Wednesday, December 20, 2006

The Lost Researcher

(The following article appeared in this month's Voices. In view of the fact that it may interest many more than just the regular readers of Voices, I am putting it up here. This one is a slightly extended version.)

Nearly four years back, I found this picture of a lost researcher, busy with his research,
unconcerned with the goings on around him, perhaps slightly lamentable. But on the
whole, I also found it the cutest feature of his. Over the last few years, with my coming to
know this chap better and better, I have learned to look at him in a very different light,
particularly, with reference to IISc. That lost look could also signify a callous creature
who remains doped in his own imaginary world, and has deliberately decided to keep his
eyes closed to many things around him, which need his attention. And the most
deplorable of all facts is that I myself am partly that lost researcher.
Remember Matrix? People living in a illusory world, while in reality, they are no more
than instruments, power sources. The real world is very different from what they think it
is. It depends on them, but not in the colourful ways that they think it does, but, in a very
wicked, cold, ruthless way.
Look around. Your lab, right? An altar of knowledge, a pathway to a world of scientific
glory. Is it the real world? Or merely a cocoon woven around us. Does it protect us from
something; or protects something else from us?
Most of us are blissfully unaware that a mammoth system exists and functions around
these tiny oases of our labs. The administrative system: the estate office, hostel office,
messes, finance section, student section, library, CSIC, not to mention the departmental
offices. I don't know where this list ends. All I know is that these are fat, populous units,
cumulatively far bigger than the student population. And shock of all shocks : they are
more powerful and more important than the student community. We might like to think
that they exist to facilitate the core activity of the institute – research. Quite contrary to
that, that's just a small fraction of what they might be involved in. A significant portion of
their existence is perhaps dedicated to itself.
A number of issues regularly appear like insignificant itches on the skin of the IISc
community, and tragically fail to infect us pachyderms. Things – I don't know who is
responsible for – but which we should be concerned about, because they concern us. Let
me pick some of them at random, which have bothered me rather seriously at some point
in time, but which I just forgot in time, without seeking out their answers:
· Why does food get over so early before the mess closing time in A-mess, always, year
after year?
· What happened to those 100 and odd sandal wood trees that were cut down some time
back. The outrage it caused seemed to be sufficient to warrant a detailed explanation,
didn't it?
· In the new hostel blocks, the method for preventing inmates from wasting hot water
was to simply remove the shower knobs. Is that the way PG students should be treated
in their daily lives?
· JN Tata Auditorium used to be regularly lent out to students for their cultural and
other activities. Now, it's awfully hard, if not impossible, for students to use it for their
purposes. The explanation: holding cultural programmes causes wear and tear to the
auditorium. There was a story being told that a huge sum of money was sanctioned a
couple of years ago for a complete renovation of SAC, or for building a new
auditorium for holding student functions. SAC's name has been changed alright. It's
difficult to estimate how much expenditure that would have caused. Where did all that
money go? Did it ever come?
· The IISc Music team Rhythmica, which has created unparalleled popularity for itself
in the last four and half years, is forced to perform in the cramped Satish Dhawan
auditorium every time. Every performance, the auditorium gets horrendously
overcrowded, and hundreds just return because of not even being able to gain entry, let
alone getting a seat. To top this, Rhythmica was refused permission to hire sound
system from outside for reasons never made clear. The sound system in SD auditorium
is of a seminar quality, not appropriate for playing music. The alternatives that have
been provided to Rhythmica has been an advice to perform in the Gymkhana Hall or
SAC, both of which have terrible acoustics. Why is it possible for anybody to treat the
team which has proved the most successful team effort ever to have happened in the
campus, like this? With a constant membership of nearly 40 highly talented artists,
many of whom have done exceptionally well in their research, with now nearly 25
highly successful performances to its credit, doesn't this team deserve to be treated
better, and provided more encouraging ambiance to function?
· There are many cases of students being refused their scholarships because they failed
to fill their scholarship forms in time. Explanation: Money has gone back to MHRD
and nothing can be done about it.
· The current thing about which everybody is talking in a disgruntled tone is the
collection of TV cable connections fees. Onus has been thrown upon the students to
collect money from their block inmates and pay up the cable connection rents. Due to
unsynchronised lifestyles of inmates, hostel representatives find it an uphill task to get
all money collected. Why do we have to pay extra for something like cable
connection? And even if we have to, why isn't there a process to deduct the money
from source along with the hostel fees? Explanation: cable connection is a luxury item.
In 2006, cable connection is considered a luxury in the residential hostels of the most
famous research institute of South Asia! We are indeed living in a third world country.
With the above small list of questions, which doesn't even represent the smallest fraction
of all questions of this nature that can be asked, I might already have ruffled up many
feathers by now. Before a big man (in some administrative position) decides to call me
and reprimand me on being so irresponsibly vocal in a public forum, let me provide this
simple disclaimer: I am not blaming anyone. Nor am I raising issues.
If there's anyone I am directly pointing fingers to, it's the students who never seem to
wonder what's going on around them. Being a student, I know well enough that thousands
and thousands of such questions are swarming in the heart of each of us. But I am
concerned that researchers who swear by their curious nature, don't even stop by such
questions which are screaming out at them on every pathway of their life. I am
disconcerted about the authenticity of the so called 'spirit of research' which concerns
itself only with esoteric theoretical questions which, at best, a group of white-collars will
briefly talk about in a conference taking place across the oceans; when such mundane –
but authentic – questions abound our everyday life.
There have been several instances where questioning students have been sent back by
various authorities – both academic and administrative – clearly indicating that
authorities don't consider themselves answerable to students beyond a point. How has it
come to this pass that anybody dares tell that to a student?
A massive administrative body, by its very nature, is power hungry. That's not bad in
itself. An ideal situation is when the powers are so evenly balanced that the distinction
between the authority and the subject vanishes. It's a delicate balance like those existing
in an ecosystem. Its presence results in symbiosis; its absence, in parasitism. The ill is not
in the authorities not deeming it important to answer our questions. The ill starts when
we, the subjects, deem it unimportant to ask questions; when we tire of keeping asking
until we are given satisfactory answers.
This disinterest to be aware of one's own environment is the ideal breeding ground for
corruption. Authorities who hog power aren't necessarily corrupt. But, large number of
parasites find their home under their auspices. Their interest is in keeping the subjects
divided and helpless; and in keeping the actual authorities sequestered and alienated from
the subjects, lest both come to identify the real symbiotic nature of their relation.
I don't know if such parasites are already thriving in our campus (OK, I am lying). But if
they do, then we have already lost our first line of defense to them. In IISc, there seems to
be no adherence to the practice of raising questions, and answering them transparently. In
this regard, IISc can't be likened to the general populace of the country. Resources are far
more, population is far less, and its citizens are infinitely more capable of handling
information. Keeping them in dark in such numerous issues can have no possible logical
explanation. Suppressing questions by humiliation and threats or by stern refusal to
answer them seems so out of place in IISc; but it's happening everyday here. That it
already has become the practice is a clear indicator of a social pestilence of corruption
having found its way into the veins of this allegedly elite campus.
Two appeals: One is to people sitting at positions of power that if they find themselves
organisedly separated from the students whose needs it's the prime need of their
departments to cater to, they can be sure that someone wants them to remain that way.
Why not pat a student who – like a good researcher – asks a good question? And try
answering it yourself? Chuck the red-tape!
My second appeal is again to the students. Let's come out of our self-image of the lost
researcher. If we are not in a position of grooming ourselves into an aware and smart
citizen well-connected to his environment, we can hardly hope to achieve anything
meaningful for our country and this society.
And I have no appeal and nothing to say to people who, either due to their vested interest
or ignorance, believe that no question needs be raised or answered.

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Calling a 'spade' a 'spade'

Quoting from one of my recent mails to a friend of mine:

there's never ever a 'spade' alone. Calling it a spade is a truth, but it's a partial one. It would be a fallacy to presume that truth can even be comprehended with our finite intellects, leave alone it's being expressed in our meagre vocabulary. I am no scholar, but I appreciate what a limited and dangerous blessing God has given us -- language. I understand that while it can communicate a lot less than what's there in our mind, it also carries with it a lot more than we are aware of -- presumptions, preoccupations, prejudices -- things which steal their way out of our minds through our speech while we intended to say something entirely different.

Thursday, November 30, 2006

Three Connecting Threads

I am an unbeliever. An agnostic. Perhaps.
And yet, like all creatures, I have the craving to see a wholeness -- a bigger picture, in cliched terms -- of everything. A reason why, I often wish there had been some mystical powers. I have no good reason to believe that there indeed are any such powers. But, I do seem to have seen the presence of divinity in very earthly things, events and pursuits. Things which are divine enough in themselves, but to a willing heart, they might be connecting threads to a much bigger, much more divine, entity. Here's a list of three.

I had once written two other blogs (Mystery and Curiosity and Addendum on Curiosity) on this. To repeat, curiosity makes the process of learning inherently meaningful. I am not in a position to comprehend what lies behind the instinct of curiosity. But nothing can or should lie between a curious mind and learning.

