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Saturday, February 28, 2009

Politically incorrect humour

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I am usually not fan of excess political correctness when used against faceless audience. I don’t, of course, want to hurt anybody’s feelings because of his belief or membership. Hence I am considerate to not mention things which can be considered offensive by my listeners when I am addressing them directly. Even then, things that one can take offense to are limitless and I cannot suppress my speech to sound sugary to everyone all the time without seriously handicapping my ability to convey my meaning. As much as is the responsibility of speaker to not to hurt his audiences’ feelings, so is the onus on not getting offended without perspective on audience too. Communication is after all two way process. My relaxation of political correctness drops even further when I am addressing a faceless audience such as on blog or article. While basic political correctness is desired to maintain harmony and to avoid unwanted instigation of ill-will, too much political correctness robs message of all its possible meaning, because one can always take umbrage at practically anything.

In this context, it’s not surprising that I find some of the politically incorrect movies and serials quite funny. In world where aversion to offending others has made all conversations banalities without meaning, these attempts are quite tongue-in-cheek hilarious. I should also mention that my being able to enjoy these doesn’t mean that I support them but that I can forget about being uptight and enjoy fun. Fun, yes, racist, sexist, crass, stereotyped fun. Hence I quite liked the movies Borat and President is Coming and regularly enjoy TV serials such as Simpsons and Family Guy. Fake news source Onion is also my favourite website. While this post gives the impression that political correctness is sweeping the speech everywhere, as long as we have freedom of speech there are many who will hold the light of truth. And I’ll keep on getting my quality fun uninhibited by need to mollycoddle beliefs of all and sundry.

Primary purpose of this post, though, is to explore my this taste. Firstly, does it make me appear as bad person if I enjoy politically incorrect humour? I know that laughing at sexist jokes doesn’t make me woman-hater. I think that it’s possible to separate both parts of brain that such contradictions coexist. I can have fun at seeing someone slip (on screen) and yet be there first to help if it so happens in real life. Can I have fun seeing someone slip in real life? Can I laugh at racist joke in real life? Well, that depends on the company. As I’ve mentioned in the beginning I differentiate when I am capable of hurting known people than when I inadvertently hurt unknown people. If my company or person who is laughed at finds these offensive then it’s my duty to avoid such sense of humour. I know that such things don’t make me bad person — but does my audience know that too? Would you feel contempt towards me if you found out this fact, as you did just now? At some level, I cannot blame you if you do so, because you will form opinion based on what you see and not based on what you think what I think. Yet, it also depends on how easy you can comprehend the presence of such contradiction in my mind.

Secondly, do I really enjoy all politically incorrect humour equally? Can I laugh at myself when stereotyped? I think I can, most of the time. Sometimes I can’t but I don’t know if that’s because episode is inherently unfunny to me or because I get offended. Is it subconscious sign of something? If yes then does that make me bad person? Do you enjoy politically incorrect humour? What if directed at yourself?

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

What can I demand that you don't know already?

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In March of 2002 I visited Tirupati Balaji with my friends. Tirupati temple is one of the most popular Hindu pilgrimages in India and receives maximum number of visitors and donations in the world. Line for entering the temple can run as long as a day and temple boasts of efficient queuing system to accommodate between 50,000 to 100,000 visitors everyday. As I was waiting at final waiting hall before entering to temple premises, I started to wonder what should ask God for? After all, it is not everyday I get opportunity to pay homage to such esteemed and famous deity and I must seek His blessings for something important to me.

Initially, I felt that there is nothing that I can ask God here which I couldn’t have asked elsewhere because even if this is most popular pilgrimage of Lord, He is after all omnipresent. As He resides in this rich ornate temple so does He in murti at shrine in my home. My this feeling of calm reverence was soon shattered by the ambience. As devotees proceeded to march towards deity, fragrance of sandalwood and incense permeated my nostrils, chants of Hail Balaji and sounds from gongs and bells reverberated my ear drums, and piety in the crowed seeped in my skin. As I approached closed to Sanctum Sanctorum my eyes got watery with respect, devotion and surrender.

I searched my mind to find appropriate prayer and request. While I was quite happy student with perfectly happy family, there were many things in life which worried me and which I was apprehensive about. As I went on rummaging my brain for the most important request, I found myself discarding everything. How dare I bother the Almighty with my insignificant fears and inquisitions, I chided myself. Will it be appropriate use of my opportunity if I just ask Him to ward off trivial problems of my life? Shouldn’t I be seeking His support on things worth His esteemed stature? What specific question I pose to Him that He didn’t know answer of? As my thoughts progressed, I questioned if I can limit my request to only my betterment? Why not ask Him about welfare and betterment of all my family members? Thinking in this direction just escalated. Why not ask him for solving problems of all my clan members? All my country men? All the humanity? More I delved deeper inside me, more I found myself selfish, small, petty and incapable of asking Him to solve my problems. When I reached in front of Him, only thing that I found worth asking that may Lord please do whatever you deem well for the world at large.

From one angle, my journey from personal desire to global wish and specific question to general broad request can be interpreted as sign of my greediness. But didn’t I have right to ask as much as I want from the only One who had capacity to give infinite of everything? From another angle, my act can be understood to have wasted an momentous opportunity by seeking generality from the Almighty himself. I don’t know…

Recent song Arziyaan from Dilli 6 captures this emotion in very apt way and was provocation for this post.

अर्जियाँ सारी मैं चहरे पर लिख कर लाया हूँ,
तुमसे क्या मांगूँ तुम खुद ही समझ लो
I come with yearnings written on my face yet what do I demand from you as you yourself know everything?

