Wednesday, December 31, 2014

The Books That Made My 2014

Throughout the latter part year, I had been of the impression that I was reading a lot of books this year. That impression was shattered when I just checked my Goodreads statistics and realized that in sheer numbers, my reading has been pretty ordinary. But in quality, I am proud of some of the books I read this year, and I believe their memories will stay with me for long. I decided to succumb to the December habit of creating unnecessary lists by mentioning the best ten of the lot.

10) The Girl with The Dragon Tattoo by Steig Larsson : This Swedish crime novel has two interlinking stories, one a darkly tragic murder mystery, and another a battle against corporate swindlers. Though the presence of an additional plot is off-putting for a few people, I was fine with it. What surprised me was to learn that women lead dangerous lives even in a country like Sweden. This book made me reconsider a lot of things about women equality. My short Goodreads review is here.

9) The Book Thief by Markus Zusak : Previously reviewed in my blog here.

8) I am the Messenger by Markus Zusak : Two books by a single modern writer in the list! I Am the Messenger is lesser known of the two. It is about unremarkable people leading mundane lives in Australia. It has logical loopholes and an ordinary ending. Fortunately, logic does not affect my choices (in all things) as much as it probably should. I loved this book because of its uniqueness in having an unexceptional guy as a protogonist : a misfit who reads novels and drives taxis. Like Churchill described Atlee, our hero is a "modest man with much to be modest about". He has Zusak's sense of humour though. Here is my Goodreads review of I Am the Messenger. I hope to write a complete post about it sometime.

7) Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy : Leo Tolstoy's epic novel, Anna Karenina is not an easy read. But it is the sort of book that you read and ponder upon, and then realize its beauty. With two protagonists who are alike, yet totally different, Leo Tolstoy guides us through the Aristocratic Russian society. We witness a proposal, a marriage (the best literary marriage I have come across), a childbirth, a suicide, a few extra-marital affairs, and numerous intellectual dining room conversations. Another book I might write about some time. Here is my hastily written Goodreads review.

6) Such a Long Journey by Rohinton Mistry : The setting is Bombay of 1972. Gustad Noble is a conservative, religious, yet an open minded Parsi man. His adolescent son is rebelling against him, his daughter is ill, his best friend who deserted him in the past wants him to take part in a clandestine mission for RAW, the Indira Gandhi government at the centre is rumoured to be corrupt, there is war brewing in East Bengal -- soon-to-be-Bangladesh, his new best friend is battling an ailment, a man from his colony creates nuisance in his life, the right-wing RSS is becoming hostile, and the compound wall of his colony has gradually taken the form of a public urinal. In Mistry's skillful hands, Gustad Noble's ordinary circumstances are coloured by Indian-ness. Who cares about the lack of a central plot when we have an engaging tale with a wonderful, warm-hearted hero? Goodreads review here.

5) All Quiet on the Western Front by Erich Maria Remarque : The best war novel I have come across. This novel banned by Hitler depicts the brutality of war and its effect on soldiers. The detached tone multiplies its impact. A sad, sad book. Goodreads review here.

5) The Martian by Andy Weir : A science fiction involving an astronaut struck in Mars, narrated with unmatchable wit. The only book I was able to finish this year at a pace I am proud of. Unputdownable. Goodreads review here. Read the book before its movie adaptation is out.

4) The Stranger by Albert Camus :  Short and powerful. With an amoral protagonist, Camus questions everything we know about life. This books contains the essence of Camus's philosophy of existentialism. Also, this is the book that taught me my recent-favorite phrase : "tender indifference". 

2) The Illicit Happiness of Other People by Manu Joseph : Reviewed on my blog here.

1) Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoyevsky : Reviewed on my blog here.

Outside books, it has been my most memorable year till date. Also, this happens to be the year where I inundated you all with a personal record number of blogposts. I will try not to repeat it :) Thanks for putting up with me. Wish you all a great year ahead!

Sunday, December 28, 2014

The grass better be greener on the other side

I accompanied a friend and his companion to a mall recently. It was one of these malls where you press a button upon entry to generate a time-stamped parking slip and settle the parking charges while exiting the mall. We were surprised to find on our way in that the vending machine didn't work and, since the gates were open, my friend just drove in. We parked and shopped; my friend and his companion shopped whilst I walked roughly behind them starring at my mobile screen. On our way out, we were stopped and asked for a ticket. The attendant was extremely polite and as soon as my friend explained how we had entered, he was flexible enough to just ask us the time of entry and collect a rough amount. My friend though, was righteously outraged at being asked to pay for a system fault. He did pay eventually, but he kept raging on all the way back home about the missed opportunity to teach the mall authorities a lesson. It must have slipped his mind that he had used the parking facilities, for which it is only natural that he pay.

On another day a family I know ordered pizzas from a popular outlet. The pizzas came on time but it was found upon unpacking the boxes that the pizzas were cold. They were about to heat the pizzas on their own microwave oven when it occurred to them that as paying customers, they did not deserve to be treated poorly. They placed a call to the outlet, ignored the apologies, and asked for some sort of compensation. The only way out was for the pizzas to be boxed and sent back to the outlet, when the outlet sent out another dispatch of the same order to be delivered a few minutes later. The family contemplated this, and were coerced by their hunger to simply drop the issue.

In my short -- albeit seemingly extremely long --  career, I have not been perfect at my work. In my first year at an IT company, I kept making a series of mistakes. More experienced people stuck with me, and kept giving me more opportunities, and I committed more mistakes. With time , I learnt - not exactly to avoid mistakes -- but to handle them, and to reduce their frequency. When I find other people committing minor mistakes in their own jobs, I feel a healthy camaraderie towards them. "What, you forgot that? Haha! So, I am not the only imperfect person around." Naturally, it amuses me to look at others who expect no mistakes at all when they pay for things.

