Friday, December 28, 2012

2012 Balance Sheet

2012 Balance Sheet

  1. Got a job which almost completely matches my notions of intellectual freedom.
  2. Learned swimming. Breast stroke and front crawl (free style).
  3. Started using public transport as a daily commute
  4. Shilpi started her PhD, something she always wanted to do.
  5. Shifted to Electronic City and like it a lot here. It has the useful Bangalore to its north, and the wilderness that I love to its south.
  6. Didn't travel by air at all.
  7. Books read: Fountainhead (Ayn Rand)Pursuasion (Jane Austen), one Dale Carnegie (why not?), Return of the Native (Thomas Hardy).
  8. Currently reading: Cousin Bette (Balzac), Thoughts on Education (Vinoba Bhave).
  9. Learned a bit about functional programming. Read a few chapters of SICP. Am continuing with it. A very engaging book.
  10. Got rid of my pining for research and publication. Now I am partly comfortable with the idea that certain things happen at their own pace, and needn't be considered the only parameter for one's self-judgement.
  11. Got back to Electrical Engineering after 15 years. Was pleasantly surprised to find that I haven't lost much of the touch.
  12. Taught a class of students for the first time. I feel more confident that I am a good teacher.
  13. Met with many old friends and acquaintances.

  1. Started living very far from office. More than 4 hours daily office commute.
  2. Started living a routine devoid of any fitness activity.
  3. Gained my lost 3 kgs. Am back on on 73. I don't feel too fit too.
  4. My touch with drawing plummeted. I almost feel lost in my endeavours to become a water colourist. But for the fact that there's no such thing called giving up, there would have been no salvage for me. Of course, I'll keep getting back.
Lessons learned
  1. Don't react. Let the moment pass.
  2. Practice and preparation are a key to solving difficult problems and good performance.
  3. It's not important to be the best. But it's important to try and be good. It's even more important to love it.
  4. Don't undermine the importance of idle contemplation. It's pure hard work.

    Thursday, December 20, 2012

    The Grand Unifying Theory of Crime and Punishment

    A 23 year old girl was gang raped this Sunday night in Delhi. She was brutally beaten and thrown off the bus, in which 6 people raped her. She was brought to the Safdarjang Hospital in a critical state where her condition has deteriorated since then. She has been in coma. Her infected intestines have been all but removed through surgery. There are speculations as to whether she'll survive. Probably, we don't even dare to start speculating how her life will be if she survives.

    India is enraged. There are demonstrations. There's a flurry of activity on the Web condemning the heinous act, demanding strict punishment to the perpetrators. Blogs. Facebook posts. Petitions. Demands: Fast track court. Extended sentence. Death by hanging. Death by starving...

    Since a day or two, I have got entangled in a discussion (on facebook) where, in the current state, I am shamefully defending myself against rude remarks by one of the members in the discussion. Reason: she thinks that such harsh punishments as castration, gallows etc. should be meted out to the perpetrators. I expressed my disagreement, though only after ample expression to my own agony about whatever has happened, whatever is happening. I had to face the charge of sharing a camaraderie with the criminals. What a shame! I want to join hands with everyone in the world to express my disgust and anger about how we treat our women. But look at what I am wasting my energies in: in refuting comments from another person agonised like me, the harshness towards me that shows in her comments towards me being entirely founded on a genuine distress. A distress we all feel. Equally!

    Rather accidentally, this very thing probably summarises what I came here to say. Whenever something disturbing happens, we get enraged. We start throwing our rage about. We, the perennial idol worshippers, catch someone to empty our rage on, an effigy to burn. When there's a bomb-blast, we want to throw out all Muslims from India. For increasing crimes in South India, South Indians want to bash up North Indians. When there's rampant corruption, we point our fingers at politicians. There's a technical name of this behaviour: Racism!

    When the fact that women aren't treated well in our country reveals through such horrendous incidents, we quickly find another race to persecute: Males.

    Nothing happens. Terrorists keep bombing our cities. Muggers keep making our streets less and less safe to walk on. Our women keep getting treated worse and worse. After a few days, we forget. We move on. A bit more benumbed. A bit more de-sensitised. A bit more cynical and hopeless.

    Nothing will happen. Keep thrashing about. Keep screaming at the top of your voice. Keep calling any person with any single attribute matching the perpetrator, a traitor and an accomplice. Spend yourself out. Appease your conscience that you did your bit. But nothing will happen.

    Nothing will help. But through a process that entails the realisation that criminals grow from amongst us. They are dangerously similar to us. We create them. We feed them. They breed from amongst us.

    That criminal is in us. That part of us which makes us first think of nipping away our yet unborn girl-child. It's that person in us which takes the morsel out from our daughter's mouth -- the pencil out from our girl's hand -- and gives it to the son. The criminals takes birth, grows stronger, when we attribute someone's lack in mathematical aptitude to her being a girl. It happens when women think that having food after their husband is what exemplifies their womanhood. It happens when a woman finds it beyond her will and ability to hold meaningful conversations, solve hard problems, build things. It happens when a dad demands dowry for his son's marriage, and another dad agrees to give dowry for his daughter's marriage. It happens when a man finds it OK to screw around with various women before marriage -- and sometimes after marriage -- and wishes to marry a village virgin who remains oblivious of his escapades, and true to him. It happens when a woman thinks that it's unwomanly for her to talk and care about anything beyond the subjects of her family, apparels and accessories, or it's her prerogative to talk depravingly about her mom-in-law or daughter-in-law. It happens when curves of the body of a stranger women we see in the bus, train, office or market, look more interesting to us than the expression of purpose, ambition, worry, attachment, and every other human emotion that shows on her face. It happens every time anyone -- a man or a woman -- does anything to put the fact of someone's being a man or a woman before that of their being a human being.

