Wednesday, December 29, 2004

This year

The one strong aspect of this year, at a personal level, has been the near maniacal urge to learn more. It became increasingly important to demand more from myself, primarily in terms of variety than deep, razor sharp skills or perspectives about a few focus areas. I bought a Nikon. I traveled a lot. I liked Hindustaani Classical. I read close to twenty books. I gave better this year.

I smoked just as much this year. I listened just as badly. As ever, I often forgot to call home or to meet my friends. I continued to dream of Jodie Foster. And I still think that combing is such a waste of time. And mountains, for me, are still more inviting.

This year I saw the most spectacular sunset sky. I nearly ate an octopus's kidney. I developed a liking for gin and tonic. I stopped reading fiction this year.

This year I decided to generalize.

Thursday, December 23, 2004

The message

In whatsoever way men approach Me, even so do I bless them, for whatever the paths that men may take in worship, they come unto Me.

- Chapter IV, Sholka 11 in the Bhagvad Geeta

In my opinion, there are two important aspects of our lives that this Shloka talks about:

For one, being religious essentially means having faith in a Supreme reality, its relatively unimportant how this idea of the Supreme is perceived within the context of different religions. Secondary, too, are the associated rites and rituals of a religion. And second, extrapolating from our first point therefore, faith is an inherently secular entity.

Secular people of faith are not around though. In the news, at least.

Monday, December 20, 2004

Apposition

Constricted francophile byways. The barren sea, the sodium winds of its womb, a dilapidated jetty holding on to hope. Walking within. Jaundiced bars of bonhomie - some canopied, some celestial. Apparitions, renegades, saints and the adolescent moon. Long shadows and dark skins.

Pondicherry.

Tuesday, December 14, 2004

Sighting by the Mississippi

You'd probably want to go to Mardi Gras, if you were around in Conway, Arkansas in February. However, the lure of skin & intoxication was not quite as powerful as the dread of driving all the way to New Orleans and so, one fine weekend self and colleagues turned east on the I-40 & set sail for Memphis, Tennessee.

For those of us used to shaking it on Bannerghatta road twice a day, driving on an American freeway is stuff happinesses are made of. However, so are the hours of hibernation you could choose to slip into. So while my good friend Yesh took the wheel, I closed my eyes upon the world & apart from giving Yesh dirty looks, every once in a while, for talking too much to Vineet too loud, the journey was fairly obscure for me.

And somewhere in the fringes of West Memphis, amidst the slightly chilly open spaces cluttered with not so opulent households - the Mississippi still not in sight - & the skyscrapers lining the faraway horizon, there was this billboard with the sketch of an old gentleman clad scantily in his loincloth, his forehead wrinkled with the years gone by, his sight lost to thoughts. M. K. Gandhi stood in that relatively shoddy neighbourhood in distant Memphis with his message of simplicity, peace and non-violence.

It was, suddenly, a warm day.

Friday, December 10, 2004

Taking stock

There are 206 bones & 600 skeletal muscles in the typical human.

I can feel almost all of them....ache by ache.

Tuesday, December 07, 2004

a disappearing poet of always

here's to opening and upward, to leaf and to sap
and to your (in my arms flowering so new)
self whose eyes smell of the sound of rain

and here's to silent certainly mountains; and to
a disappearing poet of always, snow
and to morning; and to morning's beautiful friend
twilight (and a first dream called ocean) and

let must or if be damned with whomever's afraid
down with ought with because with every brain
which thinks it thinks, nor dares to feel (but up
with joy; and up with laughing and drunkenness)

here's to one undiscoverable guess
of whose mad skill each world of blood is made
(whose fatal songs are moving in the moon

- e e cummings

Friday, December 03, 2004

The key

Man had always assumed that he was more intelligent than dolphins because he had achieved so much... the wheel, New York, wars, and so on, whilst all the dolphins had ever done was muck about in the water having a good time. But conversely the dolphins believed themselves to be more intelligent than man for precisely the same reasons.

-Douglas Adams, The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy

Very funny & deeply philosophical.

However, the one fine difference is really one of scope. The fish have no need to pray, they have no need to build a New York city, etcetera etcetera. Not needing something at the level of things with fins is not in anyway as decisive as at the level of certain things with the opposing thumb.

The dolphins have been chosen. We continue to be at crossroads.

Renunciation is one thing. Poverty quite another.

Tuesday, November 30, 2004

The premium

Despite their possible importance for questions of human evolution, detailed ethnographic accounts of food collectors were rare until the second half of the twentieth century. It was usually assumed that these people led harsh and precarious lives and had to work hard to survive. This picture was demolished by Marshall Sahlins in a famous essay called The Original Affluent Society. Sahlins showed that most hunters and gatherers did not in fact work long hours at all, for example in comparison with agricultural peoples. They were able to ensure the food supply needed for the band by working on average no more than a few hours daily, leaving themselves abundant time for leisure activities. Sahlins did not claim that such people were wealthy in terms of a modern economist, who measures income in dollars per capita. The typical hunter gatherer band placed a premium on mobility and had no wish to accumulate items of property. If calorific needs could be met with ease in relatively secure environments, then from a 'Zen' point of view, argued Sahlins, such people were affluent; they were wealthy in relation to their low material wants.