Appreciation of Beauty

I strongly feel that there's a chance that our abilities of experiencing joy through our senses might be a signal from a world beyond. The level to which we are capable of getting attracted to beauty defies biological or evolutionary explanation. Both the number of sources of sensical joy (food, sight, music, sex, sleep, ...), and extent to which we can experience joy through them both are simply astounding. And how our abilities to notice and savour beauty grows boundlessly with practice. Be it in music (beauty in sound), or spirituality (beauty of everything). Seems rather probable that a heightened state of refinement will release all the beauty hidden in everything. Perhaps, in that state we can be in a state of perpetual orgasm flooded with infinite joy from all the senses! Perhaps, that's what they call Nirvana. Perhaps, it's just a theoretical extrapolation of reality. Nonetheless, an attractive goal to pursue.

The magic of identifying oneself with things, people, concepts, places, ideas...has surely a lame biological explanation. But, looked really scientifically, it stands on its own as one of the strangest natural miracles. It gives a very clear indication that the boundary of the 'self' doesn't coincide with our body. It keeps growing (with love), shrinking (with hatred and selfishness). Sometimes, a hurt happening to someone -- however near or far, something -- however real or abstract, is more unacceptable than even the loss of life. Evolutionary explanations apart, I feel the process of loving anything is intertwined closely with the expansion and contraction of the field called 'self'. What happens when this love grows so big that the field covers everybody, everything? I am sure, this is that extrapolation of the experience of the earthly love we feel. Becoming one with everyone and everything. The yoga with the Bigger Soul. Again theoretical, but damn attractive as a concept.

An enlightened person may look at them as the manifestation of the same thing perhaps. I don't know. I am surely biased with the little bit of introductory reading I have done of Indian scriptures, and by my pardonable inclination in seeing them proving true. I am therefore open not to be believed. Please don't give the above any more importance than deserved by musings of an idle mind. They are mere thoughts, not visions. I am sure, spiritual visions are beyond mind (again I am speaking the same language).

But aren't these interesting, even as thoughts? :)

Related Blogs:
Mystery and Curiosity
Addendum on Curiosity
Creativity -- the Basic Instinct
Justifiability of Kindness

Monday, November 20, 2006


Please don't tell them 'there's nothing to suffer.' You know, often some of us are blessed with extra wisdom that helps us look beyond negativities, and makes pain non-existent for us. Some of us are often not so blessed. The wise ones shouldn't give a feeling that the pain the others feel is pointless. That might make some feel stupid over and above the pain. Wisdom is also like a material property. Some have it, some don't. The product of material wealth is comfort and luxury. The product of wisdom is joy and happiness. We should be humble in enjoying (and displaying) the fruits of our blessings.

Empathy is the word.

I know, I don't need to say anything more. You would surely know what I mean. :)

Friday, November 10, 2006

Good People, Good Experiences

I met some exceptionally nice people in all places. Here are some of them.

1. On October 28, when I came out of the Hongkong airport with intentions of meeting Shashank, and with some basic direction as to how to find my way to his place, I immediately realised that things weren't going to be so easy to reach to his place. I was supposed to catch a bus to a particular station. Thereafter, I was supposed to catch a train to the City Centre. From there, I was supposed to change train to reach the place close to Shashank's place. Quite a handful of complications for a newcomer to a place.

I met a lady -- quite cute -- , most probably an employee at the airport waiting for her bus at the nearby bus stop. I asked her how I could get to the MTR station. She expressed her ignorance and said that she would find out. Soon, there was a bus coming. She had a longish chat in Chinese with the bus driver. Finally, it was decided that this was the bus I was supposed to board. Immediately on getting into the bus, I started fumbling. There was no conductor as one would find in Indian buses. Instead, there was this machine which was printing out tickets for the passengers. I didn't have the required coins. I couldn't initially understand what the driver was saying even if he was saying something to me. In that moment of confusion, the lady I had just talked to re entered the bus, swiped her card at the printing machine, and disappeared into the street. The ticket for me got printed . The bus moved on. I couldn't even thank her for her favour. Later I observed that the ticket was worth 3.75 Hongkong Dollars.

Another good experience that stands out was when I was about to leave Auckland on my way back. The flight was at 12 midnight. The airport was quite far from where I was staying. I had travelled all over Auckland that day; and that had given me a bit of an overconfidence that I could get anywhere just by hopping into a bus. However, what I had failed to take note of was that the buses stopped plying on Sundays at 9 PM. By the time I finished my packing and reached the bus stop, I think might have just missed the last bus. I waited for about half an hour and started getting fidgety. I walked back to my hotel and started scurrying through the yellow pages looking for taxi agencies. I called up some numbers (which I could do only because one of the inmates in the hotel lent me her calling card, another instance of a good person). All of them were either unavailable or said that they would take at least an hour to touch me. Time to get really really nervous!

I simply came out into the deserted road and started walking towards the main road. Then I met this gentleman whom I simply caught and explained my problem. He said he was coming from the airport, and it was indeed quite late (over 10 PM) to catch a midnight flight. He then actually walked with me for nearly a kilometre, caught me a taxi, tucked me and my luggage into it and sent me off to airport. Again, I couldn't finish thanking the good gentleman before the taxi had sped ahead away from him.

The taxi driver happened to be Mr. Dhillon from Punjab. A smart young chap speaking nice English with foriegn accent. He soon found out that I was travelling to India. Then started a torrent of storytelling a pure rustic form of Hindi, foul language affectionately garnishing his descriptions. Among others, he gave a long lecture as to how easy it is to lay white girls. He was almost cursing me when he came to know that I had refused an offer of a drink from a beautiful french girl. It seems, he considered that as a straightforward expression of interest, and more advanced forms of socialising would soon follow. The other major chunk of his discourse was the revelation of his frustrations and of that of others in his position, who had left their country (India) attracted by the glitz and glamour, and found themselves trapped in it. In short, India wins hands-down as a place for settling down.

Mr. Dhillon continued his Indian mannerism when it came to settling the bill. 'Apko jitna thik lage de do saab.' He said. I took out fifty dollars, since that was the bill. He took only forty, shook hands, gave his card, assured me that he was in my service next time I visited Auckland, and went off.

Mr. Dhillon wasn't a particularly nice chap if looked at neutrally. But I couldn't have hoped for a nicer escort to the airport in that late hour in a foriegn land.

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Blogs from French Polynesia

Guess, this is not a place to document a travelogue. But I don't want to create another blog for that. And after all, no travelogue is ever written without its own of bit of philosophy.

So here it goes...

Friday, September 29, 2006

When I Die...

I will try hard to protect this blog from becoming one of those mushy-mushy philosophical blogs; and will try a bit not to sound gloomy either. Believe me, it's a very matter of factly, philosophical piece.

Thoughts about death often come to me when I go to bed everyday. As I put my head on the pillow, I think of death as going to sleep. And then, I often start enumerating the circumstances that could possibly surround my death, whenever it happens.

I rarely suffer from sleeplessness, thank Goodness. But when I do, it's mostly due to a raging emotion -- of unvented hatred, jealousy, unrequitted love, feelings of guilt, apprehensions of future...such negative thoughts. While there goes on a storm in my mind, I am totally aware of the fruitlessness of this wakefulness. I wish I had got some sleep, but it wouldn't come then.

Sometimes, the sleep doesn't come due to my gluttony. A heavy dinner with a perfect knowledge of the consequences. A heavy tummy, this time the storm happening there instead of in the head. And tossing around in the bed. Awful!

And then there are days that had some particularly good experience: a rare pat from the guide, an appreciative remark from a colleague or friend. A lusty look from an attractive girl (may be imagined!), a show of affection from a girl for whom, may be, I nurture a tiny little soft corner in my heart, mom calling up and saying she dreamed about me and was worried, a piece of code running perfectly, a theorem getting proved, an idea striking. A cartoon coming out the very way I had visualised it in my mind before making it. All these cause me to intentionally ward off the sleep for few moments more, just so that I could gloat a little longer about that nice experience.

Once in a while, there are these torturous nights when the thought of something I badly crave to do, but don't know how to, keep me waking for hours. Research, for the most number of times, and drawing is another. The few hours of deep slumber in the wee hours would be preceded and often followed by a painful half-wakeful state flashing images of unimplemented modules of an implementation, intuitive but unproved research propositions, beautiful paintings not made by me. Though, I would finally pass into a sleep giving up all hopes of making all those hallucinations a reality onto the next day, I would usually wake up too groggy and bleary eyed to be able to do anything useful.

On the other hand, there are these nights which follow a particularly productive day, when I come back with some more work to do, planning that I will finish the thinking work in the minutes that precede the sleep. Often that happens; often it gets aborted by the body and mind giving up to an overwhelming exhaustion.

But sweetest are those nights when I come back after an honest day's work, all tired and broken. No! Neiter necessarily having seen great successes that day, nor any tantalising look of desire for me in some beautiful eyes. It's just a day when I spent all my energy in doing something well-meaning and happy. Irrespective of how it fits into the grand design of my life; irrespective of how it adds value to the society. That would be a night with a complete realisation that all energy is now spent, everything has been done. And each drop of it was spent relishing an honest -- perhaps very modest -- act of fulfilment. A small program. A proof. A beautiful letter or blog. A nice sketch. A long chat with a bosom friend. The joy that I feel at that moment comes not from the value or meaningfulness of the experience. But from my honest, unbriddled involvement in it. I have no desire to experience it once more; nor any plans for the next day. Just plain, sweet exhaustion! I just make my bed, curl up under the bedsheet with a sweet smile of satisfaction and fulfilment, and am asleep even before that smile has gone.

