Thursday, 27 December 2012

The wrong debate

The last week-10 days has seen huge debates following the brutal Gang rape in Delhi. However, as usual, what our media and our leaders seem to be focussed on is where to accord blame and responsibility. There was, on the news today, much talk of how society has "commoditized" and "objectified" women and the steps we need to take to sensitise society and ensure the dignity and respect of women.

To be sure we could do with greater levels of sensitivity and respect towards women in society at large. But in this case, the larger problem, to me at least, is the establishment. Civil society has, in fact, reacted to the incident with a sense of outrage that definitely shows concern for women's safety and a desire to treat them with respect.

The establishment, and by this I mean our politicians, our police force and even our media, has on the other hand, been arrogant, callous and cavalier in its attitude towards Crime, especially Sexual Crimes, against women. From comments by Sheila Dikshit, the Chief Minister of Delhi, that women not step out alone at night to Abhijit Mukherjee's (MP and son of President Pranab Mukherjee's son) comment today that alluded that protests by women who went to discotheques have little value, the leadership of this country has only been dismissive of the situation.

A situation that should have united the citizenry and leadership of India to take positive action against violence and crimes against women has instead degenerated into a debate that blames every thing from western dresses to bollywood item numbers for the rape of women.

The argument being made in the case of rape today is akin to saying "if you wear a gold chain and step out and a thief snatches it, you are responsible for wearing the chain and tempting him in the first place. Therefore, it is you and not the thief who is responsible for the theft." Does that even sound logical?

Preventing crime against women is not about asking women to "behave". It is about sending out a strong message to criminals that they will not be allowed to go unpunished. It is about the system putting it's weight behind the victim and not looking for their faults or flaws. No matter how provocatively dressed a woman may be, it is not license to rape or eve tease or even make lewd remarks about her. And it is our leadership and our law enforcement agencies that seem to be more in need of this lesson today than civil society.

While crime and criminals arise from society, it is the state that has the power to keep them in check. That is the first and most important function that a state must perform - use the force relegated to it by its citizenry to keep them safe. And that is the function that this debate has conveniently pushed under the carpet. That is the question that the government refuses to take forward. 

Sunday, 4 November 2012

The Big News

So I have one more blog now. And to know the Big News, you need to go check it out here.

The news is partly the reason I've been inactive for a while on the posts as well as the book reading and reviewing. Not saying anymore here!

Sunday, 21 October 2012

The next age of participation

Democracy, the haloed form of government championed by the 20th century, has developed a few dark spots lately. World over, we have seen citizens stand up demanding accountability from their representatives - whether it's the Occupy movements or wikileaks that call the actions of public officials to scrutiny. 

India itself saw an awakening of sorts with Anna Hazare making a stand against corruption, Jaago re calling for more people to vote and so on. Most of these movements have reached a sort of plateau, a place where a few "faces" speak on behalf of the movement and the common man has gone back to being a mute spectator. This is chiefly because it is expensive in terms of time and effort for the common man to participate, to seek information - the key enabler of direct participation. While laws such as the Right to information exist, they are wrapped in bureaucracy making it lengthy, cumbersome and painful for the common man to have direct access to government departments, debates and documents.

Technology however, now enables us to tackle the problem of information in a democracy in innovative manners. One such example is Nulpunt - an app that makes available all documents under discussion or scrutiny by the Dutch government. it even allows people to highlight and mark comments and share it on social networks. As a developing country, it is innovative solutions such as this that we must look to to enable and empower our people and to make politicians and politics more answerable.

Fast co design

PS: Also check out this TED talk by Clay Shirky on how social media can change government and organisation structures

Tuesday, 25 September 2012

Closer and farther

As I was checking out one of my favorite places on the Internet today, I came across this piece by Anais Nin:
The secret of a full life is to live and relate to others as if they might not be there tomorrow, as if you might not be there tomorrow. It eliminates the vice of procrastination, the sin of postponement, failed communications, failed communions. This thought has made me more and more attentive to all encounters. meetings, introductions, which might contain the seed of depth that might be carelessly overlooked. This feeling has become a rarity, and rarer every day now that we have reached a hastier and more superficial rhythm, now that we believe we are in touch with a greater amount of people, more people, more countries. This is the illusion which might cheat us of being in touch deeply with the one breathing next to us. The dangerous time when mechanical voices, radios, telephones, take the place of human intimacies, and the concept of being in touch with millions brings a greater and greater poverty in intimacy and human vision.

