silence before the storm

Do not complain about the obscurities down here… They are intentional :-)

Growing up

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Can you point out that one incident when you felt that you had grown out of your childhood; when your image of the world suddenly transformed; when it all gets disillusioned, and you come to face with the less exciting reality? I might have one such moment, quite late in my adult life during my first job after college, when I suddenly realized that sophisticated adults needn’t be rational. A realization now I understand to be the difference between literacy and education based on ethics .

Growing up, I had been innocent enough, presumably like every other child, to assume that grown ups were called so, because they grow out of the logical fallacies and naive gullibility that are defining attributes of childhood. I was telling myself — adults have answers to all the questions, and soon you will too — a fantasy, but a common one I suppose.

The first time I encountered the idea of evolution, which must have been in grade 5 or 6, it was an epiphany. It immediately made sense to me, and I was convinced that it had to be that way. Not that I was not curious, but it perfectly made sense to me. As I reached high-school, to accommodate the religiousness that was part of me, I came up with an account that the avatars of Vishnu — beginning with him incarnating as a fish, then a tortoise, a boar, then a half-man and half-lion, and then into humans — to me was a subtle way of hinting at the evolution by natural selection. Soon after, when my scientific querying would not be satisfied with this accommodation, and found the notion of ‘God in a form’ and religions to be unnecessary, I thought it was the natural trajectory of people growing up. Also, I was not critical of people, other than myself; I assumed grown ups had undergone this metamorphosis. Or maybe, I was all too engrossed in the changes of my own world view.

Coming to the point of disillusionment — it was during my first job and it happened with the second manager I was working under; I had/and still continue to have immense admiration towards him. He was very disciplined, knowledgeable and encouraging. He was vocal in saying that I was whiling away myself at that job. This soon would become an important tipping factor when I was later contemplating to change the course of my life towards academia. So, it was this person; I deeply respect even today.

During one of our several conversations, the topic of evolution by natural selection came up, and I was talking to him as a matter-of-fact-ly about it. It took me a while, before I could realize that maybe he was not on the same page. The flash point of sorts, was when he sought out a clarification from me — Do you really think people came from monkeys? Then why are the monkeys still around then? I believe God made us — which totally changed the world for me, at least, symbolically. This was also the time, when the agnostic in me was devouring Richard Dawkins, Carl Sagan and Christopher Hitchens, and to have this wake up call was massive. I think after this point, I have grown to be cynical and many a times condescending (of which I am not proud) of, the apparently sophisticated people, who are literate and also possess higher education, but deny evolution.

This change of mindset has been crucial in moulding me. It was when I started looking at the notion and process of education within the socio-political context, and as a tool that is used by the establishment to advance their agendas, and also as the attribute that distinguishes generations and societies. It was also when I came to the recognise the struggle of humanity in pursuing knowledge. The triumph of Gutenberg in making the first printing press and the role of neutral internet. The trial of Galileo and the poisoning of Socrates would never be, merely sad and unfortunate, anecdotes, but acts of violence on all of humanity by the darkness of ignorance. In the same spirit of Julian Assange, when he says “the burning of the Alexandria library was a crime against all of humanity, not just a crime against the people of Alexandria.”

Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam, and the sad reality of it.

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Enough has been said, of-late, as to who a patriot is, which of us are nationalists and who are the anti-nationals. This post is a frustrated response to the very many debates I cannot afford to engage on social networks. So, for the ones who bother to debate with me, here is my stance on the entire issue — not just the one which has happened in the last two weeks involving Rohit Vemula, from University of Hyderabad and Kanhaiya Kumar, from Jawaharlal Nehru University — but in general, my stand on whether or not I want to be branded a nationalist by anyone.

Borders are scars

I am an idealist. When I say that national borders are the worst scars on the face of the Earth, I earnestly mean it, and long for a world with no borders. I know of several, well-meaning human beings who might not distinguish people based on religion, caste or creed, but stop at the divide of a nation. Why stop there? Like the earlier mentioned factors, nations are also man-made constructs, and there is nothing natural in dividing people based on nationalities. Yes, nationality is a useful marker based on the shared history and culture a group of people have, but that does not make it any more rational to divide people based on nationalities, than one could based on race or religion (well, if you think it is okay to divide people based on race or religion, I am not addressing you). Also, I am not being naive here, and I understand the convoluted complications of global geo-politics. But at a personal level, I don’t think we ought to take into consideration the exchange value of our currencies or the diplomatic policies, to think nicely of people from other countries.

To make my point more concrete, let me add that, anything that makes us think of people in terms of ‘us and them’ is harmful to humanity. And I also believe that a mindset transcending this divide is not difficult to attain; it certainly is not Utopian. When I come to think of it, this philosophy of mine, is an endorsement of one of the core beliefs of Hinduism — “Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam” — meaning, the world is a family. Why is it, then for the self-proclaimed pious Hindus, hard to see the world as one family? If all world is one family, why this venomous propaganda based on nationalism?

Once you begin to think of the world on the lines of oneness, beyond all differences, it is easier to then spot the factors that are being used by the ruling class to divide the people. The bickering amongst people is the main fuel that enables the ruling class, that thrives on pitting communities against each other, to further their agendas. Needless to say, not only this is detrimental to the societies we inhabit, but it also reflects poorly on one’s intellectual abilities, if he/she chooses to become subservient to the rhetoric of divisive politics.

This being my stance on nationalities and nationalism, I am least offended or upset, but only amused when people are throwing labels such as “anti-nationals”; and more so, for the slightest of the difference of opinions.

Empathy above all

To be able to see the suffering of another person, or a community, and to wish for more of it instantly makes us inhuman. Whatever the rationale or the grand reasoning it might be, lack of empathy is unjustifiable. There is no point in bragging about your nationalism, when at the core, you lack empathy towards fellow human beings.

Patriotism is an over-sold idea and nationalism is corruptible. I’d say, simply stick to being nice to others.

Cosy in Copenhagen…

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It was one of those random thoughts that occur suddenly – usually, just before falling asleep – I had ‘moved’ from Sweden to Denmark, and I had done so unceremoniously! This transition was so abrupt and it happened amidst so much haste, that I have not had the time to stop and reflect on this possibly crucial transition in my life.

People in Europe might discount this transition as being a minor one, as the two sibling countries from Scandinavia have more in common, than being different. Nonetheless, if I were the person I was in India, and you would talk to me about Denmark and Sweden, I would expect them to be a world apart. It could be because I wouldn’t have had any idea about either of these countries. In any case, I am interested in the nuances that differentiate these neighbours.

The fairy tale specialist, HC Anderson in central Copenhagen.

The fairy tale specialist, HC Anderson in central Copenhagen.

My first impression of Copenhagen, the capital of Denmark, coming fresh from Sweden was that it was ancient. Ancient, not in the sense it is obsolete, but in ways elder siblings are when compared to their younger ones. Especially when the younger ones are in their teens, and the elder siblings already feel a generation gap of sorts. The elders find themselves out of trend, trying hard to catch up and being clumsy on technology, yet with a mature charm and grace of their own. This is my visualisation of Copenhagen, which was founded around 12th century, when compared to a young city like Gothenburg, founded in 1621.

And the Danes are amicable. This could seem like an overstatement, but then we are not comparing them to the legendary Southern Europeans, but to their brethren from Sweden, Finland and Norway. What do I base it on? As yet, my personal experiences, and some additional readings on Scandinavia. It could also be the impact of placebo effect in my expectations for social interactions, making it easier for me to talk to Danes. And it is not just about striking conversations, but to keep them going on! This is in stark difference with Sweden, where it takes enormous effort to sustain conversations. With some Danes, I have, on the contrary found it hard to halt the juggernaut of conversations!

On the notorious front, Denmark, has a reputation for being less immigration-friendly. But, after my 6 weeks here, it comes out as a truly cosmopolitan country. Of course, this remark is mainly based on Copenhagen and the reality outside the city might be different. I was also rectified by many that Copenhagen is not as multi-cultural as London or Berlin, but my rebuttal is that in Scandinavia, which is a world of its own, it appears to be the most vibrant and lively city in terms of ethnicity. It is refreshing not to be living in a homogeneous population, which ended up being my take-away image of Sweden. Also, it has dawned upon me that, the reputation of Denmark being anti-immigration has more to do with the open debates they have about immigration. Sweden, on the other hand, maybe is brushing the issue under the carpet, leading to increasing tensions, of late. Or this hypothesis about Denmark’s cosmopolitanism could simply be my self-consolation than it is in reality; Denmark is my new home, and there is always a soft corner for places we see as home.

Another notorious aspect of Denmark is alcohol. And yes, the myth of beer being cheaper than (bottled) water pretty much holds in Denmark. Carlsberg has a true monopoly on all beer sales. It is a matter of routine pride for Danes to brag about the stock of vodka and schnaps they would certainly have at home.

Copenhagen is dubbed the bicycle capital of the world, and some statistics say that there are more bicycles in the city than there are people! And this is no vain vanity, Copenhagen really runs on bikes. Commuting on motored vehicles (cars and buses alike) takes easily twice the time than when biking in the city. Ants like bikes criss-crossing during rush hours have prompted me to get hold of a helmet.

Finally, yes, the jokes about Danish, the language, are all true: it is close to being full fledged mumbling, and yet is a language spoken by five million people and counting.
Wish me luck in my brave attempts at decrypting this Norse code.

While moving to new places can be difficult and weird, I am all “hygge”, approximately meaning cosy, in Copenhagen.

Yes, really.

Yes, really.

“We are together, because we are alone”

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Even simplest of the chores, when away from home, in a different country, can be daunting. After more than two years in Sweden, I still can’t get a decent haircut – mainly because I cannot convey myself clearly – and I don’t blame the people working in the salons for my plight.

With such trepidation that has become a common feeling now, I finally made up my mind to trim the shabby dark mop that sits over my head. I went to the usual salon, behind my university and work place. I used to visit a different place initially. Now, of late, I have settled with this one. In the last 6 visits, never have I seen the same person run this shop. They are all different, only denominated by their nativity and the generous warmth.

The place is a meagre establishment, and not a posh salon. I must admit here, I have tried to imagine how different the experience in these exorbitant places could be, when all we want to is to let go off some hair. In any case, this place is run by second generation Swedes – a weird euphemism that categorises people whose parents migrated into Sweden. Most of them from the middle East, and not for happy reasons. This family is from Iraq, I learned.

The man who was running the salon today must have been in his late forties, and had all the qualities of the patriarch who was running the show. Slightly large, but he seemed agile with his movements when performing his meticulous art on another customer. Occasionally, also whistling along the radio. Mostly out of tune.

When my turn came, he ushered me warmly to the seat, and immediately asked if I was from India. I nodded, as if to acknowledge the stereotype about our multi-purpose nods. After I confessed my lack of Swedish skills, he confidently said “litet Engleska”. Assuring me we could do just fine with his little English skills and I gave him a thumbs up, assuring him I would contribute my two cents of Svenska.

The first words that he spoke were a series of names – Bachchan, Gabbar Singh, Hema Malini, Dharmendra- I captioned the series with ” Sholay”. He gleefully nodded and said that he was a big fan. I thanked Bollywood for being that bridge (not necessarily a proud one) between some of India and rest of the world. After our bond was made based on the greatest film (or so it is perceived) to come out of Bollywood – Sholay – we got along pretty well for the next half n hour.

Our Bollywood chats spanned the same course, as with any foreigner from the middle East – few songs, some more names and immense fondness. Even I miss the 70’s and early 80’s Bollywood. Bollywodd today is trash in comparison. I refrain from delving into further details of our Bollywood conversation here.

This man did know a few phrases from Indiska – the Swedish name for Hindi – presumably because it is still falsely believed across the world that Hindi is the main language spoken in India. As I know Hindi, I did not get into a discussion on the linguistic diversity of India. A useful phrase he expertly used was “Mushkil hai”, which can mean anything ranging from “it is difficult” to “it is infeasible”, or even “it is sorry”. He started saying “Vatan (country) mushkil hai”, “jahan (world) mushkil hai”, “jung (war) mushkil hai”, “gareebi (poverty) mushkil hai” and ended with the Swedish word for loneliness, which because I could not grasp the word, he had to animate it to me and declared even that was Mushkil.

We spoke some more in broken sentences about various other things – religion, humanity, wars, movies, families, democracy and world politics. He came across as a passionate and caring human being.

In the end, he said he had love, in fact he used the Hindi/Urdu term – Mohabbat – towards all mankind. Next, he started listing some countries in his Mohabbat rankings. In decreasing order of love, he said – Iraq was on top of his list – meaning he loved his home country the most. Then came Iran, India (maybe because I was there), Sweden, the Arab world and everyone else. He paused. And as if to correct something he had missed out, he said “But not America. They are shaitan”.

Shaitan is the Urdu/Persian word for evil, or the devil. He then added, if not for their (USA’s) oil greed and the wars they started, he would have still been in his glorious Iraq of the 1970’s and not have had to flee and come to Sweden. “We are alone. All of us (the migrants) are together because we are alone”, he softened. He then moved around me finalizing my hairdo, of which I had lost track of and was now short enough to show my scalp, and he sighed again: “America is shaitan”. I nodded, again, in acknowledgement. Thinking to myself, if my analysis of contemporary world politics were reduced to three words, it might end up around his version.

Still talking about race eh?!

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The question of race, as sensitive as it might be, it must be dealt with. Different societies have taken up different approaches. In Sweden for instance, I was surprised at the huge importance given to the notion of racial discrimination and the protection from discrimination. Personally, there have been no incidents based on racial discrimination at all. Or nothing tangible that has affected me. But as a Swedish friend pointed out, my joy ride of not having been seriously discriminated based on my racial identity could be due to the academic diaspora I primarily interact with, and supposedly also due to my skill of acclimatising with new people. The same might not be the case for the people from those unfortunate and battered countries, who are now trying to rebuild their lives here in Sweden.

Growing up in India, one is accustomed to a perpetual propaganda about skin fairness. While I was a kid, there were very many attempts to make me feel inferior due to my dark complexion. These personal incidents apart, other routine tantrums ranging from ads for products that can make the skin paler, to the outright equating of skin fairness to success in life, and in extreme scenarios equating darker skin colour akin to the demons in us; I have grown up in a society that is bluntly racist. And we are not even conscious of this racism. This is why I am taken aback, when some of my fellow Indians who practice extreme racism back at home, rile up in rage even for the slightest hint of the distinction made based on their racial identity.

While, white supremacy is a heated topic of debate and a certain force at play, one must not forget that any paler shade of brown also has a supremacy over the darker ones. For proof, watch the ads for skin fairness products in India.

Localising the talk to Sweden: While there is incredible consciousness in the population and the system to subdue racial discrimination, there is but one major lacuna in their story of racial reconciliation. In my two years of travel in Sweden, I have seen thousands of couples. But, I might have barely spotted a fraction of those couples who are inter-racial. This when raised to a Swedish friend, he frankly accepted that he does not find women of other skin colour attractive. Of course, I would like to think that I am mistaken in my observation, and that it is only him and maybe a small minority who would reason this way. Nonetheless, the problem of integration still remains in this part of the world.

Racial discrimination, both consciously and collectively as a culture, is as an embarrassment to all humanity. That we are still faced with this obstinate menace, in this time and age, is all the more depressing.


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The process of learning a language is truly fascinating. Not necessarily learning a new one, but also the process of learning further a language, one has known for all cognizant life. An essential aspect of grooming one’s linguistic dexterity can be accomplished by assimilating newer words. Not merely comprehending and committing them to memory, but to use them appropriately. It is in this process of picking up new words, there resides the possibility of attaching rich experiences to them.

Can you think of the last new word that you committed to your vocabulary? Do you remember how you learned it, and if you remember being exulted at understanding what it really means? If you can think of one such word, reminisce about it; the anecdote attached to it might well be a good story to tell.

The most recent such word I have been grappling with is catharsis. Going by the usage of the word, when I did not really know what it meant, it sounded almost as a diagnosis of some peculiar behaviour in people. And I consciously acknowledge this word to Jon Stewart’s monologues. Jon is a comic genius driven by clear principles and is someone I immensely admire. Towards the end of his tenure as the host of The Daily Show, the frequency of Jon using catharsis was increasing, and to me then, it was occurring in some of the most nuanced of situations he had set up in his dialogue.

Since then, as I have understood, catharsis means purging of extreme emotions by means of people’s artistic expression. It is the artist’s urge to express when their emotions are driven full to the brim. Originally a medical jargon, Aristotle is attributed to using it as a metaphor, which in contemporary English means the aforementioned process.

