Friday, December 29, 2006

come over to the dork side

i was a bad kid in school. not "mischievious but makes up for it by doing well academically", because that makes you popular. i was plain-bad. mediocre as far as grades went, and not particularly liked by either the other kids, or by teachers. although i played a lot (basketball and athletics) and hung out with some of the sporty sorts, it was a tenuous affiliation at best, because i never really identified with them. to tell the truth, i was a dork.

there are no real dorks in indian schools, the kind you find in schools in America. social awkwardness and a discomfort with all things non-geek are essential requirements for being a dork. in india, kids who put up science projects in school exhibitions and memorize the capitals of the world by heart are much more likely to be academically superb teacher's pets, those supremely confident literary types who win debates and elocutions and such-like, and in the process, score all the school awards. they are overachieving freaks, not dorks. real dorks are not popular.

i loved reading science fiction. i had read almost all of Asimov by the time i was 12, i knew my sagans from my arthur c clarkes. Later i consumed the dune series, star wars, all of david eddings and terry pratchett and robert jordan. the latest on this list is the stargate series, for which i have developed a newfound addiction.

To add to my dorky kid cred, i was terrified of public speaking. The mother tried to convince to enter into some elocution shit as a kid, and i froze so badly on stage that someone had to come and physically remove me. i was also very, *very* awkward with girls. (S, the class goddess and now a friends wife, once had to tell me she was not going to eat me up. she'd asked me for the time, and i got so nervous i couldn't read my watch right.)

You can be a dork too. Social awkwardness is essential, but it can easily be faked. A liking for sci-fi cannot be faked, although it will take you a long way in becoming a dork. But *knowledge* of sci-fi can be faked. Go through this list and see how you measure up. Answers in a few days. if you care, you can drop me a mail at with your answers.

1. Where do the terms goa'uld and tok'ra come from? Props if you know the difference between the two.

2. Complete these lines:

The stars, like dust, encircle me
And bathe me, with their light
As though all space and time i see,
In one __ __ __ ___

3. House Atriedes is building an army using a secret technique unknown to us, a technique involving ______.

4. I am Queen Amidala, of the _____. (easy one)

5. Who wrote the play "lairënde lómëva lórë"? (this one is easy to reverse engineer)

6. "The wheel weaves as the wheel ____"

7. Who said, "Was there ever a trap to match the trap of love?"

8. When someone succumbs to groupthink, he's been "assimilated by the ____"

9. Connect symphonic rock, stephen king and "the good, the bad, and the ugly".

10. Who says "beam me up, scotty"? (think carefully)

Bonus non-sci-fi yet dorky question:
Who was the drummer for Rush? Dream Theater?? (KM: *Don't* judge me)

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

An alternative holiday music list

december is an annoying and depressing month. as if the fact that the sun sets by the time i wake up in not enough, stores and delis in are full of the tra-la-las and la-di-das and the hallelujahs of irritatingly chirpy christmas music.

it is an especially trying time if you, like me, believe that having to listen to Handel's Messiah even once is one time too much. but worry not, for there is a whole world of not-so-cheesy christmas music out there. Here's a list of some of my favorites, along with a few *defining* lines from these songs.

more suggestions are, of course, welcome.

1. "Merry fuckin' christmas" from South Park

Hey there Mr Hindu, Merry Fuckin' Christmas
Drink eggnog and eat some beef
and pass it to the missus
In case you haven't noticed
It's Jesus' birthday
So get off your heathen Hindu ass
And fucking celebrate.

2. "Jesus' brother bob" by The Arrogant Worms

I have to pay the ferry

To cross the Galilee
But not my brother
No not him
He walks across for free.

"Twelve Days of christmas" by Boymongoose, an indian-australian band from Brisbane

On the sixth day of christmas, my true love gave to me
Six IT graduates,
Five Indian Games,
Four Hare Krishnas,
Three Butter chickens,
Two Nosy in-laws
and a totally insufficient dowry.

4. "Santa doesnt cop out on dope" by Sonic Youth, indie-gods.

All year long he's busy making toys
For all the little girls and little boys
He puts them in his sled and gives his whip a crack
On Donder, on Blitzen, but never on smack
Cuz Santa doesn't cop out on dope!
Has he ever even tried it? Well ya know
The answer's no!
So little kiddies, here's my point
Just leave him cookies, and save your joint

5. "Fairytale of New York" by the Pogues, featuring a rather attractive and crystal-voiced Kristy MacColl (wait for the ad to finish)

You scumbag you maggot

you cheap lousy faggot
happy christmas your arse
i pray God its our last

Also, these have to be the nuttiest TV ads i have ever seen. Check them out.

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

a classic minderbender

there i two thinks i dont normally do on this blog.

a. i don't blog drunk.
b. i've forgotten what it was.

i'm going to resort to my book of cliches and say that there is a first time for everything. so here's me, writing a post, accompanied by a glass of macallan 18 year old cask strength with one ice cube to turn it just a tad bit cloudy and condense those aromatics (thanks S, for the bottle, in case you are reading this). coltrane plays in the background since no self respecting bender can be without soothing and warm jazz. perhaps, when the alcohol has dissipated from my bloodstream, i will not even recall writing this post.

whoever told you it was not a good idea to drink copious quantities of alcohol by yourself over an extended period of time, was wrong. a few's dos and don'ts, though. don't drink shitty alcohol, treat your tastebuds and your liver with the respect they deserve. i prefer a good single malt. make sure you have lots of water (don't mix it with the malt, you philistine) and are stocked up on good non-acidic food - to be had during and in the aftermath. also, keep an alka-seltzer ready, in case things get out of hand. tell a friend you are doing this (hello, B). take it easy, don't force yourself. exercise control. the idea is not to get drunk, but to create a mellow haze and marinate in those thoughts you have been keeping suppressed because they interfere with your functioning.

this bender officially started in the afternoon. my last significant task for the year done, i followed it up with a few rounds beers at the pub, got home, and poured myself a stiff drink. when day turned to night, i drew down the curtains, put on soft lighting, and put my favorite bender playlist on. i have been drinking without break since, but i'm not impaired yet, although i might just go back to sleep to pick up the tread when i wake up in the morning. ah, yes. here's b.

b. i don't write "the year in review" posts.

the chinese had a curse that went "May you live in interesting times". it has become some what of a western catchphrase - it has lost its negative connotaion and is generally thought of as a blessing. trust the goras to seriously bastardize the 'wisdom' of the east in this manner.

if you think about it (and since i'm high, i think this is a very profound thought) 'interesting' is merely a descriptive word. 'interesting' people are fun to be with - they also teach you lots of stuff, about yourself and the world. they are also messed up. that is also the case with interesting times, like the year i just had.

in all the mind-numbingly monotonous years of my quarterlife, this one stands out for the strange combination of love, futility, hopelessness and the good news that it brought. first the good news. it was an incredibly productive year for me. i thoroughly enjoyed the work. my inner maharashtrian stayed low, so i did not have to deal with his laziness and constant whining. it isn't a happy feeling having him around here, since the most he wants to do, like many maharashtrians, is to live in a flat in pune and take his wife to the cinema on saturdays on his bajaj scooter. the wife rides pillion and the kid stands up front. we want much more than that - and on that front, the year delivered.

i travelled, i hiked a lot ,and checked alaska off my map. it was my 41st US state, in a list that had stagnated at 40 for over a year. i fell in love with the place and made plans to buy some land and have a log cabin there, and was promptly laughed at by my more pragmatic friends. some day, it might happen. practicality isn't one of my strong points. i also renewed my ties with pommieland.

i did experience love. i also experienced hopelessness. more importantly, i learnt that no matter how strong feelings are, they can sometimes not be enough, and when your instinct tells you that things are unworkable and that you should let go, you let go. Remember that sometimes things do not work for no fathomable reason - not everything is under your control, some questions do not have answers and that the choice not to carry baggage is one that is easily made. Also, know that closure is a made-up word invented by some TV friendly psychotherapist with too many hyper-romantic delusional patients.

I made some new friends, and they're all the good sorts. i'm binary about people. i give people i like a lot of leeway and people i don't like none. And once in a while it is good to discover someone who can teach you a thing or two, while being totally cool. three dear friends are on their way to parenthood, and i am very happy for them. yeah, and you are welcome make me babysit your kids when they are a bit older because you 'tired parents want to go vacation in europe'.

it was a year of achievement, a little growing up and not nearly enough alcohol. and *that* is why i am on a bender.

Friday, December 15, 2006

the house

The house straddled an entire block and faced a park to its north. It was bounded by streets on all four sides. over to the right, across one of the streets, was a giant well, used by the municipal corporation to supplement the town's water supply. It was more a water tank and less of a well, originally built by my great-grandfather when the properties beyond the street were also his. They had been sold off long before I was born, and now served as accomodation for about thirty households. The days of my childhood summers were punctuated by the coming and going of water tankers as they filled up at a small pumping station located at the edge of the well. For entirely unexplainable reasons, this fascinated me, and I spent countless hours sitting by the window closest to the well. Two generations of the clan, including my father, had learnt to swim in that tank. I am told they used old car tyre tubes as flotation aids.

