Monday, December 21, 2009

Politics of Indian youth

I want to write this down before the anger boils down :)

The other day, at an outing with my classmates, we had a discussion about my classmate (a girl) who keeps posting against Jean Sarkozy (Sarkozy's son, who is being awarded so many plush governmental positions - a clear case of nepotism). (Digression: how many Indian girls will post in Facebook against, say, Rahul Gandhi?). So one French guy told - 95 % of students are either leftist or apolitical. Only less than 5% are right wing. Well obviously this is a knee jerk figure, but I think we can be safe that at least the vast majority is either leftist or apolitical.

Today I was having a lunch with 2 Indians, major computer science researchers, one of whom reached France only a few days back. Soon the discussion turned into Microsoft Research; both of them being die hard fans of Microsoft. I being a fan of google, which is taking on microsoft normally, with "dont be evil" etc, tried to argue a little about why Microsoft is not very great (in business google or apple is on the rise and microsoft is going down, and in research microsoft is not a challenge to university level research anyway). But both of them were fanatic microsoft supporters, saying Microsoft has much better people than MIT or any other University, and stuff like - who wants pure research in math anyway?

But what prompted me to write is: one of them told that his ambition is to work in the biggest missile company in the US (he was surprised that I havent heard the name). This, before returning to India, to create a missile company there. I, just to tease him, told - dont make missiles for US. They go about killing innocent people, like in Iraq. Dont kill people.

The guys reply? "I dont care. I just want to make money".

I: Well you dont care if they kill thousands of innocents, just like that?

He: I dont care. Security is most important.

I: But they didnt create any problems. There was no security issue.

He: Well I dont care. I just want to make money. To create my own company.

The other guy on the table was kind of supportive to this (he is a proud brahmin who says being vegetarian and being brahmin is part of religion).

Well. Both of them excellent minds. Exceptionally knowledgeable about Computer Science. But you talk politics , and ...

India becoming a superpower? Sometimes the feeling scares me.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Black and White

Happiness research - Self help books (Blink, Dale Carnegie etcetera) - Ayn Rand and Objectivism - Free market economics (Reaganomics, Thatcherism) - Paulo Coelho and his Alchemist - Jonathan Livingstone Seagull - Abdul Kalam (not the person but those who choose to exploit his name and ideas) - Chetan Bhagat - the Indian casteist, superstitious, selfish, shallow careerists & cheats - BJP fans - Israel lovers - I find all of them related somehow. Mainly because someone who is one of the above/fan of one of the above will be/will be a fan of/ most of the others in that list. Of course this is a bloody black and white statement, but I find this true at least 80% of the time.

India is growing for sure. There is so much optimism everywhere. People are venturing out. Still - there are so many bigots, so many casteists, so many jingoists, so many racists, so many male chauvinists, so many selfish assholes, so many ultra-superstitious - so many cheats - out there. But they all work hard, and hence the economy will keep growing (lead by Narendra Modi and Gujarat).

Well, let me make my statement a little less blanket. I am mainly talking about the vocal class of India - because they are so vocal that they make you feel prejudiced about the whole country. The vocal class is mainly urban, brahmin, etc. But in sheer numbers, they run into many millions. The rural India - well - I am so ignorant about them!! But traveling across villages in Karnataka and Tamilnadu always makes me optimistic - though there might be undercurrents that I wouldnt have seen (casteism, superstitions, etc - of course - but at least the overall mentality is not to win over by any cruel means).

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Why evolution fails?

I am amazed by the level of stupidity that can be written in the most famous newspaper in the world. Here's a column by Olivia Judson about why evolution fails, etc in NYT. For starters, evolution doesnt fail, evolution just happens! Whatever she has written starts from a stupid premise, IMHO. Her previous articles, about happiness etc, are based on similar silly point of views. IRRITATING. All the more because she looks so hot, and overall it just looks like a hot, dumb girl writing stupidity! Whateva.

I somehow feel irritated about all the sheer volume of happiness research going on.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Empty, sick, feverish, lonely etc. :(

Saturday, November 7, 2009

The limit of growth as a techie

In IBM, where I worked, for example, the hierarchy is termed as bands - band 5 and less belong to security, janitor etc, band 6 is a beginner programmer, 7 is generally an experienced programmer/architect/manager, band 8 is a senior manager/senior architect, band 9 ,10 are more senior (in terms of hierarchy, not experience); and then they have executive bands: A, B, C etc (named in alphabets, but need not be A,B, C - I dont remember exactly) - the point is - in one of the introductory talks, the HR person told: You can grow vertically in any of these fields: for eg: she knows some techie who grew to become band 10 at a technical position, for the first time in the history of organization. For that person, it seems IBM India created a new technical position. OK, good.

Really? You can grow to any level being a techie? That there are so many managers in band 10, and many more above them (executives), but there is only one techie (who is doing technical work) at band 10 (well, may be you have one CTO at executive level, but that is that). In reality, if you are a techie, chances are that you will soon be bossed over by a manager younger than you (by age or experience). In my experience, I saw many techies, architects or "subject matter experts", moving to management. Once you become a senior architect, you become some kind of stuck in terms of career growth (vertical sense), unless you move to management. Because in all big technology companies, the technology part is actually secondary(at least the belief is like that), what matters is business, and this logic creates means that the herd will be lost without a shepherd (i.e a manager).

This is disappointing news in my opinion. The techie is obviously more intelligent than manager (whose only skills are to keep away from spilling anger, standing irritation silently and putting up a brave/happy/confident face at all times), but the manager ultimately rules a techie. What a sad fact! It is not an IBM thing of course, check out the google wave presentation video; the senior techie and his manager. Thats how the world works! Techies will spend all nighters and do some smart work and send an email to the manager, and the manager will reply "Great Work!" meaning zilch, sometimes not even understanding what is the work that the techie did.

So a techie will be stuck somewhere in the hierarchy for sure, unless he becomes a manager or an entrepreneur himself, or move into academia, where to a good extend he can be his own boss.

(Well the point is not just about having a career growth all through you life and dying one day; its more about being ruled over by a silly/less skilled/less intelligent person just because you chose the intelligent job)

Sunday, November 1, 2009

On Big Bang Theory

I took a deep breath and made a comment in: "Cosmic Variance", a science blog with plenty of big shots (like profs from Caltech). I felt peeved that someone was saying that the sitcom "Big Bang Theory" will humanize science and make young people take it up. Here's my comment:

"Shows like this humanize science, and who knows what ten-year-old kid will see an episode and start thinking that physics is a career to which real people can actually aspire."

I am so sorry but I feel this is a silly opinion. Big Bang Theory has resulted in making normal people stop talking science without being labelled as boring. I mean, we friends used to visit pubs, and make grand discussions, etc, not in the boring way BBT makes it out to be, but in a really cool way. But it aint cool any more. The way Sheldon rolls out "boring" facts has made making a casual, yet an interesting observation about something scientific (simple things like why we have seasons), "uncool". Only Penny is cool; others are so boring. Yes, I agree that the characters in BBT are boring, but Science is not! But BBT has resulted in making people feel that Science is boring, only talks of "sexiest man alive" and discussions about characters in sitcoms are cool and fit for "conversation". But in fact everything is cool, and its all up to different people decide what is cool for them. "People love these characters" - oh yea, somebody love science and yearns to be a Raj or Sheldon after watching BBT? And Sheldon, he is an aspy, its not his fault, but the show makes out as though its his character fault, he is selfish, impolite etc. Laughing at him is actually impolite. And there are so many brilliant scientists and engineers in India who dont do frequent dates (thanks to the culture), yet is cool in their own way. There is not a single cool scientist in BBT. In my opinion BBT gives a view that - ok you can do science in the labs, but the moment you come out of it, talk like Penny and be cool.

To paraphrase Feynman's response to a lady who thought that he's a cool physicist due to his "extra curricular" activities (like Samba, or drumming, or so many other things), unlike the usual, boring scientists - "I take offence at his complement of yours. I consider scientific pursuit as the highest form of human intelligence, and is not boring by any means".

I love BBT, but I differ on the impact it causes to Science. I also feel bad that people like Sean, who are at the top of research hierarchy, being at Caltech and working in theoretical physics, can make such silly observations.

Sorry about the harsh opinion.

Arun

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Sunday night blues

I want to read
Things that tear me down
I want to write
The pleasure of writing a pithy sentence
I want to travel
I want to enjoy nature, the greenery, the mountains, the beauty, places...
I want to get back my inspiration
For doing grand things
I want to study - learn new things, the math, programming...
I want to go somewhere with some people...
Yet I am stuck
On an infinite loop to myself
I do nothing
Stuck with silliness
Stuck with Facebook staring at me
Stuck with laziness
Inaction
The pressures of finding a new girl :D
Its 12 on a sunday night
Class starts at 8 next morning
All assignments pending
I wish I could... Do SO MUCH!