It can be for instance, the anger that drove Charlie Chaplin to make The Great Dictator, the sympathy that brought out the ‘I have a dream’ speech by Martin Luther, the hurt that was converted into 1984 by George Orwell, the concern that was voiced in the life of Safdar Hashmi, the outrage that was embossed in the short stories of Saadat Hasan Manto, the social fury that lead to the Vachana movement in Karnataka, or even the empathy that drove Che Guevara towards the Cuban revolution. Many monumental pieces of art that have shaped humanity and steered the course of history are in fact the catharsis of their makers.

The word catharsis, to a great extent, captures the purest form of humanity: The eruption of human emotions as artistic expression. Isn’t it a wonderful word to know!

From Romania, with love.

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With the impeccable local transport operating in Gothenburg, which is always on time, there’s rarely a need to wait in the bus stop. The precise travel planner application never lies, and one can plan to arrive at the bus stops with not an extra minute to while away, in those usually barren shelters that cling on to the pavements. That’s for most others, who want to be efficient and not waste time waiting for buses. I don’t specially like it. Except unless I have an appointment to make, I never check the application and simply wander towards the bus stop. Worst case I might have to wait for fifteen minutes, and most times, I like to spend that time out in the bus stop, hoping I will strike a conversation with a stranger.
When was the last time you spoke to a stranger? Wasn’t it strange and special, as it is supposed to be?

After living in Sweden for close to two years, I seem to have figured out one of the important things I miss – talking to strangers. It is beyond normal here to talk to strangers, I think, and for reasons that might be justified, which I don’t want to delve into in this post. We shall call it culture, for convenience in this post. Returning to my point, even in this culture, I miss striking conversations with strangers, and peeking into their lives for those few minutes, and letting them into my world for that time. Does it sound like intrusion? I like to think of it, more as being social.

I like stories,  and more so when it is of real people. Hence, The Motorcycle Diaries is my all time favourite book. During my long travels, I lay back and discreetly study the faces of the people who are sitting across, or passing by. Trying to guess what their lives are about, what extreme events they would have to narrate to me, or what their struggles are. Each one certainly has a wonderful story to tell. From another person’s point of view, I might look a normal Asian guy, but barely can they even guess the turmoil, joy and experiences I could have in my narrative. It is simply fascinating to talk to strangers!

With these subtle motivations driving my unscheduled arrivals at the bus stop, yesterday I had 8 minutes to spare. It was unusually chilly and windy in a week that was otherwise bright and sunny. I huddled into the bus shelter, smiled at a Swedish lady who was already in there; she hurriedly shrugged away, as it is the case with every other Swede. The ones who don’t shrug away, return a warm smile, and it makes me feel connected. Without making her uncomfortable, I moved to the other side of the shelter and was standing beside the bench, when three Eastern Europeans by the look of them, were trickling towards the bus stop. One of them was digging into the trash bin, to spot any recyclable cans – each can can pay 1 SEK, and I was thinking that it being a Saturday, he would not have found many inside Chalmers, but the city centre might have plenty, and it could earn him little money to push the day off.

The leader of the pack, seemingly, had a gait that exuded in casualness, and was wearing a pant with logo of the local super market, printed all over. He got into the bus stop and sat on the bench next to me. He was smoking, and got into the shelter puffing out smoke. I looked behind just to remember if it was allowed to smoke inside, as I can’t stand being even a passive smoker – it was not allowed. If he would have continued I might have pointed him to the no-smoking sign, but he already discarded his half-spent cigar onto the road. I was relieved.

Then, he nudged me and gestured ‘money’, rubbing his thumb to his forefinger. I said, no, I would not give him any money. Next, he gestured again and asked if I smoke. I smiled saying – NO, and turned away. He then again nudged me and gestured for something else, which I did not understand. I assumed he was trying to peddle something on to me, and confidently responded – No. Finally, he spoke and asked “Where are you from?”. I replied “Indien”, with the minimal touch of Swedish pretension. He seemed glad, and asked “You know SALMAN KHAN”, in a thick pronunciation. The ice was broken, and the warmth melted the inhibition of having to deal with someone who appeared to be one of those many homeless people in Gothenburg, who at times can be a menace.

I said, yes. He recollected and asked, “Sharukh khan? Aishwarya Rai?”. I was impressed, and told him that I knew them and I liked them. He started telling me about his favourite Bollywood movies, uninvited and blurted out – “Devdas, is my favorite”. I acknowledged, it is one of those movies where the song and dance actually adds value to the legacy it has left behind, and said I liked it too, and especially for the song sequences. He went on to sing a Hindi song, in tune, with right words and that tipped my inquisition then, and I asked him where he was from. He said, proudly, “From Romania. All three are gypsies”. His other friends maybe did not know what he meant by gypsies, and said no, “Lie lie”. This guy ignored them, lightly and said “No lie. Having fun. Gypsies.”

Home almost seemed imminent as the route number 16 hurried into the lane, and I abruptly ended the conversation. He shouted out “Nice meeting you”. I responded, tried to be warm.

After I got into the bus, and started thinking about the interaction, something had stuck in my head – his casual and light-hearted attitude. He was one of the thousands of homeless in Sweden, who migrate from Eastern Europe, escaping their harsh lives back there, aspiring for better lives here in Sweden. Was it wrong for him, and the others to do that? Was it wrong for the people who got onto those boats crossing the Mediterranean, wanting to live better? I strongly believe it was not wrong on their part. At the same time,  I don’t think it is the responsibility of Italy, or Sweden, or UK, or Europe alone to assimilate all these people and heal their lives. It is the responsibility of all humanity.

Immigration, who would have thought, in the 21st century has become a massive problem, and I can’t quite fathom why or how it is worsening. We were supposed to be the global village, when we entered this millennium, or was it meant to be ironic!

Taliban Cricket Club

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Does the title seem sensational?  Even I thought so. Maybe this seemingly oxymoron of a title made me pick up the book with this title. Also, the author of the book must have known that such a title would stir interest even among readers who would not have read this book if it were just called “Under Taliban”, or  “Afghan cricket club”. Christening works is the best way authors can plug their work amidst readers. Rarely have there been books with uninteresting titles that have gone on to be best sellers, or even have left a lasting impact on the world. Now that I think of, I wonder how many books are buried under the weight of them bearing a misnomer.

Returning to the topic of this post: After some hesitation, and then simply followed by arbitration, I decided to read fiction again. It had been a long hiatus since my previous fictional read. Maybe I was in that phase as a reader,  when fiction no longer excited me enough, and I must have exhausted that phase, now wanting to read fiction again. Is this normal with all readers? Maybe not. Nonetheless, I feel such disconnect strongly about genres. So, I felt compelled towards fiction, or, maybe I simply bounced off the non-fictional reading I was doing then. In any case I ended up devouring this book – Taliban Cricket Club.

One thing I was conscious about was not to read Western fiction, or any American literature, which although comes in varying degrees of excellence I wanted to read something more rustic and that would seem rooted to the lesser written about cultures. Something that would excite my senses differently; something that makes me feel the way when I read Orhan Pamuk, or Khaleid Hosseini. I have never been to a desert, but I feel engulfed in an arid sensation, as if I were simmering over a desert like a mirage when I read both these authors.

While in this state of mind, I stumbled upon Taliban Cricket Club by Timeri Murari. Synopsis seemed decent enough, the title as I already mentioned was fixating, and I began the read.

Few pages, and I already fell in love with the female protagonist Rukhsana –  a defiant yet timid character, who was not an impossibility in the setting of the book. Pardoning the sometimes inevitable fantastic reality that fiction carries, I swiftly finished reading this book.  Might not have been the perfect work of fiction, but there are elements that made it reading a joy. As mentioned already, the portrayal of the female protagonist amidst the tensions of Taliban incursion in Afghanistan, weaving in true anecdotes from that crisis-stricken period, sprinkled with elaborate cricket gyaan made it memorable as a read, etching admiration and awe of the likes of Rukhsana, who in reality are striving against their oppression in many different countries. Another dimension to reading this book was to learn the context of Taliban’s rise in Afghanistan, which otherwise to me was a half baked picture of them being a Cold War consequence.

Maybe I will read some more fiction in this stint. Will tell you when I do read something exciting.

Dealing with religion: Inspire, Inquire, Satire

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In solitude (yes, there seems to be little solidarity) with Charlie Hebdo, and all Free Speech advocates

Yesterday something unusual happened in my Swedish home – a strong stench pervaded near the kitchen, and I could smell it across the room. After investigating for a while, it was found that one of the eggs had gone bad, and it was indeed the obnoxious Hydrogen Sulphide from a rotten egg. To single out the culprit, we had to boil a few suspects, and the rotten one was discovered as it blew up itself in the pot, and was all black inside.

This detour is to relate to my notion that religions should have had an expiry date. After these many centuries, I was hoping that 21st century would be the time when religion would go obsolete. Instead of going obsolete, religion has expired and turned into something stronger and more dangerous, in the form of vile fundamentalism. It’s stench pervades across the globe now.

As I had to boil some of the eggs to find out which one was the culprit, combating religious fundamentalism might require us to scrutinise all religions, and their believers.

I engage with a wide spectrum of religious people – ranging from the seemingly spiritual to the frankly fanatics. I am of the opinion that religion in its mainstream form, that relies on blind faith is a deterrent to intellectual well being of individuals, groups involved and world at large.In an interview with Mehdi Hassan, Richard Dawkins was cornered with a question “Do you think religious believers are intellectually inferior?”, and Dawkins ducked down and said “No”. But, I certainly think that in the department of logic and reasoning, and hence in the methods of scientific inquiry, religious believers, who endorse supernaturalism in one or the another form are intellectually inferior. They might be better than me in many other things, but in rational thought – nope!

It gets frustrating at times that some of the people we care about, or we might otherwise admire are bogged down in blind faith.

To me there are three gradual techniques to help me deal with the spectrum of believers, and for them to get over their blindness. Hence, the title of the post.

One of the seemingly sane reason given by a whole section of believers is that religion makes them experience the grandiosity that is super natural, beyond human imagination. I usually do not understand what one might experience to feel all spiritual. But, you could try showing them the latest Hubble Space telescope pictures, or the functioning of a cell, or show them how Kreb’s cycle is the same across all aerobic organisms to produce energy. Or even better, tell them how each one of us is star dust!
These are thoughts and ideas that humble me down, and take me through a mental journey where I am lost, and want to stay pondering in these joyous ideas as if in a meditative trance.

In my experience, the ones who are compelled to blind faith by nurture find inspiration through nature worthwhile to gain sight,  away from the blind faith.

Not everyone understands Science. Most of the examples I gave above were scientific. Amusingly, some people admire all that I said above, and then flip the argument and cite the grandeur of the God who set all of it into motion!

In such cases, you could help them walk through the landmine of religious fallacies. All religion is built on inconsistent logic, and is enriched by a mosaic of centuries of imaginative, human ignorance. With a handful of questions, your inquiry will lead a believer shooting at his/her own feet.

Although this is sometimes hard when done to a person you care about, it must be done all the more imperatively, because you care about that person!

Inquiry will help you deal with blind faith, if the person is aware of the construct of logic and reasoning. Because we are dealing with people who believe, because they ought to believe it might not be an effective strategy. Sometimes, I have the sensation of bumping my head hard into an impervious wall of ignorance when debating with a class of theists. In such cases, at least to instigate a conversation, and grab the attention of the subjects under consideration, you could resort to satire. I use it effectively, at the risk of offending and unfriending a soul or two (actually tens of them). Nonetheless, it is better than being a spectator while the extreme versions of believers go on killing cartoonists and rationalists.

If you can’t handle satire about something, it should be seen as a lacuna in your rationality. I can to some extent understand why satire can be offensive – the closest I get to being offended by satire, or criticism is when someone who does not know about the solace A R Rahman has brought to me all my life criticises his music. But, I can handle it without blowing up people or ransacking art galleries.

Engaging with religion of all kinds is important to keep the rot from worsening.

And, if it was already not evident, I am a vocal critique of all religions! I am an atheist by all means, and also an anti-theist, when theism interferes with the functioning of the world.

An Apple a day, kills the planet for you


Consumption, as a way of life.

With all my baggage as being a Free Software guy, this post is not only an anti-Apple rant. So, go on read it, even if you are, on an Apple device.

Apple is only an example, and the best to put forth my primary concern in this post – consumerism.
When was the last new Apple iPhone and their tablet released? Not the one that happened last week, but the one before that – sometime in September 2013. But it appears that within the last 12 months, the much coveted, revolutionarily designed hardware is obsolete and one has to purchase a new one?

Well, you are not expected to buy one, but what about your status quo in the Apple community. While everyone is flaunting away their latest, slimmer, bigger, newer Apple device, won’t you be put to shame if you still carry that brick of a device from last year?

I hope you are able to see the point I am trying to raise here – consumerism as a way of life has been the trait of the 21st century. Not that it has not been unseen in capitalist regimes in the last century, but it had never reached this sanctimonious status as it has with the electronic gadgets after the turn into the new millennium.

Without bluntly talking about the core of the problem (that I think it is), read on for a couple of minutes to be led into that alley, hopefully. Or rather, I will invoke the genius of George Carlin to put forth the point :

“Consumption. This is the new national pastime. Fuck baseball, it’s consumption, the only true, lasting American value that’s left . . . buying things . . . People spending money they don’t have on things they don’t need . . . So they can max out their credit cards and spend the rest of their lives paying 18 percent interest on something that cost $12.50. And they didn’t like it when they got it home anyway. Not too bright, folks, not too fuckin’ bright.””

While that was directed against the American culture of consumption, how different can it be elsewhere. In the land of the impoverished, back home India, and in the epitome of sustainability – Sweden, the culture of consumption is the same. The only true global value today seems to be consumption. That’s percolation of bourgeois ideas by Capitalism at its best.

Let me focus on the hypocrisy of Scandinavian countries – say Sweden.
On the surface, Sweden is all about sustainability, recycling and waste seggregation. It is passionately carried on – and it is most necessary. The manufacturing (done in Sweden)carbon footprint per head is really low when compared to, take the worst case – China. That is laudable, but only until you look closely.

Most of the manufacturing in Sweden, as in the advanced capitalist countries happens in the “third world” workshop countries. A recent statistic from WWF put things quite well in perspective for countries like Sweden – if all of us were to live as a Swede does, we would need 3.7 planets!

But, the most ancient of human fallacies – Out of sight is out of mind, still works well as an excuse.

Naomi Klein in her latest book talks about how Capitalism focuses entirely on one of the three R’s to save Earth:
“…… of the original “Three Rs”—reduce, reuse, recycle—only the third has ever gotten any traction, since it allows us to keep on shopping as long as we put the refuse in the right box. The other two, which require that we consume less, were pretty much dead on arrival. ”

This is entirely true in Sweden – I was first shocked at the unscrupulous use of paper at my University. Even at places where there is no need, printing was done to extravagant amounts, with no remorse, because paper can be recycled! No one seems to think beyond the nearest waste segregating bins! The manufacturing process, pollution and burden on the environment, because is legitmised by the excuse of the thrid R, many do not seem to bother about the first two R’s .

This is justified even at higher levels with gadgets. This is where I am compelled to take up the easy example of Apple products. Apple products are designed and catered to the self proclaimed elitist societies like in Sweden. If not almost everyone, every alternate person in Sweden uses Apple products. In this discussion, I shall refrain from talking about the perils of Apple as a technology company, but focus on its role as an agent for Capitalism and unscrupulous consumption.

With each release of their devices, the demand and brouhaha stand testimony to the myopic sustainability claims of again, a self proclaimed leader in sustainability like Sweden, USA, and other advanced countries . Changing you phone every 12 months, without focusing on the environmental damage is worse than pumping out carbon emission right from your vehicle.

And don’t even talk about cars. The same story – if there is no emission (or if you can’t see it), it is perfectly alright to own as many cars as you want. Hybrid and electric cars are good. There are very few talking about a future without cars! This to me is not bright at all.

“Those who control material production, tend to control mental production as well”, said Marx sometime more than 130 years ago, and look at the values today – “consumption is good” is  the prominent and dominant idea, validated by the class that controls material production. For, if Apple were to create a device that is truly sustainable and performs well for say even 5 years, they would not be ruling the stock market.

I don’t know what image you have about all this – by the end of this post, I see a clear picture of zombies, lined up on Flipkarts, Amazons and Apple stores, who slog their life off, to CONSUME.