My great-grandfather was a barrister who went on to become judge of the high court. An anglophile, and later in life a born-again orthodox brahmin, he built a house to emulate the mansions of mother england, right there in the dusty plains of India- replete with a big fireplace in the central hall to ward off winter temperatures that went down to a supposedly freezing 6 degrees Celsius. When you entered the main hall, having passed under the mughal style arches of the front verandah, and the big front door that could be fastened shut with big iron bolts much like the door to a castle, the first thing you noticed were the trophies on the walls - chital and a barasingha, from his and my grandfather's hunts. It was an elegantly furnished room, full of handcrafted wooden recliners, a big octagonal central table, and an old brass telephone.

Above it was the upstairs hall, its walls covered with portraits of seven generations of forefathers, more trophies and two antique guns. As a kid, I was spooked by the upstairs hall, and never went there unaccompanied. Family stories about my long dead great-grandmother who paid visits to the family there only made it worse.

Behind the main hall, and beyond the stairs that led upstairs and to the basement (another eerie place - it was unlit and had a vault with the family jewels), was another verandah that had a swing in it - another favorite place for me to pass time. And then there was the central courtyward at the back with a small well in it, flanked on two sides by the east wing and the west wing of the house. The west wing had the dining hall and the kitchens on the first floor, and bedrooms on the second. The east wing had bedrooms on both floors. Since my great-grandfather had eleven children and he planned it as a home for all generations to come, the house had 35 bedrooms.

His plans never worked out - he himself stayed in a government house in another city even after the house was built, and all his brothers and all but one of his children (my grandfather) flew the nest and settled in other places, and most of those bedrooms were occupied only for a brief period in the 1930's. By the time i was born, my grandfather had let out the rooms that had independent access to the central courtyard. The others were locked up and left to gather cobwebs. For me, it was fascinating to have G, the head servant of the house open up those rooms one by one and explore them - many of them had never really been cleared out when their original occupants had left - the furniture was shrouded up, and if you pulled off the shrouds, you would see, through clouds of dust, stuff that had been essentially untouched since the thirties.

I remember finding a set of tablas in those rooms once, but nobody could recall whom they belonged to. Even today I like to imagine that the ghosts of my forefathers emerge from their portraits in the upstairs hall, and get together in those rooms in the dead of the night, and reclining on the beautiful wooden beds, have private music recitals, all the while shaking their heads at the things that kids of my generation are up to.

Another exciting discovery was that of a balcony that could be accessed from one of the second floor bedrooms - a balcony that I had never seen from the outside. How could I have seen it? It was on the giant well side of the house and we kids weren't allowed to play on that side because of all the tanker traffic. Anyway, discovering that balcony made the nine year old me realize what columbus must have felt like.

In the long row of rooms that fringed the south end of the courtyard lived the fifteen or so servants that were needed to keep the house in order. A tour of these rooms revealed interesting things. Here was the gardener's room, full of old gardening equipment - there, the cook's apartments, containing a big stone mill used for grinding wheat - a 'chakki' so huge that it must have taken superhuman strength to operate.

The house remained the birthplace of two generations of children in the family (although i was born in a maternity home, i was taken there immediately upon my birth, and true to family custom, spent my first six months there). But in many ways, it never served its purpose. My great-grandfather expired while still living in a house provided by the government, my great-grandmother in a hospital far away from home. My grandfather and grandmother themselves spent their last years in a cramped (by their standards) Bombay apartment.

The sad thing about ancestral houses is that nobody has any real use for them these days. There is a risk of squatters taking over unoccupied property, and large pieces of real estate in the prime area of a fast growing tier 2 city are in great demand. Old houses are also expensive to maintain. And when their owners live hundreds and thousands of miles from them and are unable to visit them more than once every couple of years, (and in my case, well over eight), they are usually disposed off. In most cases, they are replaced by big boxy commercial complexes.

The house will no longer be in a few months. All I can hope for is to salvage some of the furniture, and most of the memories.

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

this post does not make sense

I found a mouse in my closet. I thumped him against the wall and he died.
In case you are wondering about how i knew he was a he, male mice have large 'nads. Anyone can tell.
I also discovered that i make a couple of appearances (four, to be precise) in a book a friend has written.
In the wider scheme of things, i wonder which is cause and which is effect.

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Geeks, poets and fink ployd

One of the things that i have been wondering about, and I'm a deeply inquisitive sort of a person that way, is pink floyd. you know, the english rock band. specifically, I have been thinking about why the hell they were so loved, some twenty years after they stopped producing good music, by those of us belonging to a certain subculture on engineering campuses back in the homeland. We listened to them all the time, and every doper worth his salt found deep meanings and hidden messages in their music. (I even found colors! Guitar riffs that were streams of blue and taps on the snare that were red splashes. But that was usually on a bad weed trips. I had lots of those. What to do, I was like that only.)

We idolized the bands of the classic and psych rock era - floyd, led zep, deep purple (who i swear no present-day college kid in the western world has heard of ). Drawing a little bit upon other genres, throw in some iron-maiden, a bit of tull and a bit of dire straits, and yeah 'free bird' by lynyrd skynyrd, and you get a fairly good idea of what a 90's indian college geek was listening to as he drew on his spliff.

The poets (and here i use the term to include all non-engineering types), on the other hand, having shared a pitcher of beer bought with pooled cash at the Razzberry Rhinoceros, were shaking their booties to "Backstreet's back, alright!"

I know, I know. Respectable poets were all about Dylan, Baez, Joni Mitchell, and good ol' jazz. There might even have been some in that community who obsessed over floyd, although i suspect those were just geeks too afraid to break out of their poetic skins. And I must stress that all such people are friends of mine. (Falstaff, heres your cue to comment). But as a general rule, kids who went to city colleges with a healthy sex ratio (both in terms of gender and number of times gotten laid) were much more into pop-culture than the average geek was.

This divergence between geek and poet preferences is interesting, but it is not a new phenomenon in itself. If i read the situation right, it has been this way since the seventies. During a conversation with someone who went to the same campus i did, only two decades earlier, I realized that he had heard the same music back in the seventies (which was then current) that I did in the late nineties. He was part of a small amateur band, and their repertoire turned out to be rather similar to what the little outfit that I was a drummer for played. It is easy to see how this came about. Druggie music came to india in the late sixties, and engineering campuses, because of their mostly residential nature, were good places for the blooming of a subculture that revolved around psychedelic substances. Once the process started, druggie geeks just remained in their own insulated campuses and played the same things over and over again - each generation passing it on to the next one. Meanwhile, the outside world, which has *always* been about the hip and the showy and the new, moved on. So terry jacks , who was popular in city colleges back in the 70's was trashed and the boyzones and westlifes of the world took over poet hearts. It was all very disturbing.

Sometimes I have a vision of college-going poets in 70's india holding hands in a circle and singing 'we had joy we had fun, we had seasons in the sun', gushing and sighing and hugging each other. Meanwhile the geeks on their isolated campus in bumblefuck, eastern india, buy cheap g*nja from a thatch-roofed shack and sit by a rarely used railway line to commune with their chill*ms, 'interstellar overdrive' playing in their heads, much like their successors two decades later.

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

a sandwich for epicures

the next time you decide to drop by at the friendly neighborhood deli for a sandwich, here's a suggestion for what is arguably the best sandwich in the world, especially so because it was concocted by me.

it consists of hot pastrami, melted provolone, lettuce, tomato, onions, regular mayo, and (here's the special ingredient) lots of hot sauce. You may ask the guy behind the counter to use any hot sauce he has, but I have found that Sriracha works best.

Oh, and dont forget to order it on a toasted plain bagel. All other forms of bread are inferior to toasted plain bagels. Toasted plain bagels rock, they are the best. Okay, enough said about plain toasted bagels. (Did I mention that I *love* plain toasted bagels?)

when you eat it and discover, as I did, what is possible the best combination of flavors in the world - the butter like texture that pastrami gets after bring grilled, the sublime combination of lettuce tomato and onions, the taste of mayo lurking out there just beyond sight, and the occasional stab of Sriracha- do spare a thought for us.

We will appreciate it, consequently, by the law of karma, good things will happen to you - you will get the raise you were looking for, you will hook up with the girl (guy, if you happen to be a girl or are gay-not-that-there-is-anything-wrong-with-that) you have always wanted to hook up with and other such things. Forget god - its all about cause and effect. Do good and good shall be done unto you.

Right. And I know that it is a bit weird when a recipe for a great tasting sandwich turns into an exposition of the law of karma. What else did you expect when you came here?