सर उठा के मैनें कितनी ख्वाहिशें की थीं
कितने ख्वाब देखे थे, कितनी कोशिशें की थीं
जब तू रूबरू आया नज़रें ना मिला पाया
सर झुका के एक पल में मैनें क्या नहीं पाया
I desired for many things, I dreamt of so much. But when I faced you I couldn’t look you into eyes. As I surrendered to you, I found everything.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Life without numbers

When talking about colours, I had mentioned how our language affects our thinking process and vice-versa. There cannot be a better example of this than in Piraha tribe of Amazon forests. This tribe is incredulous in so many ways that it has stumped linguists, anthropologists and sociologists for years. One of the unique distinction of this tribe is that their language doesn’t have any concept of numbers.

It’s not just that the members of tribe don’t know any numbers, but they are incapable of understanding the notion itself even when meticulously trained for months. For instance, they failed to duplicate a line of batteries from pool of batteries; couldn’t draw straight lines to copy a given number of lines on earth; and couldn’t decide which of two boxes had more symbols of fish on it. Their language reflects their mental association: there is one word for meaning small amount and another to mean large amount. When “Piraha are talking and use the ‘oneish’ word to talk about something such as fish, you can’t tell whether they are describing a single fish, a small fish, or one or two fish” says Prof. Everett, a fluent Piraha-speaker himself. Their strange example has strengthened the argument by one linguist that learning a specific language determined the nature and content of how one thinks. We can easily see this in our life as new language often broadens our mental horizon and breadth of opinions. Piraha are perfect example where not having words for something doesn’t permit one to comprehend the notion. And it’s not that they are simply stupid, if one were to be presumptuous and assume that, for their fishing and hunting skills are comparable to people elsewhere.

Among other things that characterize this amazingly unique group of people is the limited memory beyond two generations; lack of any social hierarchy; practice of not sleeping more than two hours at a time during night or day; no distinct words for colour; and absence of any creation myths or concept of God.

Saturday, February 21, 2009


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Don't you feel that a clap involving beating two hands is more sincere and genuine than that involving beating one hand on table? Moreover, I think that ultimate accolade for presenter/speaker is when audience even forget to clap. See also: History & Psychology of Clapping

Friday, February 20, 2009

To whom it may concern

This is to notify whomsoever it may concern that I will be passing out of IIMA soon and am currently very busy in winding up, thus frequency of posts on this blog is going to suffer for next month or so. You can always read and/or subscribe to my Shared Items which will link to many things I find interesting on the web.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Right to worry

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If you are a youngster living away from home in college and you slip and fracture your arm, would you inform your parents (or immediate family members) about the incident? They can’t really help you anyway except worry about you since treatment will happen at its own pace. Many in such circumstances don’t call out to their family members since they don’t want them to worry about them unnecessarily.

What is family for? To provide you emotional support primarily, I’d say. If you don’t want them to worry for you, then you suffer pain in silence without support. Because you love them, you don’t want them to be worried. But because they love you too, they want to know. How would you feel if you are not part of important event in your near and dear one’s life?

I don’t know what’s real answer, if any, and like pretty much everything else it depends on the person concerned. I however feel that when relationship is at its closest, be with family or friend, then one has right to make others worry to reduce one’s suffering. It’s a sacred right which we don’t grant to acquaintances. If you are frustrated and feeling down then you have right to shout at your closest people and they must take it without complain. You cannot do that with mere acquaintance to whom you will smile and pretend everything is alright. In similar vain when one is asked “how are you?” only people who are close deserve complete truthful answer, and that right is not available to others who ask this in mere formality and expect nothing more than “fine, you?”

In an parable, when Lord Krishn was suffering from serious headache, He was advised by sage Narad to put dust from the feet of person who loved Him most on His forehead for cure. He asked Rukmani if She would do it. She refused saying that She will go to hell for eternity if She dares let dust of Her feet touch the forehead of esteemed Lord Himself. It will be a sin, She declared. Krishn then asked Radha about the same. She immediately agreed. When people wondered how dare She sin against the God Himself, She opined that Her love of Lord is so great that She will willingly suffer hell fire just to reduce His small pain.

Our relationship with our nearest loved ones should be that of Radha and Krishn because right to worry is most coveted right of true love.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Mother’s dilemma

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This is a hypothetical dilemma and thought experiment I made up. It's not simple and may be heart-wrenching for some, so proceed with caution. What were you do if you were mother in the question below?

You are mother of four children and part of a happily family. One day a crazy man breaks into your house to steal while your husband and three children are away. You are alone along with one of the children. Somehow, circumstances lead to such that life of your child is endangered. You have two options. (1) If you don’t act, you survive and your child dies. (2) If you fight, you get killed but child is spared. Culprit escapes in either case. For purpose of this hypothetical question, ignore outside help such as police or neighbours and ignore third option of both surviving. These are not drastic assumptions and very plausible in most circumstances.

Without exception mother will always scarifies herself for her child. So question is not really difficult since there is only one practical answer. Tricky part is whether that decision is best-for-all optimal decision? If you die, then your four children are raised motherless, and will suffer incomplete childhood, with potential fallout in adulthood development and mental trauma. If you survive, then you will have to live with the guilt of letting your child die, along with any blame that may arise from husband or other children. One side is a family of three children with both parents and lifetime of guilt for mother, other side is a family of four children with one parent and some sadness which will typically last until adulthood of children. Which loss is lesser?

As neutral third party, I’d find first option optimal, though that’s not likely to happen unless mother is under full use of her brain and faculty at time of tragedy. Second option is instantaneous emotional response. What is your take?

Consider following independent variations of this problem and see if your answer changes.
  • If there is no father?
  • If father is drunkard and lousy dad?
  • If child under threat of life is youngest of all? Oldest of all?
  • If one of surviving children needs special attention?
  • If all four children are in their late teens or older? Below age of twelve?
  • If there are three children? Two children? Five children?
  • If instead of mother there is father in the original scenario and in each of subsequent variations?