Friday, September 18, 2009

Some movies

Some great films I watched recently and liked:

Crimes and Misdemeanors by Woody Allen

This is the second WA film I am watching after Annie Hall. To me, both films are about similar themes, about practicalities in life and relations. Allen plays similar roles in both films, angry about the world and feeling smug about that, hating the rich, successful, "silly" kind, yet always in search of - women and sex :D And the women he loves fall for the rich, successful, "silly" guy! In this film, there is a guy who goes a la Raskolnikov in Crime and Punishment, killing a woman and then going feeling bad about it, but unlike Raskolnikov, he slowly forgets his crime, and falls back to normalcy within a few months. When he describes this story as a fictional one to WA, WA says he should have gone the Raskolnikov way (he doesnt mention Raskolnikov or C&P, but just says, should have asked for forgiveness etc), and this man replies, that happens only in fiction! Also there is this grand professor, all great theories about life (the beauty of), love and the world, which WA (and a woman he is wooing) loves, but suddenly commits suicide, leaving only a rather silly message! And the woman says: "However beautiful and grand a philosophical world view you make up, you still fall short of something". I think films like this are a big lesson to me in some ways. I sometimes feel that I have in myself some part of the character WA is playing. Or is it true for every man?


À bout de souffle or Breathless by Godard

I was afraid to watch one of the most famous classics of French cinema. I was afraid that it will be too arty and boring. But when I watched it I found it so fast and hard hitting. And surprisingly it didnt leave (to me) any message, it was just a film with a lot of attitude!


Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb by Kubrick

Again, I was a little late to watch this one, with the classic tag making me afraid. But when I eventually got around to watch it, it was so simple, funny, and made great points! I loved the mad general's obsession with fluids (when you look for a grand, intellectual reason for the ultimate finale to the Cold War, you actually find such a silly, mad reason!), the hawkish general in the pentagon meeting (Arent many army men like that?), the way the american president calls the russian one "Dimitry"... :) I enjoyed the film.

Monday, August 31, 2009

Who are you trying to Kid, Mr. Nariman?

Mr. Justice Raveendran asked Mr. Nariman: "Why a sitting Minister? What is the position if the person happens to be the secretary of a party and who controls the entire Ministry. Will the question of bias won't apply even then." Mr. Nariman said: "I don't think that a secretary of a political party controls the Council of Ministers. The court will have to examine some new theory, if necessary by a larger Bench."

http://www.hindu.com/2009/09/01/stories/2009090150070100.htm

Also, Pinarai hired Fali S. Nariman. Fine. But Kerala government hired none other than Harish Salve (to argue in favour of Pinarai). Even for critical cases (mullaperiyar, the sexual harassment cases all of which were lost) they dont hire such stalwarts. So you are telling me this is not a biased government?

If Mr. Nariman knew at least a bit about Kerala CPI(M) politics, he wouldnt have made that statement (that sec of party doesnt control council of ministers). But of course mere knowledge is not enough. After all, though lawyers were children once, they aint any more. So, even though Mr Nariman is a legal luminary, writing books on saving democracy and indian legal system, shooting off letters now and then (intervening in current affairs), he too can be bought?

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Expert suggestions

"Being an IBM product, software XYZ is very sturdy...
Being an IBM product, software XYX is better than software ZZZ...."

The comments were made in a training session, where the trainer was passing on the wisdom. The trainer has never worked deep enough to make these comments. In fact she doesnt know any coding. And her overall experience in both products - read- restarting the server etc - is six months. She's even against writing a simple automation script to bring a web server back in case it goes down somehow, saying that it is too complicated to automate. That, when we are thinking on using some Machine Learning stuff to automate software maintenance! In fact product XYZ is the crappiest product IBM made, its almost in Beta. So complicated, built on Java/Eclipse and heavy (like most IBM softwares) and buggy and without any documentation. And XYX is way worse than ZZZ. Bah!!

Someone else: AVG (free version!) is way better than Norton(corporate, paid). I took the advice and installed AVG, and it was almost waste. I mean, so heavy, not so well designed, catching non-viruses, not catching viruses, making system slow etc. Now, yesterday another person making the same suggestion!!

I took Mechanical Engg. for B. Tech on such "expert advice" and fully regretted it later. The suggestion was - IT Boom is bust, IT has no future, computer engineers are starving these days, mechanical is the boom area now, etc. My ass.

So, be wary of the "expert comments" and suggestions you receive, when you ask for the best airline, best laptop, best software, where to join for engineering, which subject to take, will CFL give the same amt of light as much as tubelight (personal experience!) etc. No harm in listening, but one must realize that these may not "expert" at all!! Many of them are silly personal biases with no other basis whatsover.

Friday, June 12, 2009

Bored again, TGIF

I am so bored.
I am stale.
Blood flow almost down to sleep levels.
I want to yell out.
Cry out loud.
Another "TGIF"
Friends going for trip, but me not going; not feeling like
Another weekend.
I am lacking energy already.

Sunday, June 7, 2009

My Friend, Sancho

I read famous blogger Amit Varma's debut novel: My Friend, Sancho. It was a really entertaining read. I loved Abir Ganguly - his complexities, his thoughts, and above all: his absurd jokes and dreams. I could identify a lot with him.

The novel is not intended as a literary book, and the author wants it to get into the middle spectrum between Five point someone (FPS) and Amitav Ghosh's writing. He succeeds in this. It is way better than the likes of FPS, the story is believable, and not at all as silly.

Since it doesnt aim to be "literary", we should not perhaps deeply analyze the characters and the story, and merely take it as an entertainer? In that case, it is 100% good fun.

Otherwise:

(spoiler warnings etc)

That Abir Ganguly is such a coward, and does nothing about an innocent man getting killed by the police, even after falling in love with the dead man's daughter, and in fact goes on to rationalize this behavior of his by saying that the officer did his best, and became what he is, given his poor background etc. The author gave this touch to the story may be because he wanted to do a grander story, with characters being shades of gray rather than mere black and white as in pulp fiction, which is his stated aim of foraying into literature from journalism. However, I felt that this is not a great kind of "grey", and better greyness could have been achieved in some other way, where the situation at hand is more ambiguous to take a strict decision (Like Amitav Ghosh does in Hungry Tide, creating situations where you cannot choose easily between environmentalism and humanism).

Update: Abir's article never gets published, and the policeman is fictional anyway, so perhaps Amit wanted his characters to be "grey" while his ideas to be clear - the readers of his book get the point anyway. So perhaps I was wrong in my assessment above :)

Also, Sancho is supposed to be a teenager, 18 years old I think, but came across to me as a 22-23ish(at least) woman. And also, she allowing him to conduct his journalistic interviews about her slain father in the Food court of a Mall where she has never been to, and that too over lunch, was a little too much. And Abir checking "India Uncut" - Amit's blog - many times in the novel- they did not impress me particularly, though I read through these passages without stopping to think about this aspect.

But these are nothing when compared with the good fun that the book is. Also, I must mention: Amit's deep knowledge of political philosophies and current affairs has kept the book quite clean of idiocies, and has given Abir good depth.

On Amit's promise of us being spared of him trying to further his ideologies through his fiction: some libertarian views do come up, like the corrupt policeman's tirade the government being the problem (since the government has no competition), and the TS Iyengar's behaviour and his columns ("Government has cheated the people of Mumbai, and government should take action against this") etc. But these come out in passing, as mere simple,raw "cribbing" of raw characters, rather than deep thought or a speech or tirade (Howard Roark style) , and quite fit the occasions.

I hope Amit continues writing, and brings out more fun, interesting books, like this one.

Selective justice...

A government comes into power in the state. The Advocate General (AG), an appointee of the previous government, resigns, like many other political appointees. The new government appoints its own candidates for these positions, including that of the AG. Naturally, they will tend to appoint their friends, rather than foes, for such critical positions.

Now, when a corruption charge comes up against the Chief of the Ruling Party, who was a former minister, and who is already tainted by taking many other deviations from the Party's normal Idealism. The Party - except his arch rival - the Chief Minister, who has little power or followers in the party's governing bodies - denies the corruption charges, and stands by its Chief. The CBI, which is investigating the case, wants to prosecute this Chief, for which it needs the permission of the state Governor. The Party (again, sans the CM) is still vehemently and aggressively with the Party Chief.

The Governor, going by convention, asks the opinion of the cabinet, about prosecuting the Chief. Now, what if the cabinet responds by saying - "No, dont prosecute our leader!"? Will it have any legitimacy? Will someone believe that the cabinet took a neutral decision, and they would have done the same thing even if the accused in the case was the Chief of the Opposition Party, because they are going by the merits of the case, and not to save its leader? No. Not someone with basic commonsense.

So the cabinet - endowed with copious amounts of basic commonsense - passes on the baton to the AG, to take the call. The AG is a "constitutional office" - separate from the government and the cabinet, even though he was appointed by the cabinet, and he still swears that he's a communist sympathizer (the communists are ruling the state). Commonsense prevailed again, with the AG recommending not to prosecute the Chief. No surprises there. What else did you expect?

The cabinet passes on the decision to the Governor, who has to take the final call.

The Governor, waits for some more time, talks to some more people (some say legal experts, and the CBI), and decided that the Chief should be prosecuted. The Chief and his party cries foul, and argues that this is the demise of democracy etc, with the Governor going by the police's voice than the democratically elected government's, or the constitutional office like the AG's.

