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Monday, December 28, 2009

Right of abortion

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At the very beginning of this blog, I had raised a question which I deferred dealing with so far. Question was about role of father in abortion of child. Surprisingly, this matter receives much less attention than feminine version of the same question.

I had agreed, and do now as well, that parents of child are best people on Earth to decide fate of unborn foetus. No one (calling themselves pro-choice, pro-life, anti-abortion, anti-life, …) has any business interfering in couple’s decision to whether to bring out the person they will be totally responsible for in the world and who will change their lives irrevocably. However, decision to abort or not remains exclusive maternal prerogative in most parts of the world, including India and United States. Unfair part in this process is whether someone can be punished for not doing what he cannot do. If father cannot bear a child, does he not have any say in whether he wants the child or not?

First case is when father wants a child but mother doesn’t: currently, he cannot stop mother from aborting the baby. If father is willing to bear responsibility of raising the child, what right mother has of depriving man of his child? Trauma for man in such cases cannot be understated in line of argument that only mothers love their children more than fathers ever could. Emotional investment and love of fathers towards their offspring is question which requires mere perfunctory glance at the world around us to answer. Can mother be required to go through whole pregnancy and pain of childbirth unwillingly? Unfortunately, she has too, for there is no alternative. Whose pain and loss is more: a father deprived of his baby or a mother bearing pain for nine months? I don’t have an answer but I feel it’s former. Of course, it goes without saying that this should not apply in pregnancy out of non-consensual sex and father must bear all the cost and financial loss to mother in giving him his child.

Second case is when father doesn’t want a child but mother does: currently, he cannot force mother to abort the baby. Which seems right until we note that he will still be legally responsible for providing child support and financial help. This, naturally, isn’t fair on father again. Excepting forced assault, consensual relationship is entered in by both partner knowing fully well consequences of the same. A mother cannot demand support from unwilling father if such unwillingness is expressed prior to birth and during the period when mother can undergo safe abortion. Then mother will be free to decide to continue with the pregnancy on her own or terminate it.

Law, as it stands, gives all the responsibilities to father without him having any say at all in reproductive rights over his unborn baby. Let alone giving father his due right, a small step such as spousal notification by mother about her decision to abort itself is hotly protested against even though there seems be slight majority support for it.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

An instance of happiness (or disappointment)

Those four digits have knack of making me slightly happy or unhappy every single time, even if for an instance only.

When I am done talking over my mobile and see call summary notice pop-up, I get instantaneously elated for a fraction of a second if number of minutes of use is **:5*. That I extracted most of my money’s worth of last minute is reason enough. Not surprisingly, I get marginally disappointed if that number is **:0*.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Respecting the elders

In a hierarchy driven society such as India, elders are considered worthy of respect by virtue of being elders only. It is ingrained in our culture to respect and honour elders be it a sibling elder by a minute or a great grand father, or in fact elders not related by blood or marriage. And the honour is not merely perfunctory in the way you address them but deep rooted in that one doesn’t reply back to, talk loudly to or in front of, counter against, look down upon or raise a hand on elders. It is not uncommon to see people, young and old, bearing deep hurt and shame, sometimes even violence, for years on end through hands of elders of their family and yet keep quite. Of course, sometimes the limit is crossed, either because action of elder has become unbearable or younger is not versed in manners of respecting the elders. In regular, normal, decent families, though, elders are sacrosanct. Why no one responds back to Dadisa in Balika Vadhu is example enough. A person who respects elders is considered virtuous.

Expecting someone to respect the elders is expectation of good cultural upbringing and behaviour. However, what surprised me distinctly in my quest for life partner over last year, was consistency of this expectation from fairer sex, almost always stated explicitly. I found this in girls I met in person and in girls I met/read about online. Surely, the request itself was not unjustified, but near complete unanimity of the wish was marked. What is so special about this, I wonder?

There are hypothesises my brain can come up with. Perhaps it is a way for girl to ensure that her side of family gets respect they deserve from their son-in-law since it not inconceivable to imagine that boy may not respect girl’s side of family. Asking for general respect to elders is cover for respect to her parents. Perhaps all the girls somehow consider this a litmus test of boy’s character. Among hundreds of other things a girl can ask her would-be, why this thing tops across is a mystery difficult to resolve for me.

Some, those believing in traditional values, consider respect for elderly a default position. Others, those product of modern individualists thoughts, consider that respect has to be earned and age alone is not worthy of respect. I am somewhat in middle of these two extremes. I respect elders by default until they un-earn it. I start with respect due to age but it has to continuously earned and maintained with actions, words, gestures and thoughts for me to continue to hold it. Any act of un-earning will result in loss of respect despite the age superiority. Same things holds for me with respect to respect due to position. What is your take?

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Should wife take husband's last name?

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A question very pertinent yet so much debated that it may not be worth my while to write much here. Here is one and another. There are pros and cons. There is individualism and there is collectivism. Evolutionary biology suggests one way while sense of fairness suggests something else. For some it’s deal breaker, for others it’s mere practice to be followed at will. He might think that her question itself insults relationship. She might think that his expectation does the same. There is convenience of accepted norm or there is pride of carving out your own path. For some, it’s simply matter of showing love, while for others showing love itself like this is questionable.

Questions like this while getting debated in public forum don’t yield much result since they are for couple to decide between themselves. However, such debate can have effect of influencing social change. What do I think personally?

I will want my wife to want to change her last name to mine though I don't necessarily want her to change her last name to mine. Love is collection of such unstated wishes which are inherently contradictory.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Looking for a blogger who is…

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Blogs are the windows to the world of people of the world. Despite how many persons you have met, each new one has an amazing story to tell. Each new one is unique character. Each has something to teach you. Yet, not many know the way to tell this story and hence most blogs become uninteresting. Blogs have opened my world to people I could never have dreamt of knowing thoughts of: celebrities, scientists, journalists, politicians, expatriates and students of various backgrounds and interest. More importantly though, blogs have introduced me to minds of as unreachable people as a porn store clerk, a call girl, a barista, a teacher and a custom officer. Yet, there is no doubt that blogosphere doesn’t represent all the variety in the world and is overwhelmed by software engineers and students. Sometime I wish I could read what goes on in mind of…

  • A postman
  • A soldier
  • A policeman
  • A bus conductor
  • A retail shopkeeper
  • A chef
  • A traffic constable
  • An airhostess
  • A pilot
  • A sailor
  • A PSU clerk
  • A train driver

List could be endless because idea is to peek in minds of people of interesting and varying occupation. I would like to know about their feelings, their world and their opinion of their interaction with others. Do you know any blogger who has uncommon profession and interesting blog?

Thursday, December 10, 2009

The magic card

He said that he has a magic card. Well, not exactly in the same words but he said that he has a card that will help him not pay toll charges on various toll booths along the road. I didn’t find anything surprising here, thinking that perhaps he has some sort of annual pass. I didn’t think of it much except that perhaps it will save me some money on the way.

It was a pleasant night. A slightly cool, clear October night when I was being driven from Indore to Bhopal for my Diwali break. I would have flown directly to Bhopal were not for the fact that direct flights were all booked due to seasonal rush. Reclining on passenger chair with cool wind rustling in hair and looking at stars made the additional time worth its while.

At first toll booth he flashed his card and was let go for free. At second, same thing happened. I was alone with my driver so I started chatting. I asked if this is annual pass, where did he get his made and how much it cost him. Answer was what made it a magic card. It was, to my surprise, a Shiv Sena membership card.

He explained that it’s an expired membership card but he had hoped that toll operators will not read closely and that he turned out right. They didn’t and let him go for free because he was member of Shiv Sena. Now, if you know India, and particularly if you know Shiv Sena, you wouldn’t ask why. Shiv Sena being allied to dominant and ruling BJP government in Madhya Pradesh is a strong party. Strong more so in its muscle power than in its electoral power, I’d guess. On further probing, he proclaimed that toll operators don’t dare charge him because otherwise his co-members will come next day for vandalism, dharna, protests, road-blocks and what not. He declared that he himself has served party by providing his services such as renting out car for free, feeding party workers for days or joining their protest rallies. And then — it dawned on me.

I had always wondered why do low-rung party workers do all this for a party where their chance of career growth are very limited. They will waste their time, money and resources to join protest marches and rallies; break or burn public property; fight with public and police; and beat innocent bystanders. It’s not uncommon to read such news in media. Once a party workers’ car was towed for wrong parking in Ajmer. It’s a small enough and valid crime which could have been resolved by shelling out about 500 rupees. But of course. Next day whole army of party workers went on rampage in police station. This not only ensured that concerned person saved his 500 rupees but also that no more will police dare to tow off cars of any other party member. Why will people do that was the question I asked. And answer is clear.

