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Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Happy Diwali and 380 words Ramayana

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A Very Happy Diwali to All. May this Diwali and New Year bring Joy and Prosperity to You and Your Loved Ones.

Meanwhile have a chuckle on how an American ABCD might explain Diwali to his friends.
So, like this dude had, like, a big cool kingdom and people liked him. But, like, his step-mom, or something, was kind of a bitch, and she forced her husband to, like, send this cool-dude, he was Ram, to some national forest or something. Since he was going, for like, something like more than 10 years or so, he decided to get his wife and his bro along, you know, so that they could all chill out together. But Dude, the forest was real scary shit. Really man, they had monkeys and devils and shit like that. But this dude, Ram, kicked ass with darts and bows and arrows so it was fine. But then some bad gangsta boys, some jerk called Ravan, picks up his babe and lures her away to his hood. And boy, was our man, and also his bro, Laxman, pissed. And you don't piss this son-of-a-gun cuz, he just kicks ass and like and all the gods were with him. So anyways, you don't mess with gods. So, Ram and his bro get an army of monkeys. Dude, don't ask me how they trained the damn monkeys, just go along with me, okay. So, Ram, Lax and their monkeys whip this gangsta's ass in his own hood. Anyways, by this time, their time's up in the forest and anyways it gets kinda boring, you know no TV or malls or shit like that. So, they decided to hitch a ride back home and when the people realize that our dude, his bro and the wife are back home they thought, well, you know, at least they deserve something nice. And they didn't have any bars or clubs in those days so they couldn't take them out for a drink, so they, like, decided to smoke and shit and since they also had some lamps, they lit the lamps also so it was pretty cool, you know with all those fireworks. Really, they even had some local band play along with the fireworks and you know what, dude, that was the very first, no kidding, that was the very first music-synchronized fireworks, you know, like the 4th of July stuff, but just, more cooler and stuff, you know. And, so dude, that was how, like, this festival started.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Proud of what?

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I didn’t know who Abhinav Bindra was, until that spectacular day when everybody suddenly knew him. How could a single gold medal at Olympic affect India or its performance in world arena was beyond me. I didn’t help him win. Neither did my country or money I pay in taxes. He won based on pure self hard work financially self supported. All that he shared with me was the fact the we belonged to same geographical political entity called India. Yet, there was a small tinge of pride and euphoria when I found out that he won. Ditto for today's Chandrayaan lauch off.

There are many things people are proud of in their life. Their achievements, their successes, successes of their people, success of their agencies and organizations, their history, their culture, etc. However most of the time they are proud of things they didn’t do anything about. I can be proud of my victory in race or A grade in exam (can I? see later) because I contributed to the outcome. I cannot, legitimately, be proud of things I just happened to have, like culture, history and successes of people living near me. If I am, then what exactly I am proud of? Coincidence? Luck? Why? What is pride?

Of course, asking these questions opens Pandora’s box. Did I, that is, me, really score that A in exam, so that I can be proud of? Or did I just happened to inherit those genes of intelligence, memory, hard work from my parents; and happened to be born in a family that could afford sending me to good school and provide inspiring ambience at home; all coincidences I did nothing about. What is there to pride about for me? To be where I am? I am so much product of my circumstances, my biology, my society, my experiences, my environment, and critical choices made by others, there is not really any “me” in me but mix of all these things.

One can say that I have a choice. Achieving successes from right choices might give one right of being proud of success. Unfortunately, increasing scientific evidence suggests that our decisions are made by so many things beyond us that there remains nothing for us to claim our ours. After all, if you yourself are product of what you parents were or did with you, then how can your choices be yours and independent of your past.

I cannot be proud of anything, I guess. I know it’s extremist view but where is line between what I do or what I am made to do?



I am off for Diwali for next two weeks, so you will not see any new posts from me except one scheduled on Diwali. I will join you back on 3rd November. Have a gala time.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Men’s bathroom design

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93

How cute!

Passing out

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passed-out-cat-drunk-kitty-with-cigarette-in-mouth It’s a very common phrase in India referring to graduating from a college. Just that in my mind when someone mentions ‘passed out’ first image pops in my mind is him lying haphazardly and drunk. Combine that with rest of the sentence and I always end up smiling. You see, I too have passed out from undergraduate since 2003. Somebody wake me up now, please!

Colour as indicator of beauty

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There is a increasing perception in media and among educated urban elite in India that use of fairness as indicator of beauty is wrong. That perception is manifested in opposition to depiction of unfair woman in Fair & Lovely adverts as not being able to attract suitable mate, not being able to get a job, or being perennially dissatisfied with her life. Resistance was raised again when Fair & Handsome was launched for men. It is not untrue that people of India do equate fairness with beauty, and reasons can be as recent as white colonial rule to as old as primitive human evolution. It is also agreeable that to judge one by standards of beauty beyond one’s control is unfair to the least, and downright mean in most cases.