Of course, I am not Buddha (despite my occasional claims to that effect). I do get irritated at bad service, and I often take it out on an unfortunate representative. The justification for it is simple : the company makes so much money, why shouldn't they serve me well? But often, we don't hurt the company. Yelling at a pizza delivery guy who is late by a bit doesn't change much. Yelling at the outlet about the tardiness of the delivery guy could reward us with free dinner, but chances are that the dinner is involuntarily sponsored by the lowly paid delivery guy. A phone call to the customer service of any popular telecom company yields only a self-gratification as we harangue a helpless (and irritatingly repetitive) customer care executive. A I-pay-for-it-I-deserve-to-be-treated-better mentality is dangerously close to a class mentality, where class is defined by how rich you are.

And why this obsession with flawlessness -- especially in other people? Every corporate looks towards a zero defect product. Let's face it, most of our jobs are not, for my inability to think of a better term, "mission critical" (supplementary question : What is this mission? What is the purpose of human existence?). Most of our jobs are useless, contributing absolutely nothing to humanity. Yet we go around with a demeanor of self-importance as if we are Atlas, bearing the whole brunt of the World on our shoulders. Of course, there are professions that are critical. In the science fiction novel Martian, thousands of NASA scientists work around the clock for the survival of a single man, and despite their stress, they are acutely aware that a single mistake would be costly. Bus drivers (a thankless job), doctors, judges, juries, pilots, certain programmers, safety device manufacturers are a few professions I can think of where perfection is an absolute necessity.

But should we really insist a machine-like perfection in every walk of life? Or is it the quest for such perfection that makes humanity what it is today? I seriously don't know. But often, I wish that we just have the ability to take people's imperfections lightly, and be polite while pointing them out.

PS : In case there are typos in this post, you know what to do.

Image Source :

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Guest Post Series : Interstellar and my 120 Bucks

Note : This post is a part of the Guest Post Series.

A minor setback kept me away for a little from the blog. Now that I am a wee-bit more confident that things outside the blog can be set right, I am back to doing what I like doing the most - forcing you all to momentarily pause your furiously paced life, and make you think about things that would never ever prove useful to anyone. Here is a guest post that has been laying dormant with me for a long, long time, waiting to be introduced by me.

Balaganesh was my bench-mate in my first day of college. "Hi, I am Balaganesh. My friends call me Bala". For some indecipherable reason, I pointedly addressed him as Ganesh for a few days until I realized that he wouldn't respond to anything other than Bala. He did eventually become one of my better friends. Bala is known for his sense of humour. We all need someone who is willing to play themselves down for the entertainment of others. Bala is one such person. Lots and lots of people feel good about themselves by teasing him, and he lets them -- most of the time. To be fair to them, Bala can be irritating, especially when his attempted jokes are terrible. But sometimes (the success rate is quite low) they come off, with hilarious effect. When asked to submit an assignment in Genetics, the whole class wanted to submit print-outs. Our lecturer was adamant, and wanted it to be hand-written. "OK, no print-outs. At least Xerox, madam?", he quipped.

Underneath all this, Bala is quite a serious person. A lot of things make him angry. But most of all, that his very good knowledge in politics and current affairs go ignored makes him furious at most people. And Bala reads a lot too. As far as I know, he started reading English novels quite late (but he has been reading in Tamil for long), but devours them hungrily to keep up. Around the time I started to blog, he too started his own blog, and we had an unspoken competition between us. He would write random snippets and send them to me, and as he kept writing, he kept improving. Ignoring some punctuation, there are some enviably well-written snippets, but they are so random that nothing can be made out of them. My favorite piece of writing by him is The King and the Truth, a fine piece of historical fiction. A more suitable example of the randomness in his writing is this. I expected such a post from Bala, but he decided to write a movie review. And on that note, I finally managed to catch up with Interstellar yesterday. The science is beyond me, but I connected with the movie emotionally on so many levels and I loved it for that.

Interstellar and my 120 Bucks

What is a science fiction?

The limits of the possible can only be defined by going beyond them into the impossible.              
 –Arthur C Clarke

To evolve base science, futuristic novel ideas in to next level, pushing the boundaries of logic all the while keeping foot on the ground.

In short, Imagination with or with in the grasp of logic is science fiction.

What is wrong with the movie?

Nothing is wrong with the movie.

And I have nothing against Nolan; In fact I am a die-hard fan of the Dark Knight series and Prestige, I haven’t watched Inception though, but have heard the same annoying clich├ęs from friends, “Wow whatta movie, I had to watch it 5 times to understand, how can a person think like this” etc.., and I decided against watching it.

So, when people who hardly watch or read science fiction speak about ground breaking ideas, new physics Nolan has come up with the movie (Yeah Righttt…); I am like “had physics always been so primitive before Nolan started making movies”, because Space-time continuum, Gravitational Singularities and probable worm holes are the grounds on which any DC or Marvel comic and real ground breaking movies such as the highly acclaimed and unknown to today’s Nolanites such as Akira, 2001:A Space Odyssey, The Solaris or even  The Hitchhiker’s guide to the galaxy (People perceive it only as comedy which itself a tragedy) are built upon, so it’s not new level of thinking for many of my friends and me, and I’m naturally and quite rightly annoyed.

The movie itself is a delight with the delicate emotional quotient shouldered by Matthew Mcconaughey, Mackenzie Foy (Little Murph), and Jessica Chastain (Murph grown up), excellent if not grand music by Hans Zimmer (The constant hum of Grandeur), thankfully not in latex-Anne Hathaway (Highly Distracting in latex and leather :P:P :) ), Michael Caine who wasn’t used as much as he should have been and last but not the least the TARS and CASE robots weren’t a humanoid but had humor which was kind of cool and awesome, lazed with great lines, Kudos to that. But they too are replicas with improvements from a lot other Sci-Fi’s (I’ll give Nolan the benefit of doubt for not saturating the idea)

Now anyone can see the potential of this cast, I’d say their presence in itself guarantees Oscar nominations, so when someone says great acting and music, no surprises there.

Note: I refrain from commenting on specific sentiment scenes as I’m prone to giving up the main plot, not that it has many twists, but below this I may not be extending the same courtesy for science will always be science. And if you have not seen the movie by now I assume you ain’t so keen a Nolanite.