- Christopher Hann
Social Anthropology

Monday, November 29, 2004

A royal repast

Dr. Eom Hie Yong who runs the Soo Ra Sang, a Korean restaurant in 6th block Koramangala, is as affable a lady as you'll ever meet. And a rather straight business woman. And her general awarenes, particularly about Chennai - a city where she did her doctorate in Sanskrit -, leaves you gaping.

The restaurant is decorated to give it a touch of Korea. The illumination is white & the walls are full of artifacts. Dr. Eom said that apart from the dining furniture, everything else is Korean. There is also a low barbeque table on a small platform for families to sit around & dine. One can also book a room, separated from the dining hall, for group parties.

The food is a trifle pricey. I could not find anything priced less than Rs. 250. And you cannot share it, like we normally do in other restaurants. It’s a bit like a Thali system. You place one order per head, & along with your order - served in a big wooden bowl & not china -, you get other dishes. We got fourteen of them. And though I could not identify too much more than brinjal & potato, each one of them was delicious. And the water is served chilled mixed with fried corn. I drank lots of it.

Though the majority of the dishes contain meat, the choice for vegetarians is ample. I cannot recollect an exact count but the last page of the menu is pure vegetarian stuff.

The food, in my opinion, is colourful and tasty. The sauce has a strong flavour, but the meal is not really spicy & did not leave me feeling heavy.

Dr. Eom, however, herself is a great reason for going to Soo. With her own Korean lilt, she pronounced Jayalalitha as 'cheap minister' of Tamilnadu. And as we mowed our wallets for cash, she said that we could always pay some other time, if we were running short. And she said a tally ho to Venkat in what he thought was flawless Tamil.

You can make a booking by calling at:

Landline: 5130 3435
Mobile: 98801 49611

Sunday

Books, portraits & an ashtray
on a bed that disowns
this afternoon of mediocrity.

Tuesday, November 23, 2004

The choice

When a number is expressed in scientific notation, the number of significant figures is the number of digits needed to express the number to within the uncertainty of measurement.

Say, we have eight thousand and two hundred.

Using scientific notation, this can be written as:

a) 8.2 x 10^3 - This representation has two significant digits. This means the number can be anything between 8200 and 8299.

b) 8.20 x 10^3 - This representation has three significant digits. This means the number can be anything between 8200 and 8209.

c) 8.200 x 10^3 - This representation has four significant digits. This means the number is exactly 8200.

Also in a mathematical operation, the result contains exactly the same number of significant digits as the operand with the least number of significant digits.

So, if you were to add up 2.3 and 4.62, you'd get 6.92. But really, the correct answer is 6.9.

Impossible, unlikely, improbable, possible, probable, likely, certain - Myriad summaries that we can choose from while we assess a prediction or a future, in general.

What's your significant pick?

Saturday, November 20, 2004

To die for - II

A, around twenty years of age, is in the defense. He is not very educated but his family makes ends meet because of the grants and concessions that the Indian army gives them. B, educated, lean & well off, is in there as well. His passion for flying has just taken wings. C had to jump in too. It’s in his blood.

And you could not keep D, E and F away. We do not know them well enough to know why. A liking for action perhaps, or is it patriotism, that brought them to the defense forces?

Thousands of people across the world accept death as an occupational hazard for reasons that exhaust the entire spectrum from dire necessity to whimsy.

Now X decides to murder Y. But the fear of capital punishment deters him.

That’s pure banana oil, you know.

Monday, November 08, 2004

Blasphemies

Music.

Pinnacle of human magnificence. A million ramifications. Seven notes.

The guitar of picturesque roads. The flutes of sirocco. The drums of Africa, the violins of our sorrow, the piano of our sacraments.

The fish do not understand all this.

And I do not think that they pray.

Or, need to.

Friday, November 05, 2004

Claritivity

Sachin Ramesh Tendulkar takes a step forward and times the swinging red leather ball through the open cover region for a scintillating boundary. He stands and nods. A million cheers go up. You stop yawning midway.

However, a certain S. Gavaskar may tell you that it was more about the precise length of the stride that took him closer to the ball, thus helping him to cover the swing; that his bat came down from an angle not wider than the first slip so that he presented the full face & the meat of his willow; that he met the ball right under his eyes; that the arc of his follow through was impeccable; that he was able to play that shot because the pitch offered even bounce; that he stood because he knew it was a fast outfield with the grass trimmed finely and that his heavy bat imparted enough momentum to carry the ball through.

Art or science, inspiration or method, dramatic awe or clinical routine?

Cover driving may perhaps never be considered an artistic expression outside the world of cricket enthusiasts, primarily male, but it can stir up emotions strong enough to manifest bodily as goose bumps, just like some of our finest poetry does.

Extending the analogy, therefore, was there a process behind our most melodious compositions, was the Monalisa painted with reasonable hues, and did Neruda think his poems out?

