What are NRI Bonds?

The Rupee has fallen significantly this year, and with Friday’s Current Account Deficit data release – it tumbled to a new low of 72.63 to a dollar today.

There are reports of the government thinking about issuing NRI bonds to help with this depreciation and it seems like the government will be forced into action soon.

While there aren’t any details available on how NRI bonds will be issued (if at all they are issued) – from previous times we know that the branches of Indian banks outside India will allow NRIs to deposit their dollars, which can then be transferred to the Indian branches thereby helping with the Rupee slide.

For their trouble – NRIs will get a better interest rate than their domestic banks, and usually an ability to convert their Dollars into Rupees back home. There will likely be a lock in period of 3 – 5 years in the scheme, and history is any indicator it will very likely bring in good inflows from NRIs because the RBI was able to raise $30 billion from a similar NRI bond scheme in 2013. 


Weekend Links: 7 August 2015

I really liked this explanation of death and life force by a Zen Master. On the topic of death, this news is old, but I really liked Jimmy Kemmel talking about Cecil the Lion.

Quite saddening to read about lion farms in South Africa on which lions are raised with the sole purpose of being hunted later on in their lives.

A lot of meat eating people (like me) are unable to make sense of the sadness they feel at news of whales or lions or dogs being killed but not giving it a second thought when we eat meat ourselves. A good read for us: Why eating chicken is morally worse than killing a lion?

Last link which is semi – related — every animal that became extinct in the last hundred years.

If Foxconn does indeed setup manufacturing operations in India, it would be great news for Indian manufacturing.

The Republican debates started yesterday, and the Economist presents a good summary. 

PCC: What to do when police verification is not clear?

I had written about obtaining PCC (Police Clearance Certificate) about a month ago, and as a follow up to that post today I’m writing about a situation where you get a message that tells you the following:

Police verification not clear, application under review at regional passport office

My wife and I had applied for PCC and while I got mine the same day, my wife just got it last week. Unfortunately, there’s no official document that tells you what to do if you get the message about the application being under review at the regional passport office, and you have to face some uncertainty because of this.

Initially, I wanted to post this as a forum entry on India Mike which is the first search result that appears when you search for this topic, but I’m unable to sign up and post there, so I wrote this post here instead.

When we first got this message, I called up the cop who had done the verification, and asked him why the verification is not clear to which he said it is clear but the message is incorrect. He said that when you live in an address for less than 12 months, you get the message above, and you should be able to go and collect the PCC letter the very next day.

At the Passport Seva Kendra the next day, they said that the letter hasn’t come yet, and you can check after a week. The letter had still not come in a week later, but the person confirmed that the status online on his system shows that the application is approved. So, we went back a third time, and still nothing.

At this point, we realized that something is amiss and decided to go to the Regional Passport Office instead of the Passport Seva Kendra, and there we found that the application is indeed stuck.

They were waiting for clearance on the remainder of the last 12 months, while no one was actively working on doing any such thing.

My wife was able to give them address proofs of the remainder of the time there, and they gave the clearance based on that, but it was a needless wait for us because of the lack of knowledge we had about what to do next.

So, if you get a message that says verification is not clear, regardless of what anyone says, go to the Regional Passport Office immediately, find out the cause and rectify it.

Book Review: Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?

I’ve recently finished reading Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep by Philip K Dick, and it is quite a good science fiction novel. If you have ever seen Battlestar Gallactica then this book will remind you of that show a lot, although the movie Blade Runner is the one that’s actually based on this book. I’ve not seen Blade Runner and that is probably why my mind kept wandering back to Battlestar Gallactica.

The novel is about an earth that has almost been destroyed by a world war called World War Terminus, and there are only a very few people who now stay there, and animals are almost extinct.

Most people have been sent to Mars by the UN, and there are androids in this world that are so similar to humans that only a certain type of test can distinguish them.

This test is an empathy test; for some reason, unlike humans, androids aren’t able to empathize with others, and while they can fake their reaction to the test, there is a slight delay in eye movement that gives them away.

The story is about a bounty hunter named Rick Deckard who is tasked with killing androids on earth, and how he begins to empathize with the androids themselves. There is an interesting passage from the book where Rick is thinking about empathy in humans, animals and androids.

For one thing, the emphatic faculty probably required an unimpaired group instinct; a solitary organism, such as a spider, would have no use for it; in fact it would tend to abort a spider’s ability to survive. It would make him conscious of the desire to live on the part of his prey. Hence all predators, even highly developed mammals such as cats, would starve. Empathy, he once had decided, must be limited to herbivores or anyhow omnivores who could depart from a meat diet. Because, ultimately, the emphatic gift blurred the boundaries between hunter and victim, between the successful and the defeated.

