Friday, December 4, 2009

Ba bye blogger!

Hi All
I am moving to
If you're not redirected soon, click here
PS: My name on wordpress is liberalcynic cause liberal wasn't available!

Tuesday, November 17, 2009


How do u interpret wat eyes say?
What about power of suggestion?
How do you control for the answers we wanna see or hear?
What psychological expts can we run secretly
and when can we arrive at enough data
to remove internal error? Terminal 3 JFK,
a year and yet not enuf data. Somehow the head wants to
trust and a normal head would,
but this one has been so careful
believing that trusting and getting fooled
is better than never trusting at all,
but secretly believing that paranoia is good,
turning data requirements so conservative
that one lifetime becomes inadequate.
The paranoia becomes a permanent companion.
And later a guiding force so powerful
that it influences bad decisions known to disrupt.
Man is by nature destructive.
We find rationalizations for it.
Shut down and start again.
Burn our way through.
Covering so much ground.
Spiralling out of control.
One effect the cause for another
taunting linearity.
Complexity from simplicity.
The rule of the universe.
What makes hearts beat?
This myogenicity is so different
from the weapons that end civilizations
which are made from the same elementary particles.
This is life and philosophically endless
while there is a very real end.
Nothing goes on forever but
nothingness is eternal.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Sibal’s spitball

Union HRD minister Kapil Sibal wants to give a higher weightage to 12th board marks in the IIT qualifiers. Specifically, he wants to raise the minimum 12th board score from 60% to 80-85% for a qualification to the IIT entrance exams. He says that it will reduce the influence of coaching classes, and focus the students on 12th boards.

When did this man turn into the nut he seems to be today?

First problem: This man has earlier wanted to reduce the stress levels of students by easing the grading system for 10th and 12th exams. Suddenly, he wants to increase focus on these exams.

Second problem: Nearly every undergrad program that is fought for in my wonderful city of Mumbai has a CET. The 12th score has no value, and is a union card.

Third problem: If coaching classes are doing well in predicting your questions, set better questions. You are supposed to be the smartest people in India. If some coaching class hacks can outsmart you, perhaps a re-evaluation is in order. In any case, not all colleges are good enough in training students for IIT JEE (Read: No college is good enough, except if it has some IIT coach moonlighting there!) Also, who do you think prepares students for 12th boards? Coaching classes of course! So what we have here are classes for each exam telling the students that their exam is the most important. Great! Now students can choose whatever is good for them.

If a student cracks IIT-JEE by studying hard, being really brilliant, or with a lot of conniving from his coaching class, what is wrong with that? Instead of overprotecting the JEE system, make it a better system. Bring back the IIT screening, if you want.

Another thing: The IITs have been reduced to a celebration of intellect and the ability to crack the JEE and study super-hard while in IIT. There has been no great innovation from them in recent years, nothing that justifies the amount of taxpayer money being spent on the IITs. Frankly speaking, a lot of the students are going to b-schools and becoming investment bankers and hopelessly mediocre writers. Maybe it is time we added more IITs, reduced the overall cutoff, and concentrated on making decent engineers and not astronauts. The phenomenally bright students will find a way, if they're determined enough, and if they're not, well…there's nothing we can do.

The decision to implement this change, or not, is left to the IIT people. Let's all remember: whatever decision is taken, it is a lot of time and energy being spent for a crème de la crème of the Indian student population, and clearly an extravagance we cannot afford.

Monday, October 5, 2009

Scientific Misconduct - An Insight

"There is something fascinating about science. One gets such wholesale
returns of conjecture out of such a trifling investment of fact."

Mark Twain

Human beings are passionate; scientists more so than anyone else. That we take a few given facts and let our imaginations run wild is probably our best quality as far as science is concerned. For centuries, budding scientists have taken for granted many bits of established theories and facts while questioning many others. The result has been a victory for science whether the scientist himself benefits or not.

Ideally, one would like to have a research lab equipped with all necessary equipment, excellent research assistants who are dedicated to achieving results and an endless supply of necessities like money, public support and appreciation which lead to extremely unequivocal results which support our conjecture.

In reality, we have labs with constraints of every type possible, the most important being industry support and funding. A lead scientist in charge of a lab has, along with his career, the careers of his research assistants and fellows to think about.

Grants come from bodies interested in research enough to invest in it. They prefer some research to others as they hit closer to home for them. A scientist who does research for scientific curiosity alone will have to wait in line behind those who have marketable results in the offing. This does erode the scientific passion. Brian Martinson, an investigator with the Health Partners Research Foundation in Minneapolis said "Science has changed a lot in terms of its competitiveness. We've turned science into a big business but failed to note that some of the rules of science don't fit well with that model."

Science for the sake of science is a luxury few labs can afford. One can be dismayed but not very shocked at the instances of scientists modifying results to fit to already-accepted conjecture. One can understand that the Pharmaceutical Industry is one of the most affected industries as regards this fact.

This brings us to the issue of scientific misconduct. It has many definitions and interpretations but one way to simplify it probably is 'Submission of data which is suspect in terms of authenticity, originality, completeness, level of accuracy or level of certainty.' This is the type that is most talked about. The term can also be stretched to include 'use of scientific/academic authority to commit an act which is unethical or worse illegal.'

