Dec 26, 2008

Colonial Conceit...

I'd rate Pride and Prejudice (2005 version) to be one of the finest movies ever made, not just for depicting an epic love story with a steadfast screenplay that captured most of the compelling narratives and conversational nuances of the book, thereby limning the quintessence of the truly outstanding classic that it is, but also for portraying medieval England naked, and yet beautiful - from its head to heels - from the 18th century English dance to the countryside gossip, the horse chariot to paper-ink-pen, English breakfast to the study, the ladies gowns to the men's boots.... and of course the ostentatious English pride...

The English are supposedly proud folks...not just the Knights and the Dames, but every English butler and governess was known to be proud."The Sun never sets in the British empire" is a well-known anthem that aptly delineates their pride...And honestly, they had every reason to be...They'd ruled almost half of the globe, they've given us some of the best literature of the world - Wordsworth or Shakespeare, Milton or Keats, and they'd produced some of the most abundant guns, germs and steel than many other continents...

Indians are a proud bunch as well, not just proud of our rich and varied heritage (you know where I plagiarized this phrase from - Our National pledge that we were supposed to rote-memorize in kindergarten), but also proud of our culture and literature..A parallel inspection of the customs of the peoples is baffling in its abundance of similarity, yet dearth of congruence..I find Mrs Bennet (mother of five daughters who cannot think of anything else but marrying them off to filthy rich gentlemen in Pride and Prejudice) so similar to Vadivamba (mother of Mohana, who wants her daughter to get married to the best men in town in Thillana Mohanambal) and Lady Catherine (the rich and arrogant English Dame who uses her power and influence to fix marriages in her favor in Pride and Prejudice) so similar to Madanpur Maharaja (the affluent king who uses his authority to allure Mohana in Thillana Mohanmbal) . The medeival English obeisance and the erstwhile Indian greeting of namaskaram, the English womenfolk gossip and the Indian wedding gossips /complaints, the English afternoon tea and the Indian evening filter kaapi, Hamlet's soliloquay "To be or Not to Be" by Shakespeare and Hanuman's in Sundara Gandam by Kamban are all nuggets of a parallel study in contrast...

There are definately disparities arising from geographical, climatical and economic differences between the peoples, but yet the similarity is striking...Thats why I love Pride and Prejudice as much as I love Thillana Mohanambal...and I like the English countryside lake as much as I like the Indian pastoral temple kulam..Both instigate poetry in a romantic soul...
But the similarity ends there...I love India more...

I forgot..There's another furtive reason why I'd rate Pride and Prejudice one of the best movies ever made.....I love Mr.Darcy :)

Dec 6, 2008

Who would bell the Elephant??

This blog post is a digression...this is about my beloved bleeding country - India. Until a few days back, I'd been one of those unpatriotic, if not disloyal Indian taxpayer, too busy in quotidian qualms (like tax calculation) to be worried about the Indian state. To me or my "techie" associates, Indian politics or any banter bordering it, served as a contentious lunch-time discussion, and was comfortably forgotten on returning back to our qualms. This Nov 26, a few young men changed it. It's been more than a week now, the Mumbai episode and the sad state of India continues to plague me. Public memory is supposedly short-lived, mine is shorter-lived, and lest I forget, here's the post...

There were terror strikes...lives were taken away in a way that was not supposed to be... feelings of apprehension, gloom and anger ensued amongst the Indian diaspora... a few political positions were re-arranged ...and with the mundane necessities of the lives that exist, amidst resting resentment, we are bouncing back with the usual "indomitable spirit". Anger is of some good, only if it gets translated to actions, bolstered by a rationale to retrospect on what went wrong...

What breastfeeds such terrorism? Is it the usual fallback factor - religious fanaticism or a deeper psychological phenomenon of vengeance of an offended community or a more economic reason of indigence or is it some burgeoning business somewhere? None of the above? Or all of the above? Or any of the above?Answers please!!!