Written in her diary in May 1946, she seems oddly prophetic to me. It resonates with something that I have been thinking off-late - that with the ability to communicate more, we actually end up communicating less. Recently, two of my very close friends, women who are very very dear to me, have moved away from Mumbai. One to Delhi and the other to the US. I consoled myself saying that they were not more than an email or chat away no matter what the physical distance. But the fact of it is that I haven't really written to them (or to anyone else over the years) or kept abreast with their news. Not in the way people did in letters (been reading some of that too!).

Maybe this is just me and then again maybe it isn't. I have written letters, and mightily long ones at that, when I had no other way of staying in touch. Just the sheer physical effort required, I think, makes one put in an equivalent amount of emotional effort as well. To make it count, in a way. Emails with their instantaneousness seem to lack some of that depth - at least for me, for now. I hope I can change some of that over a period of time.

Tuesday, 18 September 2012


You flash into my head
like a bolt of lightning.
Illuminate corners
long dark and dormant

You bring memories
of days warm and sunny;
memories of ease and comfort;
of walls broken down.

When you delved deep,
it always seemed natural.
Like water that flows

Radiant, innocent, joyous, beautiful.
You are all that this world
is meant to be

You brought that into our lives,
filled rooms with your tinkling laughter;
with your soft voice.

Your voice
still fills the spaces in my head.
And I talk to you
in my night's dreams

Images: A Series of Vases Inspired by Memories and Loss by Hadar Glick

Sunday, 16 September 2012

On Content Creation

When you’re young, you look at television and think, There’s a conspiracy. The networks have conspired to dumb us down. But when you get a little older you realize that’s not true. The networks are in business to give people exactly what they want. That’s a far more depressing thought. Conspiracy is optimistic! You can shoot the bastard! We can have a revolution! But the networks are really in business to give people what they want. It’s the truth.

--  Steve Jobs, quoted in the Information Diet: A case for conscious Consumption by Clay Johnson

Thursday, 13 September 2012

Zen and the art of Motorcycle Maintenance

India | International

"We have artists with no scientific knowledge and scientists with no artistic knowledge and both with no spiritual sense of gravity at all, and the results is not just bad, it is ghastly."

Writing the post on this book has been postponed multiple times. First because I didn’t really know where to begin and then due to Murphy developing a sudden liking for me and my gadgets (scowl scowl scowl!).

But the technical snag is also serendipitous in a way because this is exactly where Pirsig starts his enquiry into the nature of knowledge, its acquisition and how we relate to the world. Pirsig begins his self proclaimed Chautauqua by talking about his travel companions’ discomfort with the very technology that makes their bike trip across the US possible. The specific case of John and Sylvia not wanting to know just what makes a motorbike tick (a very important skill according to the author when one is on a cross country trip through deserted backroads… and I would tend to agree with that) soon becomes a more generic pondering on the nature of knowledge.

As long as the need for food, clothing and shelter is dominant they will continue to work. But now that huge masses of people these needs no longer overwhelm everything else, the whole structure of reason, handed down to us from ancient times, is no longer adequate. It begins to be seen for what it really is – emotionally hollow, esthetically meaningless and spiritually empty. That, today, is where it is at, and will continue to be for a long time to come… I see people like John and Sylvia living lost and alienated from the whole rational structure of civilized life, looking for solutions outside that structure, but finding none that are really satisfactory for long.

With each discovery, Pirsig steps back, trying to arrive at the root of the problem. From our every day relationship with the world around us and the alienation that technology has brought, he moves on to how the education system plays a role in dividing knowing into dualistic, mutually exclusive yins and yangs creating our discomfort with a holistic, non-dualistic view of knowledge and the world around us.

