Wednesday, December 31, 2008

The precipice

"Hey it possible for you to come over in an hour?"
"Ya sure...what's up?"
"Aa jana phir batata hoon."
"Okay, see you in an hour."
"Accha sun, quarter leke aana."
"Sure...Royal Stag?"
"Abbe kanjoos, abhi to note chaapne laga hai...bring JD at least!"
Forty five minutes later...
"Early as usual!"
"Well, quarter ghar mein padi thi...and traffic was low..."
"So, you came via Panch Pakhadi?"
"Yeah, but with a few unorthodox detours on the bike, I managed to avoid tell me"
"Arre...let me make a small one first...soda for you?"
"Make mine with Coke, by the way, go slow, I brought only one quarter..."
"Arre mera to on the rocks hone wala hai...I took the liberty of ordering some Chicken biryani..."
"Is this discussion gonna be about your job or the relationship you are in?"
"Oddly enough, both. You see, I got a promotion...did you watch the match?"
"Congrats! Yeah I saw, in spite of Ponting's century, Aussies lost...but unka to time aa gaya hai...what is the new designation that you have been promoted to?"
"Associate Sales Head for Mumbai division; it means a lot more money and some real responsibilites for a the way I ordered the biryani from that guy Khurshid in Talao pali..."
"That is amazing, so your career is finally taking off...Khurshid is is Rashid whose biryani is does this affect your relationship though?"
"June 2006, third Sunday...I had called you up and told you that she has given me a committment ultimatum...remember?"
"How you remember dates and days with such feminine accuracy I will never understand...but yeah I remember the ultimatum, and come guys have been together for 4 years now and there seems to be no serious problem...other than your usual committophobia!"
"Why thank you, I seem to recall you siding with her even then, by the way have you yanked out the knife from my back or have you got a new one?" Anyway, do you remember how I had warded her off?"
"Yeah something about you not being in the place you need to be career-wise, and waiting for a promotion to some the time of reckoning hath arrived?"
"Exactly yaar, is promotion ne maa-behen ek kar di meri! I don't know whether to be excited or not."
"The way I see it, you love this post, what are you thinking about...take the promotion and don't tell her you will be safe.."
"Nahi yaar...she is a part of the legal team which we had contracted for these two years...another pair pe kulhaadi from yours truly...she will definitely hear about this...I have to take the promotion and I have to commit to her now."
"Or, of course, you can break it off...are you ready to do that?"
"No re...everything is fine now...we meet often, and we are both saving money, and I definitely see marriage in the future for us, but not now...I am only 29 damn it!"
"Only 29! At your age half our graduating class has had their first progeny...forget that, how are your parents placed on this issue?"
"Same old same old...they want me to do whatever I want...but in reality they want to see me saddled and bridled right now."
"Why do you look at committment as imprisoning instead of empowering, by the way have you seen my Dido CD, I have lost it..."
"Yes, and once you find it, you must start looking for your testicles as well...committment is empowering!"
"Chubbe...chal repeat bana."
"Sure...the reason I called you is that I want you to take stock of my relationship and tell me what you see..."
"I see a smart, good looking person wasting time with a good-for-nothing useless dickhead."
"Oh come on! Help me out man..."
"Sorry yaar, I'd rather crack String theory than explain this shit to claim to love this female, and yet you do not want to commit to her, is there someone else?"
"No...I haven't looked at another girl all this time...well except Tanya, that sales rep we had hired last week..."
"Or Seema, the HDFC bank girl whose totally useless personal loan you almost took.."
"Yeah but..."
"Or Rekha, that hot neighbor of yours.."
"She's married!"
"Like you care...or Romila that cute girl your girlfriend carpools with..."
"Pagal hai kya, one wrong stare and she will destroy me..."
"What about Sameera, that tall wanna-be model you give occasional lifts to..."
" Well, we work in the same building..."
"Or Reena...aaah Reena.."
"Can we get back to the topic at hand?"
"How many times have I told you never interrupt me when I'm picturing Reena?"
"Sometimes I wonder how logically stunted I must be that I court your advice!"
"Okay chill dude...look, the way I see it, you are being an ass...she loves you and by your own admission you love her...why not just take a few days' break and think over what it is that is preventing you from making the ultimate committment, if there is a genuine answer, you might consider breaking up with her...or swallow your fear and go ahead because that is probably what you want deep down."
"Just when I completely give up on you, you reach down into that abscess you call a heart and come up with something pretty pragmatic."
"Well, I'm drunk enough to give a rat's ass about your problems and sober enough to make sense!"
"Let's stop here then...I am taking a week off and going to Kerala to meet my grandparents...who knows meeting elders or even the journey itself might lead to some quality introspection..."
"Promotion milte hee chutti le raha hai...make way for the employee of the month!"

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Blogger types?

Blogging is more than a pastime. It happens to be a responsibility. Once the blog actually gets a decent audience, it becomes all the more important for the blogger to use it well. In the old days one had to be really good at writing to be heard simply because even the lowliest college newsletter had an editing panel that filtered off the complete crap that was so bad that the week's recipies were more interesting. 

Today, it has become a lot easier for one to be heard if one has any kind of thought about any issue in the world. While that has helped get the ball rolling on people sharing ideas, it has given way to an unimaginable verbal diarrhea that needs to be controlled. 

I guess we can say, don't look at a blog if you don't like its content, and that's that.

Still, there are various species inhabiting the blogosphere. 

The first one is the veteran blogger. This guy has had his profile visited more than, and has a fan following that regularly checks his url for his latest update. RSS feeds were invented for this kind of species I guess. These are the people whose blogs have urls ending in .net or .com or something else exclusive unlike us lowly blogspot/wordpress people.

The next one is the regular blogger. Most of us fall into this department. We blog because our friends do so or because some poor misguided soul once told us that we had a talent for writing and we took them seriously. We smartly blogroll each other in a mutual back-scratching way and take care of one another. We leave comments on various blogs just often enough to induce regular hits on our blog.

The third kind, the one to watch out for, is the 'me too' blogger. This guy is usually someone who does not really have the aptitude or the passion to write but has enough blogger friends and simply does not want to feel left out. Too many blogspot domain names are forever lost to these wanna-be Pulitzers who start a blog, write the first article, usually a self-descriptive hubris chant that asks readers (meaning friends and relatives who have been emailed/scrapped/pinged the url of said blog) to watch this space for more. Such bloggers do not really deliver and the blog tapers off after the first or the second post.

All said and done, the fact that every useless thought that enters our head can now be voiced says a lot about technology and our reach. Let us use cyberspace responsibly and humorously.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Rab ne banal di thodi

After much ballyhoo and brouhaha that would take pages of this blog to fill, I reached Sahar airport (Yes, I refuse to call it Chatrapati Shivaji, get over it). One night of tossing and turning and a morn beset by jet lag slowly morphed into my sister dragging me to the latest SRK movie, "Rab ne bana di jodi." It came highly recommended by her friends, which should have been my first warning, which I did not heed. Nonetheless, I found myself in the movie hall, watching previews of a movie called New York, which seems to be akin to the oft-beaten drum of Muslims in post-9/11 USA. Forget that.

The movie opens promisingly enough, with SRK in his simplest clothes, wearing a fresh, un-starlike look that impressed me and convinced me that even Yash Raj films has come of age. A blushing bride, too pretty for him to have obtained her under circumstances other than the tragic death of her original 'would-be', and sure enough, that is what happened. Kudos to the banner for cutting to the chase initially, instead of vacillating on tears and trials.

Kudos to the peppy music, thumbs down to the intellectually numbing lyrics. Back to the story. Imagine a man who thinks that he is too uncool for his wife to be considered a suitable husband to her. Compound that with the fact that she is recovering from the loss of her real love and her father. Garnish it with her bold statement that she can never love her husband but would strangle her dreams to be an ideal wife. This is SRK's position as he keeps sharing with his suggestively gay-seeming hairdresser friend (played to perfection by Vinay Pathak). SRK metamorphosizes to a cool (using the term loosely) chiseled version to capture the girl's attention with innuendo and slapstick humor. 

While he succeeds in interesting her enough to become her friend, he realizes that the more she falls for the new guy, the further she is getting from the boring original guy he is. This ego conflict is the only part of the movie worth intelligent analysis, and as usual, Aditya Chopra has left a lot to be desired in this department. He fails to capitalize on the fact that he has an actor with potential (see Swades) in SRK, and a wonderful angle to exploit. 

Instead he sticks to the familiar pandering to the Indian culture where a woman is supposed to love her husband no matter what. He dresses it up in a deceptive tone of "Mujhe isme rab dikhta hai", but be not fooled, it is the same Bhagwan ne hamein jodiyon mein banaya hai crap.