    Sorry. But nothing will happen. Not at least today. nor tomorrow. Human civilisation wasn't built in a day. Nothing of consequence and beauty has ever been erected in a day. A safe and secure society, where the beasts in our minds have been carefully bound and leashed, and only the elevated, intellectual aspects of us find open expression -- a society of that kind is a thing of beauty. It's not a natural phenomenon; in fact far far from it. It's that one tiny little point of stability that lies hidden between an infinite space of instability. It can't exist by itself. It has to be imaginatively dreamt, creatively conceptualised, carefully built, patiently maintained over hot, blazing days, and has to be watched over through long wakeful nights. And if we allow ourselves to pass into a slumber, to gradually drift away from that point of stability -- the way we seem to have done today -- we can't wake up one day and wish away the reality with a loud roar of rage. Our rage can't warp the space. It can't blow away, like a mist, the night we spent sleeping. 

    We have only one choice: to start walking back. A step at a time. Slowly. Without protest. Saving our energies to make good the resurrection of the old order, and not squander it in beating our fists on our chests like frustrated apes. And one input that we can't avoid giving to this only restorative act: time.

    We can leave the question of whether noodles cause promiscuity to qualified medical researchers. We can allow our psychologists to deal with the grand issue of whether excessive fraternisation between the sexes instigates criminal thoughts. We, the ordinary mortals, the dull-wits of highest order, aren't capable of dealing with such technical topics. We should just try to educate ourselves of one single, simple rule. A rule that is agnostic to the concept of sexes and sexual crimes, about races and racism, about economies and class conflicts, about nations and wars. A rule that is the constituent atom of every man-made structure that has stood against the dissipative forces of nature. That rule is the rule of respecting each other's right to live with respect. There's but one rule here. Only one rule to be followed. Only one rule that can ever be broken. All crimes in this world are instances of this one rule being broken: taking bribes, breaking a traffic law, teasing a woman, or littering the public places, or polluting the environment.

    A man who will refrain from attacking a woman from the fear of castration or lynching can't be stopped from going back home and abusing his wife or daughter who, he is sure, will keep quiet because they love him. But a man -- or a woman -- who passes each act of his or her through the acid test of respect and justice will create a more beautiful world with every thought articulated, every word spoken, every move made.

    I, the non-specialist in rape-cases, the one born to the cursed race of males -- I, the idiot who has nothing but his little common-sense to hang on to in this age of chaos, rage, cynicism and hopelessness -- I, the poor human being, rest my case.


    With All Respect, No Apologies!

    Sunday, December 09, 2012

    With All Respect, No Apologies!

    In a recent discussion (over facebook), I had a brief involvement in a conversation over the lack of respect for women that's becoming an integral part of the Indian culture -- particularly in North India. There was the mention of a recent disturbing incident in Amritsar in which a policeman was shot dead because he tried to prevent a few eve-teasers from misbehaving with his daughter. The event indeed reflects the deplorable law and order condition. The tacit acceptance that eve teasing seems to get that emboldens molesters more and more seems to get worse and worse with passing time.

    The solution suggested by one of the ladies in the discussion, most probably out of sheer frustration and disgust, was that boys should be brought up with a fear of dire consequences -- e.g death penalty -- if they behave badly with women. Probably she was right. Probably, to set things right tomorrow, there isn't any other way possible. Probably, replacing one form of disrespect with another is the only way to create a feeling of self-respect to our people. Probably, we aren't left with any other method of cleaning up, than just shifting our garbage dumps from one place to another. We have tried doing that before: by creating reservations to deal with the evils of casteism; by creating religion based politics to remove communal disharmony; by creating thick, burgeoning impenetrable concrete jungles to wipe out wilderness and desolation. We have been in the habit of creating 2 headed monsters to slay 1 headed ones. And look how successful we have been in making our lives any better!

    I will not teach my son to be afraid of consequences. I will tell him that women are fellow creatures: sentient, intelligent, with self-will and self-respect. I will tell him that there is an experience that is to be got from interacting with a person who is a partner with you in making the life, the world, a more beautiful thing. It far exceeds, at least in the long run, the pleasure of finding partners in sin. I will tell him that the love that emerges from partnering with a person see a dream, to fulfil that dream, in being a part of a realisation of the self that's impossible for him/her alone -- that love is far superior, far more joyful that the momentary kick of falling into a pit of crime together. 

    I will hope that he will believe me, though I haven't tried experiencing the rewards and penalties of thinking or behaving any other way. So, I have no first hand stories to tell him of the other side.

    I won't ask him to be respectful of women. I will ask him to be respectful. I hope he will learn to see the potential beauty that exists in every human being. In old invalids as in a strong and physically attractive person; in a village simpleton as well as in an intelligent and sophisticated person. And I hope he will learn to see what a lethal blow a single act of disrespect, a single invitation to a fallen act, deals to this potential beauty, to the possibility of discovering that beautiful person.

    If you will, even this could be called a fear of consequence. But it's not a fear of bodily harm, but it's the fear of a damage to that infinite possibility. I hope my son grows up with a faith in that possibility, learns to hold that possibility dear to his heart, and fears the destruction of that possibility. The possibility of seeing all people in their real beautiful self, the possibility of being their partners in the discovery of that hidden beauty in their own selves. In experiencing a love that's based on its logical foundation: respect.


    Rapes and Women Dressing

    Wednesday, December 05, 2012

    Hindi - Is it a North Indian Language?

    Thanks to Sudarshan Iyengar for starting this discussion on facebook. And apologies for lifting this up which started as my comment on the post, but as usual, grew too long to be posted as a comment.

    I love Hindi. I don't care if it's a national language, a regional language, a world language or just a political bomb waiting to be detonated. It's the language which I use to converse with all my best friends. It's the language I read best of my stories in. It's probably the language I think in. And I don't like it when people talk negatively about it or its popularity.

    But, in the interest of fairness, let's talk about the reasons for its popularity. Has Government done some propaganda to popularise Hindi? Yes, I think, it has.