Whatever it is, it would do us good to discern disdainfully that a state has no complete control over terrorism especially if it is emanating from a land outside its jurisdiction. But it does have complete control over its own defense and the intelligence feeding it. So, it is every Indian subject's (taxpayer or tax calculator) expectation that his government would defend him against terrorism with its daunting defense and would foil the best-laid plans of terrorism with its inate intelligence. So what went wrong this time?

No, dont blame just the politicians again..Remember the bureaucrats ? Politicians may come and politicians may go, but a bureaucrat goes on forever...Together, with their actions or non-actions, politicians and the bureaucrats have let the average Indian's expectation down..yet again..Is it because the men in power didnt act or the men who wanted to act didnt have the power? If so, is there something fundamentally wrong with the system of the "largest" democracy in the world? Afterall, we do not choose our leaders directly, India is an indirect democracy...representation is indirect, power is distributed, and so is accountability..

Well, there have been a few success stories of the bureaucracy too..Railways for instance, as quoted by a friend.The same friend barbs "...The politicians must leave the able bureaucrats to themselves, give them their space and time..and the results will ensue.." True, how many politicians do that? And how many "able bureaucrats" exist in the system today? I dont have the statistics, (Statistics are like bikinis, what they show is suggestive, but what they conceal is vital), but the vital picture is not too appealing...

So what do we do to make the picture more appealing? Given that we are bound by the vicissitudes of this existing system, the best the average Indian could do is to raise the class of the average politician and the average bureaucrat. So would you, the above-average reader of this post, quit your white collared or collarless job and become an above-average politician or bureaucrat? Would you bell this supposedly wise elephant called India?

Sep 6, 2008

Good Time to Read This?

Before you proceed, stop right now and answer this question - How superstitious are you? 0% - bad, 100% - worse, 50-50 - well, no comments..If unable to answer that direct question, answer these auxilliary pointers - Do you believe that your prayer would be answered the way you want it to be, when a gecko chirps (what do you call that irreproducible sound that geckos make) ? Do you check the Raahu Kaalam of the day when you kick start a new course? Do you wear the same dress that you wore on a successful interview, for every damn interview you attend, even if it is unkempt? Do you believe that the ring of a bell (be it a bicyclist's bell or a telephone bell ) asserts an event that you are discussing then at the precise moment? More generally, do you associate events and happenings in the present with the signs of the past and more importantly, do you predict the future with the signs and superstitions of the present?

My Superstition Quotient (Its a new word I've coined skillfully, dont look it up, Its not there yet..) is a peu pres __ (secret). For quite sometime, dating back to almost quarter of a century, I was raised to be superstitious. Someone, somewhere told me that superstitions are God's own way of sending signals to humans and it was upto to us mortals to decipher those scrambled signals. Well, that was food for thought for the miniscule rational part of my head. The rather overly observant part of my head continued to look-out for encrypted signals from God, I would have deciphered them correctly, just that there was too much of an inter-signal-interference (or simply noise).

So as you may have guessed, nine times out of ten, my signal-reading is incorrect. - Nine events out of ten prove them wrong. And yet that one (out of a ten) event, that I may have predicted correctly (and for which I take undue credit) , makes me continue to infer signals. This signal reading got accentuated after I chanced to read 'The Alchemist'. You are preached to follow your dreams and believe in superstitions to attain the glory you are destined for..

Ok, herez the deal - Let us give it to God - He does send some signals which we term superstitions . Lets assume they are valid...God for some indecipherable reason, chose those signals to be in encrypted form, so when the ordinary mortal , with all his fallacies and limitations tries to interpret them and (assuming he is as intelligent as I am), gets them wrong? Is it glory he is destined for or doom? But what if he does get them right - Does he end up with the treasure as with the shephard in The Alchemist? Or do you have to hire an Alchemist for this?

Another paramater in this analysis that usually causes misinterpretation of signals is wishful thinking. The human head is far more likely to interpret signals in a way it would to please its lady-love - the human heart. Afterall, it can't even interrupt when the heart says something..forget displeasing it..

So the question is - Do we have to interpret signals (and superstitons) and go after glory (while we may be actually treading along doom's way) , or not interpret them at all, go neither to glory nor to doom? If it is 50-50, where do we draw the line?

