Friday, January 29, 2010

Questions and Questions

ULCC. Ever heard of it? Well, it stands for Ultra Large Crude Carrier. Which is, I guess, a better sounding way of saying ‘monstrously-huge-oil-tanker’ and that is what it is, an oil tanker. You know, those thingies which often are shown in the news, lying half on their side in water, for having caused an oil spill somewhere in the five oceans and seven seas. Now, the ULCC is so huge - XXXXXXXXXXXXXXL - that it is, for all practical purposes, non-maneuverable. And apparently this allergic reaction to being maneuverable is so acute that when the pilot (or is it Captain?) switches off the engines now to stop it, the thing stops after a few hours!

So if you are wondering, "Why this General Knowledge session on ULCCs and their stopping habits?” please desist. I am not about to continue and in case you are interested in learning more about ULCCs, Wikipedia is the go-to place.

What I am intrigued about, however, is a more mundane, everyday subject. Rather, an every week subject. I am sure there is a big history (or herstory or theirstory) behind the fact that we have a seven day week which ends, quite predictably, with a week-end (Yeah I know, Duh!). But that is where the intrigue starts. Why does it take two days for the week to end? If you are giving over 2 complete days out of a seven day week - that is 29% of the week - there must be a good, strong reason behind it. If the ULCC takes a few hours to stop, I can understand the physics behind it. The thing is, well, ultra large and hence carries an ultra large amount of momentum which would require an equally ultra large braking force for a small period of time or a small force for an ultra large period of time. What about the week though? It is but seven days long, so I doubt it qualifies as being large, leave alone having a U-prefix. So, why two days to end?

It is Friday evening. I am sitting here, on the cusp of yet another weekend, and getting intrigued about the two day weekend in front of me. Is it just me or do you also get the feeling that I have bid goodbye to my marbles?

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

My bleak outlook

26th of January has come and gone. The smartly dressed battalions with their marching bands, with uniforms creased to a razor's edge and with their eclectic and dangerous-looking hardware have strutted their stuff. The different floats symbolizing and representing the different parts of the country and its uniqueness have had their 15 minutes of fame. The heroes, dead and alive, from the armed forces and from within the general public, have been honored for their heroic services. The nation’s leaders have made their speeches from the ramparts of the Red Fort. India celebrated its 60th anniversary of becoming a Republic. And all that is left at the end of it was an empty Raj Path strewn with paper cups and plates and discarded streamers and the jet trails in the sky left-over from the fly-bys.

The politicians, who have taken to masquerading as 'National Leaders', have retired back to the comforts of where-ever-it-is-that-they-retire-back-to and are now catching up with their work of cutting and dividing this country between themselves; a work that got so cruelly disturbed for a few hours during the ceremony. The general public, that ubiquitous entity of our nation which has shown a remarkable willingness to let itself be divided based on religion, region, caste, creed, language, gender, age, skin color, shoe-size, hair style, energy drink brand and anything else you can think of, has also gone back to its where-ever-it-is-that-it-goes-back-to and are now back to their busy lives trying to work out which, between a "mega serial" or a "breaking news", is more entertaining, trying to figure out which "Reality Show" would fetch them more moolah and at the same time trying to decide which other "Reality Show" is worth wasting their hard earned money on and finally is also trying to make a living and make ends meet; this last one since it's an existential requirement.

They will of course all be back again in an years time. To celebrate the 61st anniversary of becoming a Republic. There will be loud noises about how our country is literally banging on the doors of the 'Developed Nations only' club, how we have developed self sufficiency in nuclear technology, how our economy is resilient and yada yada and blah blah and so on and so forth. There will be more crap strewn around the Raj Path and we will go back to wait for the 62nd anniversary. In the mean while, questions about education, health, standard of life, corruption, jobs, agriculture, water, income disparity, food sufficiency, development and other such trivial things will remain firmly unanswered and uncared for.

It is indeed a bleak outlook I have for the country I call my own.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Intelligence and us

We woke up one day and found ourselves at the top of the heap. As a species I mean.

Think about it. The Food Chain. There is vegetation at the bottom of the heap. Above this are the, for lack of a better term, vegetation-eaters. Above this grass-munching, cud-chewing bunch are the vegetation-eater eaters. These are better known as predators though I am yet to find out what they 'pre date'! And among this top level of 'predators' is where we find ourselves. Lording over the rest of them. If this heap were compared to a mountain, we have not only scaled the peak that matters the most but also have made the top our very own stronghold. We are, by self-proclamation, the masters of earth because we are the 'intelligentest' of all which is what enabled us to come to the top.