Many reviewers have written pages on the fact that the new girl can barely act but shows her body well. Don't even bother with the fact that a woman cannot recognize her own husband when comes sans moustache and in tight t-shirts.

All in all, like a typical Yash Raj movie, this one is an insult to human intelligence, with glimpses of cuteness that are so few that they need to be filed under the topic of sheer chance. SRK does a decent job as the shy, unassuming, bumbling Suri-the power company worker, Vinay Pathak does a nice job, and newbie Anushka Sharma is strictly okay. Honestly, some movies need to come with a refund option, but then again, what can one do about the lost three hours that we can never get back?

Friday, December 12, 2008


Ah! The post exam relief is sublime…the end of responsibilities, no need to feel guilty about reading The Kite Runner when you are supposed to be reading Process Analytical Technology, no need to feel like you are wasting time listening to music when you should be captivated by Quality by Design and such like. It is a moment of freedom, where you realize that you are truly done with your subject for the semester. The chains have been untied and you are free to pursue what you really want…aimless enjoyment and idle pursuits.

Or so it is for most people.

To me, there is a cold emptiness that follows the end of an exam. I don't want to read books, or listen to music now that it is not taboo anymore. I don't know about others, but I've not been a model student during any part of my life. My parents have never really had the joy of telling their cousins and the like about how I'm always first in class, although I find it hard to believe the embellishments of all my aunts of how their children are perennial toppers. Somehow, the numbers never added up. There are far too many toppers for me to take those statistics seriously…but I digress.

A lot of our syllabi have revolved around memorization skills, with the best parrots in class sweeping up the top spots. With all due respect to their hard work and dedication, I've always nursed the idea that education should be about making professionals and experts and not mere encyclopedias of trivia…and I'm so not alone.

So whenever an exam has presented itself, I've found myself neglecting the memorization parts on principle, and taking the low marks without a frown. The parents were disappointed, but I couldn't care less most of the time. I have to admit something controversial here. I have always loved exams. The idea of a piece of paper, if well framed, being able to judge what I have taken out of a course fascinates me to no end.

Getting my grades were a kick too, for I was so arrogant and self-satisfied that unless I am really convinced otherwise, I have always used my grades to judge whether a course was taught, tested or graded fairly. This happens most of the time.

I have been lucky for the most part of my academic life inasmuch as I have never had to work too hard. I can't help feel bereft of that supreme sense of satisfaction that one should feel after working hard over something and seeing it to fruition. Chalk it up to arrogance, ADHD or plain laziness, I have always been on the casual side.

Hence the emptiness.

I spoke to a friend of mine, one who has these problems too (I have seemed to attract many friends who share my affliction). If anything, that guy probably needs to work even less than I do for results similar to mine. I put forth a theory to him expecting him to smash it with positive logic, but he concurred, and not only so, he even added to it.

So, our theory is that people like us (and there are many) who don't work hard for some tasks, (academics being at the forefront) do so because of an all-consuming fear of failure. They are so afraid to give everything to a task, because they don't want to find out that their everything is not enough to excel at said task. In other words, they do not want to accept the finiteness of their abilities. They are far more secure in their fool's paradise where they proudly put in less effort, and are not surprised when the consequences are not excellent. Worse still, they almost look down upon the ones who dive into their responsibilities accepting their faults and shortcomings and trying to fix them. Many would not want to admit this, and are going to be shattered when they see this, and see themselves in this. Of course, if there are so myopic about themselves that they ignore this theory, they will need a stronger stimulus. So deep is their denial that they would probably never see the light. Maybe their denial will last as long as they do. If so, I don't know whether to pity them or envy them.

I'll settle for a compromise. I will understand them, for I've been there too. I have always noticed that my blog posts are more objective than most. It's probably because I'd rather focus on external issues than turn the microscope inwards. I guess I should take heart in that I've recognized that problem now, and it is not too late to reform.

This post is more serious and vulnerable than others, so I hope my readers would forgive my indulgence. The ends of certain times are times of introspection and personal growth. Who knows, maybe my readers would use this post to look inwards and find their vulnerabilities too. At a minimum, this post puts forward a theory worth discussing.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008


Nothing quite salutes the ego than blogging. Here is an idea where one can take one's deep thoughts (regardless of their value) and immortalize them in cyberspace. It does not matter whether your works are of publishable quality or simply not worth the chips that store them as memory. You have written a piece and so shall it be, forever. Then comes the idea of posting links on facebook and orkut directing unsuspecting friends to your blog where they can get a taste of your narcissistic personality. Shameless self-advertizing sounds too egotistical, and hence bloggers have resorted to scratch each others' backs by a fantastic tool called blogroll. Here one blogger tells his readers about a list of blogs he follows. I friend of mine (a fantastic blogger himself) had added me to his blogroll, and while I was a little slow on the uptake in adding him to mine, I found many messages on orkut, some on Gchat and a couple of phone calls where I was urged to blogroll him. You know who you are…so blush away!

Well, I've been tagged by buddy to post links to five posts of mine w.r.t certain topics. The list is Family, Friends, Yourself, Your love, Anything you like.

Here is the strange thing. I have not written jack about family. I don't know why. So, sorry buddy. One down, four to go. Friends are few and far between, but the ones there are, are for keeps. The guy who fought so hard to get into my blogroll is a true friend. There aren't many posts on that either. There is one I wrote when a friend was making a presentation. Somehow, I was able to pen down a poem during his apparent soliloquy.

Yourself: Now that is a topic on which any self-respecting blogger can write volumes. So here, here and here are some links on articles about myself.

My love: This is a topic where I cannot speak much, given my shy nature (wink, wink). So here and here are some posts which might shed some light.

Anything you like huh…let's see…I like to talk about various issues: God, politics, philosophy, writing etc.

So here it is, a slate with some of my shameless self-advertizing, or what we call a blog! I am supposed to tag five others, so here they are: avalok ishwar, phoenix, rydhun, sthitapragnya and buddy.

To all you nitpickers out there, I know I am tagging buddy uselessly, as he has already done this one, but I am not gonna pass up a chance to call him brilliant. That's it man…no more compliments for you for a month at least!



Saturday, December 6, 2008

Custody rules

The Supreme Court of India has recently granted custody of a minor boy to his teacher mother of humble means. The father in this case, a Mr. Gaurav Nagpal kidnapped his son after the divorce, and was holding on to him against the rule of law. In this case, the ruling was absolutely right. Clearly, the father has displayed a lack of moral fibre with his acts. Let me say on the record that I completely support this ruling.

The Times of India titled this story as "Money has no meaning in custody battles: SC." The bench is quoted as saying, "In determining the question as to who should be given custody of a minor child, the paramount consideration is the 'welfare of the child' and not rights of the parents under a statute." Fair enough. It goes on to say, "Simply because the father loves his children and is not shown to be otherwise undesirable does not necessarily lead to a conclusion that the welfare of the children would be better promoted by granting their custody to him."

The welfare of a child in a custody battle is paramount. I get that. I also understand that a child needs a mother during the developmental years. Gaurav Nagpal in this case is a rich man who is providing his son an education well beyond the mother's means. He used this point to state that he is in a better position to take care of his son. The SC ruled that as the education of son is very important, the father should continue to pay for the education while the son stays with his mother.

My question is this; to what extent must the mother be proved to be a deviant for the father to get custody? I appreciate the need for maternal love in the growing years of a child, but what if the son is 16 years old? I would contend that he needs his father more. I don't know the age of the boy in this case, but I'm pretty sure that the bench would be skittish in granting the custody to the father if the son was a teenager unless there is sufficient proof of the mother being abusive or something.

I am unclear about this topic as I am far from the stage where I would consider myself mature enough to have a child of my own, but I was always old enough to have an opinion. So readers, please chime in with opinions to clear my mind a little.

Friday, December 5, 2008

Café speak

"A grande latte please, no cinnamon…"

"Boy! You've not changed a bit I see…"

"Hey, if old habits are allowed to die hard, I think coffee preferences deserve immortality"

"Double cappuccino, just a hint of cinnamon, less foam…"

"Wow…living on the wild side, I've never seen you order cinnamon…speaking of old spices I hate, there's Sam…"

"Sam…surely you mean Sameer, don't tell me he has Americanized his name too…he is just in his second semester…"

"I know, it is presumptuous of an international PhD student to become red, white & blue before he clears his comprehensives."

"Ah! What the hell…I heard the NMR machine in his lab is a 600MHz! Is he using it now?"

"Not unless you count the new Taiwanese MS student being spread-eagled on it succumbing to his lecherous advances as research!"

"Well…chemistry manifests itself in weird ways!"

"That stab at humor was passé even for you"

"Hey…you should have ordered a decaf I guess…the last thing you need is more caffeine at your crabbiest best…I take it your animal protocol was turned down again?"