Of the various speculated theories which attempt to explain the commitment of scientific misconduct by highly educated, intelligent and industrious people, one theory states that some scientists doctor their results to fit their own theories. One may jump to a conclusion that this is motivated by avaricious needs to present a 'successful' bit of research i.e. one that agrees with a theory which has some credibility attached to it.

There is no defense for this act but when one digs deeper, one wonders whether avarice and greed to be the toast of the scientific community is just one motive and not the motive. We cannot get inside the skull of those scientists who have admitted to altering results to know their true motive but we can give them a fair moral trial in our minds by examining the situation with greater scrutiny.

This article does not attempt to justify acts of scientific misconduct. It simply believes that there is more to the idea of the talented, brilliant forerunners of our society destroying their careers and their reputations in one fell swoop than meets the eye.

So here goes, when a person approaches an experiment, he has prejudged it to some extent. It will take a yogi to have a completely dispassionate view of the experiment. There is a thought process which has gone on in this mind which has been validated by years of good research and a great academic record. The scientist foresees a result, chews on it and slowly makes it his own. It rarely happens that the research outcome completely negates the theory. More often than not, some fluctuations are introduced which skew the results just enough to challenge the theory.

"If the facts don't fit the theory, change the facts." Albert Einstein

One wonders in what context this great mind said that. Fortunately for some scientists, their conjectures and mathematical proofs cannot be challenged simply because an experiment of that kind would not be feasible. For example, Archimedes said, "Give me a place to stand, and I will move the earth." He said this right after he enlightened us with the principle of levers. With simple mathematics, one can prove that no matter where Archimedes stands, he cannot move the earth by even a fraction of an inch. But, a great mind like his was fooled by ego or an arrogant belief in a theory which has beset many of the scientists today.

One wonders then, whether science is reduced to a mere series of experiments and people in suits with regulatory expertise breathing down the necks of scientists. John Forbes Nash Jr. (winner of 1994 Nobel Prize for Economics and a great contributor to Game Theory) dropped Chemistry in college as he felt 'it only measured how someone could handle a pipette and perform a titration and not how well one could think.' But, if thinking is attached to caveats of financial and legal nature, it will stifle the original scientist and could probably force them to see results they want to see.

Gregor Mendel's laws on genetics were taken for granted and then slowly modified and optimized as newer discoveries came about. However, W. F. R Weldon suspected that Mendel's experiment results came too close to the expected ones and after applying the chi square test, he concluded that Mendel's results must be investigated. Ronald A. Fisher opined the same way. It took a lot for these people to challenge very well established laws, and it puts the thought in a person's mind that Mendel had certain views on Genetics and perhaps decided to adjust his experiment results to agree with what he thought.

One is unable to understand why such acts of, at the very least, suspect research, and at most, misconduct are committed by people. Great scientists who have been accused of such acts do not deserve the label of avarice or greed or even ego. There needs to be more research in this aspect to determine what is it that makes scientists falsify, fabricate, plagiarize etc.

At any point we must not forget that for the most part, these are path-breaking innovators with dazzling IQs and legitimate contributions to society. They deserve some more consideration and analysis.

In conclusion, all I can say is that there is no excuse for scientific misconduct and it must never be condoned. There have to be some measures, though, to investigate the cause of misconduct which will help us come up with permanent solutions to this problem as opposed to simply deterrents and punishments.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Obama's speech to Congress

America listened with fatigue and weariness as the President announced his healthcare plan. This speech was aired on every news network as well as website or blog.

The president promised that people with some or the other form of insurance right now will not be forced to change anything. He said, “Under this plan, it will be against the law for insurance companies to deny you coverage because of a pre-existing condition. As soon as I sign this bill, it will be against the law for insurance companies to drop your coverage when you get sick or water it down when you need it most. They will no longer be able to place some arbitrary cap on the amount of coverage you can receive in a given year or a lifetime.”

He said that people without coverage are a burden to other taxpayers because of their emergency room visits. Hence he says that it should be mandatory for everyone to carry some basic health insurance. I do find it odd that healthy young people who are unlikely to fall sick that often will be bullied into spending extra money on healthcare.

He says that a public option is mandatory for those who have no coverage and that it will be competing with private insurers and keeping them in check. He also seems to assure that the public option would not be a burden to the taxpayer. It will be run by its own revenue and not on taxation. It is a kind of unfair competition when the government includes one of its players in a game where the others are privately funded. This government-aided player will have the advantage of never failing. Money can be siphoned off from profiting governmental ventures to this player when things get rough. In other words, if the governmental ventures profit, the money won’t be returned to you as a tax refund, or a tax credit, but will actually be used to fund an institution that is not working in the first place.

Business, like evolution, does work by natural selection. Bad businesses should be allowed to fail. At no point do we need to bail out a venture that ends badly. So what if people have invested in it? That is way the game is played. You cannot be a partner in profit only.

I am confused. There is one point though. He is a good speaker. He can sell you any idea. Even when he says something like, “I am not gonna do any reform” which is what he meant when he said, “People on the left want a universal health care system, while people on the right want to abolish the tax breaks on employer provided health care. Doing either of these will be a great change for people who are happy with their health care.”