Humbler, after one year full year in Sweden

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Roughly guided by Sweden ;)

It’s been one full year since I moved to Sweden. And these 365 days, as expected, have been quite a transforming experience. I’m not talking about the less startling culture shocks in terms of food, attire or festivals, nor am I hinting at the awesome, yet frivolous nature of climate around this side of the globe. At the risk of sounding philosophical, I would say I am looking inwards in evaluating this one year experience.

Personally, I have undergone many subtle and yet important changes in me, which have been deeply influenced because of my living, working and travelling experiences, primarily in Sweden.

To summarise, I would say that I am at least a few shades humbler than the previous version of myself. Humbler, not because I am any less awesome or lesser than the narcissist I have always been, but the embracing of the fact that it is quite hard, to be good at something, rather anything at all, has dawned upon me, or at least I would like to think so. I am more disciplined – while I thought I already was, even in this regard I am working to meet higher standards prevailing around here. Also, reassurance of the fact that honesty and integrity in our actions is the only way to do anything at all; this might come as a surprise – although well preached, it is barely adhered to and rarely practised in many quarters of interactions I’ve had back at home.

Overall, this migration of mine has been a necessary change of climate from the habitat where I had grown almost all the first 26 years of my life, and hence the reputation within the same entourage had in many ways snowballed into something bigger than what I actually might have deserved. Not to condone any of the adulation I received then, and I still continue receive now, which were an impetus of different kind. This criticism is to point out the flaws in me, which if I had continued to remain in the same environment might have made a complacent nincompoop out of me.

That said, interacting with a culture like that in Sweden does many other important things to you as well. First and foremost, it reignites the drive to get better. Inherently the notion and standards of comprehension and expertise are set to very different levels. Feynman’s profound advice “There is a difference between knowing something, and knowing the name of that very thing”, takes a far and wide spread connotation here. The deep-rootedness of every action, and the enormity of efforts behind seemingly simple accomplishments elevate the calibre.

While most of this evaluation would be because of my extensive interaction and involvement with academia, I don’t think there would be any difference in this analysis even if I were to compare any other aspect, like say sports or music, or art, or even politics.

On the other hand, because of this migration, I have observably become less affirmative and/or assertive, but more non-committal and open-ended. Now, I’m not sure if that’s good or bad as yet, but have (seemed to) realised (realise) it.

Other quintessential Nordic paradigm changes like impregnation of sustainability and pragmatic, action-driven love of nature have also found way into me.

At the end of one year, after having seen places, and met many inspiring people, I think I am set on to the better of the tracks that lay ahead of me, still taking to me to my chosen destination, but with a more gratifying ride – more like a bicycle ride on the lanes of Göteborg, than the scooter ride in Bangalore ;)


The futility of human endeavour

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When the cosy sprinkle of hot water runs down your bare skin at the end of a long and cold day, one cannot be blamed to let the mind sway frantically into realms of thoughts, that in entirely conscious being would never occur. After being adrift, down the crests and through the troughs of wild neural seas, the mind then settles down at a centroid of ponderous and, what otherwise would seem unusual mental landscape.
That’s my disclaimer for the rant below.

One such haphazard event, brought out the nihilist in me, who until then I did not know existed inside. I have added a flavour to my nihilism, and I think evolutionary nihilism is close to what I am about to discuss.

My nihilism does not grapple with the purpose of life itself, but with the artificial purpose of life we abide, and live by.

From an evolutionary biological standpoint, along with procreation, creation alone is what is imminent to human existence. We discern ourselves from all the other procreating species simply by creating. Creation based on original ideas is one of the niche traits that has put us at the top of the natural world. It is not to say that our organisation skills as a species have not helped us climb up that ladder: The sheer scale of organisation we are able to accomplish, which hitherto no other species has been able to, by honing the forces of nature stands testimony to the havoc we can, and have unleashed on the planet.

The social networking (a term unscrupulously misused of late) we are able to engage in, as is not a skill confined only to our species, I lay no emphasis on this particular trait. Only the sophistication of this interaction is what is different from other species, which again is a function of our unique creative capabilities, and I return to my original point.

My contention about the lives we live today is that we are betraying that purpose – to create (originally), and are servile to other imperfections of human existence like servility itself.

Just tabulate the tasks each one of us is engaged in, on a daily basis –  enormous amount of our conscious and subconscious efforts are wasted on the artificial constructs which are only curbing the innate need in us to create. Few salient human endeavours that are entirely unnecessary from this post’s standpoint would be – politics, social etiquette, formal education, routines, borders, greed, wars, religion. It is as if, we as a population are keen on aggravating the flaws in us, by nurturing the aforementioned, meaningless and mind-numbing excuses to refrain from creation.

On the other hand, the more scaffolding-type of our traits, manifested as art, music, love in general, and love for food in particular, travel,science, mathematics, literature are all constantly pitted against the previously mentioned futile human endeavours.This by our subverted design seems to be the theme of lives today!

There is an undeniable need for each of us to identify the futility of our endeavours, and invest in more naturally coherent traits we have evolved into. A healthy nihilistic attitude, even if it does sound an oxymoron, is the need of the hour.

One, Two, Three – Worlds apart

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The parlance used to tag countries as First World, Second World and Third World seemed offensive to me, always. Based on the context in which these terms were being thrown around I was of the opinion that it was a metric relative to the industrial revolution, that began in the West. That the US, UK and rest of most of Europe ended up being the First World countries and late blooming industrial countries, for instance India became a Third World country.

Quite recently, I learned that it was indeed used in the context of post World War II, seeming relevant till into the Cold War. US and its allies after WW II ended up being the First World countries (presumably because they were the most powerful, or mostly English speaking and decided to call themselves that), Soviet Union and its allies (mostly Communist states) were the Second World countries, while the neutral countries after World War ended up being the Third World countries. Sensible it might sound in that context, but the manner in which at least the extremes (First and Third) are used today imply a totally different scenario.

Just to drive the point home, if India is a Third World country, so is Sweden. (Ouch, why does it sound weird!)

Nonetheless, going by the connotation it has acquired, and in that sense today it appears that the so called developed countries are the First World, and the developing countries (mostly Asian and Latin American) are popular as Third World. As if to fulfil this prophecy, the conditions of course are world apart in the two sets of countries.

In this post, I will highlight couple of issues that are perceived totally differently in the two sets of countries. For this observation, I use my experience in Sweden (granting them a First World tag based on the development story) and India, in both ways we fit the Third World tag.

Blue - First World: United States, United Kingdom and their allies. Red - Second World: Soviet Union, China, and their allies. Green- Third World: neutral and non-aligned countries. (Img Src:


Stop frowning, if you are. It ain’t about racism; it is about it being not about racism.
Hailing from India I have never had to bother about racism. What the world probably does not realise is that, we Indians are extremely sensitive to skin color ourselves, but not the way the American Civil war was fought, but even today, having fair complexion is considered as the unmissable ingredient to being successful in India. We have a spectrum of beauty products sold in India, which are marketed, openly to make your skin not fairer, but fairest! It is not just for women, but for men too (we are not sexist in this aspect). Our TV’s show these ads on hourly basis, where the biggest stars endorse ‘skin fairness’ products and preach that with a dark complexion one cannot be successful. The good and bad part about this discrimination in India is that, we have plethora of other factors to discriminate – caste, religion, region, language and of course money, where the debate about skin colour makes the least noise. So, frankly an Indian wouldn’t be offended if he/she were discriminated based on colour, unless that person has gotten used to the First Worldliness.

It’s been eight months in Sweden, and apart from the ubiquitous social inertness (that’s Swedishness) that I am used to, I have heard just one remote acquaintance complain about some discrimination based on skin colour. It is a well deserved First World title to Sweden then.

So, what then is the problem here about skin? One word will unleash the answer – Photoshop!
Yes, the largest resistance and the neo-consciousness that can infuriate citizens here (and applicable to the broader First Worldliness) is editing a natural photograph to reduce blemishes, or tone down a layer of fat. I am not trying to ridicule this trend; It might seem so in the context of the previous paragraph. I endorse this campaign too, but clearly given my roots I cannot empathize as I would to the problems back at home.

Road safety

Wikipedia says India tops the list for the highest number of fatalities last year at 142,485 (in overall 1,240,000), roughly 10%. This could be because we are the second most populous country, but, I think otherwise simply because not every family has access to motor vehicles, or even roads in India. Well, that whining apart, the problem of road safety is massive in India – poor infrastructure, unregulated number of vehicles, weak public transportation and the globally infamous road discipline, all of it make India the rightful top contender for high road accidents. And when we talk of road accidents in India, majority of these are involving two-wheelers. India has the most diverse range of two-wheeler motor vehicles which have ZERO protection when involved in accidents.

In this side of the world, Sweden is one of the most active countries in increasing road safety. The impeccable traffic discipline, importance to public transport and cycling in nexus with the deep research of safety measures have brought the number of fatalities in road accidents plummeting. Kudos.
But, when I sit through the seminars on road safety here, I clearly see a world’s difference. The solutions are local,  to the First World countries. The latest of the exciting talks I was at was about child safety in cars – how to design restraints that can work efficiently in restraining the evolving anatomy of children, under impact. As I mentioned in the skin case, this is important and is not a light issue at all. But when contrasting the conditions in the two countries, I can see a world’s difference.

Although, the entire post might have sounded divisive, as if I were attempting to distinguish the First world and Third World problems, the motivation in writing this post is simply the disturbing realisation that we are all equal, yet thrive and suffer in different unequal conditions.

Aren’t we one world together?
Okay, get back to sleep dreamer.

The daunting genius of Gabriel Garcia Marquez

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Some of his books in my library

Gabriel Garcia Marquez died yesterday, at 87. As he would have said, time puts things in their place.

This is no eulogy to him- I am too small to be eulogizing him. Small in the literary sense of his intimidating grandeur. I shall forever remain a parasite who will feed on his works, pretending to derive inspiration from them, while hardly relishing them to the fullest- never being able to savour each word and every utterance in his works.

Many who have read Marquez will concur to my claim that it was not simply the story that stands out, but like any other artistic genius, it was his style. You could hand out a passage from his work and it wouldn’t be hard to notice the style that remains true to him. As with the case of modern writers who have their own style that is hard to miss. Of the likes of Saramago and Orhan Pamuk, if not greater than them, Marquez is easily as good as them.

I discovered Marquez quite late in my life. I am a late blossomed reader for that matter. When I heard a friend talk about Gabriel Garcia Marquez in the line of many authors he was quoting to me, of course I missed his long name too- it never registered in my head.

In India, we have plenty of book stores where one can shop used books. The aroma of those stained pages and the warmth of racks and racks of books is few of the spiritual experiences to me. So, in one such store, I had my rendezvous with a book that caught my attention simply for its title ‘The General in his labyrinth’. The author’s stature or his profile still did not impress upon me. Read the gist and sounded like an good historical piece to me- to me it was then a book about the fall and decline of Simon Bolivar. Seemed interesting. And most importantly I love the word ‘labyrinth’, it has a sound to it, clearly representative of its meaning.

I started the book almost immediately and I was getting nowhere. It was the hardest book I had read till then. Not because the language was sophisticated, or the plot was contrived. That which I found obscure was the essence of Marquez’s writing. I took a long time to complete the relatively thin book. But by the end of it, I wanted more of Gabriel Garcia Marquez.

By then I had also realized who the author was, in the context of the role he had played in the world of words.

Even today, while I have read most of his popular works, ‘The General in his labyrinth’ remains my personal favorite. As you would realize, because of the intimate experience I have had with that work.

The eternal genius of Pablo Neruda, Jose Saramago and Gabriel Garcia Marquez have been the unstoppable force that has made the world take notice and give heed to the non-English literary scene.

With Marquez’s demise, although none of them live on in our world, we can forever live in their worlds.

The servility of praying, and the futility of prayers

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Invariably, all religions ask people to get down on their knees for the best results

Have you noticed, all major religions prescribe you to get onto your knees when you pray to the Gods? I can’t stop being amused at the thought that all the Gods are masochistic, in the sense, they want you to be servile and be on your knees.

The ritual of praying (not talking about the purpose, as yet) but the formalities involved are appealingly archaic, and to me, quite hilarious. Why does it have to be done in that particular way? Won’t the omnipresent Almighty address your prayers when you remember him, let’s say while you are wasting your time in the bus, or in the toilet? The God created the world, and set out the rules – and I am sure going by all the traits attributed to him, he would not mind you talking to him while you poop.

While this might sound a blasphemy to some of you, all I am asking you is to think with a morsel of gray matter that might reside in your skull. The act, however unnecessary it might be, why does it have to be done the way it is prescribed in some obsolete rule book? Can’t you personalise your God and talk to him whenever and however you want!

Now, the concept of praying (that is, when you think it worked for you), I believe is a kind of boomerang placebo effect: You shift the burden onto the all powerful God, and seek help, losing track of how you ended up in a particular bad state. Now the hope of divine intervention, helps you to irresponsibly stop worrying. And because maybe you worry less, there are chances a particular issue gets resolved. So, when you have a burden, you pass it on to a fictitious person, feel light and sometimes feel more prepared to bear the burden when it comes back to you.

Another bothersome aspect of people praying to a divine entity is the sheer amount of time that has gone in vain. If all that time were focused on working for the betterment of the world, it would be a lot better. Instead of praying to the Gods, go help out someone in need (become their God), or sow a plant daily, or propagate knowledge. Unfortunately, many of the popular God-beings or the prophets set out on spreading knowledge to others, got caught in the ignorance of the masses, who elevated them to the stature of God. I would be very very upset if that happened to me.

While you might argue praying is harmless, you could harm less by not praying to a God, who answers your prayer saying only He is true, while other Gods are pirated versions. Quite silly ain’t all of it. Heh.

Deteriorating political climate

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Debates are getting narrower, opinions are attacked, facts fabricated and a framework to crush sensible ideas is getting ready, as if to embrace the peril that is at the horizon. These are symptoms of the ultra nationalism and pseudo patriotism that is swelling in India, with every growing day.

Definitive terms like secular, which is part of the preamble of Indian constitution, declaring the Indian state is being maligned to imply that it is an endorsement of a dynastic, neo-liberal political party – Indian National Congress(INC), to garner opposition by the Hindutva chauvinist political fraternity of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).

It is unfortunate that the most visible choices as the majority of the population in India see is to choose between these two Right-wing extremist parties. While the INC is not religious fundamentalist in ideology, of course it capitalises on the religious sentiments, plus the strong neo-liberal strategies that has in the last two ruling terms staggered inclusive growth in India. Indices like the GDP, or annual growth of averaging 8% might seem laudable, the inherent problem of disparity has only been aggravated. In aligning with corporate interests, over the pressing need to alleviate its population’s inflation and basic needs, clearly a an extremist party it is.

The opposition party, and the party that now is in a self-made trend of rising to power in the general elections – BJP is all that INC is, with added sourness of Hindutva fundamentalism. With factions like the RSS, VHP, Bajrang Dal pompously dismissing free speech, and trampling opinions at all strata – from Twitter bashing to Facebook mauling, censoring books to ransacking art shows, to recently throwing tomatoes and harrassing couples on Valentine’s day, their arsenal is full and intent is dangerously clear. With only the promise of model like that of Gujarat and an exorbitantly expensive statue of Sardar Patel, there has been all but highfalutin imbecile agenda for making India into a super-power.

The most disturbing aspect of this crisis to me, is the resonance of a many supporters of BJP, who are template-trolls, custom designed and trained to tackle the opposition that they are faced with. Contorting of facts, figures and History has never been so rampant in India. This is certainly a fascist tendency – must be curbed before we make Orwellian prophecy true again: He who controls the past controls the future. He who controls the present controls the past”.

As a short respite to the confused middle-class, NGO activists a model of uncooked anarchy and reactionary revolution in the form of Aam Aadmi Party did take shape. And by AAP’s own behaviour are getting discredited – the protestors are protesting even after coming to power.

People, who assume to know me, conclude that my proposed solution is to vote and bring Left parties to power – No. For that is not their intent, and it is not pragmatic, as yet.

The lethargy of six decades has gotten into the social fabric. All we need is a purge and reboot.

Reading “Spartacus” – The original gladiator

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I strongly recommend it as a book you must read, and at the earliest opportunity. Irrespective of what your reading inclinations have been, this one is an account of human struggle that every one of us ought to know.

