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


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



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


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?