What gets my goat though is the fact that society continues to accept other measures as standards of beauty while isolating fairness as something mean. If you believe in individual liberty then there is no reason you should have objection to anyone’s standards of beauty and anyone else's attempts to measure up to those standards by any means they choose, including use of fairness creams. While both parties have choice in principle, second party doesn’t have a choice in practice. If all men think that fair woman is beautiful, then has a woman choice not to try to be fair without suffering rejection as consequence of her choice? But then, if all men think that obese woman is unattractive, then has a woman choice not to try to be slim?

This happens in nearly all parameters of beauty and in many other spheres of life. Tall build, dark skin tone, wide shoulders, glistening row of teeth, full dark smooth hair, no paunch, sturdy long legs, muscular arms, chiseled face, firm handshake etc. are few among many standards of male beauty. Men try to measure up to them by working out, taking care of themselves, consuming healthy diet, seeking medical care, and so on. Similarly for women. Why does nobody objects to association of beauty with soft skin, long flowing silky hair, long thin legs, slender waist, absence of spectacles, etc. for women? Why raise objection to association of beauty with fairness only? At the end of the day, can you really force me to see beauty where I don't see? Isn't it in eye of beholder anyway.

I don’t see how one is not acceptable, and I agree it is not, but others are. Of course, any attempt at making everything unacceptable is going to snowball into destroying whole standards of civilization. Life is full of unfairness, and I think cribbing about it just not going to help anybody, one has to deal with handicaps given in life or work to overcome them. If I am not intelligent and don't earn as much as you do, will you consider that unfair, since my intelligence is beyond my control?

Monday, October 20, 2008

Self selected death

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Everyone is free to make choices but people must bear consequences of their choice too. If choice is under misinformation, under pressure, under ignorance made by someone who is incapable of making informed decisions, then society has obligation to rescue them from subsequent harmful consequences. Not for others. In fact, society is wasting money helping those who take avoidable risk knowing fully well.

That’s why I am generally unimpressed and uncomfortable by large sum of money spent enforcing rules that prevent consequences from free choices. I am specially referring to traffic rules in India enforcing helmets for two-wheeler riders and stopping vehicles at railway crossing. I am also no sympathetic to victims of those accidents who chose to ride without helmet (or seat belt) knowing well the benefits and risks of helmet, though I sympathize with their mourning well wishers. I know it’s sad to lose a life like that, but what more can you do when after repeated telling someone does exactly what you told him not to do? Ditto for smokers and subsequent cancer, of course. I think we should respect their decision and not belittle it by mourning the consequence of their own choosing or trying to prevent it.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Alcohol as legalized drug

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Not being addicted to smoking, alcohol, drug, and being vegetarian sometimes provides me opportunity to take morally superior position to others. Two things work against me though. First, I am product of my culture, society and upbringing so my decisions (to not consume) are shaped by my circumstances rather than my choice at will, which renders my morally superior position not morally chosen one but thrust upon one, hence invalid. Second, with society changing its outlook to these habits, position itself is increasingly considered less morally superior by others. And while I respect and understand individual choices of people, and have long since realized that telling anyone more than 10 years old anything they don’t want to listen is not going to change them, that feeling sometimes crosses my mind nonetheless.

I came to this revelation that alcohol is nothing but legalized drug sometime last year. Society is very much against hashish, pot, charas, ganja, brown sugar, etc.; yet because society is also very much addicted to alcohol they have given it special status to allow adults to consume it, even though it is no different than the rest.

That one has to be adult to consume alcohol legally proves that alcohol is not natural diet and is harmful for our bodies, since no natural product will differentiate between young and adult body. That we don’t let pregnant women and children drink substantiates its harmful effects. Now I do know some research on good effects of limited drinking, but we all know those who drink, don’t drink it in medicinal quantities. That one is not allowed to drive vehicle or operate machinery after use and loses senses, alertness, passage of time, clear thinking and inhibitions after consumption suggest drug-like effect of alcohol. There are crimes committed because of, and for, alcohol consumption. To top the list, it’s addictive too. What difference remains between alcohol and cocaine, except for degree of harm and legal status? Why did we legalized one but not others? What right do alcohol consumers have to look down upon other drug users?

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Cycle of no development

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Times Online reports that roads without traffic rules may be safer.
Traffic lights, road signs and white lines would be removed from many high streets…question of who had priority would be left open deliberately, making drivers more cautious…pedestrians, cyclists and cars are encouraged to mingle…idea is to create space where there is mild anxiety among everyone so they all behave cautiously…creating an environment where it just doesn’t feel right to drive faster than 20mph…allow pedestrians to cross where they want…lights and other controls hamper instead of harness human nature, causing untold delay and harm.