It is one of those rare books that leave you changed, moved in many ways, and quintessentially disturbed.

The book is the undocumented history of the slave uprising in the Roman empire under the leadership of a gladiator – Spartacus. A powerful book that in its barest form talks of the constant struggle between the oppressors and the oppressed, and the human values of freedom, hope and the spirit of life.

The narrative is quite brilliant too, wherein there is really never direct tale unfolding by the protagonist – Spartacus, but mostly a reminiscent account from the antagonists, Spartacus’ wife, comrades of the revolt and a vivid description by the author. More strikingly, towards the end of the book Varinia, Spartacus’ wife makes equal impact on the readers although the tale is about Spartacus. Many of the conversations instilled into the narrative are timeless – most of the political talks and the struggle described are quite valid even to this day.

I further discovered that this powerful book by Howard Fast, was a strong response by him during the McCarthy era in the US. Fast was imprisoned for three years for his involvement with the Communist Party in the USA. He published the book without a publisher, for no one would partner with Fast.

And the result is this brilliant book, written more than six decades ago and still runs shivers down the spine when read. Not the images of the gore, or the war that is succinctly described in the book, but the thought that we now live in a world that is built upon these atrocities softens me. And the thought that even now circumstances are not any different to many bothers, and infuriates me.

How is it for you in India?

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This question actually had me off guard and unprepared – how is it for you in India? It was a broader question as to how it was in general for people in India. This inquiry came from two different people – once from a Danish elderly woman, and second time from a migrant from Jordan who was living in Austria.

When faced with this question, both the times I did not have a ready opinion based on my experience to be delivered as an answer.

When the Danish woman asked me, the context of the question was about family and bonding – it was then that I answered it even to myself. “It is quite natural for us to live with our parents for really long years, and it is considered the norm unlike in the West. This might also imply that the bonding within the family is deeper, and of course sometimes comes at the expense of independence of many of us”. The woman, who was returning from her daughter’s home, with her life long experience was quick to respond, “We leave our parents latest by 20. I did when I was 19. This does not mean the bonding fades away. We are very affectionate throughout our lives”. It seemed to me later my comment had somehow made her think I had said that they lack bonding in the West, which I hadn’t.

Secondly, a man, frail one, without looking into my eyes called out a “Haelo”, as I was peeping out of the window admiring the power of seas. I greeted him warmly, not knowing if he was expecting me to continue the conversation, and if so, whether he expected it to be in German or Danish, while we were on the ferry crossing borders. I spoke next, in English, relieving myself of the repeated embarrassment of having to say I did not know their local language.

I do not guess on people’s nationality, I am no good at it, and I think that would have to be based on mental stereotypes that one makes. We spoke initially, asking basic questions about each of our whereabouts and the weirdness of the train being ferried across shores. He first asked me, as so many have “Are you from Pakistan?”, and I responded, “Almost, I am from India!”. After a pause of few seconds, I reciprocate the inquiry, he says “I am from Jordan”, and I did not quite get it immediately. The captured sound of his reply was playing in my head a couple of times, and then I repeated “Jordan?”, he nodded yes. He was an Arab, originally from the contentious Holy Land.

He was, like the thousands of migrants, one living in Europe – Austria, trying to make a life, a better one away from his home. He asked me “How is it for you in India?”. This time, there was no context – if this were a question asked by a Swede, I would have spoken about the cultural diversity, linguistic heterogeneity, caste (they are very curious to know why this archaic custom still exists) and the bad state of affairs in the largest democracy in the world. Coming from this man from Jordan, my answer was, almost apologetically, “We have many problems, but no war”. After I told him that, I had a realisation myself about the peace that persists in India. No military patrolling the roads. No constant curfews. No violence on the streets. No bloodshed. No worry about your loved ones being bombed. (At least as a daily routine across the country – the North East regions and Kashmir do have precisely these adverse conditions).

A sense of gratefulness, and remorse both swelled in me. It turned into anguish – one level for the conditions in many countries across the world where people live in fear, or are compelled to flee. Secondly, for the lethargy, that is sometimes such a peril, that it feels as if we Indians do not value these and have no regard whatsoever for the opportunities we have. The endemic misgovernance, systemic exploitation of the poor and the oligarchies.

We spoke some more about job prospects, life in Europe, while in the background I was contemplating the artificiality of all the misfortunes of people and the planet.

Drag reading “Fishing in Utopia”

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Now that I have read it, I must admit I am left disappointed. This is one of those few books that I searched amply, and when I got hold of it was thrilled and began reading.

Fishing in Utopia, by Andrew Brown, is  basically a book that claimed it was about “Sweden and the future that disappeared”. In researching about Sweden, before I landed here, wanted to do my bit of reading. Beyond history, this book, as I then understood would have given me deeper insight into the country.

This disappointment of course arises from multitudes of reasons. The personal one being, I must have read this book when in India and I might have found it more engrossing, maybe. I got hold of the book finally here in Sweden, after a month of my stay here. And it seems that one month has been sufficient for me to learn all the nuances that I might have learned by reading this book.

Of course, other important reason is that it is not a very well written travelouge, nor a critique of the country in whatever the caption as it was supposed to be based on the projection of the book.

The dragging travelogue

For someone who relished every bit of “The Motorcycle Diaries”, maybe anyother travelogue might be less impressive. But a simple rule of reading travelogues to me is that I am either trying to learn more about the traveller, or know about the place. It turned out that “Fishing in Utopia” is with my limited experience everything a travelogue shouldn’t be about.

It has tedious anecdotes of the author’s personal life, his less than exciting interactions with strangers and a cynical view about Sweden. Now, this personal perspective he delivers throughout the book is not something I enjoyed, simply for the fact that I was not keen on learning his personal journey through Sweden. But, the fact that he delivers very little insight into the country, the nuanced country that Sweden is is gravely disappointing.

The take away from this book is that I have an idea now about how a travelogue shouldn’t be written.

Except for a couple of chapters, for instance the penultimate one Gringo, there is tedious whining of a middle aged man and a deeply cynical view about almost, everything.

Another mistake on my part would be that I totally ignored the title “Fishing” in Utopia. I presumed it was metaphorical to the plausible struggle the author had faced. It turns out he talks volumes about fishing, and that’s the only portion of his writing that was positive in any scale.

Very little of Sweden

The impetus for me to get hold of this book was to gain insight into Sweden, as an outsider. Now that seems to be the biggest flaw for the reader I was. It is a simplistic account of a cynic, delivering little or no additional insight into aspects of Sweden, after having spent decades of his life through very interesting times in Sweden.

One thing that I did like about the author though were his plentiful similes, generously sprinkled through the book. The failure of the book is not that it was incapable of delivering better content, it could have, as some of the chapters and few paragraphs overall manifested. It is the inability to have converted that potential into a richer read.

Or maybe, my expectations as a reader are unreasonable. Enough of my whining. Time to get onto my next reading.


When she comes, she comes draped in white

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When I embraced you last night,
pressed tightly to your teats,
listening to my own heart beats,
Weren’t you as I left you, au naturel?

Your chills relieve me off my sleep,
to witness my white blindness like in Saramago’s dream,
only this time you span the wide, white cream,
You now lay clad, draped in your elegant white apparel.

Have waited for you so long,
all these years of my life, wanting to feel you, be drenched by you,
The swain in me, now found his beau in you,
As you grow every moment in shreds, weave me together my surreal.

Your slant elegant gait,
delivering those soft pecks on my face,
digging warm joy inside me, at your own lovely slow pace,
I’ll be the same, never to complain, even when you will love me a tad bit more.



Stranded by the storm

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I usually don’t try to do a narrative in my posts, but this one had to be done to preserve this experience.

St.Jude as I would later discover was the storm galloping almost all of Europe. I did not have a clue of it coming, and was happily heading back home after my brief vacation near the Nuremberg region in Germany.

After three days of peaceful existence, which gave me the time and ambience to compose myself better to get back at my routine, I was all ready and rejuvenated to take up my 14 hours train travel to Goteborg.

I like Deutsche Bahn (DB), although it is deemed expensive and the prices comparable to that of flying, the experience of train changing, while savouring the best of European landscape through the window never bores me. More so, the network of DB too is very compellingly admirable. Although the trains are not exactly on time, every time (talking in few tens of minutes of delay at max), but overall the experience makes every trip memorable.

So, on this particular day, a Monday I was expecting the trains to be decently crowded and I did not reserve my seat hoping that it won’t be hard to find myself a seat through my journey. That’s a good gamble, mostly works out well. The journey ahead comprised of three train changes – one at Wurzburg, then at Hamburg and the final train at Copenhagen. Having taken this route already once, and having seen the perfect coordination between rail networks, I was worrying less about missing the trains.

The first train hop was smooth at Wurzburg. There was a gap of only 6 minutes between the trains, but the second train was late by 20 minutes; that would not have hampered my next hop because it had 50 minutes transit time in Hamburg. The train to Hamburg was noticeably crowded, and took a while for me to find a seat.

Instructions on these trains are mostly in German, and a gist only of important instructions are stated in English. I was not expecting any major instructions, hence was engrossed into my laptop. As the 200 minutes journey was approaching its end, the train pilot kept on making long comments, but none in English – so I presumed nothing important. But then, I started to observe commotion in the train and I asked my neighbours what it was – a young couple, tried to explain to me that the train although will reach its destination (Hamburg), the connecting trains might not ply due to bad weather. I kind of dismissed the idea that my train to Copenhagen was going to be cancelled, but now the train was late and I was only hoping I would not miss the train to Copenhagen because of the delay. The couple were going to Copenhagen too, and as soon as we reached Hamburg we ran to the departure notice boards to see from which platform our train was leaving, a comment next to the train entry was present in German that I did not know. The couple sighed disappointedly, I thought we had missed the train – the lady said that our train was cancelled.

Cancelled? There was nothing extreme happening all through the trip to Hamburg. All I saw was trees sway and clouds move, which was not uncommon at all. We rushed to the DB information centre to ask for alternate options – I was still hoping I could somehow make it to Copenhagen, so that I don’t miss my next train to Goteborg.

The DB Information centre was clogged with people! No queues, and when you don’t find a queue in Germany, then things are really bad!

After some streamlining, and an hour’s wait I reached the counter, the German official said that there were no trains on that route, all were cancelled because trees had disrupted tracks, and trees were falling because of heavy wind. That seemed unconvincing, and he said I would be put to stay in a hotel and I can continue travelling next morning with the same ticket. I had no other option, and it would be that two more lectures I would miss. But already I was contemplating the prospect of going around Hamburg, a city I wanted to visit and happily accepted the offer.

I step out of the station, and I hear sirens of ambulances frequently within the two minutes I was out. Across the street I see few displaced chairs and tables, and the breeze was not a breeze. The wind was heavy, but had mellowed down by the time I was out. Chairs, tables, glass panes all remained shattered – I presumed it must have been the wind. I reach my hotel and at the reception engage with them in a conversation “Is this thing common? That trains get cancelled and we are put to hotels?”. The tall receptionist dismissed the questions even before I could complete “Nay, this happened last before eight years. Heavy winds are uprooting trees, and have shut down the airports too – flights are unable to take off. Winds of 180 kmph are blowing all around. I even saw two young men lift off by the wind!”, and I was feeling weird. While I wanted to seem worried, I was feeling special that I was experiencing something that was not very common!

I get to my room, and immediately get out to see the city of Hamburg! I decide to walk, and the winds had subsided, although it was not all normal – the trauma was seen. I walked around for a couple of hours, found some yummy food and brought it back to my room. Exhausted I hit the bed to wake up early and get back on my trip.

Morning, I check that I had trains at 6.20, 9.28, 9.30 and decided to get onto the 9.28 or next one after stuffing myself heavy at the hotel breakfast. At 7 I was again at DB information centre and the queues were still there! And also some sense of disappointment floated in the train station, like a foul smell. When I found myself at the counter, the official said no trains even today. I was like, “This is now getting bad” and headed to the other counter who put me to a hotel.

The queue there really long, and more organised – I was thinking, things are under control then. After more than half an hour’s wait, I was facing the official there who said no trains today, and we will put you to a hotel again today and he wrote me off to another hotel! I asked for alternatives, he said none because the tracks were not healed yet.

I got out from there and stood facing the departure notice boards. All trains were either really later, or getting cancelled. The 9.28 train got cancelled, but the 9.30 one did not receive any comment apart from the platform number. I waited till about 9 and then headed to the platform, and saw the train just then come by and stop with Kobenhavn as the destination! That seemed weird, the official just then said no trains until tomorrow and I see this train! All passengers were of course in the same state of confusion and boarded the train. I too boarded the train hoping that I won’t be missing another day of my new quarter classes. He did start at 9.30 and the pilot seemed happy, and relieved to announce that it was the first train after storm on the route and hence we were quite full. He also reassured us that we will be reaching Copenhagen, and the passengers on train exalted with relief. Winks and smiles were exchanged with strangers, and we were all getting used to the fact that we will reach our destination.

This is the weird train that boards a ferry to cross from Germany to Denmark. I was again looking forward to this experience. How often does it happen that a train boards a ferry!

After about an hour, the pilot made an English first announcement, stating that it was important and said that the train would ply only till end of Germany and the crossing of the Baltic sea on the ferry had to be done my walk to the ferry and on the Demark side, a replacement train would be ready for us.

Now, the commotion again increased but we had no choice. I was thinking maybe I should have stayed back at Hamburg and seen the city in its entirety. I would be wishing for that more desperately as the day progressed.

After we got down at the last stop in Germany – Puttgarden, we walked up to the stairs that would lead us into the ferry that crossed into Denmark. The ferry was not yet there, because of the delays in the train. After 45 minutes something the ferry docked and we boarded and landed on the deck directly.

This is a sail for 45 minutes, and we reached the other end into Denmark. It’s a marvellous experience always. The cell phone roaming instructions precisely change as we approach the borders. After getting off the ferry, we walked to the Danish train stop, I forget the name. And there was no replacement train waiting for us! It was substantially wind-ier, and it was colder. The trail of the storm seemed more evident here than in Germany.

Another 45 minutes wait, and my first time in double-decker train! This was again amidst lot of confusion : the train would not take us to Copenhagen but to another stop, where we had to change trains again. By now, my breakfast had vanished and was looking forward to some food. Even before the thought had passed my mind, a jeep with snacks and soft drinks was loading the train wagons with snacks, and the pilot announced it was free and we could refresh ourselves with it. That was so thoughtful of the agencies involved! These nuances are the aspects in comparison to what I might have expected in India that make Europe special.

The train started, and after some more time came to a halt in the intermediate station to Copenhagen. We were asked not to leave, because there were chances that the train would continue to Copenhagen. And as they said, it did reach Copenhagen after eight hours already since I left Hamburg.

At Copenhagen, in two minutes we had our next train to Goteborg. The other two Swedish friends and myself hopped out and sprinted to the platform where the train arrived and got in. The displays were reading Goteborg, and were finally relieved to have found the last connection. Hastily I sent out messages to everyone concerned that I was heading home! And, just then another announcement saying this train would not be plying to Goteborg and we had to get off the train! On the platform again another announcement was made, which no one could grasp. But when we asked some other passengers they said, no trains to Goteborg but we had to get to an intermediate stop in Helsingborg, Sweden and take a bus! I was imagining a longer day ahead! Now, I was drained out and feeling stressed too.

The train came but again said Goteborg Central, we got in and I was sitting in the most crowded train/bus I have seen in Europe. People could not board the train and had to leave many behind. When the train started it said it would reach Goteborg too in 3.5 hours! Again a sigh of relief. In half an hour, it read only midway and we were confused. And another half an hour it read it would reach Goteborg! After all this confusion, finally we came to understand that the train was indeed going to Goteborg!

But not without more drama. Almost midway to Goteborg, the train stopped inside a tunnel, and I also saw there was another train next to us. An announcement was made that the tracks did not have power and we could not proceed – I finally realized how bad the storm must have been! Another twenty minutes and the train picked up, but slowly with the pilot making an announcement that only one track had power – so trains from both sides would be using the same track, and hence we would be delayed. I was not worried about the delay, if I was reaching Goteborg!

And after some more starvation, exhaustion and extreme fatigue, the train peeped into known regions – I spotted the IKEA and then sighed a relief – ten minutes to the central station. We got off the train at Goteborg, and never have I been more happy to be home in Goteborg. Hugged the friends, who were at the verge of crying because the travel and headed home!