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Anonymous friend

Unless you’ve been living in a well your whole life, you will not be unfamiliar with social networks such as those whose icons adorn right panel just below my photograph. You are probably also not unaccustomed to receiving friendship requests from people about whom you haven no idea. Since whole concept of social network is to make friends, therefore such requests from random strangers are not something to agonize about. What is irksome, though, is how the process evolves.

Of over 100 anonymous friendship requests I’ve received in my internet avatar, only one was accompanied by an explanation. Rest were mere requests from people whom I’ve not met without any insight into why they want to befriend me. Unlike others, I am less generous. I simply reject these requests. Some people perhaps do this to increase their friend count, though how and why that’s relevant is beyond me. Perhaps higher number in friend’s list is desperate attempt by them to appear more popular by befriending all and sundry. Why do I reject a mere request from anonymous friend? For one, if a stranger doesn’t have regular courtesy even to introduce himself then what is there to interest me in him except to indulge his desire to increase his virtual popularity? I don’t want to clutter my friend’s list with people I don’t know about thus making it difficult to keep track of people I want to know about. After all, if stream of updates grows longer and is interspersed with random Joe eating his dinner then knowing that my best friend visited Delhi becomes more difficult. Another reason is what happens next.

Even if I friend hitherto unknown person, I am sure not to hear from him ever again. That one person who befriended me with proper introduction too has disappeared in my friend’s list never to be seen again. So what was the point again, if not to cultivate and grow friendship among strangers? No conversation, nothing. Ultimately, it boils down to keeping my friend’s list manageable with real friends. But I am aware that I am in minority among denizens of internet in this behaviour.

On some occasions, few have taken umbrage at my rejection. One cannot please all people all the time and being bothered about indignation of strangers is little low on my priority in list of things to worry about. There are people who are offended at nothing and frankly, that’s the part of life. You may have met all kind of people in life but every next person is still a surprise. For instance, a Ms. V asked me how am I connected to her on LinkedIn, a professional networking site. Since she had requested connection, but I didn’t know it then, I postulated few hypothesises:

I...don't know. I mean, I don't have you in my address book so I couldn't have sent invite myself in bulk. I remember you adding me and I probably approved in bulk. Since you work in recruitment agency and I am from IIMA, I thought that's your work at play. May be you intended different Ashish Gupta and added me by mistake? If there is a way to find out who added whom, we can try. Or we can disconnect. Or we can try to know us. Sorry, I seriously don't know.

Somehow, I offended her with my “curt” response. Some days later when I mailed her back saying that it was she who invited me to befriend, I was at shock at her reply:

I don’t know how to take it.....Anyways it seems I knocked at the wrong door....If you wish you can delete me from your Connections...I should admit I never encountered such a bad exchange.... :(

At some level, I am amazed at my ability to antagonize a perfect stranger with few lines of email. After all, my communication skills need immediate overhaul if something is wrong at my end. On the other hand… What’s your neutral take? Seriously, I want to know.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Bathroom singing

Bathroom singing refers to amateur singing and in that way almost everybody has sung or sings in bathroom. What is so special in bathrooms that it has been inducing people to sing for centuries and warrants special phrase “bathroom singing”?

Could it be solitary private confine? But then one would be singing in car or elevator when opportunity presents. It couldn’t be effect of morning because one doesn’t sing in morning if not taking bath. Could it be boredom of act of bath which is tried to be eliminated with melodious ululations? Or could it have to do something with water on the body? Does one sing in swimming pool, even if in private? Does bathroom singing occurs more proportionately in morning baths than bath at any other time of the day? Can moisture in the ambience induce one to hum? Does it has to do something with optimism for the next day, as person who takes bath unhappily typically doesn’t sing? Do people burst into song whenever they are happy?

Answer to all of the above questions will be ‘yes’ sometime but what is so different in bathroom singing that holds all the time? Is it a learned behaviour where child learns to sing hearing his parents or peers singing in bathroom? Do aboriginal tribes sing when taking bath or is it mere modern phenomenon after invention of bathrooms? Does presence of another person singing in bathroom nearby hinders or enhances chances of you singing? Would that depend on whether you know the person or not? Does bathroom singing depend on how cold the water is compared to desirable temperature? Does one sing more when taking bath in freezing cold compared to scalding hot or comfortably warm? What is volume of singing function of? Level of happiness, cold, amount of soap on body? At what age does the bathroom singing starts, and stops? Is there any cultural implications or differences? What types of songs are more amenable to bathroom mouthing? Soft or upbeat?

So many questions and no answer. How little we understand about even small things in daily life. Need a researcher for Ph.D. in Bathroom Singing pronto!

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Skipping up stairs

I don’t know since when but as far back as I remember, I have been skipping every other step when climbing up a staircase. When I was young, skipping wasn’t possible. For one, my height didn’t permit such large footsteps, and for another, any attempt would result in a rupture in my shorts/pants. After I acquired required height, though, skipping steps became natural for me and has been so ever since, so much so that I have to remember explicitly not to do so when I am acting in professional capacity at my work. I would think that one would find a man in suit & tie jumping up stairs a little odd. When no one is around though, I am back to me!

It’s not really because I am always in hurry. I am a Type A personality but I am not always, in fact am mostly not, busy in doing anything so important that climbing stairs fastest would be become first priority. Despite that, as largely but not completely consistent with definition of Type A, I am generally “impatient, excessively time-conscious...highly competitive...incapable of relaxation...drive [myself] with deadlines, and [am] unhappy about the smallest of delays.” I walk faster than average as well. As the Wiki goes on to mention that this research is obsolete by today’s standards, so don’t you worry about my “insufficient level of self-esteem” and and “free floating hostility”. Nevertheless why I jump up staircase is interesting. Most teenagers do so but I guess most grow out of this later.

Perhaps there isn’t any great reason at all and I am simply too lazy to lift my steps twice the number of times and thus save on efforts required by skipping steps on staircases. In any case, I have to try to stop doing so soon to suit my adulthood more!