I often wonder, how I would die.
Will death come after playing hide and seek with me, momentarily preventing me from departing from a body and mind filled with agony of hatred, jealousy and strife?
Or will it come after letting me writhe a few moments more in agony and remorse for having abused my body and mind with poisonous substances and thoughts.
Or will it approach me ambivalently while I hallucinate about what I could've, but didn't, do or achieve?
Or will it abort a joyous experience with its long expected arrival when I would just have had a glimpse of a long elusive achievement?
Or will it come suddenly one day even as I would be planning my next move?

Or -- oh how I wish it were this way! -- she would one day just take my broken body into her folds, after having allowed me to lead a life of humble fulfilment, when I know I have lived it enough and want no more of it; when I am at ease with whatever little love, wealth, health and fame I have earned; when I am at ease with myself, my littleness, my insignificance. When I am satisfied, not perhaps about what the life gave me, but certainly about how I dealt with her.

That's how I would wish to die one day! :)

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Selfishness Inside Out

There's a subtle difference between true selflessness and selfishness worn inside out.

There are lots of people who wear their selfishness inside out. I will give examples of two such varieties. That'll clarify.

One. Over nice people. People who always are eager to pay all bills, carry all loads, do all things, and give you public praises for things you haven't done. I feel these are people who subconsciously feed a deeply engrained feeling of superiority which makes them feel that charity is the best expression of love. Don't they understand that pride is one of deepest characteristics of all humans? Don't they understand that people wish to pay too, they too wish to carry their own loads, they too are noble enough to do a favour or service without truly expecting radio announcements being made about their greatness? Sometimes, I strongly see a link between this and certain forms of charity. Some people, absolutely self-centred, proud and immodest in their personal lives often indulge fiercely in activities of charity. I feel, such charity does more harm than good. An integral part of charity should be a modesty that only true love for the subject, and not mere condescending pity, can infuse in the acts of charity. I had read Tagore's novel Gora long time ago, and this very philosophy was central theme of the novel. Material charity comes from many sources. But to wash the offers of charity of the stains of false-pride requires a purity not available to many.

Two. Unharming people. People may want not to harm others for two reasons. The first kind, they truly feel others' pain and wouldn't like pain to befall anyone because it pains them as if the hurt were their own. These are authentic spiritually elevated people. They are rare. The second kind is those who don't want to be a reason for anyone's harm. The roots of this feeling lie in a deep rooted insecurity about being implicated for any crime, not in their real concern for someone's pain. These people would go out of their way to prevent themselves ever becoming the cause of someone's inconvenience. Sometimes, if you are at the other end, you will distinctly sense the extent of their inverted selfishness in that they will not appreciate that you too are capable of some good-naturedness and don't mind a bit of trouble for your friend. But they will avoid letting such situations come as if that'd give you some weapon of offense against them.

True selflessness doesn't make one more charitable. It makes one more harmonious with himself and others. Selflessness is the breaking of the walls between me, they and the whole universe. Selfishness is the drapery worn by the self to segregate it from other entities. Worn whichever way, it always accentuates the divides that our small minds have created.

This blog is an untidy vent to feelings that have arisen from recent personal experiences.

Related links:

Justifiability of Kindness

Friday, September 08, 2006

These Womenfolk!

Truly, I have felt that pang of envy for the womenfolk.

Mostly it arises from my having a strong admiration for the qualities they
have. One is beauty. Let me tell you that I am talking about 'sexual
attractiveness' before I start giving some lofty impression about the word
'beauty'. I feel that it's very easy for a woman to attract a man, and
destroy him completely. I have felt helpless several times in my life facing
some girl, to whom I have no reason to feel weak if one takes into
consideration the higher up qualities, but just because, somewhere deep down
I have a feeling of amour towards her physical beauty. Just because, all my amour propre has been blown to smithereens by her physical beauty.

A related feeling of envy is how proud they generally are about their body.
How they love pampering and decorating it. I remember an incident from my
childhood, when, in one of my cousins' wedding, all ladies of the house had
locked themselves up in a room and wouldn't let anybody know what they were
doing. It seems they were decking up for the function. I remember very well
how I had felt. It was envy, by all means. I couldn't stand it that they had
so much to make out of their getting ready for a function when I didn't know
anything more sophisticated to do than just putting on a new dress in the
name of preparing for a function! Later on, I came in touch with this
idea of making fun of ladies getting late due to elaborate makeup. But,
truly, I still look at their ability to do so, not with a sense of ridicule,
but with a pang of jealousy. :)

Another thing I envy them for is their natural comfort in matters of
emotions. The ease with which they can cry and let their heart out. I would
now be ready to pay in gold for each drop of tear that I would be graced
with in moments of extreme grief, when tears don't just come.

Also, the way they can just pick up a child and shower love on it. I have this strange thing that I like watching kids play at a distance. Often during this spectacle, I get this strong urge to pick them up, and pinch their chubby cheek, or make them sit on my shoulder and run around. But, more often than not, I stiffle that urge. I have this strange impression that kids are scared of my moustache! :( (Are you saying that I should get rid of that obnoxious thing?! Nonono! That won't do!) Women -- starting from a three year girl-kid to an eighty year old granny -- find it their core business to handle babies as if they were born for it (feminists, hold on! It's meant as an ode to the motherly instinct of women, and I would have been very proud to have been born with this instinct)!

Yet, I feel, the roots of all this envy lies in something good, i.e. my admiration for them! :)

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

A Physicist Experiments With Cultural Studies

Link to the article.

The author, a physicist, uses jargon from Science to write an article he submitted to a well-regarded journal of social-studies. The self-proclaimed crap got accepted. This not only raises serious questions on the real quality of the journal, but on the seriousness with which the top social-scientists are doing their job.

I personally am very empathetic towards social-scientific, philosophical or artistic studies, and find them essential alongside rigorously scienfic studies. But their subjects are inherently susceptible to clouded thoughts, and verbosity and sophistry. Protecting authentic intellect from getting mixed with utter farce is not just difficult in their cases, it's very very important!

Monday, August 07, 2006

Truly Good-Hearted People

People lacking in confidence will usually be low-key by choice. The lack of confidence could be due to many reasons. Say, current bad times in education, career or personal life. Such people would therefore invariably appear harmless to others. Often this harmlessness could be mistaken as their being 'good-natured.'

Give them some good times. Boost up their confidence. Make them feel some buoyancy of spirits. Then make a check on their good-naturedness. How quickly does one's success get into one's head? How fast do the nails of conceit start growing with the rise in confidence? Does the person succeed in maintaining the same modesty that he had during his 'bad' times?

I have come across more than one instance of people betraying clear changes the moment things changed with them.

I am reminded of the saying that the true character of a person is seen when he faces bad conditions. I feel it is equally true if put the other way round.

Ah! Finally a simple blog! :D the eyes of the beholder!

(From my letter to Pramod Singh, who's an aspiring photographer, regarding what I would like be subjects of my drawings)

Regarding the 'being busy' predicament. I feel, one should not feel too bad about it. Not because of any philosophical blah. But because of the simple reason that there are plenty of beautiful surprises waiting for us at every corner even in our mundane quarters. Everything is beautiful. Right now, I have sitting alone in a 20 seater lab. The tubelight over my head is glowing, casting beautiful shadows of my cell and wallet kept on my desk. If I had been a photographer like you, I wouldn't have waited to capture this! :) Right from my childhood, everyday life beauties have always enchanted me more than scenic beauties. Perhaps, that's one reason why I got drawn towards cartooning. In fact, while I keep fiddling with landscapes drawings for honing my water colouring skills, my final goal is to be able to capture every day events -- people quibbling in the marketplace, grandpa sitting on his rocking chair in the verandah sipping his coffee and reading the newspaper, a algae covered red brick wall with a dilapidated stair-case! Would be nice to capture such beauties! :)

Chal. Have a good day!

Thursday, July 27, 2006


I'm sure we all wonder how it feels to be amputated! Especially immediately after you lose one of your body parts. Leaving aside the physical pain, that is! And the psychological trauma associated with the realisation that you have lost a part of you forever. I know that's the main part of the whole thing. But still, apart from that...

I guess, we all have had a glimpse of it on many occasions. Remember the days when the Net is not working! You are working in full flow with an assumption that the paper you critically need to read today is available in IEEE-Xplore or ACM digital library. Or the word you must ascertain the meaning of can be found in Google. yahoo. What helplessness it is to see the mozilla rolling on and on in search of the page and never finding it!
What would life be without Internet?!

Email. I better not talk about it?!

This monday, when I arrived in Bangalore from home, for a full three hours, I was seized with this helpless feeling that I had left my cellphone at my friend's house in JP Nagar. I wanted find out with them if indeed that was the case. I inserted my hand into my pocket! Heck! That's the whole problem. I didn't have my cell. How could I use it to find if I had left it somewhat. How idiotic! And I didn't have his number either. The thought of having to do without the cell till evening, when I would have to drive across to the other end of the city to get that darned cell-phone of mine. God! So many messages! So many missed calls! Mom would call to find out if I had reached!

Almost three hours later, the twin beep of an SMS arriving told me that after all I hadn't left it at my friend's place. I fished it out from a pile of clothes on my travel bag!