Overall, I have no complains about the experience, because like I was telling my European friends it would have been worse in India and I was just happy things were going on as they did. Also, the networking that happened under these conditions was more effective than other times, when people are more closed and reserve. This will go down as one of the most interesting of my experiences, while I look forward to top this with more awesome ones.

Five years of blogging :)

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Bloggers careful!!

“Yup…The wait is over… I’ve always had this brainstorming happening often and i never used to share it with another soul..Now brace yourself, because you are going  to face it all…I can now unleash myself onto you people… “

This was my first post on my blog, way back in September, 2008! It looks amateurish and embarassingly naïve.

Although it’s been full five years, it looks like as if I decided to start blogging before a few months. One conscious incentive that I proposed to myself was to project the blog as a metric to capture the growth I would be making as a person.

You could try reading one of my olders posts, and a recent one, you’ll know what I am talking about.

To be able to capture a slow transformation, in few hundreds of words, every post, over these many posts and now to be able to brag about the fossil-like quality of it it is just marvellous, I think. I am not talking of the quality or the lack of it in my blog, but it simply being the measure of something that is inherently hard to measure.

My persistent blogging has taken me to many-a-places – from the cubicles of one newspaper that I adore and respect (The Hindu), to now the latest student blogging opportunity for Chalmers. And more than these also a chance to be inside your heads.

For sometime, the last few months I was facing what I dub as the bloggers’ block (if you know what is a writer’s block). I hope to have gotten out of it and to fare better with more fluent and versatile writing. The block I am talking about necessarily is not about the number of posts, but the ease with which I can put down a sophisticated idea, and elucidate it to myself and the readers who do stumble upon my blog.

Travel is a teacher, and an inspiration. As you would have already observed with my recent posts – I will be writing more often, and as an explorer.

Finally, I don’t want to make this seem as if it is a feat of some sort – it ain’t. Nonetheless, in appreciation to the time you’ve spent on peeking into my mind through my words, I would still want to send out hugs to all of you.


And never will it be about this blog, or any blogger – it is always the idea that is important.

PS: Thanks Nitesh Jain for nudging me about the 5 years :P I would not have remembered it at all  :D

One month, away from…..

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As the post title suggests, it’s been a month away from many things – home, and for the first time away from India. Also my first full month in a foreign country.

So, what has changed in a month?

Many. I won’t focus on personal changes, as to how I am doing now, or people I might be missing. I can guarantee that I don’t feel any melodramatic about being away from India. This post is more on how my perception has changed.

Having been in one place, in the same culture, and being in an environment that has brought me up for the entirety of my life hitherto I think has made me miss the obvious. Like the famous analogy – the fish not knowing the existence of water. The first month has been adequate for me to identify these subtleties that I was not conscious about.

Knowing other cultures can open up better understanding of one's own culture too

The differences that thrive in India, and why our diversity in every way is so unique to us, and why we should seek pride in the differences, and not in the commonalities, are some of the aspects I am seeing in new light.

The linguistic diversity we have in India, for instance seems very different to me now. Coming to a foreign land here, I can make sounds of the languages when I try to read them. Yes, Swedish, or German, or any European language that has the alphabet similar to English. (I said read, not pronounce or understand :))

Whereas, when I travel in India, there is so much more difficulty, for, the scripts of most Indian languages are so disconnected that even character recognition is almost impossible.

And one other issue in India, that seems to gain more importance in my observation is the lag in internal communication. Be it the government machinery, or people, there has never been a common mode of instruction, or communication. In endorsing English as the bridge, apart from losing values vested in our languages we have also alienated a population that does not know English, like the majority of our villages.

Lack of communication might not be the only reason, but it is a factor. Any other country, under the ambit of a single constitution does not face the linguistic problem to the scale of India. Even the vast China has not more than 4-5 languages that the institutions need to work in. Maybe this evaluation of mine is trivial, but this observation I was never able to make while within India. It somewhere clogs the smooth functioning of the society is my claim.

Nuances of our culture like eating with hand, high spice consumption, and emphasis on food are the things noted as strange by people from outside India. Of course, these are aspects that I take pride in – yes, even eating with hands. The joy is quite different.

Of course, the tropical climate of India, and the moderate ambience of Bangalore. When I first saw people here crave for the Sun, it seemed unnatural to me. After a month, now I look for sunny spots, where the Sun is not behind the clouds and savour it!

These apart, to be able to observe a society that is certainly advanced when compared to India in many ways, I can anticipate how it might be for us down the line. Maybe in a seperate post I will write about my observations specific to the society here.

The choice between fascists and fools

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“Casteism, after all is not all that bad. The essence of casteism is something people now are mathematically talking about in Game Theory. Conflicting sections of an entity keep a check on the others, and hence improve performance. Like we have the Legislative, Executive and Judiciary in governance. Caste-based discrimination, that Hinduism is tainted so badly was one such attempt in keeping the society at check by division based on labour”.

I heard this line of argument from one of the scientists in India’s premier research institution. Coming from a person who could distinguish the nuanced difference between proprietary and Free Software, but who vouches for casteism, even more openly than the argument above.
This to me did a lot more than remove any trace of respect I had for him. It demystified many things.

My then held belief that education can emancipate people, because it leads them out of ignorance was washed to the gutter. And what has followed is my understanding of how the machinery of propaganda gets better for the literate class- thanks to the increased access points.

Today, there is plethora of propaganda that has turned out trash into facts, and what might qualify to be parody into reality.  I am not surprised at all, for I have witnessed the depth and sophistication of fundamentalists’ preaching. What does strike me unusual is its massive scale this time around.

On the other hand, the dynastic political party that has pushed India into an unrecoverable neo-liberalised economy – must be embarrased by now, as to how their ‘heir apparent’ does not seem to be all that apparent. Every press interaction, people get to witness the shallow and gullible highfalutin that could be the other Prime Ministerial candidate.

“Politics is everywhere. It is in your shirt, in your pant. That is why we are here.”, and more goof-ups on a daily basis.

Irrespective of the fool or the fascist, the underlying policies of their parties are going to remain the same. Both the political parties are poised to hamper sovereign interests. Both have at some point in time, even in the last decade vouched for policy-making that directly has conflicted with the interests of India’s people, to favour the coroporates.

Because I have the privilege of being hounded by fanatic supporters of either one of these candidates, I am asked if not the two, what is my ‘solution’.

Beyond the fool, or the fascist we need a political alternative that will not bend to serve the interests of crony capitalists, who are the rock-bed upon whom both the major political parties stand, and stand strong.

I don’t see a better opportunity than now to dismiss the two majority parties and give rise to a third alternative. A coalition of moderate forces who are not driven by religious vendetta or are policy ridden, but are not partisans and have clear priorties in policy making.
Might sound Utopian, but I cannot simply confine myself to choose between fascists and fools!

Lessons from Sweden: Learning semantics over syntax!

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Again, an early observation this post might seem. Within 5 days, and after 5 lectures one cannot understand an education system that exists in ‘the West’. But, with my experiences in these five lectures, and the rich background in Indian academic scenario both as a student and a teacher, I have already been able to ascertain some of the hitherto (to me) made claims about the education away from home.

Simply to encapsulate the value of the education here, one rule as stated in the course memo of my course will do.

It reads: On the written exam, the solutions are more important than the answers. Hence, a good solution that yields an incorrect (but reasonable) answer because of a minor mistake can give almost full score, whereas a correct answer without a correct solution may give 0 points.

The statement above to a great extent tells what the core of the education here is, in comparison to that still is going on with tremendous momentum back at home.

The emphasis is entirely given to deep understanding ideas and applications of concepts, and almost no emphasis is given in rote-learning monstrous empirical formulae. Almost all written exams allow students to bring the formula sheet, or other catalogues which have results that need to be applied in the exams. Like one of my professor said “In solving real world problems you can always look up the books or the Internet, what is important is to visualise the solution using these formuale, so you are free to get your formula sheets”.

In these few lectures that have passed, I have come to realise very quickly that all I thought I knew were still unknown to me.

The syntax evaluation rather than semantic evaluation, that is so prevalent in India has to vanish, if we truly have to increase the standards of education. This is one, simple but massive lacuna in the education. Like Feynman says, “Knowing the name of something, is different from knowing that something”. Unfortunately, in most higher education courses all we learn is the name of many many things, which we really don’t know anything about.

Also, one other distinct feature here in Sweden is the truly flat model of the society, and hence also in education. The rapport between the teachers and students, even based on my personal experience is immensely improved which reflects in the quality of work that can happen in the interaction.

Another important aspect of academics is the emphasis on original research.

This post might not be a comprehensive treatise on the pedagogical differences, with deep understanding of the social conditions between the two countries. But, a personal observation of the stark contrast that seems to exist at every step, and that is simply hard to miss.

I will keep a close watch on not only learning new technical concepts, but also the motivation behind the pedagogy that is adapted here, and what other reasons might be preventing us in India to hop on to this model.

Why am I in love with Gothenburg?!

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People who are part of my online social network must be thinking that something must have gone wrong with Raghav that he has gone gaga over the new city he’s moved into. It’s been less than a week, and how can one go crazy about a new living place as I have?

No. It did not even take a week! It happened within the first sighting of the city and the first few hours here.

I have never lived out of Bangalore. Never liked living in Chennai, Hyderabad or Delhi (these being the cities I have frequented most in India). I myself was skeptical as to how I would adjust to another city, and that too far out of India; How would I respond to the people, the culture and the burden of living away from the home, where I’ve grown up and lived for the last 25 or so years.

A small digression before I answer that question. Couple of things not many know about me:

1. I love to travel, and although this is my first trip outside India, I have always fancied the idea of going to a new place, getting surprised by the nuances of the culture and to relish the food, what come may.

2. I am a blue person. Not in the sense that I am gloomy (never liked that attribution to such a wonderfully expressive colour). I love the colour blue. Hence, the sky and the seas have been most favorite natural solace seeking places.

3. Fan of clouds. The enigmatic patterns in the clouds, have always enticed me with the ‘open to imagine platform’ that they offer to me.

4. Never been a summer person. Winters have been my favorite. Of course the coldest weather I have faced is in Delhi, where the temperature was about 3-4 degree celsius.

These factors taken into consideration, let me talk about the first few minutes into the flight after the pilot announced that we will be landing in Gothenburg.

All I saw was green and brown patches of islands surrounded by the most elegant of blue hues for the water, the everlasting and ever calm blue in the sky with clouds that were herding like a flock of sheep immediately elated me. Until then an exhausted international traveler that I was sat upright in my seat and was all ecstatic.

This first impression, added to the reputation of the Swedes who had already interacted with me during the scholarship challenge, made it more conducive for me. Just before a couple of hours, I was at the Brussels International airport and maybe because of the trauma of the previous flight and the burden of the impending flight I did not like the place at all. Not that airports represent a country, but the feel was not right after all. Whereas, the same feel in the Gothenburg airport was so much more relaxed, and cosy.

After that, it was to learn how amicable the local people were. That just made it irresistible for me.

It’s been 5 days in Gothenburg as I write this, and if anything, all these spontaneous observations have only been ascertained with deeper insight into the lives of people here and the culture that as I have heard is so unique to the city.

But, when I do express these elated expressions to my new acquaintances here, most of them have only one thing to say – “Wait until the winter pitches in”. Of course, I am trying to prepare mentally and wardrobe-wise for a winter, that might even be bad. But how does that hamper one’s experience in this moment, right now? And if the weather is going to adverse too, I am going to try and brace it like the people here do. It is part of the package, and I am at least hoping that I won’t end up cribbing about the cold weather.

All said and done, I am not simply a traveler. I am on an agenda of learning – academically and also the society as it is here. Without the endurance, if I may call so, I shall be a bad student of nature.

Göteborg it is, and I love the place.

Challenging Yourself, the Swedish Way


So, here is my long pending post, mostly informative about the process and not about my personal motivations that have brought me this far in the journey to Sweden. Jotting this down, as at least some of you have been wanting to know.

Firstly, just to put things in place, I am the recipient of a popularly awarded scholarship by the Swedish Institute (entity governing the Universities in Sweden). This scholarship covers living expenses, that are pretty exorbitant when compared to ours in India. The worth of the scholarship is 90,000 SEK (9,000 x 10 months) for two years, and a one time travel grant of 15,000 SEK. I will not talk in INR, for it is very volatile and does not entirely make sense (do check up on the exchange rates so that the finances make sense to you).

The SI scholarship, if granted, the recipient is guaranteed the funds for the first year, and if the scholarship holder scores at least 22.5 credits out of 30 (equivalent of passing in 3 out of the 4 subjects with a minimum of 50% marks) in the first semester, only then will the scholarship will be extended to the second year.

Also, the university I am getting admitted into for the Master of Science, in Communication Engineering – Chalmers University of Technology, has awarded me a full tution fee waiver – that is about, 280,000 SEK.

This being the consequence, let me talk about the process that has led me into this beautiful city – Gothenburg.

The website, initially when I stumbled upon during my hunt for scholarships, seemed to convince me little about its authenticity. There were many sites that seemed like spam, and I did not give too much heed to the literature on the site. Then, serenditpitously I happened to be at the Swedish Education Day that happened in Bangalore on the 31st of October, 2012 and it is here that I witnessed the Swedish way of taking things to a new level. The earnestness in the attempt to popularise their higher education in India, with the scholarship as one of the incentives was clear and I was convinced about the seriousness of the website.

A small hindrance then was that, the challenge said it was only fee waiver for the students who won the scholarship. I was again not very keen on it, for the living expenses would be lot more than if I opted for a course in Germany (Germany, even now does not charge tuition fee for many international programs). Nonetheless, without lot of seriousness I took up the challenges on the

The tests, if you check up even now are online and were not very difficult. General information quiz about Sweden, some analytical tests and then I had to choose between three programs. From the Swedish education day, and based on my interests the course offered by Chalmers University best fit my need. Also, while researching for Universities abroad, Chalmers was one of my favorites but because of the heavy tuition fee I had given up on it.

So, choosing Chalmers led me into two rounds of test by Chalmers; One included a multiple choice quiz on signal processing and related ideas to my course. It was followed by a technical essay on a topic related to networks in India and how a wireless backhaul could benefit the networks. With my experience as a networks engineer, I could write out a 500 word essay which clearly depicted my hands-on experience. A personal statement of motivation of about 300 words was needed. I did write it and completed my application.

As I mentioned already, because the scholarship challenge included only fee waiver I did not take up the challenge with dead seriousness. And that in a way helped in keeping my approach casual I must add.

In about ten days, I was informed that I was shortlisted in the top 20 candidates. That did not greatly excite me, but as I read the mail there was a new point added stating, that my living expenses will be taken care off with a stipend with travel grant. NOW, the challenge was more realistic to me.

Immediately, I had a paradigm shift about the challenge and I got ready for the next procedure. It involved doing lot of documentation, A LOT of it and sending it to the organisers and the University. My documents reached the University on the day of the deadline at 3PM! The next step was if the documents were adequately sent and based on the profile video interviews would be conducted.

The video interview did happen, wherein a personnel from the university conducted a personal interview, which was intended at understanding the motivation of me applying to the course and the University. I was honest and told them as to it was Germany I was looking at, and because of the scholarship I had the opportunity to apply to Chalmers. And more detailed questions probing my future aspirations and other skills of mine. No technical questions were asked, and I did think that the interview went on well.

After again a week, I was declared to be one amongst the 3 finalists who could have won the Challenge.

The next month was torturous, becuase I had narrowed down to the top 3 and I did not want to miss out on the opportunity to go to Chalmers.

On 13th of January, 2013 the entire crew including members from Student Competitions, SI and Universities who were involved in the challenge came down to Bangalore and in a day long event, finally declared the winner. I must admit, I usually am never very excited, nervous or do I have any expectations. But, on that specific day I was swelling with all of these, and the result that I was the winner simply quenched these emotions. I knew that moment was going to be the fulcrum point in my life, from where on I was going to progress into a different path.

And, now after 7 months I am here, savouring the Swedish summer in one of the most beautiful cities in the world, walking up to ‘my University’.

It’s been a wonderful journey, and I am all set to making it better. I already have found hints that I will have to work harder, and that is the least I can be doing to value the opportunity that is at hand, while I also learn the Swedish way of life.


PS:  This post was intended to answer some of the queries, many of you have been asking me through the last few months. I haven’t dealt with many specifics. If you are interested to know, do drop me a personal mail or post a comment :)

Growing up, demystifying logic.

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What is the most ludicrous reasoning that you remember from your childhood?

