June 15, 2014 § 2 Comments
“ Good has two meanings: it means that which is good absolutely and that which is good for somebody. ” — Aristotle
Last few weeks I have been giving advice to students regarding their prospective universities for bachelor, masters and PhD programmes. Its a tough time for any kid, particularly the undergrads, fourteen is no age to be asked what you want to do with your life. That though, is another story. The practical questions get asked, rather blatantly.
How much does the university cost? What is the scope?
How much money will I make ones I get out?
In the entire ordeal, I realized that my father had got me quality education. For all the times I bunked class, or didn’t pay attention, while I did end up getting a decent degree, I never questioned my own abilities. I think it was reassuring to know that my father thought of me as a smart kid.
So, whatever potential that I had and whatever I managed to exhibit, this man always always believed. Simply that. Believe in your kids. So today I think I should just say…
You da’ man, pops!!
June 9, 2014 § 2 Comments
I woke up earlier than I am used to. My room window faces east, but the rays of morning sunlight are governed by the vagaries of the swaying Ashoka tree. Today, the house is ablaze with the preparation for the vratham. I wouldn’t say our house is old as much as that it has personality. Slowly it creeks and cracks towards readiness to shelter some 30 invitees, all family. The women of the house are priming it like a temple elephant that is still good for one more festive procession. Ok, wake up!
Grandma, mom, sister, and aunties are in-charge today. You best stay out of their way.
I look around lazily as preparations are underway. I have an automatic exception from house duties. There seems to be an unwritten understanding that I don’t do my best work in the morning. I must not take this privilege lightly. I know better than to ask for coffee, it will come in time. I hope.
Papa is a smart man, he knows his place today, he hovers quietly in and out of existence, declaring himself in-charge of any last minute shopping, extra thamalpaku (betel leaves) or more incense sticks. His only act of valor is when he periodically declares that we need to hurry up and that we are running behind schedule, much to the scorn of the ladies. Like any of this is planned!
I should probably try to help. Yum Laddoos!
Physical attributes lead to employment today, my height makes me in-charge of hanging flower garlands to doorways. I need to hang around here, lest I get transferred to something horrible, like last minute dusting, or heavy lifting. Ugh!
I am always keen to declare that I am a man of science. Evidence and scientific proof are of great value to me in any argument. Hence, I always wondered if I am an atheist. Moreover, if I am a hypocrite if I practice religion. It is true that there is no evidence to support anything religious I do, but there is peace of mind, is that not evidence?
The calm words of Prof. Carl Sagan bring reassurance. His commented in 1981:
“An atheist is someone who is certain that God does not exist, someone who has compelling evidence against the existence of God. I know of no such compelling evidence. Because God can be relegated to remote times and places and to ultimate causes, we would have to know a great deal more about the universe than we do now to be sure that no such God exists. To be certain of the existence of God and to be certain of the nonexistence of God seem to me to be the confident extremes in a subject so riddled with doubt and uncertainty as to inspire very little confidence indeed.”
Agnostic it is…
April 9, 2014 § 1 Comment
I am so proud of IIIT for participating in Earth Hour last week. What matters is that we tried, don’t care for arguments that the energy we saved was too little, or otherwise inconsequential. As any high school coach would say, it’s important that you try. It shows culture and character.
So, today I stand shoulder to shoulder, to join the chorus of hundreds of voices that descend your social network feeds in saying, please vote.
The Hindu presented a rather depressing account of the situation of election in our country (read here). It is but one example of how the electorate has devalued the process of electing a leader. Depressing? yes! but..
Let me just say this though: We have always ridden on hope. A belief that at the very end of need, the machinery will come through to save us. While Dhoni batting at number six is one example, let us review this claim a bit more theoretically.
Exit, Voice, and Loyalty is a treatise written by Albert O. Hirschman in 1970 on a concept of the ultimatum that faces a person when (s)he no longer finds value of being in association or membership of an organization. Basically, there are two choices: either “exit” or “voice”.
A good explanation from Wikipedia that I directly quote:
The basic concept is as follows: members of an organization, whether a business, a nation or any other form of human grouping, have essentially two possible responses when they perceive that the organization is demonstrating a decrease in quality or benefit to the member: they can exit (withdraw from the relationship); or, they can voice (attempt to repair or improve the relationship through communication of the complaint, grievance or proposal for change).
Across our nation, political discourse has long shifted to “exit”. Consider a working middle class man, a father. He will invest with low risk (land or gold). He accounts for and is willing to pay bribe for any procedural activity. He wants his children to be educated and hopefully settle abroad. Wouldn’t like to talk openly of his political views .. I could go on, but I am sure this person sounds familiar. Hence, Exit, need not be physical option as much as a mental or an emotional one.
Diesel prices are subsidized in our country as it is important to keep the price of transportation of essential goods and food low. However, a large portion of this subsidized fuel is now used by diesel vehicles in urban India. The justification being, I get very little as it is, so let me grab what little I can. Let, me, my family and my sub-society survive first, then I can worry about the good of the nation.
The past year is special in the history of India, where we begin to see the manifestation of the second form of ultimatum, the “voice” . A counter-culture phenomenon, that has made it acceptable to be vocal of our anger, resentment and displeasure with the system. Hirschman makes an interesting point in that the biggest threat to the “voice” is the “exit”. It may be sufficient to say however, that both forms to ultimatums can co-exist in a vast populace of our nation.
If we are absolutely honest with ourselves, it can be quite interesting to see how much of our thought is shaped by Voice and Exit. I know mine has, and perhaps there is value in being self-aware on this front.
Which brings me to the premise of this article. I believe, firmly and with vigor, that the “Loyalty” of the people of this country dwarfs any postulate Hirschman can make. For all said and done, we are so fundamentally rooted to a fuzzy concept of my India that transcends the displeasure of how poorly she is governed, or how unfulfilled is her potential.