"I will never understand how a person who regularly endorses the slaughter of cows and pigs with a casual saunter into Burger King can cry like a baby if the protocol has a lower quantity of anesthesia than regarded as appropriate…for god's sake I am researching pain management, how can I do that without causing the animals some pain…"

"Calm down, they are doing their job…we can't have people being callous about animal handling in the name of research…so tell me do you get time to spend with your girlfriend at all?"

"Not really, between her trips to the polytechnic department for the gel filtrations and my constant bickering with the animal department and numerous protocol addenda…we manage to squeeze a phone call in every 3-4 days or so…"

"She lives three blocks away…her lab is three buildings away from yours…I think one or both of you might be consciously avoiding the other…"

"I need a refill…what about you?"

"Yeah…tell the waitress to repeat mine too…so I got lucky last night"

"God! I noticed that grin on your face ever since we sat down…I knew if I did not ask you, you would certainly rub in my face all the action you've been getting…so who is she?"

"Remember that cute ABCD biomed student of mine…well…she is not my student anymore, so I asked her out and she came in if you know what I mean"

"Your innuendoes never cease, do they?"

"Yeah whatever, while you spend your nights playing pocket-billiards mulling over doses of propofol, I am playing the game…did I mention I am up for an NIH grant?"

"F#$% you…all the fun and yet you get the laurels too…you cell culture waalahs get your own way on everything!"

"Well, not to sound too churlish, but animal research is like having a girl friend- lots of work and negotiation and not much scoring…cell culture is like my life…scoring all the time and no adjustment!"

"Hey…I have a lab meeting in half an hour…need to shave, shower and order pizza…"

"You are proving my point!"

"Same time, same place, next week?"

"Until then!"

"Bye bro…bye Sam (a little louder)"

"Bye…Hey Sam…guess who I banged last night…"

Friday, November 28, 2008

You dared, you failed

Yes, we are not silent, but loud

We are obnoxiously rich and proud

We are shameless flaunting our prosperity

Not in richness and baubles, but integrity

You came through our shores,

We did not stop you then

For there are many who come so

We'd rather not prejudge them

You betrayed our trust, transgressed our boundaries

Hurt, maimed and yes…killed our brothers

We know not what you want, what you desire

We would like to know the cause of your ire

But fear we shall not, as we never knew trepidation

Your shenanigans budge us not an inch

There is nothing we desire more than peace

But we shall not lose sleep worrying

You dared many times to breach our strongholds

You think you have succeeded

But look at our faces, our resolve, and our demeanor

Do you really dare celebrate?

For your greater target lies unachieved

As it always shall be, for our heads will never droop

We believe in rights, privacy and fun

You took none of that away

We are not those who believe

In ruining life in fear of death

You can try and try again

We shall not blink as you can see

But let me also say in return

That we are not as passive as we might appear

The day we know what it is you are

We shall obliterate you with no trace

To leave a clue that you existed

Until that day, live with knowledge that

You've done nothing to shake us

I love my city to no end. This is a tribute to Mumbai and her amazing resilience.

To all Mumbaikars, it's time we declared just how valuable she is to us.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Weird events

Here is a list of weird things that happen or have happened in my life, which might overlap with some of the events in your lives too.

  • I went to the restroom in the college library that day to wash my hands and face as I was working tirelessly on this term paper (which means I was watching youtube and chatting while on invisible mode). I was scrupulously washing my hands and was done drying them when the urge for a constitutional came over me and I went into one of the booths. The other occupants of the restroom looked at me as though I was the poster boy for OCD who washes his hands before the act.
  • This happens to me too many times. I am waiting for someone, and I look at my watch for no reason really. The next moment, someone asks me the time, and I need to look again!
  • I have nice interesting conversations with pretty girls which peak with them telling me that my shoelaces are untied. The sad part then is that I never then find a low stump to rest my foot on whilst tying the lace (Murphy is my constant companion), so I need to go the full monty, bend all the way and tie them up, by which time any girl would excuse herself from the conversation.
  • Waking up early is that much easier when you have nothing to wake up for.
  • Dreams seem to become less Sooraj Barjatya and more Alfred Hitchcock every night. (That is a comfort, trust me)
  • Eating food has become one of the events to look forward to these days
  • An ex-roommate of mine once stared philosophically at a roll of toilet paper and said, "This is one of the added expenses in the USA, which we never had in India"
  • I saw this girl I knew while walking down the street. I did not know what magnitude of smile intensity would be considered appropriate. What if she gives me a small smile merely acknowledging my existence while I floor her with 32/32 teeth. She will consider me a creep. However, if I give her the dignified smile and she flashes the pearly gates, I look like a snob. Also, I lose any chance of another of those smiles. I took the conservative route, and gave a small nondescript smile. Would you believe it, she gave me one of the sweetest, broadest smiles ever, and now I feel like an idiot. (Damn that Murphy never takes a break!)
  • I felt very good one day. I had purchased a packet of bite sized peeled carrots. Great! Now I could guiltlessly munch on these during those long movies etc. Before I realized it, I was having those lovely red denizens of fitness Elysium with potato chips and mountain dew!
  • I went into this quaint pub near Kew gardens with a buddy, and ordered an Absolut vodka straight up. The bartender was impressed as she asked, "Straight up? No ice?" I said, "No ice!" and pondered that for one moment in my life, I actually looked macho. Then she shattered it with, "May I see your ID please?"
  • There are many more like these, but they probably make for duller reading than the above.

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Quirks & peccadilloes

To be very clear on this issue, I have not been tagged by anyone to write about my quirks. Seeing as everyone in the blogosphere is writing about these, and that I have some really weird quirks of my own, I decided to write about them.

So here goes…

  1. Good Mornings

    Mornings can be of two kinds for me, good and bad. Let me stop you right at the beginning if you're gonna say that that happens to everyone. My good mornings are ridiculously cheerful, and you would think that not only did I get up on the right side of bed that day, also that that bed was co-occupied by Angelina Jolie or something. I bid cheerful greetings to passers-by who are often irritated (that includes fellow students, lab mates, the Dunkin Donuts staffer…)

  2. Bad mornings

    These are really bad, and I yell and snap at cheerful people (see above) who have the audacity to greet me. I say things I don't mean, and write things in blogs that I really feel.

  3. Food

    I am a complete non-vegetarian, with some tendency to consume veggies now and then. When I eat something with meat in it, I eat all the other crap first, saving the meat for later. Then I wonder that why did I leave so much meat
    and no dressing to eat with it.

    When I eat M&M's or tic tacs, they have to be in even numbers, such that I put half on one side of the mouth and half on the other side.

    Until they enter my mouth, different food items on my plate can never touch each other.

    When I drink soda, the fizz has to remain till the last drop (difficult huh!) so keep closing the soda bottle after every gulp, each time tighter than the previous, and then I wince when I have to open it.

    Any coffee I drink has to be hot till the last drop, hence a microwave is indispensable when I have the large cuppas.

    I refuse to eat with chopsticks. No negotiation there.

  4. Misc

    My wallet stays in my front pant pocket, no matter how suggestive the bulge becomes. It is the aftermath of years of travel in Bombay trains, and pick pocket paranoia, although now that I think about it, in Bombay my wallet never had more than Rs 20.

    I always always put on my left shoe first. (This, I think is common)

    This has barely scratched the surface. More later.

Monday, November 3, 2008

Tedious rants

People! Stop holding doors for other people! Even in crowded bustling New York City; it is insane how you manage to pump chivalry and politeness into such crammed workdays. It is one thing for you to expect me to hold the door open when you are right behind me, but if you're far away, you're on your own. One wonders what the limit is, beyond which the intensity of chivalry wanes. I like the 5-second rule. If you can get to the door in five seconds, I hold it open. The calculation of how soon you reach is mine only…non negotiable. Of course, if you are lagging, I suggest you buck up, although the energy wasted in the speed increase could be used to open the door…

The next person who tells me to have a nice day is getting the shraapam of his life. He is forewarned of boils in very private organs which will make small pox seem like a mosquito bite. When I reach the checkout counter of a grocery store, I will not ask you "How are ya?" Not because I'm rude, mainly because I don't give a tiny rat's ass. I mean that with sincerity and honesty; you know…the kind that you don't mean when you are asking me about my day, and then telling me to have a nice one. That applies to smiles too. Let's have fewer but more genuine smiles. And once in a while, let's see some frowns. We could all use some bad expressions. Kinda colors the day more.

If I sneeze, and you are right in front of me, and we are having a conversation, and you are done wiping yourself dry, I will excuse the bless you. All those who scream bless you from the other end of the car of the E train at Penn Station need to get a life. We could all use a little less blessing and little more reality…maybe some paper napkins too…

People hawking politicians can stop pretending to know their stuff now that Election Day will pass soon. It is so annoying to see people wanting to vote for Obama but not being able to name any legislative action he has taken as senator.

