Sunday, January 07, 2007

India a global power? Tall claim, says Pitroda

Indrani Roy Mitra in New Delhi

anuary 08, 2007 11:49 IST
Mincing words is just not his cup of tea. Satyanarayan Gangaram aka Sam Pitroda is fond of calling spade a spade. Ask him if India is fast developing as a global power, and "Nah" comes the grimace.

"I don't understand how someone can make such an irresponsible statement," follows the rebuttal. Look at the garbage piled up on the roads, visit Indian towns and villages and just take a look at the sanitation problems. Do you know more than 60 per cent of the villages cannot provide safe drinking water to their population?"

In New Delhi to attend the Pravasi Bharatiya Divas, Pitroda wears a disgruntled look whenever you talk about India's growth and the much-discussed 'progress' it has made.

"We, Indians, are a funny lot. We feel happy patting our backs for imaginary achievements. If there is a molehill, we instantly create a mountain out of it and start praising ourselves. It's a sad thing to do. I wish we were mature enough to accept the reality."

Talking to, Pitroda thinks "Too much of tall talks are doing the rounds about India's development while too little is done. What we need to do is sit back and do a quick rethink."

The chairman of the National Knowledge Commission says a lot needs to be done to bring about (even) a knowledge revolution in India. As a primary pre-requisite to that "individuals should have the ability to receive and comprehend knowledge.

"As you must be aware, the (Knowledge) Commission has been entrusted with the task of looking at five key areas: Access to Knowledge; Knowledge Concepts; Knowledge Creation; Knowledge Application and Knowledge Services.

"No way can we deny that approximately 250 million adults in India are illiterate. Our target is to achieve functional literacy among at least 90 per cent of the population in the quickest time possible."

"If people ask for more knowledge, we need to provide them. The existing public libraries need to be revamped and better managed. They should be remodelled to grow up as centres of excellence," he says.

Indians, Pitroda thinks, "should have better access to web-based portals providing information on the basic necessities like water, agriculture, education, sanitation, health and other related issues."

The Knowledge Commission, he informs, has drafted a comprehensive policy, which will be presented to the government on January 12.

"It will focus on the aforesaid issues and will also provide easy-to-follow guidelines." Can't we get a sneak preview of the draft? "No," smiles Pitroda. "I suggest you wait till January 13. Trust me, it will be worth the wait."

Refusing to dwell on the oft-repeated issue of reservation, he is quick to put in that expansion of educational opportunities and facilities, not reservation, should be the key issue.

"In fact, I am against reservation in any field for that matter. Be it education, health, technology or telecom, I believe in people's participation. The idea of demystifying technology and using it to benefit the common man always excites me. Today, there is hardly any difference between telecom, television, broadband and computers - software and hardware. All of these areas are merging and it is the government's duty to make the people of this country a part of it."

Known as the telecom czar of India, Pitroda has no qualms in admitting, "The telecom cat has been let out of the bag and now the onus rests on the government to complete the task. There needs to be well-formulated policies and rulings to consolidate the current position of the Indian telecom industry. It is time we realised that telecom is as essential as water, agriculture, health and housing."


Monday, January 01, 2007

Parrot's oratory stuns scientists

By Alex Kirby
BBC News Online environment correspondent

N'kisi on chairback   Grace Roselli
Feathered prodigy: N'kisi leads the field
The finding of a parrot with an almost unparalleled power to communicate with people has brought scientists up short.

The bird, a captive African grey called N'kisi, has a vocabulary of 950 words, and shows signs of a sense of humour.

He invents his own words and phrases if he is confronted with novel ideas with which his existing repertoire cannot cope - just as a human child would do.

N'kisi's remarkable abilities feature in the latest BBC Wildlife Magazine.

N'kisi is believed to be one of the most advanced users of human language in the animal world.

About 100 words are needed for half of all reading in English, so if N'kisi could read he would be able to cope with a wide range of material.

Polished wordsmith

He uses words in context, with past, present and future tenses, and is often inventive.

One N'kisi-ism was "flied" for "flew", and another "pretty smell medicine" to describe the aromatherapy oils used by his owner, an artist based in New York.

When he first met Dr Jane Goodall, the renowned chimpanzee expert, after seeing her in a picture with apes, N'kisi said: "Got a chimp?"

N'kisi with picture card and teacher   Grace Roselli
School's in: He is a willing learner
He appears to fancy himself as a humourist. When another parrot hung upside down from its perch, he commented: "You got to put this bird on the camera."

Dr Goodall says N'kisi's verbal fireworks are an "outstanding example of interspecies communication".

In an experiment, the bird and his owner were put in separate rooms and filmed as the artist opened random envelopes containing picture cards.

Analysis showed the parrot had used appropriate keywords three times more often than would be likely by chance.

Captives' frustrations

This was despite the researchers discounting responses like "What ya doing on the phone?" when N'kisi saw a card of a man with a telephone, and "Can I give you a hug?" with one of a couple embracing.

Professor Donald Broom, of the University of Cambridge's School of Veterinary Medicine, said: "The more we look at the cognitive abilities of animals, the more advanced they appear, and the biggest leap of all has been with parrots."

Alison Hales, of the World Parrot Trust, told BBC News Online: "N'kisi's amazing vocabulary and sense of humour should make everyone who has a pet parrot consider whether they are meeting its needs.

"They may not be able to ask directly, but parrots are long-lived, and a bit of research now could mean an improved quality of life for years."

All images courtesy and copyright of Grace Roselli.