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.