Women who are bad drivers, you have an added responsibility on you. Don't reinforce the stereotype that women cannot drive well! The majority of women who drive competently are continually judged because you usual suspects always come along and make people roll their eyes. Apologies to women everywhere for this rant.

Many more to come…

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Deconstructing heroes

As a naïve schoolboy often doused & immersed in polar concepts like good and evil, black and white, day and night, I was used to viewing things in extremes. It is, of course, an easier way to teach people at the developmental stage, to show every concept or idea in terms of its upper and lower limits. Some would argue that some issues need to be examined at the extremes of their ambits in order to understand their impacts fully.

Once, during a Hindi movie, where the villain happened to be the father of the leading lady (big surprise), I failed to understand why he would care to save his daughter when he was, after all, a villain. My tiny brain thought, "As this man kills without compunction, he is evil and that's that. After all, if he were to care about his daughter's well-being, shouldn't he empathize with the other people whose sons and daughters he indiscriminately harmed?"

People who are determined to like me read that as precocious empathy, while naysayers would chide me for my naiveté. I would agree with both. Mind you, I was six years old then.

As I am older, I often contemplate the role and structure of a true hero. Bill Maher says that heroes distinguish themselves by willfully putting themselves in harm's way. I agree. So what exists in the fabric of a person that confers upon him such ultimate altruism and selfishness?

Panderers would be quick to say that these are the chosen ones and they are really gifted; and we must all emulate them.

When you stop to think about a society filled with heroes, the utopian desire to have a firmament of altruism disappears. When you really think about various motivators which help determine (or even predict) behavior, the one that beats all else is self-preservation and self-interest.

It is probably the lynchpin of the theory of evolution which is all about adaptation to various conditions. It is understandable, therefore, that people around us will act on their self-interest more than anything else.

Let us go back to the fundamental gene or elemental particle that makes a hero a hero.

It would be simplistic, and quite simply demeaning, to characterize such people as self-loathing or self-destructive. There is more to this.

Now, most people are not perennial heroes; there is more likelihood of an ordinary person stepping up and doing something heroic. So, most lives are characterized by long periods of self help and preservation peppered by moments of altruism.

Our eyes now move towards understanding the more elusive 'small heroic moments'. News archives are replete with people trying to describe what went through them during that moment. There is hardly anything going on in the mind as to whether to do that heroic deed or not. That part is so much more instinctive. A person sees a situation, and does what he can to correct it, within reason. A hero almost discards reason to save another life or a cause.

All this rambling is leading nowhere. Perhaps this post serves only the purpose of making people reflect on those moments where they have seen or done something that can be agreed upon as heroic. I do salute heroic deeds, but I also know that while they are few and far between, there is something in the totality of evolution that has a spot for heroism and probably even explains it fully. We need to look hard enough; it is waiting to be found, patiently, like all other explanations.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Blog Action Day 08 - Poverty

This is a subject that we all pretend to be very concerned about. Pretend to ourselves that is, I would never accuse my audience of pretending outwards!
The other day I was standing with a lady friend discussing casually various things including the weather and the vagaries of our professors when a clearly destitute person came up to us and asked us whether we could help him out to get a meal: I have spent a year in the USA and should be ideally used to people speaking in English, but even now, a beggar speaking in English is striking and stands out...but I digress.
I pulled out a quarter from my pocket and gave it to him: that was all I was going to spare, besides, this was being given to get rid of him: my mind spun to the same old cliches, he seems able bodied, why can't he work for a living?
Upon some sensitive reflection, I realized just how shallow I was being. True, this person seemed like he could do a hard days work; but do we think it is that easy to get a job in this world? The ubiquity of poverty has numbed us to its effects. If we look at it objectively, the only thing we will see is its horrible spectre. Annie orphan had some choice optimistic things to say about poverty during the great depression in the US, but those comments suit the visage of a twelve year old with very little real world experience. In reality, some cynicism should temper the blank optimism that is being touted as the mantra for success.
Again, discussing poverty does nothing to any of us except maybe guilt us into donating a dollar this week or something, and while that will benefit some poor homeless person, it is not something that will gather force or pass a tipping point in our war over poverty.
Que bono or who benefits is an important question to be addressed when understanding the cause of something. Now, one can debate the reasons for the birth of poverty ad nauseam, and it would not serve any purpose. What we do need to discuss is who benefits from the perpetuation of poverty.
As far as poverty is concerned, there needs to be some more awareness about it.
The idea behind this post is that 15th Oct has been declared Blog Action Day - 08, where all bloggers talk about poverty; in the hope that more than anything else, it would feature in our minds more often. Let's do all we can.

Friday, October 10, 2008


He wiped his brow and frowned. This was going to be a long climb. His muscles had started to ache. This was more due to inaction than actual strain. Working whole days and some nights punching on a keyboard wiped his body by the end of his week. The weekends, when not working, were filled with mental fatigue and angry snappy remarks at good natured advice to slow things down. He looked up and calculated the number of paces he would need to take to reach his destination.

As was the norm whenever he felt any physical stress, he swore to start gymming. He needed to get in shape. He was the fittest of all the software engineers working on his side of the block, but that wasn't really saying much. He was sweating profusely now. There are some climbs that one must undertake alone, he thought. Some battles that need to be fought alone, no matter what. Ever since the breakup, he constantly found himself subjecting his body to all kinds of punishment. He knew it was not his fault, but there was some culpability. He knew she did not love him, but he was still trying to get over her. The pain of loving someone with full confidence at no returns is unbearable and indescribable, and he needed physical, dull pain to counter it.

He was not a person given to suicidal thoughts, and this was no different situation. In fact, despite his situation, he knew he had a certain joi de vivre which prevented him from completely drowning in morose thoughts. His self-imposed tasks simply required more stamina, but his body simply refused almost as though his frequent pants and poohs were his body's way of saying, "Are you kidding me!"

His legs were starting to burn now. Maybe she never loved him; maybe it was all an illusion to her. She probably thought she loved him a lot, but once the initial attraction faded, she simply saw the light. Too bad for him though, he knew where he stood during the whole time: he wanted to make a life with her, a life that would not happen now. Somehow, even though his disappointment was too much, he managed to understand that it was for the best. One can never forget one's first love: that adage would be tested in time. For all he knew, she was having some trouble getting over him too.

He was so naïve, when he actually heard the four ugliest words in the Engligh language, "I wanna break up." He contrasted them with the three ugliest words he had once heard, "I am pregnant." It had turned out to be a false alarm, but his heart had skipped several successive beats. He remembered the stoic expression she had had on her face as she said it; as if probing him to see his most instinctive reaction to the news. In any case, she had gotten her period the next day, and both of them heaved a sigh of relief and doubled their protective measures.

He had to sit down now. This level of exertion was just not correct for a person of his poor fitness. He breathed heavily, with his heart pounding, and just collapsed on the ground. He swore, the next time the power went out, he would wait for it to return, instead of foolishly attempting to climb up to the 23rd floor.

Monday, October 6, 2008

Of Pale kristols, and wright stuff

William Kristol has written an Op-Ed in the gray lady, which has, at best, betrayed his conservative dogma, and at worst, brought the newspaper of record to disrepute. Based on a telephonic interview of Sarah Palin, this piece, penned with an adulation quite resembling feverish worship, goes on to cover various softball questions lobbed sweetly at her by this articulate, posturing, conservative fundamentalist. Remember this is the man who said that the US entry into Iraq would not result in a sectarian scuffle. He is clearly not given to rational analysis of every word or thought coming across his way.

This column reminded me of Sarah Palin's tv interview conducted by Sean Hannity (cruelly but accurately termed as an infomercial by's John Amato). Hannity, though seems like a redneck who would put party before principles. Somehow, Kristol seems like the intelligent but misled person from whom you would not expect such pandering cynicism. I would argue that Hannity knows not any better, but I would find it hard to believe that Kristol is a stupid person. He is a true cynic, for he knows that Sarah Palin is a joke, but still supports her.

Her response to every question is to launch into a jingoistic tirade devoid of substance or rational argument but well garnished with words like maverick, Washington-outsider, country first etc. She is saying things that are so removed from the truth that one might as well believe that the earth is flat if one believes her. She refuses to believe in evolution, is a clear Jesus-freak, believes abortion is a sin even in cases of rape and incest, believes in abstinence education but has an unwed teenage daughter. (By the way, how come there are no criminal charges of statutory rape leveled against Levi Johnson, the boy who knocked up the underaged, but over-fertile Bristol Palin?