Thursday, November 04, 2004

How much will that be?

A lot has been written about the how the intellectual coterie of this country, among others, chooses to go away. It could be a small percentage compared to that of people who stay back, out of choice or otherwise; but its sizeable number, nevertheless. Various reasons contribute to this, not the least of which is the lure of opportunity. There is strong case for those who complain that their passions and drives cannot be fueled here, that it will be gross injustice to them personally & the vocations or sciences they pursue, should they stay back.

Frequently, opposition to such migration fights the case of nationalism, patriotism & the like. Needless to say, however, that there is no morally right behaviour that can be "taught" beyond a certain age, if it is not already perceived by the individual. And these "...isms" are innately divisive tactics used mostly by knaves who refuse to stand to reason and swallow the bitter pill of the legitimacy of the complaints of the migrants. And suddenly when a Kalpana Chawla climbs on the spaceship Columbia, its a matter of national pride.

I think I fancy a more economic approach to this matter.

The per capita government spend is not really a very difficult figure to arrive at. It can also be progressively adjusted for inflation to arrive at nice, fat figure as of current date. There are a few adjustments to be made for the public services in general versus special grants, for example to the IITs, which the government spends on. But all in all, it is possible to approximate a figure.

The bone of contention really is, to my mind, about the value of these services as opposed to the price. Paying the price back is a small matter compared to the potential earning a person will make abroad which is in direct correlation to the value of these government spends. An IIT graduate earning in India will generate more money for the country working here, not just in taxes paid but also in terms of businesses and investments such talents attract, than just the sum she has to pay the government back should she decide to go away.

We could look at the average earnings of people with similar backgrounds who have stayed back to get a feel of the value of such spending.

Once we have a price & a value, inflation adjusted, we can let those guys go.

Fair, do you think?

Friday, October 29, 2004

Going away!

Me goes on holiday.

Will write posts again next thursday, 4th November, onwards.

Thursday, October 28, 2004

The drift

And then the night, purple & jelly like, stirred. Do you remember the bats? Do the vultures return?

This world dissolving...limp happy bodies...the resonant strums...the droning calls of Satan...shadows that passed you by...silences that echoed...Pegasus...the stillness.

Do you remember marijuana?

Wednesday, October 27, 2004

The pill

SA, my roommate & close friend, has gone & twisted his neck. I asked him how did he manage it but he was not very sure. It could have been the game of badminton, but exactly what acrobatics on the court would potentially twist his neck like that, he did not know. It could have been the long hours he spends supine & otherwise on his kingsize bed, alone mind you, but then after twenty six years of proven expertise on the art of dormancy, that was unlikely too.

Whatever the reasons for this mysterious twist in the neck, he did not seem to like it a bit. He sat sadly watching the crocodiles on Animal Planet. He refused to play football. He started studying. All in all, he showed all signs of a man whom nature has dealt an unfair blow.

So he went and sought some professional advice. First, it was the barber. After giving him a really smart haircut, the barber, growing in confidence, held his head between his hands & said, "Nikaal doon kya?". Obviously, that would have been getting to the root of the problem; but for some reason, SA did not really seem very keen on the idea. I mean he is the kind of person who keeps his head under the most trying circumstance & this was but a trivial pain in the neck. So back he came with a just a massage, flashing his perfect set of thirty two, the massage having soothed him, for the time being.

However, the pain returned soon, the marsupials started jumping again on Animal planet, more refusal to kick the ball, & more serious contemplation on Business Communication. This time, he chose to see a doctor who, as most doctors do, gave him a pill.

This then, dear readers, was the moment of truth. With Neo-esque dilemma and a glassful of Bisleri, he looked all set to take the plunge; rather, plunge that pill down his throat. He proceeded to do so, shortly. With the pill just beyond his tonsils, just beyond recovery, it occurred to him that the pill, a muscle relaxing one, may not be able to figure out which muscle to relax!

A pain in the neck is bad enough. And roommates howling like a bunch of wild hyenas is not very comforting at eleven in the night. The last thing you want is a wrong muscle deciding to take it easy at the promising age of twenty six and a bit.

The wait was agonizing but SA was able to sleep through most of it. He woke up rather early, at nine in the morning. He bathed & pushed for office.

His limbs are fine, his eyeballs still doing the rounds, his jaws crunched away at the sandwich this morning.

I do not know if he will feel like playing football this evening, but I think I'll ask him.

Sunday, October 24, 2004

To die for...

The Encarta dictionary defines "Patriotism" as "Pride in or devotion to the country somebody was born in or is a citizen of".

Both pride and devotion are manifestations of our emotional selves and therefore, to be patriotic, we need to identify with the idea of a nation beyond the political boundaries that demarcate it. Myriad factors could contribute to this identification, but chief among these is, perhaps, a cultural commonality comprising language, religion and general ways of life which has stemmed from a shared historical memory. And very importantly, a measure of the strength of a culture is how absorptive it is of the inherent differences in it, in addition to being emphatic about its commonalities.

