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My fabulous Kolkata trip –Day 1

So we finally made it to our Kolkata Vacation with my folks – something that has been pending (and getting cancelled) for one reason or the other since the last three years.

We took a SpiceJet flight from Pune to Kolkata (via Delhi).

The flight was okay but I somehow felt that the seats were slightly congested. Also noticed the abundance of toddlers and children in the plane which made it a pretty eventful and noisy ride

Smile with tongue out


The flight leaves Pune at 11:15 am – but was 30 minutes late and after an hour and a half stoppage at Delhi which passed quickly – thanks to the “That 70s Show DVD” that Pritika packed in, we were in Kolkatta by 5:30.

The first thing that hits you when you step out of the airport – besides the chilly December wind is the colour of the Taxis! They are all yellow – a kind of ochre’ – which adds charm to the city. Other things that you will noticed in the first 30 minutes of landing in the city will be the famous cycle rickshaws,  cycle vans – which are largish platforms on wheels (something like the vegetable vendor’s cart) – but which ferries people and is driven by a person riding a cycle in front.

The other thing which you will probably notice will be the number of sirens. I counted 6 sirens in 30 minutes of landing – 2 for ambulances and 4 for police and “babu” vehicles. Babus here use their lal battis and sirens to very good effect – something which was completely new to me and something which doesn’t happen that often in Maharashtra.

If you are in Kolkata, you just need to taste all the awesome sweets. Kolkata is heaven for sweet lovers and the fare you are promised here will make all the “Bengali sweet” shops in your non bengali state fade and flicker in comparison. Since landing, I have savoured three types of awesome sweets – something that my youngest aunt had told me to expect. We had a longish, white, dry rosogulla which was as fluffly as clouds. Then later had khejure gude sondesh (sondesh made out of jaggery which is made from dates) and finally some kheer! And this is just the beginning I hear.

Netaji Picture


Took a walk around the society where my uncle stays and took a picture next to Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose’s bust. Netaji is to West Bengal what Shivaji is to Maharashtra.

PS: Kolkata should be pronounced as Coal-kaaa-taa (with the stress on the kaa instead of the Kol). Most Indians get it wrong. Something I learnt today.

Why is the state of the Indian education system depressing?

I was in IIT Powai a couple of months ago for a workshop in marketing which lasted a couple of days. As such, we were put up in the in-campus residential suites for guests – which to say the least, blew my mind!
The hostel (2 people staying in a room) was nothing less than a 3 star place – which spacious and comfortable rooms, air conditioning, in-room phones, awesome food and even a great view. And all this from within the IIT campus!
I was attending the conference with Gaurang and we would stroll out exploring the IIT campus in the evenings when we had nothing else to do. For those who haven’t been to an IIT Campus, let me describe the place. It was beautiful!
A student haven.
Flood light lit grounds and courts open till late night, students painting the cultural center walls with art and preparing for the upcoming Techfest, some kids hanging out at the local juice wala – it was awesome! Something that I will always miss as a student who went to a day college.
During that time, Gaurang and me got into a discussion as to why there wasn’t any ground breaking research happening at the IITs. There is so much public money going to waste! (After all, the IIT fees are highly subsidized by the government)
For the amounts of money and effort spent on educating people by the government, as an outsider, I don’t see much happening in the research area (specially in the public sector / government fields) at the IITs. That in my opinion is a huge waste of talent.
Compared to us, colleges in the US contribute tonnes (as much as 50%) to the research that goes on within the country.
Well, I learnt something today which went a long way in explaining why our education system is the way it is …
I am reading “Imagining India” by Nandan Nilekani (the book is pretty awesome if you ever wondered why things are in India the way they are. It takes you on a journey of how the country has sometimes walked, occassionally run and often hobbled the 60+ years after indpendence along with tremendous insights on what can be done to change the systems. A must read for all our bureaucrats!)
Anyways, getting back to the topic – what happened is this.
Post independence, India was an extremely poor country. Inspite of this, Nehru along with the first governments, allocated a sizable amount to the development of the educational institutes in India. (and thankfully at that).
They even greatly subsidized the fees (at that time it was approximately Rs. 500 which was 1/3rd the actual costs).
However, in addition to this, they went and created special research organisations to research on various aspects instead of sending the research down to the IITs.
In addition to this, the amount of research which could be done in the IITs was grossly curtailed by the government itself.
Due to this, the college could not raise funds by doing research and the fees being highly subsidized, the colleges – became a loss making enterprise for the government from day one.
Which is the reason why nobody from the government cares much about the state of IITs and also which is why we have so few of them today.
Fortunately, what needs to be done is very simple.

