Vitamin D

So lately I have been employing my rather precious time pondering over life's imponderables. In this relentless quest for the ultimate truths, I have been helped, in no small measures, by the numerous intellectually stimulating discussion that I have had with a number of my friends in the recent past. Having attained enlightenment, (Oh!, did I forget to mention ? I attained it last Friday) I now feel that I have equipped myself with the weapons necessary to take the puzzle of life head on.

So I was ruminating over life last night when I happened to stumble upon a dark realization. This reality check was initiated by the critical insights of a friend of mine and since then, I have duly torn the issue to tatters through acute reasoning and precise logic. The fact of the matter is this:

Sunlight does not contain Vitamin D.

Surprise surprise ! I am sure, like me, you would be evaluating your beliefs right about now. I am sure, like me, this truth has shaken your worlds to the very core and left you all speechless. Everything that you have been taught till now, everything that you believed in till now, each one of them now has a gray hue of uncertainty, isn't it ? I mean, if the almighty Sun deceives with such vulgarity, imagine the fickleness of human relations. Imagine how fragile the illusion of life itself when the fundamental axioms of nature have come under the scrutiny of suspicion.

Anyways, don't worry. Its not as if you do not get Vitamin D from sunlight at all. You see, I always used to think that somehow Sunlight is filled with Vitamin D and it keeps showering us mortals with ample amounts of it during the day. I never saw a reason to believe otherwise. Vitamin D in sunlight is one of those esoteric topics, you never really give much thought to. You just take for granted that Sunlight gives Vitamin D without really bothering your already bothered self with higher questions like "How" and "Why". Its not one of those problems which could cost you your dinner if you failed to fathom it properly. So like the herd-followers that we are, we seldom question the veracity of our beliefs. We keep living our lives, earning our breads, cursing our fates, brooding over our problems, and all this while we somehow never seem bothered by the fact that Sunlight might after all not contain Vitamin D. As it turns out, although Sunlight does not contain Vitamin D, it synthesizes it by reacting with our skins. I would like to say "Potato Potaato, Tomato Tomaato" but that would just be freaking ignorant.

So this notion set my thinking machinery in motion and I was forced to consider some highly relevant questions. What about animals ? How do they get Vitamin D with all the fur they have ? Do they not need it as much as we humans do ? The only way a dog can get Vitamin D is through its nose and I am not even sure that its nose is competent enough for the job. In either case, the size of the nose doesn't make too strong a case for effective manufacturing of Vitamin D. What about small kids who have a much smaller surface area to show to the Sun ? Do obese people get more Vitamin D ? Are the skinny models relatively Vitamin D malnutritioned ? Should Vitamin D be considered legal grounds for public nudity ?

As you can see, enlightenment has its flipside. Once the trivial issues of life are sorted out, what remains is truly mindboggling, the above musings form just a part of which.


On Morality

I have recently been accused, and in no mild terms, of being too frivolous for most of the time when I seem to have a hidden talent for decent rationality. I have recently been sort of reprimanded for indulging my interests far too much in stupid incoherence when I could as well have given thought to something a bit more important. Although I still feel that this conception is entirely unfounded and that I never intended anyone to believe that I have even a shred of rationality, I have decided to give coherence a shot, a decision that is not in the least based on a few recent events.

So the question posed to me was, "Is morality a subjective notion ?" Before venturing into this I would just like to mention here that I have immense respect for the ideas of the person who asked me this question and if my musings appear contradictory to his, I might as well be at fault. Anyways on to the subject.

The question needs population to be separated into two distinct wholes. The ones who do have principles and try to live by them and the others who make them up as they go, living each moment for its own worth, trying to keep their eyes shut towards the weightier issues. No one group can claim to have a superiority over the other since in the end its the six yards of ground that consumes them all and no amount of thought and principle can change the fact. This distinction is necessary on the other hand because morality being a principle of life matters to one group a whole lot more than the other. And it is this group I specifically want to talk about. I believe that everyone has a sense of whats right and wrong but their thresholds differ so that given a situation, a few would find themselves in much more discomfort than the others. This argument would make it sound as if morality is a subjective notion which to some extent it is but only if you do not consider the impact of society in its implementation.

Sadly so, but man has become so dependent on social support, he has had to build up the framework of society to keep everything in place. In his quest to hide his own insecurities, he has made rules which define acceptable human behaviours. Religion is an example where the system has made rules which guide a person in difficult situations. It acts like a lighthouse for those who do not possess the rationality to differentiate right from wrong in subtle situations. All men, not being created equal, need an authority of some kind to tell them what is acceptable behaviour. And it is here that the objective nature of morality springs supreme. Its just another word for social conformance and that is not a personal idea. To a certain extent, everyone is bound to it or atleast supposed to be bound to it and those who do not adhere to it are seen as asocials in the least.

But the story doesn't seem to get over here. Let's take the case of religion. What about those few who can take their own decisions. It is allowed for them to be atheists. Shouldn't individuals be allowed to have their own set of moral principles ? I feel that morality is a mixture of subjectivity and objectivity for most people. While society puts bounds on the objective nature for the whole of humanity, each individual gives it his own flavour by deciding his own thresholds. For example, morality says you should not steal but lets face it, to some degree we are all thiefs. The only thing that separates us is the threshold we have on our own morals which dictates what we find harmless theft and where we draw the line.

Finally I come to the most important part of this discussion, a line of thought that has been inspired by the person who asked me this question. What about those few who have a radically different notion of morality vis-a-vis the rest of humanity ? Is it allowed ? More importantly, is it acceptable ? Intelligence and rationality, in this world, can act as double edged swords. While one of their edges serves to sharpen one's view of reality and provides oneself with the independence and creativity of thought, at the same time it's other edge cuts through the strands holding that individual to the fabric of society. I think its allowed (except in the most extreme of circumstances) but since by nature man is a social animal, his independence is just another name for sorrows to all those who are attached to him. I cannot say how much I hate this notion and how difficult it is to accept it, especially now, but that I think is the truth. One's notion of morality cannot be radically different from the unimaginative view that everyone else holds and if it is, it just means a kind of social ostracization. But then here is the deal. No one achieved anything by being conformal. There is a reason why every single original thinker's personal life was a mess. Conformity can give you a secure and assured life but as someone said to me the other day, 'might as well die'. Its fine till you define a set of rules and try to abide by them. If you have chosen to define your principles as different from those of the masses, do not try to weigh your actions in the currency of the latter. Its futile and it can only bring pain. What needs to be realized is that your actions are bound to create friction between you and the others since you have chosen to live and think differently. Its better to be prepared for your share of sighs and tears. For these people there should not be any half measures since it would only screw up things completely. Either they should not cross the starting line, or they should go the whole nine yards.

I believe I have spoken beyond my means and I am sorry if any of it comes as being too stupid or too pompous. I am not used to rationalizing and might as well have gone wrong. I think it is much easier for me to argue when I know I am obviously wrong. Then, I atleast do not fear criticizm since I know the futility of criticizing a view criticizing hot chocolates around San Diego. Its tormenting though, when your innermost ideas are up for merciless analysis of outside world.


The vicious circle

So now that I have stated quite plainly as to how dissappointed I have become at the hot chocolate quality that is being dished at various places in San Diego, I would go ahead and try to describe as to how fate has conspired against me in a cruel way and has forced me to drink it day after day.

So I go to cafe vita and I am there minding my own business, standing in the line, waiting for my turn. And I am looking at the guy next to me and from the looks of it he looks to me like a guy who, on principle, hates skim milk. He seems like the guy who would gladly give his thumb away for a good cup of fat rich, cocoa abundant hot chocolate. He looks like a guy who has his heart in the right place. If given a chance, he would much rather jump off a cliff than be made to drink a substandard piece of chocolate beverage. So I obviously sympathise with him and I am just hoping that he does not order a hot chocolate since there are few things worse in this world than watching an innocent hope getting mutilated. And I am saying to myself, god please save him from this cruel realization, this harsh truth, this malignant reality. And then he says, "Can I have a hot chocolate please" and I could feel my eyes getting slightly moist.

Anyways, thats not even the point. Its me next and I have resolutely decided that come what may, its not going to be hot chocolate. If its the day of the armageddon and nuclear warfare has wiped out all the beverages in the world and Cafe Vita is the last place thats still serving something drinkable and that something happens to be just hot chocolate, I would gladly slit my throat and embrace the sweet respite of death. So with determination in my eyes and resolution in my clenched fists, I move ahead with my mind set on the goal in the distance. One hot cup of plain coffee. And I reach the counter and there is this lovely girl there and before I could speak anything she goes, "So, the usual ?"... Now I don't think I am particularly easy to convince but I have a slight weakness. I am suseptible to the whims of 50% of the human population if only their wishes are accompanied with an affable smile. Thats exactly the reason why I have a bank account in a bank that gives me .5% interest on savings. Thats precisely the reason why I had a phone connection during the first year in US with a service that did not even provide connectivity in my house. So I am in this huge conundrum here. Its my principles against my temptations. Its the grand war between good and evil, morality and weakness and while I am chewing over this great big issue, looking all the while like a deer in a headlight, she takes my confused silence as a sign of consent and goes about her task of preparing that godawful drink for me. And I can only stare at her in despair for I know that I have been caught in this never ending cycle here. Next time she wouldn't even have to ask me the question "So, the usual ?". She would just have to give that look of acquaintance and I would melt into a malleable whole. She would just have to smile and I would be forced to say yes. Thats the whole problem with this world. People are unaware of how strong their unsaid, unintended signals can be. Or is it just me and my habit of reading between the lines ?