Take a moment and just think about all the answers that you had convinced yourself with, when you were still discovering the world.

I have ranging from cute to hilarious memories from my childhood, here are a few:

I don’t think now the gurkhas,  the night watchmen who go on strolls at midnight still do it. When I was really small, maybe when in class one or two, I remember how scared I used to be to the ‘hooooot. tappp. tapppp….’ rhythm, when it would reverberate at midnight. In Rajajinagar, then it was on Thursdays.
I was too scared to ask my parents what it was, and reasoned out to myself that a special police was scaring off the ghosts from the night business. Now it seems unbelievable, as to how I almost never missed any Thursday, and was trembling in my bed thinking hard not to think about it.The demystification happened maybe when I had seen the gurkha in broad daylight collecting money from my mom, after a few years.

My sister once when asked in her kindergarten class, “How do radios work”, supposedly said “My dad puts batteries in it, and it works”, and the entire incident got amusingly reported back to my parents.

Likewise, there was this hoax that was being circulated and with all the adults I too was victimised. This was a case where a ghost supposedly was attacking homes, and if you had written “naale baa” (come tomorrow), it would read this instruction, and come for the next tomorrow, hence indefinitely delaying its attack. Tomorrow Never Dies, released well after this incident. Now you know where they got the title.
Well, I too wrote it on my door, with wet white chalk! Of course I wondered, why should I write only in Kannada, and what if the ghost did not know Kannada!

These incidents from my experience, can be no different for many of you. Answering questions with our imagination is a very humane trait. We are designed to learn, and understand, or at least fill voids in understanding with answers. And the answer also to the conception of God is evident from these personal experiences. If we look at society, or civilisation as an entity the collective cognisance also craves for answers, and by now it is well established that ignorance and natural imagination led us into personifying God/Gods.

Personally, the bigger demystification about religion and God took more time. Nonetheless, the ‘God is the creator’ argument never had convinced me. When in class 5 or close to that I learnt about Darwin’s theory of Evolution, it seemed to make perfect sense. And the agnostic started thriving in me ever since. From a born polytheist, to a monotheist, then a brief period of being an agnostic it has taken me a journey to attain the salvation of being an atheist.

On the other hand, the society is struggling with questions. When it has taken me, an individual with moderate thinking abilities close to 20 years to learn the truth about God or religion, that does not sound absurd or hilarious, societies even after millennia are stuck in awkward positions with the questions about God and Science.

Sadly still satisfied with hypothesis, I must say.

Why I chose to be a teacher :)

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It’s been two years, and now at the end of this tenure of my teaching I am trying to answer the various questions that never mellowed down, till even today, as to “Why I  chose to be a teacher!”.

The skepticism was mainly from people who knew me only from the outside, and had gone bonkers over how a promising, successful industry resource was whiling away himself within an academic institution. Not just peers, but even many of my teachers were ‘surprised’ at what I got into.

As I said, it’s been two years of teaching, and now with one more month to go in this term, I can proudly confess that these two years have been the best time hitherto in my life. Not about the supposedly ‘relaxed’ time one gets to spend within the campus – I was busier than ever, doing things that I love the most.

Teaching, brought me back in touch with myself. Like I usually quote a friend, it connected me with myself. The last two years, I have not been working, just doing things I love to do most of the time, and getting rewarded in more than what even a bulky pay could have brought me in any IT company.

I do not intend to demean all the others who are working in industry, but this is only a case of me.

A small anecdote that I quote, may well also get on to record.

It was one full semester, close to 6 months into teaching, and post exams there is a trend of teachers also going on vacations. I was in my first year of teaching, and I was not going to get any vacations, which did not bother me at all. So, this one other colleague of mine in the college comes up to me and mockingly asks me “So you don’t get a vacation this time? So sad. Huhaahaaa”. I look up and then tell, “Ever since I quit my industry job and got into teaching, I’ve been vacationing. Hehe”.

This anecdote is not about the little triumph I had in the conversation, but even now, after two years I have never felt that I was ‘working’, in the modern sense, where I would have to stretch myself beyond what I naturally could do, and then crib about it. The stress and strain associated with working were all gone. I was happy, and getting enriched, and importantly on a daily basis.

The day-to-day gratification I would get, after every class , every interaction with my students (more friends than students) was immeasurable. That small speck of inspiration they seem to get, because of something that I had done, or were doing together is the biggest impetus that simply kept me ease through these two years.

The decision of wanting to teach, against common advice has been the grandest thing that I led myself into. The immense joy, deep sense of satisfaction, the inspiration I derived from my students, the learning I was constantly engaged in, the friends I’ve made and all the transformations that have happened to me over these two years shall remain the epoch of this life. The transformation of Raghavendra into ‘Raghav’ will be the one I will forever cherish, and carry on proudly.

No expertise, whatsoever

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Standing where I am, I can feel the ground beneath my feet move – not just drift slowly, but slip away quickly. There are so many transformations that are underway – not just in my personal ambit, but also the global social and political climate, which in a contrived manner are also tied with my agenda that lies ahead.

I am bracing for the new changes that I will plunge into. While I do that, I do not want to have lost a dear portion of me, who has kept me going, and great for the last few years of my uphill climb – writing. I am full with newer ideas, thoughtful debates and exhilarating experiences to share – I will do all of it, now more consistently. A personal promise made public.

While writing has considerably become sparse, reading and learning on the other hand has grown tremendously, at least in my own relative sense. Particularly, the last couple of months have revealed deeper questions I now want to pursue : particularly in my work, and in general my living. If not anything, the last few months have only made me humbler, it has shown me how silly my claims of cognisance, even in one or two domains have been. The single most important understanding I have come to is, there is no expertise as such – only the process of getting better.

While I try to get better, and in the process discourse it on my blog here, more frequently.



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Listening to AR Rahman’s music on the day it is released has been a ritual that I follow almost for all his albums. Before the era of the CDs, I remember commuting to the music stores umpteen number of times on the music release days to get hold of the cassettes, and then excitedly open the inlay card to see the stills and lyrics, attempting to read the Tamil lyrics, while my Tape recorder would reveal to me the magic of AR’s music.

The digital revolution has of course deprived me of all these small joys and I get streams of binary!

What hasn’t changed of course is the impact the music has on me. After Kadal, I knew ARR was back in his best form after some digression into hasty and incomplete compositions (Jab Tak Hai Jaan, People like Us etc)

And now every bit of music I have heard from Maryan, since the teasers to the trailers had upped the expectations, and the euphoria I experienced while listening to it has been gratifying, as always.

As I have mentioned in one of my previous posts too, I am not reviewing the music at all – I am not capable of doing it. Just trying to capture my first emotions to the songs are being articulated here.

Nenjae Ezhu
Singers: A.R.Rahman
Lyrics: A.R.Rahman, Kutti Revathi

The teaser itself had gotten me crazy and I bored many around me by trying to sing all that was played in the teaser, and after the single released have had it like my mantra. Listening to the awesome lyrics and the divinely voice of AR just made it soothing. It has the power to lift you up! Nenje Ezhu

Innum Konjam
Singers: Shweta Mohan, Vijay Prakash
Lyrics: A. R. Rahman, Kabilan

And my favorite track from the album! Lyrics are the best part of it, and also the arrangement. A feeling similar to that of Nenjukule from Kadal is what one feels again, and only better. Its been on loop for an hour now as I write the post. The first 5 seconds reminded me of “Aye hairathe aashiqui” from Guru though, which is erased once the strings begin.

Naetru Aval
Singers: Chinmayi, Vijay Prakash
Lyrics: Vaali

A small bit from the trailer had a magical two seconds “hey mariyaan” sung by a female vocalist. And this is the song which has Chinmayi’s magical voice, appeased by Vijay Prakash who is only getting better with every song. A somber song, but the musical treat is simply irresistible. The violin in the background, the piano and the chorus all impeccably done. Might not go one to become a crowd favorite but to ardent aficionados like myself it is a treat!

Singers: Haricharan, Javed Ali, Nakash Aziz
Lyrics: Vaali

AR hasd not done any funky tracks, which might get picked by kids for long now. Here’s the piece. Funky at many levels, the beats, lyrics and a peppy trumpet/nadaswaram piece :P This is the one that is going to be danced all the way in schools and at homes! Javed Ali in this song is like the mint leaf in lime tea! Refreshing.

Enga Pona Raasaa
Singers: Shakthisree Gopalan
Lyrics: A.R.Rahman, Kutti Revathi

This song happens to be my mom’s favorite song. The first few lines are hilariously about the phone calls she has to make to get me home! “It is late, dinner is going cold, when are you coming?”, wonderfully sung by Sakthisri of Nenjukule fame.

I Love Africa
Singers: A.R.Rahman, blaaze
Lyrics: blaaze, Brian Kabwe

Excerpt from the BGM. Yes, it is peppy, but I would have wanted it not present in the Sound Track. Seems a misfit, although well done :)

Kadal Raasa Naan
Singers: A.R.Rahman, Yuvan Shankar Raja
Lyrics: Dhanush

What do you get when ARR composes a tune, Dhanush pens the lyrics for that and you get Yuvan to sing? Kadal Raasa. Addictive and groovy, will make it to the top of charts. Yuvan sounds unlike in his own compositions, but only better.

All said and done, the sound track sounds unusually AR Rahman, yet no one but he can render it this way.

Sophie’s World, a world philosophy tour

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The purpose of philosophy, if one call so would in its simplest expression to enable our minds to remain open, encourage us to question everything and motivate us to doubt everything and to be engaged in a constant process of refinement to our answers to the mysteries of life and the Universe.

This gist, with a tour of western world philosophy was in the most effective manner delivered by Jostien Gaarder in his book Sophie’s World.

Reading this book has been a personal favourite experience, for my evolution of philosophies and understanding has to a great extent tread the same path as the humanity has. From being brought up as a pious Hindu with idol worship and other superstitions, I took a step into interpreting religion as the worship of one formless, thus letting go the bindings of religion. ‘Either one God, or No God’, was my mantra during the transitionary phase of my theism. With increasing influence of Science, and the pursuit of rationalism and logic, I delved into the state of mind where it seemed quite obvious that Man created God, and not vice versa. My own question of ethics and its relation to religion seemed to take shape as a simple, personal ideology that I am convinved to follow, and live by.

Sophie’s World is remarkable in many ways.

The ease with which millennia of ideas pertaining to philosophy have been made comprehensive is a feat by itself. A gradual increment from one idea to another emphasising on the motives for the ‘philosophy project’, in a particular zeitgeist of society has been the missing piece of understanding philosophy. My previous attempt at philosophy ,with dialectic materialism was a non starter because the historical context of the ideas are not clear.

The problems haunting the inquisitory sense of us humans, can be quenched only at least we are engaged in pursuit of some of the questions about our own existence and that of the Universe.

A peek into the sky at night, with the curtain of glittering stars , beyond a spectacle, is as if I am standing and staring at the mystery of the world. The questions which can arise from this sight are disturbing, in a pleasant way. The sheer number of these stars, the light years of distance, the expanse and our contemplation of this wonder! I wonder, how can a mind not wonder at itself when engaged in the wonder of universe.

The faculty of wonder, that which is bestowed to us, and that is manifested while we are infants has to be carried on and must be used as the forceps using which we must probe into the Universe, seeking gratification in reason and comprehension. That again is the purpose of Philosophy!

Why you shouldn’t be doing the I-Pee-L!

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Yes, it was another of my wordplay’s about the IPL – Indian Premier League, or the marketised version of a sport that has now turned into the biggest scam at many levels.

Watching cricket has for long been nostalgic, but not anymore.

The charisma of the cricketing strokes without the intervention of ads was such a bliss, then. When was this then? Not long ago, before five – six years maybe. The experience started declining, steadily and I ended up watching less of cricket but to some extent had been playing. The final nails on the coffin of the cricket enthusiast in me was successfully done in by the “commodification” of this sport that for decades has been the unproclaimed national sport of India.

A market they saw in tapping the pulse of a cricket loving country, to make them choose the brands they own. And guess what – the prey fell! The nation now forgets inflation, or drought, or their own personal discontents hoping to get a glimpse of not a sport, but an ad machine.

What started as a genuine attempt to make leagues popular to act as stepping stone for upcoming cricketers in Indian Cricket League, soon found itself being stared by the richest of the richest, intending to make this “business venture”. The rich in a plutocracy by definition are powerful and ICL was trampled and arose the omnipotent IPL. Dizzying amounts of money and perfect commodification of the sport happened with IPL. A great business idea, yes, granted. But not for the sport enthusiast in me.

Even on a 32 inch screen, I don’t see players but only ads. The run up of bowlers also get less screen size, and rest is used to show ads. Now, that’s ingenious while some of you might add, I see it as simply disgusting.

Players are auctioned, actresses brought in to cheer, and bands of cheer girls? Really?

Yes, maybe the cheer-girls concept too worked wonders; in a country where sex or pleasure in general is tabooed, cheer girls trick also serves like the item number in our movies. Shame. The psychology of our people have been understood to the deepest extent by these game planners, who know which string to be plucked!

The post match parties? Won’t even speak about the enormous value addition it has brough into the quality of the sport, as such.

If all this was not adequate, the media (of course, who else) cut down all issues and instigate the cricket crazy country to catch IPL, and not even the impending elections (like in Karnataka, it’s due in 20 days if some of you did not even know).

The team owners!

While one owner has had to shut down his airline, without paying thousands of his employees their salaries still is the big baron of IPL, it is the same about most of the owners. Fraudsters, scamsters and corrupt, most of them, but are the powerful puppeteers who decide the fate and fortune of the games, while also altering what the youngistan wants for Hindustan! Huff.

And where is cricket at all?

All one wants is jhumpak-jhapang, or a hypocrisy dipped hysteria about the regional teams (I still haven’t understood the team frenzy!).

And, the cricket fan in me dies a new death every time, when I see the flashing, colourful circus where the theme supposedly is cricket.

A cricket loving country, no longer understands cricket, or love for it.
IPL: Rest in pee!

Why our education system has already failed

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With the youngest population in the world, and in newsreels when our leaders do acknowledge that our young population is the natural resource India should be banking upon, the degradation of the quality of education in India, at all strata, in all dimensions, is something that must have already alarmed us, and because it hasn’t sent that shiver of scare, the situation is more hopeless.

The afore made claims, might already have got some of you thinking that I am being a pessimist, or I am simply exaggerating.

When the media has been consistently portraying that the young India is shining, and glowing, and transforming the world with its softwares and startups, how can it be that our education system is failing?

In this post, I will not even delve into the hoax that our public education system for schooling is turning into, except for in a handful of states across India. I shall reserve this for a detailed treatment in a subsequent post, and will focus on the nuances of the higher education system which has deteriorated gravely.

I teach in an undergraduate engineering college. This has given me exposure to the in’s and out’s of the education system, which otherwise would have been only a single dimesnsional opinion as a student. Not specific about the place where I teach (this place is in some ways better than the average of the whole system).

Although the problems I am going to mention are fundamentally structural, I would hold the students equally responsible for not having the vision or conviction to work towards changing the process, of which they are the engines and fuel.

Pseudo evaluation
The reality of most of the students, teachers, because the framework of the education system is also ‘marks driven’, seems highly contorted. Marks based evaluation, and marks for regurtitation and not for recognising ingenuity in thinking is the fundamental context of recognising the grades of students.

Formal classroom learning, without even a bit of thinking about the pros and cons of the ideas being professed, both at the teacher and the student’s level is acting the primary deterrent in this pseudo learning-pseudo evaluation system.

The marks, while firstly do not correctly reflect the comprehension of the students, and never attempt to test the ability of them to improvise these ideas are treated almost with a holy status by the students, and the whole trade of marks is an unfortunate draining of human resource.

Questions and answers, not real life problems and solutions are being projected as the reality of learning a course. With such a fundamental flaw, how can one expect students to learn anything at all, in the true sense?

Incentive is not learning
And when, some students or teachers do realise the flaws and lacunae due to the psuedo learning, and try to stretch themselves to some extent all they find themselves to be is a small minority who have to put enormous amount of effort, because the majority is sedating dormantly on the opposite side.

Out of the box thinking, activity based learning, unstructured solutions are all tabooed and booed. There is no impetus to encourage these trends of improving the stagnation, but only discouraged harshly. The true incentive is not learning, but scoring marks, which almost in a mythical manner is necessary so that it would help the students get to a decent overall average, so that they can apply for an IT job!