… is the branch of mathematics known as the calculus, which every engineer uses today. Newton invented a new form of reason. He expanded reason to handle infinitesimal changes and I think what is needed now is a similar expansion of reason to handle technological ugliness. The trouble is that the expansion has to be made at the roots, not at the branches, and that’s what makes it hard to see.

Of an experiment conducted with a course he was teaching:

… the brighter, more serious students were the least desirous of grades, possibly because they were more interested in the subject matter of the course, whereas the dull or lazy students were the most desirous of grades, possibly because grades told them if they were getting by.
Pirsig then relates the quest of his alter ego for a unifying concept that brings together the dualities of the subjective and the objective. He recounts vividly, the uphill climb of trying to escape the dualistic though process as well as mode of expression that one has been long conditioned to.

Mountains like these and travellers in the mountains and events that happen to them here are found not only in Zen literature but in the tales of every major religion. The allegory of a physical mountain for the spiritual one that stands between each soul and its goal is an easy and natural one to make

As Pirsig and his son journey through the mountains and valleys together, the reader knows from the pace of their journey, the pace of the upcoming portion of the Chautauqua. Pirsig also gives encouragement to the reader to chug along with him, advices to go slow but steady to avoid burning out through the advice that he gives Chris on pacing himself through the climb to the top of the mountain. Advice that the reader would do well to take at this part of the book.

Pirsig's argument for the fundamental unity of knowledge (defined dualistically as subjective and objective or classical and romantic or art and science) draws extensively from the oriental – Zen, Hinduism, Khayyam’s Rubaiyat – and the Occidental – Plato, Socrates, the Sophists, Aristotle, Kant, Hume. There is a particular section that reminded me directly of the cornerstone of the Hindu notion of detachment and the Bhagvad Gita:

This inner peace of mind occurs on three levels of understanding. Physical quietness seems the easiest to achieve, although there are levels and levels of this too… Mental quietness, in which one has no wandering thoughts at all, seems more difficult, but can be achieved. But value quietness, in which one has no wandering desires at all but simply performs the acts of his life without desire, that seems the hardest.
He argues that quality, or a sense of value, is the central unifying theme and that while this quality cannot be defined, each of us is equipped to recognize it. That it is because of this underlying quality that science and art essentiallyfeed off each other (In the first part of this video, visual artist Kelli Anderson talks about her two loves - Physics and music).  visual news

Pirsig’s Schizophrenia (Pirsig and Phaedrus) to me was also essential to understanding the difficulty, the near impossibility of stepping out of established ways of thinking (especially for a mind conditioned to think dualistically) and near insanity that it could drive one to. I love the fact that the story of the road trip is almost an analogue, an allegory to the philosophical Chautauqua that is the main purpose of the book.

This is a book that is worth a slow thoughtful read and then many multiple reads thereafter. My biggest take away from this first reading is to not be restrained in my thinking by the formal processes and ways in which we acquire knowledge and to know that there are deep relations even between things that my seem un-related.

My copy of the book also looks much thumbed after this single reading and I must add that I am glad I bought this book and did not borrow it. Reading this book, I've discovered the joy in marking and post-it-ing books!

Sunday, 2 September 2012

Changing forms

I was reading a piece in the Paris Review this morning and this sentence took me back to my own antagonism towards e-books – An antagonism not even a year old in its demise.

True, I frequently condemned e-books as yet another symptom of a world unable to sit quietly with itself.
In a discussion harking back to 2008 with a dear friend, I remember dismissing e-books as something that would never quite have the charm of paper books, something that could not compete with the musty smell of a library, with scribbled notes and underlinings in second hand books.  Re pointed out then that a part of my discomfort lay perhaps with the fact that I was attempting to read books on a laptop with tools (software) that did nothing to enhance the reading experience and that my experience with an e-book reading device such as the kindle might change my mind. I shrugged off the argument then. I see some truth in it now.

I started seriously considering e-books at the beginning of this year as I was hit by the finiteness of space and the ensuing clutter (something else that this piece talks about). Books began to spill out at me from a reasonably spacious cupboard at home and I am not one of those who like to keep books out on the nightstand or piled up on the floor. I like them stacked neatly, in some sort of order and in a way that gives me access to most of them. I hate having to wade through two rows of books to get at something I want to read or re-read – something that was becoming common. There simply wasn’t space enough to stack them in single rows!