Two discerning aspects of this cultural commonality are that, for one, such a commonality is constantly in a state of flux, being redefined in a matter of decades; its underlying differences in continuous struggle with its commonality. Secondly, the strength of and belief in this commonality obscures a broad, rational, even humane, understanding of and respect for what lies outside. Both these factors are primarily responsible, at an emotional level beyond social, political and economic reasons, for the numerous wars that we have fought and for the fact that one country's terrorist is another's patriot and freedom fighter.

Historically, though not conceptually, patriotic fervour has claimed, and continues to claim, far too many lives.

I think that respect for and justice to human life should supersede patriotism.

It will also make history exams easier to pass.

Tuesday, October 19, 2004

The remembrance

You remember people many reasons; for leaving you isolated & drunk on lonely streets on a rainy day, for the absolutely inconsequential howdy mails they sent your way suddenly, for encroaching your hostel room for general orgies, for sharing their last cigarette with you in the middle of the night, for eyeing the same woman as you did, for letting you know what a incorrigible cocksucker you are, for their enthusiasm for a biriyani, for saying it with rotten eggs on your birthday.

You remember people for the way they made you feel.

Friday, October 15, 2004

The citizen

The four railway reservation counters at the Koramangala BDA complex were working to capacity. Mahalaya, demarcates the beginning of the festive season, & therefore the holiday season, here in India. There was a long queue of people waiting to get their tickets, some going home; others just going away. The serpentine waiting line terminated in four rows of chairs for the people to rest their tired legs & from there it was just going to the next chair & so on, until one reached one of the counters.

The final row almost always, without an exception, had its last chair, sometimes the last two, empty. The people who had already made it that far could not probably wait any longer & just ceased to keep on moving. They just wanted their chance at the counter. A lot of these people were formally attired, a few of them wore their jackets with the logo of the multinational company they worked for, & all of them seemed educated well enough to fill up reservations forms at the very least.

And yet, the fact that two empty chairs at the end of the last row of chairs simply meant two more pairs of tired legs awaiting a seat did not seem to strike a lot of us in that room.

Everyday, smart & intelligent executives do not take a few extra steps towards the ashtray to stub out their cigarettes in the smoking area of their swanky office buildings. Daily, at some shop, somebody barges past you to get his shopping done first.

Sometimes, I struggle to ask: "So, what is the country doing for us?"

Thursday, October 14, 2004

The friend

As everybody knows, I am going to Bilaspur this 30th to attend Atanu's wedding. I mean, it's only decent to show up, since we were in school together & while we may not have shared the same handkerchief to wipe our perennially running noses, he used to cycle more than five kilometers to play cricket with us on sunny afternoons. And those of you who have not experienced the world beyond the outer reaches of Bangalore have no idea what a Bilaspur summer is like. So if somebody cycled for five kilometers to play cricket with you on sunny afternoons, you draw your breath in sharply in raw admiration & show up for his marriage; even if it means that you have to go via Vishakhapatnam and that you do not have your favourite berth throughout the journey.

Wednesday, October 13, 2004

The secretary

Sir Humphrey: "Minister, I think there is something you perhaps ought to know."

Jim Hacker: "Yes Humphrey?"

Sir Humphrey: "The identity of the Official whose alleged responsibility for this hypothetical oversight has been the subject of recent discussion, is NOT shrouded in quite such impenetrable obscurity as certain previous disclosures may have led you to assume, but not to put too fine a point on it, the individual in question is, it may surprise you to learn, one whom you present interlocutor is in the habit of defining by means of the perpendicular pronoun."

Jim Hacker: "I beg your pardon?"

Sir Humphrey: "It was...I."

Tuesday, October 12, 2004

The prostitute

Recently, a news channel did a report on AIDS activists working towards spreading awareness among the sex workers in Sonagachhi, Calcutta. The coverage showed an activist talking to these ladies about HIV and the various aspects of preventing or minimizing the chances of the virus spreading. She also spoke of a quiz that will be held to gauge how much these ladies have understood the threats that AIDS poses. Funnily enough, she also went on to explain what 'quiz' meant describing the process in Baangla.

Following this, there were short interviews of a few of these ladies.

In general, the ladies spoke of various instances of their lives when they have had to dodge the onlooker a bit, so as not to arouse any suspicion.

However, what was striking about the narratives was the in-your-face honesty of the manner in which these stories they told. There was no pretence, no guilt whatsoever. Infact, most of them were told with a nice dash of humour & most of the women present laughed easily.

And I sit here in the air conditioned comforts of my office each day; struggling to strike a balance, rushing for covers.

Monday, October 11, 2004

The stills

Among the many insights, particularly into cinema, my close friend Vasant has given me, one has been about the separation of 'art' cinema from socio-political movie making, both of which, in common parlance, are categorized under parallel or art cinema. Without delving deep into the details of what are the traits that make up this separation, I should say that 'art' movies are just about aesthetic aspects of the world around us whereas socio-political movies are a commentary on various other panoramas of human behaviour and/or societal & political occurrences of our times. Socio-political movies, at certain level, have a message or an opinion, whereas 'art' cinema is an evocation of just our finer aesthetic side, more to do with the aspects of beauty and emotion than the faculties of values and reason.