  1. Free the IITs and institutes from the shackles of the HRD (which has a history of screwing things up at constant intervals of time).
  2. Let the institutes decide what fee structure they should go with and give them a free hand to implement this.
    (All US universities work on the same principle and it has worked well for them so far)
  3. Allow universities to do research in whatever area they please – so they don’t have to depend upon government grants as much as they do now. Not only will our teachers be better paid (thus raising the standard), our students will be more motivated to take up courses which have research in their key areas. Another way to keep students motivated in studying is by using classdojo toolkit since it offers various ways of a learning system. To learn more information, click here https://www.classdojo.com/studentstories/
  4. Get rid of the stupid reservation system. It has been decades now since the Mandal Commission and its time for us to move on …
  5. Create thousands of more IITs. (Atleast people now are echoing this sentiment)

Anything more that you guys can think of, please add to the comments below. Thanks!
(I had a couple of more things in mind – but Wikipedia just went down and in that shock, I completely forgot what they were)
I hope the present government makes some drastic changes in this department. Starting with the HRD making an exit. (Don’t they have other things to manage anyways?)
Update (1-Aug-09):
Extremely interesting comments popping up  in the Comments section. Be sure to check them out and add to it 🙂

Parking hassles

I have off late started judging businesses depending on their parking policies.
No seriously! If you see some of the extreme arm-twisting techniques and prices some of these malls use, it’s unbelievable.
Firstly, charging for parking is illegal (I think) and yet everyone does it!
But if you think about it, we Indians being the free-loaders that we are – would just abuse free parking and I know tonnes of people who regularly do it.
C’mon – haven’t you gone and parked at a mall – just to go somewhere else nearby.
So, after a lot of thought and consideration, I kinda agree being charged a nominal fee for parking my vehicle.
But at the same time, the price should be justified.
The places and policies that top my list are:
1. Crosswords (at Sohrab Hall)
They have reserved FREE parking for people visiting crosswords. All you need to do is – on your way back, get the ticket stamped which says that you were in the store.
This seems completely justified – considering the amounts they spend on reserving parking slots for their customers – the least people can do is visit the store and see what they have on offer.
2. Inox (Free parking for 30 minutes)
Inox charges 10 bucks for bikes and 20 bucks for cars – completely justified in Pune – and this also seems like the norm.
However, what I really like about them is that they have 30 minutes of free parking. (This was an hour earlier but I could live with 30 minutes)
What this does is – gives you enough time to hop into the theatre and buy some tickets or grab some lunch at McDonalds without paying the equivalent of your Mc Donalds’ meal. If I am watching a movie for a couple of hours, fine – I agree with being charged – but theatres shouldn’t charge people for coming and buying tickets!
3. Pune Central (Parking charges redeemable during purchase)
Pune Central charges you for parking – but you could exchange the ticket inside when you purchase something.
This seems kinda harsh – considering that you may not like something and still be paying just to browse around the store. (Hey! Wait a minute! Shouldn’t stores be making it more conducive for you to browse around?)
Anyways, so yeah! What Pune Central does seems pretty just to me.
Actually Dorabjees in camp does the same thing – but you need to purchase a minimum amount of things (I think 100 bucks) before they will re-imburse you for the parking. Not entirely fair – but still okay sometimes.
Now for the worst offenders!
1. E-Square
Nothing – and I mean nothing beats paying 40 bucks for parking your car. I have noo idea what these guys do to your car. 40 frikkin bucks for parking! I could put a litre of fuel in my car for that amount and drive half way around Pune.
Totally sadistic, arm twisting tactics (and there is no public parking available near E-Square for miles!!!)
This is one of the reasons I really hate E-Square and avoid going there.
(The other being the weird seat arrangements and the crowds – but thats for another post)
2. Ishanya, Nucleas, Gold Adlabs, Lifestyle, etc. etc.
(And every other place which does not re-imburse you even on purchasing)
Ishanya and I however have a special history …
When Ishanya opened sometime ago near my house – I thought it was fabulous!
The mall was gigantic – you could get anything there, spend a good couple of hours just browsing around and even the parking was free. (and they have ample parking believe you me)
However, I was in for a rude shock one day when I drive in and am charged for parking which is not even redeemable.
The worst thing is that Ishanya is literally in the middle of no where and you have no option but to park your vehicle inside. Its like paying 20 bucks for an entry ticket to the museum!!!
Anyways, I came back and shot an email to them complaining about it.
To my surprise, the next day, I received a call from their head of operations (signing the email as President, ThinkingSpace Technologies has an effect sometimes) who assured me that they would start the redeemable policy soon and that they were charging parking because people would park their bikes there and go off someplace else.
(Yeah right! If you’re in the middle of nowhere, where do you think I’ll go?)
Anyways, its been a year and more since, and still nothing has been done.
However, I have stopped visiting Ishanya.
Result? I try and buy whatever I need from local places around my house. Ishanya being the last option.
(I dunno – I just somehow feel cheated going there)
To cut a long story short, I do empathize with businesses and their problem with free-loaders parking in places reserved for customers – but these businesses need to come up with more amicable solutions to this problem.
Charging monstorous amounts for parking is just going to hurt your business.
I love what Crosswords is doing – but I also understand its difficult to implement.
But I’m completely cool with the Pune Central approach too. (Redeem parking when you buy)
I actually have a better idea!
Redeem double the amount of parking when you buy something! (Applicable over a certain limit. For below the limit, just redeem the amount what you paid for).
Here is wishing some sense manages to creep into the heads of people making such idiotic decisions (especially the ones from E-Square) and hoping that ’09 is a brilliant and fun-filled year for everyone!