I have heard students and equally teachers say, “What is the use of studying an electronics or a mechanical concept, if all they want to and will end up doing is code in C, Java or update spreadsheets!”. While this might be true, they are failing to see that many highly qualififed engineers are not firstly highly qualified in their domains and are engaged in mediocre jobs is because the education they were supposed to have, and that which was to enable them to think independently, and to encourage entrpreneurs in them, or a conviction to do what they really should have done are drowned under the chaos of “placements, jobs, IT”!

Rote learning
I totally blame students here. And based on my own experiments in evaluating students, they are exceptionally good at rote learning, and because they are so good at regurgitating, the necessity of original ideas in many cases seem to get redundant and even with effortful thinking there isn’t any scope for ingenious answers at all.
This develops into a servile attitude, where the system has efficiently created employees who are willing to do what is asked them of, and are never bothering themselves with the more important questions of solving problems themselves.

Lack of collaboration and hands on
The streamlining of different branches of engineering for example, while is for convenience, the prospects of collaboration are also buried with this for-convenience structure. There is very little scope for collaboration, as facilitated by the system and because it is not prescribed by the University or in the syllabus, even the thought of collaboration is perceived as unholy and decried against.

And we have failed.
Not just these aspects, each of you would have experienced multiple layers of these problems, or even more. The unfortunate calamity of a structured framework that is taking toll on its resources is the gravest hinderance to the dreams of development and self sustenance of young minds, and a country full of youg minds.

Strikes don’t strike because of you

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What do you do when you have people who don’t stand up for others’ rights?
One could brand them as individualists, hurl a few abuses and leave them be at peace.
What do you do when you have people who don’t stand up for their own rights?

Whenever I hear people say that a strike is bad, without understanding the reason and motive behind, I feel depressed first, and follow it by sympathy to the softheads who have their heads stuffed with numbers, lots of numbers, but no comprehension of the problems.

Let me give you couple of examples of why we are in a situation of crisis.

Just talk to your neighbour in the public transport vehicle (not the air-conditioned one, mind you), it might mostly be a daily wage worker who will, in high probability be commuting to his/her work for about twenty kms. Let me quote it out of my experience of one such discussion.

A man who is commuting from Vidyaranyapura to the Electronic city in a BMTC bus. He is commuting to a construction site, where he is a mason. He carries his yellow namesake safety helmet. He says, he earns 200 per day in this project, and when he gets to work for few other big projects it might reach upto 300 rupees a day (as expected a rare opportunity). Now, we might want to think it is ten times higher than what our Government thinks one needs to survive in urban centres like Bangalore. Let us verify.
Cost of his bus pass is 50 rupees, and he ends up going in crammed up buses because there are fewer normal BMTC buses plying this IT Hub route. He can’t dream of shelling his day’s wage to the Vajra (diamond) services of air conditioned buses which throng this route. He carries a small lunch pack, because it costs no less than 30 rupees to eat a filling meal  in a hotel. So, carrying food from home which is in no way a balanced diet, but a diet to balance the budget still costs a hundred rupees for a day, for him and his wife and three year old kid.

How? If you still haven’t gone out buying provision for your household – rice per kilo has shot upto 50 Rs, and the not so easily palatable rice (to the ones like us) still is at 40. This man has of course no LPG connection and uses kerosene stove. If I am right kerosene too is expensive at about 50 rs a litre. And because one cannot just eat rice, dal or a handful of vegetables with a bit of milk adds up to another 50 rupees. Milk just had a net hike of 3 rupees per litre. Because he works for twelve hours under stressful conditions,  I don’t blame his habits of chewing tobacco, if that alleviates even some of his burden. I am sure no philosphy would help him, like that tobacco might at that point in time. So granted.

Now, this does not require the PhD’s of our prodigal economists in the cabinet starting from  the Prime Minister to Finance minister and home minister, and the ever ready opposition , or even our President.

Now, if you talk about how the subsidies are hampering the state of affairs of our country, and how depreciation of currency has affected the stocks and trading – I say – Cut the crap! Feed the people.

Every time there is a price rice in essential commodities, and we stop at one status on Facebook and get used to the revised prices, we are burdening more than half of the country under the weight of our ignorance and arrogance, we are becoming part of the evil that haunts rest of the country. I don’t understand why people blame it on democracy and stop at it. If you think it doesn’t work, get out and change it.

Urban India likes Anna Hazare because Lokpal seemed reachable, then, all you had to do was give a missed call.
After first time people don’t want to get onto the protests. Strikes, as taught by MK  Gandhi are not mere stalls of your routine so that you can enjoy a holiday stuck at home, or stuffed in a mall – it is the powerful tool of non-cooperation. The government when does not cooperate and is focused to making the lives of its people worse by the day, with every policy, all we can show in return is some non-cooperation and not servility!

Strikes, are not effective because you did not make it effective. You need to feel the pinch and send out your anguish loud and clear – cribbing about one day’s strike, or looking forward to more of it so that you can miss your work simply makes you a traitor, not against the government, but against the state – an embodiment of people, and not of pages of laws!

The idea of dirt

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“Dirt is a thing people make too much fuss about”, writes George Orwell in his book Homage to Catalonia. He says this in the context of war, and moves on, while I immediately am thinking of the profoundity of that statement when analysed in the general context too.

The idea of dirt, or in other terms of sanctity is a highly hierarchical and deeply ingrained superstition in many of us. Superstition, not in the sense that we go about performing rituals, or other extravagant futilities, but a state of mind wherein an obvious discretion is deep rooted in our thinking, and being.

A personal anecdote clarified this myth with more clarity to me – an instance that instigated an awakening in me.

In a recent Free Software workshop, about 150 participants were stuffed into a huge lab and as a requirement they were asked to leave their footwear outside. Understandable, because cleaning will get arduous, after running in the fields etc, and is followed in most institutions. A couple of footwear stands were placed outside, but weren’t adequate to hold all 150 odd pairs of footwear. So, a large number of the footwear were scattered all along the pathway. More footwear stands were brought in, but the participants were all busy coding in the lab. I did not want them to get out and sort it out, so volunteered to move the scattered footwear into the stands, and subconsciously I was walking into those pairs, one pair after another and was stuffing into the newly brought stands. It was ineffective, but if undisturbed I would have continued to do it all the way, using my feet. ‘Hand’ling footwear of others, as a subtle habit in me was perceived to be ‘dirty’, but walking into them and doing it did not seem so.

A double discretion becomes evident: Firstly the hesitation to grab footwear by hand, while at the same time a sanction to use my feet to do the same.

It would not have come to my cognisance, if my teacher by example in this case, hadn’t proposed to grab it in hands and place them in the stands, and later to wash our hands. And at that instant, almost instantaneously I realised the hypocrisy in me.

I hopped onto doing it by hand, more effectively with his help and was pondering on this inconsistency in the ‘self proclaimed rational being’ that I am supposed to be.

Generally perceived gradient of sanctity that decreases from top to bottom in our body, with head being hailed the most ‘holy’, while the feet as ‘dirty’ in a subtle sense did exist in me, until that instant.

Dirt in the sense of germs or soiling is not what I am talking about – a mental barrier that holds different parts of our own body at different levels of dirtiness/holiness. The hierarchy of dirt/holiness in society -castes, position, order, stature and other nuances of life which do not seem all that obvious, but are in many ways metrics of the shallowness of one’s preachings.

Equality does not begin at home, but from within oneself!

Reading Carl Sagan’s Contact

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Reading Carl Sagan’s science fiction work Contact, put me back into the mode of insatiable awe for the Universe, that seemed to have gotten sedentary under the burden of conventional observations and the so called daily wisdom, for a while now.

More than once, while reading Contact in a bus, or on my bed, my mind just drifted away, outside the window, wanting to have a bird’s eye view of the world outside, and immediately flying higher into outer spcae and then it would pause in awe of all that unexplored, unending, unrelenting awesomeness and obscurity of the Universe.

Again the wonder of how limited we are as a species, and yet how much progress we have made in observing the Universe and to predict its nature is unbelievable. If not for the awe and wonder, what else could drive our species to want to explore more of the obscure Universe, expending our time as a the conscious part of the Universe.

The cognisance about the insignificance of we humans at the scale of the Universe, and a simultaneous pride of the fact that we are able to attempt comprehension of the Universe is as religious as I can get.

When it comes to the talk of extra terrestrial intelligence, I am one of those skeptics who thinks it highly improbable that we can come in contact with another intelligent species, while the possibility of another intelligent species itself is more probable, given the number of galaxies and our limitations in observations.

In Contact, Carl Sagan through his protagonist encapsulates almost entirely many curious minds of Science, and takes us one step closer to coming in touch with an alternate intelligent species, in an almost convincing manner.

This being my first full reading of Sagan, of course has opened up the possibility of reading more of him, soon.

A jargonised book about communication and antennas, would also serve as a brilliant read for students interested in communications ;)

FSMK Winter Camp, and woah!

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Five days, two hundred people, tens of technologies, hundreds of ideas, hours of interaction and abundance of fun, with unimaginable amount of work – all of these coalesced into one of the most memorable experiences ever. This is what FSMK’s Winter Workshop-2013 has come to be.

FSMK, an organisation that I am a proud member of, has in an unprecedented attempt pulled off this scintillating experience for the participants and the organisers. A five days, residential training workshop on Free Software technologies, as a necessary attempt to bridge the gap between academic learning and industry requirements, with the quintessential ideas of Free Software were discussed, debated and comprehended through these five days.

This mega event happened at Sai Vidya Institute of Technology, in the outskirts of Bangalore at Rajankunte. Keeping the January climate of Bangalore in mind, we had christened the event “Winter Workshop”, and to prove us doubly right the first day of the event, on the 26th of January we were all greeted by dense fog, bringing down visibility to almost zero. While we were apprehending if this would continue for the other days too (for, really cold mornings are of course not optimum for sessions that begin at 8 in the morning), the weather mellowed down and the chill was only caused during the experiences of the sessions.

Speakers from industry, academic institutions, Free Software communities, students and a refined set of resource people had discourses on various ideas, ideologies and intentions of Free Software.

In one of my talks I had said “Technology is the catalyst in the reaction between science and society”. Ascertaining this claim was the rapport that got built and strengthened through the five days, between participants, and also with organisers. This level of admiration, trust and camaraderie would not be possible without the technology that got us bound together – Free Software.

A team of just about twenty organisers were multitasking numerous responsibilities to run the show, almost flawlessly. From serving tea, to assigning rooms, to technical support to each and every other responsibility were impeccably executed by the single entity that the organisers team had coagulated into. The hundred and fifty close participants, were all , at least most of the time hooked on to the sessions and were busy learning. Kudos to their commitment.

Working in a team like the one at FSMK, the drive one gets is immeasurable. These five days have passed so swiftly that it seems unbelievable to imagine everything that has transpired during the workshop.

The satisfaction you get after busy working through the day, when you crash in your bed, only to wake up after those few fulfilling hours of sleep, only to do more is divine!

Cheers to everyone who was part of the workshop, and made it not merely a success, but a lifelong memorable experience.

Life is, but the chronicle of struggles

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One of those rare evenings, when I have the evening to myself and I decide to use it to complete an impending task. Dust off my cycle, hop on and alternately glide and peddle for the next five kilometers,meet a person, and head back with steeper path back.

A long, beautiful stretch with joggers and evening walkers (a rare sight such spots these days), and I am thinking the round trip would be ten kms, and I had saved about 20 rupees by not taking out my motor scooter. I am contemplating of refueling myself with a tender coconut, and realise it has been quite a while that I had one.

Stop at one roadside tender coconut stall, and address “auntie – ondu kodi” to a lady there, who is shocked that I asked her for it, because she was just standing by. A hasty apology and the stall owner lady comes down with a bright giggle, that was radiant even in the street without streetlight. I ask her if she can chop off one for me even without the light – she remarks, “I can do it even with my eyes closed”. I did not want to test her skill and asked her to give one with lot of coconut water.

She is chopping off the flakes of the green, bulky tender coconut while I am imagining how sharp the blade was to let those flakes off the sturdy tender coconut – maybe at level two a scene from Kill Bill was running in my head, and I was not very comfortable thinking about its impact when tried on me.

Within few seconds, the all green is now like pie with whipped cream topping, and I start savouring the sweet-salty ‘mineral water’. She, without invitation starts narrating to me the delay that was happening, for she still hadn’t cooked the meals for today, and her daughters wouldn’t cook without gas, and now there was no cooking gas supply at her home. I was relating to the recent traumatic period at home when my mother was struggling without cooking gas for a few days. I thought, this lady wouldn’t have an electric stove at her disposal….

Before I even start a conversation with her, she has moved on to the next chapter in her story and is telling me how she never likes to cook on gas stoves, and she would only prefer firewood for cooking. I am at the verge of nostalgia from my times in my grandmothers place, where we would all sit out in the yard around the firewood cooking spot, with tears in our eyes because of the smoke, and being served simple, yet sublime food. She adds that the food cooked in gas or electric stoves lack the taste! (I am thinking the same thought). The swift cooking that happens comes at an expense; when the food has remained in its own juices for less time, and hence tastes just about okay. Whereas, when done on these firewood installations – it takes a long while, by then the food has soaked itself in its juices, brilliantly. Now, this is the reason why barbecues (again done using charcoal grills) tastes a lot better than fried food.

I do not remember the link, how – but she is telling me that she is from Mandya, and got “sent” to Chennai. I am thinking “sent” is what, and it strikes “Yes, married and sent”. She did not like the work there – growing groundnuts, working in garments, and she said she came back to Karnataka, but was aspiring for better life and hence settled in Bangalore. She said she has done her schooling till tenth in a Government school in Mandya, and would have wanted to study further, but for her parents and their conditions.

Nonetheless, she wanted her children to study better and has a daughter who has completed first PUC, and before she could be sent to second PUC her son, who was in class 6 or 7, was diagnosed with problems in heart and had to undergo three open heart surgeries. Government hospitals, she said in Tamil Nadu were better in this regard and got him operated there. But the medicine cost since then for this son of hers, was 10,000 rupees per month and this cut off the study options of her daughter.

She works in this tender coconut stall of hers, selling tender coconuts brought from Mandya, from morning 6 to 12 in the noon, after which her husband takes care of the shop. She then does household work in one of the apartments, and says – no matter how much you earn it never suffices to live here, and for his medicines.

By now, I am howling into the empty shell of the coconut and hand it over to her for the tender pulpy coconut. Two hits, and she scoops the pulp out of both hemispheres and I have an adhoc dish with yummy coconut pulp.

I inquire in general about her routine, and how long she stays, engrossed already about the stories people have behind them.

Life, I already know is what we make out if it with our struggles,and there is no other way to live it. Reminiscing some of my own small struggles,and the impact it has had on me, and also abusing people (in my mind, of course) who give up without any attempts I get out from there, wishing her a good day ahead.

Drowning in AR’s Kadal


And, after couple of years and few albums A R Rahman is back doing what he does best – create some of the best music, that is going to stick with you for life. Kadal is a masterpiece by the master. Tell what may others, I am drowned deep in the warmth these songs are creating. Relishing the authentic Tamil, experimentation and everything about this soundtrack.

This is not review, a desperate attempt to articulate my emotions about these brilliant songs.

1. Chithirai Nela
Singer: Vijay Yesudas
Lyrics: Vairamuthu
Now, this is a track that might not go down well with the general population – a slow, soberly philosophical track. It has some of the best lines for a song written by the genius – Vairamuthu. Now, the undisturbing music elevates Vijay Yesudas’ vocals to the next level – he almost sounds like the Magical Yesudas, and in different way better too. Reserve this song for the hard times – it will make you feel better. A slow start to the album, but fits the package best. Looking forward to the visualisation.

2. Adiye
Singer: Sid Sriram
Lyrics: Karky
When I heard Aaromale from Vinnaithandi varuvaya,the song being in Malayalam I would imagine what impact it would render upon me if I had understood the words too with those brilliant strummings and a powerful vocal. Adiye is all that plus more, with some of the most funky and imaginative lyrics which goes so really well with the tune. Karky (son of Vairamuthu) has penned down a brilliant song, at least for the mediocre Tamilian that I am. Adiye has its starry moments, where you are smiling within yourself- sometimes for the ride of the vocals and other times for the words.