More than political aspirations or benefits of party loyalty, such parties are cabal of goons who stick together for mutual benefit. Threat of vandalism and violence, which they exhibit and maintain with group efforts, helps all of them in their daily life. Like getting a telephone repaired faster, avoiding paying penalty on electricity bill, priority treatment at local hospital, getting out of clutches of law, or like in this case, not having to pay toll charges are but some benefits such cabal demands and enjoys.

In India, if you kill a person, you are a murderer and will be charged for the same. If a group kills a person, it’s a riot and everybody walks free. That, in my opinion, is logical reason for such hooliganism. See also: Bludgeoned to death

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Things about London

Soveniur Shop in LondonHaving visited London last month for two weeks, and having only USA and India to compare it against, here are my first impressions. Caveat is that my time frame and very limited experience may have resulted in wrong impression.
  1. London is a very historical city in its architecture and layout. Every building can be counted as monument in itself. I’ve seen similar architectural palaces and forts in princely states in India but those are usually surrounded by simple house of common men, which I didn’t find in London. It is difficult to believe that everybody in historic London lived in stately mansions. Perhaps I’ve not visited part of London not sprawled with ornate dwellings.
  2. London has all signs of developed world but it is much less rule driven than States. Jaywalking is all too common and pedestrians hardly follow traffic signals. Cars do follow but aren’t as steadfast as they are in US. Punctuality is not strictly adhered to and up to half and hour delays are acceptable.
  3. London is very expensive and common mode of travel is public transport. Therefore, it is very usual to see people walking on the footpath, something I am very happy to note. Despite congestion charging, or perhaps because of it, I didn’t find traffic jam on street anytime.
  4. Despite being developed city of the world, ‘mall culture’ is less in-your-face than in US. Whereas in America, one would only see huge warehouses at the end of side road originating from main road which housed big shopping malls and giant retailers, London has fewer large malls and those are less threatening and imposing. I also didn’t see any large malls like in India.
  5. There are numerous small shops alongside the road for everything including repairs, electronics, laundry, grocery, stationery and so on. They give London a personal touch and much familiar Indian local shop feeling.
  6. People in London love to eat out as there are way too many restaurants on every street. Drinking tea or coffee at the end of meal is customary.
  7. Finding vegetarian food is marginally more difficult in London than it is in US. High end restaurants keep worst kind of vegetarian menu.
  8. My impression also suggests that Europeans drink a lot too. Every restaurant serves alcohol with food and I’ve seen my colleagues going to bar at the end of dinner after having gulped few bottles of beer/lager pre-dinner and few glasses of wines and cocktails at dinner.
  9. London English is very fast and hence difficult to understand. Four years ago I would not have been able to differentiate between British and American accent, but now the difference is stark.
  10. British people are very direct in speaking just like those in US, but they can often come out as rude to people from different culture.
  11. I now know exact items in English breakfast. Among vegetarians once are fruits, fruit juices, muffins, croissants, toast, corn flakes, tea/coffee, hash brownies, grilled tomatoes, sautéed mushrooms, pan cakes, etc. Non-vegetarian items include various meat pieces, sausage and omelette.
  12. British national lunch consists of sandwiches. They have full-fledged sandwich shops. Compared to Indian masala sandwiches, they all are horrible.
  13. Greater proportion of women appeared in mini-skirts compared to US controlling for ambient temperature. Public display of affection, though, was relatively less. Few public telephone booths had very visible advertising by “escort services”.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Why do we like Music?

I am surprised at myself that it took me so long to ask this question. While attending a instrumental performance the other day, it occurred to me that I don’t know what makes people like music? Turns out, as it should be, I am not alone in asking the question. No one, though, knows the answer.

Primitive human must have heard music in his environment in form of songs of birds, fall of waterfall, running of horses, and so on. A rhythmic repetitive sound is considered music. Early human must have liked it and sometime would have started making his own music using stones and woods. Some speculate that rhythmic heartbeat of mother’s heart initiates association of pleasure with music. Here is a very detailed speculative argument for it, which, in essence, says that faster heartbeat during rage and excitement and smoother heart beat during rest and peace are beginning of our association of music with those kinds of emotions. Modern science has proven that listening music affects our emotions and moods though release of various hormones. Could that be the reason for our love of music, that we want to feel emotional? Perhaps we intentionally prefer a music which psychologically alters our physiological state of mind.

You can find enough research on why brain likes music: it does because it makes brain feel good. None of it answers the fundamental question that why music makes brain feel good. Why do pleasurable hormones secrete when listening to favourite melody? Why did we became such that we like music? Whales and Dolphins are known to sing but do they really sing or their communication is interpreted as singing by humans? There is some evidence that other animals and even plants enjoy music. Plants are thought to grow faster when exposed to pleasing music everyday. Is definition of music universal in that do animal consider music what humans consider music? Clearly there are cultural differences among humans themselves in their preferences, but question is not whether one likes a music but whether one understands a series of sounds as music. Or perhaps it is mere perfunctory to classify some sounds as music and all sound is music some of which we, as humans, like and some we don’t. Was there evolutionary advantage to type of human who could appreciate and enjoy music, or is it mere side effect of some other evolutionary useful trait?

Some sounds are considered pleasing while others are not. Origin of some is perhaps related to environment around us. Screeching of crows in irritating while singing of cuckoo is soothing, and hence our music grew to incorporate later. But not all tunes can be traced back to nature, so what makes one set of sounds pleasing than others? Here is another blogger asking the very question and his thoughts parallel mine very much (recommended read). I leave you with this paper which goes a little deep but still fails to answer the basic question. Natural extension of this question is why do we like art (picture, dance, painting…) in general?

Monday, October 5, 2009

Once again I must ask you to be lucky, Harry

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Anachronic blog posts are expected a raise an eye brow. You would ask, naturally, why write about Harry Potter now when there isn’t any new book or movie coming out soon. Only excuse I have is that I saw the pamphlet for HP6 movie in my hotel’s on-demand list today and learned that sixth movie was out last July. It might as well be time to tell you what I think about the protagonist of this fantasy fiction.

I am as much Harry Potter fan as any sane person can be. I read the books as soon as they came out and adored them. I try to watch movies as and when but clearly you’ll note I am not really following them any good. In list of things to do before I die, I plan to include re-reading all seven books once more. I didn’t, however, stand outside the bookstore overnight dressed as wizard to buy a book nor did I buy Harry merchandize to decorate my room. In sensible fan boyish fashion, I’ve also mentioned Harry Potter briefly in two past posts on this blog. All in all, I like the books but don’t live the books, except that, every so often, I feel jealous of J. K. Rowling. God awful money she made by just writing one fantasy fiction story.

That I am fan of Harry Potter series of books doesn’t mean that I am fan of the man himself. In fact, among repertoire of characters in the drama, limiting myself to those within Harry’s generation, Harry stands far behind in queue after Hermione, Ron, Fred, George, Neville and so on. In fact, he appears just silly boy to me all throughout the story. Silly but an incredibly lucky boy who had everybody else convinced, despite his intentions otherwise, that he was something amazing.

Harry had neck for entering into dangerous business without having any means, skills or plans to get out of it. All the time, he was saved by someone other than himself, except one (of countless) time when he managed a perfect patronus of silver stag. In early years, it would be Hermione or Ron, in later years some elder teachers or his team, but never really Harry did anything worth emulating. Not only he was prankster of kind which got him and his friends into serious trouble on numerous counts, he also comes out as obtuse, obstinate and stupid — unable to learn, obey or follow. If jumping in fire without knowing how to get out is your idea of courage, he’d be the the most courageous person ever. His failure to obey even the simplest order when Dumbledore went to destroy the locket horcrux in Half-Blood Prince shows limits of his brain power. His path to glory in Goblet of Fire was filled with external help (he didn't solve even one of three puzzles himself) apart from unbelievable luck. Last book (Deathly Hallows) is particularly full of all the windfall Harry had in finding and destroying the Voldemart where situations and people conspired to serve everything in platter for him.

Last straw in my respect for the only person to have survived the Voldemart was fact that — and note that this is coming after seven books and over three thousand pages of story about archenemies — Harry couldn’t even kill the bad guy. Voldemart died of own curse rebounding off, thus making Harry completely irrelevant to the main story. What else does one need to do to prove Harry was just one snobbish lucky .