Perhaps they dont realize that the executive, legislature and the judiciary has their own powers, and are independent to some extend. The democratic mandate does not mean that the ruler can do anything,steal government money, and then command the police and other such agencies not to investigate. It also does not mean to misuse another constitutional post (the AG's) to clear your own desk. All this is plain commonsense again.

The Party in power claims that governor belongs to the party in the current opposition in the state, and this was only expected out of him (just as the cabinet was expected to not allow prosecuting its Chief). Perhaps the Governor is biased towards his own party. But when it comes to the matter at hand, the facts of it are crystal clear. If the Party Chief is accused as guilty, he has to stand the trial. It is only expected out of politicians, just to make sure that they wont get away with murder and theft, just because they happen to be in power. This is the law of the land, and it is in our best interests that it applies for all, without exceptions.

What if the case was politically motivated, and was raised to thrash the communists and their leader? Wont his and his party's image will be tainted, unnecessarily? The party- who has come out of these ages of horrible corruption in the overall polity with a remarkable lack of blemishes - wont its image be lost? If its Chief is acquitted finally, will the party get back its lost prestige, wont the image of corruption stay for ever? After all, Jayalalitha, Narasimha Rao and Karunakaran came out of corruptions cases as the acquitted, still we refuse to believe that they were not corrupt, with good reason. Wont the same happen to the Chief and the Party?

Most probably, yes. But there is nothing that prevents the CPI(M) from becoming a party of corrupt than the non-corrupt. That its past history does not suggest so does not mean that the future holds the same. In fact, we should not forget that the present leaders can misuse the party's past name, and get away with it by reminding us of the party's non-corrupt history. There are many examples in politics where the party of idealism becoming the party of the most corrupt. Congress and BJP are good examples. There is no reason that the CPI(M) wont go in that way. After all, the world is changing, so are the people, the CPI(M) cadres, and the leaders. If the CPI(M) has started becoming corrupt, let the accused face trial, and hopefully, get convicted or acquitted based on the real merit of the case. That way a rot will be nipped in the beginning. If the Chief is innocent, let him come out the trial with a little blemish, which is better than a a non-trial causing a complete rot of the Party and the system. Obviously, CPI(M) has good history of being partisan with law, for example it had misused its power in the Jayakrishnan murder case, where it caused the government and police to lose the case against the CPI(M) cadres who butchered the RSS activist and school teacher in front of a whole class of little children in pure daylight, and the argument in support of this went in terms of upholding the Revolution and the Party in front of the bourgeois government and rule of law, Party is above democratic law (only Party laws apply to them), or that the rule of law cant stop the CPM-RSS violence, people still get killed in spite of the police, etc. Let's imagine for once that they are getting a retribution here, for being partisan with rule of law, with the Governor being partisan now.

So, it is in everybodys best interest that we have to make sure that justice and rule of law applies to everybody. The CPI(M) chief should stand trial, just like every Indian citizen. If he feels that other Congress leaders also must be tried (another of the Party's defense), then let the police register cases against them. Or argue in the court of law.

Friday, June 5, 2009

Gen X MPs

For the TV and the main stream media, the Gen-X of Indian politics are the sons and daughters of political heavyweights: the "Amul babies" that entered parliament from the constituencies they inherited from their big shot parents. The TV channels are running endless debates on them, getting the young MPs to the news rooms, making maximum use of their glamour quotient. Today one discussion was going on in some channel, conducted where else but the educational capital of elitist Indians: the St. Stephens College campus! Majority of the Gen X MPs studied there (after attending Doon school, and before going to Oxbridge or Ivy League).

(My roommate tells he is proud of the Shashi Tharoor's British accent, even though he knows that Tharoor did not live in UK long enough to get the accent, and also that even beggars in UK speak the accent. He was even happy when Tharoor told in an interview that he got the "fake" accent from Stephens! Like the cliche goes, Gimme a break dude!!).

But why I am cribbing about this! Because I feel that the amul babies are a sad lot compared to their big shot parents who hard earned their positions. A politician (non Gen-X), who rose from an ordinary man to start working for a party, who stood elections and won, who worked day and night for his politics and its victory, who visited people and houses, marriages and funerals, saying very little no to the people who come to ask for help, and actually getting involved in many of those positively.... That's how they rose in the ranks and reached what they are/were! The country grew with them, they had grass root knowledge of its villages and cities, and people queued up when they were in town. When the nationalised banks hesitate to give loans to the poor, the politician comes into picture. When the power in an area goes due to lightning and torrential rain, the politician is in the forefront to get it back on track. When the bureaucrats want to increase the price for electricity and diesel to rice and bus/train charges, and gain on the balance sheet, the politician comes into picture. I can go on and on.

Not that they are perfect. Far from it. Starting from corruption and nepotism, the negatives are far too many. But just imagine: an MLA in our country - not of the Gen-X or retired/resigned bureaucrat variety, but an actual politician - is too busy every single day, running around and trying to please (or help) people. Much more than an IAS officer. Or any other bureaucrat. He helps a lot of people. He directly impacts their lives. When the police shot down 5 people near Bheemapalli in Trivandrum, the politician entrusted them with suspensions, much to the protests from the DGP.

But the Gen-X know nothing of this. They are amul babies. When the anchor asked the Gen X reps at St. Stephens about their plans for development, the suckers were telling - "I want to change the image of Rohtak from an majorly agricultural area to the educational capital of India", and another MP from a small town in Orissa: "I created an educational boom in my constituency" (1st quote from Cong MP, 2nd from BJP guy, I think). These people, what do they think! That they have such grand godfathers that they can get away with their foolishness on the self-proclaimed "National TV"? What would their politician fathers would have told if this question was put to them? Do the Gen X MPs have any idea about the people who voted for them, or the total citizenry of their constituency, what their needs and aspirations are? And why the discussions in media gets carried away along the lines of these crap!

Oh God, or my dear media, I am so fond of saying, "Gimme a break".

Bored, Distracted

People: I AM BORED AND DISTRACTED!!!
Thank God Its Friday: But what am I gonna do in the weekend!!!!
People at home wont be there at home over the weekend, except for one, so its gonna be so lonely!
I got a book I am reading and liking but somehow I wish more action!
Now just waiting for the bigfellas to leave so that I can also gettouttahere!

Monday, June 1, 2009

A Fine Balance

A college mate of mine got into IPS this year. A nice man, well read, good at heart. Makes me wonder how things are going to go, with him in uniform :-)

But what impressed me even more is watching the Kerala topper in this years UPSC exam: Mithra T - on TV (Nammal Thammil in Asianet and an interview in Doordarshan, especially the later one). She seemed even more innocent, and about she becoming a district collector: are people so innocent, to be administered by such a nice little lady! :) Though she had a heavy academic background in English literature, being a PhD scholar at Kerala University, she seemed very ordinary and down-to-earth, with very little jaada. The interviewer in DD was a serious fellow, and asked about "How Shakespeare and English literature has influenced you", "Did Hamlet's 'To be or not to be' affect you?", "How your background in English literature will help you in becoming a good IAS officer?" - etc - and she managed to answer these quite well (succeeding in hiding a smile, being asked such highly philosophical questions). She is not yet a great orator, and fumbled while talking about what she plans to do for Women (was at a loss for words). When asked about her favorite literary work, she mentioned "A Fine Balance" by Rohinton Mistry, mainly for its "social context", hurting the expectations of our bearded anchor, who wanted her to tell Shakespeare or Shelley. She made up by saying she loved Wordsworth, and he has inspired her in writing poetry on "Nature" :)

What impressed me was the down to earth nature of this year's civil service toppers. They all appear to be sincere, and though sincerity alone is no measurement for being an able administrator, that they could reach these levels through their hardwork alone, made me happy.

* * *

I am reading A Fine Balance now(thanks to listening to the interview). What provoked me to write this post is, in the chapter on Ishwar's history, the caste system of then (and now, though it has come down quite, by no means fully) comes alive. To disturb and remind you. How easily people forget things, and make-believe that such things never existed! Its all well to tell, lets have a stable government, let national security be our most important priority, lets scrap reservations and forget this caste system for once and all. Either you dont know, or you dont remember, or you are just lying(may be to yourself). Perhaps if you "feel" the urgency of the situation, the scenario of Mayawati becoming the Prime Minister of the country may not appear laughable to you anymore.

Madhavikutti

Madhavikutti's writings tormented me. They crossed all boundaries. The Women: they wanted "something" that men did not know of. The husband went on reading books, not talking to his wife, just leading a normal, sincere, monotonous life, but the wife, loving and respecting her husband, but with a heart full of love and wanting to be loved back, crossed the boundary, finding a lover for herself. About some girl who didnt want to study and instead wanted to be married off. About extra-marital relations. About love, about sex, about complications and contradictions of life. About the "Feminine", different from the "Masculine". Half way down the short story book, I called myself a callous pig, fell into depression, and locked the book in a suitcase, never to be read again!