Hasn't technology literally added these limbs to our body? They have all the characteristics. They are useful. Their presence soon gets taken for granted. And it's terribly crippling experience to lose them!

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Blogs from Home


Am back from my longest vacation in a long time. Of course, in spite of my little nephew, I got a lot of time to wonder and muse. Some scribbling was unavoidable.

Hence, the following four blogs:

Hope you will enjoy them!

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Poverty of Soul

I think my friends must have heard me saying many times over that poverty resides in the soul. It's not something that can be mitigated by merely removing material deficiencies. Material deficiencies are a mere symptom of a malady that resides much deeper within, as I mentioned, perhaps as deep as in the soul.

As I disembark from the train in Nagpur junction, proceed through the streets of this city, which is small by no means, yet not out of its age old slumber, as I move to the outskirts to reach my home, as I enter my house, meet my family, talk with the people of this so-called well-to-do locality, I am acutely conscious of a deeper variety of poverty that prevails here.

That kind of poverty is not so apparent in a hustly-bustly society of a city like Bangalore, atleast in the quarters that I deal with. However, there are other mutants of the same germ present there, more subtle, often more severe.

Do I carry a consistent definition of poverty in my mind? I don't know right now. Prof. Amartya Sen describes it quite scientifically in terms of deprivation. That's with the aim of objectifying the concept, so that it can at least be measured, if not mitigated. That mathematisation may not be helpful to spot poverty outright in the day to day life. Poverty, nevertheless, is quite a blatant thing, in spite of its subtlety. Let me see. Here I try to observe some aspects in which it appears, apart from plain deprivation of material wealth. Perhaps, this list will help discover the common traits among them all, that would elucidate that central essence of poverty.


There can't be a count of the number of ways in which ignorance manifests itself. Lack of access to information, possibilities...The very thought of trying to enumerate the various forms of it seems mind-boggling. A poor man would behave consistently in a manner that shows how he hasn't considered, or hasn't been able to consider, the job at hand in its entirety. I want you to interpret it as: 'Being cosistently unable to handle problems with sufficient initial analysis of the problem is an evidence of poverty.' For example, the silly strategic mistakes that a common man repeatedly makes in choosing a career for his child is not often due to lack of opportunities, but due to the lack of information and research about them. The first wrong step taken closes down tens of other more rewarding, albeit less conventional, ways of making a career. In families of our economic strata, there's such a strong emphasis upon going into engineering, medicine or science! A potential brilliant sportsman ends up being an ordinary clerk. Poor man's next generation inherits his poverty. Arts and commerce colleges are starved of good students, while engineering and medical colleges are mushrooming all around producing a horde of substandard technical education.
For example, right from my childhood, I had shown very strong artistic bent of mind. In my present station, I feel that it would have been quite reasonable for me to have been actively encouraged to pursue multiple streams of artistic activities, perhaps even at the expense of a scientific career (which I love no less than arts). Unfortunately, I haven't just remained bereft of any such formal initiation, but have a strange internal obstacle against initiating myself in such a thing. Last year, I felt an irrepressible urge to demystify the black art of water-colouring by joining some training. I made preliminary enquiries. In fact, I even landed up in the first class of one such institute. But, quite tragically found a good argument not to carry on with it. I haven't relinquished my lonesome, painful struggle to discover the secrets of water-colouring all by myself. But, I am well aware that it could have been much faster and easier. If it's not clear yet why this qualifies as an evidence of my poverty, I hope to make it clearer, when I sum up later in this essay.

Inability to Enjoy
This point is not entirely orthogonal to the previous. It refers to a person's inability to prevent a happy moment from turning morbid. The most natural method of enjoying a happy moment is to be just happy. However, we humans are particularly efficient in maligning moments of pure elation with morbid emotions. For example, an achievement may promptly be turned into an object of vanity, an interpretation that completely nullifies the purity of elation that an achievement can cause. Another morbid thought is the fear of losing the joy that's there in the present moment. Then, there are comparisons and jealousy. And sometimes a vain attempt to convert all experiences into a common measure of value, for instance, money. Stories of heroes rising from the dust into positions of power, and then turning into oppressive villains is not rare. It could be because our hero struggled hard to earn material objects of richness through his struggles, but couldn't flush out the morbidity that pervades his mind, a more profound aspect of his poverty. I have had first hand experiences in seeing opulence and starvation residing side by side in this regard. Often, judging in this manner, I have found myself qualifying as a famished creature.

The Strange Distinction between The Ordinary and The Extra-ordinary
A poor person will often not do good things things capable of directly hurling him out of the shackles of poverty simply because he thinks that it requires some kind of unnamed qualification even to try doing good things. A peasant having an innate way with words would hardly ever venture into compiling his nonchalant rhymes into a book of poems simply because he might maintain that "it's a poet's job to do poetry." An arts student will often consider computers with awe and terror as if being good with computers is a lineal right of a computer scientist. An Indian researcher will keep away from ever thinking about fundamental research problems simply because he thinks that had it been possible for him to crack any such problem, it would already have been solved in some lab in Europe or USA. Richness and good deeds result from each other. Somehow, a poor chap will be exceedingly clever in never acknowledging the dependence of the former on the latter. On the other hand, he will promptly use the other way round part of the dependence between these two things as a reason for clinging on to his poverty. Within the individual instances, all such acts of ignorances could be perfectly explained. However, in the perspective, their omnipresence is quite absurd!

I have no idea how one could provide an exhaustive list of myriad manifestations of the more subtle aspects of poverty. Though, I still am at a loss of proper words which could string the above points together, in my mind, I see a distinct similarity among them all. Let me go ahead with one lame attempt.

The condition of poverty is characterised not by its presence but by its persistence. Poverty sometimes seems such a very fickle thing that it can be extinguished with one positive thought, a positive motion of limbs, one act of giving up of an unreasonable morbidity. And yet poverty has it million weapons of defence. Material deprivation can be removed in many ways -- charity, reservations, looting, hardwork. But the poverty that sits in our souls speaks with each breath we take. It infects entire nations like an epidemic, and incapacitates generations by seeping into their very character. It enslaves a poor person in such a manner that you would often find him working hard just in order to perpetuate his own sufferings. A poor farmer is chained to his poor state not just by the rising debts, but often his own methods of life. A poor country would often not be plagued by starvation, disease and unemployment, but because of widespread corruption, inefficiency and general lack of civic character.

Perhaps, it may appear that I am artificially expanding the scope of the concept of poverty into areas which should be granted separate treatment. How does corruption qualify as a manifestation of poverty, it may be argued? After all, there are cases of corruption even in the richest of the nations. Well, one small reply to that is that richness of a nation is not characterised by the absense of poor people, but by their rareness. Moreover, it would again be repeating the mistake of ignoring the two-way relation between symptoms of richness and things which cause richness if we quote presence of corruption in rich nations as an indication that corruption isn't related to poverty. Corruption, or the lack of it, isn't just caused by the presence or absence of poverty. It signifies a variety of poverty, quite independent of material deprivation. If at all there's any relation between corruption and material deprivation, I think, corruption is more a cause of material deprivation than a result of it. I maintain that material deprivation is a very late stage symptom of the disease of poverty. Poverty shows and hides itself in many other forms which occur (can be detected and handled) at various earlier stages of the life-cycle of this disease in the social organism.

For a person suffering from lack of resources, it may be reasonable not to try breaking free in nine out of ten cases in interest of security and survival issues. It would be reasonable if he did try to break free even one out of ten cases. But the state of soul-poverty would stop him from giving even that one try prompting him to use the same probabilistic argument for the reasonableness of inactivity to this tenth case.

If each man were to realise that, once in a while, it's quite logical to give a really desperate attempt to break free; if he were to understand that failing in that attempt is no less disgraceful than submitting to the reign of poverty, poverty would indeed be so fickle as it may appear to a rich man. But alas! The falseness of the premiss of this statement is what makes poverty such a difficult disease to cure!

Sterile Quotations

Quotations are so powerless and futile. Especially if the listener doest believe in them. And more so, if the speaker doesn't believe in them. 'HONESTY IS THE BEST POLICY.' We all seem to know it. Most of us seem to equate the act of knowing about the existence of something with the actual knowledge of it. That's a fallacy. Merely being aware about a quotation just gives us a few extra words to decorate our speech or writing. Nothing more!

These deceptively simply worded quotations were originally uttered by extra-ordinary people at a moment of great inspiration that brew in relentless faith, convection and toil, and concentrates a monumental success. Extraordinary people keep coming and rediscovering the power and meaning of these quotations. Thus these quotations live on. All this while, they are spat at by ordinary mortals as simplistic, outdated and meaningless. Villains do worse. than ignoring their value. They bastardise those precious statements by uttering them as fodder of their hypocrisy resulting in many listeners losing faith in these quotations, as it eventually always gets clears that the person from whom they had learned it himself neither believed in nor followed those words.

Quotations aren't meaningless. They hide in their breast hundreds of success-stories. The reason why these quotations exist almost timelessly is due to the power of these successes; not because of the parroting of ordinary people like us.

The best thing to do is not to desensitise ourselves to quotations but to rediscovery their meaning in our day to day activities.

Lack of Originality

Among many of our age old Indian habits, which we stick to as strongly as we ridicule them, is that of stealing music.