Empathy is one of the central themes of the book, and I feel the central question of the novel is what it means to be human, and I really liked the part of the book where Rick is wondering whether androids dream, and concludes that they do dream. The androids that escaped from Mars escaped servitude, and in that sense they did dream of a better life.

This is interesting to think about because the book starts with Rick and his wife using a device that alters their mood in the sense that you can dial it for happiness or depression and the device will give you that, so you do feel that humans have acquired some machine like features.

The thing I liked most about the story was how you see-saw from liking the androids, to disliking them, and how the thought of absence of empathy can make such a lot of difference.

Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep is a quick read, and I think you’d enjoy reading this on a plane or a lazy weekend.

Disclosure: The link to Flipkart is an affiliate link which means I’ll get a small commission if you buy the book from this link.

Weekend Links: July 24 2015

The Greek crisis has subdued a little, and I think I’ve not seen anything more ludicrous recently. The Greek government seemed to have ruined their case terribly, and this article does a good job in providing a brief summary of how this played out.

Germany played a leading role in working through the Greece situation, and this article shows the powerful personality of the German finance minister and his role in the proceedings.

A very unusual and cutting edge piece of research where scientists were able to connect monkey’s brains, and boost their thinking power.

A $100 million dollar grant boosts the search for aliens. 

Donald Trump has been in the news lately, and I think he is easily one of the most despicable people that I’ve seen run for a major office. An article on him, and if he has a real chance.

This is a little hard to believe but perhaps the day isn’t very far away when a drone could fly by you and hack your system through your WiFi.

Finally, it makes me very sad to read about people hunting lions in Africa. It is legal of course, you can get a permit, and most of the cases that get publicity are all legal. There is no question on the legality of it, just on the morality of it.

A practical way of generating strong and unique passwords

A few days ago OneMint was attacked, and embarrassingly enough someone or some machine had simply guessed my password. I now know that this wouldn’t be too hard as it would have taken a desktop PC just 3 days to figure out my password.

I have been on a mission to change my passwords since then but there are two challenges in this. You can come up and remember one strong and unique password, but it is very hard to come up and remember 20 unique ones. I say twenty because that’s the number of passwords I need for my accounts that have some financial aspect to it. If you include all of my passwords, I’m sure it would go over a 150.

The other method is to have some sort of a formula in your head to generate a unique password but my struggle so far had been that it wasn’t unique enough, or strong enough or universally acceptable enough.

I’ve overcome all of these and I have been using my current way quite successfully for the past two or three weeks, and if you currently have passwords that can be guessed within days by a desktop PC, I strongly recommend going through this post, and seeing if this method or a variation works for you.

Step 1: Setup a base formula, which means that there should be some combination of special characters, words and numbers that will always be in your passwords. For instance, you can say that all your passwords will start with “%” and end with “ghoda9873*”

Step 2: Use the name of the website in your password but with some replacements. For instance, you could say that if the website is two words like SBI India, you will only consider the first word, so SBI would be part of your password. Then you could say that “I” would always be “1” in your passwords. In this way you can make certain replacements, and come up with a unique password. In our example, a password for SBIIndia.com would be “%SB1ghoda9873*” which would take a desktop PC 2 billion years to crack!

If you use this formula a few times, and customize it to the way you’re used to thinking then you will be able to setup new passwords quite easily for all your accounts. This has the obvious drawback where if a person comes to know a couple of your passwords, they can guess the rest quite easily but it still beats having a simple one anyway.

Weekend Links: 17th July 2015

Images of Pluto’s surface were all the rage this week, and I must have gone through several links, and still wanted to see more.

Perhaps, what was more surprising about this was the cost of the expedition, at less than the cost of an American football stadium, this project costs much less than what I would have guessed.

In world news, the nuclear deal with Iran was quite significant and this NYT article does a great job of explaining it in less than 200 words.

Saudi Arabia has had to to hit the bond markets because of lowering oil prices, which I also found rather unexpected.

I’m regularly surprised at how good Facebook is at recognizing faces, and it is heart warming to see that facial recognition software is being used in lion conservation. 

Northern Ireland makes millions of dollars in tourism due to Game of Thrones.

Finally, it is amazing to see that Sweden is so good at recycling that they need to import garbage from their neighbors in order to feed their special ovens that are used to heat homes.

Book Review – A Bed of Red Flowers: In Search of My Afghanistan

I recently finished reading A Bed of Red Flowers : In Search of My Afghanistan, and I was deeply moved by this book.

This book is written by Nelofer Pazira who lived for ten years under the Soviet occupation in Afghanistan, escaped to Pakistan and emigrated to Canada from there.