It’s not India we are talking about, of course, but Britain. They are trying to be what we already are!

Dabbling with scriptures

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It’s not easy to dismiss scriptures, texts and learnings that have survived centuries, and some part of me aches to at least try to understand them. Since there is no mandatory required reading of religious texts in Hinduism, one doesn’t have opportunity to do so unless one wants to do by himself. In world increasingly disinterested, nay, antagonist to religion, aspersions on validity of meaning to today’s era remain as legitimate concern. Nevertheless, even if one is not very religious, there is a feeling to see, even if dispassionately and objectively, what special lies in these texts that has captured imaginations of men and women for so long. If for nothing else, one can perhaps understand their literary merits. And while irrespective of religion, texts of Mahabharat and Ramayan have lessons for life for all human beings, I am talking here of Vedas and Gita. These thoughts have fleeting presence in my mind now and then, which has led me to dabble briefly with various scriptures. Unfortunately, my experience has not been satisfying.

As born and brought up Hindu in India, it’s impossible to escape fundamental principles of religion and life even without touching religious scriptures. They are so ingrained in our culture, our rituals, our manners, our thinking and our outlook to life — notwithstanding numerous exposures to Gita Saar — that at first glance what I read in Gita sounded too familiar. There was a feeling at back of my mind that I already knew what was being told since I’ve lived and seen that all around me. Of course, I was soon challenged by an more avid reader who destroyed any illusion of me understanding anything. Gita is a logical discourse about war, but with related implication and transferable lessons in life, between Krishn and Arjun. And while Hinduism in that sense is very liberal in letting one form his own impression from logical conviction rather than forced obedience, somehow brand of logic in Gita didn’t appeal to my scientific argumentative mind. I  could not see how Arjun was convinced by incomplete answers by Krishn unless he factored subservience to Krishn’s divinity into account. Before I dismiss this, though, there is a feeling that I am missing something, and not reading properly.

I dabbled with Koran and Bible too, purely from objective angle. While first chapter of Bible was interesting with Genesis (sense or no sense, it’s a good story), narration quickly thrust upon me so many characters that I lost count and couldn’t just remember anything. There are like so many generations of people with their sons and daughters and names and places that just went beyond my head. I wanted to move ahead with story, at which point I gave up. I expected Koran to be more interesting because of all those rules (good or bad) about living Islamic life and family and infidels. And it was to an extent, but only problem is that half the content in Koran is ‘God, most gracious, most merciful’ which doesn’t help in moving story forward and can get on nerves because of self serving tone. Yet, at some point of time, I think it will be worthwhile to try to finish these books, as man no less than Mahatma Gandhi found many useful things in both.

What can I say now? It seems like all scriptures are designed to be boring and uninteresting. May be Lords wanted only those seriously interested to be able to understand His message, or may be he is not simply good author.

Friday, October 17, 2008

Guidelines for reading me

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Following guidelines apply to how should you read this blog, and in general, how should you interpret what I say or write.
  1. I write in generalities. It’s impossible for me to know unique circumstances of each individual, and no coherent opinion can be formed by unique experiences. So I write about general impression about general set of people. I believe in stereotyping too, for stereotypes are templates for life. I cannot start understanding every person I meet from scratch. I don’t have sufficient time. So I start with basic template, also known as stereotype, and change my perception after knowing more. Alongside, I update my template. To give crude analogy, stereotypes are mathematical averages, and to judge a person I start from average (rather than zero, non-stereotype) and adjust up and down. Consequently, if I meet sufficient people who don’t fit stereotype, my stereotype changes with them. If you think you don’t stereotype, you are limiting in your definition of what can be stereotyped. Psychology Today agrees with me.
  2. I write with open mind on a topic under discussion. It would be useful for you to read my post and arguments as written, without too much reading between the lines based on what you might assume I might be writing based on what you think I wrote in the past or your perception of who I really am.
  3. Just because I argue for a position doesn’t mean I support it, though that’s mostly the case. It also doesn’t mean that it’s only position I support. I am generally aware of multiple angles of an issue (and open to know if I am not) and my extent of support in not reflected equally in my writings always. I am often in debate with myself and depending on the mood you might just see one or other side of me. That typically happens when I am at fence on a topic and trying to decide sides. I might be playing devil’s advocate with myself, or provoking you to play for me. I am not trying to manipulate you but help me understand all sides of an issue.
  4. My position on any topic doesn’t imply my violent support for that, or vehement opposition to opposite position. I may try to convince you, time and interest permitting, but I am generally willing for you to hold your own opinion. Of course, in my opinion, you would be wrong.
  5. What I write to larger, faceless audience may or may not apply if I am face to face with someone. I try to be free of political correctness on this blog to say what I really want to say. In person, I try to be considerate and try not to offend or hurt people.
  6. I have penchant for taking logical position which may border on extreme in some case. It’s not because I cannot see practical or emotional angle, though often I cannot understand illogical things people do, but because I try to separate both and talk about one or the other.
  7. When I mention something in my blog, typical disclaimers apply. Mostly, but not always, if you see me taking a position which leaves a bitter taste in your mouth, assume I have already disclaimed that. Or you can complain in comments, and I will clarify. I mean what I say, exactly, and nothing more. See points 1 and 2 above. And I do not place disclaimers in each of my post because those make it sound defensive. Hence all my disclaimers are in this page together.
  8. My opinions are in general permanent, but with time, they change too. So for all practical purpose you can assume shelf life of these views to be one year.
Now I've covered all possible angles with which misinterpretation can arise, I will go back to writing without worrying too much!