    I feel government shouldn't promote of suppress any language. Having said that, I feel Hindi has it in it to naturally grow. It doesn't mean it's better than any other language. Just that it did have a critical mass and following even at the time of independence for it to see a positive gradient in acceptance. It's hard to believe that its popularity today is all due to government propaganda. If you think you wouldn't have learned Hindi but for the government making you learn it, may be you are right. Don't mistake your case to be the representative case.

    Hindi has adapted to changes well which is a sign of healthy language. I don't think, there's any need to call it a National language, nor is it important to argue on whether it's a regional language. A much more important fact is that it's by far the most spoken language in the country.

    Hindi has found a good penetration in South India too. Though, not so much as in North India. Nor does it come close to any of the native South India languages in popularity in South India. But its acceptance is growing in South India. I remember that about 20 years ago I had almost got mugged in Chennai for uttering something in Hindi. Now, it's almost completely safe to converse in Hindi in Chennai. I don't think it's majorly due to government propaganda.

    I feel it's got nothing to do with whether Hindi is a great language or not. All languages have their good and bad points. Each has a rich literature to boast of. There can be no distinction made between language on the basis of their inherent linguistic or literary quality. If these had been the main points, we all would have been conversing in Sanskrit or Latin today.

    Then what is the reason that Hindi is growing more popular, even in South? It's just that North Indians find it lucrative to move down south for jobs. And South Indian natives find it profitable to learn Hindi because this allows them to communicate with them. So, we are bent on attributing the growing popularity of Hindi, let's attribute it to the growing prosperity of the South. I feel, there can't be a healthier reason for people learning a language than economic profitability of doing so. If lots of Indians migrate to Europe and America, it will become profitable for them too to learn our languages, whether Hindi, Tamil or whatever.

     There's Bollywood too. Nothing more needs to be said about this.

    Domination of all major languages of the world are based on cultural, economic, military domination of one culture on another, often accompanied with bloodshed. English, which people feeling a lot of animosity about Hindi, find it so natural to accept as their professional language, has imperialism and only imperialism to credit for its spread through the world. It would be so vain not to acknowledge the sheer pragmatic sense in learning it well on the basis of the violence and repression in its history. I feel, Hindi's spread through the India landscape hasn't been anywhere as violent. It's primarily economic prosperity of South and growth of Hindi entertainment industry. Government propaganda? Again, I won't buy that unless proved. There's as much probability of that being a political propaganda.

    I have been in Bangalore for more than a decade. I have learnt Kannada to a fair extent (including its script). I find it interesting and useful. I won't ever go into unnecessary discussions about what a great language Kannada is or isn't. I feel, being here in Karnataka, it's a brilliant medium for me to learn about people here: their ways, their humour, their culture, their thoughts and emotions.

    All the people reading this, gentle folks, please speak/learn/teach Hindi if you feel it's interesting and useful. Otherwise, forget it. Don't hate it. It's of course just another language. I feel our eagerness to learn and use a language should be rooted in our eagerness (whether due to economic, intellectual or emotional reasons) to connect to the people who use it. I feel, it's a lovely, beautiful reason to learn a language. Why let one's cultural and political biases cloud this innocent instinct? 

    Therefore, I repeat: don't propagate Hindi. National Language status? To hell with it. But, don't stop yourself or anyone else around you from learning it by tagging it as a vehicle of North's dominance.

    Which language does a child learn at home? The one used by his elders. Then, as he develops his own friendships, he learns the language he finds most useful for communicating with them. That's how languages are learned; that's how they should be learned. People are interesting or disinteresting, not languages. And if you wish to connect to the people, you learn their language. Government can favour a language over another. To think of it as a propaganda instead of an opportunity is unfortunate. And to think of your knowledge of a language as an evidence of your having been a victim of a political, linguistic or regional propaganda is an illogical thought, to use a mild adjective.

    Saturday, November 24, 2012

    About Egoism, Selfishness, and Capitalism

    One thing that can surely be said about Ayn Rand's writing is that it fills your head when you are reading it, and for a long time after you have finished. Her characters are strong and black and white. She writes lengthily, repeatedly and forcefully through the book on the distinction between the two distinct sets of characters in her stories: the creators and the second-handers. Even if you are quite numb or immune to getting affected through rhetoric, Rand just keeps saying it again and again. Eventually, for at least a few moments, for at least a few pages, you would want to liken yourself to John Galt or Howard Roark, and would like distinguish yourself from James Taggart or Elsworth Toohey.

    I read Atlas Shrugged 15 years ago. In that highly impressionable phase of my life, the spell casted by the book lasted probably nearly an year after having finished reading it. I was then convinced that I belonged to the league of the creative people destined to changed the world. Ego, individualism, reason and selfishness mingled freely with my existing code. But, I couldn't get capitalism to fit anywhere. I really loved the book. To that extent that I remember myself having imitated the heroes of that story in certain aspects of my life for sometime. A fitting thing for a youngster to do who couldn't find his heroes on the bollywood screen or cricket fields.

    I finished Fountainhead recently. I don't see any spell to speak of now. Only a revision of thoughts that have time and again visited me over these one and half decades about the contents and import of Rand's writing. Unlike 15 years ago, I don't any more consider myself a creative genius of any sort. I have got a sufficiently big collection of defeats and failures in my kitty to have no such illusions about myself. I am surely no Roark or Galt. But I don't see why that would automatically put me in the category of Toohey or Taggart. I belong to a large group of characters, a third group of characters, which doesn't have any place in Rand's books. Had she given some space to this third kind of characters, she wouldn't have found it so easy to give her stories such a taut shape. Good guys. Bad guys. Bad guys wage a war on the good guys. But the good eventually prevails. They would get all gooey and shapeless with people like us.