Friday, October 2, 2009

Tourist-ing your way up

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If you have choice, which you probably wouldn’t in most cases, you should tourist your way up rather than down or in random order. So when next time you are looking for a place to visit for pleasure, try one which is incrementally ‘better’ than all the places you’ve seen so far. When I see ‘better’, I mean better in sense of novelty in things to see or do which are likely to bring you joy.

Idea is based on simple reason that pleasure we obtain from marginal novelty will sustain itself only if novelty sustains. Visiting a place which is drastically ‘better’ once will kill all the fun you might have had in future from visiting a place which is only marginally ‘better’. For instance, if you are coming from small village and first city you visit is New Delhi or Bombay then you will surely be ecstatic during your visit but will find visiting small towns or cities dull and uninviting for rest of your life, which are the cities you will probably end up visiting more often. On the contrary, if your first visit is to a small town, your visit will be exciting from the novelty. If your next visit is to a city, you will find something more new. When you visit New Delhi then again you may find something to please you.

This experience has been shared by many and I too have been victim of having to tourist my way down. Having enjoyed thrilling rides of Six Flags in United States, small scale rides in Indian cities don’t interest me anymore, even when I used to be overjoyed earlier. Universal Studio Hollywood killed my pleasure from Ramoji Film City Hyderabad, which, by the way, is an excellent theme park. Experience of New York itself reduced my interest in London manifold. Having seen Port Blair, no other beach pleases my parents anymore. Visit to hill stations fail to invite a family friend having been to greenery of Shimla. Baha’i and Akshardham Temples in New Delhi have muffled any excitement to see any other monument. You can easily recount many examples yourself.

And if you have choice, which you probably would in most cases, try finding a partner for your trip. My fun from travelling alone is one-tenth of travelling with any companion. Of course, there are backpackers and lone travellers who like to travel alone, so it’s personal call.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Honesty is ? policy

Four incidents in a month. Some are small, others not, but they definitely made an impression. Sometimes life throws you a hint. Should you take it, learn, change yourself and move on? Or should you stick by your principles?

When I was waiting to join my current firm, I started teaching high school students in Mayo College in Ajmer. I was appointed to be a all-purpose-teacher who could teach students Mathematics, Science an English and also guide them in career counselling, personality development, resume writing, group discussions, interview skills, and public speaking. Principal thought that my MBA background and eclectic career could be useful in ways mentioned above. It was fine for first two weeks, then things started going out of control. To be honest, I am not very good teacher to reluctant students, which is what bunch of teenagers in their 10th and 12th grades are. I do have a passion for teaching and can be extremely useful for those who genuinely want to learn, as I found out in another teaching opportunity I had. So, while personality development and public speaking are extremely essential for success in personal and corporate life, these are things no one appreciates least of all at the age when girls are the number one topic in mind and gay jokes are the most funniest ones (in this particular school). My notion of being friendly to students, to mentor them like a friend and elder brother rather than hardcore disciplinarian was also shattered when soon students started taking advantage of me. So what did I do? I tried to create interest among students but when it didn’t happen I talked to Principal and declared that my usefulness was now very marginal with this group and I should do few other things that I had proposed. Honest thing to do, right? Right, so he said, why don’t you stop coming from tomorrow. Who got fired? It wasn’t bad money either. I could’ve just wasted time in class and none would’ve been wiser.

After I was let go, to use an condescending euphemism, Vice-Principal provided me lead to Principal of sister school, Mayoor, which was also quite good school in the area. I wasn’t even spoken to properly and just thrown out, let alone hired, when other Principal learnt that, surprise of surprise, my views on coaching classes didn’t match his own. Having claimed that I wasted my IIT degree by doing an MBA later, he goes on to state that he wouldn’t let anyone who held views such as mine near ‘his’ children. Now, I agree that views don’t have to match, but is it too much to expect patient hearing or open mind, specially from a person of his class and education? If I had known he only wanted yes-man in his staff, I’d have behaved otherwise. Speaking honestly didn’t help me, even when it was on topic much irrelevant to primary discussion. Perhaps part blame lies with me, not because of speaking my mind, but because of wrong timing. It appears to me that not trying to differ from others is a good way to make relationship work, even if it is not honest.

When I started teaching students for CAT examination for a coaching class, I received another opportunity at other institution. Since I was merely spending two hours at the first, I thought I had time to work on second too. Apparently, they don’t hire you if you are working with competitor. Fair enough, I guess, from their point of view. They would’ve given me if I had not mentioned that and they couldn’t have found out anyway. Self-infliction once again?

The biggest and most remarkable story remains to be told. Before I had offer for my current job, I had offer for another job. First job was to start in April and second was to start four months later in August. Overall, I wanted to second one from long term career point of view. I could have, either, joined first in April and quit in July and joined second later, or, refused first and waited for four months and then joined second. First option seemed unfair to me. To join a job knowing you’ll quit after three months was deceitful. Yes, their was substantial money on the way, but it felt wrong. So I did the right thing and chose second option. I also requested them to convert my full time position into internship for three months. Not only was I refused offer of internship but I was also not even thanked for it, even though I had made it explicit in the rejection letter. Apparently, they could afford me for the same role at full pay but not at nominal one. Was I right or not. I am not so sure. When companies fire their employees without compunctions, and they have right to do so, without bothering about their families or career, is it worth trying to save some money and time to big corporation by taking personal loss by choosing the right path?

Is there thing called too much honesty? Do you think I made wrong decision in any of above incidents? Do you think I should stop doing so at personal cost? Do you think I am over reacting and perhaps seeking sympathy with this post?

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Journey on the floor

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For some it may be daily occurrence but for readers of this blog, it isn’t likely to be so. For me, I’ve travelled on the floor of bus or train only two times so far.

When I see people on the floors of train or bus, I usually think that these people either couldn’t afford reservation or didn’t plan in advance. They also appear mostly poor people. There is something humiliating (also unhygienic) about having to sit on floor while other passengers sit or stand. Even if I am not travelling and am tired of standing, I find it insulting to sit on footpath or corridor or platform. It’s natural reaction and not a big issue. Point I am trying to get into is that I found this more in India than in United States. It wasn’t uncommon to see students at MIT sprawling on the corridor of campus and doing their homework or chatting. It wasn’t frequent but it stood out more simply because that did never happen in India. Of course, there is no doubt where corridors were cleaner.

First time I travelled unreserved journey on floor of train was when my Grandmother died and we had to make an emergency journey to deposit her ashes to river Ganga. We didn’t try unreserved compartments because they were so cramped that even floor space was not available. I was young and with my uncle who tried to get us seat by bribing the ticket conductor. Perhaps there were more bribers than number of seats, or perhaps bribe was insufficient, I don’t remember, we didn’t get any. Tired of standing over hours and sleepy to core, I just collapsed on the floor and slept without effort. It was strange experience, being woken up when people walk by and feeling embarrassing at heart. We managed somehow and I don’t remember making much fuss, perhaps because I was younger and hadn’t developed ‘tastes’, but it was journey to be remembered over time.

Second journey was for short duration of two hours in the middle of night when only bus we could find back was a private overnight coach which had all seats occupied. Probably driver made few bucks underhanded without knowledge of his owner.

Have you ever travelled on the floor? Would that be experience you remember or want to try?

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Temporarily dead aka asleep

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It doesn’t incite concern for it’s part of daily life. Yet, if one were to think about it, sleep is a very strange phenomenon. Being asleep is closest one could get to experiencing death and being able to wake up to tell about it. Is it not strange that every day we are overcome by stupor which necessitates us to stop doing whatever we do and just fall unconscious: vulnerably and helplessly? Is it not terrifying that we completely lose passage of time and awareness of our surrounding when we are sleeping? How long eight hours pass in a instant and we don’t even have a clue where our life went then? Would you not be paranoid if you didn’t know what happened with you for those odd hours beyond your own control? This Onion articles tells it as it is. We’d be petrified if not for the fact that it is talking about night and sleeping. Yet, we don’t really think about it at all. Except, when an stranger from alien land displays shock about this strange habits of humans (and other species) and our nonchalance about it, as it did in a small story by Isaac Asimov.

