Saturday, November 26, 2011

Retrospective from Raichur

Two days of service for children from rural Karnataka, a lot of fun with a fantastic team bursting with enthusiasm , a trip to the historic Thungabadra river that witnessed the rise and fall of Vijayanagara empire , satisfaction that you were part of making a small difference in the life of a few children - all this made my trip as part of Project Samudaya to Raichur a unique experience.

Raichur, part of North Karnataka, is a small town that is 409 km away from Bangalore. Our plan is to conduct a health check up camp for about 1200 children from villages around Raichur. Raichur was worsly affected by the floods occurred in 2009 and the villages were almost destroyed. Cisco as part of project Samudaya adopted these schools around the area and also built houses for people whose houses were destroyed. This was the last program organized by Cisco in Raichur as part of project Samudaya. We started in Nanded express from Bangalore with a team of around 60 people. After a few minutes in the train I realized that I am in the company of a lot of energetic exciting people and all of a sudden the initial hesitation due to unfamiliarity went away.

We had a few briefings in the train with our team members and lead and yes you can't help attending meetings even in a trip :-). The whole trip was very well planned from the beginning and the facilities provided and co-ordination was excellent. As the train was late we reached Raichur by 10.00 AM and had to rush to the place after breakfast at hotel Kubera.


Our group of about 15 volunteers went to Thalmari a village about 40 kilometers far from Raichur. The destination was Kannada primary school Thalmari to conduct an eye check up camp. A team of refractionists accompanied us in the cab. The cab was going through the fields of cotton and paddy fields through the dry village road. After a while the Sun flower fields compensated for the journey through the bad road. We reached the school by 11.45 and rushed to set up the room and chairs for refractionists. We first screened children from 1st, 2nd and 3rd. Gireesha Shankar , Divya and Chitra were with me in the team and Satish joined later. Some children started crying after seeing us thinking we were there for vaccination :-). My job was most of the time to manage kids and noting down their names and issues after the initial screening. I was polishing my broken Kannada and most of the time it worked :-).
After the screening a list of children having issues with eye sight were identified and we handed over the list to the refractionists.

We had lunch followed by a meeting in the school where teachers and children expressed their thanks for conducting the check up.
In the evening while coming back we visited the Panchamuki Anjaneya temple. Reached back in Raichur by 7PM and roamed around Raichur town for some time with my friend Gireesh. While coming back we also met our friends roaming around the city.


The second day started very early. We started around 8.15 AM from Raichur. Our destination was the same school at Thalmari.
On the way we couldn't keep going seeing the beautiful Sun flower fields and there was a photo session by woman too :-). The second day our plan was to conduct a dental check up. Again we were separated into different groups and I joined a team of dentists with Anitha. Our job was noting down the names of children and the issues and we conducted check up for about 80 children. One disturbing thing was seeing a girl who came to school with her young sibling because mother was working away to support the family and nobody is there at home to look after the small child.

A meeting was followed and we left the school by around 1 PM. After lunch we went to see the Thungabadra river. The water level at Thungabadra was very less and villagers were crossing the river by foot, on tractors or on bikes. Watching it was a unique experience. We joined them for a while and crossed the river. Some one was telling that during the time of Vijayangara empire crossing the Thungabadra river was considered as a heroic act and they were rewarded by the king. Water is their or not we also joined those heros by crossing it by foot :-). We reached the hotel by 4.30 and had a small walk around Raichur town. Our train was late and we had a good time till reaching bangalore whether playing cards or singing songs while playing Antakshari.

My Take from Raichur

I had made a few trips to rural Karnataka in the last few years. Rural India is far behind whether it is education or health care facilities or living standards is my experience. Kerala may be an exception. Experience in Raichur was also the same.The government schools lack even the basic necessities. The disparity between the enrollment register and attendance shows that a lot of children are also dropping out in the middle. Most of the issues we face in urban life is not significant if we compare it with the rural life in India.

These are disturbing factors but I had the satisfaction that I was part of a group who was making a difference however small it is. The trip was very well organized and every one in the team showed dedication and enthusiasm for the jobs they were assigned. We had a lot of fun during the trip and every moment of the trip we enjoyed.

Kudos to Cisco Samudaya for this opportunity and a big thank you to every one who were part of it.

How to Reach Raichur

Raichur is the district headquarters and it is about 400 km away from Bangalore.
Trains are available from Bangalore to Raichur. KSRTC and Private buses are also available.