    What is this third type of people Ayn Rand never speaks about? They are people who aren't creative geniuses, nor do they wish to destroy the creative geniuses. They are neither driven by their ego, nor are committing charity to fill their spiritual void. This third type is the normal human being. The person who is working hard. Sometimes for money, sometimes for happiness, sometimes for something he isn't sure about. This third type doesn't create creative marvels out of habit. But he is often creative, is capable of doing things which change the world in little ways. And he does so without attaching too much importance to it. In us normal people, the realisation of what creative fulfilment is and the jealousy and appreciation for our superiors exist healthily side by side.

    The trick of trying to divide the people along the dimension of their capabilities and ineptitude into two distinct immiscible masses is the epitome of Rand's oversimplification of the world. She conveniently makes creative people the heroes and the incapable ones the villains. Her creative achievement lies in constructing the counter intuitive scenario where the incapable ones are able to take over the world in some sense by bullying over the creative guys. I suspect that it's a completely imaginary contraption of Rand, making it possible for such stories to be written. The counter-intuitiveness of the scenario is the prime claim of the idea that there's something evil and insidious going on in this world as a conspiracy against creators. There's no way to verify all this.

    Rand throws a model of creativity at her reader which links it inseparably with the ability to create. That seems to miss the main point about creativity. Creativity is an urge, not a capability. We all have this urge in us in varying quantities. Some are more capable, some are less. And that eventually decides what and how much we create. But the presence of that urge decides whether one creates or not. The part of our lives when we are deriving happiness from creating, however lofty, however humble, are moments when we are the Galts and Roarks. In other moments, we are something else. Not Toohey or Taggart. Because the characters of the villains, particularly Toohey, doesn't sound realistic to me. Toohey comes across as an extremely capable character himself. Going by Rand's thesis, he didn't need to do all that crap he does.

    Rand seems to bring in the issue of capitalism again as a reinforcement of her arguments that it's all about capability. Money isn't equivalent of value, whatever she may say or do. And capitalism is about money, not value. I can't understand why I would like to keep working for money when I know it can't get me any of things I really want beyond a point. Similarly, if an act gets me what I wish to get without the way of money, why can't I just do it, even if it's charity or altruism or whatever? Why do I care?

    Speaking of Fountainhead in particular, I couldn't comprehend several things. Wynand's character could never take the shape that 700 pages allow you to give it. Only making a character intense doesn't make it well-defined. Rand seems to depend too much on the reader being fully convinced. Periodically, she adds passages so that there's sufficient sense of scandal associated with not agreeing with her. As if not agreeing immediately drops you off the list of her audience. Roark does something outrageous towards the end, and gets away with it rather inexplicably. After having written 700 pages, Rand had no reason to hurry up the end without explaining things. Unless of course if she didn't have any explanations. Rand continuously demonstrates an intolerance for mediocrity. Nothing except the most superior qualities are of any consequence to her. Two things: firstly, being able to write long books doesn't gain her a fellowship among her heroes. Secondly, when you compare the writing of Ayn Rand with that of those authors who are known to write books of comparable length -- Tolstoy, Dickens, Hardy -- you will be forced to give her the title she spends all her words to despise: mediocre.

    Fountainhead sprawls over 700 long, dense pages. Atlast Shrugged just falls short of 1500. Being so verbose, Ayn Rand was definitely not one of the people she presents as her heroes and heroines. They are terse, concise, and they don't give a damn. Ayn Rand is verbose, condescending, and seems to care too much that people agree with her. She uses every conceivable trick of argumentation, emotional blackmail, sensationalisation and scadalisation to keep the reader wanting to be on her side. While reading it, I often felt the book was the prime antithesis of what Rand tries to propose.

    Yet, Rand's books are a good read, if you have the time. Because they talk about topics which are eminently important and relevant, not necessarily because they do these topics any great justice.

    Friday, October 26, 2012

    On Durga Puja

    I identify Durga Puja with:

    • The food stalls
    • Kids playing: infact this sight tops the things which bring back the memories of Durga Puja in my childhood
    • Women dressing up
    • Idol decoration
    • Cultural programmes
    • Bhog
    • The Puja arena minus the crowd
    • Dhaak sound
    • Smell of pandal
    • Family visiting the pandal
    • Returning home late in the night after watching the cultural programmes
    • The slight depression on and immediately after Dashami

    I don't identify Durga Puja with:

    • So much vanity, whether of one's dressing or of one's religiousness
    • Noise
    • Crowd
    • Unhygienic food
    • Parking woes (recently added)
    (Now how much more brief can one be than this?!)

    Thursday, September 27, 2012

    Welcome to BMTC

    After 11 years of evading it, I am getting to explore BMTC buses in all their glory. AC volvos with 55 rupees tickets for 25 kms. Arterial roads: Electronic City, Majestic, Malleswaram, Whitefield... Rattling blue ones joining far-flung rural nooks and crannies crawling on bumpy pot-holed roads with 10 rupees tickets for 30 kms. Attibele, Jigni, Hoskote, Kodi-Farm, Uttarahalli... Upscale, ear-plugged, perfumed, nose-upturned co-passengers. Talkative, noisy co-passengers, smelling of sweat and dust, eager to help. I salute BMTC for creating this burgeoning network of buses. It's an experience! They have continued to make it possible to travel long distances without spending half your salary on petrol.

    I find the drivers and conductors extremely polite and helpful in general. I never knew that there are so many buses in Bangalore, and that there are so many people to travel in them. The enormity of this crowd is humbling! Everyone working so hard! Trying to get somewhere. Millions. And yet, everyone struggling to keep his head above the sea of insignificance which seems to keep rising all the time.

    Once you figure out the routes, it seems to be a very economical and eco-friendly way of commuting. It takes a bit longer. Well, much longer in many cases. But city driving is stressful, a time wasted completely. Owning a car isn't a big deal anymore; but being chauffeur driven isn't affordable now, nor ever is going to be, for most of us. Not to mention the fatigue driving creates affecting the quality of the time after the drive. On the contrary, the time in a bus is a time to unplug yourself, work, think, rest, catch up with friends over phone, mail, chat...

