chancellor and Provost at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign. The topic of the talk was "Information Technology and the 21st Century Food and Agriculture System". Here are some of the interesting points thrown at us:

  • The big challenge of this century, Do we have enough food? (Food for thought indeed!)
  • The shift in the eating habits of people in the developing countries...gradual shift from staples and cereals to vegetables and meat.
  • If green revolution revolutionized the world in the 1960s, its the turn of biology and Information Technology to do it now!
  •  How IT can help agriculture in terms of guidance, prediction, management of resources and energy and also the logistics of the farm produce. (Kind of Supply Chain Management problem)
  • IT for Animal welfare in agriculture.
  • Bare necessities of micro farmers which IT can help with, like production technology, market information and fertilizers.
The talk was followed by a Q/A session which was interesting and informative. On the whole it was a great learning experience to know what we could do for the society!

Talking about the dignitaries at the event, it was a small gathering of around 50 including industry experts and academia. We represented the latter part when a whole bunch of students and faculty were there. Industry experts included SETLab heads at Infosys and research heads from other organizations. We could meet a few of them too! And not to forget the dinner was also great!

The most memorable event for the day was when our Director Sir came to me and said "Did you look at the first slide about the University of Illinois? We are not even a speck in front of that!" Well he actually made that comment after watching the slide that said there were 23 Nobel laureates fro U of I. I would like to tell him, Sir, we would be there sometime soon!

It’s a season of FIFA 2010 and the fever has definitely caught up all parts of the world. It also has caught up the young guys who play in the play ground near my place. Each evening when I went out for a walk in the ground, I used to see them play with the cricket bat and ball. But this week it was all different. I saw five teams play football and was amazed and amused. What caught my sight was that there was this team of boys of around 12-15 years of age. The image I got after seeing them was that they came from one of the posh schools in the locality speaking the “cool” form of English and naming each other with the most famous footballers of today. I saw a “Rooney”, a “Ronaldo” and a “Beckham”. I was taking my usual path and when I was almost near the goal post, I saw a poor child all of 6 years staring at the ball. All he wanted to do was just pick the ball when it went out of the court and give it to the boys. He was also cheering them in the language he knew and the game went on…

After I finished a couple of rounds, I saw these boys hit a ball outside the goal post and within a blink of the eyes that poor boy went running behind the ball. Well, that was expected, but what I did not expect was this! As soon as he caught the ball, he called out for another four guys to just feel the ball. And they all came closer to see the ball and played with it for a few seconds until one of the boys in the team asked them to hurry up and return the ball. This was not uncommon in our country but I felt a strong comparison with that of capitalists and the poor, the policies, the law and everything else. Let me explain how.

Let’s go back to a decade earlier when the United States ruled the world in terms of technology and economy. (It’s not that they don’t do it now, but it was stronger before the recession). And the developing and underdeveloped countries were aplenty in the world, which waited for help from the riche rich. So comparing that with the football team, here is what I saw. I could compare the rich boys with these strong countries who have the money to buy whatever they needed and be always joyful. They had their own limits to cross and formed a different cult. That poor guy at the goal post was one of these poor countries who always waited for a missed opportunity at the goal post. And of course try and utilize every missed opportunity along with other fellow mates. Was this not how outsourcing started? Not that we are slaves or so, but that we had the knack of utilizing someone else’s opportunities waiting for it all the time. And that’s what put us where we are today! I was completely lost in these thoughts for few minutes. And when I came out of it I saw that the football team was continuing their game and the poor boy’s team started cricket on their own and of course indulged in the same! Is this inspired by today’s way of the world? I gave up thinking!