Thursday, October 16, 2008

On legalizing live-in relationships

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On recent move by Maharashtra government in response to this post:

I think that people enter into live-in relationship because they want flexibility and want to avoid hassles of marriage. Now getting benefits without getting responsibilities of marriage is clearly not fair. I accept law which can permit live-in relationships to be certified so coupled can book hotel room or rent a house and fight domestic abuse which is simply law against violence, but maintenance law for live-in relationship is like “chit bhi meri pat bhi meri” (heads I win, tails you lose) for ‘other’ woman. And in such cases we seem to forget that ‘other’ woman has choice, and entered into live-in relationship and avoided marriage knowing what it means and what it doesn’t.

To put simply, I don’t agree.

Women, Children and Elderlies

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A man is supposed to be brave and bear it all. He is supposed to be able to hold longer and suffer lesser. He is also supposed to be dispensible.

In any tragedy or accident where all people cannot be saved, general wisdom is to save women, children, old people and disabled first. Men get absolute last priority. So if you are stuck in hijacked plane or sinking ship, you are doomed if you are male between 18-50 years. One can understand about children; they are fragile and innocent. No adult in their right mind can let children suffer in front of him. Rest, I am not too sure.

Even leaving that aside, problem is that most of the time nature of such events is such that being man is no help against fighting that misfortune. If it were not so, then one can easily side with conventional wisdom. What additional things men on Titanic could have done that women and elderlies couldn’t? One may presume that they can hold marginally longer in the water (that itself is an assumption) but in vast expanse of ocean, how much advantageous that would have been? Ditto for fighting with armed terrorists or running out of burning buildings. I am not sure if being man gets as much advantage as it’s assumed to be.

Of course, this is all arm chair, matter of fact, logical thinking. I can see men, including myself, I hope, sacrificing just because they see it their duty to do their best so as to minimize harm to others. It is related to concept of manliness, a concept so undermined, or forced to be undermined, everywhere else, by everybody else, when it doesn’t suit. We’ve compartmentalized role of people in our mind. One side is traditional role, other side is more advanced progressive social role.

Delegating men to last when rescuing can be explained, perhaps. Delegating them to last when mentioning causalities I cannot fathom. So many people died including so many women and children. Even a dead man is not worth the respect others get. Somehow his death is not so much pain as that of woman or child. Would one suffer less because a man in the family died as against a woman, ceteris paribus? Yet, burden of manliness lasts up to the grave.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Who’s to blame?

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In one of individual psychology class, we were given following artificial story. Read it as it is, and suppress ‘what if’, ‘why didn’t she’, ‘why didn’t he’, ‘that’s so stupid’ types of thoughts that may come to your mind.

A man and woman lived unhappily married. Man remained busy in his work, didn’t spend much time with her wife, and while he materially took care of his wife, housewife felt neglected. One afternoon she goes to market, on other side of river crossing the bridge, to buy some vegetables. While returning she meets a handsome stranger and is immediately charmed. She spends time with him yielding to his passion. In evening she hurries for home before her husband comes from work. To her horror, she finds a mentally unstable maniac on the bridge wielding an axe. There is no one in sight except a lone ferry driver. Exploiting the opportunity, he demands exorbitant price to take her across the river on his boat. Not having so much money with her, she goes back to town, meets her best friend, explains her situation, and requests to borrow required money. Disapproving her infidel conduct, her friend refuses to lend to her. Woman tries to go back to stranger man, but he also refuses to have anything to do with her despite their earlier exploits. Disheartened, she begs to boat owner, but he too doesn’t budge. In desperation, she makes a run on the bridge, and is caught and killed by the maniac.

Rank all characters (husband, wife/woman, stranger man, woman’s friend, ferry driver, maniac murderer) of the story in decreasing order of degree of responsibility for woman’s death.

While this may appear simple story, and you are convinced of your rank order, you would be surprised how many different combinations people can come up with in such a simple story. I was, very much. And some of these were just too absurd for me. Of course, there is no ‘right’ answer, but it gives a lot of insight into other person's mind, plus it's fun anyway. What's your ranking?