In terms of Science-Fiction:

“What had happened is also yet to happen, what will happen in the future though; had already happened”
*And also happening right now*

The amazing and widely acclaimed visual effect/treat of the Black hole in fact has over-shadowed the most incredible notion and complexity of the movie. The simultaneity of time, if you watch it closely you will know it never was about time travel but about events occurring simultaneously, it was refreshing to see that Nolan didn’t point it out as in many other Sci-fis but trusted the audience to figure it. Matthew who has travelled in to the space is already present in his daughter’s bedroom but also in the future (Namesake) which also is the past (Namesake).
Awesomeness of science has been barred by the stunning illustration and effects of the Black hole

The place where he ends up is with time as a physical dimension, one can simply take a stroll and end up in his past or into the future, though grandfather paradox would prevent any physical interaction that might impact the events happened/happening. Nolan bypasses it conveniently with Gravity. But all these wonders of physics have been sidelined by the glory of the black hole.
Yet, if I were allowed to be brutally honest for a minute I’d say “it is an overrated Sci-fi, every idea in this movie has been already experimented upon, in better and flawless movies”.

We all want our heroes to win, we want all the movies we watch to have happy endings, so naturally laws of physics and logic is betrayed in the script (hardly the qualities you will want in a genuine Sci-Fi), no one (Including Nolan and Kipp) can explain how the three planets are compatible to life in any sense without a nourishing star near but with a black hole (you don’t need a masters to spot this) and the exaggerated effects of relativity like slowing down of time ratios, yes this is intriguing to common minds but to create a perfect sci-fi we’d have expected better explanations than gravity, especially with Kipp thorne by his sides.

The only new idea however preposterous, (I will reserve my comments on that) is the suggestion that Love might be a great power which we haven’t really have tried to explore on, by which Nolan is suggesting how Captain cooper ends up being able to help his daughter (It took me great effort to not reveal this scene, though I doubted the possibility when the movie decided to tread upon space-time distortions)

And what finally broke my resolve to not be annoyed or write a review on this movie is when Mathew Mcconaughey ejects (The computer actually screams “EJECT”,  LOL….) and survives from a spaceship being torn apart in to shreds by the gravity of the black hole inside the blackhole, seriously what the hell is that. Oooops spoiler :P:P


It’s a great movie, but overrated and with a lot of facts gone wrong (Quite common when imagination is mixed with science, so it’s fine and forgivable in many places) and with fans who worship Nolan and talk non-stop in theatres and clap for not so great scenes while missing the real good ones (Unforgivable), is annoying to real Sci-fi readers and watchers.

PS: Black holes are being depicted as friendly and life -nourishing in the movie which is the best(or worse) humor I stumbled upon in the last couple of years :P:P (LMAO)

Courtesy: Title from RJ Balaji’s take it easy with Balaji and Arthur C Clarke for the quote.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Tender indifference to ice creams and humanity

Let me make a confession. I do not love ice creams. Please note that I am not saying "I do not like ice creams", for I do like them. I know intimately the feeling of looking forward to eating an ice cream. I enter buffet halls with a general plan to concentrate on the desserts. For many an achievement that is major to me but will sound laughably insignificant to the rest of the World, I have asked myself , "Adarsh, you deserve to celebrate! How about an ice cream?" My visits to Malaikottai in Trichy are planned such that I always end up at the inimitable Michaels, where you get dead-cheap and yummy ice-creams. I prefer them with chocolaty flavors, and cornetto is my favorite. Lately, I have come to realize the deliciousness of the humble butterscotch too.  Yet I do not love them. I have often said no to an ice cream when people around me enjoy one. It comes from the general lack of temptation that I have for food items. It is also due to my permanent cold. Cold for me is what style is for superstar Rajnikant : "kudave porandhadu, ennaikum pogadhu" (roughly : it was born with me, and it will never leave me). My mother loves ice creams, and she often tries to tempt me by offering a little from her own cup. "Come on, just taste it", she says. I usually refuse. After all, a single tiny spoon of ice cold dessert can aggravate your suffering as much as a large scoop. If I had to eat a single spoon, I argue with her, I would rather eat the whole of it.

Talking about celebrations, I am happy to announce that I am back home from a country where I have spent most of my last year, and which has taught me a lot. In this tiny country whose existence was unknown to most people until recently (roughly coinciding with my entry there. I did warn you about my superpower), I have learnt a lot, and I have unlearnt a lot. I have changed so much, and yet I remain the same. I have no doubt that this year I spent away from my home country would be among the most significant times of my life.

I was born in what is considered as the upper class in most Indian places. I read about racism and prejudice only in books. I would nod my head, make "tcchhh tcchhh" noises, and carry on. In his wonderful novel The Stranger, Albert Camus describes the way the World treats a single human being : with "tender indifference". That's exactly what I had for other people around me. You can make all the right noises, but you don't know racism until you experience it. I have, and I thank this country for it. Claiming that I have encountered racism is probably an exaggeration. Racism is something extremely subtle, and I can confidently claim that we have all been racists at some point of time. Should I even make a big deal of it? I think I must, because what I experienced seems systematic, and I would have experienced more of it if I had been as unfortunate as a lot of others around me.

While on the topic of fortune, I have left a country that showed me how fortunate I have been in my life. Life has been unfairly fair to me. It is so unfair for so many people who do not get a chance at proper education, who end up in such places and put up with exploitation because things back home are much, much worse. I also learnt that speaking good English is not a necessity to communicate well in English. Men of various languages meet everyday and carry out complex tasks with an extremely basic knowledge of English. "Good ah?" is a question, and "good" is the appropriate reply. "Problem" is the question as well as the answer based on the intonation. And most importantly, I learnt the power of money. Money can make a desert land fertile. Nothing is impossible with money. Money can also make one indifferent to suffering of others. Tenderly indifferent.

