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.