Science has been proving that sleep is very useful for our body. It is so important, in fact, that you would die earlier if you didn’t sleep than if you didn’t eat. It helps us relax our body machine. It helps us digest (notice sour burps after long sleeplessness). It helps process and organize memories (lack of sleep results in loss of memory). It helps repair and maintain our body cells damaged during the day. Sleep occurs in roughly 90 minutes cycles of regular sleep and Rapid Eye Movement (REM) sleep. Brain repairs body in regular cycle and itself in REM cycle, where we are in very deep sleep. An opinion on internet suggests that if we sleep in multiples of 90 minutes, we may be able to avoid groggy eyes and wake up cheerful even after shorter sleep. There is no scientific confirmation of this. We know what sleep does, but we still don’t know why and how.

Why would sleep evolve through Darwinian evolution? What advantage could an being immovable, unaware and vulnerable over hours  had over those who didn’t sleep? Intuitively, it fails logic. An specie which learned to sleep will soon be devoured by predators even if other which didn’t is slow or stupid (some links* on the topic). Yet, most animal species sleep, indicating that development of sleep must have occurred long ago in evolution tree.

What science hasn’t understood completely, and what has huge implication of our society, is the frequency of sleep. It somehow came to be understood that sleeping once a day during night is the right way. Modern biology has even told us about the required length for good sleep. Most of it is driven by industrial revolution and non-agrarian societies. However, what remains unexplored, is if sleeping twice a day for equal duration or any other combination of duration might work better. People have different personal experience on this one but I find that an hour nap in afternoon increases productivity of rest of day significantly. On a fanciful note, I had always wished that we had capacity to store sleep upfront when there is much time for later when there isn’t enough.

Next time when you hit the sack do ponder over our very little understanding of such an important and obscure phenomenon.

*This argument seems invalid to me because as Richard Dawkins tells in The Selfish Gene, it’s not survival of the fittest specie that is aimed towards by evolution but survival of the fittest gene.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Mystery novels

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At least half the mystery novels published violate the law that the solution, once revealed, must seem to be inevitable. — Raymond Chandler

And that precisely tells you why I am in love with Agatha Christie’s work but find Arthur Conan Doyle’s placid at best. I’ve had this discussion/debate with many over the years who recommend me later when discovering my fascination with former. I have almost always tried to convey the above and almost always failed.

Having read about one and an half dozen of Christie’s work, what I am always awed by is that all the facts, thoughts, meanings, gestures, relationships and clues are staring at reader’s face from the beginning — except that one doesn’t realize so then. When Hercule Poirot or Miss Jane Marple reveal a solution, reader is overwhelmed by incredulity for not noting something so obvious, embarrassment for being so fool and amazement for the genius of Christie. Always, it will be one simple dialogue or action which will be crux of solution, and always, it will be burried somewhere inconspicuously in whole novel. Her best novel, regarded so by me and most other fans, even has murderer telling the story in his own words.

On the contrary, master of deductive logic Sherlock Holmes, unravels facts one by one himself when dishing out answer to the mystery. If one is free to introduce new information, hidden from readers so far, then reading the novels feels mere meek witnessing of drama rather than a actual participation (however pathetic) in mystery hunt. If I can tell you at last minute that butler was long lost nephew of rich aristocrat whose mother was wronged by him, then it brings out new meaning to ‘butler did it’ out of the blue. It also provides author the leeway to be incomplete in the screenplay since all information pertinent to solution can be made to appear out of nowhere at the end, and mere meek connection is required to prove why detective choose to pursue that line of investigation leading to new information. It is problem reverse with leaving threads hanging at the end: new threads appear in the end. In contrast, Christie is required to apply much rigid standards in her writing where she has to provide all information beforehand without actually making it easy for reader to put together the pieces of puzzle. This is not to say that Doyle’s novels are not interesting in their own right, but they can’t really be called mystery novels and rank far below Christie’s work.

What’s your take if you have read both Doyle and Christie, or on mystery novels in general?

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Concept of Nation State

Increasingly, we all are tolerant of differences within our country. A person from whichever corner of India finds welcome, at least in theory, in any other corner of India. Laws make it easy to move, to work and to settle wherever one wants. Such intra-country freedom is common in most other countries. What we are still fiercely protective about are our national borders. Somehow, barbed wire fences there attach so much meaning that killing and dying for them is considered laudatory whereas doing same for borders within the nation is considered ridiculous and dangerously divisive.

Will there come a time where concept of nation state will dissolve to permit real global citizenship? It seems impossible. Despite our acceptance of different cultures, nationalities and races, country still gets number one priority spot in our loyalties (after family and clan, for some). One would rather save one life in his own country than ten in other. Yet, this distinction stops within different states in a country. A geography under highest government is expected to be inclusive. Will it be possible to have one government for the world in future? This is mere hypothetical question but it will mean that policies will be designed for overall welfare of humankind rather than that of citizens of a particular nation at any cost to other people in the world. Will it ever be understood that all lives are really equal? What will it do to idea of patriotism which will be a defunct concept then.

These are thoughts I never harboured or had inkling about until that day about four years ago when I happened to meet this women at AID’s picnic. She strongly championed elimination of concept of nation state and questioned my views on patriotism. I am not really sure where I stand but idea has been fascinating enough to stick with me this long.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Penny for your thought

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You probably have heard about this joke puzzle:
When it’s a penny for your thoughts and you put two cents in, who gets the other penny?
Having recently incurred substantial cost in exchanging INR to GBP, answer dawned on me suddenly while walking to work today. 2 cents corresponds to about 1.25 pennies. 0.25 penny is simply transaction cost of currency exchange. I feel pretty good now.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Making me feel small

Minimum salary of IIM graduate is about a crore per anum. If the wisdom on the street is to be believed, that is. Thanks to sensational and false media coverage over the years, in part fuelled by the IIMs themselves, average Natthu in India thinks that being Crorepati is a norm. For people with access to reality, things couldn’t be more different (and hilarious). We are still searching for that mythical invisible Crorepati amidst us. It’s true, no doubt, that average remuneration packages for students of top colleges are higher than those of students of smaller or less well known colleges, yet they are not astronomical and are pittance compared to what people think they earn. It’s all about perception.

That brings us to next topic. If you want to make a successful person feel embarrassed about his achievement, what should you do? Oh, just compare him to even more successful person. So if I am proud of my 95% in a test or happy about two weeks' training opportunity in London, how do you make me feel bad? Just casually ask me if I got 99%. What will I say? I will sighs and say, no I got less. Of course, if you had asked if I got 90% then I will proudly declare that no, I got more. You might as well mention that two weeks is such ridiculously small time period that it's laughable.

I think it makes sense to underestimate achievements of others when talking to them so that to give them opportunity to correct upward. It’s not only civilized but also polite and positivity inducing. Appears that many people just don’t get this. Combine this with above false perception and I am left wondering what did I achieve after years of work and studies?

Friday, September 11, 2009

Guarding the nation

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Private security industry in India has seen a remarkable rise in recent years. This is primarily led by rise in number of business and residential campuses and rise in terrorists incidents over the years. However what counts as security leaves much to be desired and guards standing with their uniforms on are suited to tasks no better than shoeing away an occasional dog or beggar.

It’s not their fault really. They are on a job for which they are not trained. Being able to notice suspect in crowd, being able to detect suspicious behaviour, and being able to respond and fight back if need arise are skills which require professional training and armaments. Instead of that what they are given is nothing. What they are asked to do is even ridiculous and mostly beyond their comprehension. How many times did you wonder if the guard at mall checking metal objects on your body knows about meaning of beeps on his instrument? I cannot recollect having seem them acting differently whether it beeps or not. They do it merely as ritual, a job they have been asked to do. Another strange things that they do in residential and business campuses is to use a mirror to check under the car. One is not sure what they are looking for if not for a bomb with clear red lights blinking. I have not seen or heard of such practice anywhere else in the world but it seems staple of Indian security organizations. Some go as far as to check trunk and bonnet of the car but don’t bother about looking inside car or under seats. So best place to carry a gun would indeed be in your hands were you to want to sneak one. My recent visit to Bombay after last tragic attack highlighted reactive nature of our fight against terrorism. Hotels are now required to screen you and your luggage ala airport security at their front gate.

In office complex I work, I will be let inside if I show them my ID card. Let me rephrase that. I will be let in if they see something hanging from my neck. I am certain that they don’t know which companies are in complex and what their ID looks like. They probably can’t read as well nor they ask me to turn around my card if it happened to be face down. In my previous college, security will not stop you at gate if you didn’t look like poor labourer. It’s all about appearance: good clothes and car, and you can’t be terrorist really.