He said that people without coverage will get the big benefit of his plan, because he will introduce an insurance exchange marketplace, where insurance companies should also come on board because they would jump at the chance of getting new customers. How? These people are uninsured because they’re considered high-risk or high-maintenance by the companies. So what will change now? I believe the government will offer tax breaks to these insurance companies to make it more profitable to insure these people. So, money from your pocket will be used to insure people who are a health care risk, so much of a risk that current insurers do not want them at any cost.

To be fair to the president, we must take care to make sure that the silly myths about Obamacare are dispelled. This plan will not federally fund abortions. It will not insure illegal immigrants. Trust me, Democrats don’t have any advantages in helping illegal immigrants. Republicans benefit more from keeping illegal immigrants here because they work below minimum wage and benefit the small entrepreneur who is the republican base. The other myth is the stupid ‘Death panel’ concept. That is absolutely false. Attach Obamacare on the real points.

For example, Obama said that he wants the public option to be self-sufficient, and not supported by taxation. He said that it will be run like a regular business, but will sidestep some of the overheads and the profits that a private company has, and hence will be able to provide a better deal to the public. This is him making the case for socialized medicine. He will never use those words, but it is pretty much true. However, the VA, Medicare, Medicaid etc are government owned, and percentage of satisfied customers for all these is higher than the privately insured customer base. So, there is a point to be made for a single payer option even though, as Bill Maher puts it, “I know socialized medicine sounds like Stalin himself is going to come over to your house and perform a forced sterilization. But, really all it is, is universal health care.”

As I asked before in my earlier post about this, why can’t every person just vote his interest? Yes, the richest 1% will be paying more than us. So what! Simply put, each person should vote his interest, and not based on some principle and a fantasy of being rich someday. Even though it irritates me that healthy prudent people might be paying for others who cannot afford health or those who are irresponsible with their health, I keep thinking that this beacon of capitalism has public schools, public libraries, parks, unemployment and welfare options, affirmative action, and many other such taxpayer supported programs.

The one thing that Republicans have proposed that makes complete sense is tort reform. It should not be so easy to sue doctors who made judgment calls in the heat of the moment. Doctors who are afraid of being sued increase healthcare costs by ordering superfluous tests simply to back up their already correct diagnoses, paying a lot for malpractice insurance which cost is transferred to the patient, which helps increase his premium, and by refusing to treat patients who might die on the table.

There are a lot of people who are saying that they are happy with their healthcare. Most of them fear getting sick. Forget stuff like serious surgery, some basic visits to a hospital cost a lot. Many medications demand a high co-pay, which makes it tough for people to afford treatment. Some of these people are just lucky that something bad has not happened to them. I would love to treat healthcare as a regular business, but the truth is that people without other luxuries can find a way to live, but this is a necessity that threatens our very life if not present. At some point, when we are opposing reform, we are saying to the uninsurables, “To hell with you. You can die for all I care.”

I think the public option should be inferior to the private one. I think there should be a set of civil hospitals like we have in India: a completely parallel medical system, which does not interfere with the private medical scenario. Freedom to choose is an important right, but mere survival of the weakest of our species should be the least we can expect from people.

Monday, August 31, 2009


Hi guys
I have introduced myself to blogging from the iPhone. That's right. I will be sharing my idle chatter from any and all places where today's oxygen (read 3g) is available.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

A more perfect universal option

As Obama starts to deliver on what he has been promising ever since the primaries, there is a lot of talk between both wings of the electorate as to how the nation should proceed.

The left wing is deafening in its bid for a public option in healthcare. They are divided into many groups, some of whom believe that a single-payer system is the answer to everything, while others believe that a hybrid of insurance companies with the government is the way to go.

A single payer system basically means that the government will pay for everything. A patient will walk into a doctor's office, hand him an insurance card, and would have to pay for nothing that ensues. The government picks up the tab. Sounds good huh? Especially if you've recently been a victim of the insurance monsters who screwed you with words like co-pay, tier-4, pre-existing condition etc. Let's however look at it from another point of view. Who is the government? We are. The people have to pay for all this through taxes. There is a good chance that taxes would go up, and that each member of the population will contribute towards the healthcare of every other member. This means you will have to contribute towards the well-being of every chain-smoker, every lardass who gorges on donuts, and cheeseburgers (with bacon) and does not do anything that remotely resembles exercise till his arteries are so clogged that they resemble Milan subway after a heavy rainfall in Mumbai.

A hybrid system (like France has) is one where the government still holds the lion's share, but there is room for private for-profit organizations in the system. Typically, one has to pay health insurance as a citizen of France, so the system is primarily run by taxation. Around 85% of your healthcare expenses are reimbursed to you, (upto 100% in severe cases). The remaining money can also be recovered using additional insurance. By taxing the higher economic strata at a higher rate (a reasonable system), the average French person contributes roughly1% of his earned income to his own healthcare.

Conservatives like to demonize public option health care as 'socialized medicine'. I will cop to that. But come guys send your kids to public schools (completely run by govt.), use your local library service, visit places like central park in Manhattan, and don't seem to complain about the evils of big government then. Nobody seemed to mind when the govt. swooped in and bailed out large banks, which failed due to unbridled capitalism.

F. Scott Fitzgerald has a wonderful quote, "The test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposed ideas in the mind at the same time, and still retain the ability to function." That is what is expected of the intelligent electorate today. So, let us look at the right-wing and see what irks them about single-payer options.