Friday, November 10, 2006


Every once in a while, when a blogger runs out of stuff to blog about, he puts up a list of random searches that lead to his blog. i've avoided doing it so far, but maybe now is the time.

Some searches that lead to your blog are completely understandable. You cannot get away with posting silly posts about random early 90's movies like "Jaan tere naam" and not have losers who come searching for bolly-trash. The realization that the said losers are not totally unlike you being disheartening, you quickly upgrade them from the status of losers to that of fellowmen.

It is also completely understandable when people flood to your blog looking for advice on which pressure cooker to buy. After all, your blog is in the top ten results for "Marlex pressure cooker" and is the only one peice of text on the internet that includes the line "Hawkins ki seetee baji" (I have Megha to thank for that one.) And owing to the courtesy of other commenters, you have people searching for "Lekin chup chupke milne se" turning up at your blog.

Things get a bit disturbing when you come to know that there are people out there who are curious to know "Rohit Roy age". I mean, why? Unless you are a twisted individual who wants to marry rohit roy and have his babies, why would you care about how old he is? And more importantly ( a somewhat moot question since i have already cast aspersions on this rohit roy fellow) who the hell *is* Rohit Roy?

You start feeling a little better when you discover that you are amongst the top results for the musical "Beguiled Again". But it is mitigated by Finnish folk who come to your blog because it is the number one result for "cuck eki". I dont know what that means in Finn, or Finnish, or Finnski, or whatever the hell their language is called, but it sure sounds like a bad thing to do.

When your blog turns up in the top ten google results for "I hate happy people", it is time to sit up and re-evaluate your outlook about life. And then, one day, you discover that you are the only person on the interwebs to have ever expressed that "Happiness is an unnatural state", and you do not know if you should be proud or you should go see a shrink.

Oh, and regarding that last bit, I can totally imagine the not so distant future when the world has *finally* gone to the dogs, and has reached a social equilibrium where everybody is miserable (as is certain to happen). I wonder if they will look back, and revere a certain wise man who first postulated the fundamental truth that governs their crappy lives.

Monday, November 06, 2006


Have you ever noticed how the trees in a forest sway about when a gentle wind blows? It's not exactly a synchronized sort of a movement. Even though the wind drives it, it has little rhythm.

Occasionally there is a thunderstorm, accompanied by flashes of lightning and claps of thunder, and somewhere deep in the forest, the crashing of trees.

Once there was a storm and our little forest was assaulted by a gale that uprooted many trees. But while the winds raged, the trees that were strong enough to withstand the onslaught moved in lockstep, much like the violin bows of an orchestra conducted by a maestro. Then it ended, and a gentler breeze flowed. The trees went back to their arhythmic nodding.

It might not be obvious to you, but lurking somewhere in there is a dissertation topic.

Saturday, November 04, 2006

round and round

I'm back in all my grouchy glory, in case any of you are still around, and this time i promise to post regularly.

First, hearty congratulations to Falstaff, for this post. Its not everyday that you have Steve Levitt linking to you and Steve Sailer commenting on your post. Well done, sir, well done indeed.

*clears throat*

When I was contemplating a career in academia, I was under the impression that it was a glamorous business, like hollywood, or the fashion industry. I had dreams. I would do path-breaking research, extend the frontiers of human knowledge. I was in it for the learning. I even described the process of learning as (pompousness alert) being akin to "cleaning a grimy glass pane, to let sunlight stream in through the windows of your cognitive abilities". (To be fair, I was drunk.) As an academic, I thought I would be a celebrity, with fans lining up for my autographs and women shrieking and fainting with excitement when I entered the room. Like some kind of rock-star. That last bit should tell you something about my capacity for self delusion.

As is the case with anything you do for a significant enough period of time, reality set in, much like mustard gas that seeps through the little gap at the bottom of a door you thought was airtight and kills you. (And the twisted, bad analogies, they keep on coming - Heh Heh)

The reality is this: Academic research is like watching clothes getting washed in a laundromat. Most of the time nothing happens. You put in soiled clothes, add detergent and bleach, wait and wait and wait. Eventually, clean garments pop out, leaving you marginally better than before. You have made no significant contribution to the world, but you did manage to keep yourself occupied doing something trivially useful. You also listened to music, read a few journals, generally twiddled your thumbs, and caught up with the latest developments in the Virginia senatorial race (Incidentally, who do you support - George "M*c*ca" Allen, or James "I don't want 'em b*tch*s in the Navy" Webb? - Heh Heh).

Occasionally, a cute idea walks into the laundromat, chats you up, borrows your detergent and goes away, leaving you with nothing. Your hopes crushed, you go home, and come to terms with your mediocrity.

(Have you ever heard "Everyday is like sunday" by Morrissey. Please do - Heh Heh)

Very rarely, a *really* hot idea walks in and asks to borrow your detergent. You strike up a converation with her. She likes you. You ask her for her number, go on a date with her and she turns out to be the sweetest person in the world. One thing leads to another and you get married. Soon your brain is full of the babble of little cutesy papers. Sometimes you make lots of them, but mostly, it turns out that she's not the breakthrough you thought she was; divorce ensues and you go back to the laundromat.

The good thing about academic papers is that you do not have to worry about them getting addicted to crack or becoming strippers. The bad thing about them is that they mostly turn out to be mediocre little sh*ts. With a miniscule likelihood, however, your papers become the talk of the world and they make you proud and well known. When THAT happens, you are successful and, as befits a true academic, you come to the conclusion that it was destined to be that way.

But until then, you have to find your happiness in watching weeks old laundry tumbling, through a dinner-plate sized glass hole.

Monday, September 18, 2006

Huffin' Puffin

For those of who keep wondering, no, i did not really mean all that I said in that previous piece of demagoguery. One of these days, I'll try to come up with an equally half-arsed piece on why everything comes from India.That's what happens when you eat too much fish. Picture taken in the frigid waters off the coast of the Kenai peninsula, Alaska.
This little thing here is called a marmot. Harding Icefield trail, Alaska.Sea Otter. Darned thing is leading the life i want.

And here's some seals and sunny snow-capped mountains and all that jazz.

Saturday, September 02, 2006

It's camembert

The late eighties and the early nineties were tumultous times - the soviet union collapsed, the berlin wall fell, and the Scorpions, in all their honest to goodness campiness, sang 'Winds of Change'. Bad hair ruled, Saddam invaded Kuwait, and over in India, Mithun Chakraborty released 'Nambri Aadmi'.

I have fond memories of this period - cable had yet to make its arrival in most indian homes, and chitrahaar was our biggest source of Hindi music - the billboards and MTV's most wanted put together, except that the songs on chitrahaar were never particularly wanted, and neither were they particularly new. Still, (strictly when viewed through the lens of nostalgia) it was a great show, and particularly awaited every week.

If you were, like me, avid chitrahaar followers, you would remember the image of a grinning idiot dressed up as a band-master, doing a peppy hip-thrusting, disco-pointing dance that would have put Travolta to shame. An angry looking father and a demure but confused bride completed the image. One of the paragraphs went:

Tere se marriage karne ko main
Bambai se Goa aaya,
Pun tere father ne mujhko
Red Signal dikhlaaya

The singer was His Nasal Highness Kumar Sanu. The music had little touches of big band jazz, folk and bluegrass (c'mon, you don't actually believe that, right?), but for the most part it sounded like something a below-average Indian marriage party band had belted out. (You know the kind? The ones that can be found in many north indian towns, accompanying the baaraat and mangling songs like 'Ley Jaayenge, Ley Jaayenge Dilwaale Dulhaniya Ley Jayenge', while the groom rides his ghodi and assorted friends and cousins get hammered and dance about upfront?)

The song I am talking about was so honest in its cheesiness that it has made a permanent stamp on our minds. Released in 1992, starring the gorgeous Farheen, and the handsome Ronit Roy, from the super-duper (ahem) hit movie of the same title, ladies and gentlemen, I give you, "Jaan tere naam".

First time dekha tumhe, hum kho gaya,
Second time mein love ho gaya.

Ye akhha India jaantaa hai,
Hum tumpe martaa hai!
Dil kya cheese hai jaanam
Apni jaan tere naam kartaa hai!!

Wednesday, June 28, 2006


I am in a two storeyed building, at the end of a long passage-way that seem to stretch into the distance. Tiny cell-like rooms open on to one side of it. The rooms are musty, the doors decaying. My friends lived here once, and happy times were had. The other side of the passageway has a railing overlooking a twenty foot drop, a railing that I remember walking on while drunk. Out on the grounds, where they shot the two, there are memorial plaques. The lettering is faded. Nobody now knows who the two were.