But are we really all that? Extreme prejudice is key to how we reached the top but is our intelligence worth the definition that we ourselves have come up with?

Think about it. Our genesis. In an ancient (50,000-BC-and-before kind of ancient) community of chimps and monkeys, we must have been nothing more than an abnormality; a small group of 'chimkeys', infuriating the adults of the community by being able to walk on two legs. Over generations, we must have slowly grown, in numbers, in relative intelligence and in 'bipedness', till we were ready to start striking out on our own. And from then on, via fire, wheel, stone tools, metals, fossil fuels and artificially designed weapons, we have reached where we are today. The top of the food chain. But - of course there had to be a 'But' - we reached the pinnacle only on the basis of being the biggest brutes. Not because of intelligence.

If we did have 'Intelligence' - which means "The faculty of thought and reason" - we wouldn't be dealing with what are referred to as 'endangered species'; we wouldn't be talking about an 'ozone hole'; we wouldn't be desperately looking for an alternative to fossil fuels; we wouldn't be automatically thinking about annihilation when we think of a mushroom. We, most definitely, wouldn't be calling all this development and progress.

Naysayers of the "Intelligent Life existing elsewhere in our vast universe is extremely probable" theory usually counter it by asking, "If that is so, how come they haven't contacted us yet?". What they don't seem to grasp is the fact that if the life form were intelligent, it would know better than to contact us.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

A Century of Analysis

The twentieth century probably wins the competition for the 'Century-of-maximum-impact-on-mankind'. Cell phones, Digital music, MP3 players, Internet, Internet devices, Touch technology, 'Don't Touch' technology, Plug'n'Play, Cordless power transmission, Non-coal/non-wood/non-fossil fuel based energy, The Human Genome Project, Nike shoes, Test tube babies, Pamela Anderson's 'babies', Television, HD, 3D, GM food, MCD, Swine Flu, AIDS virus, Computer virus, Supersonic travel, Underwater travel, Air travel, Space travel, Satellites, Missiles to bring down the satellites, Tanks, Stealth fighters, AK-47, Mechanized wars, Chemical warfare, Biological warfare, Oil wars, Format wars, Atomic energy, Demonstration of atomic energy, Nuclear energy, Threatening to demonstrate nuclear energy, 24-hr News Channels, Tabloids - You name anything that has had a significant impact on mankind and you will see that it has happened in the Twentieth Century. And it was all a result of trying to answer questions like "Can I...?" "How can I...?" "Where can I...?" "What can I...?" and such like.

In fact, the twentieth century is perhaps the century when we, the people, finally figured out that no aspect of life is a mystery and sufficient analysis and research will always provide an answer. Some of these are answers which change every other day - Is Global Warming for real? There are other answers which are conclusively concluded very fast - Is Obama for real? Yes, according to the Nobel Peace Prize committee. Then there are answers which are all set to go down the annals of analytical history as being eternally in-conclusive - Was 9/11 for real? Was WMD for real? Irrespective of which category they belong to, today we have answers, provided by analysis being done into every imaginable aspect of our life however trivial it might seemingly be.

I came across one such example in my newspaper recently. An analysis to explain what is commonly known as Happiness. They call it an enigma, assign it a code that they then claim has to be cracked and go about trying to do so using research, more research, yoga, genetics, a paradox and some philosophical MJ ('mumbo-jumbo' for the uninitiated). Read it here if you are interested. Of course, staying true to form, I gave it a miss because I knew such arcane things like "Happiness" are not written with me as the target audience. Not that I don't feel happy, ever, but just that I do not want to get into the nitty-gritty of understanding the philosophy behind it! But as you have already read, it did get me thinking about the twentieth century and what we, as a race, have been up to during it.

Monday, January 18, 2010

To Like or Not

Andre Agassi, Goran Ivanisevic, Tiger Woods, Michael Shumacher, Mika Hakkinen, Sachin Tendulkar, Leandar Paes, Mahesh Bhupathi. A list of sports guys I like. All champions. All flawed in one way or other.