Aug 1, 2008

The Mistress of Spices..

No, this post is not another rave review of the recent film, nor is a critical analysis of the book by the same name, nor is it about Aishwarya Rai, the lead actor in the film. This post is about every Indian woman who happens to command the kitchen, be it sugar or spices, carrots or coconuts, halwa or their husbands who linger around longingly.....this post is dedicated to that Indian Woman...The Mistress of Spices....

Everybody loves their mother's food. A mom-made sambar is way better than a McDonald's burger or even a Subway sandwich and healthier too...simply because of the spices or the lack of it...more because she knows how you'd like it..
I love my mom's food too...I grew up savoring the various delicacies, be it idlis or mysore paks. Yes, I did call idlis a delicacy. Its after all, mom-made..I can go down listing all my favorite recipes that my mom does, extolling her above all creatures, but I curtail myself, not just because of space constraints, but because, every mom 's recipe becomes the kid's favorite, espcially after the kid sets out to experiment and satiate his quest and curiousity for the multi-cuisine food available outside..and reproachfully retreats to the mostly harmless home food.

My semantic teammate would understand, I was pretty finicky about food and the accessories(side dishes) that went with it, I wanted only the ellu mulagai podi with mom-made idlis, while I preferred (and still prefer) the sambar and the medley of colored chutneys with the idlis at the restaurants..I simply refused to mutate this simple association, guess its been injected into my DNA...slowly..and I cant fathom how or why.

Speaking of restaurants and DNAs, the one place that has been intertwined with my DNA strands as the restaurant, is the preeminent 'Arya Bhavan By Night' at Madurai, the city where I grew up. Those were the days, when my dad used to take me there, we waiting and groping for seats for at least about half an hour, ravenous with hunger, lustfully looking at the food being carried around to serve desirous mouths..And all for that plate of a couple of sambar vadai's and spiced thayir vadai's...Bangalore restaurants offering multi-varied cuisines from different geographies, food courts in malls, fast food centers in airport lounges have done little to detangle that nostalgic DNA strand.

True, spices exist in other continents as well, the Greek cinnamon, Chinese fenugreek, Italian basils and oregano, Mexican jalapeno, Hungarian juniper berries, I've tasted most of these and like a few of them, but I love the Indian perungayam, ginger, elachi, mustard more...Just as how, cooks exist everywhere, but the Indian cook is special...Don't ask me why...I am conditioned to reflect that way...

Am not sure how healthy any of these spices are, I dont want to dwelve in detail into the chemical characertisitics of each. As long as tehre is thayir sadham (with the spiced pickle accessory) to support my digestive system, after a round of spicy restaurant food followed by the usual intestinal washup routine, I would continue to savor the spices...and the Mistress of Spices....

Jul 7, 2008

Probability is God!!!

If you agree with this rather audacious claim, then you are either too wise to be reading this blog post or, you have probably read God's Debris and with the wisdom of common sense, you are willing to ponder about this statement, and its equally contentious converse - God is Probability!!!

I am, as you may have guessed with my previous posts, not too wise. I happened to read God's Debris, and I happen to be common-sensical , and I coined these propositions. Here is the inductional hypothetical base upon which I try to prove these..

Probability is based on the law of averages. The probability of getting a head while tossing a coin is (1/2). Does it mean that when you toss a coin twice, you are guaranteed to get head once and a tail once? Not really!!! It means that when you toss a coin 100 times, you are likely to get heads 50 times and tails 50 times, and when you toss the same Godforbidden coin 1000 times, you are more likely to get heads 500 times and tails 500 times. Probability tends to become an eventuality in the average case..Life's like that... It's a probability distribution...You can just maxmize the expectation of an event in life, you can never assure the outcome of any sporadic event.

Another interesting hypothesis in the book is the parallel drawn between the Normal distribution curve and Creation. Why is that a few folks are more intelligent than a few others? They are simply normalized to be smarter, they just happen to fall in the middle ranges of the curve, some are normalized to be dumb, they are toward the curve's minima. Intelligence, color of your skin, shape of your nose, length of your fingers, span of your life, every damn thing that is created is normalized. You could in some cases (not all), influence the probability the way you want by maximizing or minimizing it, but cannot control it..