The earth in these parts is fertile, and rains have helped. Lots of trees, and grounds overgrown with untended grass. Days are bright and sunny, I see the occasional snake sunning itself on the grass. The other day, I even saw a fat twelve foot cobra. I tried striking up a conversation with it, but snakes are solitary creatures and they don't like company. It disappeared down a hole. I tried to follow, but got stuck and gave up.

As the sun descends, the girls with the cows come out to graze them on the fields. I have a strong urge to eat a burger, but I resist. I might get killed, and I must never allow that. A cat eyes me from the end of the passage. It is black and white, with green eyes that stare at me. The stare has already made me uneasy, but the cat takes me by surprise and attacks. I struggle to shake it off even as it sinks its teeth into my forearm. A violent shake of the hand unintentionally sends the cat tumbling over the railing. A look over it with some concern, even as it lands on its feet at the bottom of the valley thousands of feet below. I watch horrified as it shape-shifts into a million black and white dogs, who start clawing their way up the cliff.

They find the fire escape that runs up the sides of this building soon enough. They come barking up the rusty rungs of the ladder, slavering at the mouth. I struggle with them, hit them and push them off it one by one. And as they hit the ground, they multiply, on and on till the green grass on the grounds below is turned black and white by the hordes of angry and hungry rabid dogs who seek to attack me.

I must jump off this plane, but I have no parachute.

Wednesday, June 07, 2006

Stellar thoughts

When the core of an interstellar molecular cloud of hydrogen becomes gravitationally unstable, it collapses, gaining in density, and pulling more material inwards. If the cloud is large enough, it forms a large star many many times the size of our sun.

Much like gas-guzzling SUVs, large stars run out of fuel quickly (in a cosmic sense). When all the hydrogen is burnt up and fused to helium, they collapse inwards. Their density and temperature increases, and, desperate for fuel, they burn helium to form higher and higher elements, resulting in a further increase in density and temperature, till they explode into supernovae.

Supernovae are the only known sources for elements higher than oxygen in the universe. That includes almost everything you see around you. You, I, this chair, this computer - we are all made up of the same stuff that stars were once made of.

We are stardust, billion year old carbon, indeed.

ps: Been on a Joni Mitchell trip, arising out of Falstaff's comment on the previous post.

Tuesday, May 30, 2006

mmmm.. I want me some roast ducky!

These pics were taken during a weekend hike. and puhleeease don't you all go "awwwww" on me.Oh, and i'm back from Pommieland. So watch this space .

Wednesday, May 17, 2006


mes amis:
i'm off to pommie-land for the next few days. blogging will be light (as if i blog a lot, otherwise)

Saturday, May 13, 2006


By the time we arrived at the scene, the firemen were already there - their fire engine parked across the Brookly Queens Expressway. A lone cop car had stopped all traffic, and as we waited, the firemen went to work on the car.

It was a regular new york yellow cab. A tractor-trailer had rear-ended it, the force of the impact crumpling its rear half, flipping it over, and leaving it pointing in the direction of the on-coming traffic, wedged against a side-rail. Needless to say, the giant truck had fled the scene.

The gas tank had ruptured, sending gas flowing on to the road. That explained the firemen. The rear door was jammed, and inside, trapped, lay someone unconscious.

Within a few minutes, the sounds of emergency sirens - cop-cars, ambulances and fire engines surrounded us. These are sounds you hear all the time in this city - sounds that you become inured to, until you are confronted with something like this that reminds you that everytime those sirens blare, someone is dying.

I watched with a little concern as the stream of gas flowed towards my car. Just then, I noticed that the driver of the car next to me had stepped out, and was smoking. I yelled at him. He acknowledged my existence with a nod and a shrug. He did not stop smoking, of course.

My cabbie was Jamaican, he had been driving a cab for twenty years. This should have been a scene not entirely unfamiliar to him - and yet he was furious. He stepped out of the car started swearing at everybody -cops included. I understood his being upset, but not the degree of it. Until I finally made out, underneath all the incoherence, what he was saying - "They killed my friend. Ten years ago. Same place. F**kin' juggernauts"

It's a friendly city - this one. The aforementioned smoker put an arm around my cabbie's shoulders, took him aside and calmed him down. Most people had stepped out of their cars by now. There were shrieks and gasps as the firemen pried the door open and pulled out a bloody mess that had been, until a few minutes ago, a normal functioning person. Apparently he was still alive, but not breathing. The firemen started administering CPR. The snarl of traffic backed up behind us meant that the paramedics had not arrived. I had stepped out by now. The woman next to me was sobbing.

The cops did not particularly appreciate the standing crowd, so they shooed us back into our cars. My cabbie was agitatedly sobbing. I had no idea what to do - so I ventured a "I hope he does not die"

"He's dead, brother. Crash like that nobody survives", retorted my cabbie.

Another awkward silence.

The paramedics had arrived by now. They had come back down the empty stretch of highway that lay ahead of the crashed car. They put the guy on a stretcher, hooked him up to a ventilator and tried to restart his heart. I don't know if they succeeded, but they took him away. The firemen began hosing the highway to clean it of blood. They foamed down the gasoline.
Meanwhile, the cops made all of us back down along the BQE, and take the nearest exit out. It would be some time before they would restart traffic here. Presumably, after the cab had been towed off and the road sanitized of all evidence that a person had almost died there.

We made our way to my place via another route. I was a bit pained that my fare was almost twice of what it would have been otherwise, and at the same time a bit guilty for feeling that way instead of being concerned about the passenger in the crumpled cab.

As I reached out to pay the cabbie, he turned around, tears streaming down his eyes.
"Are you muslim, brother?"
"Are you a christian, then?"
"No, I'm Hindu"
"Do you pray, brother?"
I did not have the heart to tell him I did not.
"Pray tonight for him, will you?"
"Yes, I will", I told him. Then I entered my apartment. The smell of gas had given me a headache and made me nauseous. I threw up and fell asleep.

I wish I could live forever.

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

gagging on a tag

So, the other day, i was tagged by Brown Magic, who, rightly, thought that I would not follow through with it. I would not have, except for the fact that she actually stated it in her comment. That and the fact that I couldn't possibly let go of an "eight different points you want in the perfect lover" tag without having my say in the matter.

The first time I attempted to put down eight points was when I was in a particularly, let us say potty-brained, mood. This resulted in a post that included descriptions of acts that I could not possibly put on this blog.

So I sat down, thought hard, awaiting inspiration to write about my idea of *the* perfect woman. And then, all of a sudden, a name bubbled up from the murky depths of my mind - a name that had been consigned to the recycle bin of my brain by my sheer denial of its existence. So instead of listing out eight points, I thought that I would describe her and allow you to draw your own inferences.

Her name was Pankajavelli Ramadesigan. She was a simple girl who was born and raised in a somewhat typical Iyengar family. Her father (Mr. Yes. Ramadesigan, Railway Officer (Retd.) , Railway Caalany, Madurai) had spent a lifetime in "service". She had a "mix of traditional and modern values" - she had done her Bachelor of Arts (Home Sciences) with distinction, and yet she went to the temple every Saturday. I would have fond memories of hanging around outside the temple waiting for her to make an appearance - my pankajavelli, walking delicately, plate of offerings in hand, wearing a silk sari. She would wear her long hair (they reached down to her knees) in a plait - a veritable garden, in which she would attach jasmine flowers. She had the thickest, finest hair I would ever set my eyes upon - nourished over the years with generous doses of coconut oil. The combined fragrances of jasmine and coconut oil would drive me crazy. really.

She was what you folks might call a "prude". Drinking would be a strict no-no for her, and eating meat would be sinful. She was not even okay with other people eating meat - the first time she went to eat "north-indian" food, she was horrified to find that the people next to her were eating parrot meat. (I surmised that it must have been someone eating green kebabs.) The very mention of anything sexual would have her saying "Ranga, Ranga" and going off to bathe in order to cleanse herself. She would have a dim view of the concept of romantic love. ("lovvulla- givvulla" she would say, imitating her father.) And all of these qualities would make me fall madly in love with her.

Somehow I had the conviction that I would be able to convince her to think of me as her partner-for-life. I even thought that I would approach her father, and convince him to give me his daughter's hand in marriage. Using the little influence her father had, and my qualifications, I would get a job as a low-level functionary in the railways. Everyday, I would come back home from work, tired, and she would be waiting for me, steel tumbler of steaming hot filter kaapi (coffee) ready . As I sat back in the chair in front of our black-and-white TV (we would be poor, but comfortable), she would take my shoes off, and press my feet, while I would pour - Tam-style - the scalding hot coffee straight into my mouth without letting my lips touch the rim of the tumbler. Sitting at my feet, she would contentedly say, "Swaami, Namaskaram". And we would live happily.

But, alas, that dream of mine would remain a dream. She could never reconcile herself to the fact that I was not Iyengar (heck, i'm not even Tam and, at that point, I had never been to Tamland). She would rebuff my advances. Meanwhile, her father would find her a nice boy (and a successful one too - a bank officer in the local Canara Bank branch), and marry her off to him. I would never forget her. I would spend the rest of my life roaming around all over India, travelling ticketless and using the money I made out of begging to keep myself in a perpetual drunken haze.