The thing about life getting back to normal …

This happened the last time – and I bet it will happen again once the dust and smoke settles down.
Last time, people commended – how life went back to normal and the resilient nature of the people of Mumbai India.
It is actually sad that people approve of how life gets back to normal.
It should not! Lessons need to be learnt and things need to be changed …
We Indians are probably one of the most tolerant and laid back group of people in the world.
It’s time to get a little bit angry and a little paranoid …
It’s not too late to have a plan. Terrorism is upon all of us now – not only in J&K.
Time to stop covering our eyes and prepare to deal with these guys as and when the situation arises …

Talking pictures …

One thing I love to do – sometimes even more than reading is watching films.

In my humble opinion, a good film talks to you at so many different levels and takes you to so many different places in those 120 minutes – that nothing else compares to it.

Well, there are books of course – but the joy of watching a well made film comes very close to that of reading an extremely good book. I do believe that making a film is a lot more difficult than writing a book.

A director has to deal with gazillion different things simultaneously as well as please the millions of people who would throng the talkies to watch his masterpiece.

sr.jpeg

Excuse me while I get all sentimental and emotional about films – because I have just come back from one of the most horrific film moments in my life. I have just returned from watching the Bollywood film – Black and White.

The greatest of the directors — the Peter Jacksons, Steven Spielbergs, Martin Scorseses, Quentin Tarantinos, the James Camerons give you — the viewer — the respect that you deserve when you walk into the talkies to see one of their films.

They know that their audiences are not stupid idiots who will watch and take any crap dished out to them.

Walking out of the theatres, watching one of their creations — you feel special — pampered in some sort of a way and take that nice, happy, satisfied feeling all the way home.

I’m extremely sorry to say that Indian directors on the other hand – are exactly the opposite.

They think — we — the audience — are a bunch of morons who will lap up all the meaningless, mind-numbing crap that they throw at us — with our mouths wide open – asking for more.

There are definitely some good film makers in India right now (Aamir Khan, Nagesh Kuknoor, Anurag Basu, Anurag Kashyap) — but the percentages of the films these guys produce compared to the vast numbers that are being churned out annually is very, very meager.

I have no idea why such crap is made and even accepted by the masses.

Today’s film for instance (Black and White) would insult the intelligence of even an eight year old. The research these guys do is limited to their imaginations – and the dialogues are as cliche’d as ever.

It’s about time I think – we guys really refine our tastes and get some quality cinema out.

Please God – let it happen soon 🙂

(If you are wondering why I went for this movie if it was full of horse shit – was because my mom wanted to see it for some inexplicable reason and me and my brother volunteered to take her.)