    I seem to have conquered my fear of buses after a long struggle. And I am profiting from it. I don't have anything to say to those who have given up on public transport like they have given up on voting, or on the whole concept of 'a greater good'. But if anyone has been hesitating to take his or her first step, waiting for a positive word to come from somewhere, here you have it from me. Try BMTC (or whichever is the local bus service of your city). It may turn out to be practical in your case too!

    Thursday, August 16, 2012

    An Ode to Mediocrity

    Consider any quality: Physical, intellectual, emotional, economic, social, spiritual. Create any grading scale of that quality that you feel suitable. Start placing the members of the human population at various grades. You are well likely to end up with a bell-curve. And where will you find yourself? Well, if you are somewhat like me, I'm sure it will be somewhere close that crowded median. Repeat the exercise with another virtue. Again, most likely, you will be loafing around close to the median.
    Again, if you are like me and every other mediocre person, every single day or your life, you aspire – no, agonise – to break free of your mediocrity. You too, at least sometimes, dream of being a star.
    Stars are those who once, at least once, become the best in something. Their glitter may fade after a period – brief or long. Rajesh Khanna was a star. He shone bright for a while, and faded away into oblivion, to come back briefly once more to the limelight when he died. But we have others like Gandhi, Einstein, Vinci, Tolstoy etc. whom people will probably never tire of talking about. Their stardom may go. With time, they may even get surpassed by someone else in their achievements. But the stories of their achievements endure well beyond the relatively brief period of their stardom. These are legends.
    Legends are legends because they somehow end up doing something which changes the world. But you don't need to change the world to be a star. You don't need to invent a medicine for AIDS. You don't need to sacrifice your life for the freedom of your nation. You don't need to reveal to the world the metaphysical secret behind their living and dying. You just need to take something – however trivial, however insignificant, however irrelevant to the current concerns of people – and become good at it. You have to be so good that you become a benchmark in that. The importance of your achievement isn't in the choice of what you have done, but to what extent you went in perfecting your ability to do it. A person who has trained himself all his life to swim as fast as anyone can – which will hardly ever mean anything for the alleviation of one man's misery – becomes a Michael Phelps. Someone specialising in painting horses, naked dieties, and erotic scenes involving them becomes a reverred as well as controversial artist. There seem to be seemingly an infinite number of things to choose from to achieve your stardom.
    And yet, stars would probably make a meagre 0.00000001% (I typed a string of zeros that just looked long enough; don't read too much into it) of the population. Legends make up a vanishingly tinier fraction of that. Rest of populations constitutes of wannabes and losers.
    Then why on Earth, like me, does every mediocre person perhaps wants to become a star, knowing full well that, by the very definition of the term, stars will always constitute a minuscule part of the population? Logically speaking, the probability of success in becoming one is that much small for all of us. But still we keep trying and trying and trying.
    Trying endlessly is one thing. But we go beyond that. We hate ourselves, our lives, everything until we get stardom in at least something. We call ourselves mediocres, losers. The wish to be a star has probably brought out the best in a bunch of people. But for the remaining teeming millions, it makes life a hellish business.
    The world is fully justified in celebrating its stars, in worshipping its heroes. Because heroes line the limits to which humans are capable of going in the infinite space of activities. But it's a sheer tragedy that the remaining population, which does the very important task of filling up the space in between these boundaries, frets and whines about getting there at the boundary at least once, to get a photo taken of themselves in that moment of stardom, and to think of that brief moment as the summary of their life. How much more stupid could humanity get?!
    How can 70-80 years of living be about vying for a moment of glory that mostly doesn't come? And even if it does, what value does it really have if earned through mere suffering, not just of the self, but of innumerable others trying uselessly to clinche that moment. That moment becomes precious, often not by its intrinsic value, but by the very fact that most won't get it. Just as gold is considered more valuable than iron because very few have it. I don't fully understand the logic behind considering something valuable merely because it's rare. And yet, I know, that's what we humans keep doing.
    Tell me, isn't it a huge, colossal mistake? I know, humanity has been committing it since ever, and is probably cursed genetically to continue committing it forever. Yet, I don't think Phelps could have made it if swimming hadn't given him a day to day sense of well-being. I can't imagine M. F. Hussain churning out so many paintings till the last day of his long life without each painting giving him the pleasure of having said something of his own. Phelps' best laps can't be his medal-winning ones. Hussain's best paintings may never have been sold.
    Feeling of worth is a very private feeling. Experience of beauty is a very solitary experience. It doesn't get displayed to a clapping audience; it can't be auctioned to rich bidders. And those moments of beauty are the blessings we all humans have got, whether we are stars or mediocres. The privilege to create is afforded to every one of us. That privilege is available each and every moment of our life. The principle output of that creation is the experience of creating. Not how it changes the world, or how people clap, or how much it is sold for. The reason for an act of creation is fulfilled much before it ever comes before any audience, at the very moment of its happening. And that fulfilment doesn't depend on whether you are a star or a mediocre. It just asks you: did you feel the joy? Did you feel it enough?
    The thought of being mediocre is a liberating one in a sense. It frees you from the pressure of trying to be the best, the first, the quickest. We know that the burden of changing the world is not on our shoulders. Being mediocre, you can just focus on what you like doing, and enjoy yourself. What the world wants to make out of your work is purely their worry. From your perspective, it's at best a side effect of your actions. Beyond the condition where the world perceives it practically worth their while to let you exist, I don't think you owe anything to it. Your life is yours to live. Your strengths are yours to use; your frailties are yours to fight.
    Also, every one of us isn't born to paint a Mona Lisa, to discover the laws of motion. OK, if fixing that broken tap in your house is the best thing you can do at the moment, why not do it and feel as happy? That's your contribution to making the world a better place (and for sure, for your wife this contribution will count more than Newton's laws of motion). So, why be judgemental?
    In short: you think you are a mediocre? Good! Happy Independence Day!