Thats not all. The girl at Cafe Vita doesn't even wait for me to order now. The one at Fairbanks starts preparing hot chocolate even if she spots me at the horizon. And the one at Roma has gone ahead and decided whats best for me. And its not hot chocolate, its some godawful drink called Cafe au Lait and by the holy mother of god, I have never had it but somehow she thinks that I am the kind of person who would drink Cafe au Lait. So everytime I go there, she gives a smile, says "the usual ?" and brings me a Cafe au Lait. Seriously, this 50% of the population is killing me.



Lets see if you can picture this. Lets see if I have the talent to recreate even a part of the magic with words.

You wait impatiently at the red signal flanked on one side with a Ford Mustang and on the other with a Chevy SUV, the size of your motorcycle hugely dwarfed by those of the cars around you. You stand on the lane marking with barely a few inches between you and the cars on your either side. You can almost smell the grunt of the Mustang and touch the intimidating power of the SUV. Its 2 seconds to green and you shift your motorcycle into first gear with the clutch reining in the 100 horsepowers waiting restlessly to burst forth at the slightest command of your right hand. You rev up the engine by holding the clutch and providing a slight throttle. You rev just so much that the bike creates a graceful grunt revving along at about 5000 rpms, the range where it is designed to deliver its highest power. 3-2-1 and you release the clutch fast enough so that your bike acts like a slingshot. With an acceleration that almost lifts the front tyre off the ground and pushes you off the bike, you zoom forward like a well directed bullet and then you see the rear view mirrors with the cars appearing like 2 small dots in just a matter of a few seconds. But power often is blinding. You push it so hard in the first gear that it starts making a loud groan and then you push some more until the revs almost start hovering around the redline. At this point, you shift into 2nd repeat the whole procedure, the 3rd, 4th, 5th and by the time you reach the 6th gear you either run out of road or run out of guts to push it harder than 110 mph. And all this happens in a blink of an eye barely taking 8 seconds. And those 8 seconds define a euphoric state of being when nothing else matters in the world, when you are ready to put your life at stake for a surge of the adrenaline punch, when you keep hovering over the edge that separates life and limb from a mangling catastrophe and in those 8 seconds you are ready to play the game on life's own terms. In those 8 seconds you choose to ignore the whats and ifs of the situation.

Intense concentration elelvates you to higher plane of consciousness where everything seems to move slowly.You are then moving so fast that the pattern of white strips marking lane boundaries dissolve into one single line. The wind is so unforgiving that it is ready to push you off the brink at the slightest possible lapse. Tears from you eyes are flowing so fast that they evaporate before they can reach the ears. And then you lean forward ever so slightly to hide behind the small windscreen in the front so that you and the bike now form an aerodynamic whole. And then you accelerate some more and you look down to see the black tarmac running below the bike in a frantic hurry. And it looks all so real. Its not like a car. Its the cruel hard road thats moving just a few inches from your toes. Touch it at those speeds - and you will be news in the morning papers next day. Then you look ahead to see a sharp curve and with irrationality defining everything you do, you accelerate yet again. You accelerate till the point where you know that going any further would make effective braking impossible and at that point you leave the throttle and push the brake paddles as hard as possible without sending your bike in an uncontrolled slip. And while all this is going on, you lean into the curve more and more and more and finally your toes touch the road and you suddenly realize how close you grazed past an accident. You straighten the bike thinking this is crazy and that you would never do it again. But then you see another curve far in the distance and your eyes lighten up and your right hand, subconsciously, starts rotating and you know that you have to get this right yet again, hopefully for the last time.

Although I believe that knowledge and experience are overrated, I infact have learned something from this. It feels so good because its a metaphor for a good life. Not knowing where you are going. Not aware of the consequences of your actions. Not worried about life's various buggings. Not being responsible for anyone else. That moment has its own life. It stands apart from the baggages of the past and the future. That one moment of the present stands free from the tentacles of life.

Meanwhile, I don't nearly drive like that. Atleast never with a pillion rider. I am infact a very safe driver :)


The death of hot chocolate

Here is the deal. The art of making a good cup of hot chocolate is painfully dead. It is dead in the hands of Cafe Roma, it is sadly perished in the premises of Fairbanks and it is lying in a blood spattered carapace in the fresh battlefields of Cafe Vita. Believe me, I don't want to carry the mantle of the agonisingly precise clairvoyant that I am generally considered (*smug glow of self-satisfaction*), hence I shudder when I see my theory of increasing 'isotropicity of mediocrity' taking shape in the various walks of life.

This new theory is like the second law of thermodynamics and so far, I have failed to find even a single exception. Much like "Sadi Carnot" predicted that left on its own, the universe would move from a more organised state to a disorganised one, my theory says that in the absence of proper punitive measures and in the presence of an illusion of free will, humanity is apt to move from a creatively rich state to a relatively mentally dead one. And it happens because there isn't really a free will anywhere but only an illusion of one. If you look at the history of human civilization you would see something very peculiar. Creativity has seen surges of genius during small phases of time. While art flourished in leaps and bounds during Rennaisance in Europe, music for examplt saw a peak in the quality of content beginning the later part of Mughal era till the first part of the last century in the Indian subcontinent, and science had its heydays during Galileo/Newton and then finally culminated with a bang with the advent of Einstein and the brilliant assortment of minds who gave rise to elementary physics. There is something common to all these times. The greatest feats in human creativity were never carried because of social support or need but despite that. It was a result of the free will that failed to acknowledge the immediate needs of the masses and didn't bother itself with the petty details of incremental developments that is so necessary for the sustainence of the society. We start witnessing mental decay when free will is replaced with just its illusion. Its free will in the theoretical sense of term. Its just a word and frankly not of much use. While free to do whatever we want, its rare that we muster courage enough to disregard social norms and actually carry out our heart's desires. Anyways I have digressed quite a lot.

What I want to point out here is that the decay of the art of making good hot chocolate is a perfect example of increasing mediocrity and the fact that its equally prevalent in atleast 4 different cafes in San Diego just goes on to show that this mediocrity suffers from a debilitating isotropicity of space. Risking being termed a geek, the quality of hot chocolate in general seems to be a function of two variables. While it is symmetric in space and hence can be adequately represented by spherical coordinates, it seems to have an exponentially decaying dependence of time. Qualitatively speaking, a good hot chocolate is more than just a mixture of milk, chocolate and sugar. In-fact it would be a mistake calling it a mere mixture. Its like a compound wherein the whole becomes larger than the sum of its parts. While I am at it, let me just give this new compund a symbol (M6C2S : 6 parts of milk mixed with 2 parts of chocolate and 1 part of sugar) so that it could finally take its rightful place under the sun. It has a denser consistency than mere milk but falls well short of the disgusting solidity of a smoothie. Making it from 2% or fat free milk should officially be declared a crime liable to be dealt with capital punishment. In fact making anything with anything other than the full blown fat rich milk should atleast carry a penalty of 500$. While I am at it, lets just ban fat free milk and propose a resolution for burning up all the soy fields in the world so that people have better things to piss off their times with than making vegetarian chicken, low fat milk and meat-like vegetarian burger patties. I see that I have digressed again but then thats how chaos works. Thats how incoherence earns her bread and butter.


Feeling Weak

Its 2 in the night and I cannot sleep because I slept for the most part of the day today. So I thought, hmm, what shall I do ? Lets see how honest I can be with myself and try to jot down my own weaknesses. I am sure, with the amount of matter that would be available, I will get bored and go down to sleep before I am even half way through. So here it goes, a hopefully honest analysis of myself:

1. I think I am a bit of a cynic. Especially when it comes to new aquaintances. For me, every new person I meet basically is a pain to begin with unless he or she proves otherwise. People have pointed out my amazing ability at nitpicking small faults with everything under the sun. On the brighter side, it doesn't take a lot for me to change my first impressions and I believe, I get on pretty well with most of the people for a small duration of time and a small number of people for most of the time i.e. once I come to know them better. As far as other things are concerned, I have extremely strong likes and dislikes. My opinions on my dislikes are in many cases so concrete that I am generally not able to see their good points. Yes, opinionated would be the word. Extremely highly opinionated. Close mindedness can also be associated with me.

2. I am a loner. There is no way I can indulge in team activities or work with a group of people towards a common goal. I find it extremely suffocating. While I am at it, let me just say that I pretty much suck at every quality an average manager should possess. Team Building, leadership, and all that jargon those MBAs use. And its not even that I feel sad at it. There is a sense of wicked happiness at knowing that I suck at those.

3. Emotionally weak. I have this stupid habit of letting my heart do the thinking in important matters of life, something that has more than once landed me into trouble. I try to put up a facade of being emotionally secure but honestly speaking, if people think that way, only my acting needs to be commended. Which also makes me a bit of a hypocrite, I guess. But then I guess, everyone is a bit of a hypocrite in some way or another. I try not to be one in most matters and in this particular one, I can atleast take solace in the fact that my hypocrisy does not harm anyone else.

4. Possesiveness and Jealousy. I generally do not care about most of the things in the world. I certainly do not possess these feelings when it comes to anything material. And by anything, I mean absolutely anything material in the world. But there have been cases when I surprised myself at how jealous and possesive I could be and how detrimental I could be for myself.