On a related note, anyone who has lived in hostels in India can testify the futility of having to note down one’s name and contact details on security register when visiting ladies hostels. This is purely because self reported entry cannot really be depended upon to be truthful were one to have intention to appear otherwise, and also because mostly illiterate guards cannot decipher what, and if something, has been written in the first place. No wonder people would write whatever they had in mind including ‘Superman’ as name.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Truth about (a) Facebook quiz

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There are two types of people on the Facebook®: those who don’t take those annoying quizzes and those who are stupid morons.

When you are done wiping that smirk/disdain from your face, let me tell you here how the Facebook quizzes work. Or at least one of them does, which seems fair indicator of what goes on with others as well, coming from the person who is behind the design of that particular quiz.

Once you are done answering a random and arbitrary set of questions, don’t expect results to reflect really your potential or personality or any such trait quiz claims to estimate. What you see as result is actually one from few chosen responses designed to look funny and fascinating enough so that you publish them on your profile and thus advertise the application. After all, who would want to publish results of a quiz which fairly stated whatever it was supposed to estimate. And if quiz mentions your rank among number of people who took it, most likely both numbers are randomly generated. In fact, any number is most likely random. Any other option to unsubscribe the application, send in an error message or suggestions are probably landing in a dump email account. As a general rule, whatever be the result of quiz, it probably has nothing to do with your responses and is already pre-set.

Of course, in bigger scheme of things, there are two types of people on Earth: those that are on Facebook and those that have better things do in life.

Saturday, September 5, 2009

In want of a proof

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These days I am desperately in need of a proof: of my residential address. I need it to take a mobile connection on my name. I need it to apply for credit card. I need it to transfer my bank account from my previous branch. I need it to have my internet banking reactivated where they can send me password. I need it to open a trading account. I can see why they need it. Unfortunately, they don’t see why I don’t and can’t have one.

Things that count as proof in India are your passport, driving license, bank statements, electricity bills, telephone bills, credit card bills, PAN card and lease agreement. Sadly, as you would have noticed, in absence of proof of address I cannot have statement and bills which would have constituted proof of address. Passport is issued for ten years and hence has my address from nine years ago. PAN card doesn’t list address and driving license is a twenty year valid document listing my address from six years ago. I live with my friend from college and hence don’t have a lease agreement and electricity bills comes in his name. I was able to manage a mobile connection because service provided accepted my permanent address proof, rather than current residential address proof, and issued me a SIM. But since I have a pre-paid connection and don’t get a bill, that option is eliminated as well. Only thing that I can have is a letter from my company saying where I live which apparently doesn’t count. So, as you can see, I am not only desperately in need of a proof but also I don’t have any solution to my problem in sight in short or in long term (except, perhaps just to have a post-paid connection so that I get phone bill and start the chain from there).

On an even worse note, I don’t really even have a proof of permanent address simply because my dad is in transferable job and lives as tenants in an apartment. As explained earlier, his passport and driving license carry old addresses and electricity bill comes in name of lesser. We don’t have a landline at home since both of my parents have mobiles and lease agreement is still something they have to work out, primarily because word of mouth is strong enough mostly. I don’t know how do other people do it but if you have an answer, please do help me. I will sincerely appreciate it and I mean it.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Double entendre Oxymoron

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“Practice makes a man perfect”, so goes the saying. So what makes a woman perfect? Perhaps she already is. Alright, that was lame. But that’s not the point of this post.

Consider the sentence: “No practice makes a man perfect”. Does it mean that not doing any practice makes a man perfect (and practice ruins perfection), or that, no amount of practice will make a man perfect? Is there any grammatical mistake in this sentence or does it convey two contrasting but legitimate meanings? Does this phenomenon has a linguistic definition? What are other examples of such kind?

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Bhopal: Giving credit

Among the few cities that I’ve seen, I liked one small thing about Bhopal in my short stay of a month here. If only miniscule, the difference is, nonetheless, noticeable, comment worthy and, from my point of view, admirable.

Buildings, public institutions, parks and traffic circles here bear names commemorating range of India's historical and political figures. Sarojini Naidu, Jawaharlal Nehru, Sister Nivedita, Swami Vivekanand, Swami Dayanand, Maharana Pratap, Tatya Tope, Lal Bahadur Shastri, Rani Laxmi Bai and Mahatma Gandhi are but an handful. I don’t know if this is common in other cities of India but I am impressed by variety in honouring our historical past. I am irked by tendency of certain party of ruling elite to repeatedly give credit to same persons while ignoring others. Perhaps the greatest tragedy Lal Bahadur Shastri suffered was to be born on the same day as Mahatma Gandhi, who, as is known well now, is a poster boy for Congress for everything. I think one thing that we can easily and cheaply do without really doing anything is to give credit, at least posthumously. Of course, one certain party in Maharashtra has the longest list of names in its honour roll.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Flashing lights and other traffic irritants

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They both do it promptly, lest the other one beat them into it. They both do it quickly, instinctively, almost aggressively. They both signal others. Yet they couldn’t mean more different.

One is a driver in American road flashing his headlights to yield right of way. He is more than willing to wait patiently while you go ahead and he voluntarily signals permission. Other is, in contrast, a driver on Indian road flashing his headlights to demand right of way. It’s unofficial rule of Indian highways: first flasher gets right of way and coming vehicle must yield. Hurry to be first often leads to flashing as early as when distance between vehicles is more than 300 meters. He doesn’t do it only where there is only single lane for both sides, he does it then too when he is overtaking by coming in your lane. That it’s your lane be damned, since he flashed first, he has right. Funny, and dangerous, part is that he assumes that flashing is enough to carve way for him and whether you have sufficient time or place to yield is not his problem. So even when he is directly ahead you within 20 meters, he will flash, and you better get off the road however before he hurls at you. If you follow local news on Indian roads, you will notice that maximum number of road accidents happen because of aggressive overtaking.

Why are we so (stupidly) hurried on road? Have you seen how auto-rickshaws and two-wheelers seek niches and corners at traffic crossing to advance few inches even when traffic light is red (four-wheelers would do it too if they could)? What do they gain by gaining few inches on road? How much time will it save them in their journey? It seems any advantage in moving forward now is more than nullified by having to reduce speed when light turns green because, obviously, final speed is determined by vehicle in front*. So if I have three feet free in front of me at signal, I am not really losing anything. Same shortage of common sense leads to mass honking when signal turns green. Working on the sensible premise that no one likes to stay parked on middle of road, and hence when he is stopped he must have a genuine reason such as vehicle ahead of him or some obstruction, and that honking cannot really get rid of reason concerned, what exactly is point of honking?

Our need to hurry without reason or advantage to hurrying is so great that passengers block the passageway and obstruct foot traffic on the aisle of train compartments and bus by arranging their luggage as much as an hour before arrival of destination station. Why? So that when train or bus stops, they can instantaneously disembark. By preparing and inconveniencing themselves and others for more than a hour, they gain a minute on arrival. I am sure it must matter a lot in their life. Such ridiculous behaviour has been observed even in airplanes when Indian national tendency warrants passenger to pick up their luggage and gather around airplane gate as soon as plane lands on the runway and is still taxing to the gate with seatbelt sign on. After all, in most cases your arrival to airport lounge is decided by departure of bus which picks you from the airplane and not by speed of your disembarkation. Keeping principle of bottleneck in mind is usually a good idea in life in these cases.

(This post is based on experience from a lot of driving around in last four months.)
*When I was little I used to think that when my school bus got stuck in traffic, I can speed up my arrival to school by getting off, walking ahead of bus, and getting on the bus again when it catches up to me. What happens there is a lot like this.

Monday, August 24, 2009

So, what’s wrong with incest?

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Somethings are beyond reason for some people. Faith, obviously, comes in that category. So does the incest, I believe. Howver, really, nothing should be beyond question (except when you are in Army, perhaps), albeit answer may be unknown. Hence I will try to understand and analyze — but not necessarily defend, to begin with — exactly what is wrong with incest in this post. Those that find this incredulous or repugnent may please stop right now.