I began the process of wrapping my head around the idea of an ebook, a process made easier by an impending move back to Mumbai and a decision to take only those books that I’d not read yet (a formidable stack in itself) and my Food and Photography books (even then, I did manage to sneak in one much thumbed, comfort book). Flats in Mumbai being matchbox sized, I wanted to keep the new pad spare and not overflowing with things.

My Kindle Library
I finally got myself an iPad about a month ago and since then have been reading voraciously on the Kindle app. Yes, having a handheld device has made reading in the electronic format much easier. Another plus point has been the free access to a ton of books that are out of copyright restrictions – Books that I would have thought twice before buying in print. I have also fallen in love with the ability to switch between books seamlessly, with being able to make notes as I read.

The one thing that I can’t make up mind about though, is whether I like being able to check out related stuff online as I read. At times it seems like a needless distraction, at others like a definite boon in being able to piece things together. I miss the dedicated act of reading… of being immersed in a book and nothing else.

I also miss the feel of paper, connected so intimately in my mind with the art of storytelling. While I don’t intend ridding myself of physical books entirely, in time that nostalgia might fade. For now, I am happy balancing the two, basking in the breathing space that gadgets give me.

Saturday, 18 August 2012

Herbed Cheese tartlets

I like experimenting with food and pottering around the kitchen... when in good mood, when in bad mood... basically at all times except when I am feeling lazy (and I have been feeling that way a lot lately)! However, I don't normally document my cooking with photographs and end up feeling bad at the end of it. More so when the dish turns out as it's supposed to and I am all elated and happy and can't wait to tell everyone how yummy they were. You see the show off in me can't really show off without any photos!!!

Making the Herbed Cheese Tartlets.

Individual Pictures are Here

So yesterday when I decided to try this Herbed cheese tart recipe, I also promised myself that I would click the entire process. I found the recipe while browsing on pinterest in the midst of some very boring documentation I was working on. Reading the recipe that I found here I thought it looked amazingly simple even if I'd have to make the herbed cheese (since hunting for Boursin cheese wasn't going to give me much success in a dinky little Mumbai suburb. Besides, even if I did find it I wouldn't want to spend the atrocious amount that it would cost me). And I had most of the ingredients at home!!!

I bounced home enthusiastically in the evening, buying a few of the things I needed on the way and set to making myself some, what would hopefully be, very tasty dinner! I decided to make little tartlets instead of one huge tart for two reasons: one, I was cooking for one person and since I am hardly likely to finish a whole tart by myself, I thought it would be better to make little tartlets. Two, my tart dish is too big for the little oven I have here (Sadness! Do I buy a smaller tart dish or a bigger oven???).

I'd love to put up a recipe here but I am pretty bad at that because I don't usually measure ingredients out - I work more by feel and taste. I suggest anyone who wants to try this heads to the original recipe. It's well written and it's easy. I'll just list the little adaptations I made:

  1. I used capsicums and mushrooms in addition to the tomatoes since I was making tartlets and wanted more flavours.
  2. I marinated the veggies in a mix of Olive oil, spring onions (the green leafy part only), diced garlic, sea salt, pepper and oregano. That allowed the veggies to soak in some flavouring and tasted pretty good!
  3. I also drizzled a little bit of the marinate mixture over the tartlets before the final stage of baking to keep the veggies and cheese from getting too dry. 
To make the boursin equivalent here's what I did:
  1. 3 cubes of herbed cheese + 6 cubes of plain cheese (use a creamy, soft one. Any cheese spread will do. I used Laughing cow... it's texture is closest to cream cheese!)
  2. Whizz that with some butter (about 50 gms)
  3. Pop in some chopped garlic and parsley, pepper, salt (don't add salt if using salted butter like me) and spring onion greens (optional).
  4. Whizz some more.
  5. Take out in bowl and keep in fridge till you need it (it's tasty so you'll have to keep yourself from eating it all up as you work)!
To make the tartlets:
  1. Bake the empty tart shells (be sure to poke with fork before baking to let the air out. Else you'll have puffy tart shell) at 190 C for 10-15 min. Keep checking so as to not let it brown too much (there will be another round of baking no?)
  2. Spread cheese mix
  3. Top with veggie of your choice
  4. Bake again for 10-15 mins at 190 C till the veggies are just cooked.
There you go! Pretty simple no? 