The book is her story about growing up in Afghanistan, and I can’t recall reading anything sadder or more powerful in recent times. What strikes me most about her story is the drastic change that has come about in Afghanistan in just thirty or forty years, and how some parts of the story are so relatable because we have all experienced 9/11 and its after effects, but other parts of the story shock you, and surprise you.


For instance, at one point in the story Nelofer Pazira speaks about how her father saw her mother the very first time, and how she was wearing a mini skirt at the time. I was frankly quite surprised at that because I never knew Afghan society was like that at any point in history. I think a lot of us assume that Afghanistan was always the way we are used to seeing it now, but that is far from the truth. The book does a great job of presenting this contrast and giving you a good history lesson about Afghanistan written in a beautiful manner.

I will quote a couple of passages from the book to show what I mean. The first one is the passage I referred to earlier.

My father still fondly recounts their first meeting as if it were yesterday, his story like a script from a romantic movie. A young woman with long blonde hair, dressed in a miniskirt with a stylish sweater over her shoulders, smiled at him, and Habibullah’s heart was bound up with the ringlets of her hair—as he made clear in a verse he composed to mark the occasion.

The second is a passage from the time of the Taliban occupation, and reading that just leaves you aghast.

Hygiene is a problem in Niatack. None of the mud houses I’ve been to has a bathtub. Women complain that they don’t have enough water to wash their children, let alone themselves. “Could we build a couple of public bathhouses?” I ask. The Iranian authorities show us a public bathhouse. It’s for men only. “Our women don’t go to public baths,” says a man, fixing his square hat over his curly hair. “It is a question of our honour.” But no one can see them inside a closed bathhouse, I say. “No, they can’t, but knowing that women are inside the bath, other men—men who are not their husbands—can imagine that they are naked. It’s a dishonour.”

What happened in Afghanistan is a tragedy, and one that is usually viewed from the events of 9/11 and after. This book is a great story about the Afghanistan that existed before Taliban, and also of a young girl and her family that suffered through all of this.

The other thing that strikes me about the book is the author’s love for her country, and her childhood friend who she has to leave behind in Afghanistan. The stories of individual atrocities fill you with horror, but there is a sadness in the words that don’t describe an atrocity but just the passage of time and change in the course of lives of the characters. It is hard for me to describe this but you develop such an empathy with the characters in the book knowing that they are all real and have suffered through this that it has the powerful effect of making you stop and think about how those people must have felt like how the author would have felt when she didn’t receive a letter back from her friend, what were her fears, what did she do to overcome them, what was her friend thinking, was she saddened by the fact that someone was waiting to hear from her and could not. It is all very powerful.

Nelofer Pazira also actually travels back to Afghanistan in search of her childhood friend, and there is a movie called Kandahar which is inspired by this. The move is quite popular apparently, but I didn’t know about it, and have still not seen it.

All in all, A Bed of Red Flowers is a great book, and I would definitely recommend it to all of you except the ones who think they may not be able to handle the sadness that the book will fill you with.

Disclosure: The link to Flipkart is an affiliate link which means I’ll get a small commission if you buy the book from this link.

Weekend Links: July 10 2015

One of the most interesting things I came across this week was Google’s Deep Dream program. Basically, this is Google’s Image recognition program which they have flipped on its head to now create images.

The results are a little freaky right now, but people have already found incredible uses with it and none more incredible than what Turkish artist C.M. Kosemen has already achieved.

There are still some people who deny climate change, but Exxon actually seemed to know about this as far back as 1981.

We are all worried by the fear of rejection, and it keeps us from doing many things that we want to; 2 research backed ways to beat the fear of rejection.

I was surprised to learn that there about 7,000 Hindus and Sikhs living in Afghanistan right now, but I was not surprised to see that their condition is bad.

India’s solar push could be a gold rush for investors.

Finally, Professor Sanjay Bakshi’s great talk about seven great businessmen and companies in India.

How to apply for a Police Clearance Certificate for a Passport or Visa?

I had to apply for a PCC (Police Clearance Certificate) recently, and I was surprised at the lack of information about this online even though this is a very important thing without which you can’t get a passport, and some countries don’t issue you a visa.

In this post, I’m going to recount my experience and cover everything that I dealt with and learned about this process.

When do you need a PCC?

You need a PCC when applying for a passport or when applying for visas of certain countries, and while the overall process for this is similar — it is not exactly the same. As a result of this — your experience might be completely different from the experience of someone else whose situation varied only slightly.

Who issues you a PCC?

Usually, PCC is given by the Regional Passport Office of the place that you have resided in the last six months. Location is important because although the PCC is a document issued by the Ministry of External Affairs, it does mention the place it is issued at and many countries require you to get it from the place you have resided in.

This can pose challenges for people who travel for work, and don’t have an address proof in the place they currently live in.