The pain and agony of those 140 minutes I tell you – was unbearable.

When life gives you lemons …

I met up with a friend of mine recently who is working with this big multinational company.
Lets assign this company a completely random name – just because I am too lazy and don’t want to keep typing it again and again … Umm .. lets call it TM.
Okay …
So this friend of mine – an extremely bright, intelligent and hardworking student from back in college joins TM thinking that its a big company with thousands of people – and he’ll have every opportunity to grow and learn there …
He couldn’t be more wrong …
When he met me, he was completely stressed out – and very dejected …
I couldn’t believe it was the same confident guy I knew back in college …
He was suffering from something I call – “The Big Company Syndrome”.
I’ve had so many of my friends tell me the same story this friend of mine tell me – and about this same company – TM.
Moreover, you can smell something fishy when a company asks its employees to sign a two year bond of Rs. 100,000 (or was it 200,000?) as means to retain them…
Anyways, in bigger “service” based companies such as TM, people get treated as resources.
Most often than not, your superiors don’t give a crap about you and you end up being the extreme end of the tail in which everyone above you is trying to please everyone else above them and as such, don’t bother with those below them.
A very common occurrence in companies such as these – is having no work and ending up on bench for a long, long time.
This might be extremely hard for many to swallow .. but according to me, you are already in an awesome spot.
If life gives you lemon … Make lemonade!
How difficult is it anyways?

  1. Cut the lemon in half.
  2. Get a glass of water.
  3. Squeeze each half of the lemon into the glass.
  4. Add a pinch of salt.
  5. Some sugar to taste.
  6. Stir well and drink chilled 🙂

My friend here, tried his best to get work – but his superiors just neglected him …
All his requests were met with a few peanut jobs – which he completed in a matter of days – and again, had nothing to do.
This, he explained, bothered him a lot – and rightly so …
When you have been hired to work, it hurts not getting any responsibilities …
But the really sad thing is that in such large companies, nobody really cares …
Unless you have a terrific team leader or project manager, you are going to be in the same predicament.
And chances of getting a great superior are very, very low …
If you are stuck in a similar situation, you have two options:
Option A
This is the more ethical and fun option to do:

  1. You type out a nice resignation letter.
  2. Pack up all your stuff.
  3. Delete all the personal files from your machine.
  4. Walk up to your manager – preferably when he is surrounded by other co-workers.
  5. Tell him what a jackass he has been.
  6. Throw the letter at his face.
  7. Storm out.

You’ll definitely get a better job. Don’t worry.
If you were good enough to be hired by this company, many other companies will take you easily.
Option B
Though I agree that this option borders on the unethical side, it is completely justified in such a situation.
Company loyalty can go take a hike.
In this option, the first thing you should do is stop asking your boss for work. That is simply the dumbest thing to do.
Come to work on time, punch in and relax.
You’re still getting paid right?
Do the work they give to you – but don’t be too enthusiastic about it – because honestly, nobody cares!
In your free time – and you’ll have tonnes of it, read, blog, write some pet hobby projects, put it up on the internet for others to use and grow yourself …
If you really get good at it, you can even consider freelancing – but this depends on how good you are hiding it during company hours.
I have heard stories of people running entire software side businesses using the company phone of TM itself.
They work as software contractors – getting work from some people – outsourcing to others – and taking a cut in the middle. They make this money in addition to also getting paid from the company for doing nothing.
This would be entirely shocking to many – but sadly, this is the way most large Indian software companies work.
You just have to learn how to work the system …
If you can’t, you’ll probably screw up your health with all the tension or commit suicide with all the depression, that’s why is important to do activities that release tension.
And if you look at it – in the long scheme of things that is life – a couple of bad years in a bad company does not make any difference …
On the other hand, it just makes you stronger and wiser …
So when life gives you lemons, just make lemonade yaar!!! 🙂
[ Min number of posts to go till Mar 17, 2008 : 75.]