So where does God come into this probability-creation theory? Well, God is often associated with the initial Big Bang energy that created the Universe. So it looks like that cosmic energy or God as I would like to call it , had a copy of Guassian Bell curve, while creating the Universe and its life forms, and continues to do that. So God did play dice with the Universe!!

Another stupendous corollary to reinforce the above hypothesis is that events in life are normalized as well. You are normalized to be lucky...You are bound to be lucky at times, and bound to be unlucky at certain other times...And isn't Luck synonymous with God? We pray for good luck and we pray to God to bestow good luck..in effect, when you pray, you maximize the expectation of an event's outcome...So, there is a transitive relation between Luck, Creation, Probability and God ...and an equivalence relation between God and Probability...

Hence Proved!!!
Probability is God and God is Probability!!!

Jun 25, 2008

A Thing of Beauty...

"...Is a Joy For ever...". Am not the most ardent fan of this version of veritas by Keats, Am more fond of - "Beauty is just Skin Deep", but many a time, it is a little Deeper than you may expect, especially if you have frequented a beauty salon. The obscure truth that beauty lies in the twitching and twirling of the brows, waxing and waning of the limbs, thumping and thudding of the body (aka massaging), colouring and camouflaging the hair, becomes blatant, the moment you enter a salon.



Beauty salons are pervasive these days. You can't miss the Godforsaken parlour on your street or the branded salon round the corner. Its just a slight variation in the cost. Or a slighter mutation of species accosting you - the rather indistinguishable petite salon-hosts..The pain is painfully, the same. It is the same body afterall. The question is, is the pain justified? Wasn't Cleopatra far more beautiful (or atleast equally beautiful) than Aishwarya Rai with far fewer salons and artificial dyes around?

Beauty is a rat race today. If you are not a part of it, you are out by default.

I refused to enter a beauty salon for a considerably long time. Raised in a traditional suburb, I was led to believe that lipsticks and mascaras were for those underprivileged creatures who were not bestowed with "natural beauty". Wasn't I one of the "naturally" most beautiful of the race?...And I continued to look quite natural, and normal...until, I succumbed to the rat race as well..

Today, I can't exist without an eyeliner. Perceptibly, my connotations of beauty have undergone mammoth changes. I frequent a salon atleast once a month for the various routines .And I know not of a single female acquaintance who dosen't. And I know quite many male acquaintances who do. Well, it is extremely appreciable that males are learning to endure pain these days, though the pain is largely unwarranted, If only nature had contrived this when it had to choose between the genders for the ultimate endurance........

So, with all the endurance and encumberance, am I beautiful?? Not sure, it is best left to the beholder, (or beerholder, to quote my semantic teammate ). Though I cant help wishing that I had kept my distance from the beauty salons and stayed "naturally normal". It would have saved me a fortune if not anything else..

A thing of beauty is certainly a pain for a while, physical and fiscal, if not a joy for ever..

May 3, 2008

An Engineer's Apology..

Prelude - Hardy's 'A Mathematician's Apology'. A one-of-its-kind essay which gives a sneak peek into the mind of a mathematician.

Excerpts from the book:

"The function of a mathematician is to do something, to prove new theorems, to add to mathematics, and not to talk about what he or other mathematicians have done. .......there is no scorn more profound, or on the whole more justifiable, than that of the men who make for the men who explain. Exposition, criticism, appreciation, is work for second-rate minds.. "

"Good work is no done by ‘humble’ men. It is one of the first duties of a professor, for example, in any subject, to exaggerate a little both the importance of his subject and his own importance in it."

Mathematicians are a rare breed...an extremely gifted hashset of specimens endowed with an insatiable ego...They contribute more Mathematics, prove conjectures and add more theorems , not because they want them to be practically useful to the world, but because of the "intellectual curiosity, professional pride" they derive out of their research..Euler, one of Mathematics' greatest warriors, is known to have expelled a student from the university for having questioned him for the practical usefulness of a theorem..