None of it was ever going to happen, of course. Pankajavelli existed only in my imagination and in the imaginations of a few friends who had helped flesh her out(1). You might think it is idiotic to create an imaginary person to fall in love with, who then refuses to have anything to do with you and leaves you miserable(2). I do not have much to say to that - my only defense is that love is blind and that the blog you are presently reading is titled "At the edge of sanity".

(1) Remind me some day to tell you about Parvinder Kaur from Gurdaspur.
(2) On a more serious note, this happens more often than you might think. More often than not, when we have a crush on someone, we are not in love with the *real* person, but with the mental image of the person that we have constructed in our heads.

Monday, May 01, 2006

Mother goose's rotten egg

Little Miss Muffet
sat on a tuffet,
Eating her curds and whey.
Along came a spider
who sat down beside her

and she beat the crap out of it.

Friday, April 28, 2006

Sorry for the lack of updates..

And to compensate for it, I will recite to you a ditty I learnt when I was a leeeetil kid.

Sorry Sorry, Gadhey Ki Lorry,
uspar baithi Meena Kumari,
Meena Kumari ka laal dupatta,
us-se nikala ullu ka paththa,
ullu ke paththe ne khaayi amrood,
us-se nikale Mr. Mehmood,
Mr. Mehmood ne lagaayi aawaaz,
Mahatma Gandhi Zindabaad!

* Apologies to the non-Hindi Speakers amongst my (mostly hypothetical) readers.

The problem, my dear readers, is that the wells of negativity that usually supply me with material for this blog have run dry. Not that I am *happy* or anything like that - it's just an annoying little phase of positivity that I am sure will pass.

I could rant about feeling positive because it makes me hate the world even more and cramps my style, but such ranting takes effort, and I am too lazy to do that. Meanwhile, it is every intention of mine to pile on drivel like this.

Monday, April 17, 2006

Happy Easter from mentaldeviation!

*Inspired by cheery "Happy Easter" posts like these.

Thursday, April 13, 2006

My reservations post

Since every self respecting blogger has made their voice heard in this brouhaha about reservations, I thought I would chip in too, being a self-respecting individual myself. :) The point I make might appear pedantic. Nevertheless, do hear me out. (Hello. Is there anybody out there?)

There is an important assumption made by proponents of reservations (and occasionally, this is a point conceded by those who oppose it). It sounds like the following:

The Backward Classes are disadvantaged. Hence they are unable to develop skills (that are required for competing). This is due to lower intelligence due to poor childhood nutrition, an environment that is not conducive to skill development, and other such factors. By enforcing quotas so that lower skill candidates get access to centres of excellence, the next generation is more likely to possess the skills required to compete, and society, as such, will benefit through access to more productive human resources (within multiple, if not within one generation)

Although it appears very plausible first hand, let us analyse the implications in terms of cost to society and productivity. Let us also (in a sense) bring in the notion of comparative advantage amongst groups, in a setting where the education of parents affects the skill sets of children. I will not address the issue of ``social justice", for it is not clear to me what that means. I will make the following assumptions.

1. There are two groups in society - The advantaged/high skilled group (H) and the disadvantaged/low skilled group (L). Time proceeds in discrete steps, each step corresponding to a generation.

2. There are two kinds of educational resources - Good (G) and Bad (B) with a fixed number of seats each.

3. Good educational resources are costlier to society.

4. Each agent, when she dies, produces a child. The child could be advantaged or disadvantaged with probabilities that depend on the kind of agent that she is, and the level of education she received.

5. The probabilities are such that if an agent has received good schooling, whether they were advantaged or not does not matter, they are equally likely to produce an advantaged child, and this likelihood is significantly greater than 1/2. On the other hand, disadvantaged agents that get poor schooling are very unlikely to produce advantaged children. This is the standard argument used in support of reservations.

6. Advantaged agents that are ``forced" to go to a bad school have a lower likelihood of producing an advantaged child than if they had got a good education. These likelihoods are indicators of social mobility, and will have a large role to play in our subsequent analysis.

Ok, so I hope you are with me. Go back to my assumptions and check them. Note down any disagreements. Especially look at number 5. It implies that regardless of what you do, in the ``steady state" there will always be disadvantaged agents in the society (and also, somewhat trivially, that the population is constant, which is not so serious, because I have never heard any arguments in support of reservations that appeal to population growth).

Now, coming to the productivity of the agents.

7. Before dying, agents produce an amount of goods that is defined by their productivity, and is more than the cost incurred for their education. The productivity of disdvantaged agents is lower than that of the advantaged agents (owing to lower skill-sets). The difference does not matter, it can be arbitrarily small. All that matters is that there is a difference. In my setting I use the following assumption: Productivity (H,G) > Productivity(L, G) > Productivity(H,B) > Productivity(L,B).

8. The total number of seats is the same as the number of agents. This is not such a serious assumption, because in the sense of our stylized setting, ``no education" can be defined as a very weak form of educational resource (with zero cost).

9. ``Good" seats are always scarce resources even for the advantaged group and even in the absence of reservations, in the sense that the number of good seats is less than the number of advantaged agents. Another very crucial assumption that is often ignored by those who advocate reservations.

10. The person who allocates seats to groups is a social planner who is looking to maximise the overall gain to society (production - cost of education). This is the same as the "society as a whole will gain" argument made by those who advocate reservations. The social planner also gives greater weight to gains in the near future than to those in the far future. (Discount factor less than 1)

Right then, so now let us look at what our social planner does. It is easy enough to analyze the ``steady state" that society reaches with these probabilities, with these
assumptions. Solving our little model mathematically , we can establish the following little factoid: For each constant reservation policy (defined as the proportion of good seats allocated to disadvantaged agents), there is a unique steady state. For a given value of parameters, the utility of the planner is monotonic (either increasing or decreasing) in the reservation policy.

That is, depending on the value of costs/productivities/progeny assumed, the ``best" reservation policy is either 100% or 0, but nowhere in between.

I am not going to go into the model, but i will intuitively explain it. What constrains the level of skill in society is the number of good seats. As long as good seats are scarce resources, society is always better of giving off all the good seats to the greater productivity agents. However, for some values of the probability of producing productive offspring and their relative productivities, it is always better for society to allocate all the good seats to the disadvantaged agents. The policy takes an "all or nothing" form depending the values of parameters.

What the model is very sensitive to is this: If the progeny of an advantaged agent who was forced to get a poor education still has a decent likelihood of being advantaged, and at the same time the progeny of a disadvantaged agent who was forced to get a poor education is very unlikely to be advantaged, then a policy of 100% reservations works. If the difference between these likelihoods is not as stark, then a policy of no reservations at all is the best policy.

I will show you some pictures now. I have fixed the values of other parameters, and considered a population of 100 with 20 good seats available. The first picture is the effect the social mobility for poorly educated people has on the optimal reservation policy. The knife edge is clearly visible. The second is the gain to society depending on the mobility. It shows that society gains with greater social mobility. The third is the number of advantaged people in the society. You will see a cliff in this picture, and it corresponds to the knife edge where it suddenly become more optimal to have no reservations at all, and suffer a lack of advantaged workers.

The interesting point to be noted around this cliff that for the same level of utility to the planner, reservations increase the number of advantaged workers in society. I am unwilling, however, to attach any social justice implications to this. Have fun with these pictures. With such a simplistic model, it is amazing the level of complexity you can get. And I have not even talked about relative productivity effects!!

This is admittedly a rather shallow analysis, and I am sure alternate settings could be imagined, which could, perhaps lead to completely different conclusions. But it is very interesting indeed.

(This work is preliminary and incomplete and may not be cited.)

Thursday, April 06, 2006

Eulogy for a friend

My first encounter with Chris was on a hurried monday morning. I had picked up a bagel (cinnamon-raisin, toasted, with butter) at the bagel shop near the subway, and was on my way out, when I ran into an old gentleman slowly shuffling his way in. I excused myself, only to be greeted with a cheerful, "How are you doing today?" When I muttered the expected grumpy New York response ("Good. You?"), he responded with a "Cheer up. Its a great day", which only annoyed be further.

I ran into Chris several times after that incident. Over time I came to take his cheerfulness for granted. It was one of the few constants in a bipolar world. It was good to chat with him over a bagel or a sandwich, and occasionally, as old men are wont to do, he would tell me the story of his life. I got to know, for instance, that he lived with his daughter and her children in a house nearby. He was born and raised in the Brooklyn of the early 20th century - when it was rough neighborhood in the process of being gentrified. I knew that he was ninety and had fought in the second world war - he claimed that he had a bullet lodged in his thigh (which gave him his limp) and that he had killed nine germans on D-day, and had been decorated for it.