About a week back, I started reading a book by Sergi Eisenstein by the name 'The film sense'. The first chapter is titled 'Word & Image' and essentially, to my mind, talks about this evocation, the trait that demarcates art cinema. This evocation is not limited just to cinema, per se, as Eisenstein himself points out. However, it is in the context of cinema that Eisenstein elaborates on this aspect of evocation.

We associate a theme with images. A clock is representative, for example, of time. So when we look at a clock, we do not see three arms circling about an axis; rather, we perceive time. Likewise, all that comprises memory are images; and the thought of a subject paints in our minds all of the images that we associate with that subject. And as human beings, a lot of these images, representative of a theme, are common to the memories of each one of us.

So as an art film maker, one's goal is to reproduce in the audience's mind, by juxtaposing images, the whole theme itself. Eisenstein goes a step further & says that not only the theme should be reached in the audience's mind but the path to this holistic realization of the theme should be relived by the audience, the way the artiste envisioned the theme by the means of her images. Therefore, its really an evocation, more of a journey than a mere destination.

A silent night. A sea drowned in its own vastness. Battleships silhouetted against starlight - These were images from Eisenstein's film "The battleship Potemkin". A perfect build up of anxiety; an illustration of a time fraught with fear and uncertainty, almost crawling; a shape of things to come.

The montage, whatever little I saw of it in "The battleship Potemkin", is potentially capable of rendering words useless. Its minimalist, breathtaking and true "art"!

Tuesday, October 05, 2004

The spark

I know nothing save things the birds have lost,
the sea I left behind, or my sister crying.
Why is the abundance of places?
Why does day lock with day?
Why the dark night swilling round in our mouths?
And why the dead?

: Excerpt from 'There is no forgetting' by Pablo Neruda

"Cogito, ergo sum" - I think, therefore, I am.

: Rene Descartes.

Creativity, for the sake of simplicity, could be defined as a coming together of hitherto unrelated truths to arrive at a new one.

To pick the simplest of examples, then, depicting bereavement (#1 truth) as falling leaves during autumn (#2 truth) is a poetic instance of creativity.

This new created form also need not be just be a manifestation of one aspect of the many traits of human behaviour. So a poem which stirs our emotions is just as creative an endeavour as Einstein's theory about frames of reference. Allowing for certain exceptions, a creative idea is not something you & I did not know or could not have arrived at ourselves; rather, it is something we did not think about in a certain way.

To my mind, there are at least two discernible factors that contribute, at the level of the individual, to creativity:

To connect hitherto unconnected truths, first of all, one needs to know the truths. An obvious extrapolation of this is a will to assimilate these truths. The more the channels of information, the more the propensity of utilizing this will to its potential. And in the world that we live in today, there is no dearth of these channels. So the limiting factor, in a lot of cases, is the will. We must realize that knowledge is an investment worth making and that it need not necessarily be connected to tangible, commercial gains in the short run. To nurture our creative selves, we must feed it knowledge, as extensive and as diverse as possible.

The second aspect of this matter is to arrive at the new truth using the gamut of truths one has assembled. Obviously, one does not know of a selection criteria which will guide us in choosing certain truths over others which, by our definition at the beginning of this post, will combine into a new creative truth. For the simplification of matters therefore,

Creativity = a particular permutation of the set of all truths known to an individual

How does one, then, arrive at this particular permutation?

To my mind, there are no definite answers to that question. Deviating from the topic for a moment, if we choose to look at the more limited domain of problem solving, we will realize that, in this case, we have an idea of what the left hand of the creativity equation looks like i.e. what is the solution or the 'creative truth' we wish to arrive at. Obviously, creativity, per se, is much broader an idea than problem solving. But if it is possible to channelize ones creative ideas toward a goal, however broad, it at least gives us a some kind of a workable space.

Secondly, the brain is at its thinking best at certain times. And these times are not one of anger, anxiety or tension, in general. Observing closer still, we can deduce what are really the 'creative times' for each one of us? Is it music, or relaxing walks, or wide open spaces that brings our brains to that optimal state for connecting diverse truths giving rise to a new one?

And ultimately, we need the creative attitude of curiosity, of seeking.

"Look upon the evening as the death of the day; and upon the morning as the birth of all things. Let every moment renew your vision. The wise man is he who constantly wonders afresh."

-Andre Gide

Also, creativity is an aspect of our lives each day. We assimilate and connect truths all the time, a lot of times without really knowing it. Pablo Neruda got a Nobel prize for being creative, but if you can make that child smile..... thats not bad at all!

Wednesday, September 29, 2004

Freedom and the democratic society - II

I really have not had a chance to read more existentialist works lately. But I can readily recall a couple of conversations in the recent past where I spoke of or alluded to existentialist attitudes. Ofcourse, I claim no certificates at all for my understanding of existentialism. At best, one could say that I have a very rudimentary feel for existentialism. However, the notion of choice that is available to us in this Godless world is one of the more intriguing aspects of existentialism. It is also reflective of freedom in the sense that we are free to choose what defines our 'own' truth.