Places of Interest

See the following links for information about places to visit around Raichur:
Places of Interest in Raichur
Monuments in Raichur

Raichur is extremely hot so better to avoid visiting during peak summer.

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Thursday, November 10, 2011

Things you should know before getting a home loan

At some point most of us try to go for a home loan to buy a home. I was going through the process for the last one and half months and I didn't know anything about it till I started. I learned a lot of things on the way and learned that it is not a smooth process as shown in the advertisements or claimed by banks. I thought about documenting the same so that it will be useful for people like me who never bothered about similar things through out their life.

In my case I bought an already constructed house at my home town, so the process may be slightly different for getting a loan for constructing a house.

The process starts once you finalize the property and make a sale agreement with the seller regarding the price of the property. Then you need to find a financial institution or bank who is willing to finance the loan. Check with 3-4 banks and then proceed. Check with your friends or relatives regarding their experiences with different banks and choose one convenient for you.

Some points to consider at this stage:

* You need a margin money of at least 20 percent of the property value . Bank
will finance only the rest. Some banks will give you a loan of up to 90 percent, but it is bank's discretion.

* Note that what ever be the agreement between you and the seller, bank will finance only the value you are going to mention in the title deed. Some banks will give you an option to give a portion of the loan as home improvement, but again it is bank's discretion.

* Check the different interest rates for the loan. There are two kinds of interests rates fixed and floating. You can't say one is better than the other as it depends on the current interest rates and variation that may happen in the future.

* Check the pre-payment penalty you have to pay if you pre-pay the loan. Some banks doesn't have pre-payment penalty if you repay after the initial 6 months.

* Ensure that you have a good credit history and provide correct information in the loan application form so that your loan won't get rejected.

Initially you may have to provide the following documents.

1. Completed application form with passport size photo
2. Copy of identity and address Proof
3. Salary slip for the last 3 months
4. Bank statement for the past 6 months
5. Copy of the latest Form 16
6. Copy of PAN card

Once you fill up and submit the application form the bank may ask for a processing fee depending on the loan amount.

You have to submit the following property documents or copies:

1. Copy of the title deed
2. Copies of prior title deeds .
3. Location sketch
5. Possession certificate
6. Encumbrance certificate for last 13 yrs
7. Latest land tax receipt
8. Agreement for sale
10.Building tax receipt
11.Approved plan

At this stage when you have submitted a few or all the documents, bank officials will visit the location to verify the property and do an assessment. The sanctioning of the loan amount also depends on this assessment.

Your will get a sanction letter from the bank after this process. Once they get a report regarding the assessment, bank will send the documents to a lawyer for verification. Depending on that bank may also ask for additional documents.

Once the verification process is complete, the bank will issue a cheque in the sellers name. You need to fix a date for the registration and let the bank know. Then the cheque will be handed over to the seller on the day of the registration. The new title deed will be prepared by the bank's lawyer and a lawyer or his representative will accompany you during the registration process. You have to pay for the stamp paper charges to the bank's lawyer in advance or you need to buy it directly and give it to the bank one or two days prior to the registration date.

You need to bear the following charges.

* Stamp paper charges.
* Lawyer's fees for document preparation
* Registration charges

Once you complete the registration bank will keep the documents but will give you a copy attested by a notary.

Lessons learned:

There is not much difference between time required to process a loan between a public sector bank and private bank other than you will get a warm welcome in a private bank and you will get a cold response from a public sector bank official. Initially you will feel that getting a loan from a private bank will be more easy, but finally they will also take the same time and require the same documents asked by the public sector bank. They may ask more documents than they mention the first time.

If you want to get it processed fast it is better to go through the loan agent in the bank than going directly. In my case, I realized that most of the time I ended up doing most things myself because I didn't go through an agent and many times I didn't get proper guidance.

Note: I don't claim to be an expert in details regarding a home loan. This post is based on my experiences while taking home loan. There may be variations in the process from bank to bank . Also the process may vary depending on the type of home you are buying.

Useful links:

4 home loan facts by Manish Chouhan
Loan EMI calculator from HDFC
tips while buying house by Manish Chouhan

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Saturday, November 5, 2011

Freedom , Debian Pure Blends and Jonaas Smedagaard

Freedom box uh !!! - what kind of box it is one wonders. Free as in free speech or free as in free box. How can you package freedom in a box? All set of questions arise in our mind.. But I had my answer after listening to an inspiring talk yesterday. Freedom box, Debian, philosophy about life, rocket science, correlation between mathematics and music full of divergent ideas ... what a great Saturday it was. All thanks to Jonas Smedagaard - Debian developer from Denmark. It was fun, It was entertaining and it was informative.