In some ways, he reminded me of a grandfather I lost seven years ago - someone I grew up with, and who was responsible, to a great extent, for many of the values that I cherish. There were a lot of physical similarities between them. And they would have been roughly the same age.

Chris died a few days ago - it came to my knowledge only today. He was a stranger in many ways -I never got to know his last name - and yet, he was a reminder of how connected humanity is, and an example of how nostalgia can strike you in places where you least expect it to. I do not grieve for him - his death does not make a significant difference to my life. But, at the least, it deserves this post.

Monday, April 03, 2006

Thursday, March 30, 2006

The remaining five

Okay, so here are the remaining five, typed in from a public wifi at a busy train station (Work related travel, what can one do?). And to satisfy Falstaff, I'm including a couple of classical pieces that are (to me) big turn ons. In no particular order again:

1. Besame Mucho
Its sung by everybody and their grandmother. And that includes an extremely drunken me, in a karaoke bar in NYC, only to be booed of by the crowd. Sigh. The world has no appreciation for talent.
Anyway, I prefer the original spanish song by Luis Miguel, but you are free to like any version - the beatles, frank sinatra, dean martin, mangatraam paanwaala - whatever. All of them are beautiful in their own way. Except for the one by Swedish death metal band Necrophobic. Relax, just kidding. There is no such version.

2. Bolero, Maurice Ravel
Surprised again? It's all about the hypnotic tempo and the build-up. Originally intended by Ravel to be staged as a ballet, this has become an orchestral piece over the years. I love the way the melody passes from instrument to instrument, gradually adding up to the crescendo in a way that is almost reminiscent of a frenzied lovemaking session.

3. Baby its cold outside, Esther Williams & Ricardo Montalban/Bing Crosby/Dean Martin.
I know there is a version by Rod Stewart. But I don't seriously expect any of you to be Rod Stewart fans, and I pretty much hate his guts. Hence I'm not mentioning him here. Wait. I just did! Whatever.
This song was originally written and recorded for the 1949 movie, "Neptune's Daughter", i find the playfulness very sensual. The movie is a really nice comedy. And gosh do her lips look delicious!
" i really i cant stay
(but baby its cold outside)
ive got to go away
(but baby its cold outside)"

4. Prelude and liebestod, "Tristan and Isolde", Wagner
Tristan and Isolde was the quintessential middle age romantic story, but as an opera it was considered revolutionary for Wagners use of lietmotifs. This piece (liebestod = 'love-death'), is romantic, soft and warm, in an extended foreplay-like way. And, it is incredibly long, which, again, reinforces that analogy.

5. "I put a spell on you", Nina Simone/CCR
I have been unable to decide which version of this song is more sensual, so I have included both.

"I put a spell on you
Because you’re mine
You’re mine"

The one thing that strikes me about this song is the single minded obsession with the loved one it embodies, an obsession that most people except for die-hard romantics are incapable of. But, again, play this song and you have magic.

Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Another list

I have a much stronger emotional to response to music than I believe is normal. There are musical pieces that will drive me to despair in the happiest of moods, and others that elevate me when I'm miserable. Music elicits every concievable reaction from me - from sorrow to outright laughter. It makes me contemplative, it makes me disdainful - in some ways it is almost like a remote control to my emotional state, putting me in charge of something that is otherwise beyond my control.

The other day, someone asked me which musical pieces I found sensual. I could come up with only a few on the spur of the moment, because it takes time to come up with well thought out list. So anyway, here are the first five. The next five coming up in a few days. The list does not include any Indian music, for now. I'll come up with another list for Indian music.

1. "Tear Drop", Massive Attack:

A song with a hypnotic and extremely sensual beat, that starts off with the somewhat puzzling and at the same time erotic lyrics

"Love, Love is a verb,
Love is a doing word,
Feathers on my breath.
Gentle impulsion,
Shakes me makes me higher,
Feathers on my breath"

Massive Attack is a british modern rock group that fuse together elements of modern rock and commercial pop - powerpop if you may. 'Tear Drop' came out with their widely acclaimed album Mezzanine (1998).If you've watched the video ever, you'll remember this song - it featured a fetus singing. Also my favorite Massive Attack song.

2. "Sara", Fleetwood Mac.

Fleetwood Mac have been around since forever (1967-current), and they have, rather successfully, covered the ground from pop to rock to blues. It is difficult to classify "Sara". I actually have some unpleasant memories of this song - the first time i heard this song was at a party where I was one of the few single people around, and when this song started, i loved it. But pretty soon, I realised that the song had caused all the couples around to snuggle up, leaving me clutching my drink and staring uncomfortably at the ceiling.

In the Sea of Love
Where everyone
would love to drown"

As sensual numbers go, this is way up there. There are several versions of this song floating around. The best is the original 7 minute version from the album 'Tusk' (1979). The same version features in the Greatest Hits collections of Fleetwood Mac. The live versions are good, but not quite there.

3. "Miracles", Jefferson Airplane/Starship.

I have always considered Jefferson Airplane to be amongst the more mellow of the early druggie rock groups. "Miracles" from the 1975 album 'Red Octopus' probably symbolises this mellowness. The song is a rather explicit and somewhat longish piece, that essentially starts off with foreplay and ends with a climax. The kind of song that *will* turn anybody on.

" I feel like swirling and dancin'
Whenever you're walking with me
You ripple like a river when I touch you
When I pluck your body like a string "

4. "Bewitched", Ella Fitzgerald
Written by hit musical duo Richard Rodgers and Lorenz Hart, this song was in the 1940 musical 'Pal Joey'. Ella's rendition of the song is an incredibly erotic piece of vocal jazz. Her warm voice and the alliterative rhyming that characterizes the Rodgers and Hart style make for a great combination.

"I'm wild again. Beguiled again.
A simpering, whimpering child again.
Bothered and Bewildered.
Am I"

5. "Kashmir", Led Zeppelin.
I'm not going to go into introducing you to Kashmir, since almost everybody has heard it.
And I am sure you are surprised to see it in this list.
But think about it. Think of the hypnotic and suggestive beat. The way it gets progressively frenzied, the way it builds up. The almost orgasmic "Ooh-yeah, Ooh yeah" towards the end. Kashmir is (and trust me on this one) one of the greatest songs that you can play while you are at 'it'.

Five more coming up tomorrow, and that will be followed by another list consisting entirely of Indian music.

No sympathy for the devil

This post originally started as a comment on Falstaff's blog. And precisely when I hit the submit button (after duly entering in an inordinately long word for the sake of verification) blogger chose to go down, and this was left unsaid.

While I agree that the Rolling Stones was one of the greatest rock bands ever, I am a bit leery of nostalgic characterizations of all bands from that generation as revolutionary. As a rock and roll band, the Stones were pretty mainstream, and my belief is that bands like the Stones had it easy by piggybacking along the backs of a social movement that started during the euphoric years when the post war generation grew up. As a band, I do not think their music was all that inspirational.

The history of rock and roll (and of music in general) has been of breakaway movements that got assimilated into the mainstream, and typically bands that chose to so sell out are the ones that saw commercial success and are remembered with nostalgia. Those that 'stayed true' (such as VU in the '60s, or Sonic Youth from the '80s onwards) remain quite obscure, apart from a small core of fans that truly appreciate what they were worth. It was these bands that had the greatest degree of influence of what was to come. The Velvet Underground was the inspiration for the punk and new wave movements in the seventies and early eighties. Sonic Youth has influenced almost every genre of alternative rock (which, arguably, has become quite 'mainstream') over the last twenty years, while still remaining relatively obscure. Or we could take the example of the Pixies, who were the precursors of grunge and heavily inspired bands like Nirvana, Pearl Jam and the likes. It is the latter that have had a lot of commercial success and will be remembered as symbolizing that genre of music years from now.

The closest analogy to the Stones that comes to my mind is that of Nirvana, which having been heavily influenced by the alternative scene of the time, went on to become one of the most popular rock bands of our times. Nirvana will be remembered with nostalgia, but they will never have the kind of influence that bands like SY and the Pixies will have on subsequent cultural movements in music.

Friday, March 24, 2006

Pictures that are worth a thousand numbers

Years ago when I held a *real* job, I had to deal with a MS application that I hated with a passion. Widely used by corporate types, bankers, consultants and techies alike, it has become ubiquitous in the *real* world. Yes I am referring to powerpoint, a piece of software that, to me, is the strongest piece of evidence that Bill Gates plans to take over the world through mind control -by making us stupid and by diminishing our mental abilities till we are capable of digesting only pre-processed information fed to our feeble brains in the form of pictures, charts and five bullet point slides.

So you can understand that much happiness happened when I discovered powerpoint is rarely used in my current professional community. I thought, and rather self importantly too, that it had something to do with the (supposedly) intellectual nature of my profession. After all, I reasoned, if intellect is a significant determinant of your success, you are hardly likely to be interested in reducing complex analyses to bite-sized bits of information.