5. I think I have bipolar disorder. Or thats what I would like to believe since it sounds so cool. Anyways, what I was really trying to say is that I have huge mood swings.

6. Most of whatever I say is junk. I somehow manage to maintain a consistent state of incoherence despite being absolutely teetotal. I have this vague feeling that we all take life too seriously so in my quest of correcting things out, I am contributing in my own small way towards a more meaningless future, mainly by maintaining a largely chaotic state of thought most of the time.

7. I am a narcissist. Hence this blog, hence the other blogs. Most importantly, hence this particular post. Even though I am just talking about my weaknesses, there is the guilty realization somewhere of the saying: Bad publicity is better than no publicity.

Feeling sleepy now. Will probably complete the list if I have enough enthu left.



If thought is food for the brain, I must say, the last few days have been quite sumptuous for my malnutritioned mind. Through intense deliberations and numerous arguments, through myriad paths of reasoning, and diverse ways of logic, I seem to have realized whats only very well known about life already. While Descarte set the stage on fire by his cogitation on the trustworthiness, or rather the lack of it in most matters pertaining to life except one's capacity to doubt, I have formally come to the conclusion, 'Why bother ?'. Put in other words, it simply means what each one of us is subconsciously aware of but are too chicken to admit, i.e. 'It does not matter'. Not only does everything not matter, the worse part is, driven by the higher intellect that we as humans have been gifted with, we just do not want to face this cruel fact.

And how did I realize this ? Simple. I just went through the history of human civilization and did not find even a single human being who was born before 1890 and had not died by now. Countless philanthropists, numerous criminals, innumerable literateurs and poets and leaders, thousands of philosophers and saints, all of them just withered away against the winds of time. Sure we remember a lot of them by what they did but at the risk of hurting our collective ego, might I just add here, 'So ?'. Human life has this cruel habit of wearing rose tints on its glasses. It smears the truth that is painfully out there and gives us a misplaced sense of self-importance, and creates for us a cruel illusion of a higher purpose for which a mortal being should aspire. Our narcissistic indulgence, often bodering on vulgar self-occupation, has created this elaborate stage where we are led to believe that since we have a higher capacity of intelligent cognition as compared to say a monkey, somehow our purpose here on earth should be higher and nobler than the lesser creatures who primarily live to feed and reproduce. We often tend to ignore the argument that had these animals possesed the intelligence to invent slightly better means of intellectual pastimes, they would probably have lived their lives for things more than just food and reproduction. Come to think of it, we all do the same. We have invented pastimes our intelligence allows and are happy to live through our lives on them without even thinking about why we should be living the way we are. Thats exactly what animals do. Nature, as the great leveller she is, makes us all equal in this subtle way wherein each of the species on this planet just keeps doing what it knows best, completely unconcerned about the weightier issues of 'What and Why'. And then she acts like the unreasonable hag that she is and punishes humanity for its intelligence with its painful realization of its emotional suffering.

All this intelligence that we are so smug of, only goes into making our lives more miserable. Of all the human faculties that our intelligence has engendered and that have led to his sorry state, I believe there is none more cruel than hope. It keeps driving us like a horse with a carrot tied in his front and we keep running after that carrot week after week, month after month, year after freaking year. True, the carrot keeps changing but the thing that never changes is its capacity to delude. Somewhere down below it makes us all believe that we are working towards a better life, never actually realizing what that ideal is. And it is only natural. In this constantly flowing world, it is only appropriate that our ideals are also fluid. Hope deludes us in the guise of love, it decieves us in the garb of wealth, misleads us under the viel of fame and tricks us in success. And it does it all so cruelly and laughs all the way at the fool man makes of himself.

So what should man do to circumvent this conundrum? How should life be led? Now that we have concluded that the worth of our lives is no pricier than that of an earthworm and no cheaper than the greatest leaders, how exactly should it be led ? On a scale as cosmic as our universe, it is only a folly as blinding as narcissism that can make us believe otherwise. I think that the least that we can do is to live in a way that makes us happy. Its sounds pretty simple in theory but alas, human mind has developed to such a complexity, it refuses to accept things so simple and untangled. There are so many issues cluttering the space between our ears, it is hard to fathom how such simplicity could be comprehended. Even if we do realize it, our social considerations have placed such tight restraints over our souls, it is often next to impossible to put our noble intentions in practice. Perhaps we can all live a better life if we just realize that its not going to matter in the end. It does sound awfully pessimistic but who said that the rules of life could not and should not have been written in the Shakesperean way of a shattering tragedy. Realization of truth can never be termed pessimistic. It is merely intelligent and like all things intelligent, it has an underlying sadness. Its like a dying flower. Its not the flower that is sad. Its the idea of its dying that is sad and that idea is nothing but a child of our own intelligence.



तेरे ग़मों की डली बनाकर ज़ुबाँ पे रख ली है देखो मैंने
वो क़तरा क़तरा पिघल रही है, मैं क़तरा क़तरा ही जी रहा हूँ

इन आँखों की खामोश सिलवटों में, लबों की शर्माई करवटों में
रुकी हुयी एक आह दिल में, ज़हर मैं कितना जा पी रहा हूं
... मैं क़तरा क़तरा ही जी रहा हूँ

वो दिन जो मेरे करीब आकर, नज़र मिलाकर था तूने देखा
ये दिन जो यादें सिसक रहीं हैं, मैं फिर भी सपना वो सी रहा हूं
... मैं क़तरा क़तरा ही जी रहा हूँ

झुलस चुकी इस शाख पे अब मायूस ख्वाबों की राख बस है
तड़पती साँसे अनसुनी सी, कहानी चुप अनकही रहा हूं
... मैं क़तरा क़तरा ही जी रहा हूँ


कविता की पहली दो पंक्तियाँ गुलज़ार की हैं । बाकी मेरा छोटा सा प्रयास ।


New Blog

Well I finally came around to starting a new blog (have been planning it for quiet some time now) that is going to concern exclusively with Calvin and Hobbes. I cannot even begin to explain how much I have learned from Bill Watterson. I just hope this new effort would not succumb as another victim to my lethargy:

Comic Relief



Do you remember the time when barred from going out, you watched the rain pour down heavily on the closed window panes, spattering and sputtering on the sill, and covering the world on the other side of the glass in a white turbulent haze? Do you remember the cold seeping through the small crevices at the edges of a less than perfect window? Do you remember the ever so slight hiss that accompanied the damp wind as it tried to force open the only obstruction separating her from you? And the thin sheet of fog that further blurred the view of an increasingly wetting world outside. And the water droplets that formed on your palms when you tried to wipe it off. Do you remember the smell of the wet earth as it filled your senses on a monsoon day? With the trees swaying in a gay abandon, recently formed puddles of water getting irritated by the non ending rain, muddy, deserted streets playing host just to scared, dripping street dogs and rickety old tea shops brimming with people looking impatiently for the rain to subside. Do you remember the black umbrellas and the blue raincoats and the old translucent plastic sheets covering the top of 'rickshaws' and 'thelas'? And the rythmic sound of water beating down on the tin tops of indefinitely closed neighbourhood shops, finally finding its way through nondescript pipes and crevices and brinks into the rivulet that became of the already monsoon battered market road? Do the muffled sounds of a dazed town breathing slightly for a life punctuated by a merciless downpour still ring a bell? And yes, the smell again. The smell of wet earth. Do you remember that? The smell that permeated the gray, hazy, cold atmosphere painted with constantly dripping arabesque. And the blurry outlines of children wearing wet Baniyans and battered shorts creating ruckus in the muddy puddles. What about the pleasantly menacing sky with the nimbostratus clouds in a constant fight of supremacy against sunlight. And the tingling of cold, wet water as it poured down on your face while you tried to look up to the sky with half open eyes. What did you see then ? Was it just the rain ? Or was it the sight of independence. An infinite joy breathing within the confines of a few moments.


Comics to the rescue

After considerable deliberation and thinking it has occured to me that the most serious issues in life are more efficiently dealt with by the most trivial of mediums and seemingly the most simplistic of perceptions. I have seen that knowledge and information beyond a point have a way of muddling up facts, smearing up connections and finally blurring up conclusions into an incoherent mass of half baked opinions. Experience, although a worthy teacher, more often than not, only serves to consolidate ideas already seething with subjective bias. In a world too messed up with complex opinions, I find that the most intelligent observations and the most heartfelt commentaries occur in mediums deemed too stupid for intellectual discussions.

That is why I feel that comics have such an important place in society. They are not expected to be the mouthpiece of rationality and social change. They are not expected to be intelligent commentaries on economic problems and moral regression. No one expects them to speak thoughtfully on matters pertaining to religion and humanity. That is precisely the reason why the field is infested with idiots like Jim Davis but the fact of the matter is that only because comics are not obligated to be any of the above, their creators have the freedom to make them all of it and more. And in the past, atleast some of them have taken it upon themselves to make their creations more than just slapstick humor.

One that obviously comes to mind and to which I have alluded a number of times previously is Calvin and Hobbes. With the deft social commentary on issues as varied as the hypocritical nature of modern artist to man's complete failure at preserving the purity of planet Earth, C&H manages to speak much more than those bloated politicians and conceited economists. With Calvin, Watterson on one hand manages to evoke the nostalgia of simplicity, purity and innocence and on the other paints a lighthearted yet grim pictutre of a world increasingly getting encroached with degrading morality. He speaks about the evanescent nature of life with the same wit and tone as when he recounts Calvin's simple flirtations with Susie Derkins. He derides a whole generation caught in the celebrity obsession, ruefully talks about the encroachment of privacy by reality shows and silently snubs the go-getter, high octane, win-or-die attitude that drives today's economy. All in all, Watterson speaks with the detachment of an outsider and the sadness of someone who has lost all hope, and he manages to bring some really dark issues to light. He makes you (atleast me) think about our misplaced priorities in life, and he does it all in a very matter of fact, straight in your face way.