One of the most elusive theoroms to be ever solved in Mathematics..the deceivingly simple Fermat's Last Theorem, was considered romantic and honored by the entire mathematical fraternity, not because proving it found an antidote to nuclear reactions, but because of the sensational pride associated with cracking a three-century-old riddle..Andrew Wiles finally proved the theorem after a decade of reclusive work...
And thus, mathematicians continue to live happily ever after....

Engineers on the other hand, solve equations for the sake of practical implications they have...While a mathematician judges a problem by its difficulty, an engineer judges it by its usefulness..And many a time, the supposed usefulness of the solution overshadows the beauty of the very problem that demands it...

Engineering is more sensibility than sense...To make things clearer, how many of us write beautiful code as against working code? And how would one define beauty in engineering? It is best left to the reader to answer that question..In my opinion, there is very little that an engineer can do with his aesthetic sense to satiate his voluptuous pride...

I am not apologizing on behalf of the engineering fraternity...Probably they have more practical reasons to be or not to be than any other exisiting ones...Am apologizing to the mathematical egotist hidden inside every engineer, who is denied a chance to surface in this engineering whirlpool...Warm Regards to thee....

PS - An equally controversial blog post...

Apr 18, 2008

The Temple of Small Things.....

Everybody loves Pillaiyar...I love him too...for many reasons...He is not-so-good looking, he is huge, he does not admonish you even if you scathe him, he grants wishes, big and small, immediate and mediate, (He is the God of Wishes!!!)and he is ubiquitous..every other street in an Indian city (and every apartment) is bound to have atleast one small Ganesha temple or atleast a perch, where he is blissfully poised...


I frequent a neigboring "Pillayar kovil" everyday, its a small temple neatly architected, and beckons me with its mystic silence..After a hectic day's running around with bizarre intellections, I try to spend about ten minutes in this temple to oraganize the random thoughts... Maybe if this recollection is done in the presence of the Elephant God, He would erroneously assume that I am dreaming about Him and only Him, grant a few more wishes I put forth to Him....
Maybe not... He has a brain as big as His head to see through my chants....Well, am I the wishful thinker or is He??

Today is a typical day at work, I go to the temple ...I see the usual main players around....the lady who sells flowers and arugambul who looks at me earnestly for a ten-rupee-transaction, the young and vivacious junior gurukkals who patiently repeat the mundane routine of aarthi and theertham to every damn living thing that enters the temple...the senior gurukkal who has been self promoted to the more lucrative fortune-telling business, sitting with the panjangam of an erstwhile era, future-telling the always great futures of the faithful crowd waiting on him, And of course, the Lord Himself in a corner... I sense something by its absence today...and I look around, and there it comes....a brand new Bajaj Pulsar 180 DTS-i brought straight from the showroom to the temple, seeking the Lord's blessings...our Ganesha entertains atleast two vehicles a day..He is the Vehicle God...

I leave my footwear obediently outside the temple , enter it, exchange a greeting with the junior gurukkals, nod at the Lord and accept the aarthi deeparadhanai.I then go around the Lord's statue an odd no of times, chant the 'Vinayagar agaval' - the only decent slogam I know, and think about my wishes for the day and petition my lifetime wishes...all at once....well, I am good at multiprocessing....I then sit down after the namaskarams. I close my eyes, tune in to the Ganesha chants in the background....and let my sixth sense take over...I open my eyes to see enlightenment, I see a pair of skinny jeans and spaghetti-topped girls dutifully seeking Ganesha's blessings, their eyes are closed in reverance, others eyes are wide open...in well, a natural reflex...