I hope this start helps me do this on a more regular basis - cook, click, eat and post - in that order ;)

Monday, 13 August 2012

Tolkien - the influences that could have shaped Middle Earth

I was rabbit holing through the web today, as I am often won't to do on a light and/or moody day. I first stumbled onto to this infographic (I was searching for a Lord of the Rings book cover for a little home project and google images threw up this result):

After promptly pinning it to my bookworm pin board, I happened to browse through the blog on which this infographic was posted.

I was pretty surprised to find J.R.R Tolkien (and C.S Lewis) being described as Christian authors on the blog. Now I'll admit I don't research authors much but Tolkien is one of my absolute favourites and I've read most of what he's written on Middle Earth. And it never struck me as particularly Christian. However, now that I think about it, there are similarities - the creation story, that of the elves being exiled from the home of the Valar in the western lands (the fall from the Garden of Eden), the battle between good and evil. I wonder though if Tolkien meant it to be Christian so to speak.

From what I've read Tolkien's intention was to create a British mythology but I'd definitely be interested to find out if there was a strong (and intended) Christian influence in Tolkien's writing. As a first step I plan to pick up this compilation of letters that Tolkien himself wrote once the Kindle version is out in November this year. If anyone out there has any other suggestions, do drop in a note.

I'd definitely love to delve deeper into the influences that shaped Tolkien's expansive and wonderfully imagined fictional world. I think it's one of the most completely imagined alternate universes ever written about!

Sunday, 29 July 2012

Past Present

I was flipping through some of the earliest posts on this blog today morning and I note with sadness that most of them were better and more thoughtfully written than what I write here today.

One reason of course is that I was writing more, spending more time thinking about what I was writing here. I was also reading much more, because of my studies and otherwise as well. These days most of my time goes in thinking about the next excel sheet I need to fill and the next powerpoint presentation I need to write. And at the end of such days, while I read, I often don't have the mental energy to think deeply about what I read or to blog about it immediately

The other reason that I often consider for this possible shift is the fact when I started writing here, this blog was private, restricted access to a few people with whom I was very comfortable being 100% honest. A little more than a year down the line it became public. In the initial days days at least, this definitely impacted by writing. I became very careful about my choice of subjects... keeping them more generic, less personal. And I often wonder if that has affected the depth of what I write.

You see, I have never been comfortable with the thought of others reading my words. In fact, that's been my biggest stumbling block towards writing a story. I tie myself up in knots wondering what the reader may think when (s)he reads this or that line or what I may be inadvertently revealing about myself (I am intensely private and most people who know me complain that I don't get "up close and personal").

The combination of reasons 1 and 2 has not been good for my writing clearly. I have to start finding ways (maybe go back to a personal diary... from which I can post once I am ready to share something) to stem this deterioration in my writing before I become a completely hopeless and obnoxious writer.

Tuesday, 24 July 2012

The good, the gentle and the brave

Hemingway wrote that the world “breaks everyone,” and those “it does not break it kills.” “It kills the very good and very gentle and the very brave impartially,” he wrote. “If you are none of these you can be sure it will kill you too but there will be no special hurry.” 
  NYT - Hemingway's alternate endings to Farewell to Arms | International

You were all three.

Sunday, 8 July 2012


I imagined us at 30... plotting milestones, celebrating those of the decade past, pondering mistakes, vowing to be sillier.

I imagined us at 40... exchanging recipes, dragging a few brats around, watching them grow, borrowing books and reading lists from each other for them.

I imagined us at 50... with more time on our hands, more curious than ever, seeing the world, discovering it with all the years behind us.

I imagined us at 60... brimming with ideas, things we could still do, just for the love of doing

I imagined us at 70... sitting comfortably, talking over endless cups of tea, of the things we were still falling in love with, the ideas we were discovering, of the world changing around us.