Ok, with that list out of the way I will now let you in on a secret. This is not what I set out to write. I was supposed to write about why we like what we like. My explaination of the hard-to-explain phenomenon of liking something. It was supposed to be all-encompassing and insightful, looking at this phenomenon from all possible angles, from the uniqueness and randomness of human thought to the socialogical and communal influences that dictate what we like and don't. This was supposed to be my attempt at coming across as being wise and wordly and other similar stuff. So I started listing down those names of the sportsmen I like (it doesn't include everyone I like but the list is close to complete) and thought I'd take it from there.

Then came the realization. While the list lists my favorites, these were also the same names that feature in the all time hate-list of some of my friends because of their flaws. How could that be? Then it hit me that I didn't have the first traces of a clue regarding the what and why of liking something. Of course, I like lots of stuff and dislike lots more and I can give a passably convincing reason for both. But that hasn't, I discovered, equipped me to explain the reason(s) behind why people like and dislike certain things and why people differ in what they like and don't. I realised that the stuff about randomness of human thought and sociological influences was nothing more than me putting that sentence together because I knew the words. And that it sounded nice and educated when I said it out aloud.

So instead of trying to use research, more research, yoga, genetics and philosophical MJ (Mumbo-Jumbo for the uninitiated) to try and explain "Likes and Dislikes", I will just leave you with reasons why I like the guys in the list above and their flaws.
  • Andre Aggasi - Bad boy gone good. Kept 'Pistol' Pete honest when he was at his best. Was a true character. Of course the fact that he is married to 'Fraulein Forehand' aka Steffi Graf also plays a major part in why I like this guy. Recently revealed that he had done drugs during his 'bad boy' days.
  • Goran Ivanisevic - Untill I saw him serve, I used to think that a tennis ball could travel only in straight lines. He was the ACE, pun totally intended. The guy didn't know that the word 'consistency' existed except when he was serving those curve-ball aces.
  • Tiger Woods - I now know that an Eagle, though definitely a bird, is not a birdie, which most certainly had nothing to do with birds! And this knowledge is because I started following golf after this guy came riding a huge wave of hype and publicity and went on to prove that every bit of it was justified. His clean-cut, nice guy image took the most horrendous beating this side of a boxing ring after the revelation of his numerous outside-the-marriage hook-ups (was it 12 affairs? or 16?).
  • Micheal Schumacher - The Man. Formula 1 fed my need for speed during my formative years and I probably wouldn't have given even the first glance to Formula 1 if not for the fact that I started watching it in '94 when this man was beginning to make history. The guy has a ruthless streak which made him forget a couple of times that Formula 1 is a sport where people can get hurt real bad if you trip them up. Thank God that the only thing that got hurt those couple of times was his reputation.
  • Mika Hakkinen - MS is a seven time world champion because Mika was there. Otherwise, MS' count might have been more. This guy had everything to be The Man. The speed, the skill, the ruthlessness, the car. Except for the fact that couldn't motivate himself, he got bored with it all and retired.
  • Sachin Tendulkar - I wonder why they don't sign him for a Duracell Ad. Twenty years and he is still the (Demi)God of cricket he has been for the majority of the last two decades. Some say he buckles up when put under pressure. And that he plays for records. All we know is that he is the best we have had in quite a long time.
  • Paes and Bhupathy - The Indian Express. An appearance in all 4 grand slam finals in a single calendar year and winning two of them. A career Grand Slam in doubles. Top ranked. An Indian tennis team which literally swept everything in front of them on the world stage was a dream come true for me. Untill they hit that shiny red self destruct button called EGO.

Monday, January 11, 2010


It's past seven in the evening. I am sitting at my desk in office, all alone, listening to a barely audible hum. I think it's from the central aircon. Or it could be the hard drive/fan in my laptop. Or both. I really can't be sure, especially over the clackety-clack of my keyboard. I stop typing, but that doesn't really help determine the source of the hum, so I continue with my clackety-clacking.

I wonder if that's what I would hear, the hum, if I ever managed to get into my own head and listened to my own brain working. So I get in and...wait, there isn't any hum in my head. No. Only a gentle swishing sound, the kind made by a gentle breeze in an empty room. Definitely no brain-work related hum. Only the breeze swishing. Wonder how the breeze got in. Maybe through the nose, since I breathe. Nope, I know the air I breathe goes down into my lungs, not up into my head. Ok, maybe through my ears. Hmmm, that must be it, the ears. More importantly though, no brain. Empty head.