    Relevant Posts:
    Something I wrote exactly a year ago seems relevant in an uncanny way!

    Tuesday, July 24, 2012

    Getting Rid of Stale Relations

    We are shifting house next weekend. Shilpi has been toiling night and day cleaning and packing. It's inspiring -- to put it mildly -- to see her do it so methodically. Sorting, packing, labelling. One particular thing she has been doing is both heart wrenching and overwhelming in its importance. She has been ruthlessly rejecting a lot of stuff that we had been carrying around only because of their emotion value: old notes, paper reprints, letters, cards, magazines, old clothes, pram, cradle etc. Our shifting will be simpler and lighter. Our new house will be more empty. If we decide to get new things to fill that emptiness -- good; if not -- even better.

    Hm. What else can be thrown out, to make moving about and moving on easier?

    I have been blessed to have got a large number of friends. But that's not been without hurts. I have met plenty of imposters who have simply occupied a space in my memory, and decided to go their own ways. Friendships which never happened don't hurt. I prefer strangers who meet you for a short while and go their own ways with no false promises. But there are those who would swear by their friendship if I met them. But to meet them, or get in touch, it would take me every ounce of my being. There are those from whom I have never heard, not with a single exception. And yet, when I have done the harder job of travelling long miles, negotiating complex schedules, to reach them, their only input to the relation has been an eloquent description of how much they treasure their friendship with me. They won't reply to my mails. They would never call. They would quietly visit my city and go without even calling. I would come to know of it through facebook. Change of jobs, birth and bereavement -- every major happening in their lives, I come to know from the grapevine, from the social networking sites. In some cases, I have even had friends moving in and living in the same city for years together, without bothering to communicate. Any voice raised on this matter would be quickly silenced with unquestionable excuse of busy-ness.

    I too have decided to cut some of this crap out from my life. Crap that sits in my heart in the form of friendships and relations which have just occupied a corner of my memories without being a source of any gratification. 

    In the end of the day, it's a thankless job to be seen as that harmless and patient friend who will always be there for you whether you care or not, year after year. Sometimes, even I would like to speak my mind, without thinking too much about my tone. Without gulping the very gist of my emotion in order to be politically correct. Last weekend, I liberated an imposter who had been swearing by my friendship for 13 years, but for sure had no place for me in his thoughts.

    I feel happy and light! And please, don't ask me if I am counting you as one of them, just because you haven't been writing to me every week. :) I think, if you know me, you know me to do better than that. And yes. One advice. Preserve your friendships. But only the true ones. Send out Good-bye cards to the imposters. And live with light heart with space for new friendships.

    Sunday, July 22, 2012

    Ageing Meaningfully

    The episode about the aging people in Satyamev Jayate touched upon many issues relevant to us all. Our changing attitude towards the aging people, the lifestyle changes resulting in more and more limited bandwidth to think about aging parents, the need to handle the fact that life expectancy in our country is on a rise etc. Hearteningly the episode had a very positive feel about it. More than talking about how the younger people should take care of the old, it dwelled a lot on how the older people can find a new meaning in their lives in the mature years. There were umpteem examples shown. A Dada-Dadi park in Mumbai where senior people meet, have fun, workout and involve in socially relevant activities. An old age home in Delhi whose residents actively participate in the running of a school in the same compound. An 80+ man going for a second marriage. A 90+ man climbing mountains etc. Two senior women from rural UP doing amazing things in shooting inspiring youngsters to try their hands in the sport. Amazing! I feel these people are setting such wonderful example for us all! They should be given Arjuna Award. They are the true sports-people.

    If we look around , we all will find many such inspiring cases in our own neighbourhood. My wife has recently made acquaintance with an elderly lady in our locality here. She takes time out to teach Kannada to North Indians, and Hindi to South Indians. She organises satsangs for the elderly population of our apartment complex, and summer activity sessions for children in the building. She has this interesting hobby of honey culture, and has many interesting facts to share about the medicinal qualities of wild honey. She speaks with tremendous positive energy and enthusiasm. Outwardly, she is just like any other senior person in the complex; but in reality, she is always bubbling to do something good in the lives that surround her. Quite in contrast to most other much younger ladies in our complex who meet up in the play area in the evenings, mostly to show off their new accessories, or to vent bitter thoughts about their mothers-in-law. All in all, a simply adorable and inspiring character!

    Why should the latter years of one's life be filled with loneliness, idleness, disease, poverty, helplessness and self-pity? The experience and wisdom gained through the entire life, isn't that a very potent tool for continuing to live a meaningful life post retirement?

    Yet, in most cases, including in my own family, we haven't been setting the best of examples. For example, there's plenty of socially relevant stuff to do around our place back in Nagpur. There are these slums nearby, with loads of social issues plaguing them. There are kids to teach. Women to be empowered. Men to emancipated from alcoholism. Sanitation to be improved. There's our colony premises to improve and beautify. The colony, with its 100+ families, needs elaborate management to become an interesting and vibrant residential area. There are new things to learn. There's plenty of opportunity to engage in group workouts. Most importantly, more than half of them have recently retired people, similarly aged as my parents, with all the time in the world to take up new challenges. Barring a few, most appear to be in tolerably good health. However, nothing happens! Our colony is an awfully lifeless place. Bushes and weeds grow in the park which was meant for children to play. Roads await alms from the Gram Panchayat for repairs, while funds from the colony treasury are squandered. Obviously, the slums surrounding our colony have seen no perceptible change in all these years as benefit of being located in the neighbourhood of a relatively better off colony.