You can't have your cake and eat it too …

If you really think about it, India is in a pretty mixed up place – economy wise …
We’re nowhere near a capitalist economy – nor are we entirely communist either …
We are somewhere in between …
I am talking about this because of late, there have been incidents in my life – caused by this aspect and I was wondering – whether a right balance could ever exist …

When I was returning from Proto a couple of weeks ago, I was to come to Mumbai by flight and then catch a bus from there to Pune. My flight was supposed to land at 10:40 PM – but it being Indian Airlines, it only landed sometime around 12:20 AM.
Luckily I had no checked in baggage and I was able to get out of the airport by 12:30.
I rushed to Dadar, and in my heart knew — that the last State transport bus would have long left and I would have to spend the night at the bus stop. I reached the bus stop at 1:00 AM.
Unbelievably – there was still a bus going to Pune (which I think would have probably been the last one).
It left with around 10 passengers (out of a capacity of 35 – 40) at 1:15 AM and albeit an extremely bumpy ride, I was home by 5:00 AM.
I secretly thanked the government for running such buses – even when there were hardly any passengers at such odd timings.

This is the other incident.

I live on the outskirts of Pune. As such, we have all the benefits which come with such a setting.
Clean, calm and pollution-free surroundings, lots of open spaces, etc. etc.
At around 10 kms – the main city isn’t too far either …
However, we also face the problems which come along with such a setting.
Namely, that of infrastructure — in this case, the internet.
The place where I live, there are no private players providing high speed internet services (or broadband).
This is primarily because not many people would go for it – so it does not make sense for these companies to lay fibre cabling all the way for a handful of subscribers.
The only one which does – is the government owned BSNL.
Until sometime ago – they had the monopoly in the telecommunication sector – and if you had a phone, it had to be from BSNL.
As a result, they have cables already setup – through which they provide the internet services.
The service though, leaves a lot to be desired – and the sorry fact is – being a government enterprise, no one gives a damn.
I’ve been having connection issues since eons (it works sporadically and mostly, only at nights) – but no one seems to be bothered. After about a hundred complaints, nothing comes of it.
I seriously have started believing that if anything needs to come of a government run agency, some palms eventually have to be greased. Haven’t tried that yet – but sadly, we’ll probably have to do it eventually.

So coming back to the issue.
Living in an entirely capitalist economy definitely has its merit. I honestly believe that the entire country progresses at a much, much faster rate as compared to living in a communist one.
People who are smart, talented or hard working get their just rewards – encouraging more people down that road, thus leading to faster growth of the entire nation.
(Monopolies are a negative – but then, thats just the way you look at them)
However, if we were actually in a completely capitalist economy, I would have spent the entire night at the bus stand and would still be on dial-up connection at home.
And if the government does step up and provide services like the state transport bus running at night or me getting my broadband at home (even though its on only half the time), am I right to demand good service — or should I just be grateful that I am getting such services in the first place and be happy with it?
The Indian consumer at large, I think, follows the latter ideology …
What do you people think?
(My connection went off and on 7 times while I wrote this post)
[ Min number of posts to go till Mar 17, 2008 : 79.]