I feel sorry for her son Track, who is in Iraq. While anyone who goes to fight for his country no matter what the mission is deserves praise, this boy has the added microscope following his moves. While she claimed to have studied for the debate, her son said that he was praying for her success. The smart Republicans who are cynically supporting her must have said the Bible to themselves twenty times over praying that she remembers the talking points (which she sort of did) and she learn to pronounce nuclear (that did not work as we were treated to the more folksy nukular along with a lot of winking and references to hockey-moms and Joe-sixpacks.)

At the head of the debate, she said that her answers may not have anything to do with the questions. She was right. When I was going through school, we always had mediocre professors who were very nice to the mediocre students, but preferred to crush precocious minds. The US electorate is similar. Instead of shelving its ego, and voting for the best person possible for the job, they will tend to vote for the person who seems the most like themselves, for this country is filled with the Lotto crazies who believe not only that can they win a small fortune in an instant, they even believe that they deserve it. Hence the desire to vote for the common-seeming person, which betrays their narcissism.

I will never understand why Obama attends Reverend Wright's church; that man seems to have some serious issues, and Obama had to publicly denounce him in the primaries to even have a chance. In this country, you have to have faith to run for elections. The people attach a moral compass to a person who goes to a room with other people on Sundays, and pledges his undying loyalty and inferiority to a fairy tale told to him when his mind was young and defenseless. Palin however, need not attack him on that. Forget that Obama's health care plan covers most people, forget that he plans to cut taxes for 95% of the middle class and the underprivileged, forget that he actually has a plan for bringing US troops safely home, forget that he has the wisdom to surround himself with economic experts to pull the country and in a way, the world out of this crisis, forget all that…what everyone is focusing on is that Obama is an educated elitist who seems like a smart snob and McCain is a maverick because he says so.

The world leading country is slowly being filled with a bunch of hayseeds, incapable of critical thinking, and swallowing as gospel what anyone tells them, just like the owners of the country wanted it. (Refer George Carlin)

Sunday, October 5, 2008

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

Thursday, September 18, 2008

The provocation to write

"I just love writing...I like the idea of sharpening my pencil, and using an eraser!" She pushed her hair behind her ears as she said that.
It was 1993. I was sitting in this auto-rickshaw on its way from school to my home. The girl was not particularly attractive, and she had started the conversation; I was just filling in the gaps to be polite.
I don't know why I remembered it today. Probably because I was thinking about the various possible stimuli that could provoke us to write.
As my mind wandered from stuff like the beauty of nature, a small child smiling, a beautiful piece of architecture, an elegantly solved problem etc., my mind went to the dumbest reason for writing I could think of...and this one took the cake!


He looked at her again and sighed. How he longed to look at her without having to pretend to look elsewhere! She rearranged her dupatta and smiled.

"So, are you coming?", the annoying sidekick asked. Every pretty girl has a sidekick - an average looking, boring and sorta unintelligent one hanging around. Maybe it was for sheer contrast, to make the pretty one more desirable, he thought.

He looked from the sidekick to the belle. She paused. His heart pounded. She said, "No thanks. I will go with him."

He had no idea how to deal with such happiness. He grinned like an idiot; and then hid it behind a cough.

Actually, he was praying for this for many days by get some alone time with her. Now that he got it though, he was apprehensive. He wanted to say many things, but instead chatted idly about the weather and the upcoming Chem II test.

God! How his friends would hate him now! They would disown him. After all the moaning and groaning he did in front of them about her beauty and allure, here he was - a golden opportunity for an intimate conversation, and he was blowing it away on Divesh sir's exams, and the rain, which is a topic on which every Mumbaiite can speak volumes.

Finally, he exhaled heavily; curses himself and decided to take the plunge. He inhaled deeply, held his breath and said the three words.

She stared at him; he turned. He had never seen such a poker-face. He was afraid and yet excited to hear the answer.

He had his back to her now, too apprehensive to know the answer. He turned to her, and heard her say, and saw her mouth the inevitable words. He had known the answer all along, but he had to ask.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Another Palin rant

Charles Gibson interviewed Sarah Palin in her hometown in Wasilla, Alaska in a quasi-journalistic way. He asked her tough questions alright, but not enough follow up ones. There wasn't the journalistic bite as we would have seen from Helen Thomas, or our very own Karan Thapar or Prabhu Chawla.

Without taking the spotlight away from the huge liberties against logic this woman takes, I would like to focus on one particular set of words she spoke. When asked whether a mother of five can be an effective VP or Prez, she answered yes unequivocally and attempted to substantiate it by saying,

"What people have asked me when I was -- when I learned I was pregnant, "Gosh, how are you going to be the governor and have a baby in office, too," and I replied back then, as I would today, "I'll do it the same way the other governors have done it when they've either had baby in office or raised a family." Granted, they're men, but do it the same way that they do it."

Why are the women not outraged? This woman clearly is implying the male and female experience of having a baby. Tell that to all the women who fret and fume that the male contribution to their children's birth is an orgasm and forgetting to use contraception.

I may be viewed as sexist for raising this topic, but I am worried. A woman can surely be qualified for the highest office, but going through pregnancy and childbirth while the 3am phone call is anticipated is a scary proposition. We need to get an assurance from Gov Palin that she is done breeding before we even consider her for high office.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Whodda thunk it!

Let me clarify my position on the God issue. I am an agnostic leaning towards atheism. My childhood has been plagued with screaming fits quite akin to the child in Omen, as my parents asked me to accompany them to the temple. I went through the poonal procedure as a good tam bram, all the while lamenting that there would have been a much better use for the money than spending it on a back-scratcher. (That joke is lost on non brams, so please find the nearest bram and watch them laugh in agreement.)

So when we had sarvajanik festivals, I often complained of the noise pollution, and of the secret vote which clearly granted the responsibility of leading the aarti to the person first to get kicked out of Indian Idol auditions. I hated waking up early for the worships, and reviled being made to sit amidst the purposeful pollution that is so unique to Hindus. I went through childhood and young adulthood hating festivals and anything associated with worship. I know most of you devout ones despise me now, and that I am going to lose a significant portion of the small audience this blog has generated, but I need to get this off my chest. So, before swearing me off as a non-believing infidel, read on.

I have spent a year in the big apple now, where there are enough Indians, but there is no forced festival socializing. I accepted that warmly. As I was going through my roommate's iPod Touch (let the drooling begin) and listening to my new Bose headphones (let the drooling continue), I noticed the Ganesh-aarti on his playlist. The memories flowed as I played it. I played it again. Maybe it was just the sound quality, but I could not get enough of it. I could remember the Ganesh idol in our locality, and the loud songs of worship that blared over the sound system.

I did not believe it possible, but that song is on my playlist now. No, I have not been converted in any way, so all you believers, do not thrust your imaginary friends down my throat. I will say though, that I appreciated the song on a pure artistic level. There is something in the festivals for the non-believers too. That is what makes them so deep and mysterious.

I was told not so long ago, by a person I regard as brilliant, that atheism is a part of Hinduism. I did not see the sense of it on a religious level. I can somehow understand it now on a spiritual level.

So, to the surprise of the people who know me, and to some chagrin of fellow agnostics, Sukhkarta Dukhharta varta vighnachi…

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Isn’t it funny…

  1. Having a conversation with someone that neither of you wanna have but are continuing for the sake of politeness
  2. Anyone who knows more than you is a bookworm, and anyone who knows less than you is a fool
  3. You have a conversation with a pretty girl for over ten minutes before you discover the spinach stuck to your teeth
  4. As my friend 'buddy' says…your bladder will overfill except when you need a urine sample
  5. We complain that we cannot keep in touch because we are busy, and we spend most of our time complaining that we are bored
  6. There are some programs on tv that are so bad that they make you beg for commercials
  7. Just when you describe someone as an excellent player of the short ball, he makes a gangulyesque mistake
  8. You look at your watch, and then need to look again one second later!
  9. The day you actually wake up to your alarm is the day you had an amazing dream involving a celluloid beauty

Saturday, September 6, 2008

What goes around…

He could not help but smile. Eight years of marriage had not worn out her body even a bit. She was as beautiful and heavenly as she was on the day he saw her. Lying on the bed in her favorite fetal position, sleeping peacefully, she looked like the angel who could deliver him from the depths of hell. He stared at her as he always did. Everything in the world could be put on hold for the moments during which he looked at her. He was grateful for this mesmerizing quality of her visage that gave him some respite from harsh realities. He always thought he kept his secrets from her to protect her, and to an extent it was right, but the truth was that it was ultimately to protect his sanity. He wanted a part of his life sequestered from the horror that captured most of his life. Just so he could have this fleeting moments of peace, of innocence when he stared at her, sleeping away a tired day with a contented smile on her lips.