As I wrote in my last post on the subject, the rule of law, the code of ethics, schools and value systems can, in a way, be thought of as constraints that push us towards the accepted and general good or right. But let us just imagine for a moment that there is a choice available. And imagine, too, a society replete with people who choose their right - and ofcourse they can choose their wrong too! -. Now choosing personal rights, as a general rule, need not be in complete contradiction to social rights.

So the essential difference between a society that chooses its rights & a society that follows its rights is that for the former that gamut of rights is a personal choice. And this therefore means that the chosen rights, patterns, ethics etc are already internalized. They are strongly believed in & acted upon, beyond any rule of law or fear of punishment can ever guarantee.

Passion, therefore, demarcates & underlines our choices.

Do we want to nurture a society, therefore, that nourishes our passions & encourages making choices? Or do we still want to play safe in the domesticated rule of law?

Tuesday, September 21, 2004

The team

The English play the Australians in the first semi final of the ICC championship this afternoon. English cricket has had a fair bit of revival in the past couple of months both at home and abroad. And the successes have not been limited to the shortened version of the game either. Two players have made immense contribution to this revival. Steve Harmison, the lanky right arm fast bowler, who blew away the West Indies in March in a breathtaking spell of pace bowling & Andrew Flintoff, ICC One Day Player of the year, 2004. If the English have to win the day, as my friend Yesh points out, these two must fire.

The Australians really could not care less. They can overcome individual brilliances, more often than not. Because, from the days of a certain Alan Border, Australia has been doing just that. Planning, practising and winning, as a team.

Time after time!

Friday, September 17, 2004

The instituted

One of the interesting developments in the recent years about acceptable social demeanour and speech has been the notion of being politically correct. This, as I understand it, is basically diluting an apparent truth or fact, or rephrase a certain opinion in an effort to not sound derogatory or hurt or demean any society, community or person. Now I appreciate that kind of concern. It is very humanitarian and asserts at a certain level the importance of kindness.

But its astounding as to how unthinkingly we subscribe to all apparent extrapolations of this idea. I do not see Why Jodie Foster would be offended if someone called her an actress, & not be offended if she was called an actor? I guess the idea here is that acting, like any other art form, should really be in no way related to the gender of the person. But what really is the problem we are solving? Is it derogatory in any way to be a woman in the acting profession & being addressed as one? Foster is not going to play "Spiderman", without solid doses of Marijuana. Is there a chance that the Oscars for lead actors & lead actresses will be merged into a best thespian award ever? When are we having the first black or even a female American president?

Kindness, in a way, is just an euphemism for political correctness. We are prone to be mean in our thoughts, beliefs and actions. We can sugarcoat our language as much as we like, but what we really need is not the commonality of accepted speech covering up our prejudices but rather an honest looking within ourselves and correct what is wrong, without giving a damn about political connotations!

Friday, September 10, 2004

Wisdom over nicotine

A friend of mine told me this over a cigarette this afternoon. He recently married & it is from this toil, I think, that such gems germinate.

"Marriage is like a well. If its shallow, you end up with a dull thud; any deeper, you drown!"

Wednesday, September 08, 2004

Books: Kazantzakis and the carpenter

"The Last Temptation" by Nikos Kazanzakis was a book I read about an year back. It is the story of Jesus Christ retold the way Kazantzakis saw it unfold. I had no previous knowledge of Christianity and apart from certain vague details, or facts perhaps is a better word, Christ himself was a God unknown, stapled to a cross in catholic churches.

It is hardly my place to critique "The Last Temptation", or for that matter comprehend to the fullest possible extent the message the book, specifically, & Christianity, in general, holds for us. Also, I must also document the fact that I was stirred gravely by the story as a whole and therefore, the faculties of fair appraisal were blurred in the process. What I am writing here are just the strongest messages in my own personal experience that the book has for its readership.

One of the most dramatic moments of the book, in my opinion, is a dialogue between Judas Iscariot and Jesus Christ. In this book, Jesus asks Judas to betray him so that he may be captured, crucified & finally resurrected in order to save mankind. It is in the blood of Christ that humanity will wash her sins and be salvaged and so Jesus must die. Judas refuses to betray. In an impassioned piece of conversation, Jesus convinces Judas that he, Judas, is chosen to betray him & live with sin of treachery on his soul for he is the stronger man of the two. Christ is weak and therefore has the relatively easy job of being crucified.

The Last Temptation tells us that those of us who are stronger, more capable, must be put to the sword for the rest do not have the heart for it & the sword, or the axe, is a test mankind must pass on the way to salvation. So the strongest live with a tortured conscience, the messiahs plan meticulously for crucifixion. And so each one of us who is blessed must in turn answer her calling for being inflicted. With great power, that of healing, comes greater responsibilities, that of the cross.