But suddenly, there are only two left in the three that should have been us. You are gone and I realise how much your presence meant.

In my head, I'll carry you as the voice that always speaks when it matters most. As the voice that always read between the lines. As the voice that listened, completely, before it spoke. As the voice that always had a smile and a ray of sunshine in it.

Saturday, 19 May 2012

On War

Moments like these absolve the needs dividing men.
Whatever caught and brought and kept them here
Is lost: and for a while they join a terrible equality,
Are virtuous, self-sacrificing, free:
And so insidious is this liberty 
That those surviving it will bear 
An even greater servitude to its root:
Believing they were whole, while they were brave;
That they were rich, because their loot was great;
That war was meaningful, because they lost their friends.

-- From War Music by Christopher Logue | International | India |

Monday, 30 April 2012

In time

Just yesterday, I was thumbing through (well not literally... what do you expect in this digital age?) some photographs from last year's trip and I stumbled upon some photographs that I hadn't processed, uploaded or shared with anyone. Going through them, I realised that back then I'd let them be because I wasn't sure they were good enough and also because by the time I got around to this last set of photos, I felt everyone had heard enough about my trip... I really couldn't stop talking about it back then!!!

But then as I browsed through these pictures yesterday, I saw a story emerge. The story that I had observed personally as I went to visit the floating villages on the Great Lake in Cambodia and had managed to capture to some extent in the pictures. A year ago, each photo was an individual moment in time, capturing a part but not the whole of that experience (it was one of the experiences that touched me the most on that trip simply because taking a boat down that river, all on my own, brought me a serenity that is often hard to come by). Yesterday, seeing the photos again, I could see what had amazed me and the story that I wanted to tell of a life lived so differently from anything I know and of the incredulousness that I felt at some of the things I saw -Churches, Schools, A restaurant, a tourist shopping complex - all floating in the middle of an humongous lake!

Sometimes, distance and time are good things I suppose.

The set of six photographs that I finally uploaded out of this lot is on my flickr stream.

Itchy fingers

Next room makeover idea!What a beautiful study!

So this seems to happen to me every time I have a new place to go to, a new home or room to set up. Last year when I was shifting out from Mumbai to Chennai, I spent hours browsing the internet for interesting ways to do up my bedroom. Some of that fructified, others didn't (I did end up with a pink and blue bedroom complete with butterflies on a wall and color coordinated pin boards that I made myself).
Love the colors!
As I get ready to move to Mumbai again, I am back to browsing a dozen websites for ideas and inspiration on what to do. This time I am actually toying with the idea of taking an unfurnished apartment and see how little (or more) I can do it up in (within the constraints posed by rental accommodation of course!). So I am browsing not only for inspiration but also for little do-it-yourself tips and tricks.
Now where can I find some of these?

I am keen to see which of these many many ideas, collected over the last few months and the many more that I am going through now I'll end up using. But I'm all for a pastel, soothing, feminine home filled with lovely lights (I spotted two funky lamp stores on my last trip to Mumbai and they are definitely getting visits from me).

I am also toying with the idea of taking the sewing workshops at the Hab Store and making at least some of my own cushion and pillow covers and other knick knacks to put around the house.

Now all I have to do is find the house and wait the one month till I can get going on transforming it.

Note: All pictures from my pinboard on Pinterest

Saturday, 28 April 2012

To think or not to think

We live in age of self-reflection, analysing every aspect of our work, micro-commentating on our own lives online, reading articles urging us to ponder what makes us happy. Much of this may be worthwhile, but we also need to put thinking in its place. Djokovic’s return was both the culmination of his life’s effort and an expression of careless joy. It kinda worked. 

We are often told not to be worry warts - and for good reason too. As this article from Intelligent Life magazine points out, thinking or rather over thinking hampers the decision making power of the brain. David Eagelman also makes a case of intuitive decision making, based on prior learning or experience.

It is perhaps, then not a surprise that hyper connectivity, the constant need or pressure to articulate with language what may be going on in our minds is leading to an increasingly cynical and pessimistic generation. A generation that finds it difficult to simply "be". As we become slaves to logic, we are losing touch with a much more important tool to living - our emotions and intuition - that take thought leaps based on information that we already know. 