Yet, I chose to run away from all these to a place that would make me feel better. Is my home any better? A lot of people have argued with me that it is not. There is racism in India, though I am on the right side of the it. There is corruption. There are evil people. There are people who are not evil, but who occasionally "bend" a law or two. There are narrow minded people, and there are violent people. The rich decide the policies, and the poor rarely have voice. And I might run away to another place once again if I get the opportunity. But, my personal feeling is that none of this is systematic. There is a possibility, however tiny, that all this will change. Our country is a little less evil than the country I left. If both countries, probably like all other countries, are evil, why should I choose one over the other? Especially if I can make more money in the latter? Because, I have come to realize that there are times when a single spoon of ice cream is not the same as a whole scoop of it.

Sunday, November 2, 2014

Guest Post Series - Recos from a bored Engineering student

Note : This post is a part of the Guest Post Series.

There is/used-to-be (and hopefully, will-be) an informal movie fest at Chennai, where a group of people meet together once every month and watch movies of a selected genre all through a Saturday night. A terrace would be lent for a night by some kind soul (the fest is temporarily suspended due to scarcity of kind and able souls), and we would adorn it with rented beds on the floor, lie down, set up rented projectors and speakers, and try staying awake all night with movies selected by the "curator" of the day for company. Accidentally, I happened to meet a friend at the venue the very first time I attended the meet (it was his first time too), and we decided that we would frequent the Chennai Roof Top Film Festival (Chennai RTFF) as often as possible.

The challenge at such an event is not to fall asleep. My friend and I were confident that it would not be a big issue at our second meet, since the theme was "Sports movies". We found our curator to be a young college going boy : Pavithran, and our expectations for an action-packed night became higher. Pavithran started the night with a nice 1961 movie called The Hustler. However, my eyelids had trouble staying apart after watching the more-than-two-hour-long, dialogue-based (excellent dialogues though), black-and-white movie where the sport in question is snooker. After a terrible (personal opinion) sleep-inducing paranormal drama called the Field of Dreams based on the unfamiliar Baseball, I lost my cool (especially after this guy shrugged at the end of the movie with a "You are all speechless, right?"). My friend struggled to contain my heckling when I learnt that the third movie was based on a real story about a Golf tournament. Thankfully The Greatest Game Ever Played turned out to be gripping and immensely enjoyable.

I randomly met Pavithran once again at a movie screenwriting workshop. He didn't recognize me, so I had to introduce myself. Over the two-day workshop, we found that we were largely in agreement about, among other things,  the usefulness of the sessions by the knowledgeable movie academic and director K.Hariharan (a keen and a brilliant mind), and the uselessness of the sessions by Kamal Hassan (other than the brag potential, which I have now exhausted). I would have a lot of online conversations with Pavithran later on, debating on various insignificant issues. All this completely reversed my first opinion of him. Pavithran is well-read, and a crazy movie buff. He has interesting perspectives -- for example he believes there is no evil that cannot be redeemed, and thus capital punishment should be abolished. And most importantly, he has the increasingly rare quality of trying to understand the other person's opinion (read as : my opinion), and a readiness to reconsider his opening premise. Check out his reviews of Sudish Kamath's Good Night Good Morning and Prakash Raj's Dhoni. Don't be fooled by his humbleness : he is friends with many a celebrity. I stand corrected : he himself became a celebrity by starring in this briefly viral, and totally wild, YouTube video where his hair is literally set on fire.

Recos from a bored Engineering student

I used to think I was an excellent writer. I was among the several bitten by the “If Chetan Bhagat could write, so could I” bug. Until I saw how good the others were. I used to blog. I had grown lazy and stopped doing that too. It had been a very long time since I had put pen to paper to write anything. So when Adarsh (anna) asked me to do a guest post, I told him I’ll give it much thought and try to write something worthwhile. Its been 15+ days since he asked and I cant seem to find anything that would inspire me to write. Heck, I was wondering if I had forgotten how to write and went back to my blog to see the stuff I had written. It was embarrassing . I then decided I would do what I did best. Recommend movies & books that I loved and would like others to watch/read too. So here I bring you two of my favourite books and movies.

Narcopolis by Jeet Thayil

This book has a 2300 word 7 page long prologue. The specialty about it is that the entire prologue is a single sentence. No. You didn’t read it wrong. 2300 words make up one sentence. If there’s a better advertisement for a book I’ve not seen it yet. I consider it among the best works by an Indian author. The Book recreates the Bombay of the 1970s and is as mad as its prologue.

The Great Beauty by Paolo Sorrentino

This Italian film, on the surface level is a film about nothing. Of course you might want to say that by deciding to be a film about nothing, it is something but, you get the idea. If you were to dig deeper into the film, it is a lot of things. It has a deep philosophy running about it. It is one of those films that is difficult to comprehend in just one viewing. I’ve seen it thrice and it continues to throw up new things that I didn’t notice in the earlier viewing. It is also a film that demands every bit of your attention and patience. A lot of your patience if I might say, like “The Tree of Life”.

Omar by Hany Abu-Assad

A film from Palestine , this suspense drama thriller packs in friendship , romance, trust or the lack of it, betrayal, rebellion, patriotism in a tight 90 minutes that has your pulse racing with an excellent pay-off in the climax. That the film is set in occupied Palestine contributes to the tension that forms an integral part of the film. Spilling out more would mean spoiling the movie for you, which I don’t intend to do.

The Fault in our Stars by John Green

No. I haven’t seen the movie version of the book yet. I hope you haven’t yet. Even if you have and disliked it for a sappy romance film, give the book a read. It’s a brilliantly done. This is what I think happened. John Green came up with an unusual , interesting idea for a book. He then decided its not viable commercially because he felt most would not grasp the “idea” and thereby make the book a critical success and a commercial failure. He then works on the idea and improves it. The improvements to the idea, are so well thought out, the book is now both a critical and commercial success. What did he do? Read the book and you would know.

Cheap Thrills by E.L.Katz

This English black comedy is about one mad night where two friends come together after a long time and indulge in several of activities (cheap thrills) that go from being funny to bizarre before reaching incredulous levels. Though on the surface level it would seem to be a film that offers cheap entertainment, it is much more than that. It offers some serious bleak commentary on the society at large. 