Jesus Christ, the son of God, was resurrected. Christ, the son of God, spoke in parables. Christ, the son of God, could heal and nourish. All these are divine powers & we cannot aspire for these. But Jesus, the weak, domonized, vulnerable son of a poor carpenter, took his first faltering steps towards his calling. Jesus, son of Joseph, denied the devils of flesh, soul & the heart one cold, hungry night in the desert. Fear, temptation, love, the warmth of safe domesticity, death & all the nuances that define our choices in this world were confronted and conquered. Jesus Christ, the ordinary human being, chose to be chosen. In the victory of Christ therefore, we win, you & I; we of this earth, are vindicated with him in our struggle against the many fears & pains. Christ of Nazareth was one of us, & he is a modern day superhero who saved the world!

Tuesday, September 07, 2004

Freedom and the democratic society

I read Dostoevsky's "Notes From Underground" on a train to Bangalore from Mysore, in the summer of 2001, trying, with considerable difficulty, to comprehend his disconcerting thoughts patterns and looking out for a refreshing cup of tea at the same time. I do not quite recall all the reflections he sparked in me. I remember, however, that I thought about the book a lot in the following days & spent my twilit walks around the serpentine Berlie street trying to connect and comprehend the substance of what he had to say.

One of ideas that appealed a lot to my mind, still adjusting and malleable at 23, was one about freedom. From what I remember now, Dostoevsky viewed freedom as a fully blown, all consuming choice. Freedom is not constrained to certain permissible choices in a rule of law. Freedom essentially is a constant and fluid choice between all possible rights and all possible wrongs. It is an exemption from all limiting factors including morality, ethics, discipline and other sundry social codes we are encouraged to follow.

I do not know yet if this is really a practicable idea. Infact, I am probably inclined to think that it is not. I agree that benefits of conformance are manifest in plentiful ways. It does protect us from grappling with myriad choices at a certain level; indeed, it ensures that we are in a synergistic relationship with all that is around us.

However, where I really agree Dostoevsky is that conforming is perhaps a trifle 'safe' choice a society can make.The compromise is really attitudinal. Its a tendency, really, to protect from all that can go wrong than nurture all that can be productive. This limiting philosophy dictates that we learn what is already known and accept what has already been 'understood'. Oftentimes, these barriers are crossed by individuals who differ from this limiting paradigm of choices, who have either unlearnt their lessons or never paid attention in the first place. And we owe a lot to these people for all that we have today. The point, however, is that we, as a society, do not encourage such behaviour. We do not encourage reinterpretation, en masse, in our schools. Dissent is voted out by the majority in our parliaments. We do not reexamine our truths.

Therefore, we wait for our messiahs to deliver. And until they come, we live caged & safe, exactly like everybody else around us!

What one really is...

"the consciousness of what one really is... is 'knowing thyself' as a product of the historical process to date which has deposited in you an infinity of traces, without leaving an inventory. "

- Antonio Gramsci

Monday, September 06, 2004

Sunday, August 15, 2004

Shanghai day I

As very few will ever admit, I am a man of many strengths. Writing travelogues is not one of them. So while you may expect that I am going shove in a lot of stuff in the way of introduction, building it up as it were, throw in a bit of history to spice things up & leave you gasping, finally, with precise, insightful observations, you are going to have none of it. Like everybody knows, I am very busy & I need to finish writing this blog before my next smoke which is due in about ten minutes time.

Shanghai is so un- Chinese. I am sure most of us think of China with certain kind of a faraway look in our eyes. Shanghai dazzles. Huge skyscrapers, shopping malls, big wide roads, regulated traffic, big signboards in English, wonderful variety of cuisine, discotheques, karaoke bars (which I am told are very popular) and lissom people walking or cycling around. Its humid & a few of the Chinese here drive the point home by making public appearances in their innerware. Quite a few can be seen with shirts completely unbuttoned.

The roads are flooded with Volkswagens. And ofcourse, the rest of them fancy things on wheels are either fakes of big automobile brands or just bicycles . A lot in Shanghai, & probably in most of China, is state owned & this includes electricity, telephony, transport & the like. However, there is no compromise in the quality of these offerings. I could swear if you were here & I told you you that this was some American city, & you did not know that I was as cursed a liar as you'll ever see, you'd have believed me.

I cannot get hang of Chinese here. So all these roads I traveled through do not stick in my mind. I tried a Chinese beer, Tsingtao (pronounced Ching tao), twice & bought a pack of Chinese smokes for a astronomical 57 RMBs. The smokes are called Chunghwa. They are nice & strongish. They smell sweet, if you decide to smell them.

Thats all for today. Me & friends watched the Hungarian F1 at a place called O'Malley's. Its an Irish pub & serves good caesar salad.

Tuesday, August 10, 2004

That one thing

You know with all this running around, & thinking deep thoughts, & staring at a future getting bleaker by the milisecond, & an exponential growth rate of ignorance, in general, all around us, & that stupid guy who honks too much, & people who are bleeding happy while you struggle to find clean socks, all you basically need to keep yourself from committing suicide is a nice omelette!