Apparently, it all started in the seventies. RD Burman started giving a western flavour to our film music. He also used to lift pieces off western compositions. But they used to be from folk tunes or classical tunes. And his originality did show in the way he would facade his dishonesty with very creative pieces surrounding those stolen ones. But the less original contemporaries and successors of his followed his trend with less finnese, and soon started copy-pasting tunes from western block busters. In a country double-blinded due to export import licences and duties, this practice could get away with any degree of shameless copying. I have subsequently learned that many of the tunes I used to love in my childhood are direct copies of some western tunes. The practice hasn't quite abated in spite of a far greater transperancy in the recent years. Now many of us don't get fooled regarding the credit of a catchy tune, since foriegn music now has a fairly good access to the general body of music lovers in India. There have been some famous lawsuits regarding intellectual property rights resulting out of lifting music. The practice continues nevertheless.

In fact the practice of lifting music has extended to another dimension -- i.e. in the dimension of time. Remixes have started occupying a non-trivial share of the music market. They are merely remakes of the old film songs with usually a very crappy lead singer replacing the voices of flawless Lata or Rafi, and a hell lot of other voices (read 'noises') to hide the mistakes of the lead singer.

Even at this moment, there might be going on a plenty of original composition in the field of film music, but very few to reckon with, in terms of quality. And all that is clearly overwhelmed with a flood of much less original, catchier and noisier form of music that's produced and consumed at a far greater rate.

However, if you look a bit more closely, the practice of lifting tunes is not all that recent as we might be tempted to think.

In the early days of Indian film and popular music, it was a trend to lift rampantly from folk music and classical music. The film songs would closely follow the rules of Indian classical music to depict the emotional content. I am sure there was hardly a need for the film music composers to be awefully original in their work anywhere. Tunes of woe and glee, tunes of disappointment or determination, of love or hatred, of rain or desert, of devotion or eroticism, of friendship or romance. You name it, you have it all readymade in some or the other raga in the Indian classical music. Or you could even find very subtle depiction of moods in folk tunes. So much so, that you can trace the origin of some of the ragas in classical music back to some kind of folk songs. Even classical music has borrowed, if not lifted, ideas from elsewhere.

That was an age we look back at with some nostalgia, and term as 'the golden age' of Indian film music. Keeping that in mind, I wonder if lifting tunes is at all that bad. Had there been copyrights on folk tunes and ragas, and had there been a ruckus everytime a song critically followed one of them to convey its emotional content, what form of legacy of film music could we expect to have on this day? It could have forced us to be far more original than we have been. Perhaps, it would have brought in a trend of originality the lack of which the anonymity of the composers of classical and folk tunes has fostered in the very first few decades of Indian film music; and the lack of access to international music has fostered afterwards. Or quite to the contrary, it could have put too much pressure of creativity on the composers resulting in the death of Indian film music as a respectable form of modern Indian music. There's yet another point in support of this practice of lifting of music. Today, contemporary music in India is extremely rich. It's not surprising to notice the symbiotic coexistence of various forms of music in a single composition these days. In fact, 'fusion music' is quite fashionable these days, blending Indian and Western music quite seamlessly. No, I don't mean that fusion music is about lifting music from anywhere. What I mean to say is that what appears as a practice of stealing intellectual property by our composers may essentially be an evidence of our tradition of never copyrighting anything. Music has been in production for much longer than practices of recording it and selling it have been. Perhaps, liberalising the intellectual property rights issues has been one fantastic way of ensuring the perpetualisation of compositions which were good. Compare this with the Open Source revolution in software engineering. Indians seem to have invented open-source practices quite early on with reference to music. Great composers leave the stage pretty soon, while their compositions keep reverberating years afterwards. What's like stealing music when the original composer is still around, sounds like a tribute to the great artist when he is gone. More importantly, even if you are essentially piggybacking on someone else's creativity when he is gone and forgotten, he has no way to come after you and sue you! Notwithstanding the legal issues, there's surely an ethical difference between stealing someone's work, and paying tribute to him by playing it to others. Where does one draw a line? I am sure there are many ways of answering this question, and not one good way of doing that. I will close by drawing your attention to my thoughts about India's response to terrorism. Do you see the parallel? Similar to that context, even here in the context of music, we Indians are steady in practices which look distasteful and dishonourable in a restricted logical sense. And similar to that other context, we seem to be doing no worse than anybody else in the field of music. In fact, at least in music, India can boast of a richer legacy than elsewhere, and an international recognition which is fast growing.

This contradiction between a logically distasteful thing apparently yielding good long term results is a fairly interesting matter to think on!

Mumbai Blasts

After coming so close to an incident of terrorism last december in IISc, my sensitivity towards these events has surely
increased somewhat. Earlier, it was no better than callousness. Like millions others, I used to think that these are
events of some other world, which affects me no more than events happening in a movie. Now, things matter at least a bit
more than that.

Mumbai blasts this tuesday was again rather close. Three of my bosom friends, and many BE classmates are in Mumbai. I
called them up, messaged them, and did all that usual lot to ascertain their safety after the blast. If at all, my use of
the wireless network was one more contributer to the collapse of the communication network immediately after the incident!

...And one would again wonder why Indians are so quick in getting on with their lives after such incidents. IISc was back
in its usual laid back way within an hour of that shootout. The terrorist escaped. A professor died. Prof. Vijay Chandru
got hurt badly. And yet, we were sipping tea at tea board within an hour, within 50 yards of that place.

Mumbai too is back into its usual hustle bustle. There's hardly any sign of anything having happened.

On the other hand, we hear about the aggressive ways of Israel in recovering that one soldier who was abducted by the
palestineans. And the memories of Russia's response to the Chechen hostage drama about two years ago is still fresh in my
memory. They killed every single terrorist. In turn they lost more lives than they could have saved by kneeling down to
the demands of the kidnappers. There's that way of responding to terrorist threats. Super-aggressive ways which make it
an issue of national pride when terrorists try being aggressive. A good sign to make it clear that the government can be
as aggressive and cruel as the terrorists. So they shouldn't bank upon the pacifism of the normal public. Quite opposite
to India's ways. The whole nation doesn't fight back. Rather they take it as if it's a matter of disgrace that should be
hushed up as soon as possible.

A rather queer parallel pops up in my mind at this point. Incidents of sexual-harrassment are dealt with rather strictly
in other places. In India, there's a strong tendency to hush up the matters. As if the disgrace is more with the victim
than with the perpetrator. Nothing can justify this. Yet, as far as I am aware, events of sexual harrassment are not any
more common in India than elsewhere. I also am not confident that women in India are indeed looked down upon as inferior
to men, any more than anywhere else. And yet, that hushing up thing is unjustifiable.

Acts of terrorism are like molestation of a complete society. And to incidents of terrorist violence, India responds like
its women do to incidents of sexual harrassment. By pretending to ignore it, or at least by not creating a hue and cry
about it. It's not justifiable. There are parallels even in the consequences. India is not any more marred by terrorism
than any other more aggressive nation. Yes, if you count the number of lives lost in various terrorist incidents elsewhere,
it would come nowhere close to the eighty thousand lives lost merely in Kashmir in the last decade and a half. And yet
India moves on. India, so frigid that she doesn't as much as groan when she is being gangraped!! Like an inanimate
automaton, she just gets up and keeps walking.

Our long tradition of non-violence might prompt us to believe that this ugly act of ignoring the wounds and disgrace others
inflict on us stands as a great weapon of survival in the long run. It's true that a handful terrorists will reach
nowhere close to even creating an twitch in a massive body of one billion people by sounding a few crackers. Yet, a long
life earned out of cowardice? Is it the main reason of our civilisation having survived so many millenia? Is this
longetivity worth having? Will the bane of terrorism ever lift from our head? Will we lay ourselves down to be raped
everytime waiting for the day when our violator finally just gets sick of our frigidity and loses interest in us?

Is my writing an angry blog any proof that I too am not one of those frigid Indians?

Postscript: Just watched a documentary in Discovery which talked about the psychological phenomena involved in turning a
person into a human bomb. Some notes from that:
* They are normal humans. Not ferrocious born terrorists as we think.
* Many of them aren't even strongly religious. Some even booze and party. That's contrary to the usual belief that religion
has anything to do with becoming a human-bomb. For instance, there's no positive suggestion in either Quran or Bible
about suicide attacks.
* Such groups originate as small local groups of 4 to a dozen young people and later on merge into bigger and bigger
terrorist outfits.
* All these start in a feeling of strong friendship. Often this feeling becoming so strong that the other relations,
including blood relations, go weaker. Social sequestration happens.
* Mob psychology is strongly at work. The strengthening bonds of friendship finally give place to a strong urge to be
accepted in the fraternity, even if the life has to be laid down.
* Victims don't appear as human beings, but just targets. Bringing into mind that humans are going to be killed could be
disastrous for the execution of their plans.
* 85% of the members of Al-Queda are second generation emigrants. People whose parents had relocated out of their country
are subject to certain unique psychological developments which might prompt them into becoming human bombs.

Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Ask for Your 25p

In TMC canteen most things are priced some rupees twenty-five paise. And it's been my observation that the man in the counter invariably returns you 25p less for any purchase, even though he has got plenty of 25p coins in his drawer. I had been noticing it for some time. I asked him today. He silently returned me that 25p. I persisted. I politely asked him what happens to the 25p that they regularly don't return. Who takes it? He first tried to ignore me. I still persisted. He became very uncomfortable, and started fidgeting. I told him, very bad! And requested him to hike to prices.