The other comic that seems to be too intelligent to be recommended just for 6 year olds is Peanuts by Charles Schulz. With the extremely simple drawings lacking even the most basic ornateness, Schulz delineates the most tender of emotions. Watterson himself once said of Schulz: "We recognize ourselves in Schulz's vividly tragic characters: Charlie Brown's dogged determination in the face of constant defeat, Lucy's self-righteous crabbiness, Linus' need for a security blanket, Peppermint Patty's plain looks and poor grades, Rerun's baffled innocence, Spike's pathetic alienation and loneliness. For a "kid strip" with "gentle humor," it shows a pretty dark world, and I think this is what makes the strip so different from, and so much more significant than, other comics. Only with the inspired surrealism of Snoopy does the strip soar into silliness and fantasy. And even then, the Red Baron shoots the doghouse full of holes.". Schulz has managed to inspire a whole generation of cartoonists and made them realize the possibilities vested in the simplicity of the quill brush lines. He has managed to elevate a supposedly trivial medium to an art form just by his gifted insight and tremendous creative ability.

Finally comes Krazy Kat by George Herriman. Actually I am not familiar enough with the strip to speak intelligently about it but I have read quiet a lot about it and am intending to read it some time in the future. The strip was syndicated way back in 1913 and it ran in newspapers till 1944. Although widely regarded now as the most intelligent and poignant strip ever created, it did not see popularity till the later half of the century. The premise, although extremely drab and monotonous by present standards, nevertheless gave the artist enough room to create lush landscapes peppered with ornately poetic language and subdued yet deep emotions of unrequited love and absolute apathy.

I find that human ego is too much of a detriment today to find common grounds over social issues from which a clearer perspective could be gained. Spurred by the prejudices accumulated over a lifetime, people become far too inflexible to yield even a yard of ground to opposing views. In such a case, I'd rather just let the flights of fantasy of Calvin take me to a world thats much more simpler, much more truer, much more honest and frankly speaking much more in-tune with me.


2 issues bugging me

Since I am moving to this new apartment, I have a few things that I need to do. Now you guys might not find these very important but believe me, some of these things have been driving me nuts.

1. There are these 2 trees just in front of our balcony (we have the ground floor). Actually they are not very tall. The taller of those is about 10 inches tall so I am not sure if you can call them trees. I have plans of buying an easy chair and putting it in the porch so that I could relax while looking at the scenery in front. I have a vague feeling that those wretched trees might block my view. Some people have dismissed this as paranoidal fear pointing out to me that my line of sight would probably lie significantly above 10 inches from the ground but I am not buying that. Even if I agree that they would not interfere with my leisure now, who knows what they might be upto say 5 months from now. Who is going to stop them from growing say 2 feet tall? What will I be supposed to do when they spread their deadly tentacles to occupy the best portions of the porch ? I think I have to act and I have to act fast and with purpose. I have to wait for an oppurtune moment in the dead of the night and wrench them out of the ground when no one is watching and then cover up my tracks. But then I also have to think about the repercussions when the neighbours suddenly one fine day find a garden with two less trees. Maybe I will need to pace myself. You know, take one leaf out every night so that no one will notice this extremely gradual withering. 2 months of hard work but lo and behold: a clean, unobstructed view. Me:1 Nature+Miramar Apartments: 0. Actually there are two more trees after these two but they are just too big for my expertise. My ego is big but just not big enough to confront them so I will satisfy it by pulling out the smaller ones.

2. I have recently noticed that my new cereal bowl is far too big. I mean, its garangutan. It almost holds the whole box of cereal. For the quantity of cereal I eat, I need to throw stones in the bowl so that the milk and cereal may come up (like the crow did). Its not just that. The bowl is so big, it takes 5 minutes for the cereal I throw in to reach the bottom and 3 minutes for the sound of 'thud' to come up. So I need to wait for 8 minutes after I throw the cereal in before I could make plans of eating it. Nothing serious but I find that a bit inconvenient.

Well, this is all that is bugging me now. I am sure you will all agree that these are really important problems and would drive any sane person nuts. Each one individually is challenging enough to require the undivided attention of a normal human being. Together, they are almost killing a sub-intelligent creature like me.



Well, I am in one of those blue moods again. Maybe its the conference I am attending. I somehow become much more aware of the futility of it all when I see a bunch of middle aged over enthusiasts vainly trying to impress upon the audience as to how their work is fundamentally different from that of all those who have walked on the same path before. I keep listening to all these presentations and after a certain amount of time, it just becomes all so monotonous and routine. Novelty gives way to boredom. Technology starts looking mundane. Every other plot becomes that much more incomprehensible and the technical jargon effectively blurs out whatever little meaning that the author was trying to communicate in the first place. I have formally come to the conclusion that Conferences suck. There are far too less people really interested in getting something out of the presentations, myself not being one of them. Most of them are there just to increase their contacts by that despicable act of 'Networking' and I am not in it even for this. Which makes me think, Why am I really here. I do have a presentation tomorrow but mostly its the advisor on my throat. If only I could get out of attending any future conferences.

The best part of the trip has been my visit to San Francisco which I think is the main reason for the blueness of my mood. I drove upto the Golden Gate bridge, spent some time in the shivering wind, staring down at the water below, met a friend in a lovely little cafe, had a little chat and then drove back to Palo Alto, which being part of Bay Area (Silicon Valley) sucks by the way. Anyways, the fact is, somethings are just so perfect, they leave an aftertaste of desire for more. They make you re-evaluate your priorities and make you wonder about the worthiness of your life. The trip to San Francisco was so perfect, I do not even want to go and present tomorrow.

It has sporadically occured to me, but I feel that most of us are not doing enough with our lives. We could certaily do with a dose of refined culture, a sprinkling of a bit of art, you know, the good things in life. Our lives lead paths which are too well defined to allow for the excitement that results from unpredictability. Our daily routines are far too rigid and I wonder how exactly am I able to spend every other day with the exact same schedule, without anything special to look forward to. Somehow, we have managed to become so subservient to the monotonicity permeating our routines, we have actually become immune to its cruel realization. We forget how much more we could pack in every single minute. We tend to overlook the fact that, well, its a continually passing oppurtunity, a priviledge that we get just once, and its slipping from our fingers with every passing minute. Its high time we (or atleast I) stop living just to eat, just to fulfill the next deadline, just to burn the day's quota of calories, just to see who gets thrown out of Indian Idol, just to complete another day because lets face it, if we ever try to look at the big picture, it will be plainly apparent as to how priceless each day could be and how mercilessly we are wasting them away.

Maybe I am wrong. Maybe its just because I am in one of those blue moods today :).


Ramblings of the dazed and the exhausted

Well, I am sitting here in this Air-India flight bound to LA. It has just taken off from Frankfurt which means that 8 hours of the stipulated 18 hours of torture is over.

Delhi airport this time was unbearable. Huge lines, faulty baggage scanners leading to delays, inefficient flight staff which meant the average standing time in a queue consisting of 5 people was atleast an hour and airport roofs dripping under the effect of the recent torrential downpours. The flight started late by about 2 hours which is a harbinger of inconveniences to come as I would most probably miss my LA-SD connection and since that connection is the last one in the day, I would probably have to spend the night in the airport unless I decide to drive down to SD in a rental car.

Here in the aircraft, things don't seem to be much better with one of the Air-Hostesses almost slitting my throat open from ear to ear when I asked her for a clarification over some confusion regarding the immigration forms.

"Yes ?"
"Actually, I need the other form too.", I said with a sheepish almost guilty smile.
"But I just asked you. You just needed one form then. How come you changed your mind, huh ?"
"Actually, I did not hear you clearly and when I do not hear something clearly, I just say yes. I am really sorry. It won't happen again. Please don't slit my throat open from ear to ear."
"OK. Better beware next time.", and with this she gave me a glimpse of her hatchet, its sharp edges gleaming with an evil shine, its countenance barely hiding a grisly longing for human blood.

So I have decided to shut the hell up and read the newspaper I had bought at the Delhi Airport. OK, its Times of India so I should probably not call it a newspaper. The headlines are boring and to a high degree stupid. Their take on Sports sensationalistic at best and their coverage of local issues miniscule to say the least. Page 3 seems to have the highest amount of action. I have noticed something very peculiar about the Page-3 of TOI. Why does it always come on Page-2 ? Anyways, I look at the polls for today. 7% have replied 'Can't Say'. I cannot believe what kind of a stupid answer is that. Why does anyone have to go through the pains of booting up his computer, connecting the internet, launching IE, opening his mail, and then sending an email response to TOI poll with an opinion of 'Can't Say'. If you 'Can't Say', you might as well 'Not Say'. When you come to look at it, its just a 'Yes' and a 'No' question. How difficult can it be ? Roll the dice and take your chances. Unless your answer could jeopardize national security over socially irrelevant and intellectually insulting questions, JUST SAY IT. I cannot believe that all these serials and news shows on TV are running polls where their third option is 'Can't Say'. Way to piss off your six rupees. Just send them an SMS at premium rates with your choice as 'C'.