Capitalism is what sustains America as a nation where anyone can make it big, if he has a good idea and can find the right backers. The Republican party has always favored legislation that supports entrepreneurs and I tend to agree, for it is they who create jobs, and boost the economy. People with jobs ergo people with money, ergo people who can consume the products of other entrepreneurs who will create more jobs, and ideally this cycle should lead to a prosperous free-market economy.

Countries like Canada, the UK, France etc which have universal health care show remarkable delays when it comes to getting appointments for surgeries. I see no way of arguing my way out of this statement. The govt. does function slower than private organizations. What can we do?

Selfishness and greed fuel innovation, and competition helps create excellence. Few people doubt the wisdom in the gist of my previous sentence. What follows logically is that private companies who have their profits as their continuous incentive would innovate more, and their competition would help us get the best products at the lowest price. Shouldn't this logic work for healthcare as well? Why should there be a halo around healthcare as though it is something divine? (and my readers know too well my opinion of anything regarded as divine!) Let us run healthcare as business, and the same rules can apply. Conservatives also argue that socialized healthcare in other developed countries is well enough, but even they require the tireless innovation of the free-market USA.

Here is a statistic that should shock their conscience. The US govt (specifically the National Institute of Health) funds 28% of the total biomedical research that happens here. This figure is greater than that of the contribution of any one pharmaceutical company. How can we be sure that a higher percentage of govt. funding will be deleterious? I am a biomedical researcher myself, and know that everyone around me covets the elusive NIH grant, which is tough to get, but even tougher in these times, because the govt. is busy giving indirect bonuses to AIG executives.

As far as innovation is concerned, the right wing does all it can to scuttle that too. Opposition to stem cell research from religious nuts (whose opinion should not even be considered for a lack of a rational foundation) has made sure that countries like South Korea are ahead of the US in stem cell research, something that promises to help treat some very major problems. Incidentally, here is a very interesting and informative article about South Korea's health care system (A National Health Insurance or NHI) and the problems it has.

So you know the spot we are standing on? It's called Square One!

What is the correct option? Well, no one can ever know until the option succeeds or fails. We don't possess Hermione's time turner to reverse a bad decision either.

Another complaint that conservatives have with this system is that no one gets to choose their doctor, or the care that they get, simply because in this country, it is financially expedient (via tax breaks) for an employer to purchase health insurance in bulk for his many employees. Herein lies a part of the problem. There is a chance of collusion between the insurance company and the employer, which means that you might be getting sub-standard care so that your boss gets his meal ticket. The solution to that is simple. Remove this tax break. Let every person purchase his own health insurance, and the competition will take care of itself. Right?

Well, almost. The problem still stays, because there is another lobbying organization called the AMA (American Medical Association) which helps keep the salaries of medical practitioners high. It also keeps the tuition for medical degrees high (in turn). The promise of a higher salary lures more medical aspirants, and the demand for medical seats increases, thus increasing tuition. There is far too much pampering going on at the behest of the AMA. There are new occupations being created like nurse-practitioner, physician-assistant etc etc, which means more money. They all bill your insurance carrier, who then drops you because you are too much of a risk.

An altruistic thought also goes to those 50 million who are not covered at all in the US right now. An appalling figure for an industrialized nation.

I would say that let us all be selfish for once. For the most of us, we fall under the $250000 per annum salary limit that Obama was dealt so harshly for. So, the fact is that the insurance of the at-risk population under a single-payer option would be shouldered by the very rich. Screw them! No listen. One man, one vote is a clear mandate. The bum on the street has as much legal influence on the outcome of the election as Warren Buffet. That itself is a socialized system. Let us all act selfishly. Forget the idea that socialism would destroy the fabric of the US and all that blah...look at it simply. What if the government figured out a way to put the majority of the burder on the people who make more money than you can fathom? How is it your problem? Who cares what label they put on it? Socialism, universal health care, etc about we all just follow whatever gets the job done?

This is a very long rant from me. As I have said before, I am in the healthcare fraternity, but am not an economics expert. Better opinions are sought. Rebuttals and conflicting ideas are most welcome.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Pol khuli

The things we say whilst in a relationship but don't really mean

  1. "Yes, you were the first."
  2. "Yes, you are the last."
  3. "Trust me, they're big enough." (Actually this does work both ways!) (I am getting a FRIENDS flashback.)
  4. "Of course I noticed the new earrings."
  5. "She was just a crush."
  6. "You are right. I didn't know what I was thinking."
  7. "I never understood (insert random topic) until I discussed it with you."
  8. "Of course I can cancel beer with the guys."
  9. "I was thinking about you."
  10. "I think sports are pedestrian."
  11. "I don't read action novels, I'm more into non-fiction political journalistic writings."
  12. "I think sex is overrated; we should get to know each other first."
  13. "Sex is best when you're in love."
  14. "I was stuck in traffic."
  15. "I was at (insert random friend)'s house."
  16. "I hate shopping, but with you, somehow, it is fun."
  17. "I don't know her."
  18. "Seriously, I mean it, I don't know her."
  19. "Your mom is wonderful."
  20. "You're right, your dad is the best man I know."