Waking up early in the morning and traveling two and half hours on a weekend is a crazy thing to do for a late night fellow like me. I thought twice before going to the talk if it is worth missing the relaxing extra two hours sleep I enjoy on a Saturday morning. Somehow I made up my mind in the morning and the the talk was just started when we reached there.

A man who matches all the features of a geek was speaking and an audience of about 100 students were there to listen to him. Jonas introduced himself in a funny way and slowly moved in to the technical stuff. I was surprised to hear that he has only 12 years of schooling and not much formal education. May be due to the quality of education system in Scandinavian countries like Denmark I haven't met any one from the universities in India who can deliver a passionate talk like Jonas. See this Video about the education system in Finland.

I was fortunate to hear Eben Moglan one of the best inspirational speakers in the world. I had written about that in one of my previous blog posts. Both of them are at different levels and Eben Moglan is much more publicly accepted person the free software community through out the world. But out of the tech talks I have heard Jonas may be only secondary to Eben Moglan in making an impact in the audience. Jonas's talk was full of fun with funny real life examples. He captured the attention of his audience with his effective body language, voice modulation and instilling passion into every word he said.

His passion towards free software and his passion towards life was visible in every word he delivered. He started with how the concept of Freedom box evolved from a tech talk delivered by Eben Moglan one and half years back. You can listen to Eben Moglan's talk here.

Freedom box is a small box that can be considered as a personal server running a free software operating system and free applications. It is designed to create and preserve personal privacy by providing a secure platform upon which social networks can be constructed. You can find the details about the Freedom box project at Debian Wiki. One of the point Jonas emphasized was simplifying technologies so that they can be used by an ordinary user so that projects like Freedom box gets more acceptance among ordinary users.

The talk also touched upon Debian community and the work the community is doing for the past several years. Visit the Debian Wiki here for more information about Debian project. Debian pure blends - the project to improve Debian for specific purposes and blend it back with the Debian project was also briefly explained. Jonas emphasized the need of simplifying technology to reach a wide audience.

The talk was followed by an interactive discussion where he not only answered queries but also tried to explain his vision of life. He spoke about we can make this world a better place if every one tries to convert his passion into his job. We can do the things much better if we are passionate about it. The discussions touched up on a wide range of topic from signal processing, designing, software development, rocket science, space ships to connection between music and mathematics. When one of the students asked a question how much practical freedom box is in a country like India where lack of infrastructure like less bandwidth exists. Jonas answered it in a philosophical way. He said problems can be approached only once we start. People like us also should study how things work and sort out ways to improve it rather than and not starting it. He quoted the example when they had to deal with less bandwidth in the university a few years back. The way he interacted with the students something that we all should try to emulate. He was able to instill his passion and energy into students and inspire them.

Finally we parted after a photo session A day full of intellectual stimulation, entertainment and fun - It was one of the best days I will cherish in my life.
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Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Six Money Management Skills that Every Young Man or Woman Should Develop

In the ancient times money was just a concept that was a human invention to make human life better. Today whether we like it or not it dominates human life to a large extent.I was born in a village and money was never a priority for us and our icons were never the rich but people who lived a simple life of sacrifices.Making money was not considered as a great virtue and even though we may lack money some times, the neighbors or well wishers helped us and we returned the favor when there is a need for them. Decent education and health care were available from the government institutions at affordable prices and our needs were limited. But things changed up to a large extent even in villages in the last decade.

After completing my education when I started my work life in a big city, I realized how big the role of money in the life of an urban Indian. The system is corrupt to the core and from good education to health care, huge money is essential for a better life in any urban city and the government doesn't play much role in providing basic amenities to the urban population. Even though I don't want to compromise my principles for money or any materialistic thing,I realized I
should know the rules about money and learn to handle it well for a better life in the current urban India. After observing things for a few years, I found out that there are a few skills that we need to learn.

The way money works is not fair, same for life in general. We all may have seen it, nice guys most of the time finish last. Most of the time success with money or love is not achieved by people who deserve it, but by whom who know the rules and take actions accordingly.

I have identified the following skills that one need to develop if you want to handle money well:

1. Learn to negotiate - In the world of money you need to learn to negotiate.If you are from a family with strong values you were taught in the childhood that bargaining is bad and never put a price tag on you. It works only in the ideal world. In the real world, it is the other way. If you don't negotiate for your interests, you will end up as a loser be it in your career or your investments. Learn to negotiate with out compromising our principles and beliefs.