Actually I had a lot of things in mind but I seem to have forgotten all of them. So I will just stop here. While on the flight from Delhi to Frankfurt, there was this nice lady sitting beside me who teaches Yoga in Oregon and had gone to Pune to learn from a guru. It was nice talking to her and the 8 hours did not seem all that long. The remaining 10, I am afraid, are going to be excruciating.


I cannot believe that I had not read this ass-kickery of a book till now. I always had it with me but could never proceed beyond a few pages. A mistake, I would say, since this is one of the most original, shrewd, cunning, shamelessly direct, directly morbid, and morbidly hilarious pieces of text ever put together. Yes, its the pinnacle of dark humor. Its a novel like no other. Its rationale is so insanely sane, you would have re-evaluate the rose tint on your glasses thats smearing away the cruel and unjust world around you.

The book is set in an American bombing squadron stationed in Italy during the end of the second world war. It mainly follows the life and actions of its main protagonist named Yossarian who is paranoid because it seems to him that everyone is out to kill him. The Germans are trying to bomb his plane and those who are not trying to kill him directly are trying to do so indirectly by sending him on more bombing missions so that the Germans could bomb his plane. The problem with him is that as soon as he finishes the required number of bombing missions before he could be sent home, his commanding officer increases the required number. In this grim scenario, the only way by which Yossarian could avoid getting killed is by feigning physical or mental illness and spending his time in the army hospital and wait for the war to get over. In this pursuit he approaches the army doctor to see if he could be grounded if he could prove that he was crazy. Its here that the full import of Catch-22 is presented before the reader:

" There was only one catch and that was Catch-22, which specified that a concern for one's safety in the face of dangers that were real and immediate was the process of a rational mind. Orr was crazy and could be grounded. All he had to do was ask; and as soon as he did, he would no longer be crazy and would have to fly more missions. Orr would be crazy to fly more missions and sane if he didn't, but if he was sane he had to fly them. If he flew them he was crazy and didn't have to; but if he didn't want to he was sane and had to. Yossarian was moved very deeply by the absolute simplicity of this clause of Catch-22 and let out a respectful whistle.

"That's some catch, that Catch-22," he [Yossarian] observed.
"It's the best there is," Doc Daneeka agreed.


The book is a masterpiece of circular logic and hilariously dumb scenarios. It moves effortlessly between numbing absurdity and grotesque reality. Through its characteristic frankness which often borders on revolting intimacy, it makes you see the futility of a world gone wrong. Heller has woven the throbbing and pulsating images of dying children, utter devastation, crass commercialism, and mindless patriotism with perseverance, honesty, morality and purity. And he has done all this over the backdrop of a language that is brutally funny and frighteningly incisive.

Yossarian, as it seems to me, is the second most insane person in his squadron. But he needs all his insanity to grasp the magnitude of the insanity of war itself. Just like the way you need to be stupid to appreciate Ekta Kapoor, you need to be crazy to realize the futility and absurdity of nations fighting against each other over arbitrary non-geographical boundaries. When you come to think of it, man hardly seems to be the most intelligent animal when he has screwed up the situations so completely.


Swami and Friends

I have lost count as to how many times I have completed 'Swami and Friends' by R.K.Narayan, but having some free time to dispose, a nice sunshine to bathe in and a comfortable swing to lie upon made me remember one of the true pleasures of life: reading a good book on a lazy afternoon. So I picked it up and started all over again.

For starters, its a very simple book which moves episodically through the life of a 10 year old. The book is the reflection of the adult world in the eyes of a child. It recounts the 'case of the Mondays', elaborates upon the draconian system that is primary school, dwells upon the incongruity of adult actions in the eyes of a child, nostalgically reminds us of the innocence that permeated the friendship of our youth, and tells us a story of small pleasures and big disappointments. As far as I can remember, its the only book that never fails to bring a tear to my eye in the end and I have had my share of maudlin texts. What others fail to evoke in their elaborately ornate languages, this book accomplishes in the honesty of its portrayal of friendship and the heartbreak that accompanies its termination. The last chapter deals with Swami saying goodbye to his friend Rajam who is boarding a train for good. Due to some misunderstanding, Rajam has not been talking to Swami but Swami always remembers the good old days they had together. Swami brings him a book which Rajam takes. He tries to say something but his last words are drowned in the whistle of the starting train. Swami and his friend, Mani stand watching the train go. One of the last paras goes like:

Swaminathan and Mani stood as if glued, where they were, and watched the train. The small red lamp of the last van could be seen for a long time, it diminished in size every minute, and disappeared around the bend. All the jarring, rattling, clanking, spurting, and hissing of the moving train softened in the distance into something that was half a sob and half a sigh. Swaminathan said: 'Mani, I am glad he has taken the book. Mani, he waved to me. He was about to say something when the train started. Mani, he did wave to me and to me alone. Don't deny it.'
'Yes, yes,' Mani agreed.
Swaminathan broke down and sobbed.

There is nothing illustrious in the writing, but somehow it manages to strike at the very core of my heart. Maybe, its just appealing to the basic human need of friendship and his weakness and despair at finding himself at loss of it. I don't know. What I do know is that while we have been desensitized to the whole notion of fragile emotions by the reckless onslaught of commercial media, while we watch another news item depicting the suffering of a human being with the cold stare of a manager firing his employee, while our feelings get stretched and trodden and abused and manipulated by greed and consumerism, it doesn't take a lot to wake up to simple beauty.

Sometimes, I wonder, why are we being treated with the sensationalism and the violence and the gore and the immorality that's seeped into every fiber of today's entertainment ? Why do we need to feel violated in order to feel entertained ? What's the need of prying into others' private lives to justify our own miserable existence ? I guess its too late to make a fuss. Mediocrity, it seems, is here to stay. In the quest of satiating the palate of the lowest common denominator, its a shame that we as a society has had to give up simplicity and intelligence.

Letters from India: The Traffic

Well, its been raining like crazy here in Haldwani. The mighty gods of downpour haven't gotten tired after a relentless onslaught that has lasted more than 15 days straight. Added to this, the fact that I have had a mild fever has prevented me from leaving my house and going on strolls down the roads of the town a lot.

Most of my visits have been to the local market with the barber shop being my most regular flirtation. A head massage at a mere Rs. 10 is a real steal and another 10 for shave with a thorough champi doesn't hurt either.

I have a TVS scooty here. Weighing at a mere 20 kgs (I guess), I sometimes wonder if its going to hold up to all those gusts which are the hallmark of these mountain areas, but it has performed just great till now. You have to leave the country for a long time and drive in more controlled regions to appreciate the skill that is required to drive on one of these market roads. Its almost magical how order springs out of utter chaos, how maddening mess gives way to self regulated patterns. At first its all scary. The honks, the trucks at sniffing distances, the odd cars springing on the road from nowhere, the dogs, the cows all jostling for their 2 yards, the seemingly infinite traffic jams. But its funny how everything resolves itself. And you don't really see anyone caring too much. They just sit there on their lunas and cycles and rickshaws and cars, all stuck in that small area, but hardly anyone gets flustered enough to start throwing tantrums. Yes, the honks are blaring with the continuity of a bass guitar in a rock concert but thats more a way of saying, 'I am still waiting but please, do take your time'. Nobody expects anyone to go anywhere. Nobody CAN go anywhere unless someone just evaporates. But the horns keep blaring, as if to break the monotonicity of the static harmony that has resulted from the extreme pandemonium. And you wait and wait and wait until you see a glimmer of hope as the vehicle in front of you moves just so slightly. Really, the exhilaration of seeing that one movement beats the joy of most of the achievements of an average human being. It takes time but somehow it all starts to make sense. The crowd helps each other to start two lanes each going in the opposite direction. The sun starts to seem more benign as even the wind starts to sway the adjoining trees. Slowly but surely the huge mass of humanity divides itself into two portions, each grazing past each other with the proximity of two finely cut blocks of magnets and the speed of a turtle on a crack. It takes another 10 minutes but I am off, my scooty blaring its throat out at a healthy speed of 30 kmph.

In many ways, driving in India is much safer than driving in America. The obvious reason is the speed. When your highest speed is just 40, you can hardly expect grisly mutilation as your fate, if caught in an accident. But more than that, its the lack of a surprise element in the Indian context, which makes driving here so safe. Once you have driven here for 2 or 3 days and had your share of perpendicularly darting dogs, suddenly springing motorcyclists thinking they have a jet pack, reckless car-drivers thinking... well hardly, you kind of stop taking things for granted. You view every corner with the suspicion that would have done Sherlock Holmes proud. You see every street animal as a potential trap, specifically placed at that location to start moving at the worst possible time. You hardly have to ever look into the rear view mirrors as you can always take the presence of another driver right by your throat for granted. No need to look sideways too, since that space too would most probably be taken. Might as well put a cello tape on the horn and be done with the responsibility of pressing that darn button every 2 microseconds. Where are the surprises ? I say, you have to be a real 'good' driver to screw up here in India.

Letters from India: Additude

I cannot believe how much attitude these advertisement guys are trying to pour into each one of their creations on the Indian television. I am pretty sure that they have the innocuous aim of just wooing the yuppies (yo!), but have they no regard for me who just shudders out of goosebumbs whenever another such stupid creation presents itself on the TV ?