Blue is the warmest Colour by Abdellatif Kechiche

A French lesbian romance film that depicts teenage first love and the heart-break that follows it is excellently captured on screen. Though 180 minutes long, considering every second of the runtime contributes to the run time, you would never feel its length. Winner of the Palme d’Or at the Cannes film festival last year (awarded by a jury that was headed by Steven Spielberg) It is considered amongst the best romance films to have come out last year. One of my personal favourites. 

If you’ve already watched/read the above movies/books and feel differently, do mention in the comments. If you do watch/read the movies/books after reading about them on this blog and love or hate it afterwards, do mention in the comments. Am always up for a discussion. 

Until next time then...

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Stop, shrug, and fly, you fools!

Certain things that I came across in the past few days led me into deep contemplation of a sort I was unable express properly. And then, I discovered a video that clarifies a lot of what I had been wondering about, and expresses my worries better than I could ever do. First, let me try to trace the triggers that made me consider things I may not be doing anything about anytime soon. I discovered a totally worthy way of spending time when I came across a Podcast channel called OpenSource. It is hosted by one Christopher Lydon, who seems like a great guy. He is knowledgeable, polite, and capable of firmly stopping his guests if they begin to rant. His guests have excellent credentials, and he seems to know his guests well. In fact, he the sort of person I wouldn't mind seeing as an expert guest himself.

The first podcast I listened to is titled "Is Capitalism Working?", the short answer being "No". Just look around you; you must be deluded not to notice. If you are born poor, you don't have many chances of making it big. There are odds, but the odds are low. People with money invest in a corporate, and the corporate runs solely to satisfy these investors. Customers, employees and society come far behind, often in that order. People with money make more money.  This Podcast touches upon issues such as loss of job through outsourcing, government policies that favour the rich and so on. But as a dignified debate, it ends in a subdued manner with a hope that things would become better. Sometimes, what else can one do other than hope? We slog hours and hours for other people to make money, as long as they let us make some of it too. To stop and to consider our situation itself demands sacrifices we are not willing to make. I am of course typing this from an expensive gadget. Did you hear about the newest version of it they have released? It seems damn expensive, but I want to buy it. So that I can listen to more such podcasts in better quality.

The other podcast I listened to is titled "End of Work". Random Fact mentioned in the show: If Eastman Kodak company shuts down, which is a real possibility, thousands of jobs will be eliminated. Instagram, a somewhat modern version of the Kodak company, employs thirteen people. The End of Work podcast discusses the possibility that we are at the most defining moment of human kind since the Industrial Revolution; Industrial revolution was about machines replacing muscles, the digital revolution is about machines replacing brains. One of the guests is a top researcher from Google who speaks optimistically that by 2030, we would have artificial intelligence (he thinks the term is a misnomer), and men will be allowed to pursue more artistic and "gratifying" jobs. He points out rightly that such fears of people losing jobs accompanied the Industrial Revolution too, but things turned out really well for humanity. He reminds us of the thousands of people who contribute immensely to the wealth of the internet all while sitting at home. Chris Lyndon casually mentions that most of these people don't earn money, to which the Google scientist replies that things such as education won't cost as much as it did, and internet and modern innovations like 3D printers will reduce the importance of money. He shrugs off questions on whether we can carry with us the whole of humanity in this revolution, and seems happy enough that we will have gratifying things to do instead of monotonous labour. We can safely assume that a lot of these gratifying jobs involve talking to machines : in other words, programming. No wonder an employee of Google finds it gratifying -- to be honest, I find it that way too, at least as long as I am doing it well. But what about you? I have extremely intelligent friends who don't think much of programming. What about the rest of humanity? Can we dare to assume that they will all enjoy such a World? Will they be able to adapt, or will they be left behind?

I was talking to this person from Bihar a couple of weeks back. We had to get across using my broken Hindi and his barely survivable English. Over the last year, I have discovered that language is not as important to communication as I thought. This person, much older than me, is a technician. There are a lot of them around the World, but I had not been aware of their existence in my closed IT circles. Technicians of this particular brand are not highly educated, but they are specialized in certain day-to-day industrial operations that involve a lot of manual work. Some of them, not very inaccurately, believe that they are critical to the operation of a whole industrial plant. If at all they get jobs back home though, it will pay them paltry sums. They come abroad to richer countries in search of jobs. When they get them, they hold on to them, braving difficult physical conditions and minor to outright exploitation. They visit their homes for about a month every year. There are people who have been a long, long time. Someone staying here for, say, 12 years, has spent one year of that time with his dear ones. Money is important.  This guy mentioned that his father had been in the army, and that he had once been a student of a Kendriya Vidyalaya. Kendriya Vidyalayas are a chain of Government schools created predominantly for wards of Central Government servants who have transferable jobs. They are extremely, unimaginably inexpensive. They usually don't have entrance examinations, they don't filter out "poor performers" with as much vehemence as expensive private schools, and they generally take it easy. Yet, they are remarkably effective. I told this guy I am from a KV too, and encouraged him to speak more. He hesitated visibly, and shiftily changed the topic. A few minutes later he added that he had been in a KV till his 7th class, when he had to go back to his village. "Financial problems", he said. As if that explains everything. It does, and it doesn't.

It doesn't because I have never known it. I hope I won't get to know it too well too. I hope that because I am pathetic. Despite recognizing that the World is an unjust place where money plays a vital role, I still remain a part of the very system that is corrupt and skewed against people who are just unlucky. There are people more pathetic than me though, who are not even willing to concede that the World is unfair. I look at them and sometimes wish I can be as deluded. A couple of months back I saw this video of cocoa farmers tasting chocolates for the very first time in their lives (watch video below). People who produce the source for chocolates do not even know what becomes of their efforts. I would learn later that this is one type alienation predicted by Karl Marx for capitalist societies. Will these people be able to taste chocolates once again in their lifetime? What about other symbols of human progress then; televisions, air-conditioners, computers, internet, smart phones, Google glass, the iOS experience? When will they experience such things the rest of us have come to take as granted? Capitalism is not working. Technology is not trickling down to everyone. Too many scientists are spending too much money on things we don't need, leaving too many marketers to try and make us want them. Charitable institutions such as Google and Facebook are trying to correct this by taking internet to all of humanity. The hungry can then stare at Instagram photos of food to quench their hunger.