But then I can't be a living, breathing human being without possessing atleast an excuse for a brain. And if it ain't in my head where the heck is it? It definitely wasn't moved because the room looks empty, covered with layers of dust, grime and....I mean, the inside of my head looks empty, it is covered with layers of dust and grime (must have been carried in by the breeze) and above all it shows the classic sign of not having been used - there is dust and grime all over the place. Hence proved, my brain hasn't been moved from my head. But I still don't know where it is. I start thinking and that upsets me more because there I am, in my empty head, thinking! On one hand, empty head, on the other, thought. A contradiction if ever one hit me in my face.

That's when I hear yet another noise. Not the hum, not the swish, not the clackety-clack. It's something else. Familiar. Melodious. Like a bell ringing. By this time, I am trying to figure out what this new noise is, having forgotten about the contradiction that had hit me in the face. The new noise is slowly growing in volume. And before I realise it, the noise is too loud, reverbrating off the walls of my empty head. It is so loud now I have to do something before my head splits and spits me out. But what do I do? I start running back the same way I came in. Atleast I think it is the same way. But there is no way to tell. The insides of my head look the same, dusty and grimy, any which way I turn and there is no way to be sure I am headed the right way. But I keep going. I need to, to escape the ringing noise. It didn't seem possible but it seemed to grow even louder with every step I take. There just doesn't seem to be a way out. Nor does there seem to be a possibility of getting away from the noise. It was like a physical thing, slowly, steadily and inexorably moving towards me, seemingly intent on...well I don't know what its intentions were. But they didn't seem friendly. I kept running, it kept getting louder and........

My wife is done with her work and is ready to leave for the day. She has just called. To ask if I can leave for home with her. I said yes, packed up and left the office.

Sunday, January 10, 2010


For ages I used to think that I wouldn't change, meaning I would remain the same kind of person I have always been irrespective of my age or my girth. And I still think the same way. Except during those bouts of honest self appraisal when I look back and notice the differences between the snapshot of me from the past and me in the present. Much like in a game of 'Spot the 6 differences', the changes are subtle but they are there. However I am not about to start a dissertation titled 'Me and Change'. Nope. That would be an overload on my mental faculties which are already stretched, it would require me to be honest about me to myself for a considerable amount of time and in any case, you don't want to read a dissertation by someone who had to look up that word in a dictionary before using it here, now do you?

No. What I had in mind was more in the nature of why change happens. I am rather confused by it. It's a loaded question, no doubt, and the acceptable answer(s) to that is(are) probably found in the realm of philosophy. Saying that change is the way life persists and that is why change happens is probably an oversimplification but I will stick to this answer. After all evolution is nothing but change and seen from that perspective, my over simplified answer sounds correct (atleast to me). But I am not looking at it from a philosophical or existential point of view. My confusion stems from the fact that change seems to happen only in some areas and not uniformly in all. To state an example, in this past decade, which has been affectionately dubbed the 'noughties', I have seen more and more people accept the concept of 'eating out' as opposed to having home cooked food at home but in these same 'noughties' I have also seen an unbelievable proliferation of engineering and medical colleges, of wildly varying pedigree and standards, proving that when it comes to options for higher studies nothing had changed.

So why does change happen? Are there some areas which more change resistant than others and if so, what makes them change resistant?

Thursday, January 7, 2010


Twenty10 is no longer the 'new year' it was made out to be a few days back. Why? Because it's already a week old, no. :) Ok, lame humor alert. That's my dose for the day and now let me get to it that which I set out to get to.

Happy New Year to everyone and hope Twenty10 brings with it reduced real estate prices, increased share prices, lower prices, better roads, more humor, common know, things we all look forward to all the time. That said, the year past has been one where a lot had happened and given that my capacity to remember stuff is somewhere south of miniscule, I thought it would be prudent to jot down the memories while I still can recollect them (especially since I am no Albus Dumbledore with a pensieve in my office. Somebody, somewhere invent it. Fast).

So here goes:
1. I got married. Accepted, that it's not something I will be allowed to forget but neverthless it ranks as the most significant thing that 'happened' to me last year. Previously I only had parents. Now I also have in-laws.

2. I travelled. To different parts of the country, for different reasons, using different modes of transport. My work took me to swank hotels and corporate offices of all kinds in the country's biggest, busiest and most polluted metros, social engagements took me to Kanyakumari and the beautiful beaches of Kovalam, Office team meetings took me to Mahabalipuram and my marriage took me to the hills of Darjeeling and the chills of Lachen. Wow! Now that I see all of it together, I wonder how on earth I managed to travel so much. Because I hate having to pack and being on the move.