2. Conduct thorough research before you make an investment decision - Some of us do sufficient research before even making small purchase decisions, but we never do the same for investment decisions that affect us significantly and may require long term commitments. Never go by the words of financial advisers who sell financial products for their own benefits. I made the mistake 3-4 years back and paid heavily for it and to reduce my loss I still have to keep investing.
As a starting point read the book "What Your Financial Agent Will Tell You And Why You Shouldn't Listen" from Deepa Ragahavan

Learn and understand very well about each investment option and take your decisions wisely. Don't hesitate to ask questions about things you don't know and read the product brochures carefully before signing them. In the era of internet if you don't do research it is your laziness. Very few financial advisers really cares about your money other than worrying about his commission. Read sites like Jago investor, Yahoo columnist Deepak Shenoys blog , Moneycontrol or other informative sites regularly.

3.Learn as much as you can about finance and market - Keep an eye for detail and learn as much as possible about the terms we associate with money. For example learn about compound interest, systematic investment plan, various types of mutual funds, dividends, equities, ULIPs and so on. The simple rule that I have seen that work most of time is "buy assets when every one else is selling and sell when every one else is buying".

4. Learn about tax laws - I used to strongly believe that I need to pay all the taxes as a law abiding citizen of the country with out seeking much exceptions. But later I realized in the real world, it is the not the case. The best paid people in India pay taxes much less than many of us think. The reasons is Indian tax system has many loop holes and exceptions that either they or their well paid tax consultants know to use and we don't. When I first came to know about that I used to get angry, but if it is not against the law and not a breach of ethics there is nothing wrong in using it till the government take action and close those loop holes.

5.Learn to shop well - Quality is most of the time(at least in India) not related to price. Paying a lot for something doesn't mean you get the best. Always try to find out the best offers available in the market, speak to different vendors and compare the prices from 2-3 places before purchasing something.

6. Learn to keep your debts to none or minimum - Use your credit card wisely and understand the terms and conditions carefully. Don't take loans unnecessarily to purchase assets that depreciates in value in the long run, even though some loans like home loans are good in India to reduce tax burden.

These rules may be simple that many from urban families know well, but there may be a lot of people like me who doesn't know even this when I started working. I made all the 6 mistakes in the real life. Even though I said all these, I believe one should never equate money with happiness. Never compromise on your principles, your family and loved ones for the sake of money. In the long term, money cant buy you love or happiness in life.

Note: I don't claim to be an expert in financial matters and these are just observations based on my own experiences. It is up to you to take it or not.
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Thursday, February 3, 2011

Trip Notes from Southern Tip of India

Yesterday I was attending toastmasters session in my company. One of the topic during the table topic session was how did you spend your annual holidays during the December shut down period. Suddenly I was thinking about how I spent my holidays. I was thinking about writing a travelogue about my trip for long time, but I was lazy and postponed it, all of a sudden I began with ease.

This time I was eagerly waiting for the annual holidays because I planned for a trip to Goa with a friend. I never plan for any trip in advance, all of a sudden I may decide and go. But this time everything was planned and we booked ticket in advance and a friend in Goa promised to arrange accommodation. But at the last minute everything turned down. My friends father had an accident and we had to cancel our trip.So, I decided to go to my village near Cochin and spent time with family. 3-4 days passed quickly as I was playing with my nephew and visiting friends and family
members.The sixth day all of a sudden I was feeling very bored. Day time most of the friends wont be there as they don't have holidays. I thought about a couple of options and then finally decided to go to Kanyakumari a place I had never visited. On the way I wanted to cover Trivandrum too.


After a five hour journey from my home, I reached Trivandrum. Trivandrum is the capital of Kerala and it had many tourist places around. My classmate was eagerly waiting for me as we have nt seen each other for a couple of years. After a warm get together he took me to the Kerala legislative complex where he works. The assemby session was going on and I took a visitors pass and watched the proceedings of the assembly for an hour from the visitors gallery. I stayed with him for that day and we had a nice time recalling several events from our college life.

The next morning I started from Trivandrum to Kanyakumari. Kanyakumari, the southern tip of India is about 80km far from Trivandrum. Before independece the Kanyaumari district was part of Kerala, but after the states were restructured on the lingustic basis Kanyakumari became part of Tamilnadu. My plan was to visit Padmanabhapuram_Palace on the way.