Thursday, July 29, 2004

Black Marigolds

Even now
If I see in my soul the citron-breasted fair one
Still gold-tinted, her face like our night stars,
Drawing unto her; her body beaten about with flame,
Wounded by the flaring spear of love,
My first of all by reason of her fresh years,
Then is my heart buried alive in snow.

Even now
If my girl with lotus eyes came to me again
Weary with the dear weight of young love,
Again I would give her to these starved twins of arms
And from her mouth drink down the heavy wine,
As a reeling pirate bee in fluttered ease
Steals up the honey from the nenuphar.

Even now
If I saw her lying all wide eyes
And with collyrium the indent of her cheek
Lengthened to the bright ear and her pale side
So suffering the fever of my distance,
Then would my love for her be ropes of flowers, and night
A black-haired lover on the breasts of day.

Even now
My eyes that hurry to see no more are painting, painting
Faces of my lost girl. O golden rings
That tap against cheeks of small magnolia-leaves,
O whitest so soft parchment where
My poor divorced lips have written excellent
Stanzas of kisses, and will write no more.

Even now
Death sends me the flickering of powdery lids
Over wild eyes and the pity of her slim body
All broken up with the weariness of joy;
The little red flowers of her breasts to be my comfort
Moving above scarves, and for my sorrow
Wet crimson lips that once I marked as mine.

Even now
They chatter her weakness through the two bazaars
Who was so strong to love me. And small men
That buy and sell for silver being slaves
Crinkles the fat about their eyes; and yet
No Prince of the Cities of the Sea has taken her,
Leading to his grim bed. Little lonely one,
You cling to me as a garment clings; my girl.

Even now
I love long black eyes that caress like silk,
Ever and ever sad and laughing eyes,
Whose lids make such sweet shadow when they close
It seems another beautiful look of hers.
I love a fresh mouth, ah, a scented mouth,
And curving hair, subtle as a smoke,
And light fingers, and laughter of green gems.

Even now
I remember that you made answer very softly,
We being one soul, your hand on my hair,
The burning memory rounding your near lips;
I have seen the preistesses of Rati make love at moon fall
And then in a carpeted hall with a bright gold lamp
Lie down carelessly anywhere to sleep.


Even now
I mind the coming and talking of wise men from towers
Where they had thought away their youth. And I, listening,
Found not the salt of the whispers of my girl,
Murmur of confused colours, as we lay near sleep;
Little wise words and little witty words,
Wanton as water, honied with eagerness.

Even now
I mind that I loved cypress and roses, clear,
The great blue mountains and the small grey hills,
The sounding of the sea. Upon a day
I saw strange eyes and hands like butterflies;
For me at morning larks flew from the thyme
And children came to bathe in little streams.

Even now
I know that I have savoured the hot taste of life
Lifting green cups and gold at the great feast.
Just for a small and a forgotten time
I have had full in my eyes from off my girl
The whitest pouring of eternal light ...

Quoted in 'Cannery Row' - John Steinbeck

Monday, July 19, 2004

Passion at the desk

A very interesting conversation I lately had was with Manoj. Manoj & self used to work together in the same organization till January, 2003. I have to admit that we did not socialize much then, & in the months to follow, apart from the usual pleasantries that we exchanged whenever we crossed each other. But the weekend before last, we were in Madras to attend a common friend's wedding and had an afternoon to ourselves with nothing better to do, or worse for that matter, than talk.

The conversation hovered around our own goals, both personal and professional. We discussed our weaknesses and prioritized them. And it is during this engaging session that Manoj pointed out, & I agreed almost immediately, that it is passion that one should look for while interviewing a prospective candidate.

Passion almost always guarantees quality work. It means that the employee is setting her own standards, pushing her own limits, that she sees her work as an extension of her persona.

But I think, that the picture is not all rosy. This drive sometimes is a positive handicap. It is unlikely that any organization constantly pushes a person. I am not talking about pressures in the office. Pressure, a lot of times, is just the volume of work to be done. This could act as a slow poison for driven individuals. Lots of regular work means that, for one, it gets boring and therefore it becmoes question of diligence. Add to that the lack of newer challenges and frustration could grow very fast.

So we sacrifice. And if we choose to sacrifice passion, we never had it in the first place. It is not a matter of choice; it is the only way. Passion remains a defining trait in our lives. It is what made a Jesus Christ.

Friday, July 09, 2004

Anticipation

This evanescing Friday evening
I cannot help smiling
at the thought of seeing you.

Thursday, July 08, 2004

Evasion

Why this need for cloaks?
these unsure strides, the fake smile,
Why this turning away
& locking of doors?

Tuesday, February 03, 2004

American societal nuance

It is easy for an outsider to come into a new land & wrap himself up with cynicism. And no doubt that such cynicism is frequently manifest in juicy conversations around the lifestyles of the locals.

It is however heartening to see the dignity of labour in the American society, be it limited to the middle and lower echelons of the social strata. Hard earned money makes a gentleman here, & it is very good to see that.