It had been years since he slept like that. Now, insomnia gripped him tightly every night, and the only sleep he got was collapse due to complete exhaustion. The very few moments of unconscious relaxation that were bequeathed to him were also plagued with nightmares of his deeds. The double-entry system, he recalled his accounting professor mentioning. The system where every event had checks and balances, and that nothing could go without cross-checking. Every phenomenon had an effect which in turn became a cause for another effect. Nothing went without being recorded and re-recorded.

He had thought it was going to be fine. After all, he had graduated from the Academy with honors in both academic and physical tests. He was trained in eighteen languages where he could be fluent along with some accents which he could apply or not based on his proclivities. He was proficient with almost any vehicle, and could handle any weapon as though he was born to. The one thing that most people struggled with the most, was looking into a person's eyes and killing him without provocation. Not for self-defense, not to protect others, but simply because it was needed, either to maintain the smooth flow of an operation, or to prevent his cover from being blown.

Somehow, he could isolate the graphic horror of what he was doing from the gentle person he was. When he looked at his wife, whether across the candles on a dinner table at an expensive restaurant, or at her peaceful best lying on the bed, he could feel nothing but love and tenderness. She would never know what he was capable of. He was an electronics salesman as far as she knew.

He could remember shades of his fifteen year service as large blurs. Panama city, Marseilles, Unter den Linden, Trivandrum, St. Petersburg, Bogota…so many people, so much trouble. They were all the same no matter what nationality or race they were. They all screamed when he was about to pull the trigger albeit in different languages. They all bled the same way. He was supposedly a soldier for his country, a spy, a covert operative who was given orders and knew better than to question them.

He thought of himself as a patriot, but he knew the short term implications of what he was doing. It was all being recorded somewhere waiting to be balanced. The double entry system never fails. It had come back to hurt him now. Agents were being dispatched at the behest of someone high up. He had deployed agents like these many times. He knew that this was standard procedure when an agent turned rogue. All he had done was refuse to murder a four year old child out of a sympathy that he no longer thought himself capable of. That child had lived to identify him out of a set of pictures, and now he was not only expendable, but expediently so. They were coming for him.

He looked at his wife one more time, whispered his 'I love you' in her ear, and then stepped back. He turned away from her as he pulled the trigger. By the time she woke up she would find him on the floor. He hoped she would not scream too loudly.

Palin’ in comparison

I feel like a parent now; a parent on the day of academic results. As if my first born has brought me a straight-A report card, while the spoilt, self-indulgent other child brought me yet another note to meet the teacher. I feel like saying, "Why can't you be more like him?" Barack Obama chose a six-term senator to be his running mate, a person who has an actual plan for Iraq, a plan which seems almost like fate now, but was laughed at when Joe Biden suggested it. McCain on the other hand has chosen the governor of Alaska to be a heartbeat away from the leadership of the most powerful country in the world.

Sarah Palin, the republican candidate for Veep has been a governor for sixteen months, before which she was mayor of a town with a population of 9000. On one side is a brilliant statesman running for president with a foreign policy expert by his side, while the other side is making a mockery of democracy by putting together a ludicrous ticket of a warmonger who supports tax-cuts for the very rich with a beauty queen fledgling as his running mate. Do we even need to have an election?

Let us look at the very cynicism of this choice. At the republican convention, Sarah Palin made her first major speech where she ass-kissed Hillary Clinton more than anything while pandering to jilted Hillary supporters by saying that she is looking to shatter the glass ceiling. The GOP is banking on the radical Hillary supporters who are so upset with Obama getting nominated that they might switch sides. They refuse to consider that the woman they have commissioned in the hope of attracting votes simply because she possesses pairs of X-chromosomes has been staunchly pro-life. She has given birth to five kids, the last one being diagnosed with Down's syndrome before birth, and she knowingly did not terminate the pregnancy. She is now running all around the country campaigning leaving the four month old child to the care of the lesser able.

I am of the belief that a politician's personal life is off-limits as long as it does not affect his job performance. Somehow, personal lives have become fair-game nowadays. While running for office, you need to purge the closet of any skeletons because you can bet your life that they will be found. The Republican Party claims to be the clean people, the ones who are monogamous, and have values that the others don't have. This is of course, bullshit because values have little to do with alcohol, cigarettes and promiscuous sex. Values have more to do with honesty, integrity, a sense of duty etc etc. However, if you claim to be the party of values and morals, and look down upon others with more interesting sex-lives than you, then you better not get caught not practicing what you preach. Sarah Palin was pregnant before she got married herself. Her seventeen year old daughter is pregnant and is planning to marry the father of the baby, to save her mother's political career more than anything else. Come on, when a couple of people are irresponsible enough to get pregnant, getting them married seems to spoil the situation further.

Don't get distracted by this though. It is the responsibility of the smart ones to focus on the issues more than anything else. There is nothing worse than getting wet over the mud-slinging opportunities that are presenting themselves instead of attacking the opposition on their foreign policy and economic naiveté. McCain wants more tax cuts for the rich, plans to stay in Iraq for the next hundred years, has no plans to tackle global warming, and is patently inept at uplifting the financial situation of the country as the government plans to seize Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. These are the issues that every voter must consider and not the window dressing that is being put out.

As I said before, this election, on the issues is like an India-Bangladesh cricket match. Somehow, one cannot be completely confident of an Indian victory.

(This post was possible due to a lot of help and inspiration from blogger Laksh)

Monday, August 25, 2008

Biden his time

Barack Obama has done it. The dream ticket of Hillabarack was always going to be just what it looked like: a dream. John Edwards was a good whitening of the ticket for Obama, but he would not do much to make up for Obama's lack of experience.

Choosing the six-term US senator Joe Biden will not only bolster the experience factor, it is the wisest choice because Joe Biden had the right idea about Iraq from the beginning. He always supported the idea of Iraq eventually becoming three countries belonging to the Kurds, Sunnis and the Shiites. He had this idea of Iraq when a huge part of the intelligentsia was focusing on nation-building. He saw through the "unity" of the Iraqis and understood that it was the dictatorship of Saddam that kept a country filled with people of different ethnicities together.

By selecting Joe Biden, Obama has not only shown courage in not picking a veep from the people closest to him on the Democratic primaries; he has also shown remarkable foresight and understood that Iraq would be the defining problem for the next prez and handling it successfully or even competently would make him a hero. For that, he needed to choose the best foreign policy person he could let's see...could it be Bosnian sniper fire survivor Hillary or ambulance chasing ethanol supporting Iowa pandering John Edwards? There was some talk that Obama might look towards Gen. Wesley Clark to match the military experience of McCain, but this seems to be a wiser decision.

The general election seems to be like an India Bangladesh cricket match. One team clearly has the better players and on paper it should be a slam dunk. Yet, there is this apprehension that every Indian cricket fan knows all too well. Here too, the issues are on Obama's side. He has made excellent contributions to the Energy policy Act of 2005, he co-introduced the Coburn-Obama transparency Act in 2006, and has an actual health plan which, though not covering every person (contrast Hillary and Edwards) seems easier to implement. In this field, he far outstrips McCain. McCain on the other hand was a survivor of the "Keating Five", another card Obama should be playing.

McCain realized pretty quickly that he needed to distance himself from W to even be in the running. He did, however, say that the US needs to be in Iraq for the next hundred years, and he seems like he is going to use his military career to say that he is the best person to defend the country.

Obama needs to be careful here. The public here is like a girlfriend on the verge of tears. One wrong word, one wrong tone of voice, or even a careless expression can push it over the edge. He has counter the military goodwill of his opponent with care. He needs to give him his due for being the pow in Vietnam while highlighting that a military career, distinguished though it may be, does not equip one with the goods necessary to be elected to the highest office in the land.

He needs to point out that McCain is weak on real issues like global warming, the war, the economy and the gas tax holiday that he proposed for the summer was truly for the birds.

Obama has been biding his time taking the high road against all of Hillary's barbs and now McCain's. It is time for him to start some serious mud-slinging and because there are a lot of brain-washed voters too dumb to vote for their own interest and fooled to voting for or against non-issues like prayer in schools.

Paul Krugman wrote an excellent column in the gray lady where he touched upon various items on the Obama agenda which should get him the oval office. From the gas prices to real estate to Biden and such like. He concludes brilliantly by saying, "
All it (the Obama campaign) has to do is tarnish Mr. McCain’s image enough so that voters see this as a race between a Democrat and a Republican. And that’s a race the Democrat will easily win."
Sounds easy enough huh...lets see.

Monday, August 18, 2008


"Speech silvern but silence golden" I had no use for that phrase all through my life. I liked to talk and I loved to listen. I always thought that speaking is an amazing talent that we have and using it helps us interact effectively. Ergo, I loved to talk and liked people who talked a lot.

