Paris or Parrys Corner?

We arrived in Paris Gare Du Nord a couple of hours back by Izy train from Brussels (this is a new low-cost service introduced by Thalys, and that deserves its own blogpost).

I don’t know whether it’s something specific about Gare Du Nord, or if I feel this way about all Terminus railway stations, but it had this feeling of Chennai Central to it. This feeling was complete with the smell of urine just outside the station.

We walked to the left, as our online research had told us that there were some South Indian restaurants there, and we were seeking some comfort food. Saravana Bhavan first came into view. A little further was Hotel Sangeetha, and we ate there (I have better memories of Sangeetha than Saravana Bhavan from my times in Chennai. The decision today was well-founded).

After having finished our dinner at Sangeetha (food and coffee were brilliant, far better than at Saravana Bhavan in Amsterdam where we ate 3 days ago. Dinner was made better by the discovery that a couple of waiters there spoke Kannada), we decided to walk to La Chapelle metro station to catch a train to our hotel.

Having been in Europe for over 3 months now, the walk from Sangeetha to La Chapelle seemed like anything but Europe. The road was dirty in parts, with water flowing next to the pavements at some places (making us lift our rolling suitcase every few metres). That was not the only thing that reminded us of Chennai, though.

Saravana Bhavan and Sangeetha were only two in the long line of Tamilesque establishments on that road (Rue du Frauborg Saint Denis). There was an Annachi, a Muniyandi Vilas and at least two outlets that served Dindigul Thalapakattu Biryani!

And it was not just the restaurants. There was a “Thangamaligai” (jewellery) store. There were barbershops. There was Ganesha Sweets. And there were shops that went by names such as “SP Traders” that looked just like shops in India do! The resemblance was uncanny.

During the course of our walk, we even passed a couple of bars, and the smell emanating from them reminded us more of the shady bars in India (not Chennai, though, since liquor sale there is tightly controlled) than any bar we’ve seen in Europe.

I understand that there’s a significant Indian-origin (and Sri Lankan Tamil origin) population in France, but the number of Tamil-esque establishments next to the Railway Station completely astounds me. That they’re clustered together is no surprise. That this cluster is right next to the city’s main railway station is. And the fact that the station is so similar to Chennai Central doesn’t help matters!

Until we got out of our Metro at Place du Clichy (to get to our hotel), it seemed more like we were in Parrys Corner than in Paris!

PS: Put recommendations on things to do here, etc. Please leave comments.

R, Windows, Mac, and Bangalore and Chennai Auto Rickshaws

R on Windows is like a Bangalore auto rickshaw, R on Mac is a Chennai auto rickshaw. Let me explain.

For a long time now I’ve been using R for all my data management and manipulation and analysis and what not. Till two months back I did so on a Windows laptop and a desktop. The laptop had 8 GB RAM and the desktop had 16GB RAM. I would handle large datasets, and sometimes when I would try to do something complicated that required the use of more memory space than the computer had, the process would fail, saying “fail to allocate X GB of memory”. On Windows R would not creep into the hard disk, into virtual memory territory.

In other words it was like a Bangalore auto rickshaw, which plies mostly on meter but refuses to come to areas that are outside the driver’s “zone”. A binary decision. A yes or a no. No concept of price discrimination.

The Mac, which I’ve been using for the last two months, behaves differently. This one has only 8GB of RAM, but I’m able to handle large datasets without ever running out of memory. How is this achieved? By means of using the system’s Virtual Memory. This means the system doesn’t run out of memory, I haven’t received the “can’t allocate memory” error even once on this Mac.

So the catch here is that the virtual memory (despite having a SSD hard disk) is painfully slow, and it takes a much longer time for the program to read and write from the memory than it does with the main memory. This means that processes that need more than 8 GB of RAM (I frequently end up running such queries) execute, but take a really long time to do so.

This is like Chennai auto rickshaws, who never say “no” but make sure they charge a price that will well compensate them for the distance and time and trouble and effort, and a bit more.

Was the RR-CSK match on 12 May 2013 fixed?

The Justice Mudgal committee which looked into possible corruption in the Indian Premier League has mentioned that the game between Rajasthan Royals and Chennai Super Kings played in Jaipur on the 12th of May 2013 was possibly fixed. CSK, batting first, were 83 without loss in 11 overs, at which point their “mascot” (let’s call him that since his official status is unclear) Gurunath Meiyappan allegedly said that the team was unlikely to score over 140 (refer to the video with Gaurav Kalra and Sharda Ugra on Cricinfo). The team finished on 141, with Dwayne Bravo finishing with a quick 23 in 11 balls.