    I have tried suggesting to my parents and other elders about exploring outside the four walls of the house for business, occupation and meaning. However, my attempt hasn't been met with much acceptance. In particular, on being approached on this matter, my mother talks about her self-professed ignorance about matters beyond domestic. My father spews bitterness for Panchayat and neighbours, but steadfastly refuses to try doing anything positive in the matter.

    What prevents senior people from getting up and taking a step towards making their senior years more eventful? It's not failing health for most; nor sapping energy. It's the inability to question the way they have led their lives so far. How have they lived their lives? By toiling and slogging for such 'noble' reasons as family welfare. For them, the singlemost reason for having worked hard all their lives is the well-being of their families. The man earns; the woman looks after the household. The side-effect of this attitude is that they never discover any other reason to work hard all their long lives. Once the children grow up and become self-dependent, they see no reason to continue working. To start all over again looking for a new reason to work requires revisiting the very reason for work. It can't be family welfare. Then? Some of them try to look at it as a way to pass time. Some simply just continue doing it as a means of subsistence. The only way most people in our country – particularly in the service class – deal with work is just by putting up with it.

    The idea of enjoying one's occupation is alien for most of our lower middle class. Most people, even in the younger generation, would look at you with incredulity if you talked about spending most of one's energy in things one enjoys, as if the thought is a blasphemy against the ideal of sacrificing one's interests for one's family. For people who have pretty much lived out their lives not taking their interests and passions seriously, it's a huge challenge to ponder over them now in the twilight hours. All gloomy thoughts of curtains coming down before they would ever start probably paralyses them. Perhaps, the thought of starting to live life on a completely new philosophy which pretty much trashes away the ones they had followed all their lives is like nullifying the entire past. The attachment to one's past, particularly when it's so long and rich, may drive one to committing such a folly of not letting in the future.

    Past is gone, dead – however prolonged; future is alive – however brief. It's illogical to cling to a corpse and shirk a living thing. Moreover, it's normal for humans to encounter events which nullify years of earning, whether material, intellectual or emotional. Such events aren't necessarily tragic. Often they are windows to a brighter view of life and world. So, questioning thoughts, emotions and ideals which we have kept for years, should be an acceptable and regular thing to do, particularly if that opens doors to a better life and self. May be one has spent his entire life giving preference to self-sacrifice over self-fulfilment. Why can't that change in the mature years if it's found to be a folly?

    I would appreciate inputs on how senior members of the family can be motivated and mobilised to take a renewed interest in life, to have courage to question the past ways of living and start afresh, to have the faith that life needn't ever be turned into a few more leftover morsels to be thrown into the bin, but to its last moment can stand for something meaningful and divine.

    Sunday, July 15, 2012

    Scientist or Engineer

    During my first year in engineering, I was quite distressed by the way we were being taught how to solve differential equations. Just the method : all that CFs and PIs. And then how polynomials got constructed by replacing the differentials (d/dx) by D's. And then you could treat them as polynomials in D, factorise them, and solve the monomials by integration. There wasn't even a hint given as to why it was to be done that way. It wasn't absolutely the first instance when no one seemed to be concerned about telling us why we were doing something, but this was the first time that I remember when I felt that I would probably not be able find the answer to my 'why's without the help of the teacher. I asked a more toned down question in the class that wouldn't make it appear as if I was questioning the very method of teaching. That question got killed by the teacher without much difficulty. My 'why', however, remained unanswered.

    There was a discussion between classmates after the lecture where I got a more open atmosphere to voice my doubt. One of my friends reprimanded me, 'If you are so concerned about maths, why didn't you do a math degree? You are here to become an engineer. You are supposed to be a user of maths. Just use it. Don't get lost in its details.' I found his stand a fairly matured one for our age. It had a point of view that I had never considered. In my opinion, I considered myself no different from a science student. My friend seemed to say that there was already too much engineering to learn. We would eventually have to stop at some point of granularity. My friend seemed to have found out where he would stop. I hadn't. I felt respectful about him for this feat. I couldn't, however, figure how I would use this approach to my benefit. There came a spate of topics during our engineering studies that got told to us like revelations of a mystic: Fourier analysis, Laplace transforms, z-transforms etc. Just use them and don't ask questions about their internal mechanics. The bag of doubts I carried by the end of my undergraduate studies had grown quite heavy! I would look at many of my friends with a sense of envy when I found that they were superbly proficient in many an engineering tool they had no clue about the concepts of. They would top university exams while I would struggle to pass; they would learn several things while they were fashionable -- they were tech savvy, while I would struggle with the simple ideas they seemed to be based upon. I didn't know how to stop the claws of curiosity from gnawing at my heart, and yet I had no clue how I could quench it.

    I really don't want to go on and on. Dale Carnegie said that you should start your talk -- or whatever -- with a story to hold the attention of the audience. So frankly, the above was a cheap trick I played to hold your attention till I got to the point. And my point is nothing. Just a few questions. What's this thing about engineering and science? I understand that there's just too much to understand and learn. Knowing all of them isn't either useful or possible. Then? Where do we stop? Is it a good idea to be absolutely utilitarian in such things? As long as you can work out the solution of a differential equations, is it OK not to understand how the solution works? As long as you can compute the poles and zeros of the control system you are designing, is it OK not to bother what really these poles and zeros really are?

    I don't understand this topic. It's a big muddle in my head. But I understand that it's an awfully important topic to talk about. I wish someone better qualified than me would write on this subject. I would definitely like to read it, without the lure of a story as an opener.

    Monday, June 25, 2012

    Mr. Parker at the Parking Lot

    I met a Mr. Parker in the ITPL parking lot who was in the process of parking his bike so as to block the exit for many other parked bikes. When I pointed this out to him, he said that for him to park his bike properly, they shouldn't have parked their bikes badly. I just got the time to ask him who he thought 'they' were, to which he just shrugged and walked away.

