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Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Calcutta and a car with no driver

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North Indians who had never been to Calcutta had surprisingly consistent reactions when I mentioned that I will going there for my next project. Calcutta is perceived as an unappealing city — city where there is nothing to look forward to, city which is old and dirty, city where no one in sane mind would want to go. There is not so much of disdain than surprise and disinterest. Fortunately, I didn’t have any such presumptions to begin with.

I knew Calcutta is left behind in march of ruthless progress which has painted facade of other metros and tier-I cities in India but I was also keen to visit part of country which I’d never been before. Calcutta didn’t disappoint me. As a tourist, at least, I walked into a city frozen into sixties but came out happier. Streets hustling with crowds and vendors, pavements lined with myriads of goods decorated in many ways, dilapidated trams crawling in middle of road and denizens relishing uniquely Bengali delicacies sent me back to memories of childhood fairs. That my most favourite snack gol-guppas were staple of city did help the matter. I didn’t see city much in two days but got glimpse of life in general. Victoria memorial at night was lined by couples in stages of embrace which could put Marine Drive in Mumbai to shame. Street side food is mouth watering. Even though I am no big fan of Bengali sweets, and sweets in general, I found Sandesh — which I tasted for first time — quite nice.

There is no better way to mention the ethos of Calcutta than to narrate little experience I had while being driven from airport to my destination.

At some point along two hour ride, our driver decided to switch to “shot-cut” to avoid potential congestion on the road ahead. To give Murphy a credit, our alternate route was no less congested. While being stuck in a traffic jam for few minutes, our driver had an epiphany: he could use time better. He excused himself almost in hurry before we could protest and said that he’ll back after ‘taking a leak’. To further credit Edward Murphy, jam was cleared within minutes of him departing. Naturally, cars behind us started honking after courtesy wait of one second. Our driver was spotted on far end of road smoking, oblivious of raucous that an unmanned territorial vehicle created in middle of heavy traffic.

I had heard Calcutta is laid back city. I think, those ten minutes in car were perhaps what Calcutta is all about.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Gazillion Pillows

Room I was staying in Holiday Inn in London had to undergo renovation. So I was upgraded — so I was told — to better room. This room was exactly same as the one before, except that now I had eight pillows on my double bed rather than two. When I went to sleep, I just threw down seven of them on the floor. Why would anyone need so many of them was perplexing. I was reminded of this the other day when reading this article:
One might think that beds are made for sleeping in, but they’d be wrong. Apparently, unbeknownst to men everywhere, beds are in fact made to hold as many pillows as possible. Only a fraction of the pillows present are actually functional at any given point in time, while the rest are there for some unstated purpose. Sleeping on the bed requires several minutes of relocating pillows to suitable locations, which of course will be designated by the woman who placed them to begin with.

I can imagine need for second pillow for those who like to cuddle with pillow when sleeping or need an extra prop support when sitting. My creativity runs out when envisaging need for third pillow or more.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

On airline safety

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Perhaps the most embarrassing part of the job of a flight attendant is safety announcements. If a well draped, polished executive who is about to deliver keynote speech at podium is asked to recite ‘twinkle-twinkle’ before he can begin, that is how he would feel. This awkwardness multiplies because, one, nobody in audience pays attention, and second, they have to do it twice in Hindi and English, both. Their lackadaisical gestures are far too easily noticeable when drained steward or stewardess mechanically goes through the motions. I often dream about final exam of flight attendant’s school necessarily having a question on steps of safety demonstration. From what I’ve observed, stewards are more uninterested than stewardesses in moving their hands more than a foot away from their bodies. So routine this routine has become that process has lost its very purpose — for I believe that first time flyer will find these instructions too fast and too limited. It’s another matter that even after numerous flying miles, I am still not sure if I can find my safety jacket beneath my seat.