Anyway, there's some corruption going on there. No good at all!
If you or any of your friends, visits TMC canteen, please make sure to ask back your 25p.

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Maintenance Overheads of Human Systems

This was yet another interesting part of the very interesting discussion that I had with Shipra and Piyush this Saturday afternoon.

The discussion started at a slightly comic note. I was asked how my water painting was going on. I said fine. Piyush said something about water paintings. I thought telling him a word or two about other intricacies would impress him favourably. Looks like it didn't. His reaction was that when you hear some technical jargon whose realism, utility, and hence necessity you are not convinced of.

He gave quite a eloquent voice to that impression of his, amounting to that humans are in the habit of creating complicated structures which form ecosystems within themselves which are self sustaining and very energy consuming. In most cases such social systems spend most of their resources in maintaining themselves. Some examples that came up to backup this point were:
  • Infosys/TCS/Wipro etc. build software solutions for financial firms which earn money out of investments by individuals related to Infosys/TCS/Wipro etc.
  • Bell-Labs uses routers sold by Cisco to build solutions which are useful to Cisco.
  • Researchers spend enormous resources to write papers most of which are never read by anybody. The best of them get appreciated by a very limited number of people.
  • Artists create art that's understood by less and less number of people as they become bigger and more famous.
Piyush was particularly of the opinion that these are overheads. The value consumers of any such things could be modelled as a pyramid with very steep sides which start growing flat only very close to the feet of the pyramid. I asked him if he wanted a pyramid which remains flat throughout (which, by the way, shows that I am a Bong researcher from IISc, Bangalore). He said that he wants a very high pyramid, and a linearly steep one. In fact, he was talking of a structure like a column: Whatever is up there, comes down to everyone (which shows that he's a PG from IIML).

Well, the scenario is factual. But, there's another way of looking at everything. And that's what my key argument was in that discussion. Humans have created a very strict crediting system that prevent intellectual despots from hailing people with whatever junk they conjure. A fairly large portion of the population is the consumer of ideas created by a very small number of people. The whole population is composed of a continuum of everything in between. But it's experimentally proved that ideas which change the face of the earth are hard to get. They come once in decades or even centuries (e.g. Newton's laws, DaVinci's perspectives, the number 'zero', The Turing machine). Then there are subsequent intellectual efforts that build upon these epoch making ideas. If the parent-child relations between ideas are drawn in a treelike structure, the shape will resemble that pyramid we were talking about -- very steep in the top, very flat towards the bottom.

This pyramid must stand. Its power of sustainance and growth gets generated at the apex, and has to trickle down. Each idea generated tries to maximise its reach.

If every idea were allowed to reach a wide audience, it would have been a phenomenally flat pyramid. However, due to small height, it would have been easy for non-authentic candidates to reach the top, may be for a short while. Good ideas would have got mingled in the sea of bad ideas. There would not be any way to tell the good from the bad. A high structure is indeed needed so that the ideas generated are well-uthenticated before they tricle down to the grassroot.

If it had taken the shape of cuboidal column, the top would still be crowded. A fertile mind would always be generating ideas. If there isn't created a sharp enough heirarchy at the top, again there would be race between ideas to maximise their impact.

The steep at top and flat at bottom social pyramid is essentially some kind of equilibrium structure that has been created. One thing to note is that every idea down under is a child of of some seminal idea high up. Hence, it's the manisfestation of that seminal idea in some sense. The fact that esoteric ideas at the top make it to the bottom is an ultimate evidence of their authenticity. There comes a point when the society accepts this and allows that work of intellect to affect its grassroots.

Hence, in summary, a high intellectual structure is essential to create a credit system that saves the society from being impacted by not-so-good ideas. Elements that can contribute to the vertical part of the pyramid are numbered. Hence, the fact that elite circles are also inaccessible to most is the result of the limitedness of the number of people capable of making it there.

Some amount of fraud is involved in this. Unworthy people are heard making comments about art that they don't understand. Greedy industrial houses have a strong influence in determining most of the research that happens. These are essential evils. Well! They exist, though they should not!

But the essential aspect of the high maintenance cost of all allegedly elicist social systems is its attempt to be credible enough before it reaches, and hence impacts the lives of, the general populace.

PS: All that's fine. But it's fun-tastic to mentally change the shape of this pyramid into many things -- a tall column, a flat slab, a cubical box, a tall/short cone, a 3D Gaussian etc -- and see what happens. Each will represent a realistic/hypothetical social/intellectual/economic heirarchy. Each will have its sociological impacts! Nice time pass unless you are too well-read about economics and sociology! :D

Monday, June 19, 2006

How Intelligent Are Humans?

I proposed the following model:

On the one hand, a species, if it is beastly enough, will follow simple natural laws. In case of crisis, the species will usually strive directly for survival, and in most cases it will survive.

On the other hand, as sophistication of the species grows, it will start turning away from the natural rules. An intelligent enough species will have enough predictive machinary with it so that it will be able to predict way before a crisis strikes. Therefore it will be prepared for a larger and larger set of crises. Its survival will be longer.

However, there's this gap between these two varieties. A species may be just intelligent enough to be able to defy natural rulings, but may not be intelligent enough to avoid the following:
  • By deviating from the natural rules, it brings on itself crises which grow at a rate faster than its ability to counter them. Finally the species gets annihilated by some demon of its own creation. For example, global warming and other environmental damages caused due to human development.
  • By not being able to predict enough and be prepared. Like aliens, natural disasters, epidemics etc.
  • By having intellectual features which aren't present in other less intelligent species, which eventually turn destructive. For instance, anger, hatred, jealousy, etc that men feel goes beyond the usual features of struggle for existence. Man is well capable of meeting death for something he feels his life stands for. If God forbid, it's associated with something very destructive, the species might wipe itself out in a moment of rage.
Next I suggested that perhaps human species lies in this gap. We might be intelligent enough to create technological dazzle, but might be too weak against our own failings like greed, corruption, terrorism, widespread poverty. Is it possible that there might be growing incipient cracks in the social structure which will eventually so alienate a big portion of the species from the other, that the resulting strife proves fatal to the species. I felt that this musing is more serious than those of science fiction writer. There does seem to be signs that we organisms may just decide to cease to exist when perhaps a simpler organism would try its best to live on and leave back one more generation to prevent extinction. Humans are capable of hating so much that they may decide to finish everything including themselves.

It was a very long discussion. Piyush and Shipra nicely contradicted me on this point. From what I got from their arguments, it's never the case that anybody turns completely suicidal. There's something that one tries to protect even while laying down one's own life. The species is the last thing that everybody would agree to sacrifice. In fact, if everything goes, even humans will behave exactly like other beasts and try their best to protect their progeny.

One interesting insight that Piyush provided was of backup social systems. No human being is a member of a single community. We all create associations with many groups. If one falls, we still belong to multiple others. Therefore, even if a system which seems to pervade our existence collapses, people will quickly fall back to their backup memberships. People always have people who are like them in some way or another. There's always a reason to cooperate. The society can never be neatly and completely get divided into two. These little communities create such intricate mesh of relations that nothing is a strong enough reason to be able to divide the society. The most stark examples of social divide are the world wars. But they reached nowhere close to collapse the social systems of humans. Humans were far far from becoming extinct as a result of the worst things they have done to themselves.

P and S argued that only external factors -- like alien attacks or natural calamities, or internal -- like epidemics -- provide any possible dangers of extinction to the species. Social elements, man's intellectual shortcomings, which might cause him to degrade his surrounding to the point of his own extinction without coming to know of it while he could do anything about it, aren't possibly ever going to wipe out the human race.

I couldn't disagree. But there wasn't of course, anything conclusively proved. We might still be nurturing germs of our extinction. And the danger that we might face from those germs would be because of the fact that we are unaware of their existence, and they might be breeding in the things we take the greatest pride in : our development, our high standards of living...

If such a metaphorical germ exists, then there's no way to know about it. But of course, then it becomes something like a ghost, or an alien. We can't disprove their existence. But that doesn't prove that it makes sense to be scared of them.

But it's a possibility. We should be wary.

Friday, June 16, 2006

A Note on The Notebook Drive

I got slightly involved in this year's notebook drive. But only slightly. I am perhaps not in a position to aggressively participate in social activities right now. But more importantly, I realised that the whole thing was not my type of stuff.

I became a member of 'IISc for Equality' orkut community. I sympathise with anti-reservation protests. I personally don't think that reservations do any good to the country. Hence, I joined the group. The other day, while I was sipping on my tumbler of milk near the mess, these people started gathering for one of their meetings. Quite nonchalantly, I joined them. I was quickly given some small responsibility. I realised that I was getting sucked into the thick of activities quicker than I was comfortable with. Perhaps, I chipped in at the wrong time -- when the activities of the group had already gained momentum; members were pretty excited, almost hyper. I didn't get a fair chance to refuse the little things I was being asked to do. However, my only reason for joining the meeting was coincidence and curiosity!