Wherever I see on the TV, there are dudes doing things which cool people ought to do, you know speak incoherent Hinglish, sport spiked hair, wear skin tight Baniyans so that their bulging muscles dance indecently in front of your eyes. And then their are the girls, again indulging in cool stuff highly associated with gangs of 21st century teens like rolling their eyes, breaking into a dance at the least possible prod and generally behaving as if each one of them is the last girl in a world that has just suffered an atomic war that has selectively wiped out all the other girls. Some cases in point:

There is this ad about the new CBZ motorcycle. Those at the drawing boards wrecked their brains and figured this thing: If the old CBZ model had a 150 cc engine and the new CBZ has a 160 cc engine, which is the one word which would appropriately describe this humungous, almost brilliant leap in technology. Nevermind that Royal Enfield has been consistently churning out 350 and 500 ccs in India for like a millenium, a 10 cc increase over 150 can only be done justice with one word: Xtreme. So like the morons they really are, they have gone ahead and called it CBZ Xtreme. Notice how they have omitted the E in Xtreme because proper pronunciation would not let their product get registered on the limited comprehension radars of 20 somethings and who knows: a CBZ Extreme might after all, not turn out to be as Extreme as Xtreme. With this much of Xtremity, I expect nothing less than a machine that breaks window panes with its sound, regularily breaks the sound barrier, and produces fumes of aqua regia in place of the regular exhaust of CO2 and CO. No it does nothing of the sort, and I am pretty certain doesn't hit anything more than 120 kmph (Pulsar 180 doesn't). Xtreme. Let me just say: My Foot. Thats not all, the model driving the bike proudle says: Thinking is such a waste of time. I would say it would be. For the demographics you are targetting, it would be a surprise if the overhead produced by thinking doesn't fuse their brains into one clogged lump. Thats what these people selling products would have us believe, that thinking is a waste of time. What next, take out our wallets and courier them to you if only you rope in king khan telling us that it would be a cool thing to do ? There is another bike ad in this regard although its a bit less obnoxious. I think its Apache from Honda. Everything is fine with the ad and I like the look of the bike but I just wish they would have refrained from projecting an extreme image of the rider replete with the bad boy image, leathers all over, and chicks going ga ga all over him with the guy himself employing most of his time wheeleing and stoppeing the bike.

Then there is all this talk about forming gangs. Not groups of people who share common interests but gangs who do all the cool stuff. I think Airtel has an ad regarding this. There is a gang of dudes who like racing toy cars in abandoned garages. Their carefully manufactured images include, tight fits, spiked hair, and guess what, tattoos reading 'Tom', 'Dick', '&', 'Harry'. Real ingenious I would say because the whole notion of tattooing is so naturally cool and new as the number of people who have resorted to painted hair or pierced navels or tattoed bodies in search of a unique identity still dwindles at a mere 200 million worldwide.

The bottom line is that its not the product I have problems with but rather the things they are being projected into. As always, I have problems with the irrationality of cultivating a personal image based on corporate whims and secondary expectations, a trait that the media is propagating extremely carefully.


Letters from India: Media finds a new low

I would never have thought that it was even possible. After the immense wave of mediocrity that swept the Indian media in the wake of the mentally retarded shenanigans which were the hallmarks of idiots like Ekta Kapoor, I would hardly ever have thought that things could go any worse from there. Believe it or not but they have. Just when you thought that in an era of mindless and cheap entertainment, mindless and cheap entertainment could not get any more mindless and cheap, they surely have. Ofcourse there are some saving graces, islands of creativity teetering on the brink of exhaustion in a sea marred with popular acceptance of sub-par creativity but all in all, its a sad story.

News channels have yet again fallen down in the quality of their contents. While the front page of Times of India routinely features atleast 50% space as advertisements and 30% of the space with news like 'Man in Jabalpur pays 10 lakhs for a special Phone number' or 'Owners of these fancy numbers once sold Chole Bhature' in bold, other papers, traditionally held in a bit of respect, have started following suite. News channels like India TV keep themselves in business by sensationalizing every bit of trivia happening in the country. Of late, the news that has hogged all the headlines has been the conviction of Sanjay Dutt in the Bombay Blasts. It seems news channels have opened up temporary offices outside the jail in which he is housed. We are being fed with every little detail of his life. What he eats, where he sleeps, the gory details of his toilets, his minimalistic attire, how he is being treated like a normal person. The last bit of useless information that made into the category of 'breaking news' was about Sanjay Dutt feeling a bit of pain in his chest. News Channels, seeing the potential of taking the viewers for a ride, immediately organized for expert panels of medical practitioners, each of them trying to predict his illness and its repercussions. Similarly, there was this case of a child of 17 being beaten to death by his class teacher. You wouldn't believe but news channels prepared elaborate animations depicting how the teacher might have beaten him. They reached his home and started pestering his moaning mother with retarded questions like 'How do you feel'. Everyone in the village from his friends to their relatives to the school janitor to the dogs and cats had their 15 minutes. Its news journalism at its most heartless.

The saas bahu genre is holding its post strong in this battle of sanity versus insanity. From what I could make of off the discussions in my family, Tulsi seems to have died (or changed). I would say, about time now. People in our world generally die off when they reach an age of 125. But Baa seems in her frolicking best. Rolling around merrily at a ripe old age of atleast 200. There are atleast 2000 characters per serial and I am guessing, atleast 5000 such serials on Star Plus alone. And each of those 5000 serials tries to dish out another concoction made out of the same old stories of revenge and betrayal and love and hate and vamps and bahus doing pooja every single day. Grandaughters have started looking older than grandmothers, women viler than your average Hannibal Lecter, audience more numb than hippies on LSD.

Every channel now has a host of reality shows. Most of these shows are concerned with young and budding singers and I must say they are a helluva talented bunch. But then these shows go ahead and try to use their brains and add emotions and reality bites and behind the scene footages to dilute an otherwise perfectly good idea. Anyways, its still better than anything else on the conventional channels. The one good thing that has happened is a dedicated channel for cricket. Now I can sit in front of the TV all day like the mindless couch potato I am.


Letters from India: Air India - Hostesses et. al.

Before leaving for India, some of my good friends tried to do what every good friend should do when he comes to know that I am flying from Air India: make me nervous by recounting their horrendous experiences while flying with the carrier. Their rants usually were thinly veiled in statements like : "the food is great and they give lots of it too, afterall it never reaches on time" or "you will never miss a meal since the air-hostesses will wrench your ear if it comes to that if you do not wake up to eat it" etc. So I said to myself, well, how bad could it be, huh ? I mean, I am not someone who is especially famed for the size of his appetite and the expanse of his tummy. Neither am I a particular stickler for punctuality. And all that drivel about monstrous air-hostesses should really be an over-exaggeration of minor inconsistencies. Needless to say, and contrary to my expectations, my flight with Air India was more than interesting. Let me just mention the good things with Air India and be done with them in the begining:

1. The food is good.

Now that I have painfully listed all that was commendable with the service, lets get on with the more interesting part:

For beginners, there is not such thing as a young, beautiful Air India hostess. You might as well find unicorns roaming around in your backyards before you get to see one of those female mythical creatures who are supposed to serve you murg mussalam, look below 45 and occupy an Air India flight all at the same time. Thats the stuff legends are made of. I might as well, someday, tell fabled stories about young stewardesses serving in Air India to my grandchildren. Anyways, they were over the hill, hopelessly face-painted, frustrated aunties who do not find it inappropriate to snub passengers at the slightest possible pretext. There was this one guy who was sitting beside me and the lady came over to ask him if he wanted some water. He said no so she moved on. I do not know what happened then but the guy stopped her when she had moved ahead and asked her for water again. She turned back, took a glass, gave it to him alright but not without an expression which said "Don't you dare do this again and if you do, might as well provide your eye balls in a platter since I will anyways gouge them out of your freaking sockets". I am not exaggerating when I say that I almost choked out of fear. He would have done all this one more time had I not caught his arm and force his head down to damp the last syllables of his fateful sentence "Can I have the Orange juice". I swear, she turned, and her eyes were blood shot and I almost caught the glimpse of the hidden hatchet. I would have given him up. Seriously, I want to live. I would have given him up but maybe she did not hear the full sentence. She just saw my fear stricken eyes and the dude beside me struggling in the grasp of my arms, gave me a menacing look, and silently creeped ahead. If ever there was a guy who had a near death experience, it was me. And I am not exaggerating.

Then there were all these ill made informational videos coming on the 'SHARED' television sets in the plane. The most notable among those videos was the one where they tell you how to wear the life jacket and inflate it. My bullshit detector went berserk when it showed a young air-hostess. And she was smiling too. I instantly realized that this particular video was not meant for this particular flight and began to watch them with a more objective eye. They were all smiling and laughing while strapping on the jacket. Now I am not an expert on human emotions and expressions when subjected to conditions of extreme stress and tension but I find it hard to believe that someone would be rollicking merrily when told to strap on a life jacket because the plane will have to make an emergency landing on the Atlantic Ocean. I never get it. How come all these emergency informational videos and posters show self-assured, happy people? By definition, an in-flight emergency instructional item refers to a time when you would do well to rein in that useless smile of yours and try to do something more important like, um... I don't know, maybe SAVE YOUR LIFE. But no, even the kid is laughing in the video. Which brings me to the kid who was behind me all the time blasting my ears off. How much do they weigh ? Maybe 40 pounds ? I don't know, shouldn't they be counted as extra baggage ? How come I dragged my 50 pounds baggage from the domestic terminal to the international in LA (atleast 15 miles) just to find that I had to check it in and the people behind me got to bring this 40 pound shrieking machine right into the plane ? Please for god's sake, atleast put them in the compartment above... Hee Hee Hee... Just kidding...