Padamanabhapuram Palace

After getting down from the bus I had my lunch. I asked the way to the palace to a passerby. He turned out to be a native and he suddenly realized that I am from Kerala from my Tamil accent.Instead of telling me the route, he send me with a man on a motorcycle whom he was acquainted with and going that way. From my experiences during my trips around various places in south India I know that villagers rarely cheat. So, I decided to take chances and go with him. He dropped me in front of the palace. The Padmanabhapuram palace is a palace built in traditional
Kerala style and unique one of its kind in South India. It is one of the biggest wooden palaces in India. Some of the interesting structures in the palace include include the poomukham, the mysterious corridors, mantrasala, natakasala and southern palace. I met a north Indian family visiting Kerala and we visited the palace together. Walking through the mysterious corridors was a walk through the history.It took around one hour to see the palace around.

Back in the bus stand I struggled a bit because the bus boards were in Tamil. With some effort I learned to read boards in Kannada, but never bothered to learn to read Tamil. The buses were all crowded and coming and going. Due to the rush nobody was bothered to answer my queries on bus to Kanyakumari. Finally, I found a bus, but it was heavily crowded.

I reached Kanyakumari by evening after a long journey that got worse by heavy traffic.After a walk around the beach, I searched for a lodge there to settle down. It seemed easy, but then there was the second problem. Whereever I went they said there is no room available after finding that I am alone. Finally after talking to a guy who knows malayalam, he told me that first he wants to speak to my parents and check if I came because there are any issues at home and if everything is fine he will give a room. He explained that Keralites rarely travel alone and they are suspicious seeing me alone. I gave my home number and he called and my mom picked up the call. He directly asked if I came alone because of any love failure or some thing. I can imagine the shock my mom had. After getting a satisfactory response he agreed to give a room to me. I explored Kanyakumari beach and stayed till late on the beach enjoying the sea sight and the calmness at night. In the morning I went again to see the Sun rise at 6.00 AM. It was cloudy in the beginning, but finally Sun came out with full glow and that was one of the best sights I ever had.

The next thing was a boating to the Vivekanandha rock and one had to wait for a long queue for almost an hour. It was the place where Swami Vivekanandha meditated before his departure to the world religion conference at Chicago in 1891. I met a Bengali family in the queue and we enjoyed the company of each other exchanging information on various tourist places in India.The boat journey took only a few minutes as the sea was calm. There was a small memorial built for Vivekanandha and the sea was worth watching from the rocks. On the return journey we also had a stop at the Thiruvalluvar statue.

Return journey to Trivandrum

Around 2PM I started my return journey. I got a seat and it almost seemed comfortable when I started, but there were a lot of events waiting for us. In the middle of the journey our bus had a break down at a remote place. The conductor couldn't arrange a replacement bus and he told us that he will make arrangements in the other buses to Trivandrum. Many buses passed, but all of them were crowded and none of the buses stopped. The bus had many tourists from north India and foreign countries and they had a tough time understanding what the bus conductor was saying in Tamil and they were scolding him in their own languages that he didn't understand any way. I helped them as an interpreter in English and Hindi. Almost an hour went and no buses were coming our way except local buses. A french man was scolding the conductor left and right , but the bus conductor couldn't make out any thing.

The French man needs to go to Trivandrum and he asked for my help seeing that I can speak English. we asked a few local people and they said the next town is only a few kilometers away if we go by a local bus. we took a local bus to the next small town and from there we got a bus to Trivandrum. The Frenchman turned out to be a great companion. He is one of the leading architects in France and he is a member of the several architectural organization in the world. His trip to India was to visit some of the architects who were members of his organization in various parts of India. He was coming back from Calcutta and visited many places in India on the way. He shared his experiences in India and out of all the places he visited his favorite place turned out to be Calcutta. After a tiring journey with a lot of events, we reached Trivandrum by late evening and we parted saying will be in touch. Later he wrote to me after reaching France and kept his word to my surprise. My friend was waiting for me and after a few hours I took a bus to Cochin to go back to my home. The next day I had to come back to Bangalore and thus thus ended my Christmas holidays for the year 2010.

How to reach Kanyakumari- Frequent buses are available from Trivandram to Kanyakumari. Buses may take 2-3 hours to reach. From Bangalore to Kanyakumari you can go directly by Island express also.

What to see Around: Sun rise and sun set at Kanyakumari, Vivekanada rock, Sucheendram temple and worth visiting Padmanabhapuram Palace if you have time.
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