Recently, something occured that challenged this notion of mine, and has led me to believe that *ahem* information asymmetry, rather that intellectual pride, could be the reason for not seeing too much powerpointing around here.

It all started because some research of mine involved a lot of collaborative interaction with a corporate entity. This required me to discuss the findings with both individuals from the entity (lets call them, without any pejorative intent, the 'duhs') and my colleagues (the 'blahs') in two separate presentations.

I prepared two distinct documents for the meetings. The first one, done as all respectable blah documents are done, was prepared using LaTex. It looked something like the schematic to the left. All the intricacies of both the formulation and the analysis laid bare open for the sake of blah peer review!

I spent a few hours and Latexed like i had never Latexed before, discovering new .sty files and packages and writing new \define statements with impunity, all the while boldly going where few blahs had gone before. I was happy with myself at the end of it.

The other document was meant for the duhs. It looked something like this image here to the right, and i need say nothing more than that a picture is worth a thousand words (and that phrase applies here twice, if you get my drift.)

Needless to say, there was a mixup, and it was copies of this document that were sent across to the blahs. On the day of the presentation, I arrived, armed with the original document, and started the talk, when I noticed disappointed looks from the audience.

"Your handouts don't match your slides", a senior blah in the audience complained.

Realizing the error, I started apologizing furiously, when I was interrupted with a, "Don't apologize, we'd rather have the handouts than what you are presenting", from another senior blah.

"How exactly *did* you do this?"

"Er... Powerpoint", I said meekly.

"You can *do* all these things in Powerpoint? I didnt know it was so powerful. It looks very impressive. What do all of you think?"-he looked around quizzically.

I looked around and realized that all the blahs in the room was nodding their heads. I could barely suppress a groan.

Thursday, March 23, 2006

A Room with a View

Those of you who know what we do for a living (and are in similar situations in life) will be pleased to note that we recently moved offices to a room with a window. For the moment let us abuse our notation a little bit and loosely use that term for a smallish hole in the wall that lets you see outside. Gone are the days when we had to look at a clock to figure out if it was day or night. Yes sirree, we know by the light that streams in through our window.

My window (said in the same tone as 'My precious') is triangular - a right angled triangle with a convex hypoteneuse. Convex - oh, how i love that word. It brings to mind convex graphs and convex sets and other such words. I occasionally use them to show how real-analytically-proficient i am.

It opens onto a view of another building - a building with red walls that happens to be a library. There isnt too much of a view of anything else - if you really strain, you can make out what appears to be the sky. And you can catch glimpses of a path between our two buildings. Not that open skies and such things have any use for us. Countless nights spent in the cell-like environments of the big room aka the bat-cave aka the fountain of scholarship have made us allergic to open skies and sunny days. Sunny days, especially, for they make others happy, and, by the law of conservation of happiness, contribute to our misery.

The view is nice. Libraries can be interesting places. I get to see other people because my window opens on to a library. I used to know people once. There was something exciting about that, but I cannot put my finger on what it was.

Most of the time, the people in the library have their noses buried in their books. But occasionally something really interesting happens. Like the other day, I saw a girl talking into her cellphone. And the most exciting thing that has happened in my life in a long long time - I saw someone smoking through an open window in the library. That does not happen too often.

My window makes me happy. And no, you may not have it.

Thursday, March 16, 2006

Tuesday, March 07, 2006


I am talking to you about poetry
and you say
when do we eat.
The worst of it is
I’m hungry too.

~ AliciaPartnoy

This poem is part of the poetry in motion series on the New York subway. You will see it rather frequently, and having had the opportunity to ask people what they felt about this poem, I have realised that it is like a Rorschach test of sensibilities. Different people react differently to this.

Friend J hates the concept of being in a relationship. He has spent the last few years moving in and out of short-term flings that never last more than a month. He thought that the poem showed how domestication kills romance, "the sort of smugness that causes people to become fundamentally disinteresting after they spend too much time with each other"

Another friend, who belongs to that annoying club of people who are madly in love and gush and coo about it thinks of it as an incredibly romantic poem.
"It describes a situation where two people become so much a part of each other that one person's desires induce similar desires in the other person, the kind of relationship that all of us secretly aspire to", were her exact words.

I, on the other hand, think that this poem is about the power of the culinary over the poetic. Self-deprecatory because it places food before poetry, it is about the triumph of food over other forms of human expressions. But then I am obsessed with food to the point that I have almost gone to jail for stalking it.

There are, of course, other possible points of view. More general ones, in a manner of speaking. I asked friend W, a beer drinking,'gidday-mate' wishing buddy from Oz about it while travelling on the subway, the other day.

"That's gay stuff mate, pomes and what not", was the only thing he said.

Update: This is what Falstaff has to say:

"Personally, I think it's about the poem as hunger, the poem as need. Marianne Moore famously said 'these things are important not because some high-flown interpretation can be put upon them, but because they are useful'. That, I think is the point of the poem - that true poetry isn't about intellectual discussion, it's about the immediacy of wanting something, about a need inside us crying out be fulfilled. Denise Levertov describes it well: "living in the garden and being hungry and eating the fruit"."

Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Nihilistic demonstrations

I live in an incredibly messy room. I always have. Back in the days when i was getting a real education, as opposed to a pretend one, i was renowned for having the messiest room at WIMWI (Well known institute of management in western India). This probably reflects the fact that I am a Nihilist at heart, as opposed to those pseudo-intellectuals who live well organized lives in spick and span apartments, but claim that life has no meaning.

Many people are confused about what messy means. The other day, I was having a conversation with this girl - the proverbial "Your place or my place" conversation, and I was somewhat insistent that I would go over to her place. She found this a bit odd, so I had to express my apprehensions about her coming to my rather unkempt dwelling, and subsequently fleeing in digust.

"Oh, Big Deal. I have books lying around on the floor too and I haven't done my laundry for a couple of weeks. And I haven't cleaned my room in a couple of months", she said.

Her statement only made me think of her as a cleanliness freak. For when I say messy, this is what I mean.

1. You keep your valuables under a pile of dirty laundry in a corner of the room.

2. You don't quite remember how that pile got there. The details are lost in antiquity.

3. The Rooh-Afza that a friend spills on your floor (an entire half-bottle of it) is never cleaned. (don't ask me what the Rooh-Afza was doing there - it was an alcohol related incident. We were trying to make interesting cocktails). Eventually it dries, and gathers a coating of dust and body hair, becoming positively plush in the process. You end up with a homemade rug.

4. The occasional dead mouse or dead cockroach turns up in your room, having ingested food that has been lying around and gone toxic by virtue of having been there.

5. There is a bowl of yogurt by your bedside. There is a garden of fungus in it. You watch it with fascination everyday, waiting for the day it will evolve a pair of legs and scamper away.

6. You accidentally brush the layer of dust on your desk and find keys that you have been looking for a long time.

7. You have never cleaned your sheets. Rogue regimes get in touch with you because of your expertise in developing biological weapons. (I was, of course, humbled in this endeavor by the great LM, who did the same thing with underwear.)

8. A pigeon builds a nest on top of your shelf.

9. The pigeon lays eggs, but leaves, disgusted with your room.

10. The nest and the eggs are still there, a year after the event.

Needless to say, I'm going to have a HazMat team over. Just in case she insists it be my place.

Monday, February 20, 2006

"the spirit of freedom"?

I am on a flight from Delhi to Mumbai, having attended a rather dear friend's wedding - tired, bored, depressed and somewhat lonely. Two successive weddings, two more friends who will never hang out with me without making statements like, "I'm sorry I have to go. My wife is having a bad day." Or, for that matter, without talking about the chest of drawers they plan to buy. I feel strangely empty - a feeling that something has been missing from my life.

A girl walks into the plane, and in what could be a sequence from that late eighties 'lakme moisturizer ad', she looks around. the seat next to me is vacant, and it turns out that it is her's. what is notable about the girl is the big guitar she's lugged into the plane. (the jury may note that a guitar is kind of hard to miss). since there is no space in the overhead bin right above, it takes a considerable amount of time and effort on the part of the cabin crew to find a suitable abode for the damned instrument. after making small talk about guitar intricacies (since one of us seventeen plays the instrument somewhat), it turns out that we have mutual acquaintances.

"I just saw rang de basanti", she suddenly declares. "You should watch it"
"I will. I have been hearing lots about it too. So tell me, what do you think of the movie?"
the plane taxies to the end of the runway and accelerates.
"It's about the spirit of freedom."
"Hard to explain it. Look outside. Look at how everything blends together when you travel at high speed. And then you flyyyyyyyyyy! That's what it's like."