On the other hand, meet Bryan Stevenson. I chanced upon this video by an accident (watch video below). With shocking statistics on how the American justice system systematically works against certain races and the poor classes, he explains why technological progress is next to nothing if we are leaving humanity behind. Congrats Bryan! You are an inspiration. You seem to do something about issues most of us ignore and the rest of us only talk about. Take a bow! I clapped for you. I spent some time of my life to contemplate yours. Heck, I even wrote a blog post on you. But, I need to move on now.

On that note dear readers, can somebody please suggest ways to monetize this blog, preferably without intrusive ads? You see, I am facing this unique problem of wanting more money that I need.

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Thursday, October 23, 2014

Guest Post Series - On Writing

Note : This post is a part of the Guest Post Series.

Since my mother is a teacher, she would often end up meeting other teachers from my school. It would soon be discovered that a few of these people had been my own teachers. As a result, I would occasionally get trapped into a conversation with some long-forgotten faces when I am not adequately prepared for it (it is always advisable to prepare before meeting a teacher), and there would be an awkward moment when they unsuccessfully dig deep into their memory to summon up an image of me. They would then give up, and ask me, "which batch were you in?". "Srini's batch, ma'm. Srinivas". "Ahhh, yeah. I remember him! What is he doing now?" That is the extent of Srini's popularity, and that is the extent of my invisibility.

I know Srinivas for about fifteen years. My school was at a walkable distance from my house, and I would go by a shame-inducing ladies cycle when I didn't walk. Srini and another guy traveled from and to what seemed like a great distance to the tiny us, usually by city bus. I once suggested that they walk the other way towards my home for a few minutes so that the buses are emptier, and they crazily agreed. I don't remember even a single topic we discussed all those days walking back, other than some stray incidents. Like that occasion when we tried flagging an auto for a lift only to be berated by a furious auto-driver who demanded money from us. Or the other one when Srini and N unexpectedly got a lift towards my house leaving me all alone. Panic drains shyness. I glanced around quickly, jumped into a random two wheeler driver which had happened to stop by, and urged him to drop me. He was too stunned to protest.

I digressed there! I do that often. I am wont to lose concentration, but Srini is not. When he sets his mind on a thing, he usually gets it done. It is not wise to tell him that he can't do something, for he will soon prove you wrong. During our final couple of years at school, he travelled nearly a couple of hours every second day to prepare for his entrance exams. His efforts paid of as he got into one of the most prestigious chain of institutions in India. And college is the best place to start a blog. He started with the very impressive My First Post. The impact this post has had on me is such that for an idea that I am hoping to pen soon, I have been subconsciously telling myself that the opening must be as dramatic as this post.

And how did he help my own writing? When we were around 11 or 12, three of us worked briefly on a collaborative novel : a disgustingly pathetic attempt at writing. I hope to tell more about this on a later day, if I get this third person to write for me. Srini and I haven't really been in touch lately. When I pinged him abruptly and asked him to write though, he didn't hesitate even a wink. Within hours of requesting him, I had in my mailbox this meta post on the process of writing.

On Writing

“Old Habits die hard”…. Well how old should the habit be, so that it doesn’t die?!?
Sometimes I wonder, having finished a quarter of the life I am blessed with, how many things from the past should I take forward for the rest of my life. So, when I look back I see there are two most precious things that would invariably come with me no matter what – Memories and habits!

Memories are developed by learning, so it primarily consists of knowledge.
Habits are developed by doing, so it primarily consists of actions!

Cool, so why do I have to take them with me? Aren't they heavy?!?
Will they be useful?
Will these make me sad or happy?
Can I cash on these?

The words memory and habits are referred to differently depending on the phase of life we are in.  I wish to bucket them into four phases:
[1-25] Early in life we call them lesson and studying.
[26-50] Later, we quantize it and call it knowledge and skill.
[51-75] It then moves on to become just one thing : experience, this is when I think you can think and act seamlessly.
[76-100] There is not much action now, so its all just memories L

I am not sure if you will agree to this generalization, but after much thought and associating how people (I have met)in these phases of their life project themselves, I am pretty convinced that this framework is okay!
Also, I firmly believe that
1.       Every action is a consequence of a thought.
2.       Every thought evolves from learning.
3.       And you learn when you do!
This is yet another cycle of life, but we cannot dismiss it without understanding the beauty of it. Because this cycle goes uphill and if we do not pedal, we fall.
Wait. Do not proceed, but reflect on the framework once again [at least till you get convinced].

So, what am I rambling and what is the relevance to the title of the post?!?
When Adarsh asked me to write a guest post, I simply couldn’t say no! I liked the concept. So I started writing this one thinking “old habits die hard!” I took it up as an opportunity to give a nice come back. Then, I went into the classic writer’s dilemma – what do I write about today?!?
My mind raced from the facts I read from some books this month, the movie I saw yesterday, to my office, to the world of software development, life as an engineer , Bangalore, India, to people I have met, schoolmates, role models, food, economy and many more I am not mentioning here ….
But, then I realized something…
This framework I talked about, is the realization.
I should confess that I have not written anything but thousands of lines of production code, almost equal amount of status mails and nothing more, in the last four years. I am appalled by how much we “watch” instead of “read” and how much we “talk” instead of “write”. If this is what technology does to us, then I fear old habits will die hard!
So my answer to those questions:
There is nothing good or bad. There is nothing useful or waste. Yes, your thoughts and actions make you feel happy and sad. They can get you money and they might not. But, its only them, who come with you in this long journey.
I think I missed a few pedals in this journey. But, if you enjoyed reading this post, maybe I am gasping but am still riding on…

Thank you Adarsh for making me do this!

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Guest Post Series - From Hell

Note : This post is a part of the Guest Post Series.