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

To Sons and Daughters

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Male-female inequality in Indian society is not up for debate. Within framework of marriage, rituals of dowry, forced marriage, and child marriage largely work to detriment to Indian women. These were some of the thoughts I was contemplating on when listening to this melancholic song (charkha chalati maa) from movie Pinjar. In one of the stanza heroine addressing to her mother says something like “to sons you give palaces and residences (inheritance) and to daughters you give banishment from home”. Heroine rues unequal treatment of man and woman in institution of marriage and laments inherent discrimination in the practice.

At this point my mother made an insightful comment, which is this post about. She is product of same society and is very traditional in many ways. Yet, she is also open to new ideas and is a regular participants in debates with me on my new world feminist views. I find her views particularly interesting because as experienced educated open minded women she have access to both sides of debate, knows the practicality of issue and is not bound by extremism of modern feminism.

She said that it’s true that sons get inheritance and daughters get separation, but sons also get any debt too. In Indian context, it is very possible that father passes negative net wealth and it’s sons who bear the burden of clearing the debt, and not daughters. In, now illegal but still prevalent practice of forced labour tied to high interest loan some ancestor in family took long ago (Bandhua Majdoori), it’s the sons who work to payoff paternal debt. So daughters don’t get inheritance but they don’t get debts too. They lose upside but downside too. It does sound something simple but it is profound too because nowhere have I come across this angle of discrimination, not in any of internet debates, not in blogs, or not in my mind itself.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Of suits and ties

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Tie is probably the only garment I’ve seen which doesn’t serve any useful function. After all, tie is nothing but a piece of cloth hanging from your neck. However, it does induce some kind of alertness by restricting your free neck movement, and is perceived smart. I wish thousand curses upon whoever invented this useless piece of clothing with with one of the most convoluted method of wearing (perhaps, to be surpassed by Sari only).

To make matter worse, Indians have adopted ties (and suits) as professional dress even though they are utterly incompatible with Indian climate and were clearly designed for colder western world. Narrow Indian mentality burdened with years of colonial subservience could not separate professionalism from western symbols of it. Without logic, that you cannot be professional in Kurta, has become understanding in the business world. Modern schools have thrust upon this attire on young children. It’s heart breaking to see innocent school children struggling in ties in smelting Indian summer of 45 degree Celsius.

At some level, I guess, suits and ties started as sign of professional elitism; executives, government officials, army generals wore them to symbolize their higher social status. With time, relatively lower level* professionals, specially service staff, adorned this attire to show their professionalism. At this time, perhaps to disassociate with new fans of suits and ties, executives abandoned this dressing style. Now we are at a time when a waiter at restaurant, security guard at ATM or office door, and car chauffer are fully suited-booted and executives just wear business casual. In some cruel joke of fashion, meaning of tie and suit reversed. In my previous company, higher up in hierarchy you were, less business formal or casual clothes you wore. Interesting fact is that only mid-level executives abandoned use of suits, and senior level executives (Chief of various things) still wore fully formal clothings to display their status.

Within these low-level service jobs though, tie remains a status symbol, a trickle down of early meaning now completely changed. In student mess of my college, supervisor wears tie, clearly not because his status in hierarchy is substantial but because that’s only way he can differentiate himself from cooks and cleaners. It is as intangible perk of his job as corner office is for higher executives. Sometimes things become important because everybody deems them important, and not because of inherent importance, not unlike currency notes. It would be interesting to find a socio-cultural study of meanings and acceptance of this attire.

*It’s not to disrespect anyone but I have to find some words to talk about it, don’t I?

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Why send an SMS?

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SMSs are very popular in India. In fact, younger generation — yes, I’ve crossed the other side of Indian median age — continuously communicates with friends through SMSs. They are advantageous in that sender and receiver can communicate when they are not in position of being able to speak aloud, say in boring class lectures. However, most of the usage is in situations where verbal communication is possible. I find this strange, mostly because, I am not one who does that. I see four disadvantages of SMS over phone call.

  1. SMS costs the same as one minute of call time, about 1/- and yet you can speak so much more in one minute than you can write in SMS, so more information can be communicated.
  2. SMS is cumbersome, lengthy and time consuming to type on best of all mobile keyboards, and most don’t have the best.
  3. SMS is one way communication while call is two way, including confirmations and correction.
  4. Sender of SMS expects a reply confirming the event (to make up for one way communication) and this doubles the cost.

It appears to me that even when you don’t bother about trivial charges, there are so many other benefits. Why do people still SMS when they don’t have to?

This article provides some interesting statistics for USA. Average consumer sends/receives 357 text messages a month (compared with 204 phone calls), while teen users sends/receives 1,742 text messages (NYTimes).

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Devils with beard and tail

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It’s laughable what we thought when we didn’t know.