But something changes when I moved to the US for graduate school. There was a huge change. Suddenly I started wanting to hang around people who spoke less and measured their words. They were more interesting. I started to watch what I said. I mean this not in a weird autocratic way which precludes unpopular opinions. I mean it in the context of superfluous blabbering, and how life is more fulfilling without it.

Less speaking means more time for thinking. At least that's what I think.

As I was pondering this, another thing occurred to me. I started to think about silence in itself, and its properties. The uses of silence are many and cover various emotions. Studies show that the average man takes at least a half hour to understand that his silent significant other is angry with him. Until then, he considers the silent time as a bonus. He actually thinks he is getting some quiet time. After a half hour, it dawns on him that he was being punished while his girlfriend decides that he is sleeping on the couch that night. Silence can mean so many other things.

I have very few friends. The really good friends for me are those with whom I can share long silent periods where each one of us is doing our own work, and we are in peaceful company. The silence there is palpably soothing, and nobody wants to talk at that time. Silence at other times can be used to intimidate. In a stress interview, strict questions are mixed with silent stares to check the mental toughness of the interviewee. There, each moment of that silence can be brutal.

When I did something wrong, I would be afraid of the silent questioning that I got from my father. It was a quiet disappointment which hurt more than a thousand scoldings from my mother. I felt exposed of all my guile and completely surrendered to the silence. Later, of course, as with most things, I got immune to it.

I have learnt to respect silence for its power, tenderness, peace, turmoil and above all, the sheer sound of silence. (A quiet tribute to Simon & Garfunkel)

Saturday, August 16, 2008


To my readers:

I don't know why this is happening. I seem to have been blocked right now, what with my laptop completely bailing out on me. Now that I have got a new one, I am not yet ready to start writing. So this hiatus! When the urge to write seizes me again, which I'm sure it will, I will be back to enthrall, question, annoy and entertain. Till then, take care everyone.

Monday, August 4, 2008

No choice?

To set the record straight, I am all for a woman's right to choose. The right and the power to abort a fetus must reasonably rest with the woman who has to nurture it and later, raise the baby. Having said that, I do understand the rules which do not allow abortion after a certain time period of pregnancy unless, continuing the pregnancy would harm the mother-to-be. The Niketa Mehta case where a 26 week pregnant woman wants to abort her fetus is an example of the abortion laws flying in the face of their own principle.

Let us examine the principle behind the pro-choice stance. It basically values the life and the well-being of the woman more than that of the unborn child. This makes sense to me, and this is why I am pro-choice myself. However, abortion is not allowed after a certain period of pregnancy, for many reasons. The stated one is that the woman's life could be endangered. One suspects however, that a 25 week old fetus incites a lot more sympathy than a week old morula. That could be another reason for this caveat in the rule. Abortion will still be allowed at such a juncture if the pregnancy is proven to cause danger to the mother. Again, this rule is consistent. It is favoring the life and comfort of the mother.

In Niketa Mehta's case, her gynecologist told her, very late, that her baby could have serious complications. The gynecologist is not able to prove this conclusively or even state this to almost certainty. The Mumbai High Court ruled that she may not be allowed to abort the fetus, as there is no conclusive proof that either the mother or the baby will suffer serious complications.

Usually when I post something in my blog, I am very opinionated, and I rarely sit on the fence. On this one, I am confused. This post is more of an opening to a discussion than a periodic rant.

I think of this in two ways. Firstly, I feel that the court is wrong considering that the legislative intent of the law is to favor the well-being of the mother. If this woman is sure that her baby is going to be born deformed, shouldn't she have the right to abort her baby? This law favors women who forgot to take the morning after pill and then realized weeks later, that they are pregnant! So, when someone has an actual medical reason to abort, why deny her the right? After all, she is aware of the risks of aborting; shouldn't she have the right to assume those risks? Is this not a free society?

But my thoughts go another way too. When I think of the big picture, as I explore the legislative intent of the law, I think that allowing this woman to abort by a mere suggestion of a possible physical deformity in the baby would set a precedent of bending the rules. The fact that abortion is disallowed after a certain period of pregnancy means that there is some consideration to the baby's health. Also, if one argues that the court is considering the mother's health and the possible risks of a late abortion, then it encroaches on the mother's free choice. Either way, there is a higher interference of the court in the mother's choice here.

Personally, there are a lot of social evils today. Abortion is not one of them. It is a personal choice, and when done reasonably, seems like a balanced, smart decision. In this case, however, I am confused as to what would have been the right decision. I understand that the judges had to follow the law, which is black-and-white here. There was no evidence of probable damage to the baby, and the decision is in accordance with the law. One wonders though, whether the law itself needs amendment here?

There is another nagging question in my mind. Did the Mehtas do an amniocentesis test to figure out the sex of the baby? It is illegal in India, but people find ways of doing it. Would we be surprised if, the test was actually done, and it was going to be a girl? I do doubt that these educated well-to-do people would favor a male child, but who knows?

Monday, July 28, 2008

For tam bram eyes only

This post is merely my presentation of an article in The Times of India, 25th Aug 2001 by a Ms. Vandana Parthasarthy.

It is dedicated to blue-blooded tam-brahms everywhere!

"You graduated in literature, right?" asked my young cousin. "No, in economics." I hastily clarified. "Economics honours," I added for good measure. The question coming from anyone else would have been innocuous, but from my cousin who was a third year engineering student, it was almost offending. As a card carrying member of the tamilian brahmin community, or tam brams, as the endearment goes, i knew that in his world—and that included his parents, relatives, colony friends, project group, dorm mates—someone who graduated in literature obviously did so because he or she had a learning disability. the poor thing was a freak who couldn't get admission into an engineering college or even a pitiful, but definitely more acceptable, science course. Or worse, such a specimen was a wasted wanton whose desire to do b.a. was an irresponsible, rebellious act, almost akin to joining a neo-nazi like cult group and living on the edge of civilised society.

In any such conversation with a bonafide tam bram, I find myself fervently hoping, that despite falling under the horrifying category of b.a economics, with its connotations of statistics and analysis of numbers and trends, would redeem me a little in their maths-science obsessed eyes.

For a middle class tam bram family (and that means the whole lot of them for all tam brams qualify as middle class if you take outlook and behaviour as parameters), mathematics and science are not merely subjects in the school curriculum. they are a religion. and the dharma of every tam bram student is to master them and pave his way to the heavenly portal of an IIT, or at least to the ordinary portal of a local engineering college, which the family will eventually reconcile to, in the absence of the 'real thing'.

The first time i seriously understood this was when I was in primary school and on one sunny day was gleefully reading out my final exam results to grandpa who was sitting on the porch and frowning in attention. "English: 90 percent, Hindi: 85 percent, social studies: 87 percent..." i prattled on. "How much in maths?" interrupted grandpa. "Maths: 97 percent," I said grinning widely. "What happened to the remaining marks?" was his unexpected reaction. After which he asked me to fetch the question paper, spent the next two hours going through each problem and figured out where i could have lost the precious three marks. "Nothing less than a centum in maths next time." he said finally.

'Centum' is a word unique to the tam bram world, that a child grows up listening to. It is a figure that even if sometimes elusive, is never lost sight of throughout the academic career. centum, maths, science, brilliant tutorials, engineering, iit,, computer science, usa, financial aid, I-20, student visa, MS, San Jose, California, Oracle, Microsoft, Intel. These words and names are like carefully arranged furniture in the mental landscape of a tam bram boy—and increasingly girl— below the age of 25. Care is taken not to clutter it with anything related to useless stuff like literature, history or art. Show me a tam bram boy who wants to be a fashion designer, vj, historian or air force pilot and I'll show you something wrong in his blood line. For all such are heathen, a blemish on the fair face of the community. Till about 15 years ago, the only heathens were girls who did not sing.

Formidable maamis from the neighborhood would drop in for a casual afternoon gossip session with grandmom and on espying any hapless young girls in the vicinity, would pounce on them with the dreaded entreaty, "oru paatu paadein." (sing a song). A simple three word sentence, you would think, but in maamiland it is a deceptively camouflaged barometer of the girl's cultural grooming and readiness for tam bram society (read marriage market) and her mother's efforts in making her a fine tamilian lady. a tam bram girl's singing talents always have to be on standby, as they could be called upon by anyone no matter what the time of day, nature of the occasion or profile of the audience, by simply uttering the three powerful words, "oru paatu paadein," and woe betide the girl who in shameful ignorance, takes the words at face value, like I once did in the naivete of extreme youth. When the words were uttered by a visiting neighbour, I readily accepted and joyously broke into a popular Hindi film ditty. I had finished the second paragraph when i stopped to check audience response. My mother had a strained, embarrassed smile on her face, grandmom was scowling hard, an aunt hurriedly excused herself and went inside and the venerable neighbour looked so disturbed, I thought she was on the verge of a heart attack. "Well...That was nice, but don't you sing any varnams or keerthanais?" she finally asked, after an awkward silence.