It’s worth putting foremost that here I refer to consensual incest only. Incest is taboo and illegal in most societies of world except perhaps in some aborigine ones. Reasons for that that I gather from various readings, reflections and discussions are:

  1. ‘Yuck’ (disgust) factor
  2. Increased chances of genetically defective offsprings
  3. Social awkwardness following failed incestuous relationship
  4. Damaging effect on social & familial structure

First is, perhaps, ironically, the strongest as well as the weakest reason against. The strongest because this feeling of incest-being-wrong is so deep rooted in almost everybody’s psyche that mountains of rational analysis proving otherwise will be discarded instantaneously based on gut feeling of wrongness. I too harbour that disgust towards incestuous relationship. Yet, it’s also the weakest because, despite my admission in previous sentence, I must admit that yuck-ness has never been force enough to stop change in social setup, primarily because it is too personal and without reason. It can be easily argued that those that harbour disgust are free to avoid this and those that don’t are free to do so, as long as in private, as sex has always been, and that former have no locus standi in interfering matters of later. There was a time when inter-caste, inter-religious and inter-racial relationships aroused the strong yuck-ness that we observe against incest today, and we are well aware of current situation in those respects. Even now, large segment of Indian population and significant segment of world population feels yuck-ness towards homosexuality. Despite that move towards normalization is getting stronger everyday. One may find many such examples across the world which weakens feeling of disgust as genuine reason to outlaw incest.

Second is theoretically correct but practically unimportant reason. For one, increase in chances are infinitesimal at the best, not unlike many other deceases that a fetus may be susceptible to. (See this excellent researched article on Slate.) For another and more importantly, birth control is so easy in modern world that pregnancy can be avoided with certainty by those that are determined to do so.

Third is a minor annoyance let alone solid counter-argument against incest. If an incestuous relationship fails then couple involved may face social awkwardness because their opportunities of mutual confrontation are frequent and unavoidable in many cases — them being family members. This, however, is very much familial problem and hardly large enough to concern society to prohibit incest. Furthermore, who hasn’t encountered awkwardness in various forms in familial setup arising out of myriads of other reasons?

Fourth is perhaps one reason that is worth investigation by anthropologists and sociologists though my initial hunch suggests that even this is not sufficient enough. Evidence for this comes from varying degree of incest (if it can be so called) that’s already being practiced in various communities. In North-Indian Hindus, if I know right, marrying your first cousins is prohibited while South-Indian Hindus follow this practice. In Muslims communities, again, marrying cousins is all too common. Clearly if these communities have flourished over centuries, nothing suggests, as yet, what may befall on social structure if practice touches all family members. Point to note here, and point under discussion, is the legal and social ban on incest. It doesn't suggest in anyway that revocation of such ban will lead to prolifiration resulting in fallout in social structure.

So, precisely what’s wrong with incest? Your thoughts and opinions are invited particularly if you think I’ve skipped a valid reason against it. If only morality, an all too fluid term these days, is reason against, I think, in due course, we will surely see revocation of ban on this too, as had been case for others.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Humours from the Daisy Row

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Now that the placements at the IIMA are long over (this post was to come out in May) and we are out of self-imposed quarantine from media, let me share escapades of the days. This year, as everyone and their uncles know by now, thanks to relentless, and I must say quite tactless as well, coverage by the media, particularly one leading English behemoth, was specially bad for all colleges all over the world, IIMA being no exception. This resulted in more diverse and wide variety of firms coming to campus for placements than there had been in earlier times. Some of these executives were coming for the first time and were probably unfamiliar with process we follow here, which is a very fast paced, jam packed, heavily organized and highly technology controlled one for increasing throughput of the system and maximizing benefit to students and firms.

Few firms backed out at last minute even after pre-placement talks and releasing shortlists for interview. I suspect little of that happened because of change in market condition between acquiescing to come and actually coming, and more because companies wanted to put off pitching calls from placement members till last minute before coping out. Few firms reduced their salary after having made offers, introduced bonds or changed profile after news of dismal first days were out. Such unprofessional conduct was disappointing and shocking for students concerned but also had undertone of dark humour.

A small firm used this opportunity to hire student amass. Only lone interviewer from that firm interviewed over hundred candidates in a day in what has been described by participating students as the most flippant way. He/she was busy playing with his/her blackberry and trading on his/her laptop while he/she pretended to listen to students during their interview. Rather than asking questions to students, he/she kept asking if they had any questions for him/her. In interview process running for two days, he/she displayed his/her inability to select good candidates and just asked coordinating placement team member if he/she could suggest some. There are rumours that he/she made one offer on the way to taxi. In another case, he/she made job offers and then realized that he/she had forgotten to take second round of interviews. Few firms used this opportunities to hoard “IIMA grads” now that they were cheaply available. On the contrary, other companies just participated in placement process to continue their relationship with the institute and just pretended to hire.

A company was so adamant to conduct Group Discussions for its selection that they didn’t even hesitate when only two candidates were left in last panel. How did they manage a GD in 2 is anybody’s guess. Another company declared their salary package of 10 lakh during role description. When two people were selected, surprise followed. Company representative argued that 10 divided by 2 is 5 and hence each should get 5 lakh each. Now we are learning math!

A firm was too precise in its procedure to screen students that it flew its executive to Ahmedabad for very small written test. I am no cost-cutting expert but something sounds amiss. Once forty shortlisted students were interviewed over two days in multiple rounds, firm decided not to hire anyone. I hear that their liquidity is severely limited!

One company decided that best way to introduce prospective candidates to company is to hold an dinner evening with them. About three dozens shortlisted candidates were treated to expensive dinner with company officials. Two days before placement week, they decided that they will release second shortlist and cancel the first. Only half a dozen students, none of them in earlier list, were shortlisted again. Interviews were changed from in-person to phone-interview. They didn’t hire anyone.

Few firms decided that they would use this opportunity to get revenge for all the perceived wrongs done by the institute when things were going good and we didn’t need them. Negotiation to get a preferred slot is the biggest deal breaker. In IIMA, like in other IIMs, placements are conducted during one week rather than as and when firms come. Best and preferred companies come earlier and less preferred companies come later. Wisdom in the street says that relatively better candidates are taken in earlier days and relatively worse candidates remain in applicant pool later. It’s not clear if former leads to later or vice-versa. So, of course, companies want earlier slots. In typical marketing style, days of placement week are not called 1, 2, 3… but are –1, 0, 0.5, 1.5, 2…. First day of placement week is day zero (sounds like “daisy row”) and any offers before that count as day minus one. In strategy not unlike pricing a shoe at 199/-, 0 and 0.5 convey sense of same day and not a second day.

Names have been deliberately omitted, numbers are fudged and language is sanitized to avoid any damage to parties involved, but primarily to me.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Population trading

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Most of you will be familiar with ‘carbon trading’ and attempt of various countries and organizations to become ‘carbon neutral’ by certain time in future. By fixing quota of permitted pollution, attempt is made to reduce/prevent/stop Global Warming. Those that cannot control pollution to the permitted extent are allowed to buy additional quota from those that can control more than required. Idea of ‘population trading’ and ‘population neutral’ emanates from this and this post can be understood as an intellectual fantasy if this were followed…

Rapidly expanding population of Earth is increasing danger to rapidly vanishing Earth’s resources, and has direct impact on human welfare and lifestyle. It is also the most important contributor to Global Warming. Naturally, it helps if attempt is made to reduce world’s population. However, no such attempt is in offing and most efforts, if any, are at country level. At one hand poor countries of Asia and Africa, India included, are trying to reduce population growth, on the other hand, few highly developed countries (viz. Japan, Australia) are incentivizing their reluctant population to grow faster. Unfortunately, both are failing to some extent.

If future population quota is fixed based on country’s habitable area, then countries growing faster can buy ‘population credits’ from those growing slower. Unpalatable part of this scheme will be that mostly poor countries will be required to pay to mostly rich countries, and that is unlikely to happen. If such quotas were permitted at couple level then parents trying to produce more than allocated children will have to buy quota from those who are producing less or not marrying. Again, poor families will have to cough up money to pay to rich families, as usually educated (and mostly rich) couples desire fewer children than usually uneducated (and mostly poor) couples. Involvement of government authorities in licensing quotas can open floodgates of misallocation and corruption.

At personal level, a couple can try to be ‘population neutral’ by limiting their progeny to two. If neutrality is carried over generations than compensating actions is permitted where fewer or no children in one generation can allow additional in next or so generation. Such practice can be followed at community or social level and will require careful auditing and population enumeration.

In extreme case, wholesale population migration can be attempted, where select couples from populous countries can be moved to countries with negative population growth. This, of course, has to be tried by later country and will have significant effect on its social, cultural and political environment. Some indirect efforts are already underway in this realm where some countries are luring students to study, work and settle in it, though these are primarily aimed at economic growth at not at population decline.

Lot of it may not make any sense and may be poorly thought of but it was merely an idea, I thought novel, carried to a limited extent.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Point of contention

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I realized something today. It will be bone of contention in my life.