Epiphany. A moment when everything falls in place. I am rather moved by her observation. This girl clearly has hit on something that has been missing from my life for a long time. Turning around, I look deep into her eyes and catch a glimpse of her soul - that's how dilated her pupils are. Yes, ladies and gentlemen, she's as high as a cloud. She's hit on the blessed weed.

Thursday, February 16, 2006

bagel bagel

a street full of people, scurrying around. is sheher mein har shaks pareshaan sa kyon hai, the song plays. i miss my mp3 player now.

it snowed a a few days back. the largest snowstorm in the history of New York, they tell me. Not that it matters too much. the snowmelt leaves telltale puddles everywhere on the street. i see glimpses of myself in them.

he sees me approach and immediately picks up a freshly-baked bagel. its funny how sometimes strangers seem to know you far better than people you have known for years. in it goes, into the bagel-slicer, the guillotine. swooosh. hacked apart for my eating pleasure. he picks up the lopped off head and proceeds to lavish butter on it, humming a random ditty as he does. golden butter that doesn't stand a chance. it submits itself unconditionally. melting against the hot surface and becoming one, permeating every part of the baked delicacy. obliterating its own existence and blending into another's. if only people were so unconditional.

i stand at the street corner, picking it up by the edges. butter trickling down my thumb, reminding me of what i'm about to savor. one last shimmer as it disappears into oblivion.

a taxicab roars by, a wet and muddy old man muttering nasties behind it. i smile.

Tuesday, January 31, 2006

some adbhaice on garlls

Long ago in the hallowed portals of a certain hostel of a certain IIT, dwelt an unremarkable little man called bongu. his name belies the part of india that he came from, but a post describing the remarkable qualities of his ilk does not belong here. bongu-da was a pretty average man, albeit with something in his credentials that few IITians have - an ex-garllphrend. in the process that resulted in her being an ex, she was the dumper and he was the dumpee. however, since bongu-da was one of the few who had any exposure to the female of the species, all of us turned to him in matters concerning them.

"Hum tumko ek adbhaice deta hai", bongu-da told us once, sequentially sipping on chai from a glass and puffing on a 'chhota gold-flake'. "Iph you laaike a garll, nebher be nice to har. (no, not you, Har) It never pays"

For long we followed his advice. If a girl smiled, we scowled, hoping to create an impression. If she changed hairstyles we went and told her it looked weird. If she wore a nice dress, we asked her if she had bought it at a used-clothes sale. Eventually we realized the folly of our ways and learnt to be a decent human being (do i hear sniggers?). Whether or not it has made a difference is another thing altogether, and, in order to maintain the focus of this post, I will not dwell upon it.

Recently, a mail sent to someone i know, purportedly asking her out, was brought to my notice. In the interests of propriety, i am not going to include the original mail here. I could have tried to capture the spirit of the mail but any recreation would have been a shadow of the original. It should suffice to say here that the person sending the mail seemed to be a follower of bongu.

Drawing inspiration from the mail, and wishing to push the frontiers of human knowledge a wee bit further, we conducted a little survey - a sting operation, so to speak, and sent emails to thirty female bloggers. There are different flavors of not-so-niceness here. The responses follow in the next post.

1. Mr. Hindi medium (not-that-there's-anything-wrong-with-that).

Dear Ms. XYZ,
Myself, ABC. I am reading your blog. You are living in (insert city)? I am very much wanting to meet you. I am (insert degree here) in (insert topic here) and am working in (insert company here). But I am not liking that you are talking about s3*. woman should not be open about things like this. It is not our culture. When is your earliest convenience, so that we can meet?
Your's sincerely,

2. I'm so cool (but actually desperate)

Hey XYZ:
What do the next few days look like! was wondering if we could meet.. I don't particularly care about this, but i made a new year resolution to speak my mind, and i would like to catch up with ya. i wanna know what ya think. i'm not a crazy man. heh heh heh. talk to ya laterzz.

3. The compulsive counsellor

I went through your blog. Rather concerned about you. I think you have some severe psychological issues. Email me back here if you want someone who understands.

4. wren and martin ki naajaayaz aulaad

Dear XYZ,
Although I might concede that you have an interesting web-log and that your thoughts may be considered somewhat intelligent, you will have to admit that it is ridden with grammatical mistakes of every manner. Take your spelling, for instance - (insert typo here) should have been spelt (insert correct spelling). In addition to that, the fact that your sentence construction is often flawed is of much concern to me.
Nevertheless, I would be quite interested in being acquainted with you, and, since we share the same city, I propose that we arrange a meeting. Please let me know of a suitable time.

Lastly, an email that was nice, but full of annoying sms-speak.

5. Mr. Luv4u

i like u coz i think our frequencies match. i know what u feel like. if u want to make a friend, call me at xxxxxxxxxx or sms me pleeeeeez coz i will always b there 4 u.

I will reveal some of the responses I got, but before that, do comment on how you would respond to these mails, if you ever got them. I'm sure male bloggers out there get their share of annoying emails too, so please jump in. and smart-ass brownie points are there for the taking.

Friday, January 27, 2006

God-damned Vessels

"It's a vessel", the voice at the other end of the transatlantic call said.
It was a south indian acquaintance of mine. I was on my way back to the US and he wanted me to carry something for him. He had seemed a bit embarrassed to ask and the revelation had come about after some needless hemming and hawing.
"What vessel?" I asked.
"A pressure cooker vessel."
"Dude, I'm sorry, I don't have space to carry a vessel".
"No it's very small. It'll just slip into a corner somewhere."
"Um, how big is it?"
"About one inch by one inch"
I was a bit puzzled, and fast losing patience.
"Are you sure? What do you use it for?"
"For a pressure cooker"
"I know that", I said, annoyed. "I know the damn thing is a pressure cooker vessel, so it has to be used for a pressure cooker! What the hell do you cook in it?"
"You don't cook anything in it"
It was his turn to be exasperated.
"It's a vessel! Vessel Vessel Vessel!! It goes on top. It's heavy. The steam lifts it up. After the vessel blows thrice, the rice is done... steam engines have vessels.. some people can vessel tunes!"

Anyway, in honor of my dear mallu friend's pressure cooker vessel, and having been reminded of 80's television in India by another blogger, with her post about Mr. Yogi, here are three pressure cooker advertisements from the 80's, in ascending order of my liking.

3. At third place is the Marlex pressure cooker ad. This was a fifteen second jingle that was usually repeated twice to fit the 30 second advertisement slots that were available on DD. The ad consisted of a pic of a typical 80's Indian housewife-type (think Lalitaji from the Surf advertisements). She would be holding the cooker. A couple of nondescript food items were on one side, magically suspended in mid air. No, really. It was a magical cooker.

At the top it said "Marlex Pressure Cookers". At the bottom it said, "ISI approved", with a funny looking ISI logo. The jingle went something like:

"Marlex Pressure Cooker, khana jaldi pakaaye kaisi seetee bajaaye. Marlex. Marlex Pressure cooker". Repeat.

Translation: Marlex pressure cooker, cooks curry in a hurry, blows vessel don't worry. Marlex. Marlex Pressure Cooker.

Heh heh. *Looks around sheepishly*. Anyway, it was the simplicity of the ad that made it so perfect. To this day, I can vessel the tune.

2. Hawkins' Pressure Cookers also had an ad that relied primarily on a jingle to carry it through. There was some screen based action (if anything done by Neena Gupta on screen can be called that). The jingle went something like:

Hawkins ki seetee baji, khushboo hi khushboo udee, mazedaar lazaddaar khana hai taiyaar. Murg Musallum, Mutter Pulao, Maa ki daal, this is the part that i randomly hum, Dum Alooooo!!"

Translation: On second thought, no translation. Managing expectations and all that.
Update: See Megha's comment for the entire thing.

1. But of course the most notable pressure cooker ad was for Prestige pressure cookers. Husband and wife enter store, husband looking slightly diffident. This was a theme used a lot in Condom ads in that era. I have no idea why they applied it here. Or maybe i do.

Throughout the ad, the wife stands around looking dumbly. Maybe they did not even show her in the ad. But no, we shall not go into gender biases and such-like.

Husband: Pressure Cooker Khareedna hai.
Shop-guy: (who for some reason, looked a lot like the shopkeeper from the Lalitaji advertisement.) Woh to theek hai. Par pehle yeh bataaiye, ki aap apni biwi se kitna pyaar karte hai.
H: Kya matlab hai aap ka?
S-G: Matlab hai, Matlab hai. Agar aap inhe pyaar nahin karte hai, to koi bhi pressure cooker chal jaayega. Magar aap agar inse pyaar karte hai, to aapko Prestige Pressure Cooker khareedna chahiye.

Husband pyaar-se dekhofies biwi.

H: To Prestige hi dijiye.
S-G: Jo biwi se kare pyaar, woh prestige se kaise karey in car?

Okay, so question: What is the moral of this story? It is this..

What to do? We are like that only!