I have an algorithm similar to the WASP algorithm used in the recent New Zealand-India ODI series which I use to evaluate player performances in each game. For this particular game, the following table shows the batting ratings (according to this algorithm) for various players.

rrcsk1

You can notice that apart from Dwayne Bravo, all batsmen from Chennai Super Kings (look at the batting column) had a negative rating. The two players with the most negative batting ratings, you can see, are Ravindra Jadeja and M Vijay. The question is which of these two was more culpable for the innings slowdown in the latter half.

Our algorithm allows us to analyze performances in parts of innings, so let us break down the innings into two – before Mike Hussey got out (on 11.3 overs) and after. When did Vijay collect his -10 score?

mvijay

Vijay started slowly, getting to a cumulative -5.3 after four overs. Then, starting in the sixth over he started hitting out. By the time Hussey got out in the twelfth over, he was at 10.17. Raina and Dhoni both perished in the 13th over. At the end of that, Vijay was at a still respectable 8.49 (the wickets falling having evidently slowed him down). And then Ravindra Jadeja walked in.

For the next four overs, when Vijay was at the crease, he diminished his team’s chances of winning by 8%, 4.5%, 5.6% and 1% respectively (total of 19%). He then got out, and Bravo came in to make amends and take the team to 141. What of Jadeja?

rajadeja

It is interesting to note that Jadeja held steady while Vijay was slowing things down (overs 13 to 17), but once Vijay got out, he had two massively horrible 18th and 20th overs (he didn’t get to bat in the 19th, when Bravo took all the strike!).

Was it the handiwork of some particular bowler that Jadeja was quietened in overs 18 and 20? No! The following graph shows the over-wise performance of Chennai Super Kings (a negative number means Rajasthan Royals got the upper hand in that over). Colour of the bars vary by bowler. No one bowler did superlatively well for RR.

rrcsk2

The negatives in the 12th and 13th overs are on accounts of wickets falling. And then there is a series of negatives, with Vijay and Jadeja batting. Then Bravo comes in, gets himself a positive, but Jadeja continues to get really negative. And it’s not really one bowler who bowled superlatively well.

Draw your own conclusions.

 

 

 

Chennai Gets Metered Autos

During my talk at the Takshashila Chennai Shala in 2011 (related Pragati article here), I had argued that the underlying reason for market failure in Chennai autorickshaws was regulatory failure. Despite costs for auto rickshaws going up significantly, I had argued that the regulated fare was a lowly Rs. 7 per kilometer, because of which no auto rickshaw in Chennai traveled by meter.

In the same talk I had argued about the benefits of having a regulated fare (no time wasted in haggling, etc.) so this new move by the Tamil Nadu government to regulate auto rickshaw fares is welcome. Note at the end of the article that someone from the Auto Rickshaw Drivers union has welcomed the new fares. This, and the fact that the fare has been set rather high (compared to other Indian cities) should hopefully lead to wide uptake in the use of meters among auto rickshaws in Chennai.

This stabilization in price, I argue, will lead to greater use of auto rickshaws by the general public (since there is no uncertainty now) and should also contribute to greater revenues for the drivers, thus creating a strong ecosystem.

The graph below compares the per kilometer auto rickshaw fares in different cities in India. Note here that Chennai is the most expensive. My argument, however, is that given the unregulated market that is in place now, this higher fare is a reasonable price to pay for good regulation and fair fares.

 

autos

Going to Chennai

There’s something about traveling to Chennai that depresses me. Usually I’m a big fan of traveling, at least I think I am. Usually, before any trip, when I’m getting ready to leave, I feel happy. There’s some kind of happy expectation that there’s going to be lots of fun to be had in the trip. Except, when I’m going to Chennai.

I’ll be leaving home in about an hour’s time to catch a bus to Chennai. We’ll be there for a day and a half, and I’ll be meeting lots of people and hopefully having a good time. There’s nothing inherently unpleasant or uncertain about this trip. Heck, we’re even going to get picked up at the bus stand by someone holding my name board – it doesn’t get better than that.

But still, I’m not at my most cheerful. There’s something that’s making me feel sad. That’s because I’m going to Chennai. Oh, and I should mention one thing. I feel this way only when I’m taking an overnight train or bus to go there. The times when I’ve caught the early morning Shatabdi to get there (of late, that’s my most preferred means of transportation to Chennai) I’ve felt quite happy and upbeat.

I think it’s the association with college. I think I’ve mentioned here that I don’t count my years at IIT as my happiest. I was an inherently troubled soul back in those days, and the only thing that I would look forward to back then was the monthly trip back home. And when that trip back home was over and it was time to go back, gloom would descend.