Saturday, February 14, 2009

How can His face be any different than yours?

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I just discovered this song today. I am smitten by beauty of lyrics. This will be played non-stop until I bore myself with it!

उसको नहीं देखा हमने कभी
पर इसकी ज़रूरत क्या होगी?
ऐ माँ! ऐ माँ तेरी सूरत से अलग
भगवान की सूरत क्या होगी? क्या होगी? (Full Lyrics)
We haven’t seen Him but what need is there for that? How can God’s face be any different than yours, O Mother? — Dadi Maa (1966)

Ae Maa Teri Surat Se Alag

Hallmark’s Day

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California Psychological Inventory classifies me as norm-favouring personality, which I think is correct to my self-assessment. I tend not to seek change for sake of change unless it offers distinct and significant advantage over status-quo. On the other hand, if there is sufficient advantage in change then I am restless with status-quo. That’s why I am less than impressed by corporatization of love today. It’s not because it’s against Indian tradition nor because it’s Western concept. What I don’t like about today, and there are handful who agree with me, that it’s an imposed idea of celebration of love which emphasizes expensiveness of gifts as measure of intensity of love. Greeting cards and gift corporations are well known to create market by introducing such celebration and associating them by traditional token of love such as cards, flowers, cake, gifts and so on. In cultures where such days are not norm, intensive branding and marketing propagates the notion as has been done in India and China with respect to Father’s day, Mother’s day, Valentine’s day, Friendship day, and whatnot.

What is more surprising in Indian case is that we already have existing well-established tradition of love, at least for Hindus: Karwa Chauth. As has been mentioned earlier, Indian idea of selfless love which emphasizes purity of heart and intention and focuses on giving and well-being of loved one (at least in theory) is being replaced by imposed idea of selfish love which is measured in monetary terms and focuses on receiving and self-fulfillment (even in theory, in practice I don't think there is much difference). Obviously, there are exceptions and it all depends on couple involved, but I am talking about more general scenario propagated by industry and increasingly accepted by youths.

Frankly, what doesn’t irk me is the idea of promotion of Valentine’s day but rapid promotion by companies in last few years at the cost of denigration of traditional Indian customs. There is undercurrent of campaign against this old festival where some think that fasting and praying for long life of loved ones is sexist (or perhaps too much hard work). Moreover, idea of gifting your loved ones is not new nor something to fret about, what is abrasive about today to me is that someone else telling me when to gift my beloved and corresponding pressure of expectation from significant other. This, of course, is not India-centric problem. Even in USA corporations are robbing festivals like Halloween and Christmas from their family orientation to become more consumeristic nature.

At the end of day though, since V-day has been so deeply penetrated by now that this whole post is futile attempt. I will not wish you Happy Valentine's Day, I will wish you Happy Love!

And now some fun..."real" Valentine's day cards here & here and history (video below)...

(This incidentally is 200th post on this blog.)

Friday, February 13, 2009

‘Top’ Movies

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One thing led to another and me and my friends started comparing how many movies we have seen among top movies of all time. As of this date, I’ve seen 41 out of IMDB100 and 86 out of IMDB250, give or take a couple as I may not remember. Out of AFI’s 100, I’ve seen about 30 odd films. Despite having seen plenty of movies over the years my strike rate here seems moderate to poor for a movie buff. There are couple of things which led to such result. Simply put, what others found great, I found lacking. Perhaps due to cultural implication, but most likely not, I’ve found all time great movies like Lord of the Rings, Star Wars or Forrest Gump below average and others like Vertigo and Harvey mere average. Earlier I used to pick movie based on IMDB rating and hence proportion of movies watched is more from that list. Lately I am using predictive software Movielens which helps me avoid even top ranking movies if I am not expected to enjoy them. Of course, IMDB ratings don’t necessarily reflect taste of all public but they do reflect maximum we can expect to get out of internet given its largest user database. Movie preference are subjective, no doubt, but if I differ so widely from average of a large number of people then can there be any conclusion drawn? I do agree to average of large number of people too, of course, in many cases.

If I didn’t agree with public’s or critics’ perception of movies, then could I come up with my own rank list? May be, if I really get into it, but it seems rather hard. How are comedy, drama and horror genre comparable? How can one decide between Gone with the Wind and Dr. Strangelove? One can still understand IMDB ratings as they are average of popular ratings but how can a panel of critics pick one over another? Of over 354 movies ratings I’ve collected, 48 are rated among the highest. Finding order among them is surely very subjective and monumental task for me. Thankfully, I am not the one entrusted with the job and can just watch a movie purely from entertainment point of view.

It’s not uncommon, or in fact, it is near certain to find few persons in IMDB discussion thread of any movie who cannot understand why others don’t like or like a particular movie. Desire of such people to browbeat others into liking or disliking a motion picture is laughable at one hand but eerie at the other. Why cannot some people accept that who will like what movie is very difficult to decide and is not mere function of movie itself but also of time of day, mood, company of co-viewers, audio & video effects and interruptions while watching among other external things. In fact, even when film industry is such high cost business where millions of dollars and years of work can be easily dismissed in two hours, no sure shot way to predict success of movie has been devised. One could make a fortune if one can come up with a formulae beforehand I am sure.

My record among Hindi movies is even more abysmal, though I don’t know. There isn’t any official list of all time best Hindi movies to my knowledge (here is one by a friend), IMDB ratings are not reliable for Hindi movies, getting hold of old Hindi movies is difficult, and many movies were watched over TV during early part of life of which I don’t even remember anything about. If Box Office revenue were to indicate public preference then this list can be assumed to be of some relevance. Among recent ones, since I went to college, I’ve seen pretty much all, and among old ones, I’ve not, particularly because of unavailability but also because of dramatic increase in quality which make best of 1970s seem near equal to mediocre of today.