This brings me to the second point. Why must these instructions be relayed live? Most airlines, even those who have personal entertainment screen for every seat, conduct these announcements live: narrated by an on-board attendant and demonstrated by other attendants. I would imagine that having a tape recorder with instructions to be played could be simplest thing to have. If inbuilt tape recorder is expensive proposition requiring rewiring of aircraft’s public announcement system, I can imagine a steward playing a pocket tape into the microphone. Of course, alternative thought suggests that once in-flight crew is on board, they might as well do something to keep themselves busy.

Third point on this topic is about requirement of doing so at all. Surely, Government of India guidelines specify wording of instructions and usage of two languages*, but must those be followed to the letter? Could their be an AAI or DGCA official sitting in plainclothes among traveller who’d report the violation? Or perhaps the penalty of violation is large enough to dissuade airlines from taking any chances at all. Then there is something-to-do reasoning, again.

*God bless them for continued Hindi usage, for if left to airline and airport staff only, Hindi would completely disappear as it did from shopping complexes — richness often being irrevocably associated with usage of English and abandonment of National language. Note that any announcement which is not part of required announcement is only relayed in English, chief among them being Captain’s mid-air flight summary.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Brain, Beauty, Availability, etc.

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A well know equation describes feminine disposition as:
Beauty X Brain = 0
A more generous version of the same propositions that:
Beauty X Brain X Availability = 0
where ‘beauty’, ‘brain’ and ‘availability’ are binary variables.

This equations implies that a girl cannot be beautiful, brainy and unattached at any point of time simultaneously. Among numerous corollaries of this equation, two complementary ones are common fodder of dismay among young men: all beautiful and intelligent girls are taken and those who are available are n/either beautiful n/or intelligent but not both. I take umbrage at such implication.

First, by definition, it is a fact that those who are unavailable now must be available prior some point in time, for one can make available unavailable and not unavailable unavailable1. It must, then, necessarily be true that among those who are beautiful and intelligent there must a time, if only a fraction of instant, where above equation fails to hold and when girl is simultaneously available, beautiful and intelligent. One could argue that such infinitesimal point is discontinuity in the function which is valid elsewhere.

If such anomaly is not acceptable, then for equation to be valid it must be true that girl becomes intelligent and/or beautiful as soon as she gets a boyfriend, which, while possibly being true in long term2, cannot possibly be true instantaneously. Thus, one must either accept frailty of this equation or believe that equation must hold only on long term average basis. Second of this appears more palatable. This, therefore, suggests that above equation is asymptotically true as population size and time horizon grow longer. Of course, this weakens the case for disappointed men who excuse their inability behind this universal law.

1. Assuming simple case of one boyfriend at a time.
2. Glow of love or diffusion of external wisdom from new person may be reason behind.

Monday, March 1, 2010

Riding on a moving platform

Sometimes I have to ride standing up. Short travel from airport departure gate to airplane and in local bus and train journey necessitates me to ride on a moving platform standing up. Such rides are not always smooth, even after ignoring the bumps on the road, force of acceleration, deceleration and curvature throws off the person with weak support. Hence, to stabilize myself, I need to hold on to handrails or handlebars. One point support at top end of my body frame doesn’t provide me full steadiness and unless I have something to hold on to at my waist level by other hand, my posture is not firm. Such horizontal support is not easy to come by, particularly if there is paucity of handrails compared to people, if I am holding some piece of luggage with my other hand, or if I am lodged in the middle of crowded vehicle away from walled boundaries of said platform.

At such moments, which are far too common, I must brace myself using my feet. Knowing that bending moment of a cross section is function of cube of the height and of only width, I position my both feet in L shape so as to provide me maximum moment of inertia on two perpendicular direction. Any force of jolt from any direction can be adequately born by two mutually perpendicular frames of my leg by splitting the component of force along two axis defined by L shape. At least, this is hoped. On many such occasions, I observe position of feet of co-passengers and find no apparent logic or system to buttress against the swing of turning or stopping.

Irony of the matter is that despite my posture based on solid grounds of physics and dynamics, I’ve found myself more vulnerable to jerks compared to other people who exhibit no visible support better than me.
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