I remember it would be the same dinner my mother would make every time I’d to take the overnight train. There was this fixed time we’d leave home, and the same route we’d take to the station. And till about a year or so back, when I started taking that route quite frequently (for different purposes of course), traveling towards Majestic via Bull Temple Road and Goods Shed Road would remind me of those days when I’d be going back to Chennai.

A lot of things have changed. On most occasions my trips to Chennai nowadays are for happy purposes. Yet, when it’s late night and I’ve to leave for Chennai there’s a vague feeling. That lump in the throat. There’s a bottle of Thums Up that the wife has just placed on my table. Hopefully consuming it will clear the lump.

The Teacher’s Village

Allen A D Rodrigues: 3 months
Krishna R Sundaresan: 6 months
Sangeet Paul Choudhry: 5 months
Vamshi Krishna R: 6 months
Karthik S: 10 months
Sriwatsan K: 3 years

Ok so this is a list of South Indian boys who got lured by the thought that “Gurgaon is a metro” or “Gurgaon is cosmopolitan” or as one of my grandaunts once put it “Gurgaon is like America”, and made their way North, only to realize that Gurgaon is actually a Gaon and not really fit for living in, and opted out. You will notice an outlier in the above data – Sriwatsan K  – and that is a result of him being married to a Punjoo.

By all absolute standards it is a horrible place – no public transport (save for the metro that’s just come up), hell, no autorickshaws, no proper water supply, no proper shops, unsafe roads and all that. Face it, it’s not a city. The only “advantage” that it has, if you could call it that, is that it is less than an overnight train journey away from most of the cow belt, and is hence attractive for educated boys and girls from the said area who don’t want to venture out too far.

Another major thing for these people is that Gurgaon represents a major “level up” for compared to the quality of life in their home towns (not talking about Delhi here; and Delhi, I think, is a wonderful city). Large houses, tap water, air conditioning, 100% power backup and the works.

And if you were to notice, there is no other city or town within some twenty hours of Gurgaon where there is substantial modern “industry” – the kind of industries where college educated people of nowadays will want to work in (IT/BPO/whatever). So, most people who do come to stay in Gurgaon, do so because it is close to “home”. So that they don’t need to live like “the_amit”s in Bangalore or Chennai. And that they can live in a land that celebrates Holi (need to write sometime about how uncivilised a festival that is, or I might already have) and Rakshabandhan.

So, most people who live in Gurgaon think it is a privilege to be living there, and wouldn’t really think of moving out. Hence, employers tend to consider them to be sticky and hence don’t make an effort to retain them and stuff.

Now, for South Indian boys from urban centres (like the ones named in the beginning of the post), Gurgaon represents a major level down in terms of standard of living. And hence, when they go there, they expect the job to compensate for it. And in most cases, given that employers are tailored to thinking that the employees WANT to live in Gurgaon, this ends up not being the case. And that leads to disappointment and hence the short shelf life of South Indians in Gurgaon.

Pat

I’m not sure if I’d prepared this as an answer to a potential interview question but if I were asked if there was one part of my life which I’d’ve chosen to live differently, I’d probably pick my four years at IIT Madras. In many respects, it represents some kind of a void in my life. Nothing much of note happened during that. It was during that time that I learnt to put NED. There wasn’t much value added to my life in those four years, either in terms of actual value or even in terms of bullet points. There was not much “growth” in those years.

I did nothing of note in terms of academics (I ended up as class median) and apart from a bit of quizing not much in the lit scene either. I didn’t go out on too many trips, nor did I go out too much. You might be surprised to know that I’ve never in my life watched a movie at a movie hall in Chennai! I went to Besant Nagar beach thrice during my four year stay, and to the Marina Beach once. I played only a peripheral role in organizing Saarang and Shaastra, and that too only in the latter half of my stay there.

On several occasions I’ve asked myself what kept me going through those four years that I consider to be my “dark days”, and the only reasonable answer that I get is “pat”. Pat. Sri Gurunath Patisserie. The coffee shop of IIT. The life and blood of my life at IIT. Perhaps the only thing I really missed about IIT when I moved to IIMB. The venue for much discussion, and fun, and bitchery, and long nights. Open air. Bad chairs. Broken tables. Non-existtent umbrellas. Breeze. Cheap and horrible nescafe. 5 Rupis lemonade. Etecetera.

When bitching about my life at IIT, I usually lay most of the blame on the fact that I was put in a mostly PG hostel. However, one advantage of being in Marnad was that it was right opposite Patisserie, and so it took little effort to go park there. I suppose it was no coincidence that the most prolific Pat-ers (Bhaand, Shamnath and I) were all Narmadites.