Edit 16/12/2011 - 100 out of IMDB250

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Good in retrospect

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Has it ever happened to you that when you first watched a movie you didn’t like it or you like it okay but then you started liking it more over time without subsequent viewings?

This happens to me quite often actually. When I watch a movie, I watch it with burden of expectations. I am not easily pleased too. Combine these and only occasionally I find a movie very good or exceptional. However, as time passes my perception of how much I liked the movie increases for some movies, specially those that are popular ones. This happens in various ways, I suppose. One is that as more and more people like it, I re-evaluate my liking and decide that because others like it, it must be good, so I too must be liking it more. Second is that sometime I find myself smiling remembering a scene or dialogue from movie or quoting it in conversation, and then realize that if it is able to make such impression on me then I must like it more than what I originally did. Third is that as I watch more movies, I end up comparing that with others and in the process find that some aspects which I originally considered bad aren’t really bad or not bad enough. In a way, if I were to rate a movie soon after watching and re-rate after six months, I will upgrade my ratings. This doesn’t happen always — and there are many movies which I’ve not liked even after long time (viz. Dhoom 2) which were very popular — but happens often enough. May be I should give each movie an open chance rather than watching with critical eye on first go. Though it is not sure if I really do that because I also like many popular movies in first go (Amir, A Wednesday). Well, whatever.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Primordial fears

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Long time ago I read that a human baby is born without fears but for two: fear of falling and fear of loud/abrupt noise. Rest of the fears that young or adult human fears are learned by imitation (of people around), experience (of danger), information (of cause of danger) and/or warnings (from parents, etc.). Some of the fears are legitimate for child to learn for survival (viz. fire, insects, sharp object) and others just make person coward (viz. darkness, ghosts). It will be interesting to test this theory by imagining what are things a adult is afraid of and of those what a newborn is afraid of innately.

Why only these two fears are innate is even more interesting since fetus doesn’t experience falling and loud noises in womb? So if these are not fears learned inside womb, are they genetically wired? Why did millennia of evolution chose to wire only these two fears instinctively into a human (after all loud noise could never kill anyone) whereas one would imagine fear of death, fire and starvation are more critical for survival of early human.

Among the learned fears, child goes through a stage of development where each fear enters into his life. Here is nice summary of 1993 research into children and fears. The very first learned fear is fear of separation of parents, and child learns within a year than when parents go away, they do return back. Within next five years, fear of darkness, lightening, strange animals, strangers and death make home in child’s mind. As child matures into teens, common fears such as fear of public speaking, failure, rejection, loneliness, injections, hospitals, injury, accident, etc. add to repository. Above article includes a table with list of common fears with age.

Apart from innate fears, a newborn is also armed with innate skills which are either forgotten or sharpened with time. Skill to suckle and breath are innate and aren’t required to be taught which help infant survive. I also remember reading that human infant also knows swimming, just like youngs of  other animals, and forgets it because of lack of practice. Apparently, leaving newborn into a bathtub will have him swimming, though parents will not attempt trying that due to fear of drowning. This has been tested though under supervision of doctors and life saving machinery.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Subtitled text

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If you’ve ever watched a movie with subtitles (probably for foreign language film, but also for native language film, because it’s great fun to see to good movie ruined by bad subtitles viz. Baghban), I would like to ask you a question. Where do you place subtitles on screen?

If you are like most people, you place them at bottom of the screen horizontally. You may not have thought otherwise, or your technology doesn’t permit alternative placement, but if you could chose, do you think that bottom placement is best? It’s always been that way and bottom of the screen seems to be the default position, so may be some thought has gone into this? Perhaps, though that may not be the case. I don’t know about other players, but MPlayer permits me to position my subtitles anywhere from top to bottom of the screen. I have found that top of the screen placement is best for me. Why?

I’ve found that when I am reading subtitle at bottom, I am not able to watch video above it carefully. When my eyes focus on subtitles, video comes in periphery of my vision and things go blur, and I miss some quick act. When I read subtitle placed at top, I can read it and watch video at the same time. In short, I find part of screen below focus of my eyes more easy to see than part of screen above. This has to do something with how our eyes work and eye tracking studies would’ve shown something though I’ve been unable to find any information to that effect online. My hunch is that when we read something we read from “top” of our eyes so some vision is left to cover what is below, and not vice-versa. What is your experience? Corollary: if placement technique is non-issue, what would be best position for subtitles on screen? By the way, here are two short articles about how we read online (hint: in F shape, in short sentences).

Monday, February 9, 2009

Top 10 Hindi songs

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I love playing music. Except when I am working or need to concentrate, I play music all the time as I find silence uncomfortable. Despite my college exposure and foreign experience, I have not been able to start liking English songs. In fact, my whole repository consists of over 3000 Hindi songs. Within this, though, I am not averse to any genre except perhaps classical music and instrumental music. Let me introduce to my all time favourite songs. I am huge fan of meaningful lyrics so my favourite songs tend to be one with profound lyrics. Countdown begins...

(10) Do Deewane Is Shehar Mein by Runa Laila & Bhupinder from Gharonda (1977)

(9) Saathiya Tune Kya Kiya by Chitra & S P Balasubramaniam from Love (1991)

(8) Bin Phere Hum Tere by Kishore Kumar from Bin Phere Hum Tere (1979)

(7) Darpan Ko Dekha by Mukesh from Upaasana (1971)

(6) Aajkal Paon Jameen Par by Lata Mangeshkar from Ghar (1978)

(5) Jab Tak Hai Dum by Sukhwinder Singh from Halla Bol (2007)

(4) Mujh Se Naraz Ho To by Sonu Nigam from Papa Kahte Hain (1996)

(3) Jab Tak Pure Na Hon Phere by Hemlata from Nadiya Ke Paar (1982)

(2) Dekho Rootha Na Karo by Lata Mangeshkar & Mohammad Rafi from Tere Ghar Ke Saamne (1963)

(1) Lara Lappa Lara Lappa by Lata Mangeshkar from Ek Thi Ladki (1949)

Sunday, February 8, 2009

Good or Bad?