While attending the induction training at my first job, I would wake up every morning quite early, walk a little, take a share auto, take a thirty minute bus ride, and then take another sixty minute bus ride to reach my training centre. Uncoordinatedly, Arun would be usually end up in the same bus towards the end of my journey. He was from my college but we had just met. We would occasionally discuss film making and leave it at that. Much later, thanks to Facebook, I discovered that Arun holds views that are similar to mine on things such as purpose of life, or the lack of it. I don't exactly remember how he became a reader of the blog, considering that the first post I remember showing him was a movie list that I am not too proud off. But he did. And soon, both of us started exchanging random write-ups and story ideas for each others' feedback. We both expect each other to be brutally frank when required and he has helpfully dished out a few of my story ideas which had false starts.

Arun is a big movie fan, a photographer, and a traveler. He reads a lot too, and spends much of his time reading on subjects such as psychology and philosophy. His book recommendations -- The Bhagawad Gita and comics by Alan Moore -- are high up on my to-read list, and I will start with them as soon as I trust myself to be able to interpret them not-too-wrongly. Arun gives you perspectives you will never have by yourself. Check out his post Anamoly, where he questions our trivial lives. Read his mind-boggling The Loop System, which can have zillions of interpretations. Or read Statistical Miracle, his passionate (and uncharacteristically direct) plea for treating women well. He has a fantastic interpretation of the Lord of the Rings, and you can have a sneak peak at it in his short poem Of Sauron and the Untold Story. In what seems like an alien characteristic for a subtly-attention-craving me, he has written wonderful things he does not intend to show to a lot of people. And more trivially, he is capable of typing out whole stories on his mobile while travelling in Chennai city buses.

Arun's writings demand attention from and challenge you as a reader. He intentionally leaves large parts of his initial idea unwritten, forcing you to fill in the blanks. He is a big fan of open endings.  If you want a story not to be completely dished out by him, just take out the climax and mail it to him. Along with Shyam and Vidhya, he is also a part of the short story collection we are looking to self-publish; for which he has penned down a futuristic psychological thriller and is working on a fairy tale. This metaphorical and imaginative write-up is by itself a great example of Arun's writing, so read on.

From Hell

She stood there unperturbed, in front of the burning gates of hell. She was not at all moved by the ominous sight it presented. She had seen worse. The golden flames burnt away everything at sight. There were no roses, no trees and no gold. There was a gate, black and ominous and then there was fire and more fire, at the end of which were two thrones. She stood alone in front of the gate and she stood there as though she were going to drag the devil out and shoot him. Of course she was in that kind of a mood. This visit was not planned, she was forced into coming out and seeing the devil. At a very young age that too, she had no tea to serve this time.

Hell was empty, everybody went to heaven. God had been forgiving, very much so. The sinners of heaven were thrown out and they finally made their way down to earth. Earth was full of them now. Even hell would reject them, ask Irene, she would tell you.

She flung open the gates and stood unfazed as the burning coal ate away at her feet.
"I hurt people, I make people cry and I enjoy doing it. I play with people's souls, make scars that never heal. Whenever I am alone I think about this and laugh. And I am alone most of the times", said he and started to laugh.
"Are you the devil?” she asked
"Yes", he answered
"Are you the epitome of evil"
She had been asked where she wanted to be, heaven or hell. She did not bat her eyelid even once when she said hell. Everybody is given a choice, and everybody chooses heaven, everybody wants to reform, everybody don't.

"Lucifer!” She shouted, she was not older than 14 maybe.

"Come on out you dirty devil", she shouted again
"Who dares open my gates and wake me from my deep slumber", cried Lucifer
"It’s me Irene, your bride to be. Come forth Lucifer, marry me, consume me, now", she ordered
There was deep laugh from within.
"I am very ugly", said Lucifer.
"I have seen worse" answered Irene
"I torture people", said Lucifer. "
I have seen worse" answered Irene
"I do not respect women”, said Lucifer.
"I have seen worse" answered Irene

Irene hung her head down and in a low voice asked, "Do you rape women?"

Puzzled, Lucifer asked, "What is that?"
Irene stood up, tears rolling down from her eyes and said, "I have seen worse"
"You call yourselves a devil, aren't you ashamed of yourselves? While you were deep in slumber, many have surpassed you", She said sadly.
Lucifer began to stutter, "What, What do you mean?” he asked


"Do you want to know what real evil is"
"Yes, yes, yes", he shouted
"Make way for me Lucifer, let me take that throne beside you"
With fire gleaming in her eyes, she seemed crying down fire. She turned back and said in a high monotonous tone.

"Open the gates of hell, you may,
And I shall show you the way,
For I have some hatred to share,
Each and every one of them I shall bare.

They tore me apart, those men,
These evil started from whence,
I have seen them, their souls they sell,
It’s not you, I am the one coming - From Hell"

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Guest Post Series - God's own guests

Note : This post is a part of the Guest Post Series.

Meet Vidhya, another contributor for a short story collection a few of us are hoping to publish soon. You have already met Shyam, and you will be meeting the one remaining contributor soon. Vidhya has been reading my blog for less than a year, but she is one of my best readers. She quickly went through almost every nook and corner of the blog when she discovered it, and has since then let me know her thoughts on every single post I have written. On a few occassions, she is the only person getting back with her views, dispelling my doubts that I was deluded into thinking I had published something. It helps that she is a wonderful person, rarely capable of discouraging anyone other than herself.

For an awesomely entertaining writer, Vidhya started blogging very late. "Random House Publications - Random stuff written from my house" : these are the title and tagline of her blog. And as you come to expect from the tagline, the posts are hilarious. In A bottle of horlicks and a spoon, you will be busy laughing, sniggering and smiling at the jokes until you are hit by the beautiful idea behind the post. In Driving Woes, she makes you squirm at the thought of being anywhere in her vicinity when she is driving an automobile (despite her hastily added assurances to the contrary). And in Animals and their whims, she talks about her inexplicable (for me at least) love for cats, dogs and few other animals. I hope that you would be able to read her stories soon, and be as shocked as I was while encountering the unexpected mini-tragedies she manages to sneak in.