3. I prayed. Please don't think that I was an atheist before and suddenly found God. Nope. My "praying" is an event to remember whenever I did it last year because of what I prayed for. My first major prayer was that my wedding should happen without a hitch. A wedding ceremony comes with an in-built potential for everything from silly one-up-manship games to wedding-stopping fights between the two families; throw in the fact that mine was a marriage between people of different religious faiths and that potential just got exponentially multiplied. My next major prayer was that I should stay alive. When you are trapped in a 4x4, driving up the narrow roads of the Himalayas with a vertical fall - into a freezing river that was so far down as to look like a painting made to scale - on one side of the road, I guess even the most die-hard athiest will be hard pressed not to find God and seek help for a safe return from that journey. My last major prayer is something of a work in progress. It has something to do with asking God to grant my wish of being able to retire early in life and live on my wife's salary. I believe only one person in a couple should work and being the gentleman that I am, I have decided to leave that honor to her. Now God, if you are listening, please make it happen. ;)

Well, that's my 2009. There were other things too but I think those are the three things that define 2009 for me.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

3 idiots

'3 idiots', the movie, is currently in the news for two reasons.

1. It has set the cash registers ringing like no other "Bollywood" movie has, ever.

2.Mr. Chetan Bhagat, author of the hugely popular book "5 point Someone" has taken up cudgels against the makers of the movie stating that he has not been properly credited for the story on which the movie is based.

Coming to the second point first, I have read the book a few years back and enjoyed it thoroughly. It read like something out of my fantasy about how I would have liked my college life to be. Ever since I heard about the movie being made, I have heard it being mentioned that it would be based on the book. A couple of weeks back, I went to watch the movie and was almost close to literally 'ROTFL'ing in the theatre. It was funny, witty, had decent actors who played their parts well and, above all, a new story to tell in a well paced manner. While I was watching the movie I also was noting the places where it resembled the book and those where it wasn't. And in the end, as I was walking out of the theatre, I was thinking that the film makers had taken a thoroughly enjoyable book and adapted and modified the story to fit the big screen, to come up with a thoroughly enjoyable movie. So in light of the recent "credit" controversy, I will say that the movie was inspired by the book, to borrow a much abused phrase from some of our well-entrenched music directors.

Now about the first point. I think it is obvious to say that the cash registers are ringing because people who go to watch it are finding out that they actually enjoy what is being dished out. This in turn makes them go out and encourage people in their 'circle of influence' to watch the movie. Simply put, word of mouth publicity is working wonders for the movie and rightly so. It is a breezy, light-hearted, entertaining movie with a message which is left on the buffet table for you to pick up if you want it rather than being funnelled down your throat.

So, I have seen the movie, enjoyed it and added to its considerable collections at the till. So far so good. Till I saw this - A blog entry by Ms. Sagarika Ghose, well known TV journalist with CNN IBN - and this - A televised debate on the same news channel, anchored by Ms. Sagarike Ghose. I fail to understand how these folks (Ms.Ghose and others like her) read so much more from a comedy. She writes, "The fact that the film is so enormously popular shows how eager we are to embrace mindlessness and how keen we are to promote a culture where education and thoughtfulness are seen as obstacles to enjoying the good life. Is it any wonder that an Indian Express Indicus Analyticus study gives us the bad news that by 2020 those holding medical degrees/diplomas will go up from a shockingly low 1.3 million to only 2.1 million in the next ten years. As a nation we are in no mood to study, and Three Idiots encourages us to throw away our books because today we are chanting the mantra, "the-system-sucks-and teachers-are-pathetic-and-who-cares-about-grades-and-the-rat-race-is- foolish." Going by this, would it be safe to say that since the movie "Avatar" is enormously popular it must mean that all of us are ready to look like extra tall blue beings and live on a 'suspended-in-mid-air-mountain'? And talking about the Indian Express study, how does the scant increase in the projected number of medial degree/diploma holders lead to the conclusion that "As a nation we are in no mood to study". This is just an excerpt from the post and the I feel the whole post is more or less the same.

I have read the blog (haven't seen the debate though) and despite having a strong urge to argue each and every point she makes in it, I will just say 'Ms. Ghose, it's a movie, a form of entertainment, like reading a book is for some people. Enjoy it, if you find it to your taste. But don't take it so seriously.'