They are still busy in a very successful notebook drive. A commendable collection of nearly Rs. 80,000 has been done. More is coming. And there's additional contribution in the form of notebooks and other stationery. These will eventually go to the students of the nearby schools which are under-provided with facilities of teaching and learning. A very noble cause! And done with amazing effectiveness.

When during the meeting I came to know of their plans, my interest started getting somewhat kindled, and hence the lack of resistence to responsibilities.

However, in the night, another aspect came to light. 'Notebook Drive' is an event that has been going on in IISc for the last 5 or so consecutive years. It's fairly popular, has earned itself a name, and was already going to happen this year too. There weren't any fine prints to the movement. No political messages.

This time, however, the movement has been taken over by this 'IISc for Equality' people. The message of equality is being passed around along with the notebooks. The idea is: 'This is how you uplift the underprivileged. By providing them with their need for basic education. Not by reserving seats in the premier institutes.' I again nearly fully agree with this message.

I am therefore fully supportive of both 'IISc for Equality' and the 'Notebook Drive.' However, I wasn't comfortable with the idea of mixing them. ND has earned itself a brand name over the last several years. Especially because, noone could call it names in terms of its political leanings. This year, the scenario has got changed. Its effects will probably be felt even in the subsequent years.

I mentioned this issue to the leaders of the movement. They were quite logical in that this was more of a compromise solution, in preference to not doing anything at all or putting in divided efforts as two different teams. They had a point. I suggested that perhaps a better solution would have been to back the 'Notebook Drive' people as outside supporters. Another solution was to make the message of equality loud enough so noone felt cheated after contributing to it. I strongly felt that a person wishing to contribute to ND and not sympathising with IfE should neither be cheated into contributing to a cause he doesn't support, nor should he be prevented from contributing to ND. There's got created a sacrosanct aspect to the concept of ND. Mixing IfE is like violating that!

Unfortunately, these suggestions weren't listened to. I realised that there's some significant amount of game-playing involved here. Negotiations over control, over which message should be louder were going on; statements were being smuggled into the poster which passed IfE messages without letting ND people having a strong argument to oppose it due to its indirectness. I could also sense that there no more was any place for people raising any kind of doubts. I was listened to patiently only perhaps because I share good personal relations with them. But, I could see that their regards to my Devil's advocacy was also almost reaching its limit. The team, all due to its leaders, was all set for action. Time for doubts and arguments was assumed to be past.

Things are overall good. A noble cause is being served with great zeal that's not always seen in IISc. It's being done without too much noise. There's this glitch which made me uncomfortable. But I realise that it's not my business to term the whole thing wrong on that basis. I must say I still support them, although I still say that they should've kept away from the Notebook Drive. They could've actively supported it, and could've posteriori endorsed it. It was somewhat wrong taking control of an almost holy movement with political motives. The response created is a confused mix of people supporting the EfI and those for ND. If EfI claims that the collections denote how much support there is in IISc for their cause, it will be propagating a fallacy.

My stand was therefore to observe caution. I decided to be reactive. I was with them, but was not ready to take strong stands. I am sure, that earns me the status of a coward in the appraisal of the stalwarts of EfI, the way they have been functioning in the past couple of days. But voicing an opinion that's not mine is further from my nature than not voicing my opinion at all.

This episode is a proof of how good things sometimes have to be done with non-ideal methods. I appreciate the EfI/ND people for being active. Their status in this whole game is above mine who is judging the sides sitting in his armchair. This blog is with all due regards to their spirits.

Thursday, June 15, 2006

Nice Guys Finish Last!

Topics raise their heads. I reject them if they are cliched. I write them up if they are close to heart. This topic is cliched. Yet, it's too close to heart. And sooner or later I would finally write on it, repeatedly.

Today this wonderful blog motivated me to add my words to it.
(Female readers, in most part, would find the whole thing meaningful from their point of view if they invert the genders in all places in what follows)
Lots of us are unhappy for our singlehood. The loneliness is authentic component of this unhappiness. And there are additional components. Having a girlfriend is the best enough testimony that you have those 'things' in you which a girl likes. It means, you definitely have some attractive components in you. Once that's done, you don't really need to figure out what they are. Having had a girl does irreversible good things to the confidence which then bootstrap the personality in some magical way. Having had an affair, and having broken up, is also better than never having had an affair. Breaking up is a misfortune, an accident. Never having had an affair is a failure.

That's the general line of thought. For most of us, this 'failure' aspect seems far more dominating than the 'loneliness' aspect and contributes majorly to that unhappiness.

Well. I have had my share of woes regarding this matter. As many many other nice guys, I have never had an affair. It hurls me into an abysmal darkness of self-doubts. The summary of all those doubts is: Am I so unattractive that in three decades, not a single soul found me attractive enough to want to make me her own?

One of the instances of the success in brooding away my sorrows is this issue. Brooding hard on this matter has indeed opened up many aspects, which would otherwise have required first hand experience. Clarity has removed some confusions. It's far more peaceful now than it was some years ago. I provide the jist of my self-argumentations on this matter.

1) There might be some relation between one's quality with one's chances of getting a partner. But I feel the correlation is pretty weak. Here, the term 'quality' subsumes everything that can be objectively judged as a good thing to have: nice appearance, intelligence, character, wealth,...
I feel the things which trigger attraction in the opposite sex are either fairly shallow and random, or are far too deeply biological. It might involve some deep rooted calculations regarding the sexual appropriateness as partner. This is evident in the difference in the people's choice of a partner. There's not a single set of qualities which can be marked as sure bet as attractive qualities. In a simpler species, it can be said that a female looks for evidence of masculine powers in men. In humans, it doesn't work. Tastes take a 180 degree phase shift with changing fashions. Many film heroes of past decades who would have young girls swooning about them would be intigating laughter amongs girls of the new generation.

In short, I find that trying to reason about what makes someone attractive to the other sex in terms of things like physique, intelligence, characters and any denomination of power will always prove rather superfluous. Mostly attraction -- not just the first sight one, but the one that sustains longer and has lasting emotional impact -- happens due to unaccountable reasons. These reasons are neither provably shallow and sexual, nor logical and calculable, nor mystical or spiritual.

So, as far as the issue of being qualifiably attractive is concerned, perhaps all of us have some qualities which someone or the other would find very attractive. Which are these qualities? Well, nobody knows. And it depends. If there had been a clear cut answer, the league of royal stags wouldn't have been so big as it is.

2) Of course, this argumentation doesn't bring in a great deal of peace. The next one does.

We are like particles in that cuboidal box -- the one we had been taught about in our lesson of kinetic theory of gases. High energy particles collide more. Low energy particles collide less.

There mayn't be a question of being good or bad (in attractiveness terms) in any universal scale. But there's surely a question of appropriateness of pairing. A good pair of mates requires certain compatibility. It's not the qualities of a person that make him appropriate or inappropriate for pair formation. It's the reactivity between two characters which decides that. Simply put, not all guys can make pair bondings with all girls.

Now, there are guys who are comparable to high energy particle, and guys comparable to low energy ones. Same is the case with girls. Here 'high energy' and 'low energy' don't carry any positive or negative connotation. Some people are active, extrovert, restless, in the move; while some are quiet, peaceful, introvert and sedate. The former class is 'high energy'; the latter, 'low energy'.

Barring some exceptions, it can be said that high energy guys would pair well with high energy girls. Low energy guys would pair well with low energy girls. But due to their very nature, the high energy men and women will check each other out with a higher likelihood as compared to the low energy ones.

A nice guy is not unattractive. He's just low energy. He is less likely to express his emotions and take chances. More likely than not he will create ripples in the heart of a girl of his kind. They in turn are equally less likely than more aggressive damsels to give voice to their feelings. Nice guys, therefore, are quite scientifically less likely to hit it off with an appropriate partner than the more aggressive guys by some kind of square-law.

This unlikeliness and these barriers of shyness also make the first contacts -- if and when they happen -- more intensely emotional. The passion may still remain hidden but they are there. There's a possibility that such people have a way of experiencing love in a way which is inaccessible to the more experimenting creatures. This might also be a kind of protection mechanism for those more sensitive at heart.

3) Yet, it's unfortunate! Here comes to rescue the third argument which might sound somewhat fatalistic, but is sound nevertheless.

A nice guy is a nice person. He mayn't be a nice mate. A human being is just not a biological species. Biology may have its deep definitions of fitness which keep working on us all the time with invincible force. But human beings have created their own definitions which differ from the biological ones. These definitions can't be marked as shallower in an overall sense of the word.

A nice guy may indeed be the loser, an unfit species, in some deep biological sense which might be real, but very inexplicable. He is a winner in terms which are more logical and explicable. Noone has been able to define what that biological fitness means in 100% accurate sense for human race. So, gropping for it is quite unnatural for a nice guy to do. One of the defining aspects of his niceness is his logical and balanced nature. It doesn't suit him to grop around in identity crisis. Rather, it's not in his nature to do it that way. If he tries, he'll make a fool of himself with great odds. Accepting the misfortune associated with being a low energy particle makes much more sense.

Well, again that may sound like quiting the race. But, for a nice guy, the race is merely a nightmare which lasts some moments of naturally unavoidable insecurity. In other times, he's not necessarily in the race of finding a mate. Therefore, he mayn't end up finding one. Again, since biological bases have the advantage of sounding 'natural'; since most of crowd who have paired up already are 'high energy', which means that they would usually be the more visible ones, the feeling of losing out may become quite imposing. But a louder statement mayn't necessarily be true.