You guys are welcome to add more.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

A chhoto mayor tale...

"Reverse racism!", cries the right, while the left screams, "About time!"

The centrists are left to do the math. Sotomayor has good qualifications. She is a graduate of Princeton and Yale law. She does not have any skeletons in her closet (yet!), which leaves the right splitting hairs on her rulings.
Hispanics used to occupy a sizable portion of some parts of the USA. This can be evidenced by the Spanish-sounding names of many cities and towns. They are a large enough portion of this country to deserve representation in the Supreme Court. Only if the person is qualified of course. So, why is the right not finding any real fault with Sotomayor, even though they are screaming bloody murder.
The right had nominated a person named Clarence Thomas, and he was a redneck in a black camouflage. Incidentally, he has been silent for a long time on the bench, and one wonders if he has another opinion left in him, or if Scalia does the talking for him. In contrast, Sotomayor is brown inside and out, and that seems to incense the right more than anything else.
There is another angle to consider here. In almost all civilized countries equipped with a detailed and functional constitution, the judges are a little above review. Phrases like 'independent judiciary' are not uncommon in the civics curriculum of most countries. These judges cannot change the law. They are allowed to rule on cases based on their interpretation of the laws. An activist judge is one who, based on what he thinks the law should be, rules over cases by stretching the bounds of the existing law (within his discretion) to accommodate his rationale. Chains of such rulings would slowly bring about a change in the law. In this, the Supreme Court wields awesome power.
As the judges are (in a way) above the law, one wonders if they need to represent the people exactly. For example, one would not insist that the US Olympic swim team be a perfect representation of the population. We just want the most qualified people. It seems like an oversimplified analogy, but upon close examination, it has some weight. So, the argument of the left that we need a Latino person on the bench, or that we simply need more women, needs to be swiftly swatted. Obama was always going to tap a minority candidate for this, or a woman. What he did by this move is to shore up some real liberal populist mileage by going for a minority woman. One hopes that no person more qualified for the crime of being a white male. It was politics, but he is a politician, and he has to play the game. You can't blame him for that.
However, for all the screams from the right, I don't see them providing any alternatives. I see no evidence being presented by them of white men who are more qualified but simply passed by. Where is their list of qualified, jilted people who are being the victims of reverse racism?
In the end, the one thing that should be balanced on the Supreme Court is the left-right ratio. With Roberts, Kennedy, Scalia, Alito, Thomas tilting the bench so emphatically to the right that it now resembles a suspended bar magnet pointing north, it leaves Breyer and Stevens as somewhat moderate, with Ginsburg being the only seemingly liberal one. Sotomayor, one hopes, will help make this bench more horizontal.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Pain & resilience

"I like to punish myself L, I like to punish my body and keep pushing its limits." This was said to my uncle by his colleague when they were talking about exercising and trekking and stuff like that.
When he had told me this sentence, I scoffed. I was a firm believer in "No pain...what's the catch?" philosophy. It had its effects. A growing kaboose, reducing stamina, and chronic fatigue, which spoiled my mood so much that it led me to eat more, and the vicious circle was complete and running smooth.
Recently, upon the initiation of a cousin, I grudgingly started jogging. It was bad, at first, but it started feeling good when my endurance improved. Put on a fast song playlist and you are one with the road.
It was then that I actually understood what that lady was talking about. The more you push your body, the more you stand to be surprised by what it can do for you. Just when I felt like I had run too much, and could not take any more, the racy track on my mp3 player would egg me on.
Over the past few weeks, I have been going through some tough times. (Nothing too bad, mujhe baat ka batangad banane ki aadat hai!) I have to admit, there are moments when I feel that nothing can save me from this hell...those moments come especially when the AT&T customer-care lady asks me to call after two hours because the system is updating, even though she knows that they shut down for the day in an hour! Telecom in the US is no comparison to what it is in India. I could call hutch at 3am and be dealt with patiently by the most wonderfully polite technician...but I digress.
Pain teaches us a lot about ourselves. I believe, or rather, have come to believe that our tolerance to pain is released by the body in punctuation. There will be a time when you feel all the pain you can bear, and days later, you feel an affliction which dwarfs the previous one. This is true for physical and mental strife.
Another thing pain teaches me is resilience. Human beings are so damn resilient. They can recover from anything and adapt to anything. That is the very foundation for most of the arranged marriages in India.
Bernard Shaw said, ""The reasonable man adapts himself to the conditions that surround him... The unreasonable man adapts surrounding conditions to himself... All progress depends on the unreasonable man."
The pain that taught me resilience, and tolerance also screams that we must learn to draw our own line. At no point are we to tolerate less than excellence. If we are getting less than our fair share of anything, it becomes our responsibility to reach out and grab it by whatever means.
Our personalities, however, scuttle such logic. I, for one, am a little more emotional than most, and while I can be ruthlessly cold at times, when I am affectionate with someone, I tend to give them no half measures. Even if it means tolerating less than your fair share...and that brings more pain.
So, I jog, just to feel good, and while I understand the philosphy of serious athletes, I think I choose to verbalize my feelings about it to the primitive stuff like losing weight, looking better, feeling more energetic...

Strange happiness

I had written this some time seemed nice then...let's see how it plays out now.