With regret I have come to realize that my mother’s culinary skills are unparalleled, incomparable, beyond par so much so that this is going to be cause domestic feud between me and my potential wife when I am going to say to her that her cooking is nothing like my mom’s.

I’ve been told that this (missing mum's food) happens largely to men and not to women. Is it true?

I had never thought of this before. I must learn to keep my mouth shut. Sigh.

Independence Day: Then and Now

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Once upon a time today used to bring smile, happiness and pride. Now a new emotion has dwarfed the feelings. The day starts with apprehension and uneasiness and finds relief only at the end (if) when celebrations would have had finished without any terrorist incident. That's what they have done to us. I try to be happy again. Wish you the same. Happy Independence Day.

Happy Independence Day

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

An Indian joint family

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Joint Family

Sunday, August 9, 2009

A lesson in Arrogance

He was my project advisor. He is also the best faculty in his area in the department. He is, more uncommonly, a very spiritual person who had, it seemed, found peace away from rat race of this world. He was also my idol, my role model, my sounding board, my debate partner and my guide. His philosophies irked some, who found him preachy and snobbish, but then, he wasn’t bothered because he was contended. Following excerpts are from a conversation that I had with him over six years ago when I was IIT Madras. Dialogues are constructed from memory but essence is maintained.

He: There is increasing perception in Industry and outside world that IIT students are very arrogant.
Me: I can see that. Having cleared JEE, students here believe themselves extra smart. My experience working with graduates of other colleges has shown me that neither their learning nor their applications are any lesser than those of an IITian.
He: Then why does this arrogance arise?
Me: Perhaps euphoria of passing tough JEE has intoxicated them. I, personally, hate arrogance in all form. I don’t think I am any special in being here.
He: So you think you are not arrogant?
Me: I don’t think so. A person accomplishes anything because of many factors including family upbringing, financial resources, genetic qualities and environmental factors and not alone by personal feat. I think I just have been lucky to be be where I am, to do what I did. (See: Proud of What?)
He: You think you are just luckier than those who couldn’t make it to IIT?
Me: Yes, Sir.
He: Isn’t that arrogance too?

And I haven’t forgotten the lesson to this day. I don’t really understand it completely, even now, but I do know there is something important here. And therein lies ultimate humbleness.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Free food

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When I was student of undergraduate studies at Madras, I was unaware of the phenomenon which was soon to take an important part of my life, and will continue to bring smile on my face forever in life.

I was introduced to ‘free food’ in MIT. MIT, probably like other US universities, had uncountable number of student groups, seemingly unlimited funds — to my eyes accustomed to IIT situation — for student activities, and almost daily events, seminars, lectures, conferences and bouquets in any of its myriads departments and organizations which constantly provided free food to students. In fact, many students attended those precisely for that reason. This trend continued in Ahmedabad as well, though in very reduced form, and I found that despite there being no dearth of funds to spend on food for me, magic of free food was irresistible. And that’s just not for me but for almost every student I’ve met. It appears that any eatable, when made available free of charge, even of non-descript nature, never fails to tempt palate of any person who is or ever has been an student of graduate studies or higher in any institution across the world, irrespective of how much money the said person makes or whether he has already satiated his hunger extensively. At MIT, we even had a mailing list (freefood@mit.edu) where any student can post message about availability of free food anywhere on campus and subscribers of the same will hasten to devour it. And because MIT is a large university, free food was an almost daily occurrence so much so that person with eye on above mailing list and speed in his feet can almost survive on leftovers for full term.

Even at work in Los Angeles, in my company, free food had people rushing to cafeteria. I’ve moved out of college now and mostly will not enter one again but I cannot understand why it holds such a strong grip on people? Corollary to free food is freebies, however trifle, which students would fight to get hold of. I suspect, but am not sure, that this phenomenon is bachelor specific. Does free food holds special place in your heart? What was your experience?

(It seems that attraction towards freebies is well known to marketers. A large lump sum price and free products/services tend to have more customers than individual price for each product/service. It has something to do with how our brain treats sunk cost.)

Monday, August 3, 2009

The Big Bang Theory

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There is this sitcom running on CBS in USA these days which is quickly taking up second spot (see first) in my list of favourite sitcoms: The Big Bang Theory. It doesn’t appear to be all that popular in States, if Wiki ratings are to go by, but geek in me seem to see parts of me in legendary Sheldon Cooper whose rational and logic driven world leaves robots into shame. His company of experimental physicist, astrophysicist and engineers is charmed by (how should I say it politely?) a bimboo named Penny and the hilarity ensues. I am hereby proposing a Penny-Sheldon Scale© of character analysis. If Penny scores 0 and Sheldon scores 100 on this scale, where do you see yourself? Sometime, if I have got really nothing to do in life, which means never, I might watch reruns and prepare a questionnaire. Preliminary investigation and research (also known as a single Google® search) tells me that I am first to propose this scale. Here are few snippets for you to enjoy.

And today is exactly an year hence and as many posts later as is sum of cubes of first five natural integers.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

I am out of internet

I ain't dead...yet (obviously, or else, I wouldn't have written that) but I have run out of internet. This is likely to continue till July but don't dispair, I shall come back. Blogosphere isn't barren without me anyway.

Meanwhile, I am killing my time before joining my company by teaching school kids. Well, I don't think them as "kids" but they think me as "uncle" so there; can't help any more about growing up, I guess.

Sunday, April 5, 2009


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It must have been deep rooted disdain, disgust and hatred — surely and obviously mixed with dry sarcastic humour — for a nation which has unfortunately inextricably linked itself with major share of wounds in India's social, religious and political milieu and has been constant pain in the rear of mother India that the following place has been derisively christened with the sobriquet same as the epithet of aforementioned country. With time though our neighbour has proven itself worthy of her namesake.

(This usage can be occasionally heard in Hindi heartland of our nation and is largely understood, so I understand. I was reminded of this in recent trip to a relative's place and it did bring a smile on my face.)

Thursday, April 2, 2009

How do I organize my blogroll

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When I started using feed reader in 2005, I used to place all my feeds into folders by subjects. Sometime in late 2007, I re-organized them by my preference to read, after reading about this practice at another blogger’s. When I moved to GReader in 2008, I continued my organization into four categories of Must Read, Should Read, Could Read and Might Read in decreasing order of importance. Soon after, I introduced a new folder Under Evaluation which hoarded all newly added feeds which I will move into one of the four aforementioned categories in due course of time as I developed preference for them. Promotion or demotion of a feed depended on its ability to continually be relevant to me. One thing in Google Reader which was different from Bloglines, my first feed reader, was that I could tag a feed with multiple labels (just like GMail) and thus put them in multiple folders simultaneously.

Preference Categories Subject Categories As recently as last month, I again reorganized my feeds where each feed is placed into (1) one of five preference categories, named A to E based on how much I’d like to read them, and (2) one of many subject categories based on content. I created category F to hold all heavy volume feeds (Digg, Overhead in…) which publish several dozens posts a day and category Z to hold newly added feeds which will be deleted or promoted to A…E in due course. I also created Private A category for preferred personal feeds (such as my own blog posts and comments, my Google searches, my Facebook feeds) and Private B category for the rest (currently holding feed from LinkedIn updates which is a high volume feed).

Now, I start my day with Private A and then go down from A to E as long as I’ve time. I always read anything in A before anything in B and so on. A post once read is marked read in both categories. I regularly read Z, sometimes before other feeds, to make up my mind about them and reshelf them when I see a pattern. Thereafter, a feed moves up or down categories all the time. If I have really all the time in the world, then I read F but mostly it’s there just because GReader doesn’t have option to switch off a feed and not because I read them. Lastly, feeds in subject category News are not placed in any preference category A…F since I don’t want to mix news with other feeds and because I hardly read news these days. Sometimes, when I am in particular mood, I select feeds by subject categories. For example, on a busy day, I might just look at subject category ‘Friends’ to check new blog posts from my friends which might not be higher on preference of content but are still important because they are from my friends. Or sometime, I just want to read Comics or Jokes only. Use of ‘#’ and ‘$’ is just to quickly distinguish one type of categorization from the other.

If that’s not really clear, I am an organization freak. I sometimes even customize font type and font size of Excel files which I plant to delete in 10 minutes. It must be some kind of mental sickness, I guess.