I am reading “Cosmos” by Carl Sagan these days. In a chapter about comets, he informs that comets have been known as harbinger of danger, disaster, decease, and destruction for long. At various times, various scientists have described them to be made of “thick smoke of human sins…full of stench and horror before the face of God”, “reproductive cells, eggs and sperms, of planetary sperm…as if planets are produced in some interstellar procreation” and “carrier of spirits, which is smallest but subtle and most useful part of air, required to sustain life”, last of which by no less than Newton himself.

In history of astronomical discoveries we soon realize that separation of science from religion is relatively new phenomenon. In old days, study of ways of nature was pursuits of religious folks too and many astronomers delved into religious interpretations. Newton himself spent last decade or so studying alchemy and left world bereft of many new discoveries that he would’ve made had he utilized time in more productive pursuits. Of course, science and religion conflicted too, and religion did win often, at least temporarily.

A discovery of cyanogen (ingredients of cyanide) in comets tail in 1868 left the world in panic when Halley’s comet was expected to come in 1910. Notwithstanding the fact that concentration of cyanogen is actually much less than that of typical pollutants in current urban areas, newspapers pronounced doom and people made marry in last days of earth. Some smart entrepreneurs sold anti-comet pills and gas masks. Reminded me of a story by some some chaps in China selling air from World Football Final grounds (yes, that’s my knowledge of sports, I don’t remember the venue).

I really tried though but it was difficult for me to imaging what current understandings could be consider as laughable 100 years from now. It would be easy to say that we are more advanced now, but that is always relative. After all, there was time, when greatest minds of time couldn’t imaging a orbit other than circular. It was impossible for them to think, including even Kepler who found out this to his dismay (that orbits are actually elliptical), that Lord of the Worlds would choose anything less perfect than perfectly symmetric circle to move the planets around. We are bound by thoughts of our time, and those that aren’t, lead the progress.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

One eye veil

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Who said religious fanatics are stupid. You need stroke of genius to to come up with something like this:

A Muslim cleric in Saudi Arabia has called on women to wear a full veil, or niqab, that reveals only one eye. Sheikh Muhammad al-Habadan said showing both eyes encouraged women to use eye make-up to look seductive.

Amit Varma has an apt response.

Entangled in the waves

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World we perceive is because of what we see, or hear it seen. Not so long ago, people thought that if something can’t be seen, it’s just not. Now science has told us that it’s not true. Yet we are still so limited by what we see. We see something because light rays from sun or lamp bounce off an object and enter our eyes. Among the electromagnetic waves of many kind, we see what falls in visible spectrum, a limited range of frequencies which human eyes can see. What falls below or above, such as ultraviolet, gamma, radio, x-ray, microwave, and infrared, is not seen. But they are perfect light in their own regard. Scientists have been able to “see” these lights through special radio telescopes. Many animals have vision beyond human capacity, in different light regions. I often find myself imagining what world would like like if visible spectrum included all wavelengths.

Each object emits infrared radiations due to its temperature. Many astronomical body emit lights in ultraviolet and radio region. Most of electronic gadgetry of world uses waves to communicate. Imaging yourself in a world entangled in the web of light. Waves crisscrossing us, surrounding us, engulfing us. Waves from TV remote, TV antenna, mobile phones, security systems, radio stations, earth itself, from every body at every temperature. Something like a laser secured bank locker shown in movies (viz. Oceans 11). We’ll know more about our surroundings but we’ll also be afraid to step on or touch something.

I may be wrong, of course. Even in light, we see room lighted up, but we don’t see light rays. Probably we won’t see other waves too, if they are diffused. But if directed, such as waves emanating when you press a remote button, would be seen. How will that world be? Is it advantageous that we see what we see, or it’s just accidental?



I am off for Dussehara for four days. See you on 11th.

Monday, October 6, 2008

Rama Krishna Govinda Gopala

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What is wrong with the above title?

Indian names when anglicized are appended “ah” sound at the end because tongues not accustomed to Hindi phonetics cannot pronounce soft “a”. Agreed, I am not linguist, and true explanation may be better worded, but reason has something to do with English speakers not being able to pronounce Ram (राम) but only Rama (रामा). English language also doesn’t have soft “t” and “d” unlike Hindi. So one may accept their limitation in pronouncing Hindi names, but why have Indians too adopted this practice? Name is a noun which doesn’t change spelling and pronunciation when translated, so clearly, our practice is either blind subservience to English version to sound sophisticated or indifference to our own cultural heritage. I bet both reasons are working simultaneously.

Tragedy of matter is that English pronunciation have entered into Hindi language too. What should have happened is that Hindi pronunciation should have continued in spoken and written English, specially for those who can speak such. I don’t know about you but I feel that titles to deities have purity in their local sounding names and translating simply kills the feeling associated with them. Mother Ganga has that joyous sound that Ganges cannot match.