Friday, 13 April 2012

Past present future

Down a long winding road I met you when I was not expecting to meet anyone. I even tried to shake you off. You persisted. And here you are.

I search the nights for your hand now... to walk with the waves crashing in the backdrop, a little ice chilling our throats in the balmy summer.

It's been a long time since I looked closely at you. I no longer need to look to see. We know every line, every frown, every smile. Each wrinkle is a memory along that long winding road.

Friday, 9 March 2012

Two degrees of separation

A while back, a friend was telling me how it's not longer "six degrees" of separation between any two people in the world but two degrees. With twitter and facebook and other social networks and celebs connecting with the general populace on these networks, one can now connect with a lot of people directly or at most through one another person, creating just Two Degrees of Separation.

And then today I was reading this about the origin of computers and subsequently the Internet. Computers, as we all know is based on the binary system and it turns out that Francis Bacon demonstrated way back in 1623 that all meaningful communication could be encoded in just two symbols.

It is perhaps then, no surprise that computers are taking us closer to two degrees of separation.

Tuesday, 7 February 2012

All is fair in Love, War and Indian Elections

The campaigning for the UP elections would be funny if it wasn't for the fact that we are talking about the governing of a nation here and for the fact that India's economic growth has been slowing down over the last 3 years, enough to make Standard and Poor sit up and warn India that it's rating is under threat

The latest promise by the Congress in UP says it will give out a mobile bill subsidy to the tune of 20% in the rural areas of that state. I have two objections here - the first is the giving of a subsidy itself, irrespective of which commodity it is for. Any government, if it genuinely wants its people to progress, should focus on creating infrastructure and employment instead of wasting it's budgets on subsidies. The former has a far more long lasting impact on the lives of people and is sustainable as the government can slowly withdraw (after creating basic infrastructure) and let the private sector take over. Given India's precarious fiscal situation, committing budgets to subsidies is foolish and possibly economically suicidal. 

My second objection is that mobile connections are hardly an essential service that they should be subsidised. If there is a market for mobile services in rural UP, market forces will ensure that services are provided at a rate that is affordable to the people. If not, mobile services are not the first priority for government intervention. It is useful technology no doubt but schools, roads, electricity, sanitation, good hospitals etc are far more useful and would go a long way towards improving the standard of living of the people. If the Congress party HAS to talk about subsidies, I'd rather it subsidise good quality education or health care. A mobile subsidy is merely a placebo for the populace and an avenue for dozens of middlemen to make profits.

But then the Congress is not alone. Parties have talked everything from subsidised laptops to erection of statues this election season. A clear sign that governance is no longer a question to be raised in election campaigning. In the aftermath of scams and corruption allegations, political parties continue to insult the electorate by talking handouts and subsidies making beggars of us instead of creating opportunity for production and productivity to thrive.

We, the electorate, are unfortunately foolish enough to fall for it. We forget that these benefits will disappear, like the smoke after the fire. We forget that we ARE paying for it - in the form of taxes, in the form of inflation, in the form of poor economic growth. The only people getting anything for free are the corrupt politicians and middlemen. Such is the state of Indian democracy today - touted as the world's largest democracy, we are nothing but a sham. Some day, the free lunches will come to an end.

Monday, 6 February 2012

I don't like the word "Compromise"

I was reading something I wrote, as part of an essay competition, when I was in the ninth grade. The competition had asked us to explain a quote out of The Fountainhead, one of my favourite books (all Ayn Rand critics, please hold your horses... this post is not about her or the book). The crux of the essay was the issue of compromise.

Reading that essay today, I would like to add a subtext. Life is not about NOT making compromises. It is about not thinking of compromise as sacrifice. And there's a very subtle but important difference here. When we make a compromise, whether for the sake of "long term benefit" or "peace in the house" or because it seems like the "best" alternative available, it tends to be accompanied by a fit of self pity. As though we've given up on something or been forced to do so against our wishes. But I think a compromise made willingly, voluntarily is just a choice made in favour of one value over another, the happiness of a loved one over buying the latest gadget in town for example.