It was really simple. All that one had to do when bored was to walk across and go buy yourself a cup of Nescafe for 5 rupis. And park. If you found an interesting gumbal, you would park with them. If not you would park alone, and an interesting enough gumbal would build up around you as time went by. People kept coming and people kept going but the conversation would go on for a while. And some time in the middle, Satcho would materialize and molest Mani, the dog that had been much fattened on the Patisserie leftovers.

It was at the Patisserie that the editors of The Fourth Estate would meet the correspondents and collect ideas for bitchy stories. It was at the Patisserie that plots were hatched to bring down The Fourth Estate and start the rival (shortlived) Total Perspective Vortex. It was at the Patisserie that campus couples announced themselves (though after a while action in this regard moved to “spot” near the girls’ hostel). It was at Patisserie that cheap treats were given and cheap bets were settled.

It was at the Patisserie that I first started making Pertinent Observations, and telling them to people around me. When I didn’t have access to Patisserie any more, I started this blog.

Earlier, when people told me about the crazy things they’d done in their undergrad and all the fun they had, I’d feel bad. I’d feel bad that I’d missed out on something. Now I just ask myself if I’d’ve traded my sessions at the Patisserie for the “fun” things that they’d done. And the answer, usually, is no.

IPL

It’s day one of the second edition of IPL and I’m already loving it. As has already been said by several people several times on Twitter today, it’s quite fitting that the three best performances of the day have come from Tendulkar, Dravid and Kumble. The second match was extremely strong, even from a neutral perspective, and was very refreshing after the batfest that had been the first edition of the IPL.

One major blessing in disguise of moving the tournament to South Africa is the change in conditions – which is likely to lead to better cricket – in the sense of a better contest between bat and ball. Last year’s tournament was a joke in terms of the quality of cricket. There was absolutely nothing in it for the bowlers, and then they put NED after that and made things worse for themselves. Hopefully this promising start will lead to a better effort by bowlers this time round and we’ll have more games like the second one.

I’ve always maintained that the best ODIs are defences of low to moderate scores. The ideal ODI, in my opinion, will have the team batting first making 200-225, taking early wickets and putting pressure on the second team so that it ends up as a tight game (don’t care who wins). Sadly, the pitches they have been making nowadays seem to be creating 300+ games only which is why I’ve stopped watching ODIs.

Coming to the games today, the main mistake that Chennai Super Kings made was with respect to their batting order. A lot of people maintain that they messed up their team selection, and I agree with them – I would definitely have put in Vijay and Balaji instead of Parthiv and Joginder. But even the team that they started off wiht wasn’t too bad, where they messed up was in the chase.

When you are chasing a reasonably moderate total like 166 (equivalent to 250 in ODIs), you don’t need to pinch hit. I know Sri Lanka did that when they won WC96, but I’m more of a fan of Pakistan’s method in WC92 which is to first build a base and then have hitters coming in lower down the order to capitalize. Similarly, chasing 166 with Hayden at one end, what was required was a proper batsman at the other, and Dhoni sent in Flintoff. I think the match might have been sealed there.

It is all about slotting people into the right roles. Having Badrinath and Flintoff in the same team makes sense, but the role for each needs to be well-defined. Badrinath is an excellent “holding batsman” (the same role in which Dravid and Tendulkar excelled in today – and the role that Tendulkar plays in ODIs nowadays) – someone to hold one end up and rotate the strike while batsmen at the other end go for it, but he is incapable of slogging if he comes in with a large required run rate and not much time. And CSK didn’t desperately need to slog when Raina got out – all they needed was some consolidation and for one guy to stay while Hayden accelerated.

Similarly, when you look at Rajasthan’s lineup, you will notice that there are very few “proper batsmen” in the line-up, and a large number of “hitters”. How many people in the Rajasthan XI would you count on batting for you within the first 30 overs of an ODI? I can count Smith, Asnodkar and NK Patel, and maybe Ravindra Jadeja. The rest of the “batsmen” in their lineup (Pathan, Henderson, Mascarenhas) are all essentially hitters. And when conditions are not ideal for hitting, you can come unstuck.

If things continue to go the way they did today, teams will need to re-think their strategies. The slam-bang approach of last year won’t work and they will need to move towards “proper cricket”. Have proper batsmen and proper bowlers and proper keepers rather than having bits and pieces guys, and fill-in guys. Let’s see how things pan out.

I hereby predict that if things continue to go this way, Rajasthan Royals will recall Mohammed Kaif. Also, you might have noticed Uthappa shouting out to Kumble in Kannada about what to bowl (he frequently shouted “kaal muri” which literally translates to “leg break”). And that the Bangalore team has 5 guys from Bangalore – which perhaps enables them to indulge in this kind of “cipher”.