A nice guy is a loser in a race which has a larger fan following. Hence, his loss gets more media coverage. This hype may even pursuade him to spiral into self-loathing. But, there're races where he's making great strides. Not many are looking. Not many care. But some do.

Those who care are like us nice guys. Sitting quietly and doing nothing more than reasoning about their loneliness. This will hardly ever make good a real contact. Sigh! But they are there. They must be there. :)

Thursday, June 08, 2006

Steve Jobs' Commencement Lecture at Stanford

Listened to Steve Jobs' lecture at Stanford just now. Had read it earlier. But listening and seeing makes a different kind of impact.

And a while ago I was musing about people, their talents, and what they end up becoming.

I have realised over the the years that most of us are endowed with nearly equal amount of intelligence and muscle power in the beginning. OK, not exactly the same, but almost all those gifts considered, the things nearly balance out for most of us. Yet, most of us end up doing well in our lives in varying degrees, and in a variety of ways. The thing that causes that is the motivation. Motivation is like most other god given talents.

If I run and sprint, my leg muscles will grow stronger. If I lift weights, my arms and shoulders will build. If I keep singing, my voice will grow. If I solve lots of puzzles, my analytical skills will improve. Almost all talents grow sharper with practice. In fact, it's only practice that brings in the difference between 'just talented' and a brilliant person. Practise enough, and one can do anything.

But unlike what impression this statement gives, practising is not so much a matter of chance as it looks. Whether we end up practising hard on any of our god-given qualities is determined by another more fundamental god-given qualities. Motivation.

And sharpening this talent, enjoying higher levels of motivations on the average is usually quite hard to achieve. It requires other things. Bringing up, culture, triggering circumstances (like something very tragic or something really happy) and perhaps good genes.

How does one, with whatever initial conditions he has been born with, increase his motivation to live a fuller life?
Well! Will tell you when I find it!

Friday, June 02, 2006


Tolstoy's stories make us look closer at ourselves. He knows and represents us better than we know ourselves. Each trepidation, each tribulation of the mind is exposed so vividly that we just can gape at the eventfulness of this little mind of ours. And yet, he creates this illusion of innocence as if he is just an observer and has no thoughts of his own. He just describes, without mentioning any opinion, any bias -- just description. But that description will be so excruciatingly clear that if you survive it, you can't but come away with a sea of thoughts, confusions, confessions, resolutions and revelations.

Tolstoy is God!

(Perhaps, it's a bias of an Indian, but I have found Premchand a master of comparable calibre as far as psychological vividness of description is concerned.)

Thursday, May 25, 2006

My friends,
My letter to you in the morning, and the adjoining thoughts, have been churning in my head. There was one old bookmarked link I had grazed through once, and had refused to think over again, in a more optimistic mood. Today, I was drawn to re-read it, and think a bit on it.,,1746948,00.html

No! Don't listen to Ayn Rand. There's still hope. We can bring up a new
generation that manufactures love and harmony at the same rate as they
manufacture money. We can't change the corrupt politicians. But we can
change their kids who can be gradually shown the falseness of the maxim
that one can't prosper (live) without dishonesty.

And don't think Adam Smith's postulates work in India too. Our
becoming rich doesn't ensure the nation's wealth.
It needs us to accept that there's something bigger than our individual
prosperity which needs a conscious design and intellectual and emotional
inputs. We can do something. We must!

We can change the world. Come back, you all! :) Love,

Ritesh Toshniwal wrote:
Dear Sujit,
> Rightly said that we can't do a Rang De Basanti - kill the politicians and
> end the apathy. But we can definitely instill these values in our kids -
> values that are progressive, that don't recognize casteism etc.
> I didn't quite follow your argument about economic prosperity though - our
> becoming rich doesn't ensure nation's wealth. Are you asking every person to
> rise over money matters and see the problem from a high level view - give up
> materialistic views and accept the spiritual or more wise views of humans
> loving humans? Or are you saying that capitalist approach is not good for
> India and it wouldn't benefit India in the long run? Why do you think that
> way? That will be interesting to hear.
> Junta,
> What do you think of the current situation in India? How do you see it?
> Hoping to see some intellectually stimulating thoughts from the thinking
> gurus of our group! :)
> Take care.
> Cheers,
> Ritesh

Hi Ritesh,

I feel this group does well in keeping us informed of each other --
who's moving to which part of the world, who's getting married and who's
not, who's getting kids, who's switching jobs etc. I am thankful to this
egroup for that. But what's been lacking is a visible sign of the fact
that each one of us is an engineering graduate, stationed advantageously
in profession and society in general. I feel, we all are doing
reasonably well in our lives. We are in a position to build and share
with each other our views about other greater, less trivial things.
Other guys! Please be vocal. Bash me up if I sound offending (though the
fact that I have been generously allowed to be a part of this group
indicates that a bit of frankness won't be taken as an offense. And
after all why do you have scientists? To ruffle up a few feathers, na!).
But do voice your opinions, abashedly.

Having said that, I thank you Ritesh a hundred times for responding. I
was thinking that my two letters would be lost after causing some
momentary disquiet. I am hopeful that some good and wise thoughts will
be exchanged on this matter in this group.

By putting forth your questions, you encourage me to be a bit more
explicit about my opinion. :)

You got it right! I do think that our becoming rich doesn't ensure
nation's wealth. Am I asking every person to rise over money matters and
see the problem from a high level view - give up materialistic views and
accept the spiritual or more wise views of humans loving humans? No! Not
every person. Yes, perhaps I am asking you to do that, and Nachiket, and
Shruti, and Raji, and Shailesh, and RiteshP and Suyog and Suvarna ...
and all my friends in this group. Most importantly, I have always been
asking 'ME' to do that! I am asking only those whom I love and feel I
have a right upon; I am asking only those, who, I feel, have the
capability of giving it a serious thought.

I don't think there's a possibility of an equally rich society in any
foreseeable future. Differences will be there. Those differences will
generally be respected if it's provable that they arise out of
differences in merit. There'll be aberrations: Criminal elements who
don't respect these variances and attempt to violate the equilibrium.
But in such a society which has variances closely commensurate with
merit, such elements will be rare and few, and can be handled by
symptomatic methods: force, appeasement, rehabilitation.

The whole issue of reservations is such a rage because of one single
reason : the status of merit as the singlemost determining factor of
one's place in society. Reservations are institutionalising the idea of
status being matter of chance, being decided by a vote-hungry corrupt
government for its potential vote-bank. The general faith in the
proportionality of status to merit is going to disappear after this.
Every chap who loses his faith will be a potential criminal. And
tragically, there will be a very big overlap between this set of
potential criminals, and set of the most meritorious and potent members
of the society.

But if variances are created by chance happenings -- lotteries,
robberies, discovery of oil-reserves by a tiny few, sudden focus of the
developed world on the cheap intellectual labour in the country --
riches do suddenly start flowing into the society, but, it doesn't
trickle through in a healthy manner.

Similar to a starving chap suddenly hailed with endless source of food.
He will eat and not exercise. He will grow fat and unhealthy.

I feel, in some sense, we all are cells in the body of our national
society. This body, off late, has suddenly started eating more. Some of
us are at points in the body which have the advantage of getting the
lion's share of this extra intake. It's not our fault. But mind you,
it's not fully our merit too. It's a chance happening. If it continues
happening for too long, soon starving organs will stop cooperating.
Noone will have an argument against this lack of faith in them. The
differences should be provably commensurate to merit. If they aren't, we
can't expect conformance from the disadvantaged ones.

But unlike cells of the body, we are intelligent creatures who have the
capability to be aware of this obesity and its consequences. The
individual cells, whether starving or overfed, will last only as long as
the body is alive. We can't ignore the fact that the whole body must
consciously get up and work out for staying fit. If this working out
hasn't been in the regular schedule of this body, it has to be inducted
consciously. It just won't happen by itself. Helpless cells are in no
position to make that happen to the body. But human members of the
society do possess the power to start that process in their society.

The objective of drawing the parallel between the society and the body
was to hint at the fact that riches don't have an inherent property of
getting distributed in the social body so as to cause an increase in the
overall health. Increase in overall consumption will not just not mean
an increase in health, it may even prove detrimental, if healthy methods
of disseminating that extra intake aren't consciously devised by the
responsible members of the society

Unlike brain cells, which never accumulate fat, the brain cells of the
society consider it their right to accumulate and grow obese.

Now, who are the brains of the society? If we claim that it's we,
then we also must relinquish our rights to grow obese, to accumulate. Am
I talking about renunciation? Am I talking about spiritual
enlightenment? I don't know! But in this social body, every cell has a
choice to take up a role. But definitely I am saying this: Every one
doesn't need to be a neuron; once someone selects that role for himself,
a lot of onus comes in.

Perhaps the comparison is simplistic. But it does give us many
directions to think in. There're similarities as well as differences. We
need to carefully examine them and be wiser.

I will dare answer your question on my views about 'capitalism' if I
see that this discussion is indeed evoking interest in everybody in the
group. Otherwise, as they say in all angreji talks 'May be, we will take
it off-line!' ;)

In short, my arguments will sound similar to the above. But will be
more directed towards economy and India.

Cheers and love, :)