Question may arise that whether Rama is actually English name of Ram? I cannot see how. Ashish will remain Ashish in Russian whether or not you can pronounce it, and if you cannot, you can mispronounce it, but it will still be mispronunciation. But question though remains, for historians and linguists to answer, for I admit ignorance.

Related question: Is there any other country of earth — I suspect there are, but very few — which has its name in English different than its name in its local language? Why did we gave up Bharat for India? Whatever travellers of history might have called civilization of Indus, we should have declared our name in our own language when we had opportunity, at independence. Of course, now Bharat, Hindustan and India have become synonymous, and somehow India doesn’t evoke that frustration which I associate with Krishna.

(I should give credit for this thought to my dorm mate Akshar Chandra who steadfastly refused to call Ram Rama and explained to me why. I hadn’t given much thought to it before.)

Sunday, October 5, 2008

Alarmed life

There was a time long-long ago, when I used to wake up without alarm clocks. At home, mornings have always been a noisy and vibrant affair. My mom would wake up around 6AM and dad around 7AM. Their morning conversations, noise from housework, milkman, newspaper man, maid servants, all made commotion sleeping through which past 9AM was practically impossible. And waking up at 9AM was very late, indeed. You could have guests in the house by then, bathrooms would’ve been used and cleaned, breakfast would’ve been finished, and lunch would’ve been prepared.

Then there there was mom to wake me up. Like a infinitely snooze-able intelligent alarm clock, her wake up calls will vary in intensity, loudness, sweetness of content, and tone of voice, from soft and sweet to loud and sharp. So will her touch, from lighthearted pat, to gentle shake, to violent shove, to pulling off my pillow or bed sheet. A mutually understandable perfect alarm of world which took cue from tone of my refusal to wake up and time of the day, and adjusted call to cajole or to threaten.

Not so privileged after I left for hostel life since last 10 years. I’ve been my own, living alone in hostel or with bachelor roommates, none of who even bait an eyelid on my waking up at 12PM. That sweet melody of morning clutter, humdrum of conversations, sounds of traffic outside is sorely missed. And that has shackled me to alarm clock. Be it computer alarm, mobile alarm, or clock alarm, I cannot remember last time I slept, in day or in night, without setting alarm. And no, it’s not that I always lacked time to sleep, but without alarm, I would just be sleeping forever, so it seemed. Of course, there were countably few occasions when I didn’t use alarm, such as sleeping after last exam of semester, and longest I’ve slept uninterrupted in such case is about 20 hours.

I think I forgot how to wake up naturally. It is unnerving at times to always rely on external source, every single time in last 10 years, to tell you when to wake up, and to wake up in such sudden jolt of alarm. Thankfully I do wake up by alarm sound. There are many I’ve seen who are so lost in slumber that whole hostel except them wakes up. Such people rely on their neighbors to help them and are late at classes. Thought of such lack on control on yourself dreads me.

Saturday, October 4, 2008

Real life and Reel life

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It’s difficult for me to feel for characters in book or movie. Yes, there are exceptions when storyline and characterization connect characters to my heart, then I wonder about their feelings, thoughts, future and problems and empathize with them. Watching 10 seasons of “Friends” was one such moment when I was inextricably liked to all the characters and specially to Joey, Chandler and Monica. I was hard for me to realize that episodes are ending and I yearned to know what happens in their lives after their move. Characters of one of my most favourite book “To Kill a Mockingbird” also left that impression. Particularly Scout and Atticus. In general though, it’s hard to feel for fictitious persona.

Yet, when I realize that some persona are real or based on true story, attitude changes drastically. Somewhere somehow there is a block which separates facts from fiction and howmuchever drama I see on screen or on pages, my conscious reminds me to not to empathize with them. But when I come to know that people are, or were, real then suddenly I feel for them. A small affliction in real life is more moving then large melodrama in reel life.

Recently I watched Korean feature film “My Sassy Girl”. An amazing movie, I must say. Character of heroine haunted my mind long after movie was gone. There was a woman who was so lonely, so sad, so weak, yet so stubborn, so unorthodox, so obnoxious. That feeling was deepened when I came to know that extraordinary situation depicted in movie really happened to real people. Even though real or fictional characters are unrelated to me in all possible ways, it doesn’t equate my reaction to them. Somehow being real adds emphasis.

That has been exploited too, of course. One of my top favourite horror movie is “Blair Witch Project” because I saw this movie as documentary and reality exacerbated otherwise trivial horror tricks. Only later I realized that it was fake and part of production house publicity program.