I don't know what has come over me
A strange ephemeral happiness
A feeling of satiation, coupled with
Some anxiety

It shows me more of who I am
Shows me more of who I'm not
Makes me realize my predilections
On this path of self-discovery

Shaken I feel with some turmoil
Upset I am at something in the air
Yet there is a peace I cannot describe
The joy and pain in this diatribe
Is palpable as you can see

It is truly me, as me as I can be
For as long as I live I will not forget
Nor will I wish we never met.

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

A random note about me

A long time ago, I had read somewhere that 'ethics' were a luxury of people whose basic needs were already met. Pretty cynical huh?
I always thought of myself as a principled and ethical person, who would not bend rules just to satisfy some greed. Recently, I was decribed by someone as 'internally good'. (The same person, however also called me 'andar se kameena' many times. Some others have said of me, 'Dil saaf hai bechare ka.'
To all this, I say,"The greatest trick the devil ever pulled was convincing the world he did not exist."
I try to be nice, and a few years ago, one would probably have seen me falling over myself tow in some elusive approval through others. My self-worth has, since then, been patched well and escalated to a lakshanamaana delusion of grandeur that goes with being the scion of a Tambram family.
I went through the same old brainwashing as a child about how one is useless if kanaku was not one's forte.
Growing up, I heard all the protectionist parental arguments about how arranged marriages are practical, and how parents know all. I was given examples of failed love marriages where the story is an embarrassment to all involved and an entertainment to all within earshot. I never bought the parental 'because I said so' rationale and challenged it at every step. This usually resulted in lots of scoldings and slaps. I always believed in the beauty of love, and fished out data about happy couples who were the product of love marriages and found out, soon after, that the percentages of bad marriages were pretty much the same either way.
Food: A lot of people I know like to call themselves foodies. I thought I was one too for a long time. I still think so, but after having understood the true meaning of loving food. Earlier, I ate and ate (and I am not alone in this) to fill a personality void, as a sort of mental anesthesia from the loneliness. The problem with that was that I ate all the wrong food: KFC, gyro, etc., which were no culinary feats, but just fatty food which numbed me completely. Certain changes over the past year gave me the direction that my non-academic life needed. I use food in the opposite way now. I eat out less often, but more from the non-chain, quaint, rustic places where the food quality is good. That being said, my palate has refined over time. I literally get nauseous when the door to Burger King opens as I pass by it.
Reading: My reading evolved just like every normal child. I was into Sherlock Holmes and the classics (Dickens, Bronte, etc) from an early age. I was knee-deep in Enid Blyton for a few years. Upon a sister's insistence, I read some Nancy Drew/Hardy Boys stuff, but did not appreciate them much. Archer, Ludlum, Forsyth, Hailey and the like followed.
Rowling then came, and cemented her place in my top 5. I don't care what anyone says about the Potter series being kids' books, even the most hardened naysayers grudgingly admit that Rowling 'kanna pinnanu ezhudaraal.' Now that Harry is living happily ever after, I keep re-reading Ayn Rand and Dawkins and Hitchens.
Some of my favorite quotes:
1. "Tradition is the illusion of permanence" - Woody Allen
2. "Ridicule is the only weapon which can be used against unintelligible propositions." - Thomas Jefferson
3. "Je n'avais pas besoin de cette hypothèse-là" (I had no need of that hypothesis) - Pierre-Simon Laplace, when asked by Napoleon why he did not mention God in his book on astronomy. This one is a tongue-in-cheek tribute to a fine blogger as it is a demonstration of Occam's razor wielded by Laplace.
and finally,
4."The ability to quote is a serviceable substitute for wit." - William Somerset Maugham

Friday, June 26, 2009

Clean socks

Swimming was the most relaxing thing in her life. Even though she was a runner, and loved roller-blading, but there was nothing like gliding in water. Taking in the cool water while it swept over her made her feel like it cleansed her every pore. She was OCD clean, but the dirty water tended to make her feel pure. She always knew that river swimming was not a piece of cake, the currents were strange and the fresh water was not easy to float in.

The currents were seductive from afar, but from the river bank they were positively enchanting. She knew without experience that there would be a feeling of liberation attached to the currents. It reminded her of the bungee jump she had made, which led her peripatetic mind to the joke about the similarity between a bungee jumper and a family planner. She smiled in spite of her impending challenge. Anybody who knew her always found her to be gutsy. Gutsy, not brave simply because brave implies that a person is willing to risk all or something they have to obtain something else, or to make a statement. For self-destructive ones like her, with nothing to lose, and not much to look forward to, being gutsy was simply a by-product.

There was always an edgy abrasiveness in her silence, her lack of social graces coupled with her apathy for the approval of others made her stand out. How would you explain a person's behavior when their chain of motivation was indecipherable to most? She was an enigma, to herself and others.

The circumlocution of the water created enough discomfort. She loved punishing her body. It was the twisted reason for her amazing will-power at the gym. The water kept pulling her in and she started struggling. She knew that she was in danger now, while knowing that she was waiting for this very moment. The adrenaline rush from small danger was as addictive as a drug, and not unlike a drug, one needed higher and higher doses to get excited because of the tolerance the body developed. The more she tried to pull herself out, the more control she seemed to lose. She knew that this was planned, but the magnitude shocked her. Even if she survived, this would change her in ways that she had not bargained for.