The world is not black and white to be compartmentalized easily, it is much more complicated. If it is art that should reflect this complexity, Madhavikutti was a quintessential artist. But what made her stand apart even more is her courage. She was complicated, and she wrote what she felt. Her language reflected this. She did not hesitate when they contradicted with popular ideas and ideals: conservative or progressive. She created storms, and was blacklisted alike by people who read Tolstoy and Marx and those who had never read a book in their entire lives. Because they could not stand the truth, and/or because she was a woman. She is dead now. And I realize, reading her did not corrupt me; and though they never made me happy, they made me a little better person.

I wrote here what I felt about what little I've read of her. Now I want to read again, and read more, of her.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

On Blogging

Blogs, how much ever personal or "from the heart" or "my space, no one else's" spirit they are started with, soon become an audience pleasing exercise. Initially, the audience will be less, and your spirit to write will be high. Down the line, both trends reverse. People soon start looking for interesting topics to blog about, etc. They go on trips and watch movies with this purpose in mind. This, if it was for a magazine or newspaper with a fixed aim (like money or political), would have worked fine (that's their aim), but for an individual blogger, blogging "just for fun", it soon means that "he is being watched", "he should write well", "the audience may not like it", "this topic does not fit into this blog and its audience". These pressures work out differently for different people: I normally end up hating my blog.

The audience is not the problem: acceptance (and may be commaderie) is a major aim of writing blogs. I am not interested in writing a closed-to-all blog, which only I can read. Audience affecting the author becomes a problem. The initial idea of blogging just for fun will change, and different people accept this differently.

The dynamic nature of blogging, where we just type something and press "save", without the strong thought and the endless re-reading and re-writing process of an "article" (say for a magazine), tend to end up as "informal" "rants". Blogs are written instantaneously, and I wounder how much "insight" we can get from such a form of writing. They capture so much of the emotion of the moment of writing, and may be it is like a diary; just to mark our stray and fleeting thoughts. I mostly blog on stray thoughts rather than my few time tested opinions.

If all you wanted was to share your opinion, another way to do it would be to use static websites or blogs without commenting option. Some people choose this option, and perhaps its a good choice to remain detached from the blog.

Lets see what will happen to this blog. I want to give it only a "second rate" importance, just as a once in a while hobby, so that it wont end up affecting me and my emotions. I am trying to be brave, and enabling the comments for the blog for the time being.

Making sense of surveys

I was looking for numbers to support/refute my simple, not so original hypothesis about Kerala's political dynamics. I tend to mostly believe CSDS data: because I mostly find Yogendra Yadav's analysis agreeable. At any rate, he is the better than the clueless TV journalists and newspaper editors like Shekhar Gupta and Veer Sanghvi.

However, in the data that appeared in yesterday's Hindu: it says the LDF lost 13% of Nair vote between 2004 and 2006, and the UDF gained only 4% of the Nair vote. So the 9% would have gone to the BJP or independents. The BJP's total votes came down from 10% to 6%, and Nairs and upper caste Hindus are the social groups they find some acceptance, thus "ungaining" say: 10% of total Nair vote. Now we have about 20% of Nair votes "swinging", yet the UDF has gained only 4% (as per CSDS).

The overall polling percentage increased by about 2%, so nothing there to account for a 10% of a group that makes 13% of total electorate not voting at all . 10% of 13% of 73% of 2.2 crores is about 2 lakhs - the most famous "independent" Neelalohitadasan Nadar - who might have mostly got Nadar votes - got only 1 lakh votes(only 50000 Nairs would have voted in TVM anyway, and mind you, Shashi Tharoor is a candidate that would have absorbed all upper caste votes, and also, we have a stronger BJP presence in TVM). Considering the BJP's swings as well, we have to explain for at least 4 lakh Nair votes.

Apart from Nairs, the only other group that shows a major swing as per the survey is the Christian group (13%). The rest, with swings of 5% or less, and considering the sampling errors of the survey, throw very little in terms of "which group voted for whom differently this time". I don't know what to make out of the survey, and to what extend this kind of data can be used to gain any insight into what actually happened.

Monday, May 25, 2009

Passenger and Bhagyadevata

Passenger and Bhagyadevata are reasonably good films, especially when compared to the trash we have been receiving in Malayalam cinema for many years now. There are problems with these films of course, but I found some moments of brilliance as well, so I would recommend a watch.

(Some thing about the plot below - so please dont read before watching)

1. I liked most of Passenger, especially most of the things that happened with trains as reference. The main problem I found with the film is the highly incredible plot created by the villain (Jagathy - the corrupt Home minister) to kill thousands of people with a plane crash so that some mining lobby is saved. Killing a few people for a  private industry is plausible, but wiping out a whole area, that too with the crash of the private jet of a liquor baron... the minister must be afraid of the noose... wont he?

2. When I watched Bhagyadevatha, I found it better than Passenger, except for the "climax". An anti-dowry film ended up in the most conservative manner, and almost pro-dowry, pro-establishment, pro-chastity, etc etc. Note: The film's associate director - Sreebala Menon's book - 19 Canal Road is one of the best "light" books I read recently(i.e one year back!), and I highly recommend that.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Learning and researching history

I was thinking of the results of "Learning and researching History". Overwhelmingly, the political results come to my mind. The children are taught history in school so that 1) They become nationalistic, proud of their history 2) They understand the rights, and more importantly, the wrongs that happened in History - the holocaust, or the Stalinist purges, Fascism, Imperialism etc - so that their political beliefs are developed accordingly. I wonder if there is any country in the world which do not interpret history selectively so that 1 & 2 are met.

History is always used by politicians to prove their point. The Hindu nationalist sees a glorious "Akhand Bharat" of the olden days - united, successful and homogeneous from Afghanistan to Kerala - tarnished to the present one by attacks from people of other religions. The Dravidian politician sees himself as a defender of the Dravidians - a Superior race traditionally, and the inhibitor of Akhand Bharat, that fell into bad means and pushed southwards due to the attacks from the barbarous Aryans, and sees many of the social ills as the product of Aryanization. The dalits see an entirely different history of the country (which provides reasons for their current state). Elsewhere in the world, Hitler interpreted history to create the myth of Aryan supremacy, and the glorious "Reichs" of olden days. Some Muslims (especially in Pakistan) and Christians (in India too) find Indian history as a thorough civilization process by them of the idol-worshiping, superstitious, cast-ridden Hindus. Communists of Kerala and the state's text books painted a glorious picture of the erstwhile USSR and the regime of Stalin even when they were taught in the most negative terms elsewhere. The US thinks of themselves as the saviour and crusader of Democracy all over the world, even though it does not mind meddling in the internal affairs of several democratic countries, keeping the likes of Saudi Arabia in its own backyard. Chavez invokes Bolivar to gain legitimacy to himself, Marx and Engels made history the basis and a kind of proof of their theory of Historical Materialism, of social systems converging to communism at the end of their evolution.

I wonder, is the use of Learning and researching History is only to score political points, and to refute them (again for a political reason)? History is always hazy, and it is very easy to selectively interpret it. Most nationalist movements do this.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Trying to analyze Kerala politics

Its majorly middle class population and strong politicization makes Kerala's political dynamics different from the National one. Kerala, with only 13% of people below poverty line, or half of national average (at 26%) (NSSO statistics), and with a huge middle class (nearly 70% - cant find source now), is having only less than 30% (and may be even about 15%) of its people directly impacted by the welfare schemes of the government. And majority of these poor people have traditionally been supporters of the Left Democratic Front (LDF - the communists' alliance). So it is very tough to come to power by means of just running welfare schemes for the poorest of poor- there are no major "swing votes" here - and even among the few present here it is tough for people to filter out state government welfare schemes from central government schemes so as to reward the respective governments through the ballot box.

Among the rest of the population - the vast majority - mainly middle class or above - a majority should be traditional UDF (Congress, League, KC) supporters (since LDF should be sweeping the poorest's votes), and a minority will be LDF supporters (traditionally). This is the result of historical factors, social struggles, religion and caste and to some extend the presence of sister organizations of these political parties, and mainly that of CPI(M)- like DYFI, CITU and SFI. The remaining few (quite small in percentage - 4-5% of total population, perhaps) in the middle class, not too affiliated with either combinations, rather apolitical, but who do vote , always vote against the current state government.

This is because, every single government in the state (like elsewhere) is not free from scandals: corruption allegations, violence, nepotism, factionalism and such fights, allying with goondas or corrupt businessmen or politicians, sexual harassment charges, communal problems etc etc. This is ensured by not only by the actions of the party in power, but also the active state of politics in the state, with a strong opposition party and energetic youth movements (like DYFI and SFI), along with a media hungry for scandals (rightly so) and above all a population for which political discussions and news is a national past time - who wouldn't just let the government get away with it. At the end of half of a government's term in office, the government will be having a poor name. Everyone (mainly from the apolitical middle class I spoke off) will become critics of the government, and the inevitable will happen. Rolling out doles for the poor - whatever good it does to them - alone will not win elections. And the condition of this "normally apolitical-yet voting-middle class" is such that, some good things affecting them done by the government (say: improving roads, or electric supply) will be offset by their morality and righteousness ("this government has been horribly corrupt, and I should protest by voting", etc).