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Whatever happened, was that good or bad? Decide after each line.

He stole
to save the life of his wife 
thus killing a man
who was the one who had injured the wife in the first place
under threat of his kid’s life
by his criminal associate
who deceived him when he wanted to give up crime
to pretend to be good and serve lesser sentence
only because corrupt policeman would’ve killed him in encounter otherwise
because he was planning to run away with whole loot without sharing
that he needed for expensive operation of his kid’s heart
which was ruined because of kid’s severe drug use, drinking and smoking habits
which he learned from his father
by snooping around, disobeying him and stealing from him
as his childhood was charred and unmonitored
since the kid had killed his mother
by accident
under the influence of drug
which was forced on to him by his friends
who were forced to sell and recruit new users by a mafia
headed by the man who stole

What is good and what is bad? A new fact can change whole perspective. Is information ever complete? Who is omniscient? Who is right? Who is wrong? Who decides? Why?

Inspiration of this was from achchha hua ya bura hua game from an unidentified Hindi movie

Saturday, February 7, 2009

Bonded for life

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Yesterday night a thought occurred to me. Is a man closer to his brothers and sisters in terms of relationship than to his spouse, on an average? Let’s say that you could rate a relationship in terms of whatever criteria you chose, where, lowest score means that you hate that person and cannot bear to hear his name and not be in same room, and highest score means you adore that person and will do anything for him and cannot live without him. You must rate all your brothers and sisters who were significant part of your childhood and your significant other, past or present. If this exercise is done for large number of people, then will siblings get higher average score or spouses? What I want to impress upon from this is to investigate that whether child marriages (in modified form) makes for more successful marriages.

Now don’t just roll eyes in disgust or shock. By child marriage, I mean marriage fixed by parents in early childhood without taking into account individual preferences of bride and groom. I don’t mean marriage consummated before adulthood. That’s not so dramatic if you were to consider that most arranged marriages are fixed like this in India and whether marriage is fixed at age of 25 or 5 is irrelevant if permission of couple is not factored in in either case. My modified version of child marriage also requires that young husband and wife be raised together in same household.

From where I see it, and I can be wrong here, that a person is almost always very close to his brothers and sisters in Indian households. His closeness may decrease after marriage but only because life becomes separate and money becomes important. Assuming that data to my survey in first paragraph comes out in favour of siblings then I can conclude that relationships where we don’t have choice tend to stick longer. As a corollary, it would make sense if partner for life is thrust upon from the beginning and we are brought up with simple understanding that nothing can be done later. It can be argued that when given no choice, one tends to look and evaluate a person or relationship differently then when given a choice to get out of it. Maybe silliness becomes forgivable mischievousness, perhaps beauty becomes less important (how most of use find our offsprings, nieces and nephews beautiful anyways), perhaps an irritating habit is internalized, and so on. Growing up knowing your partner for life (meaning of this term can change as child matures to man) may result in so many shared memories and common value system that bond is further strengthened. In such cases, it appears that adult marriage will be stronger and more stable and very less likely to result in separation. In fact, this is one reason which I am led to believe was behind child marriages in earlier times.

Basic premise of my argument is that relationships grown from childhood with no option to severe are more stable than others build upon later, at least for first few years. I don’t think it is unequivocally correct, but it's still a thought.

Friday, February 6, 2009

I versus Rest of the World

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Imagine that you inadvertently happened to be in or made to be in a position from where there are only two ways out: (1) you die, or (2) you survive (at least for now) and other people in the world die. What would you chose?

Such scenarios may not occur in reality but are staple of many a horror movies (viz. The Ruins, 28 Weeks Later). In each case, the protagonist suffers from a virus which is bound to kill him and only way he can avoid the immediate death is to escape the quarantine thus endangering rest of the population with spread of the virus. If he doesn’t escapes then he suffers certain death for no fault of his own. If he does, then he ensures certain death of unknown number of unknown people. If he willingly dies then he is noble person without question. But if he doesn’t, is he evil in letting others die for no fault of their own to avoid his own death? But he didn’t deserve it too, and only destiny has put him in a place of martyrdom where he perhaps doesn’t want to be. Looking as objective third party, his action in escaping are condemnable, though what would I do in that scenario is not that obvious. If I am victim of misfortune, does it still behooves upon me to worry about other people? Victims of AIDS are not justified in injecting others with contaminated blood in spite because doing so doesn’t lengthen their life span. But if it does, then?

This question has deeper implications than mere curiosity of ‘what would I do were I to be there in the movie’.Bandit Queen Phoolan Devi’s life story can also be understood in this reference to some extent. She was tortured beyond imagination and was utterly destroyed by society. In revenge she sought, she punished those who tortured her, but didn’t stop and punished other innocent people too. Is she justified in not bothering about others when her life was irreversibly destroyed? Does the thinking that ‘if I am going down, I don’t care who else goes down’ make sense from human fallibility point of view and not moral high ground? Or victim of accidental misfortune must bear it as unfortunate destiny and silently accept his death?

Each of us is naturally evolved to place our survival at the highest pedestal and even cannibalism is fair game when threat arises. Is animalistic natural tendency excuse enough for one to be exempt from mores of society? In an interesting case in 1884's London, judges didn’t think so. I urge you to read full episode to appreciate how things were handled.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

The Little Prince

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The Little Prince is a classic parable of life’s profound meaning by Antoine De Saint-Exupery. Book can be read in entirety here. Following is my review of the book written as part of the course project (not based on SparkNotes or MonkeyNotes).