Seriously speaking, it wasn't all that bad really and I do have this obsessive compulsive disorder of adding a bit of spice to everything. Life would be too darn drab, if it were to be coloured just with the monotonicity of reality.


Diversity in Diversity

Of late, I have employed a major portion of my free time sifting through some of the most admired and creatively endowed creations of American cultural history and there is something that strikes me as very odd vis-a-vis the same scenario in the Indian context. It seems that the regional/social/economical diversity that permeates the very air that we breathe as Indians has had delitereous effects on the national consciousness as a whole.

The effect I am talking about here is a lack of a unified national cultural history in the Indian context. The lack of marker points down the memory lane of the 60 years we have been independent. These marker points ought to have been produced on the artistic radar had we not been such a hugely divided society. Subjectively speaking, the only field which does tie the Indians together and makes them forget the petty divides of religion or economic status seems to be cricket. And as expected, the silent jubilation, the subdued enthusiasm which wells up the eyes of my father when he talks about the 1983 victory is the same with any person who had the fortune of being a part of history at that time. It does not matter for him if he is from Southern India or Northern India or Eastern or Western. These are the marker points I am talking about. Events in the history of national consciousness which make its citizens feel a greater sense of bonding among themselves. Sadly for a country as diverse as India, we as a population have proven to be woefully inadequate at identifying/producing those unifying experiences.

America, even though its a relativey young society, nevertheless boasts of a strong artistic tradition (atleast in the 20th century) which is shared evenly among its people. Experiences ranging from the rocknroll era of the 60s to the advent of blues and jazz and rock and others. A rich Television culture which seems to have deteriorated now but which used to be much more intelligent and informative and humurous back in the 60s to the 80s (I have been watching reruns of the great Johnny Carson, letterman, family sitcoms like Bewitched etc.). A tradition of various sports (the choice of the sport notwithstanding). A movie industry which produced some really great works before it got infested with talelntless freaks. A decent tradition of literature and a brilliant culture of science and technology. The achievement of America does not necessarily lie in reaching these milestones but it lies in building a national character which identifies and takes pride in all this. Not as segregated people but as citizens of the same country.

It must be noted that I am not demeaning any culture, far less pitting Indian against American. If anything, I have always maintained that Indian culture has had far more depth and beauty than its American counterpart. But I feel sad if I have to think of 5 events in Indian history when I felt sort of proud and happy at being a citizen of India rather than being a Northie or a UPite (the wars not counting) and I find difficulty stating even 2. Its both sad and amusing at the same time when I read the comments on a Johnny Carson video. People from remote areas of the country, in their 50s and 60s, share a collective nostalgia about him starting back in 1962 all the way upto 1992. Its refreshing to read the sentiments of the middle class, middle aged Americans on the video of Don Mclean singing about the Chevy. I wonder if there is anything we as Indians can remember so fondly.

To wrap it up, I understand that language is but one of the most important factors involved here. I understand that diversity has played its part here but thats not the point. There has to be a set of causes to any effect. What I am sad about is the effect.


Letterman's best videos

As most of you might already know, David Letterman has been one of the most proficient late night talk show hosts during the last 2 and a half decades. He hosts the late show on CBS nowadays but prior to 1993 he used to be the host of Late Night with David Letterman on NBC. I just love his earlier shows from 1983 to 93. I love his act more for mindless and often very innocent entertainment than for any intelligent humor. Of late he seems to have become more politically angry and has stopped doing the antics which made him cutting edge during the start of his career. Anyways, here is an incomplete list of the letterman clips I could find on Youtube. As I said, its mostly just mindless innocent humor. If you are looking for something more intelligent, Dave is not the way to go:

1. Dispensing hot towels at a bus station - Larry 'Bud' Melman

2. Rena Smaha and her monkeys

3. Dave visits Taco Bell

4. Excursions

5. Dave interrupts the Today's Show

6. Letterman visits the GE building



Its one of those perfectly fine days when your time is passing by without too much of a hassle, when nothing particularly startling happens to break the pleasing monotonicity. Its one of those days when you suddenly ask yourself a very simple question. Or atleast I sometimes do: Is there anything 'really' worth spending my life for ? Its obviously one of those tantalizing questions which prod you to think a little deeper but which, at the same time, make you vaguely aware of the fact that if you still do not have the answer to this question somewhere in your gut, you might never really be able to find it. It makes you painfully cognizant of the truth that if you have still had to ask this question to yourself, you might probably just have followed the tide till now. As painful as this knowledge might be, it certainly doesn't stop one from asking the question itself. If only for a purely academic, even futile purpose, nobody should be unfortunate enough to lead a life without ever being courageous enough to stare the stark truth in the eye.

So here I am once again musing over this conundrum. Not that I think I can find an answer. Just because sometimes it feels nice to think that while everyone seems to be passing another day, another week, another year trying to meet the deadlines, shaping their future, climbing up the ladder, I am somehow vaguely aware of the futility of it all. If I remember correctly, Watterson, through his mouthpiece Calvin, once said:

"The problem with people is that they don't look at the big picture. Eventually, we're each going to die, our species will go extinct, the sun will explode, and the universe will collapse. Existence isn't only temporary, it's pointless! We're all doomed, and worse, nothing matters!"

As painfully vestigial life is, it no doubt has to be led. Thats not the worst part. The worst part is that most of us lead hating it. Not hating in the 'I am suicidal' kind of way. But just in the 'It sucks' kind of way. And this is where the question rears its ugly head. There is only so far you can go pretending to be happy before you are forced to verify the authenticity of the facade.

Frankly speaking, I have only met one person in my life who was definitively able to answer this question for himself and I did learn something very important there. Its called passion. Not in the Orkut Profile sense of 'I am passionate about reading and hiking and sports and movies........'. But in the more muted sense of way. Such a passion becomes something so personal that it seems kind of vulgar sharing it with the society on as futile a stage as a social networking site.

Anyways, being a graduate student I often come across people who are constantly bargaining away their time for meeting deadlines and studying hard. I am not saying there is anything wrong with that. I just hope they find the effort worth the investment of something as precious as life and that they seriously enjoy doing what they do. If thats not the case, I hope that they are atleast trying to do something which makes them happy for a considerable portion of their day.

As far as I am concerned, I must say I cannot pinpoint one single thing I could devote my life to. I envy those who have an answer. I am just trying to find it for myself. It might be music (even though I suck and it doesn't matter). It might be Physics. It might be something entirely unrelated. Or it might just be the fun of exploring uncharted waters. Its certainly not money. Its certainly not a lot of scientific publications. Its certainly not a plum job. Life is too priceless to be wasted on things so ephemeral. And its too worthless to be spent doing something "meaningful".


Greatest game of chess ever played

Depicted above is widely regarded by many greats like Kasparov, Capablanca etc. as the most brilliant game of chess ever played. The game was played in 1851 between Adolf Anderssen and Lionel Kieseritzky. The two greats locked horns in this informal game which was played in an official tournament in London during a break.

In this game Anderssen sacrificed a bishop on move 11, both rooks starting on move 18, and the queen on move 22 to produce a checkmate which stands unparalleled in its brilliance.

The moves of the game with small annotations (source: Wikipedia):

White: Adolf Anderssen
Black: Lionel Kieseritzky
Opening: King's Gambit, C33

1. e4 e5 2. f4

This is the King's Gambit: Anderssen offers his pawn in exchange for faster development. Although this was a common opening in the nineteenth century, it is less common today, as Black is often able to eventually equalize development, so White will be down in material.

2. ... exf4

Kieseritsky accepts the gambit; this variant is thus called the King's Gambit Accepted.

3. Bc4 Qh4+

Black's move will force White to move his king and White will not be able to castle, but this move also places Black's queen in peril, and Black will have to waste time to protect it.

4. Kf1 b5?

This is the Bryan gambit, named after Thomas Jefferson Bryan. It is not considered a sound move by most players today.

5. Bxb5 Nf6 6. Nf3

This is a common developing move, but the knight now attacks Black's queen, forcing Black to protect it instead of developing his own side.

6. ... Qh6 7. d3

With this move, White now has solidified control over the critical center of the board.

7. ... Nh5

This move threatens Ng3+, and it protects the pawn at f4, but it also sidelines the knight to a poor position at the edge of the board, where knights are the least powerful.

8. Nh4 Qg5

9. Nf5 c6

This simultaneously unpins the queen pawn and attacks the bishop.

10. g4 Nf6 11. Rg1!

This is an advantageous passive piece sacrifice. If Black accepts, his queen will be moved away from the action, giving White a lead in development.

11. ... cxb5?

12. h4!

White's knight at f5 protects the pawn, which is attacking Black's queen.

12. ... Qg6 13. h5 Qg5 14. Qf3

Anderssen now has two threats:

* Bxf4, which will trap Black's queen (the queen has no safe place to go),
* e5, which would attack Black's knight at f6 while simultaneously exposing an attack by White's queen on the unprotected black rook at a8.

14. ... Ng8

This deals with the threats, but undevelops Black even further — now the only Black piece not on its starting square is the queen, which is about to be put on the run, while White has control over a great deal of the board.

15. Bxf4 Qf6 16. Nc3 Bc5

An ordinary developing move by Black, which also attacks the rook at g1.