Hence, it is perhaps impossible to win a consecutive term in Kerala, unless you have some kind of a wave(national, like the Rajiv Gandhi assassination, or local, like what happened in Manjeri in 2004) (and unless you manage without any scandals, quite impossible). If this is to be proved wrong, you must reverse the trend with the "normally apolitical-yet voting-middle class", by getting into their moral good books. Like how VS (current CM) is doing now: even when the LDF was trounced in the election (the result of a simple 3-4 % difference in vote percentages resulted in 16-4 in LS terms and 100-40 in assembly terms), VS beat the UDF's CM candidate and current Leader of Opposition, Oommen Chandy by more than 10 percentage points (CSDS survey). VS achieved this by showing up as a crusader against all forms of corruption and nepotism, not stopping even against his own party's all powerful secretary, even by putting into risk his own stature and future in the party. The swing votes (the apolitical few among the vast middle class) need scapegoats, if anti-incumbency is to be beaten. Unless of course the government becomes too good and comes out with no major scandal.

Update: There must be some swing votes between Congress and BJP, mainly in upper caste Hindus, which wont go to the Left. This goes to the Congress when Congress is in the opposition (and the ruling Left Front is dirtied by various scandals, and these few upper caste voters want to defeat the Left and bring back the Congress), and to BJP when Congress is in power.

There will certainly be much more to the political dynamics of Kerala, especially local factors and candidatures, however I feel the overall mandate is largely the result of the above phenomenon.

Update: I feel that there is a dangerous message in this post: that there is no need to care for the poor in Kerala to win elections. It is easy to see that it is my detachment with politics for the poor is what that allowed me to write this. What I wrote may be right or wrong, but this detachment makes a difference between how the middle class and the poor see politics. If I was more sensitive about this when I wrote this, may be I would have done a lot more homework.

Friday, May 15, 2009

A funny conversation from C&P (Are some progressives fools?)

[Lebeziatnikov:]
We had a debate lately on the question: Has a member of the community the right to enter another member’s room, whether man or woman, at any time … and we decided that he has!

[Luzhin]‘It might be at an inconvenient moment, he-he!’
Lebeziatnikov was really angry.
‘You are always thinking of something unpleasant,’ he cried with aversion. ‘Tfoo! How vexed I am that when I was expounding our system, I referred prematurely to the question of personal privacy! It’s always a stumbling-block to people like you, they turn it into ridicule before they understand it. And how proud they are of it, too! Tfoo! I’ve often maintained that that question should not be approached by a novice till he has a firm faith in the system.

.....

‘Because I don’t want in your free marriage to be made a fool of and to bring up another man’s children, that’s why I want legal marriage,’ Luzhin replied in order to make some answer.
He seemed preoccupied by something.

‘Children? You referred to children,’ Lebeziatnikov started off like a warhorse at the trumpet call. ‘Children are a social question and a question of first importance, I agree; but the question of children has another solution. Some refuse to have children altogether, because they suggest the institution of the family. We’ll speak of children later, but now as to the question of honour, I confess that’s my weak point. That horrid, military, Pushkin expression is unthinkable in the dictionary of the future. What does it mean indeed? It’s nonsense, there will be no deception in a free marriage! That is only the natural consequence of a legal marriage, so to say, its corrective, a protest. So that indeed it’s not humiliating … and if I ever, to suppose an absurdity, were to be legally married, I should be positively glad of it. I should say to my wife: ‘My dear, hitherto I have loved you, now I respect you, for you’ve shown you can protest!’ You laugh! That’s because you are of incapable of getting away from prejudices. Confound it all! I understand now where the unpleasantness is of being deceived in a legal marriage, but it’s simply a despicable consequence of a despicable position in which both are humiliated. When the deception is open, as in a free marriage, then it does not exist, it’s unthinkable. Your wife will only prove how she respects you by considering you incapable of opposing her happiness and avenging yourself on her for her new husband. Damn it all! I sometimes dream if I were to be married, pfoo! I mean if I were to marry, legally or not, it’s just the same, I should present my wife with a lover if she had not found one for herself. ‘My dear,’ I should say, ‘I love you, but even more than that I desire you to respect me. See!’ Am I not right?’

Some opinion of TV journalism in India

I watched the election discussions in the telly for the last two days.

I used to watch it at the time of last general elections. That time, I remember, we used to have a lot of panelists from corporate India- like the head of Morgan Stanley in India, and people like Gurcharan Das, along with politicians like Arun Jaitely, Jairam Ramesh etc. And Rajdeep and other anchors will side with the corporate guy, attacking the politician, making fun of them, etc etc.

Ever since the UPA came to power in that election, my TV watching came down. Especially the news channels. I started to feel that these TV journalists are not journalists at all. Starting from Rajdeep Sardesai and Barkha Dutt to the wastes in Headlines Today, Aaj Tak etc. It is like reading the Times of India. I wonder why there are so many commonalities between these channels and the TOI kind of reporting.

Anyway: why I stopped to watch this again day before yesterday is: 1) I had no other plans 2) The panel had P. Sainath, Ram Guha and Yogendra Yadav in one channel, and N. Ram in another. These people, whether I agree with their views or not, are serious journalists (not Guha - who is an entertaining historian), and do not normally appear in TV: the TV is happy with Shekhar Gupta and Veer Sanghvi type of journalists, and getting Morgan Stanley MBAs to comment on politics, who can make a program "entertaining", than those like Sainath, who would be mainly tirading about the TV journalists themselves. I was surprised to see Sainath in Rajdeep's panel. Perhaps he thought, through TV, he can spread the point he has been trying to make, that perhaps he can correct the TV journalism. (About the Morgan Stanley guy missing this time: did he lose his job ?)

I feel that he failed in his task - if it was one - emphatically. The pace of TV journalism - NDTV/CNN-IBM style- doesnt help serious discussions. Sainath's points were deeply at cross with the crass generalizations that Sardesai tried to make, and as soon as Sainath starts explaining them, just after his first sentence, Sardesai will take the tail of that sentence and jump the gun: he will ask the next panelist: "do you agree with it?". I felt that Sainath couldnt get across any of his points across.

I am also reminded of how distant these TV journalists are from reality. Yogendra was saying, based on his survey's statistics, that even in Central elections, the activities and the image of the state government counts more than that of central government, and this trend has been increasing. At this time: Sagarika Ghosh was absolutely surprised to hear that the voters do not give much thought to the Nuclear Deal issue. Yogendra completely brushed aside that this issues like this will make the voter change his vote.

If you are aware of a few average common folk who vote, it can be easily guessed that no one would care much about the nuclear deal and its repercussions. When the deal was an issue, when it appeared in the newspapers, they might have read about it (Yogendra's statistics say only 50% read papers, and only 50% watch TV), but would have soon forgot it. Normal folk just "glimpse" through newspapers. They might read more on things that interest them (many a times just to feel convinced about their convictions more and more by selectively reading the news), but I completely fail to see how such a thing like Nuclear Deal can affect the voter's memory so much that he makes sure that he will vote for x party in the next election because of this issue. Its so simple, straightforward, common logic. And it made Sagarika - one of the country's foremost TV journalist - surprised.

Lets come to Prannoy Roy himself. The man who shows a little more grace. He started yesterday's session with Kerala: he said his exit polls predict 10:10 in Kerala for LDF:UDF, LDF's tally coming down from 17 last time. Then he went on to analyse the results further, saying: the LDF:UDF vote for Muslims is 45:55 and for Christians is 26: 60 (or some similar number), and this loss of votes among minorities is what is costing the LDF 7 seats.

Let's forget for once that LDF won 18 seats last year (Prannoy must have missed the CPM-Independent Sebastian Paul). But, saying that a vote ratio of 45:55 among Muslims and 26:60 among Christians is what is leading to LDF's loss from last time is so naive, if you know at least the basics of Kerala politics. Traditionally, for decades, the Christians, Muslims and upper caste Hindus have been voting en masse for UDF. This unity lead to the fall of the EMS government in 1959, and the UDF has always won Christian/Muslim majority areas like Mavelikkara, Moovattupuzha, Ponnani and Manjeri, by large margins. It is pure as daylight the fact that a vast majority of the religious minorities in Kerala vote for UDF: nobody will dispute it. But with the rise of Pinarai Vijayan as the CPM state Secretary, things have started to change, with him trying to woo Muslims to vote for LDF by aligning with some hardline Muslim leaders. That contributed to the LDF win in Manjeri last time. However the UDF won Ponnani by a landslide, as always.

Last time's LDF wave was due to the wrath of the people against the horrible factionalism, nepotism and family inheritance within the UDF, in addition to a poorly performing, weak AK Antony government in the state. This, again is quite indisputable, if you know the politics in the state. This time, the wave simply does not exist! So historically, the Muslims and the Christians vote en masse for the UDF, which is my point. If LDF wins 45% of Muslim vote this time, I would say it has improved its tally there. And the Christian vote remains more or less the same.

Of course, Prannoy and other TV journalists cannot be expected to go to these levels.