The Little Prince is a book by a twelve year old boy recounting his experiences in dealing with world around him and meeting with a Prince from far away planet. Book is a parable of childhood innocence and attempts to deconstruct the world from eyes of six year old child. In the process we see insights which we, as grown ups, often miss or lose in track of time. Book emphasizes on holding on to really important things such as friendship, love and faith which are usually ignored to make room for “important” things such as reason and livelihood. While parable can be claimed to be an unrealistic story and is not free from errors of logic, book still hold lessons for living a happy and completely life when interpreted in correct context. Underlying theme of the book is to let go of your mind and enjoy what matters most from depths of heart. There are hidden gems in various sentences throughout the book which force us to pause and reassess our priorities in life.

To start with, author recounts how our pattern driven mind cannot take leap of imagination to distinguish a boa constrictor from hat. In world organized along strict social rules, creativity and imagination of childhood is quickly trampled to make way for ruthless reality. But does reality have to be ruthless and why can’t world of grown up be as simplified as world of children? In change of roles so impossible for adults to even comprehend, he lends sympathetic ear to limitations of grow ups and says that “it is tedious for little children to explain to grown ups time and again” and “children should show great understanding towards grown ups”. How the world of grown ups is so very different and busy in useless things is recurring theme in the book. Explaining the adulthood fascination with reason, logic and rationality, author states that grown up like to reduce everything to numbers even when it doesn’t matter.

There are numerous incidents which pose the question about “what is serious matter?” Is smelling a flower and basking in warmth of morning Sun less important than tallying those books of accounts? In our race of life we chase what we consider serious to find success in the world and still end up unhappy and lonely. Book forces us to rethink our priorities in life and define success to ourselves. Can success be measured only in terms of how much money one made? Answer to this question is undoubtedly no, for we know that there are many things more important that money in life and a life without money can well be fulfilling but life with lots of money can be as lonely. Then even after knowing this why do we pursue success measured by others’ standards? Why do I seek and chase what others expect to me. These are the questions that one always asks oneself but avoids answering for true answer requires courage to get out of rat race that world is.

Why is the world of grown ups in so much hurry? In humourous incident recounting circular logic of a drunkard and businessman, author asks us if we want to buy things to save our time so that we can make money to buy more things. In increasingly commercialized and consumption driven world, we have forgotten what we are running after. Two other incidents sarcastically ridicule this materialistic nature. One where merchant is unable to answer what will people do by saving 54 minutes of their week by not eating and another is where running trains signify ever unquenched thirst for more, even when we are not sure what we want. In greed of material possessions we often hoard a lot without really needing anything. After all, what fun is a garden of roses, when not a single rose is tamed?

Book is also filled with subtle ridicule and questions human nature through various incidents in the narrative. The novel rebukes adult tendencies to place value on external appearance and status (Turkish scientist), to seek false praise and ignore reality (“I admire you but why does that means so much to you?”), to ignore the world in selfish greed (cleaning up toilet of planet), to demand authority through force without deserving it (“authority is first and foremost based on reason”), and to pass judgment on others without looking at self in mirror (“It is far more difficult to judge oneself than judge others” and “If you succeeded in judging yourself rightly then you are very wise”).

Overall, The Little Prince is book about valuing what matters. In race of life, we often miss simple pleasures of living. Instead of living a life, we start to analyze the life, and that’s where problem really starts. What is meaningful has to be judged from parameters bigger than reason and expectations as the work of lamplighter in the book is described to be more useful than those of king and businessman. What should matter is that work has meaning to you, not to anyone but to you. In position I find myself, it becomes difficult to untangle myself from others’ expectations from me because of where I am.

In one incident, the snakes quotes that “it’s just as lonely among men” indicating lack of emotional depth in human transaction which are primarily based on distrust, dishonesty, self gain and opportunism. Even when living in society, one is alone and fights with the world every day. Where is that sought after peace for which people are running? Does anyone know if there is any anywhere?

Ultimately what matters is how we see the world around us. We can chose to be what we are, humans in rat race, isolated from people around us, chasing a mirage that doesn’t exist, or we can be a little boy, finding joys in wonders of life, self satisfied, full of imagination and open minded. Because as books points out in the end, “what is essential is invisible to eyes, and need to seen through heart”. There are many questions raised and understanding them in context of our current reality is the most useful learning of the book.

Apart from questioning the premise of grown ups world, book also provided few brilliant and profound quotes which glimpse into human psyche and made me smiles. Acknowledging man’s attraction to mystery, author states that “when mystery is too overpowering one dare not disobey”. Delving into heart of person suffering from pain is often difficult for there are many things which work together to make one happy or sad, and tears don’t just mean sadness in many cases. In parting of author and the Prince, author wonders that “land of tears is so mysterious”. Highlighting the objective of selfless efforts towards what you love, flower of Prince says to him that “I will have to put up with few caterpillars if I want to see butterflies.”

In the end, Prince might as well be imagination of little boy, but if it stops mattering to us then we are already half-way there!

Wednesday, February 4, 2009


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Election campaigns for institute's student governing counsel at our college are lots of fun. We are peaceful democratic institution so there isn’t any sloganeering or rallying but there is one public address opportunity — used by seniors to make fun of and ask awkward questions to candidate — and many door to door dorm to dorm campaigning. There is some regionalism, I suspect, but not much. Need to blindly support, or at least prefer, member of one’s ethnicity is evil of Indian nationhood that lurks here too, though in intensity insignificant to that in real elections. There is some sexism too, and while it’s low it’s perhaps sufficient enough to affect election results. It’s difficult to know this for sure because such information is not easy to obtain and it’s difficult to ascertain whether men think that women can’t handle a particular job or women think that men will think so and hence don’t contend. This, if any, is primarily for post of member of student council and not at all for other positions lower in governing hierarchy.