And I was transported …

The incidents which took place today were far from the usual boring stuff that we end up doing. (I know I am using the words boring a lot – which I just realised how dinners generally go anyways – I mean what else can you do besides eat, drink and talk?)
In the evening, my dad comes up and asks me whether I’d like to go out for food – and being the hog that I am, the question was redundant. This time around, we decided to go to this far off place called “Chandraphool Gardens” which is a huge garden restaurant – little ahead of Dighi on the way to Bhosari.
We’ve been to this place only a couple of times – way back in the past and have always had a pleasant experience.
The place has sprawling lawns, good natural air, decent lighting and decent food – which made it a decent enough place to visit any time of the year.
And, as we had not been there off late, we decided to pay the place a visit.
So, all of us ready and 40 minutes later – turn up at the venue.
We’re surprised to see their pretty huge parking lot, full with cars – as it was a very sparsely populated place on our previous visits.
Once we entered, we realised that there was a party going on at the other end of the lawn (which is again pretty, pretty big – easily about 200 – 250 mts in length).
After being seated and having ordered the drinks, we realised that it was sort of an all – mens party – probably thrown by a guy for his co-workers who recently got promoted.
This was underlined by the fact that extremely loud, item number type of music soon started playing including “Babuji zarra …”. The sight of grown up, formally dressed (possibly drunk) men – holding hands and gyrating to these numbers was particularly amusing.
I was instantly transported to the Bihar of the movies and the ambiance and the crowd added to the effect.
Things got more interesting when two drunk men sitting on the table behind us, got up and assaulted the waiter who was serving them for no apparent reason.
The waiter fought back – but was soon over powered by the two goons who looked like some cheap political party workers.
Soon, the poor waiter was falling around, dropping plates and landed next to our table.
(Just to be clear, by assaulting, I mean – being slapped repeatedly, lots of pushing, shoving around and trying to sock the other guy in the face)
Thankfully, the manager showed up in time with a couple of other waiters to break up the fight and save the poor guy’s life.
“Perfect” I tell myself – an experience worth driving all the way out of Pune for.
All this while, my extremely charged up little brother shouting – “If anyone did that to me, I’d _beep_ him and _beep_ him and _beep_ him”, added to the entire experience of seeing a guy get clobbered. (Just to clear matters more, my little brother is not so little – he’s almost 6 feet and pretty big and probably capable of doing the _beep_ things that he said he’d do. So you better not try messing with me! I’ve got protection :))
Funnily, after the break up, the two guys get back to their seats and continue with their meal, booze and even order something more.
(If cooks and waiters spit in your food for being slightly rude to them – I’d hate to see what they must have done to their food for assaulting a fellow worker).
These two fellows might have gotten scared of being clobbered by the rest of the waiters when they stepped out – because one of them calls his other goon friends up for back up.
In fifteen minutes, four other equally goony looking men show up.
All my hopes of a goon Vs waiters show down went up in smoke when instead of barging into the kitchen and clobbering up the waiter, these guys made for the exit. Whether they paid their bill or not – is sort of irrelevant at this point I think.
However, the other families sitting around looked sort of relieved at their departure.
And if you’re wondering, the party men at the other end of the lawn, were dancing all this while – holding hands to the tune of Babuji, a Titanic Remix, a Himmesh Reshammiya number and also an “We’re going to Ibiza” track.
So if any of you people are interested in experiencing the “Bihar of the movies” ambiance, please head to Chandraphool Gardens – I’d be happy to give you directions.
This place beats the artificial environs of Horn Ok Please on F.C. Road hands down.
Brilliant experience and highly recommended.
[ Min number of posts to go till Mar 17, 2008 : 86.]

Sweltering Summer Heat …

It’s that time of the year again – Summer.



Some years ago, while back in school, summers would bring with them unlimited joy and would be regarded as “My favourite season” in the so many essays we’ve had to write on the topic back then.

More than bringing with them longer days (the sun sets at around 7 p.m) – which meant more time to squeeze in another game of galli (road-side) cricket, summers would be so much fun because of the 2 month, blissfully long summer vacations which would stretch from April to the first week of June.

Back then, the temperatures would be moderate and going out to play even in the then hot sun at 4:00 pm would be a possibility.

Not any more though …

For all those debating on whether global warming is for real, I have experienced first hand, temperatures of Pune rising steadily over the years to unbearable levels now.

Back then, winters would mean cuddling with a book under a warm blanket.

Winters nowadays can be easily seen through without the use of a single blanket.

The temperature right now in Pune is touching 42 degrees Celsius – something at which I remember, people died of heat stroke in Ahemdabad some years ago (Ahemdabad is one of the hotter Indian cities)

This is what my weather bar displays so frequently nowadays …



I would blissfully sit in the comfort of my house the entire day, but I have to go to work.

We have completely flexible timings at my new company and we basically get to decide what time we should come and leave …

We get to work between 9:30 and 10:00, then leave for lunch for an hour or so at around 2:00.

The company being close to home, I come home for lunch and then leave in 40 minutes.

The really sucky part is that once you are all well fed and stuff, going back to work in the extremely hot and dusty conditions on your two wheeler is extremely painful at 3:00 p.m.

We then supposedly work till 7:30 – 8:00 and head back home for a total of 8 to 9 (apparently) productive hours.

This schedule is turning out to be sort of difficult due to the excessive heat we have to face on two trips back and forth.

Any suggestions?

Summer basically ain’t so great anymore …

Can’t wait for the first showers to hit …

Yeah, and also – please stop polluting the earth!!!

And please go watch “An Inconvenient Truth

It is one of the most hard hitting documentaries I have seen off late and is extremely well made.

Definitely deserved its Oscars I think …

[ Min number of posts to go till Mar 17, 2008 : 87. ]