For example: about Sheila Dixit winning in Delhi for 3 times in a row, the analysis (between Sardesai and Guha) was that the Delhi populace - with a strong urban middle class, a variegated crowd that includes South Indians and Foreigners (according to Guha) - now looks for English speaking, Convent educated leaders to rule them than the old Madanlal Khuranas. In my opinion, this is very silly. Statistics shows that the Congress won in Delhi because of the support from the poorer section of the populace, not the "variegated middle class that want convent educated politicians". Sardesai's thesis falls apart here, and yet, I wonder if the variegated middle class actually want "convent educated politicians" to rule them.

They also made a similar analysis about Bombay (that Shiv Sena has been losing for some time now, or some such), and wanted to generalize the "convent educated English speaking" crap. Sainath begged to differ, started to explain his point, at the end of first sentence of which, Sardesai again jumped the gun, and shot something for the next panelist.

However, the silver lining is the fact that we have people like Sainath coming to newsroom now. That means Sardesai wanted to have a (seemingly) balanced panel (notwithstanding the screwing up of Corporate financial sector, which might have made the bankers too busy for the newsroom). IMHO, this was different from the time of the last general elections, and even that of the Mumbai attack (when celebrities and candles ruled the TV). But I wonder whether it will go anywhere better from there.

Saturday, May 9, 2009

Crime and Punishment and The Hindu

I am reading Dostoevsky's Crime and Punishment now. I had read the book in part some years back, but could not complete it due to some other reason. So I am rereading it from the beginning. I must admit this is the first "classic" book I am going to complete - Dicken's Great Expectations was left at 200 pages 4 years back. But I am sure I am going to complete Crime and Punishment, because it is such a great, deep book.

It is really a deep book in that it shows us the state of life and ideas in Russia and St. Petersburg in the 19th century with remarkable clarity and more than everything, it explores the inner most layers of the human mind, its emotional and rational side. It is so deep because, some of the current unsettled questions (in public sphere, may not be by science): like whether greed is good, or if science says man should be greedy, or if all of us are greedy and does not harm others everything is going to be al right and everybody will be happy, things like that, is discussed in the book. Even though it was written more than hundred years ago, its content is not old at all. When Luzhin says, I am paraphrasing - "Science wants us to be selfish", "I am a man of Science and modern ideas", "She is old, having some old, romantic ideas, not to my liking", or when Razumukhin says about the self-proclaimed Progressive publisher who entrusted to him work to translate "Natural Science" and "Progressive" books from German to Russian:
He's doing publishing of a kind, and issuing natural science manuals and what a circulation they have! The very titles are worth the money! You always maintained that I was a fool, but by Jove, my boy, there are greater fools than I am! Now he is setting up for being advanced, not that he has an inkling of anything, but, of course, I encourage him. Here are two signatures of the German text—in my opinion, the crudest charlatanism; it discusses the question, 'Is woman a human being?' And, of course, triumphantly proves that she is. Heruvimov is going to bring out this work as a contribution to the woman question; I am translating it; he will expand these two and a half signatures into six, we shall make up a gorgeous title half a page long and bring it out at half a rouble.
...
When we have finished this, we are going to begin a translation about whales, and then some of the dullest scandals out of the second part of Les Confessions (Rousseau's autobigraphy) we have marked for translation; somebody has told Heruvimov, that Rousseau was a kind of Radishchev.
things like these bring to my mind some of our newspaper editorials and publishing houses, who are still acting like Luzhin and Heruvimov.

Or the below conversation:
'He's got round her,' Nastasya murmured, smiling slyly.
'Why don't you put the sugar in your tea, Nastasya Nikiforovna?'
'You are a one!' Nastasya cried suddenly, going off into a giggle.
"putting sugar" - which is a common expression even now, I did not know that it was there so long back even, in such an alien country!

Many of the things discussed in the book are so eternal, I can quote the whole book as an example. And this is not just about ideas: the whole emotional landscape described by the book appear eternal to me. Current fiction works can never hope to match the depth of such books.

Thinking in these lines, about how poorly current literature bestsellers compare with C&P (and perhaps other russian classics), I could see another parallel: The Hindu vs other Indian newspapers. The parallel is about thinking in terms of global, eternal ideas than some short term idea that might give way to something else in future, but that might disguise itself as though it is eternal. When all other newspapers - Times of India, Indian Express, Hindustan Times - along with the rest of the mainstream media choose to celebrate and cheerlead "greed is good", "end of history", "cut government, more free market", "US is the king - an eternal reality- and we better be its servents" , "world is flat", and "leftist ideologies have been buried" as though everything had been proved mathematically, as though we have seen the end of ideological battles in History. The Hindu choose to follow the middle path, reporting news as it is, giving perspectives from all sides, not mis-judging the local extrema as the final, universal extrema, strongly believing in its left-of-center conviction. The Times had climate change deniers among its senior editors and had advertisements disguised as news and preferred showing tits over publishing news on farmer suicides. It has a loyal set of followers who call The Hindu old, leftist and boring.

When the financial system - cheerleaded by the likes of TOI - is in peril, when the land of Bush and imperialism gave way to the land of Obama and liberalism, when Mr. Obama says that uncontrolled greed is not good, when YV Reddy asserts that it was the RBI's steps to regulate the banking industry strongly in spite of protests from the private banks and free market cheerleaders that lead to the remarkable survival of its industry, when Obama goes about the world batting for peaceful coexistence and talks about thawing the ice with Iran, Cuba, Turkey and Islam, I can see the chubby cheeked China lover, or the editor-in-chief of the boring, South Indian, "Communist" daily, laughing.

Update: On second thoughts, I doubt if the "putting sugar" expression is the result of the translation to English, done in the second half of 20th century.

Sunday, May 3, 2009

Liberal p.o.v in Indian blogosphere

Once upon a time, the Indian blogosphere was dominated by a set of bloggers who were called as the "libertarian cartel". Most of the famous bloggers who wrote on politics, economics or foreign policy were either libertarians or (to a lesser extend) right wing conservatives (anti-reservation, Hindu nationalists). There were some bloggers who offered the point of views from other sides of the political/economic spectrum, but the fact that the blogosphere was dominated by the "cartel" says something about its state. As an ardent blog reader, who spends a lot of time in office reading blogs, and who likes to hear good news from the liberal end, I used to feel bad sometimes ;-)

Currently, I find a set of excellent scientists/academics have started into regular blogging, and I find their blogs extremely interesting. All of them are eminent researchers, are extremely well read, comments on a large array of fields (from politics to music and food), very liberal and almost activist- like. They are from the elite Indian research institutions like IMSc, TIFR and IISc. (Though I doubt if a random sample among Indian academists from the better known schools and research institutes (like TIFR, IISc, IIT) will give us such people: in fact I doubt the average Indian academic (on a random sample) might have a U-namam on his temple. )

So: perhaps this is the liberal answer to the "cartel", at least as far as I am concerned. Here are these blogs:

http://horadecubitus.blogspot.com/
http://sunilmukhi.blogspot.com/
http://nanopolitan.blogspot.com/
http://anant-observations.blogspot.com/
http://rahul-basu.blogspot.com/
http://nomologic.blogspot.com/

Now who will N. Ram recruit?

N. Ram's sidekick vis-a-vis China and Tibet, The Hindu's China correspondent, Pallavi Aiyer is moving out of China. She writes in her "farewell article", through reporting on China:

Instead of answers I only found more questions. What is the real nature of freedom? Can a society free to become rich but not to criticise be called free? From what source do governments gain their legitimacy? Can stability and social justice legitimately be prioritised over free speech?

Ultimately, I found myself increasingly eschewing black and white, while my fascination for the shades of grey that permeated China, grew. This was a country of oxymorons; an officially atheist country in the midst of a religious revival; a country of dynamic bottom-up resistance in a top-down system. It was a country, moreover, where every street and every contradiction was shot through with the irrepressible spirit of Chinese-ness.

I used to find her articles really boring, and her articles almost never reflected the "shades of grey": rather, it was all rosy, even though she is saying that even she was confused about the whole thing!

Thursday, April 30, 2009

English's position among Indian languages.

I no more use any standalone transliteration software to type Malayalam. To post in this blog in Malayalam, I type it in gmail, using gmail's transliteration, and send it as an email to the blog. Its really easy this way. I also changed my display language in gmail to Malayalam (might or might not revert back, because I am more used to using English words for certain words associated with particular functionalities in Computers and Technology (like "delete" than "ഉപേക്ഷിക്കുക")

When we talk about whether English should continue to get the position it has in the linguistics of the country (it is one of the two main official languages), especially when people like Mulayam Singh and his Samajwadi Party did in their recent Election Manifesto, or some RSS Swadesi fellow or a simple Hindu chauvinist (with bad English?) talk about replacing English with Hindi, we hear arguments like: "In this modern world, of Computers and IT, how are you possibly going to live with Hindi? You are taking us backwards, into the 19th century". This comes from politicians, TV journalists, and many other people, even Hindi people).