I have felt that Vidhya's humour works because of her tone. It gives an impression that she is completely unaware of the humour in her writing. There is also an air of mock-pompousness; she is anything but pompous in real life. She does this really well while writing about children, caricaturing people based on their minor quirks. I requested her to try and showcase this aspect of her writing, and she managed to do exactly that by recalling this rollicking incident from her childhood.

God's Own Guests

Looks like Adarsh has decided to scoot over and make room for people on his Freudian couch. It’s a nice place this couch .Mostly because the choice of reading is quite good .Ranging  from the ridiculously complicated yet funny flowcharts, treatises on names , excellent book reviews and the philosophizing about entropy, about science , morality and Sam Anderson etc.(Wait Anderson? Cant be.. Mendes? No. Definitely Sam someone).

The guest post series got me thinking, about guests.So today on the couch , you will hear from me , a story from my childhood . One that involves guests. The fundamental question on guests is of course “How many is too many?” . One or two is ok right? Alright, I guess a small family of say perhaps four is acceptable too. What’s the maximum number of guests you’ve had at home ?Don’t count the time when someone was getting married. On a nice and  lazy , month long school vacation, when you’re usually expected only to eat your meals on time , have a bath regularly and not be a menace to your mother, have you ever suddenly found your house inundated  with guests you couldn’t count with fingers from both your hands? I have..

We were forewarned of course, my brother and I. A strange bonding had developed between us in anticipation of our shared misery. The day my father told us that we would be having 17 people from God's own country to stay with us for a week our voices rose to the same pitch. We screamed the same questions to our father. "who are these people", "do we even have that many relatives", "where will they sleep",  "how many kids are there in the group, and more importantly "do they watch the same cartoons as us?" . Father tried to answer our questions patiently. I'm sure he made reasonable arguments. We didn't hear any of it. We were too shocked thinking about the prospects. One vacation week without our daily dose of cartoon network was not something we were accustomed to and  none too eager to find out what it would be like . My brother had a little bit more to worry about . He was the proud owner of a noisy contraption which he would plug in to the TV to play Mario and TMNT for hours on end .  He was not able to bring himself to imagine God's own children getting their hands on it. It was his  life line.  He did not reckon he can survive for long without it , so stowing it away for a week was not a viable option.

So there we were, a pair of spoiled brats, who didn't usually get along very well but suddenly we found ourselves on the same side of the battle front.  Unwilling as we both were to share material things ( such as the TV remote, the sofa , the distinctly demarcated regions of the bed ) with each other , we were even more unwilling to have to share them with anyone else, let alone a whole circus troupe.

We watched silently as our parents looked worried too , wondering  anxiously about how we were to accommodate that many people. My brother became excited all of a sudden and wanted to join in this discussion.  He rushed out of the room and returned with an exam pad , some papers and a pen.   He beckoned to me. I was absolutely thrilled to be a part of whatever he was planning. He mostly never includes me in things he did. He began to roughly sketch a plan of the house. He quickly verified the demographics with my father  again. "How big is child no 1?, how tall is adult no 12? Are you absolutely sure its 17 ?”.etc. Of course my father had only a vague idea . His patience was evidently wearing thin and we thought it would be best to get out of his sight. We moved our conference to the adjoining room. My brother intended to chart out all the spaces in our house that were  unoccupied by furniture and other sundry items that make up a household. He told me that we were going to help our parents by coming up with a Master floor plan that would allocate  sleeping area to all of the guests.

We were both completely excited and we spent days planning it. No nook or cranny was spared. We heard talk of a baby being a part of the troupe and assigned the staircase landing area for it. We felt mighty proud of ourselves and went around importantly like civil engineers, examining the floor, bending over it , trying to wear intelligent expressions  , knocking on the floor checking the amount of noise generated, measuring random spaces with our mother's inch tape and so on.

When the day finally came, two mini vans squeezed in with difficulty into our tiny street and disgorged our guests.  The days and hours spent in anticipation of their arrival had failed to prepare us for the stupendously spectacular sight they presented.I was  stumped into silence by their sheer number. They were all uniformly in a state of excitement that probably rivalled those of the electrons in the outer most circle that your chemistry teacher claimed was the "highly excited state". They spoke to each other loudly and happily  in a tongue that would remain an unintelligible song  despite the number of times I would hear it. It was evident that they were enjoying each other's company.

I recall vaguely that my mother braved the task of making idlis for everyone on the first day. Enlightened by the experience, she had my father buy all the remaining  meals of the day from the nearby Sangeetha hotel.  They all ate contentedly amid loud ruckus and made themselves at home. My brother and I soon witnessed our lazy vacation routine fall apart dramatically. Asianet would be on all through the day instead of cartoon network , where more people sang as they spoke. The video game set was not spared too. It was taken over by the  youngest and the loudest . They seemed very well acquainted with the tiny man climbing the endless walls and whenever he fell we would hear one of them disappointedly exclaiming that he had indeed hit  the jump button and continue attacking the controls on the joy stick long after "game over" flashed on the screen .  My brother managed to elbow his  way through and joined in defiantly, claiming ownership rights.

Later that evening , after everyone was well fed and there was nothing to do but sleep , my brother and I proudly presented our master plan to our parents. My father was dumb struck and we initially thought that was a good thing. He definitely had to be impressed with the level of detail. Undeterred by the lack of vocal reaction from him or our mother, we enthusiastically dragged them about the house showing them exactly what we had planned. We began to debrief the guests  too, quite pompously I might add. But for once none of them had anything to say. Or sing.

One of the adults in the group suggested that they would all camp at the terrace and everyone agreed with mild sighs of relief. So that was that. The grand plan that had mighty potential and could have saved the world even, was unceremoniously chucked. Forlorn was I to see all the hard work go to waste but my brother? He didn't care . He simply went back to his video game. 

So that's the end of the story . Perhaps there's a moral there somewhere ? Anyone who has spotted it can let Adarsh know. I'm sure he will be kind enough to pass it on. Until next time on the Couch!

Do let me know what you think..