    I smiled to myself. For the first time in this kind of a situation, my blood didn't boil. I didn't feel a wave of frustration hit me for not being able to do what I must. I just felt, I did the right thing, and I am fine.
    Probably, I am coming to terms with reality without growing cynical. Tomorrow, if I meet another Mr. Parker at the parking, I will probably say the same thing, and won't feel frustrated and humiliated if he just walks away pretending not to care. I feel it's a great victory!

    Wednesday, June 20, 2012

    A Weekend in Wayanad

    Last weekend, we travelled to Wayanad. I just want to jot down a few highlights of this very memorable trip.
    On our way to Wayanad

    We were lucky in more than a way. As per weather forecasts, it was already time for the monsoon to have arrived there. This would mean a difficult drive, and a more or less indoor time there as monsoon rains in Kerala means downpour that makes it impossible to venture outdoors and have fun. We (particularly I) aren't great outdoor enthusiasts anyway. We were OK with the idea of simply lazing around indoors. Sipping at tea and staring at the rain wasn't a depressing idea for me at all. So, we took the risk. However, monsoon got delayed by those many days; we got our share of outdoor fun.

    While going, we chose the following route: Bangalore-Mysore-Hunsoor-Nagarhoil-Kutta-Kartikulam-Varnam.
    While returning, we chose the following route: Varnam-Kabini-Mysore-Bangalore.

    Wild Elephant sited
    While going, we started early in the morning, 5 AM. It took us about 7 and a half hours to reach Varnam, inclusive of all our breaks. While coming, we travelled during the day, drove across Mysore, and hit Bangalore when the office traffic was peaking. This added about an hour and a half to our journey. Moreover, a 15 km stretch near Kabini is very broken. Unless you have a big vehicle, it's good not to try this route. It was a mistake for us!

    Both ways, we passed through Rajiv Gandhi Reserve Forest. We were rewarded with sightings of deers, monkeys and wild elephants.

    Places we saw

    Thirunelli Temple. Supposed to be very ancient temple located in the midst of mountains of Brahmagiri. The trip was enjoyable due to many other factors than the temple itself: the beautiful scenaries around, the pleasant weather, the walk down to the Paapnashini river, and of course the drive itself.

    On the Way to Paanashini river
    A word of caution for non-hindus. No entry for you into the temple premises! Also, to those males who aren't particularly comfortable showing off their bare torsos. To enter the main chamber of the temple, you must take off your shirt and undershirt. I was neither curious enough to see the diety nor brave enough to expose myself to the chill in the air to venture that. So, if you wish to know what was there in the main chamber, ask Shilpi.

    I have found the custom of disallowing visitors on the basis of their community still being practiced in certain temples in India in general and in Kerala in particular. This is not at all forward looking. Had I not sighted that board asking non-Hindus to stay out, my enthusiasm in admiring the heritage status of the temple would have been far higher.

    Entrance to Iruppu Falls
    Iruppu Falls. Must say it was a beautiful water fall. The glory is subdued at that particular part of the year though. The walk up to the spot is about a kilometre. Not for you unless you enjoy at least a modest level of fitness. Also, while walking up (and down) it's a good idea to keep close the middle of the pathway. The place is infested with leeches. I saw at least 2 people doing blood donation to the parasites. But just in case that sounds fearsome, rest assured. Leeches can cause you no grievous harm. It's just the sight of blood and the repulsive idea of bloodsucking which sounds bad. Otherwise, you needn't worry too much about them.

    Raft Ferrying People to/from Kuruvadweep
    Kuruva island. It's a small delta on the Kabini river where some local tribes inhabit. You take this raft to the island, walk around a bit and enjoy yourself. We couldn't do it as we reached there at about 3.45 PM, about 15 minutes too late to get the last raft ferrying people to and from the island.

    Valmeekam Art Museum. Almost adjacent to the island is this nice cute art museum maintained by  some local people. In there are a bunch of interesting sculptures done in terracotta clay mostly depicting emotions related to love, family, sex, spirituality etc. I found them very expressive. A must visit for the artistically inclined.

    Varnam Homestay

    Varnam Homestay

    Paddy Fields

    Neighbouring Village House

    About Wayanad, and about the spots listed above, you will get plenty to read on the Web. I think, where I can add meaningfully here is to tell you about Varnam, the homestay we spent our 2 days in. The place was highly recommended by one of my friends. We skipped all R and D and decided to go there. And now, I will highly recommend this place to you.

    Neighbouring Scenic Beauty
    All of Wayanad is green. So, it's probably redundant to say that Varnam is situated in the middle of greenery clad hills. There are excellent roads connecting it to wherever else you would like to go.  The place is full of all amenities that you would look for in search of a restful time out of your home. You could talk a walk to the nearby pa
    ddy fields, or the villages around. Of course, if you are a person who expects room-services, heated swimming pools, pool tables and pubs, this isn't a place for you. But if you get delighted by the sight of a lovely courtyard surrounded by a many homegrown vegetation, rabbits, and cute domesticated dog; if a homely look and personal treatment is what soothes your nerves, then head straight to Varnam.

    Varghese Family
    But the most important aspect of Varnam is the family which runs it: Mr. Varghese runs Varnam from this place which once was his ancestral house. And Mrs. Beena Varghese who is there to make you comfortable in all ways: excellent food with a personal touch. Mr. Varghese is a police officer in the nearby town and interacting with him itself was rewarding in many ways. While he speaks, he draws from his vast experience of the rustic ways of local inhabitants, complemented with an interesting and tasteful awareness of very urban and globalised mannerisms. His personality exuded the simplicity, comeliness and candour of a village farmer on the one hand; and the sophistication of very well-exposed and learned individual on the other. My wife and I agreed that the family, in their 5 years of running the homestay which largely serves visitors from abroad, have expanded their knowledge about people with admirable sharpness. It was a joy interacting with the family while sharing our very sumptuous meals with them.

    So, please visit Wayanad, and choose Varnam!

    More photos here.