Technology is going to make this a poor, shallow argument. Most of the popular things in the Internet can be done in major languages (google, gmail, Office, even OS (like the GUI of linux: KDE), are available in Malayalam). This is soon going to be much more pervasive, and more error-free. Google currently supports translations to and from Hindi, and hopefully will soon support other Indic languages. Its not tough to write an add-on in Firefox that will automatically translate every single web page in English that is loaded to Hindi, and vice-versa. When we come to filling forms, or writing a computer program, we will have to go with the way these are designed to be done, but this requires no great knowledge of English, as the great German, French and the Russian programmers (among others) have demonstrated. And technology might change this as well. So much research is going into Natural Language Processing, Speech processing and Machine Learning in the area of languages. Ten years later, the field will be revolutionised for sure. Unless, may be, if you are working in a call center :-) (which can also be impacted).

There are much better reasons to go for English above Hindi , or consider them equal. Even these might be challenged by technology - albeit slowly, and may be we will be able to get rid of English by massively making use of language softwares so that the purposes of a common language can be met (will that be useful?), but in any case, our Hindi journalists are not going to like the reasons or results :-)

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Reader's block

"Reader's block"
A big word. Is this actually a real phenomenon? Do a reader go into a "block", unable to read, just like that? Or is it that he doesn't get the right book, and all he gets is some book that doesnt impress/interest him?

I went into a reader's block for may be 6 months. Before that, I read about 3-4 books a month for sometime, before which, I read about perhaps a book a month. Then I started with the eternal hero Jawaharlal's Glimpses of the World History with the firm understanding that I am never going to complete such a huge non-fiction book, however great it is. True to my awareness of myself, I left the book at may be 250th page (read over a month). The effect was not much on me, except that I dont remember reading any book after that for six months. I did try to read, but somehow, I left them in the first ten pages, and I dont remember the book's names.

That was before I stumbled on Is Paris Burning by Dominique/Lappierre, in the vain hope that the author's style of writing would help to get rid of the ghost of "reader's block" that had affected me. I had enjoyed half of Freedom at Midnight and O Jerusalem!, but left them there :). Sadly, after about 80 pages, like one of the reviewer's of the film of the same name on the same book asked, I asked myself: Is Paris Boring? The problem was, the book had so many names, and so many chapters with started with lines similar to: "At the same time, in a nondescript house in the state of [X], Mr. [Y] woke up, with a hangover of a bad sleep." That chapter will be about Mr. Y, and then the next chapter will be about another Mr. Y waking up somewhere else, and what went through his mind.

There were good things with the book too. I realized that I had a horrible knowledge of even the timeline of WW2: so much so that I didnt realize that France was under German occupation for about 5 years or so. I had no clues about the Vichy goverment, de Gaulle's role in the whole thing, and his relation with Roosevelt and others. I got more interested, in fact got fascinated about de Gaulle, and his role in shaping the face of modern France, and many of its liberal outlook. And perhaps its laziness. But I left the book at 80 pages, moving on to Wikipedia :)

Then I started To the End of the Rhine by Bernard Levin: I found it quite interesting: it almost started with a Chapter on Swiss Military, which started with a quote which went like: "At xyz's time, Italy witnessed a period of highest violence and bloodshed, and they created Renaissance. Switzerland had democracy for 500 years, and they created the Cuckoo Clock". (I dont remember who the xyz was. And Swiss democracy was a special type of democracy, quite unlike any modern democracy: for eg: the Women got voting rights only as late as 1971!!). About their military, its like a paranoid government expecting the doomsday tomorrow, with underground oil lakes, hospitals and hostels that can withstand a Hiroshima happening some one kilometer nearby, waiting to be used in case of an attack. All Swiss guys (from lawyers to professors, I understand) must serve for some period every year, and have guns and even grenades at home. Most of the strategic places (like bridges) are mined. No wonder they follow a policy of stringent, aggressive neutrality.

The book then went to Liechenstein, where, according to the book, 10% of national income came from selling postage stamps. And the country being a tax haven, just near the Swiss border, majority of the rest of national income comes from financial institutions making use of its tax haven status, and tourism which banks on the "one of the smallest country" status. He also writes about an amusing parking ticket he got, written in 4 languages or so, in an explicitly polite language.

Then it became boring, with long passages on the architecture of buildings across Rhine. The book fell from my hands, I fell into deep sleep and didnt read the book again.

Till I started with No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency. I bought the book more than an year back, from Strand. I reached the bookshop before leaving for Calicut, and wanted to get a book. I found none to my taste, and was feeling bad after two hours or so, when it was time for me to leave. I just saw this book, went through the theme, and just picked it. Gave it to my friend, who read it, and loved it. I got it back last week(!!), with a strong recommendation. So I started reading it this Saturday. I was feeling bad when I started it, but I loved it, and finished it yesterday. It was entertaining, and got me started on this country called Botswana, familiar to me through the stamps from the place my father's stamp collection had. Botswana is a real exception to the impression we have about African countries. The place has a reasonably strong democracy, rule of law, non-corrupt courts and a modern military(which obeys the government commands). And the population density is like 3 persons every km square, and is bordering Zimbabwe and South Africa, which made me feel like: I WANT TO SEE THIS PLACE!!

So, was "reader's block" a phenomenon by itself, or was it that, I was trying to read books that were boring? If it is the former, I am glad that its over at least for now. Otherwise, I will try to read an interesting book next time. Both not bad options :-)

The statistical average Indian citizen and the voter. (incomplete)

For a start:

Agriculture provides 60% of employment.
Hindus form 80% of population.
SC 16%, ST 7%, OBC at least 32% (could be up to 50%), Upper castes around 30%- of total population.
51.4% are males.






Sunday, April 26, 2009

A sad answer to the quest of fun | A honest intellectual inquiry

Sex makes everything complicated. --Even when you don't have it, the not having it... makes things complicated. Which is why it's usually better to have it.
-- The Holiday.

Why did love - and sex - complicate life so much? It would be far simpler for us not to have to worry about them.

How terrible to be a man, and to have sex on one's mind all the time, as men are supposed to do?

-- Mma Ramotswe.The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency.

Sex complicates every relation. Why?

Why are we here, on top of earth? Why are we here for?

If you believe in Science, then you are here to procreate, spread your genes around, more and more. And sex is one of the most important act here. So, everybody should be doing it with everyone else (without a STD), with the idea of making the world full of your healthy kids.

But here, the ladies have a problem, they have a tough gestation period before the baby comes out, and hence its not possible for them to fuck around and conceive every random man's kid. They have to be selective here, so that the kid will be healthy enough to spread her genes in an optimum way. The feeling of love is just a quality assurance process here.

However, if you are using a good contraceptive, the problem of eggs getting fertilized does not arise. Have a good sleep after sex, get up, take a bath, have a good breakfast and go to office. Simple as that, it should be.

Then, why is sex making things so complicated? Why people are generally so choosy about it, give it so much importance, especially about with whom they are doing it?

We were talking about the Natural part here. There is a Nurture part also. That ie, the culture part.

Before getting in to the culture part, there could be another "evolutionary" reason for this. If a man or woman has a history of fucking a lot of people, then they may not stay for long in the relation; like, they may continue to cheat or they may call the relation a day, and get on to newer things, without really bothering about hurting the partner or the societal norms. So the sexual history may give a clue about the reliability of the guy or lady, which is very important from an evolutionary/reproductive point of view. Point valid, even in the presence of a contraceptive.

Now, let me get into the societal/culture part. Society dictates sex should not be done with every random drone on the street. It should be done with people whom you love. Or with whom you are married to. If you are married to someone or is in love with someone, and does sex with someone else, you are cheating. But why? If you are using a contraceptive, is it not just like, well, kissing someone on their cheek?

If you ask Engels, he will say society has set this rule because of its Paternal mentality, i.e, ladies should be chaste enough to identify the proper inheritor of the man's property. If a lady fucks with random people everyday and conceives a kid with a father with an ambiguous identity, it will become tough to identify the inheritance of a man's property. But here also, the lady should conceive, and if a contraceptive is used, the problem does not arise.

So the reluctance to do sex, or the feeling that sex makes things complicated, is it just a remnant of the Paternal society Engels was talking about, when contraceptives were not discovered or commonly used? Are more and more people becoming less chaste, or bother less about doing sex, because of the availability of contraceptives?

But there is the religious reason. Abrahamic religions have tough rules about fucking. And Hinduism, even though initially a strong supporter of free sex, became affected by the Abrahamic religions and the Victorian attitude towards sex. So is sex so complicated because of Religion? But then, athiests should be fucking around all the time, which is not the case. But are atheists more open to sex than a strong theist? Perhaps.

Another reason for the reluctance to do sex must come from the fact that while doing it you are opening up your body for someone else, which you dont do all the time. So, you are being selective about whom you are doing this intimate process with. But this is just like the reluctance of showing your not-so-impressive body when you are going to swim. Or doing push-ups in a crowded city center, in front of other people. All the feelings which will disappear in due course :-)

So, in the scenario where the possibility of a pregnancy is ruled out, the only reasons I could think of the importance of carefully selecting the person with whom you do sex with comes from the 1) Keeping a safe sexual history of a person which could be important later 2) The reluctance to do an intimate, physical process with a random guy (or a girl) 3) Religion.

Fuck, silly, what about the emotional part? You are so silly. You do sex when you are emotionally close with someone. That is what complicates everything. Everything else is secondary.

Hmm, but that was covered in the evolutionary section of this post, aint so? Emotion is just an evolutionary tool to....