The water was steadily entering her mouth now. Her lungs were filling up, and she could feel her breath shortening at every increment. Her eyes had started to burn and the person who prided herself upon her ability to think on her feet was now drawing a blank. Her strength was definitely failing now, and her strokes lacked the vigor she had begun with. She closed her eyes with a finality, as she felt her normally lithe body turn into dead weight. She wanted to quickly make her peace with the impulse of death.

She felt a palm grasping hers. The texture felt smooth, unlike the dried raisin-like feel that her own palms had, which told her that this was a rescue attempt. It is very important to let the person saving you to hold you, if you tried to hold him, there is a chance you will both drown. She knew this. She knew that this person was her ticket out. But, how do you save a person who is holding herself back for some unfathomable reason?

There was no thinking now. All her responses were visceral. Half her impulses guided her hand to grasp that friendly hand, the other half fought it.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Lying to yourself

Honesty with the self is the hardest thing to achieve. People always say, “It is easy to lie to the whole world, but how can you lie to yourself?” We say this while each one of us is deluding ourselves from the fact that we all lie to ourselves; and pretty well too. I have a friend who breaks his diet whenever we go to Sardar pav bhaji (for non-Mumbaikars, it is a place in Tardeo, Mumbai where the pav bhaji has more butter than Amul could possibly manufacture, and any mention of this place to your gym instructor earns you an extra half hour on the treadmill.), another who has convinced himself that he is smart; it is the professors who don’t understand his true potential (Oh wait, that’s me!)

How can you look in the mirror after lying to a friend that you don’t have time to meet him or her? How do you sleep at night after hanging up on your mom after telling her that life is too hectic to talk now, and then calling a friend over for a few beers? It’s easy. We all do it. We brush our teeth and dress ourselves and comb our hair, all using that reflective surface that is saddled with the responsibility of weeding out liars. We sleep pretty well too, admittedly the beers do their share of work there…

What is amazing about this is not the steady regularity with which we do this, but the creative rationalizations that we invent so that we can lie to ourselves with impunity. Oh come on…one drink won’t do anything to me…one gulab jamun can’t hurt…she is only a friend, so what if I cannot tell my wife about her…

Someone once told me that when you find something difficult to do but cannot fathom why, it could be your subconscious telling you that you don't want to do it. Something like a right brain thing which runs the creative side but fails to convince the logical left brain that certain things need to be done while others, avoided.

Our whole idea of life seems to be about telling ourselves that we need to be this and do that. Setting almost ungettable goals because failing to reach gettable goals is something we cannot stomach.

Whenever I write a blog post about some issue, I start off objectively trying to put forth a problem to the readers, but towards the end I find myself trying to explain the cause of that very problem. This time...I am opening the floor itself. Not only to get your comments, but to present this problem in front of you undisturbed by my opinion.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Cynical Cheney

Ex-VP Dick Cheney has made a public statement supporting gay marriage. His statement, "I think, you know, freedom means freedom for everyone. I think people ought to be free to enter into any kind of union they wish, any kind of arrangement they wish," clearly shows that he is not even on the fence on this issue.

Oh dear! If only you had ever been in a position where you could pass a legislature allowing gay marriage…oh wait…you were VP for eight years!

As for his daughter being gay, she was very gay even when John Kerry mentioned it before the 2004 elections. He was admonished publicly for this very truism. Mrs. Cheney called John Kerry a bad man.

2004 was the election when the Republican base had got in bed with the Christian right, and so much as breathing in the direction of gay marriage would have meant a loss of support from jingoistic Christian crowds. Now, however, when Barack Obama is plagued with solving the economic crisis, and (with all due respect to homosexuals) can't be bothered with the pro-gay marriage legislation right now, Cheney seems to have a hitherto non-existent angst for the plight of homosexuals in the USA.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Meera’s woe (Concluding part)

The sunlight blazed into the room as Meera could not help waking up. After an entire week of lazing around and committing all possible abacharams her grandma would have frowned upon, her mom noticed that Meera seemed to be on the phone quite often, and not too cheerful. Even her visit to her engineering college seemed to get her down. She always had an inkling that her daughter was in a relationship, which was confirmed the previous night when Meera told her everything. In all probability, he could not have been smart, together person. At least, not a lot. She never seemed comfortable talking about him. But, then again, Meera was not the kind to go to anyone for advice, even her parents, and any advice given unsolicited would be met with a polite but firm indifference. Maybe Meera would finally start opening up to her and they could be closer than they were.

Meera got up from the bed, and went straight to her laptop. Of course, there was no Wi-Fi at home, so she had hooked up an Ethernet cable. The net was still too slow though. Orkut opened while she brushed her teeth. She was not particularly the web-social networking type per se, but lately she found herself checking her scraps with an uncanny sense of longing. Ah ha! There was a scrap from him. It was another general stab at humor, but she could sense that he was trying. It was fun to see guys manufacture friendships out of thin air. So…he was longing to be home huh. "Big deal, who asked you to wait till December, you should have come now na!" She blushed slightly as the next page loaded ever so slowly, and saw her latest scrap on his profile.

The Times of India website on the other firefox tab was full of sensationalist crap, but had an easy-to-read layout. She started reading the editorial while her email toolbar beeped. A return scrap from him. Good god! Does this guy sleep next to his laptop? It must be 2:30am in Maryland right now!