Monday, March 30, 2009

Passing him by

I don’t know him well. He is my college mate and I know his name but our familiarity is little beyond ‘hello’. I see him often, coming from and going to classes and mess, and once in a while on campus elsewhere. We didn’t study together in a class, we are not friends and we barely interacted ever. I hear of him indirectly when his name pops up in campus discussions, but otherwise, he might as well be a stranger to me.

Yet, I find passing him by difficult when we happen to be going in same direction. I notice strange feeling of guilt in overtaking him. Sometimes I nod at him as I saunter ahead, but mostly, I don’t. Rarely, we make small talk. In any case, I find it embarrassing to trying to outrun him. I dare not see his eyes and I move swiftly with my eyes downcast. I pretend that I didn’t see him, so that I can sooth my consciousness of my outmaneuvering him. I also finds it difficult to move around conversing with others when he is around, knowing that he can see me.

I don’t know why it happens. I am reasonably sure he doesn’t mind. He has learned to live with that all his life. Indeed, my any deviation from normal behaviour is cruel reminder to him. I shouldn’t even be treating him special enough and unlike others to find it difficult. I don’t think I would have minded that either. I can’t say for sure, obviously, but hey, someone or other is always outrunning me and I don’t mind, so surely, he doesn’t either. Still, I always avoid his glance if I had to outpace him or move in his vicinity. Still, I always find my consciences kicking me. Not that I don’t do it: I do it more often than not, but not without feeling guilty.

I don’t know why should it happen just because he is in wheelchair. He has been in one, perhaps, most of his life.

Friday, March 27, 2009

Washing machine that wouldn’t work

We recently procured a new washing machine for our dorm. It’s quite latest technology front-loading IFB Senorita Dx fully automatic washing machine costing Senorita-DX about 20,000/-. With mere three buttons on front panel ‘Start/Pause’, ‘Rinse’ and ‘Hold’ and a knob to set temperature, it’s also very simply designed. No more trouble of setting wash time or rinse time, just put detergent and press ‘Start’. So what exactly is the problem? Hint: It’s not in the title.

Just hold on to the above and consider its users in our dorm. Washing machine will be used by residents of post-graduate program in management in one of the premier business colleges of the country. Why is that important? Now, we are not arrogant, but we are also not stupid. We’d like to believe that we are at least few points of above average intelligence. Heck, we are at least post-graduate students and many have engineering backgrounds. Ok, so you ask, once again, why is that important?

Well, it’s important because how this machine works has stumped every single person in this twenty member dorm. How can it, if it’s fully automatic push-and-go as I say, you wonder? Frankly, I don’t know, but I will try to answer. More importantly, though, is the fact that I refuse to take blame. If a design fails 20 reasonably intelligent people then fault must lie with the designer. If an idiot cannot figure out, he is to be blamed. If 100 idiots cannot figure out, company should change its design or close the shop.

So exactly what gives? Well, firstly, one of two slots on left (1) is for detergent and another is for fabric-softener but it is not marked which is for which. Secondly, knob (5) has exactly same readings on right half and on left half. Differentiation is neither obvious nor clear. Thirdly, pushing ‘Start’ button (2) turns monitor light red, locks the door, and machine still shows no sign of life. Pushing ‘Start’ button again unlocks the door and light starts blinking. User has no clue what that means and why. Apparently, machine appears dead because in its infinite wisdom it’s calculating automatic settings depending on load and temperature setting. However, this calculation takes anywhere from five minutes to twenty minutes. Sometimes, when you come back half-an-hour later it still is dead. Then one has to push button in frustration until there is some noise signifying response. It’s frustrating to deal with something that just sits mockingly at you! When it starts working finally, it stops only after three hours of washing, rinsing and drying all clothes. Oh yeah, there are four lights (4) apart from start light which blink to some meaning unknown to user. Buttons for ‘Rinse’ and ‘Hold’ (3) serve purpose unknown to me.

You tell me, whose fault it is? Or better you don’t, since it’s not mine. If one needs a manual to figure out a washing machine, then life is doomed. How can company expects common public to use this machine? Of course, one can say, rightly so, that in matters such as these, lesser the intelligence better it is; or to frame alternatively, common man is more smarter than educated man. Now, as I had written on my earlier blog (in Hindi) that if designer cannot even design ergonomics and layout of such simple operation in intuitive interface, am I not right in cursing him every two weeks when I use this evil equipment? Smart designer doesn’t screw-up so simple a system. For example, if people commonly attempt opening the door by pulling rather than pushing when it’s designed for later, it’s sign of poor design. And it tells a lot about how little attention is paid that nearly all doors have sign telling ‘push’ or ‘pull’.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Clocks and Time

Clocks (watches) are everywhere. Perhaps you are wearing one right now. Earlier, you would have had one on breast pocket or in waist chain. There is one on bottom right of your screen. There may be one on your desk and couple on your walls. Perhaps your washing machine, dishwasher, refrigerator, microwave oven, car dashboard and mobile phone also have one. Modern man is so bound by time that he cannot escape looking at one frequently. Most of our activities are dictated by time but even if they are not, we are not comfortable without being aware of current time. Imagine if you had no access to time for one day. Would you be able to manage? Sun provides rough approximate of time but that’s usually not enough for for precision oriented man. 

A while ago I read a short story about a few prisoners imprisoned in a windowless room. Can you guess what was their most prized possession? A wrist watch. A watch which would tell them what time of day was. A watch which will guide them to passage of time, days and dates. It didn’t matter that that information was of no use. What mattered most was the concept of time was alive in their mind. And one day when watch broke, insanity followed. It may not difficult to imagine this if we note our own reaction of unawareness of time. While being fully free in open world, I can imagine sense of irritation, discomfort and panic in timeless world. This was not always so.

There was a time when mankind didn’t have clocks. People worked and planned according to position of sun and routine of daily activities. Perhaps phrase ‘when cows come home’ is derived from that era. Industrialization was the beginning of need of organized and official time. 200 years later time is very precious and looked after measure. With time, time gets meaning. Scientists across the world are devising devices capable of measuring time to smallest of the fraction of second. Synchronization across the world is done to the extent of a second across millennia. Science and technologies have shortened many things, yet we seem to have less and less time for anything. We are eager to learn tips or use equipments which saves time. For what? So that we may work more. We have become slave of time.

But what is time anyway? It’s always difficult to define the simplest concept. Stephen Hawking attempts to define it in his the most famous book A Brief History of Time — which, by the way, is claimed to be a book most bought and least read — as direction in which entropy increases. However, because time is such fundamental quantity that any definition has danger of becoming circular definition. Time may be 4th dimension or time may be figment of our collective illusion.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Recycling blog

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Since frequency of posts on this blog have reduced, I am attempting recycling. I trust you believe in concept of recycling whether or not you personally recycle. In that spirit, let me leave you some of the fine articles from my earlier blogs. I hope them to keep you company until I am in position to regularly start writing again. These posts were made in 2004-05 while I was studying at MIT. You may notice some change (hopefully improvement) in my writing skills in the meantime.

Few key posts from my Hindi blog that are recommended readings, written during 2006-07:

Of course, you are free to browse rest of the English and Hindi blogs.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009


My train of thoughts comes to a screeching halt as soon as I hear someone using word “female(s)” when referring to fair-sex of human species. Sample these:

“Four females were walking by.”

“His friend was a female.”

“One day one female goes to market….”

I just find ‘woman/lady/girl’ a far better substitute of ‘female’. Only one person, so far, who seemed to think like me is one of my lady professor. I can understand use of titled epithet when referring to nursing gender in mammalian species or in context where clinical and scientific language is more appropriate. I cannot understand, and find it ostensibly offensive, to use ‘female’ when referring to woman in social or regular context. I think that six-letter nomenclature robs them of their humanity. And both men and women are equally guilty of this use, so my flinching is not discomforting because of feminist or chauvinist implications. Obviously, I find use of ‘male’ to refer to ‘man’ also unacceptable but that doesn’t happen a lot, I wonder why?

Clearly, if large segment of ladies (and gentlemen) themselves find it acceptable then who am I to cringe? On the one hand, I wonder if my sense of gender fairness is stronger than what women themselves desire (See: Of men and women, and preference thereof, Behan Ji)? On the other hand, readers of this blog are aware my aversion to one-sided feminism which applies dual standards (See: Getting rid of him and her, To Sons and Daughters, Harassed by Wife?). Actually I am not easily trusting of dual standards by anyone (See: Colour as indicator of beauty, Need for coherent compensation structure, Holier than thou Mumbai, Who can take life?).
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