My mother hurriedly explained how in the culturally bereft north we were unable to locate a carnatic music teacher nearby...but hopefully by this summer she would manage to do something about it. that's when I realised that the only music that was expected to pour out of your mellifluous throat where classical carnatic songs. If you didn't know any, you simply shut up and ducked out of sight of visiting maamis. And if like me, you are a non-engineer-non-carnatic-trained loser of a tam bram, you should be drowning yourself in a drum full of idli batter for having wasted this lifetime. And all the best for the next one.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

No Smoking? Nose poking!

Bill Gates and Michael Bloomberg want India and China to quit smoking. No kidding...forget the all-consuming war in Iraq, the deficit America is suffering from, the money they owe to most countries, the erosion of international goodwill for America, the increasingly elusive universal health care etc.; two of the USA's most influential men feel that the levels of smoking and other tobacco consumption in India and China are appalling.

"A world without tobacco is a world in which people live longer, and have happier lives," Bloomberg, the mayor of New York has said. First of all, this man is the mayor of the city in which I currently reside, and I must say, it is not perfect. So his desperate desire to purge the third world of tobacco says that there is more to this than meets the eye. This extremely rich pair of businessmen is setting its sights on the two fastest developing countries in the world today.

There is one point they make which catches the eye. They say that as more and more Americans are quitting smoking, the tobacco companies are looking towards developing countries as potential markets. When people rail against tobacco companies, they describe them as evil money-making machines which target the innocent people, and avoid printing warning labels in countries where they are not mandatory. This point is often said, and to an extent it is valid.

One small problem: of the two countries being targeted for cleansing, India has statutory warnings on all cigarette packs and in China, the cigarette companies are nationalized. So the govt. controls everything for them. In truth, the image of the tobacco company as the rapacious money guzzling, "spare no health" pure evil cannot be used as a motivator for the current approach that these two philanthropists are taking.

Let us assume for a second that altruism is the only motivation for this undertaking. They are planning to put down $500 million. Aren't there better ways to spend this money? You can use it to improve conditions in the USA. Why must you interfere with other countries?

Smoking is a poisonous habit which will lead to poor health. That is my opinion. I have to admit though, that smoking is a personal choice. Longevity need not be the key to everyone's life. Some people in the world are willing to make the trade-off and lose a few years of their life in exchange for that cigarette. Even if we don't understand it, can we not respect it? And don't give me the nonsense about how second-hand smoke kills. We are living in a polluted world filled with huge hummers pouring carbon monoxide into the atmosphere, while we are driving to Burger Kings, KFCs and other harbingers of cardiac arrest, drinking till we puke, having bottles of coke with 26grams of sugar in them, but god forbid if someone around us lit up a cigarette! Also, let's not forget that these days, smokers are shunned away and pushed into corners at all places. Anyone who chooses to smoke has to consent to being treated like a second-class citizen.

Second-hand smoke is very rare these days because smoking is prohibited in almost all public places. The very idea that smoking and drug consumption are the bane of our society shows how myopic we are as a people. There is ethnic cleansing happening in so many countries where people are killing their own neighbors for being the wrong religion. People are fighting over the regions in India right now, and we have people clamoring for reservations in academic fields.

During this entire hullabaloo, the last thing we need to be blowing money on is curbing smoking. It is bad enough that Anbumani Ramadoss (read attention seeking Dramadoss) keeps taunting some or the other actor for smoking on screen. Now he is going to get international sanction and support. The USA declared a 'war on drugs' which has turned out to be a complete flop. There is no reason for it to work here.

In India, the govt. taxes the tobacco companies, and this makes cigarettes and cigars expensive. That is the best thing. Make it expensive to smoke in the country. The people who are still interested in it will have to shell out more, and with the proper segregated areas for smoking, they can have a good time without hurting other people. Must we make everything complicated? Isn't this one of those things which can be regulated easily and does not need any policing?

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Just a small thought

Sometimes I have the nastiest habit of reading too much into things. On one of my "extremely frustrated" days, I went to Manhattan armed with my Nikon Coolpix S550 and decided to just walk around and look around. The thing is, I walk for hours at a stretch. Then I stop at some quiet coffee shop and have a grande whilst writing something, and then off I go again. If I see something worth photographing, I snap. You might expect the same old-same old photos of Times Square, Empire State Building, Statue of Liberty and the like. But that is a very small part of NYC. Manhattan has so much more to offer that, I feel I will never discover its depths even in many years.

So there I was, walking through Central Park, looking for things to capture, when I saw this amazing view. You can see it in the two amateur photos above. It is a view of a building outside the park, seen from the Park. I was trying to capture this tree stump along with the building in some warped "Nature meets man" way. As you can see in the first pic, the stump is clear, the building is not. I concluded that this was because there was too much light falling on the camera, and placed my hand as a sunshade over the camera. The next pic shows the building clearly but the tree stump takes a beating.

A normal, intelligent person would reach the conclusion that I am truly an amateur and that a professional would have found a way to get both.

I just got another idea. It looked to me like the building was encroaching upon the tree's right to our attention. Only when we starve the building of attention, do we see the tree properly. The way I see it, we have a choice. We can choose whether to blind ourselves by not allowing the light to hit us, just to further the buildings' interest, or we can wake up, embrace the truth, and save nature before we lose it altogether.

Friday, July 18, 2008

The principle at work

The primary argument of any person supporting creationism is that the entire world could not have evolved by chance, or that the principle governing the functioning of living beings cannot be randomness or chance. They have a point. What they ignore is that there is a pattern which determines what has happened and what will happen. The principle is not chance, but is randomness. It is not the randomness that people associate with chance, but that which is associated with probability.

Perhaps a more scientific way of reading this is stability. We all agree that energy is ubiquitous. No one challenges the abundance of energy. Einstein shed light on this matter by saying that the sum of matter and energy in the universe is constant, and all we have is inter-conversion. Consider the case of water in a vessel which is connected to another vessel. The shapes of the two vessels are different, and hence the volumes they can contain are different. Yet, when a liquid is poured into the vessels, it flows between the two vessels such that the height of liquid in one vessel is the same as the other connected vessel. This is not magic, or any miracle, but the property of a liquid governed by pressure due to liquid column as well as gravity, and ultimately the law of conservation of energy.

When you look at the final state of this liquid, the word that comes to mind is stability. It is towards this stability that all forms of matter and energy move. Plants, animals and of course humans cannot escape this fundamental truth. Our evolutionary progress is a spiraling one, which is an ultimate search for stability. Evolutionary biologists use various concepts like natural selection to explain this, but are unable to completely explain the principle behind natural selection. They are on the right track, but cannot give a necessary and sufficient basis for natural selection. Any evolutionary change in a species, or any activity performed by any animal, or any plant is simply not probed enough to deal with why this happens.

Creationists argue that while science can answer the how questions about life, you need a theologian to answer the why questions. To this, the great Richard Dawkins says that why questions are not always legitimate. I do agree, except on this issue. Here, the why question can be answered easily and profoundly by understanding the physical and chemical basis of most phenomena. Consider the second law of thermodynamics: Any spontaneous reaction favors an increase in entropy. This statement is represented to the layperson as "You cannot heat a substance with another substance colder than the first substance." Sounds like a redundant statement, but it is necessary. It implies that there is an inherent need in nature to even things out. Even in case of living beings. There is a tendency to attain an ultimate equilibrium which governs the behavior and changes in most living beings. One question would be, if that is the case, then why don't we reach the equilibrium that we have been threatening to reach for so many years?

I mentioned "spiraling" initially. Now is the time to elaborate. When one event happens and triggers off other adaptive events, there is a spiraling effect as those adaptive events become causes for other events. And so on. Hence, there is no completion of the full circle of cause and effect but an outward spiral which seems to go on increasing. There is a mathematical proof that I will not go into here, which says that the degree of randomness in the universe is forever increasing. Not to be bothered, this does not mean that our universe is haphazard, but in fact, it supports or rather is a bulwark for the theory that this entire firmament is based on natural selection, evening out and processes in search of the ultimate stability.

My new hero Richard Dawkins said that scientists who say they are religious are religious in a more nebulous way than zealots. They do not believe in an old man in the sky or any junk of that sort, nor do they believe in heaven or hell. They are far too smart and too well equipped with the power of critical thinking to subscribe to such naiveté. They believe that no matter how much they find out about life, the universe and the eternal connection, there will always be an unknown. It is to this unknown that they owe their grudging respect and their obeisance. It is this unknown that they consider supernatural, hitherto unconquered, but never unconquerable.

I know I am ending this abruptly and I apologize. There needs to be more, and I will write more as it comes to me.