The old couple enter the temple...They are a cute pair, must be in their 60-70s. They go for a regular evening walk and drop by the temple as a custom. They don't talk to each other, just an occasional nod, and an eye-signal when its time to leave...And then there is the younger pair, to whom the temple is a conveneient rendezvous for the daily meeting up and catching up...They are busy ranting and giggling, oblivious to the surroundings....Well, Ganesha does have a good history of pairing up lovers...He helped His younger brother Subramanya make his sweetheart Valli fall for him, and it wasn't a straightforward way.....He is the Indian Lover's God as well.
And then the school girls, who have their public exams shortly,praying their hearts out for 'better than the best' marks and more importantly, 'easier than expected' questions....Ganesha undoubtedly is the Student God as well!!

I wait for my hero...and he does turn up finally, toddling besides his grandmother and elder brother...I smile at him...he looks at me and keeps looking at me, and looking at me, he trips down. He gets up, looks away from me, and runs besides his grandmother who is now going around the Lord. Together they complete the odd no of revolutions, and as serendipity would have it, they sit beside me. The boy looks at me again, and his eyes meet mine, they remain transfixed for a while, I sense love, he senses some unknown fear, and he inches towards his grandmother letting out a whine. His grandmother draws him close, he snuggles to her lap, and avoids me. In a few minutes, he takes a bold look at me again, I remain smiling at him, he can't take that anymore, runs behind the navagraha statue and remains hidden...His grandmother is puzzled, and so is his elder brother, they call out to him, he does not acknowledge.."Why is he hiding behind?" his grandmother asks, well, only two heads know the answer, I chuckle to myself...Whatever do I do to young men ;) ??

So, what is my purpose of these daily temple visits? I am wondering to myself...I can't think of any, but am reminded of this poetic line by a friend..."When Purposelessness becomes the Purpose,... it is Homecoming"....I head for home....

Jan 12, 2008

What's in a name?

Are you one of those multitudes of people who go crazy about the "brand" when you pick a T- shirt or a travel bag? Do you go for branded Australian apples from XXXX's Fresh or do you settle in for the less privileged but equally nutritious ones on the platforms of Madiwala market? Do you judge a book by the book-keeper's looks and diction? Do you buy a "Marks and Spencer" plain T shirt for a couple of grands with no negotiation, just return the wistful smile of the well-dressed hosts of M&S and yet argue at the top of your lungs for a couple of tens for the same kind but less dear T shirt with an under privileged platform-wala at Commercial Street? If you answer in the affirmative for any of these, then tell me why..


One reason springing up at the top of my mind is "Quality Assurance" - the phrase synonymous with brand. I'd anyday pick a Titan watch, spend a little more bucks and get the warranty and assurance of quality than one of those flashy non-branded cheaper ones available in the platforms. Most of us choose the branded counter-parts for electronic/electrical goods. But brands are so pervasive in our lives...from groceries to gloves..and where do we draw the line?

Why is the passion for a Samsonite travel bag that costs a fortune more than its non-branded equally good (??) counterparts so huge? Not to mention the Nike shoes , Provogue T shirts and Garnier body lotions? Is it that all the non-branded items are inferior in quality or that all the branded items meet up to the fortune that they cost?

And if you thought brands applied just to the products, think again...How many of us go to PVR and Inox cinemas, willingly spend more when the same movie is screened in less flashy theatres? How many students go to branded engineering and medical colleges for better recognition and career growth? Its the same syllabus after all...Do all branded institutions have the consumerate infrastructure or faculty? And how many of us travel miles to go to branded beauty salons when we could get the same service from an obscure but good salon next door? Brands just seem ubiquitous from pre-school to technical companies, from sanitary napkins to hair cremes.

To me, it is also seems like a kind of marketing strategy...the more unaffordable an item is seemed to look like, the more value it seems to carry, and it is sold like crazy among the "currency - creamy" population. To me, it seems like brands are a trap...And, if I sound like I've evaded the trap, well, no..am one of those vulnerable victims of the brand-game. I get an Australian apple from XXXX's Fresh, pay more for the AC charges and fight for five bucks with the platform-wala outside the shop for guavas. Am just wondering "What's in the name" that makes me and a few others do that (Hopefully I'm not the only one contributing madly the brand way to the Indian economic explosion)...If you have answers, please tell me why....

PS : A case in point (Thanks to Harish for the link)