17. Nd5

White responds to the attack with a counter-attack. This move threatens Nc7, which would fork the king and rook.

17. ... Qxb2

Black gains a pawn, and threatens to gain the rook at a1 with check.

18. Bd6!!

With this move White offers to sacrifice both his rooks. Huebner comments that, from this position, there are actually many ways to win, and he believes there are at least three better moves than 18. Bd6: 18. d4, 18. Be3, or 18. Re1, which lead to strong positions or checkmate without needing to sacrifice so much material. The commercial version of the chess-playing computer program Junior recommends 18. Nc7+, followed by Re1. Garry Kasparov has pointed out that the world of chess would have lost one of its "crown jewels" if the game had continued in such an unspectacular fashion. The Bd6 move is unusual, because White is willing to give up so much material.

18. ... Bxg1?

It is from this move that Black's defeat stems.

19. e5!

This sacrifices yet another White rook. More importantly, this move prevents the Black queen from protecting Black's g7 pawn — in fact, the Black queen will not be able to easily return to defend Black's king at all. It sets up a dangerous possible attack, 20. Nxg7+ Kd8 21. Bc7#.

20. ... Qxa1+ 20. Ke2

At this point, Black's attack has run out of power; Black has a queen and bishop on the back row, but cannot effectively mount an immediate attack on White, while White can storm forward.

21. ... Na6

This move was probably made to counter 21. Nc7, which would fork the Black king and rook, and it prevents the bishop from occupying c7 as part of a mating attack, but White has another dangerous attack available. 20...Ba6 is a much better try.

22. Nxg7+ Kd8 22. Qf6+

This is a queen sacrifice, on top of the earlier sacrifices of a bishop and both rooks, and Black cannot avoid taking the queen.

22. ... Nxf6 23. Be7# 1-0

At the end, Black is ahead in material by a considerable margin: a queen and two rooks, plus the advantage of having both bishops, while having only one fewer pawn. But the material does not help Black. White has been able to use his remaining pieces - two knights and a bishop - to force mate.


How to kill a mouse

Here is a step by step procedure for killing that mouse that has been pestering you at nights for so long. The inspiration for this is a real life incident that took place at one of my friends' house. He happened to trap the mouse in a small enclosure but now he is hanging in the dilemma of what to do with it. The mouse has been sitting in that dark enclosure for a few days now (I guess) and apparently it has become extremely annoyed at having been kept deprived of any food whatsoever. He expresses his anger by nibbling at the enclosure's wooden interiors. There is another twist to this story. A moral one. His roommate doesn't want to kill the mouse. So here is the situation in a nutshell:

The Cast: 2 roommates. 1 mouse.

The Scene: Mouse trapped below a table. All exits closed. Its dark inside. And lonely. The mouse is infuriated at this blatant disregard for rodent rights. He starts polishing the wood of the table. Roommate 1 who happens to share the room with the table which stands on top of the mouse who is nibbling gets crazy by the constant sound of dentine workout. He cannot take it anymore. But he cannot do much. The other roommate doesn't want to kill the mouse. And they sure can't let him go.

The Dilemma: Should they kill him or should they take the humunguous risk of trying to open an exit and catch the mouse so that they could throw him out ? Should they feed him ? What if he comes back again ? And with vengeance ? What if he nibbles through the table and comes out in the open to set matters straight with the two ? What if he bites through the floor and falls in the room below ?

My stance is that the mouse should be killed and killed fast. Opening the exits and trying to catch him is far too dangerous to be considered as a possible option. He might run away and who knows what all possibilities might present themselves to him as means of getting back to his captors with interest. The shoe rack, the cupboard, the foodgrains, the linens are all possible targets. And it is only too well known how devastating a pissed rodent can prove to be. The only option is to kill him and here are some of my suggestions as to how to do it. We have all seen rodent killing baits and sprays but all those methods seem to be too demeaning for a mouse that has suffered so much. His death should be special:

1. Concentration Chamber: Get some of the stuff Hitler used to use and pass it below the desk. Close the exit, wait for 20 minutes then open to find the mouse dead. Even if he is not dead, I am sure he would atleast be inebriated in which case you can get a hold of him and throw him out. Make sure to bang his head with a spatula before throwing. This will ensure that even if he gets back to his senses, he will have no recollection of what has been meted out to him and by whom. You do not want to be in his bad books.

2. The magic: This is a very delicate technique. You will need 2 swords. Start from the left edge of the table. Make a hole just big enough so that you could insert a sword into it but not big enough for the mouse to come out. Insert one sword upto the end. Move a bit to the right and carry out the same procedure with the second sword. Now take out the first one and insert it to the right of the second. Keep doing it till one of your swords touches something soft. Once it does, give it a final violent push. The mouse is dead. Now on with carpet cleaning.

3. The deathly workout: Take two gongs and place them on two opposite sides of the table. Ring one. The mouse startled, will run to the opposite side. Go to the opposite side and ring the other one. The mouse will run to the previous side. Keep doing this all through the night and the mouse should be dead by the morning due to exhaustion. The mouse might be intelligent but its not that you have nothing going for you. You have more expendable fat.

So here were my kickass techniques for killing a mouse. If nothing works out you can atleast transfer your pains to the apartment below:

Dig a trench in the floor all around the table. The trench should be big enough to see the ongoings of the apartment below. Open the exit. The mouse runs out and falls through the trench in the house below. All done. You have a ruined floor and carpet but you also have the satisfaction which only comes from seeing someone else endure the pain that has resided in your butt till now.


Taste of Potassium Cyanide

I was wondering today. What would Potassium Cyanide taste like ? Not that I am going to try to find out anytime but I am just driven by the basic human weakness of inquisitiveness. Afterall even a miniscule dose kills in less than 15 seconds. Is it even possible to determine its taste ? I know it smells like Almonds but how would one determine the taste ?

People have said that some guys have tasted diluted form of KCN and experienced a bitter taste but I can easily refute this theory. This theory just does not hold water. Why would one drink a diluted solution of KCN in order to determine its taste ? I mean, if 300 mg is needed to kill a person, why would one need to dilute it with water in order to find the taste. Why not just take, lets say 50 mg of undiluted KCN and be done with it ? Diluting KCN in water will only serve one purpose - Making it harder still to determine the taste with certainity. Most of these stories must have been the brainchild of some idle nincompoop grappling with the properties of solutions in physical chemistry trying to apply his half baked ideas to practical applications like this.

So here is my advice to all those who are willing to stake their lives for a better informed society : Try KCN in a smaller dose. I would say 1/5 of the fatal dose. If you are lucky enough, you would be able to tell the taste. There is just no point trying to dilute it with water and then wondering why the hell does the solution tastes like distilled water. The result also depends upon your sensitivity of taste. Mind you, if you cannot taste it, you were just not cut out for it. Don't go 'Well lets have one more spoon and see what happens'. It doesn't have to be an ego point. If your friend performs better, well, tough luck. Don't swell your chest and go 'My mom said if someone can do it, I can too'.

Anyways, I digressed a bit. I was thinking of making a movie plot which would revolve around this special property of KCN. The movie would be 3.5 hours long. It would start with a happy family. Everyone would be leading a perfect life until one fine day the husband discovers that his wife is cheating on him and tension starts to simmer beneath the surface. The wife suspects that he knows. They constantly indulge in quarrels which by the way screw up the children completely. Depression coupled with midlife crisis forces the husband to evaluate his life. He starts looking for ways to make sense of his life which he thinks is going waste. What could he do to make a mark in the world ? How would the world remember his name ? How can he bring a meaningful change to society ? Such are the questions pestering him when he comes upon this unsolved problem of the taste of KCN. Perfect ! He doesn't wanna live anymore. How better to die than dying for the betterment of the society. He figures:

"If not in life, I would be worth atleast in death' (Melodramatic music. Glycerine. Flashbacks of his wife and children).

Ecstatic at this ingenious plan, he moves ahead to bring it to fruition. Last 10 minutes of the movie. He has to tell whether KCN tastes sugary or salty. He has the bottle in his hands. He has a pen in the other hand. A pink coloured, scented paper is lying just below the pen. Orchestral music is slowly reaching a crescendo. There are beads of perspiration on his head. He weighs his judgement again. His children float in front of his eyes. Then his wife. His home. His dreams, happy times. Then the sullen faces of all those millions who lead an unfulfilled life unaware of the taste of KCN and die with only one wish- What the hell does it taste like ? In that moment of intense judgement he decides to die for the social good. He takes a spoonful and transfers it to his mouth. Sudden convulsion grips him instantly. He starts shivering, choking, writhing in pain. He takes the pen and in that last moment of intense concentration writes something down... Police arrive the next day and see the paper. Whats it gonna be. Sugary or Salty? Sugary or Salty? Sugary or Salty? The paper reads:


Hu ha ha ha. Hu ha ha ha. My revenge against all those suckers who leave the most important details of a movie 'to the discretion of the viewer'. My foot. How about this ending. Not only is it a kickass story, it also makes sure that millions of manhours are wasted all across the world. Next time when a bunch of friends come out of a David Lynch atrocity, they could atleast console themselves by saying:

"Atleast Lynch didn't pull off a Srivastava"

About Me

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Like a particularly notorious child's tantrums, a mountaneous river's intemperance, a volcano's reckless carelessness and the dreamy eyes of a caged bird, imagination tries to fly unfettered. Hesitant as she takes those first steps, she sculpts those ambitious yet half baked earthen pots.