Another day, another fight. This time, he was accusing her of falling for someone else. Preposterous! Well, not quite, maybe there was some truth there, but surely it wasn't the cause of the souring of the relationship. The converse, however, could have been true.

King's circle was as busy as she knew it; crossing the roads depending on the signal was as dangerous as before. There was always one spoilt brat who drove rashly. Seven eleven softy was creamier than ever (was that even possible) and the familiar Xerox wallah remembered her after almost a year! Yet, nothing was getting her mood up. She was not the self-pity kind, just someone who went into a self-protective cocoon when bad times hit, to achieve mental clarity more so than anything else. Taking the train home was as annoying and sweaty as usual.

Days passed slowly but their accumulation was going to hit her like a truck.

The truth about relationships (as she knew it) was that they all started out hot and heavy, then settled into slow progress and then reached a plateau. The next course from an evolutionary perspective was decline, and it took constant effort from both parties to help maintain that plateau. She had read this kinda stuff, and her ever-cynical psyche had come up with the idea of choosing stability over spontaneity. Settling into a relationship with a good friend with no obvious flaws seemed like the most pragmatic idea. She had spent many a time scoffing at friends who actually did the whole dating ritual. Why would someone willfully expose themelves to heartbreak? People in general are a mix of strong and weak moments. Idealizing a person was nothing but a shortcut to the inevitable disappointment when you find out that they weren't everything you expected them to be.

Now however, she wanted to believe in the existence of a real, fulfilling relationship. She could, of course, be wrong this time. Surely, being practical was the sanest course of life to take.

"Vaa maa, polaam…check-inukkku time aayiduchhu!"

Two and a half months, gone in a flash. Baltimore was beckoning. New semester, same old friends, new house, new roommates, plus one guy who seemed seriously interesting and minus an annoying and emotionally depleting relationship. She walked inside the airport after the cursory hugs (including a teary one from her brother) thanking god for the increased security measures which did not allow anyone except the passenger to enter. Who wants a protracted goodbye! She felt a qualified optimism, and knew things would be fine.

Even if nothing worked out, it was still a pretty good life she had.

(PS: If this ending seems abrupt, forgive me. – Liberal)

Sunday, May 31, 2009


(Opening Caveat: This post is not related to Meera's woe. I am working on the concluding part right now. I will post that soon.)

I hate moving. I can completely relate to people stuck in dead-end apartments simply because they aren't able to summon up the energy and the drive to move into another place.

Here I was in the Nolita area of downtown Manhattan helping my cousin move from an apartment which was close to an amazing billiards bar, three fantastic coffee places and oodles of enticing pubs, not to mention three subway stations which pretty much gave access to all parts of Manhattan. He was moving to a place in Chinatown which has only Chinese restaurants all around, no subway stations at a stone's throw, and let's just say that the old place had refined his taste so much that the mud served in the name of coffee in the nearby restaurants was no longer passable.

So why was he moving? Was it to save on rent? Not really. He was gonna pay the same amount. The reason was that his old room was the size of a matchbox, and the new one was the size of a bigger matchbox. He could now have that printer he was so eager to have!

So, ten bags in all. One of them weighed around 50Kg. It had to be carried down six flights of stairs. (Believe it or not, this ultra-modern, capital of the world had some really old buildings with no elevators!) The last time I swore this much was when Zaheer Khan had got bitch-slapped by Matthew Hayden in the final of the 2003 World Cup. We had begun the day by discussing how both of us have turned into fat pigs, and need to hit the gym hard. We both swore to start an exercise schedule as the waitress was clearing out the plates which had the remnants of our tiramisu. Hypocrisy is fun!

Finally all the luggage was brought down to the waiting area, and I was guarding the bags while my cousin was getting a cab, a task which in NYC is only slightly easier than a BCom graduate performing a craniotomy.

I was getting dirty looks from the beautiful girls who had to jump over the bags to get to the stairs. Now, I am no good-looker, so while I would never expect a second look from these fine ladies, the last thing I needed was to be in their bad books. What if these hot women periodically met during their Amazingly Hot Women club meetings and blacklisted me as a potential date to the category called "Not even if he was made of money." Why would someone with no apparent cerebral deformities move from a place with such amazing talent to Chinatown, which, don't get me wrong, simply lacked the diversity of quality that was in ridiculous abundance here defying all notions of probability.

The cabbie kept asking annoying questions about where the new address was. You may consider me an ass for thinking this, but a cabbie needs only two skills, driving and direction. So, if you cannot find an address that is less than a mile away from the starting address, you are not exactly worthy of the tip that you so self-righteously demand while you are watching us unload our uber-heavy bags.

"Hey Maggie, can you please come down and open the door, we are here with the bags." My cousin was already on the phone to his new roomie. She came out of her fire-escape (which doubles as a balcony) and threw the keys down. Neither cuz nor I went for the catch. Why try, drop and then cut a sorry figure as the other berates you for your poor fielding skills?

This apartment was on the third floor (thankfully!) and we got the luggage up there quick thanks to our freshly built biceps from bringing the luggage down at the other place.

We opened the beer we had hauled all the way here, and drank it even though it was warm.