Election campaigns at dorms are what brings most fun. A candidate is made to dance, sing, mimic or joke, apart from delivering his manifesto or speech. Constituents use this opportunity to enjoy the torment of their peers since listening to manifesto is often an boring activity. And that happens at lot more in women’s dorms, who, perhaps, on finding that man on their fingertips for few days, practice for their post-wedding adventures! What students can come up is only limited by their imagination, and includes from special funny rules that pitching candidate must follow, to bargaining for all votes of dorm under certain circumstances including leaving them in peace and not bother with pitching.

And even when rest of India has gone electronic, we still follow paper ballots. Grrr.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

I told you so

Calvin & Hobbes predicted it in 1992. Scott Adams (of Dilbert) predicted it. RBI governor knew it already. Alright, just take my word because I cannot hyperlink now what I’ve read sometime during last two month and this isn’t a research paper. What did they know? Well, that economy is going to go down the drain and housing market will crash and so on. As always, hindsight is 20/20 and there are many smart-alecs rising now to tell you that they had already forewarned us. It’s easy to look back and be happy that what you predicted so long ago came true. And it’s easy for public to blame policy makers for ignoring these “clear” signs of warning and doom. Problem is that there are as many opinions on earth as there are people. One of these ideas may come true by some random chance sometime in future, but how can we chafe wisdom from insanity now? A Russian professor is predicting disintegration of United States and now commands all ears because of near economic collapse of US economy. He might as well be warning sign if that were to happen, else, he will will just one more stray opinion on internet.

I am sure you have heard the story of a guy who successfully predicted stock price movements 20 times in a row. Would you trust him with your investments? You can do it too, it’s very simple. Select a million folks and tell half of them that price will rise and other half that price will fall. Depending on what happens next day, you do the same, and so on. On twentieth day, there will be small fraction of people who will be so bowled over by your accuracy that they will blindly hand you over their money to manage. Will that mean that you predictions made sense, or just that there are so many predictions in the world that someday someone will come and say, “I told you so”.

There is a pleasure in saying “I told you so”. We all know that pleasure and when opportunity presents us, often we throw the phrase at our near and dear ones. Being validated is sign of higher social status, however, that can happen without us reminding that we had already predicted the befallen misfortune. Wonder why no one says “I told you so” when things go right? Why then we take so much perverse pleasure in announcing this, when, in most situations involving friends and families, other party already knows this. Those who can resist often command higher respect, yet sometimes it becomes difficult for me to resist. Sometimes humiliation of party which dared to defy me becomes more important than long-term implications of such attitude. Is it the same pleasure which one gains from another’s failure?

Monday, February 2, 2009

Balanced view

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For an objective reporter writing a well researched article in intellectual journal, need to present facts and information in balanced format is important. It is important for him to provide both sides of an argument and positions for both for and against an issue lest he appears biased or judgmental. An intelligent reader in public discourse is expected to evaluate arguments by themselves and not be influenced by editorial leaning. This is specially true when article for consumption is written for wider audience which may include people on both sides of debate. Therefore, there is this need to balance discussion. However, real balancing can only take place if both views actually carry equal weight. In issues where one side of position is weaker than other, balancing turns into ridiculous tit-for-tat action where point of view of one side is immediately countered with opposite point of view even when they are not comparable at all thereby giving more proportional representation to weaker view.

With India-Pakistan discussion flaring again in domestic and international media, there are plethora of articles which try to balance Islamic terrorism with Hindu terrorism even when ratio of intensity of one to another is thousand is to one. Similar caricatured forced balancing takes place in many other spheres within India and elsewhere where need to find plausible opposing argument to stronger point of view obviates the more important need to maintain contextual usefulness and relative meaningfulness. It would have been great for me to cite news articles for this post but even if you keep this point of mind when reading and writing you will see such things at many places, specially when source of article is an organization which, for political reason, cannot side with the truth.

Such forced balancing also takes place in many Hollywood movies where blacks/whites and man/woman characters are kept in about equal number, specially in police force or medical profession. Need for political correctness and not appearing racists has taken such narrow view that if cast doesn't include black characters then producer/director is considered racist. Even comedy sitcom F.R.I.E.N.D.S was not spared this criticism. This happens to lesser extent in Bollywood but police or army characters almost always include Hindu/Muslim balance, though often it is part of the plot.

Sunday, February 1, 2009

Media does it again

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I, among many, had talked about lack of media ethics in reporting Bombay attacks last November. One of these news channel couldn't take criticism and slapped another blogger with legal notice. Here is full story with commentaries from Indian blogosphere. This isn't first time when a large corporate media has used its legal might to harass individual from expressing personal opinion. What I said earlier still holds and we continue to be party to blame if we patronize such media groups and channels. Those who lament lack of alternative need only look to print or online media or Doordarshan. As always, one must remember to take whatever information any media dishes out with plenty of salt.

[E]xpecting people to act on moral grounds by their own volition is model but not practical solution...[a]lternative is for us to boycott these channels and let them know why we do that.

Need for a face

I’ve made few acquaintances over internet over the years. They are friends through discussion forums, alumnus of my institutions, people I regularly read blogs of, or just people I’ve had email or chat conversation without meeting. All I know about them is a chat handle, an email address, a profile link or so on. In some cases I know real names and other personal or professional details. In most cases I don’t know how they look. It doesn’t matter to start with but as friendship or acquaintanceship (which may be one way in case of blog reading) grows, it starts mattering. I don’t know why but knowing a person without knowing how he looks starts becoming an itch. I think it happens with others, or not, but I tend to form an image in my mind about people how they look based on whatever I know about them, which may not be related to looks at all. I think this is because of human tendency to put a face to whom exactly they are conversing with. My imaginations are, of course, always for a shock when I happened to see real picture. But that feeling of uneasiness when I know someone reasonably well but don’t know his face is regular. Does it happen to you?
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