So, I urge each and everyone of us, to look to this connection, to feel that we belong to something extraordinary and give us an opportunity to change ourselves.
Don’t be an Idiot. Vote!
March 30, 2014 § Leave a comment
My father gave me care, nourishment, education, and sustenance, but I never loved him more than the day he got me the Sony Walkman cassette player.
This nicely designed metallic rectangle, was exactly what a fourteen year old needed to dive into the lyrical and musical genius of popular music. Looking back now at my tape collection, I am definitely using the word ‘genius’ loosely. I saved battery life by winding back the tape with a pencil. Cleaned the head regularly with cotton, and I remember being very disappointed when the pause button came off.
Most importantly, it was compact enough to belong to one person. The use case made is so that it was mine. It defined me as I defined it. It empowered me to start my day with my music, a powerful feeling. The language of Delhi allows for only the quintessential metaphor, so I make this post PG-13 (more like PG-7 these days) by saying that device was fucking awesome.
It is a story that continues, doesn’t it. The empowering feeling of awe! It’s possible to do, be, know, say, think all these amazing things, whether its my Science textbook, the Atlas, The Encarta Encyclopaedia CD, the Sherlock Holmes series, Indiana Jones, MTV, or Shammi Kapoor. That is the truly gratifying purpose of education. To create humans with open minds and beautiful hearts.
“One thing is for certain: the more profoundly baffled you have been in your life, the more open your mind becomes to new ideas.” ~Neil deGrasse Tyson
March 15, 2014 § Leave a comment
Walking down Chandi Chowk is always an inspiring moment, and one of the best things to do in Old Delhi, even if street food doesn’t particularly excite you. This time I also saw the famous Urdu calligraphers and some of their works. My best mate has now had the best chicken of his life time at Karim’s. But he will never know the goodness of ‘Shahi Tukda‘ for a reason as lame as, ‘I am full’.
The bazaar, like Koti or general Bazaar in Hyderabad, is the quintessential wholesale market that is buzzing with activity even on a hot weekday afternoon. I pointed out, the best I could, to what is reminiscent of the old Havali architectures and some of the British colonial buildings that you can still find there. The people and the processes of the area would be quite alien to the rest of us, but one can passively observe them live their lives under the shadows of the majestic Red Fort and Jama Masjid. Aah..What structures of grandeur and awe!!
Some history from Wikipedia: Chandi Chowk was built outside the Red Fort by Shah Jahan as he looked to create his new capital next to the banks of Yamuna, Shahjahanabad. The bazaar was designed by his favourite daughter, Princess Jahanara, and was originally designed for the shops to be in the shape of a half-moon centered by a pool which shimmered from moon light. The name would most likely have come from the word Chand, meaning silver, which the market was famous for. The Moghul procession traditionally passed through Chandi Chowk, a tradition that continued to 1903, Delhi Darbar.
To me a simple walk through the grand market is a reminder of the complex and chaotic nature of India. The sheer scale and energy shatters any attempts to measure, validate or harness it. It is tempting, for the sake of conversation and argument, to reduce this labyrinth of confusion into metrics we can comprehend. Chandi Chowk then is a reminder that no amount of academic economics, commerce, and statistics can summarize India and what it is doing; right or wrong. So at what rate is India growing? The GDP of India reduces from something point something to a meager something-else point something-else. Are now having lesser meaning as performance indicators.
What is for certain is that the great kings of old knew that even with absolute might and power, to rule is a privilege. While it is possible to rule by oppression, it would not last. The only lasting method to stay in power for substantial amounts of time is to ensure that the subjects are empowered, and have a means of livelihood. To this end, while there are several pretenders like the Nizams’, the Moghul Kings were exemplary. It is not an accident that they were able to imbibe their culture, and heritage to the people. Empire rose and fell in India, those that left a legacy in history are the ones that helped India grow and prosper.
February 16, 2014 § 2 Comments
I did a bit of research on this piece, I found on Reddit. Here is what I learnt.
(I suggest you hit play and immerse yourself in the music)
This is one of the final compositions of Ludwig van Beethoven, who was notably nearly deaf at the time. It is termed a string quartet, since it consists of four string instruments; two violins, a viola (different from a violin) and a cello. A string quartet was the most popular ensembles with most 18th century composers.
This particular piece, known as Große Fuge Op 133, or Grand Fugue (composed in 1825) was recorded in the famous musical theater known as the Mozart-Saal inside the Konzerthaus, Vienna, in 1989. The Opus number (Op. in short) is a publication number, indicating the chronology of each composition. In music, a Fugue is a composition technique that counterpoints two or more strands of melody, introduced either simultaneously or within a short duration of each other.
Critics had a hard time understanding this complex composition, early comments were harsh and dismissive. It was only in the 20th century that this work is considered among the composer’s greatest compositions, alongside the Ode to Joy or the Ninth Symphony. Experts now say that it is one of the most complex and technically challenging pieces, even by the great composer’s standards. It is the largest and most difficult of Beethoven’s last set of musical composition, known as the late quartets.
It is said that Beethoven was disappointed that the crowd didn’t encore the Fugue, a man usually known to be indifferent to public opinion (calling them tasteless cattle). A lot of analysis has been written on this piece, with the time scales and rhythms dynamically changing without traditional structure it continues to be a very contemporary composition even today.
For me, I barely noticed the time as the video ended, engulfed in the character and richness of the music. The music starts with an urgency, I imagine the pain and anguish of someone in a hurry, desperately looking for something but unable to find it. There is joy, or perhaps reconciliation as the piece progresses, then hope or false-hope to tease the spirits… then I like to imagine the end was happy.
Happy Valentine’s day readers!