Friday, October 3, 2008

Belief in Astrology

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I believe in Astrology. I don’t believe in astrologers. I believe that stars, planets and constellations can affect my fortune on earth. I don’t believe that we can predict it. I believe that something can be done to change the fortune. I don’t believe that anyone knows what. I don’t believe that effect is limited to place and time of birth but is continuous. I suspect that effect is too small to matter much.

Sun causes weather. Earth’s revolution causes seasons. Moon causes tides. Man is made of elements of universe. Man is composed of all the same atoms which are part of the cosmos. Atoms of cosmos relate to each other through four primary forces: electromagnetic force, gravitational force, weak force, strong force. Of these, weak and strong forces work only at infinitesimally short distances and electromagnetic force is absent due to electrical neutrality of man as whole. But gravity, weakest of all four forces, still affects.

It is not illogical to think that atoms of my body — which constitute chemicals, cells, hormones, therefore, my thinking, feelings, reactions, therefore, my actions, consequences, and future — are acted upon by all other atoms of the world, including those of massive stellar bodies. When moon can attract water of oceans, it can attract water in my body too. Given that there are massive and numerous objects in sky, it is correct to assume that there must be some impact of them to me. Hence I believe in notion of astrology.

It is also reasonable to believe that impact is likely to be infinitesimally small, is very complex to understand and measure, and is extremely impossible to forecast and predict, but if understood, is reversible too. Hence I don’t believe in astrologers or their doom sayings.

Thursday, October 2, 2008

What’s in a last name?

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A lot, of course. In India, last name signifies religion, caste, community, place of birth, place of ancestors, hometown, occupation, and more. Among people of my generation, last name is largely irrelevant, along with any differences and preconceived notions that go along with it. That is, telling first name in introducing yourself informally is acceptable and last name is not demanded. Not so in dealing with adults outside globalized corporate world. I am constantly asked to complete my name when I introduce myself as Ashish to others, say to, government officials, shop keepers, colleagues of my dad, etc. My inability to do so in the first place and reaction of surprise show how different that idea is to world which I typically inhabit, and how important is to people outside. Not that all those demand last name are biased, yet it is important to them to completely place a face and personality to a name.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

History and Psychology of Clapping

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Recent series of guest lecture in a class left me wondering about clapping. Thing is that while many students are disinterested during the lecture, they wake up just at right moment to clap: at introduction of speaker and at end of lecture. I wondered if it is natural for us to clap at such occasion or it is culturally learned. Corollary to that was question whether babies know clapping instinctively? More I thought about it, more I was surprised that how odd this ritual of clapping is. After all, clap is nothing but violent way of striking skin of palm with another palm to create loud noise. Brief search on internet failed to settle the nature versus nurture origin of clapping but I at least found one more curious person like me.

Various references (Ask Yahoo!, MadSci Network, wiseGeek, Birkbeck College) points to the following clapping related tidbits:
  1. Clapping bears origin to primal nature of striking, stomping during excitement.
  2. Clapping as means to show appreciation has been from as early as middle ages.
  3. Clapping is not universal symbol of applause or appreciation.
  4. Babies clap instinctively when they respond to light, sound or action.
  5. Clapping after, or in anticipation of, performance is culturally acquired trait.
  6. Clapping at middle of performance is not universally acceptable, specially in high concentration performances such as music or plays.
  7. True clapping is more than mere striking palms
    [It] aims to compress and explode a little bubble or bomb of air, compressing and accelerating the air momentarily trapped between the palms…and while children do it early on, they takes time to do it properly
  8. Clapping is said to be induce pleasurable hormones in brain and can be helpful to autistic people and victims of burns.
  9. There is difference between clap of single person and clapping of a crowd.
    A single clap is convulsive and climactic. It marks a precipitate change of state, a coming to completion, or a new beginning, or a reversal: in all cases, a sudden, sharp interruption to the steady unrolling of time. Clapping draws a line in time, as in the ‘clapperboard’ which divides up scenes in film-making. Collective clapping, by contrast, is convergent and conjunctive. Rather than intensifying time, it thickens and spreads it. One might say that the single clap temporalises time, takes a featureless space of time and exposes it to temporality by concentrating it into an instantly diffused instant, while collective clapping slows or arrests the passage of time, forming it into a mass, or durative volume. The clap enacts instantaneity; applause enacts extension.


Last articles (Birkbeck College) goes on to analyze group psychology of applause, which completely went over my head. That said, it is still surprising that we don’t know much about this oddity of ours and have come to ingrain clapping so much so that one claps even if one couldn’t care less.

And some have made clapping an art in itself. Following fellow holds world record in clapping by clapping at speed of 14 per second. See it to believe it.

(YouTube link)


I don't want to spoil your mood, but while writing about clapping, I remembered another topic of same type. Not wanting to publish another post merely to link an article, I am adding it here. I know it sounds funny, but seriously, this link does have all you ever wanted to know but were afraid to ask about....farts. And believe me, it's not gross.
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