Or is it? Just like the choice of a man in choosing to use a contraceptive in direct contradiction with evolutionary/reproductive theory(which wants him to fuck around like crazy, subject to maintaining good health), is his brain so heavily wired up that it's products like emotion is no longer just an evolutionary tool? That means, we cannot rationalize that sex should not be complicated?

Hmm, yes, perhaps, till science solves the nature vs nurture question about emotion. Till then, if one feels sex is complicated, we might have to allow them to feel so.

Thats sad. For a guy especially.

Note: This article should be considered as a "honest intellectual enquiry post" or at least a "humour post"(Where's the humour?). I aint that bad.

Who's wrong...

P. Sainath and Yogendra Yadav: both liberal, sensible people, who have done great, exemplary work in the media.

Last week's Sainath's article in The Hindu said:
 
At least two major newspapers have informed their desks that the word "recession" is not to be used in connection with India. Recession is something that happens in the United States, not here. The word stands exiled from the editorial lexicon. If a rather disastrous situation has somehow to be indicated, the term "downturn" or "slowdown" will suffice — and it is to be used with some discretion. But not recession. That would upset the happy buying mood so vital amongst media audiences for the economy to come out of, er, um, well, recession.
This don't-worry-be-happy decree throws up both funny and tragic situations. Several times, publications in this denial mode sport headlines telling us "the worst is over and recovery is just around the corner." 

Now, in today's Hindu, Yadav writes:

The media has tried but failed to make the global meltdown a factor in our politics.
 
One of them has got it fully wrong. But how come? Can one write anything and get away with it? We aint talking about Hindutva spin-doctors here, but liberals!

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Reading is good

The Swiss military, Liechtenstein economy and Life and Democracy in Botswana.  Some revelations :-)

Reading is good.

Learning and knowing new things is good.

Hope to continue this.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

പണ്ടാറം

എന്തരോ എന്തോ. കഴിഞ്ഞ ഒരാഴ്ചയില്‍ രണ്ടു ഗവേര്‍മെന്റ്റ് സൈറ്റില്‍ ഈ തെറ്റ് (എറര്‍) കിട്ടി. വേറെ രണ്ടു ഗോവെര്‍മെന്റിനോട് ബന്ധപ്പെട്ട് കെടക്കുന്ന സൈറ്റിലും ഇത് കിട്ടി. കഴിഞ്ഞ ഒരാഴ്ചയില്‍. സൈറ്റുകള്‍: india post, railways, yhai (youth hostel) and one of the embassy websites. എല്ലാം മൈക്രോസോഫ്റ്റ് സോഫ്റ്റ്‌വെയര്‍ കൊണ്ട് ഡെവലപ്പ് ചെയ്ത സൈറ്റുകള്‍.  ഇവന്മാര്‍ക്കൊക്കെ ഒരു സോഫ്റ്റ്‌വെയര്‍ എഴുതുമ്പോ നന്നായിട്ടെഴുതിക്കൂടെ... അല്ലാതെ ഒരു പൈന്കിളി കഥ എഴുതുന്നത്‌ പോലെ എന്തൊക്കെയോ കുത്തിക്കുറിച്ചു ....!  മനുഷേനെ പിരാന്തുപിടിപ്പിക്കാന്‍ പണ്ടാരങ്ങള്‍ എല്ലാം കൂടി രാവിലെ തന്നെ ഇറങ്ങിക്കോളും....

പണ്ടാറം



Monday, April 20, 2009

ഒരു പെസ്സിമിസ്ടിന്റെ ജല്പനങ്ങള്‍

ഇത് എഴുതിയത് ഞാന്‍ തന്നെ ആണോന്നാണു ഇപ്പോ സംശയം.... സോഫ്റ്റ്‌വെയര്‍ എഞ്ചിനീയറിങ്, മെഷീന്‍ ലേര്‍ിംഗ്, രോബോടിച്സ്, തന്നെ പ്രശ്നം പരിഹരിക്കുന്ന മൃദുലമായ വെയര്‍ (സോഫ്റ്റ്‌വെയര്‍) ... എന്തൊക്കെ പുകിലായിരുന്നു... ഇപ്പൊ പുട്ട് ഉണ്ടാക്കുന്നത്‌ മാത്രം ആണ് ഏക ആശ്വാസം...
ഒരു പൊസ്തകം വായിച്ചിട്ട് എത്ര കാലായി. വായിക്കാന്‍ ഇരിക്കുമ്പോ അപ്പൊ ഒറക്കം വരും. എങ്ങനെ ആണ് വിസ്ഡം ഉണ്ടാക്കന്ടെതെന്നു ചോദിച്ചപ്പോ വാറന്‍പ്പൂപ്പന്‍ പറഞ്ഞത് "റീഡ് റീഡ് റീഡ്" എന്നാണു. ഈ പോക്ക് പോയ ഞാന്‍ വയസ്സായാലും വൈസ് ആവുന്ന ലക്ഷണം ഇല്ല.

എത്ര സിനിമ ഡൗണ്‍ലോഡ്‌ ചെയ്തു. പക്ഷെ എല്ലാം imdb റേറ്റിംഗ് നോക്കി എടുത്ത ബുജി പടങ്ങള്‍... കാണാന്‍ തോന്നണേ ഇല്ല...
saving private ryan പോലെ, schindler's list പോലെ, amelie പോലെ, shawshank redumption പോലെ, good bad and ugly പോലെ വേറൊരു പടം... ആരും ഇത് വരെ പിടിച്ചിട്ടില്ലേ മക്കളെ....

തെന്തൂട്ടനാവോ...ഇങ്ങനെ പോയാല്‍ മരണം വരെ എങ്ങനെ ചെലവോഴിക്കും...

എന്തൂട്ടാ ചെയ്യാ.

എനിച്ചു ബോര്‍ അടിക്കുന്നു.
മടുത്തു. എന്തൂട്ടാ ചെയ്യാ.
ഓഫീസില്‍ ആണ്. ഒറങ്ങാന്‍ പറ്റില്ല.
കഥ എഴുതാന്‍ ക്രിയേറ്റിവിറ്റി തോന്നണില്ല.
ബ്ലോഗ് എഴുതാന്‍ മൂഡ് ഇല്ല.
ആലോചിക്കാന്‍ തോന്നണില്ല.
തമാശ. ഫൂ.
ജോലി ചെയ്യാനോ പ്രോഗ്രാം ചെയ്യാനോ ഒന്നും തോന്നണില്ല
എന്തൂട്ടാ ചെയ്യാ. ആര്‍ക്കറിയാം.
മിണ്ടാണ്ട്‌ കീ ബോര്‍ഡില്‍ കൊട്ടി കൊണ്ടിരിക്കാം...മോണിറ്ററില്‍ "ഉറ്റു" നോക്കി.... ഉറങ്ങാം.
ഒന്നൊന്നര മണിക്കൂര്‍ കഴിഞ്ഞാല്‍ മേലധികാരികള്‍ വീട്ടീ പോവ്വും
അപ്പൊ എനിച്ചും പോവ്വാം
അത്രന്നെ അല്ല പിന്നെ.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Where did we eat breakfast when in Chickmagalur?

I can never forget about the *next* meal I am going to take. Got a helluva pot belly to prove that. This causes me to remember all the hotels I've ever been to. Especially the good ones and the horrible ones. When I go to a place near one of such hotel that earned a "good" rating in my list, the hotel and its food will occupy a major part of my mind, and I grow restless, till I go and eat something from there. Guess my fellow travellers, friends or family, dont share this quality of mine, so they may not enjoy this as much as I do(in fact most of them cant take it!)

So, if I happened to eat from a Kamat hotel(whose all branches I love), that too in Chikmagalur (with not so many good hotels), how can I forget it? And how I wont take a photograph to remind myself of the glories of the olden days?

So, here goes for all those who doubted whether we indeed had our breakfast from Kamat hotel in Chickmagalur.

Though this photo, by itself does not prove that we ate from there; since this is a hotel in Chickmagalur (proved by online records), it is probable that we ate from here. And since this the only hotel picture we have from our trip to Chickmagalur(not other areas we visited in the trip), it must be the only place from we ate!

Sony prefers research into Arts over Robotics ?


What's this? "Language", "Music", "Art/Science" and - nothing less than - "Sustainability", are the current research topics, that too in a corporate laboratory. And "Robotics" & "Neuroscience" have become - "past"!
AAMOF, the research is not in Language or Music per se, but about the computational problems in these areas, perhaps for Sony's commercial applications in these fields.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Things to do

From the loan ad HDFC beat salesperson gave to me:

06th: Surprise Anniversary Gift - Diamond Neckpiece (1,25,000/-)
10th: Choti's wedding gift (2,00,000/-)
14th: Refurbishment & Exteriors (2.5 lacs)
22nd: Rohit's admission fee (75,000/-)
*Call HDFC Bank for a personal loan today itself

Friday, January 23, 2009

Guys. Gals. People.

Guys. Gals. People.

I feel good. I am busy. So many things to do. So many grand plans in mind. So much hope. And confidence.

So many things to do. So many things that I get confused on which one to start.

Its so good!