Here is a list of all the documents that they accept as a residence proof:

If you don’t have any of these documents then getting an address proof in the form of a bank statement is your best bet.

You can change your address to your existing one at the bank which is usually a very straightforward process, and then request them to issue a bank statement for the last twelve months. You need to go to the bank to get this because the bank stamps and signs this statement, and that’s what authenticates it. The statement will not work for you if you just download it online; it needs to have the stamp of the bank.

Also, keep in mind that it should be the last twelve months, I didn’t read anywhere that this ought to be the case but they insist on it once you are at the center. The other interesting aspect about this is that the more things you have the better it is. If you have a rental agreement which is not registered, just notarize it and take it with you anyway. If your passport has a local address, but it is different from the one you’re applying for, take a copy of that as well, take a copy of all your official documents, visas that you may have for other countries, marriage certificate etc. Although these documents aren’t mentioned in the list of documents that can be given as proof, I believe they can be used as supporting documents and the staff there likes to get as many of these documents as possible.

Also, this is not written anywhere as well, you need to take your actual passport with you so they can verify that and also provide the stamp on that. This is very important. Something else that isn’t mentioned is that you have to write a letter saying why you need a PCC. This can be a simple typed letter, or even a handwritten letter.

Where do you apply for a PCC?

Go to the Passport Seva website, and take an appointment at a date and center convenient to you. I was getting appointments for the next day at Hyderabad, but I’ve heard from people that sometimes you have to wait a week or more.

When you book the appointment, there is an option to enroll into the SMS service for Rs. 35, I enrolled in that and paid the 35 rupees in cash at the center, and I think this is an important thing to keep in mind, so you keep getting updates on your status.

On the day of the appointment, take a print out of the appointment letter along with your other letters, and reach the center at the time prescribed. I’ve been there thrice now, and I don’t see any benefit of reaching there before time. At the prescribed time, they ask people who have appointments for that time to form a queue and get inside to get a token and I think this is a very simple and efficient way of managing their queue.

There were three zones – A, B and C and three officers who each do part of the process, and there is an electronic board that tells you which counter to go to based on your token number, and there are people who also escort people around counters.

At the first counter, they check the documents, and create a file for you. They ask questions about what other documents you may possibly have, and put everything relevant in that file.

At the second counter, they scan and upload these documents, as well as verify the details you filled online. I had made a mistake in entering my place of birth which they caught and corrected. You are also finger printed, and photographed at this counter.

In the third counter, the officer actually brings up your information on their computer, and it tells them whether there are issues with your case, whether there are no issues, but a physical police verification is required, or if a physical police verification isn’t required altogether.

PCC and PCC Stamp

If a physical police verification is not required altogether then they ask you to go to a counter where the individual takes the PCC letter and puts the stamps on them. He puts three stamps on them:

  1. An endorsement with your application number, and a place to hand-write the country for which the PCC is being issued.
  2. Second is a stamp of the Ministry of External Affairs.
  3. Third is the stamp of the individual authorized to give this clearance.

Not only do they stamp the PCC letter, they stamp a page on your passport as well.

After these stamps are placed, the authorized individual also signs the letter as well as passport page, and you are all set.

It is my understanding that you don’t need physical police verification if you had a verification done from the same place earlier, and it doesn’t matter how long ago that verification took place as long as there are no police records about you after that verification.

Physical Police Verification

If you do need a physical police verification then you are given a receipt number, and a document that you are supposed to take home.

They send an SMS with the name and phone number of the police officer who will come to your house to verify your details. This SMS usually comes the same or the next day, and the police officer comes the subsequent day. It is best to call the officer, and get a tentative idea of when he plans to come visit so you can be available at home when he comes there.

Here again, keep the original proof that you submitted to the passport office ready with you. If you gave a stamped bank statement, get another bank statement out, take a copy of all your documents whether they are listed or not, as well as take a copy of your passport. He will ask for all of these. He will also need signatures of two neighbors so ensure that you have two neighbors who are willing to sign as witness, any two will do, even from the same house.

How long does it take to get PCC after the verification?

This is another important thing to keep in mind — if you’ve been living in your current city for less than a year then the verification takes two to three weeks, but if you have been living in the city for more than a year then the verification is done the next week and then two or three days after that you can go to the Passport Seva Kendra and get your passport stamped and PCC letter issued.

This information is not present anywhere and it isn’t even very clear to me from which form they obtain this information, but the document that the police officer receives from the passport office contains this so make sure when filling the forms you pay attention to this.

This is everything I learned about this process, and while I truly feel the process is a lot better than the one ten years ago, there is no place where it is explained properly so you can be prepared for it. I hope this post helps people who are going to apply for a PCC and if you have any questions, or anything to add to this, please do leave a comment.