I think it's important to understand this distinction because interpreting compromise as sacrifice (by the way, I don't believe in the general notion of sacrifice for the same reason as above. I do think it's impossible to knowingly make a decision that causes harm to oneself without any proportionate gain) makes our relationships ugly and murky. The most common sentence uttered in a fight between two people is "I've given up so much for you" and it multifarious variations. We'd probably be better off if we understood it simply as choice without the undercurrents of self pity that the word compromise brings.

Saturday, 4 February 2012

Newspaper wars

On the 25th, The Hindu, Chennai's oldest English paper started an advertising campaign against The Times of India, India's most read English paper.

Hindu's campaign, for those who know the paper, is surprisingly cheeky (as intended by the publication... and being privy to a little inside information, I can say that with certainty).

Times of India, with it's customary confidence and arrogance replied back today.

Newspaper wars begin in Chennai???

I know many people in Chennai who believe the Times of India will never replace The Hindu. But TOI is a formidable opponent nevertheless.

This is a battle that will be worth watching... will The Hindu buckle or with the Old Lady of Boribunder get more intellectual?

Monday, 30 January 2012

The Paradox called Love

... love involves (tragically, incorrigibly, but also beautifully) a desire for something that continuously transforms. Love is painful because we want the object of love to change and stay the same, love is a desire and a fiction that animates our greatest pleasures and our most profound sufferings. Love hold us to this life, keeps us faithful to it. Yet nothing can save us from our ultimate reentry into oblivion - the point at which no amount of consciousness or desire can preserve identity or the energies that we once called our own.

-- By David LaRocca in the afterword to Schematics: A Love Story.
I found this quote at Brain pickings

Tuesday, 24 January 2012

Filtering the Web

Education should return to the way it was in the workshops of the Renaissance. There, the masters may not necessarily have been able to explain to their students why a painting was good in theoretical terms, but they did so in more practical ways. Look, this is what your finger can look like, and this is what it has to look like. Look, this is a good mixing of colors. The same approach should be used in school when dealing with the Internet. The teacher should say: "Choose any old subject, whether it be German history or the life of ants. Search 25 different web pages and, by comparing them, try to figure out which one has goof information." If 10 pages describe the same thing, it can be a sign that the information printed there is correct. But it can also be a sign that some sites merely copied the others' mistakes.
This quote appeared in an interview of Umberto Eco, an Italian author and semiotician, here. The interview was on Eco's curation of an exhibition at the Louvre and the release of his book, The infinity of lists, on the same theme. Eco gave the above answer to a question on how teachers can instruct children on the difference between good and bad in context of the lists provided by Google search. Eco calls Google a tragedy for youngsters who need to be taught the "high art of how to be discriminating". This fits in pat with a book review I was reading this morning on Brain Pickings of The Information Diet. The Information Diet, as per the review and the book blurb (I haven't read the book yet) is also about how to be discriminating about the information one consumes.

Eco's views and the subject of the book address a problem created by the information age - quantity has replaced quality in the process of knowledge acquisition.With the Internet becoming a major source of information for substantial amount of the world's population today, copy pasting has overtaken careful reading, analysis and adapting of information to contexts. And while, the internet as a source of information is invaluable, it must also be accompanied by the same criteria that was once applied to books as a source of information. The credibility of authors and the websites that publish information must become a part and parcel of the selection process in the digital world. Given that credibility itself can be ascertained much more effortlessly in the digital world, it's a pity more of us don't take the effort to be more discriminating in what we carry into our heads from the web!

It's also something that the education system, as Eco points out, needs to actively build into its manner of instruction. It isn't enough to ask children to do projects or articles or essays. They will simply copy paste (I have seen this happen... more than once). Children must also be taught how to acknowledge sources of information, write a bibliography and how to filter information especially from the digital space. Much of this (at least footnoting and bibliographing) is fairly common practice in  the western world and in higher institutes of education. But not so in Indian schools, which while integrating technology and interactive learning, have not accompanied that with teaching children how to filter and navigate the labyrinth of information that the Internet is. Interactive learning and technology, in such a scenario, could prove more harmful than useful in the long run as children either acquire no knowledge and simply copy-paste or acquire erred information.