3. Moongil Thottam
Singers: Abhay Jodhpurkar, Harini
Lyrics: Vairamuthu
Moongil Thottam is my favorite track from the album. It will stay on as an epoch.
The tune is scintillating, the words bring life to all the scenic beauty it describes – it transports me to the world built in its words, riding on the tides of music composed by the genius. It puts me at awe, to know that all the Vairamuthu tracks were poems, and AR has elegantly adorned them in such masterpiece compositions.
The best part of this song is Harini!
It has been long hearing her refreshing voice, and when she enters this song you feel a high! Magic!
This will stay on for ages!

4. Elay Keechan
Singer: A.R. Rahman
Lyrics: Karky
LOL – was my reaction! First released as a teaser, I was laughing all along listening to this song. AR singing in Tamil after long, and what a comeback song! Funky, sticks inside the head, and truly teasing! The way this number begins is hilarious – Oye, calls out AR, then builds up layers of music rendering a reggae kind of a feel to it, to only break it with slang coastal Tamil. AR in full form so to speak.

5. Nenjukkule
Singer: Shakthisree Gopalan
Lyrics: Vairamuthu
Some songs are so simple that that simplicity overpowers the audience. Nenjukkule is powerful vocal riding a tricky tune, saying out Vairamuthu’s diamonds and pearls. Performed first in MTV Unplugged, AR had made the magic already there. I have been clinging onto this track for last month longing for other tracks, and I still am not used to it. Nenjukkule means within one’s heart, and this one’s gonna stay there forever.

6. Anbin Vasale
Singer: Haricharan
Lyrics: Karky
Complex composition, not much to say except that it is a Christian carol kind of track.

7. Magudi Magudi
Singers: Aaryan Dinesh, Kanagaratnam, Chinmayi, Tanvi Shah
Lyrics: Aaryan Dinesh, Kana
No better way than a fusion, trance song! Srilankan rapper Dinesh PERFORMS in this new kind of a track from AR. It is weird, but awesome!

Overall, Kadal (means Sea in Tamil) drowns you in its layers of sublime music.
Hail AR!

My beautiful irony!

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A mind that unravels mysteries of life and Physics,
but in detail misses my verbal  gimmicks and tricks.

A structure that in general might be termed small,
but has for sure gotten me eclipsed although I’m considerably tall;

Compassion that swells out of the way for others,
but holds me ruthlessly clutched in your feathers.

Made me think you were not and never going to be reachable,
now mad I am drenched in you whenever to me are accessible.

Said you were made of few words in all your time,
but rarely these days have you let me have my rhyme.

I so hoped you were homely domesticated,
You were, but now with my influence are dangerously activated.

Was scared we would be monotonously compliant,
now I apprehend we shouldn’t get close to being permanently defiant.

Your personality, I guessed initially to be brief,
now I see my life in detail in you – my coral reef.

The paradox of creation

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Sometimes, when I feel dumb about not having created anything substantial, as yet, that the world would stand up and recognise, the witty mind of mine gives excuses that seem to convince me, at least prevents me from going into a depression :P

I say to myself, if I were born in the medieval ages, or when Science hadn’t made the progress it has made today, the chance of me stumbling upon a problem and solution to that problem would have been more. Now, after the evolution of human science and technology to these great heights, I say to myself there are fewer problems and I will have to wait longer, in pursuit of understanding all that has been already unravelled, before even reaching the realms of the un-understood.

The problems I would want to solve are the natural mysteries and wonders. I know there are numerous other technical challenges which I can embark upon to quench my urge to create, and maybe even shoot to fame. But, as you will read next, I am already framing up another excuse to not delve into these pursuits as well, citing the reason that I want to solve nature’s puzzles and not man made ones.

Human mind is a marvellous thing, and working in its own awe it can create a world that fits into us accommodating for all our flaws and shortcomings.

For a photographer, everything is an object to be shot, for a film maker everything is a scene to be included in his next, for a writer life is an inspiration, and likewise all creative minds look up to their surroundings and create a world within their heads, in which the protagonist is the mind itself. In the context of this post, a lazy, procrastinating mind is also creative in giving excuses to create.

Thus, by not wanting to create, there is something already being created.

Nothing, but that

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Not the words that I’ve spoken,
or the promises I’ve made and broken,

Not the lies that I’ve made up,
or the tricks that I’ve played up,

Not the chances that I’ve let go,
or the joys that I forgo,

Not the sadness I’ve given you,
or the tears that I’ve caused you,

Not the changes in me I’ve brought in,
or the compromises I for sometime drowned in,

Not the dreams I was scared off,
or the desires I was too shy of,

Not the silliness that I’ve borne in you,
or the inconsistency I’ve allowed to thrive in you,

Not the sleep that has often reduced,
or the stress in me that occasionally has improved,

Not my aspirations that I’ve shared with you,
or the hopes in me without you,

I will ask you for nothing, but……

Your time,
I’ve given you more than that’s possibly just mine.

Discover to Discern

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In my current role as a ‘teacher’ – a tag I incessantly greet with skepticism, there are multiple misconceptions I encounter amidst the learning community I interact with. A cluttered perception of education, career, future – all seem quite natural – given the constrained learning environment they are exposed to.

Using some of my personal experience both as a student and teacher, I jot down here just few observations of mine. I am not projecting this to be advice or any such futile things. (Advices never work)

Knowing and knowing the name
I steal this line from Richard P Feynman, who in his brilliant career was more than what any science pursuing person has been. A rarity, of course. We might not be able to emulate the ingeniousness he exhibited all through his life, but, there are numerous traits from his life as people we must try to inculcate.
Superficial learning seems to be the un-proclaimed rule of learning in the whole structure – from the teachers through to the students.No inquisition to probe concepts to their roots; assuming gaps and continuing the ‘learning’ process without questioning is the game of knowing concepts today. I can for some gift in me see through the hypocrisy of the highfalutin crowd who claim to know something they wouldn’t know.
Not knowing is never a problem – we can learn; Not wanting to know is a regression, and pretending to know the unknown is criminal.

Learning and studying
Two terms we use interchangeably, almost with no distinction. Studying, to me is the process of wanting to grasp a concept for an incentive other than the incentive of knowing the idea, like for marks, or a less gratifying sensation. The brand ‘students’ too has been reduced to a herd trying to know ‘things’ , prescribed in a prescription (read syllabus) without any thought, and hence not questioning.
Learning, on the other hand I see it as a process of comprehending ideas and concepts for the incentive of catering to one’s inquisition, enhancing a skill or to apply the same to a different motivated purpose.

What you want, and what others want for you
Another aspect to one’s life that is lost by the time we realise, is to do what we want to do. By the time we are enrolled in undergraduate education or anywhere in that proximity, most of the important decisions in our life have been made by everyone else, than us. While this might not be a valid generalisation, the tendency of people to work in order to please someone else and not themselves is the biggest discontent causing glitch in the system. When people do what they don’t want to do, of course it shows!
Stay connected to yourself, a friend says and I think that is a profound statement. It takes lot of courage to cling on, pursue and accomplish what YOU want for yourself.
Oscar Wilde, in his witty best says “Be yourself, everyone else is already taken”, and how true.

Wanting to do, and to see its done (most applicable to me)
Procrastination is an attribute that is common where people are expected to work – in academia it is more so, for the incentive not being profit the cadre is not driven to the edge. It is not about being driven to the edge – but the self urge to want to finish the work one claims to want to do. Passion towards one’s work or tasks would flow in, voluntarily only when the person does what he/she WANTS to do. Mere verbiage of goals to be accomplished although might give instant gratification, the permanent one is always worth the work (Derek Sivers has a brilliant talk about this).

Conclusively,one notion that always is running at the back of my mind while I revel at the works in Science especially is – when a mind can originally come up with ground breaking works like what we are expected to ‘study’, how difficult can it be for us to simply understand the same? Are our minds so worthless that they can’t even understand an existing idea? How can we talk of innovating anything new at all?
Happy Learning :)

Gold standard for emotions…

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Television advertisements are the best indicators of which direction the brainless society is heading towards. Like these days, of course it is well known and widely accepted that commodities come first, and people next in the globalised economy we live in today.

What brand one wears would be more important than what the person is. Worthless people trying to find worth in supposedly worthy commodities.
At this junction, a related anecdote as related to Tamil poet Bharathi comes to my mind.

Bharathi is to attend a wedding, and he is in his dhoti and a towel – untidy, unshaven (reckless man he was) tries to enter the marriage hall, and the guards do not allow him, thinking him to be a tramp. Then, he heads back home gets dressed in his best attire and is allowed in with the highest salutations. He is then served food, and the maverick takes the food and starts feeding it to his clothes! When asked he says, “It was not I who earned this food, my clothes, so I can’t eat it”, or something on these lines.

Even now we are all this stupid, and I can’t only blame the economy and the ruthless marketing campaigns.

Coming back to the time today – the most ridiculous of the adverts are the jewellery ads plaguing television off late.

I am well acquainted with television ads on south Indian TV channels, and I can conveniently extrapolate these claims all across the country, for , we are the same.

Gold jewellery for long, as long as I remember have been associated with the emotion of love. That by itself was stupid, for, the only symbolic gesture of gold and love was preciousness. Now, if the partner is precious, why adorn her with less precious jewels, making the net preciousness lesser, or some sort of animosity I already have.

The recent months, as I have observed, the value of gold is being associated to every kind of human value! A school master and his student (trust they claim here). “Daughters are worth it ” says another caption, where jewels for teenage girls are being showcased, and the most atrocious is even the bond between mother and son is being portrayed of value on the lines of gold.

The gold standard for emotions is one of the most flawed identifications of human bonds. A blunt statement equalising these beautiful emotions to an over priced metal chunk – This is the most gullible thing that we have allowed to happen to us.

Beauty, love, success, affection, trust, music and the whole treasure of human values are being undermined by equating them to products of the silliest nature. I am not worried about the ads at all! The unfortunate impact it is having in the social fabric is what I am concerned about.
These ads work!

The distorted sense of values that runs through our consciousness like the plague that haunted the old times back then cannot even be eradicated by a vaccination.

Happily busy :o

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I begin to write this post without any agenda to discuss- maybe that is the agenda, to not have one.

As I write now, on this lazy afternoon with mountainous tasks ahead for rest of the day, I am only looking forward to the intensity of work that is going to drive me to the verge of exhaustion. That exhaustion is not something I am complaining about, it is a feeling of optimum utilisation of myself. Exhaustion in pursuit of gratification is a feeling rarely one gets to experience. It implies the work I am to do, and have been doing utilise my skills and me as a resource to the fullest.

Being busy, or rather ‘happily busy’ as one like minded friend calls it is a gift seldom people bestow upon themselves. The problem,  if one wants to pick out of being happily busy is that some people, from our personal space get eclipsed for sometime, and if these people don’t understand it- we are out for a bitter ride. It becomes a trouble that can disturb the delicate balance of being happily busy, and can lead one into a traumatic phase (oh yes, been through and recovering).

In times such as these is where the momentum of one’s work eclipsing the personal space happens so often, to a lost mind like me. And here is where the aspect of balancing one’s priorities surface up. And I learn slow!

Started aimlessly, now have brought this writing into the context of a public apology-
If I haven’t been avaialble to the many of you, as you would expect me to, it is because I was and still am hopelessly lost in work that keeps me happy and nothing else. So, forgive my absence :)


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1984, and now Blindness – two books that are menacingly disturbing, yet hard to deny for they speak of a reality which is not far from being plausible.

Blindness by Jose Saramago is one of the most powerful books I have read, and yes,it changes you. The fragility associated with the human bonds, the relationship of demand and supply in a society and simply the deep abysses of the human mentality are all unthreaded into thin layers of realities, so scary that I runs shivers down your spine.

In a unique narrative, where sentences go on for two pages, and paragraphs go on for multiple pages Saramago is unforgiving in his details of the incidents which even to read might cause one to shrug, but at the same time delicately balancing the fact that it could very well be true!

A city that turns blind, with blindness spreading as an epidemic and the whole social structure collapsing, with people heading towards animal-like behaviour is chronicled brilliantly in this book. While I write it, I also realise that the derogatory ‘animal behavior’ we tend to think of, is not all that bad when one can see what we as people are capable of. In Blindness, these contradictions are brought out lucidly.

I will not delve into reviewing the book – he’s simply brilliant. And it is worth reading simply to allow our imagination take a ride and realise the fragile framework we all end up forming.

The last lines of an essay or an article or even a book are the most important aspects of leaving an impact. In this book, he leaves a thought that lingers long after you’ve dropped the book, done reading.

I think we are blind, blind but seeing, blind people who can see, but do not see.

To all the startdust, and hydrogen clouds!

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If you thought that the grand questions of life “Who am I”, “What am I doing here”, etc haunt us when at the verge of growing senile or crazy, not quite – I have encountered these many a times and not recently, but before a few years. You can take it from me that I am not senile, but crazy I might not deny – will leave it to the rest of you to decide relative to your own ability to think :P

Now, I did convince myself with answers that I use on a daily basis to keep myself motivated, and when I do get low down these ideas immediately help me out!

So, who am I? Or, can I generalise on behalf of all of us – Who are we?

The most rational, yet humbling answer is that we are all star dust! We are chunks of Hydrogen cloud who have been lucky enough to undergo nuclear fusion, in a labyrinth of processes and assimilate the whole lot from periodic table into ourselves, and have an obscure synchronisation (many invent God in this junction) to be able to sit down and ponder about these questions!

This idea that all of us are hydrogen clouds, just lucky enough to be in this form before we again end up being the unconscious matter in the Universe is a journey called life! When I did realise this and started imbibing it into my thought process, every moment I waste without being positive simply adds to the guilt of all the time I have wasted in my life already. It does not only help me not waste time (at least most of the times), but also keeps me positive in being me.

And by not being positive or being happy I find it to be sedition on our part to the Universe! For, if you work out the probability of the number of atoms in your body (having a conscious ride) to the rest of the unconscious matter in the Universe, it is literally zero!
Aren’t we lucky then?

Like many philosophical characters in films and books have already said – Life is too short to get sad!

It is not just for the heck of writing a post that I am portraying this profound idea that drives me; I strongly endorse this point of view and I don’t see any other way of defining and justifying the life that we live.And I thought some of you were looking for an answer of this kind!

Happy living :)


The feudal nature of ‘respect’

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There can be no obedience between like minds, only compliance.
Likewise, to want to be obedient reflects a tendency of the mind to stray towards dependence – an unwillingness to get independent – stand by itself. Before I lead you further into this tumultous terrain,  I simply am arguing that the shackles of dependency must be thrown away and, one must let the mind oscillate, learn and come to its own unique equilibrium without seeking dependence, only guidance. .

No independent mind can want to remain obedient – trying to convince and getting convinced are rational metamorphosis. But, to want to obey is to give in to irrational thought.

When thinking ends, subservience begins.

It is not anything but ignorance that is the misery of mankind. An interesting caption in a social media post read “Employers understand capitalism, employees don’t” and how true! Likewise at every step in our lives, whenever we fail to give heed to independent thought, and are ready to obey we are soaking ourselves in ignorance.

To budge down to authority in terms of age, status,wealth or any other metric is the standard recipe to embrace the hideous tendency of being servile. It takes questioning, comprehension and convincing to comply, but only mounting pressure to get subdued.

Now, subservience I speak of here is not the one which exists outside family, or friends, or the circle of interaction. Defiance of subservience must begin at home. It is unfortunate that our culture has given room to interpret subservience as respect, and quite ironically the ones who demand such respect deserve no respect at all! Bargaining into one’s mind, by arguing and convincing are the only means of gaining respect – No short cuts, or bureaucratic privilege to respect.

Experience, and not age deserves respect in people.

Intimidating another person with power, status or age is extortion of the pretension of respect and never genuine respect at all. Admiration is the simplest manifestation of respect, as I see and experience it. I fail to understand how people could miss this and demand something so obscure and feudal as obedience!

If we analyse further, this notion of respect gauged as obedience has a grand history of feudalism. Landlords expecting their laborers to be servile to them, and this contorted notion is carried on as respect! Like all superstitions, this is another stagnating belief which our system expects and if you are not servile you are arrogant is the brand given!

So, think before you seek and grant respect!

Searching for Research


It has been over an year that I got back to the academic arena. Personally it has been gratification to the fullest, but on the other hand have got acquainted with the many grave flaws/

The acceptance of ‘imparting education’ as the primary goal of academia is the fundamental problem, and I shall not delve into that notion as yet. This crude effort paper of mine and a fellow collaborator would convey it better Evolving Pedagogies beyond production line models of education .

In this post I want to express the deep anxiety that has come as a natural consequence of witnessing another inseparable facet of academia – Research.

I know my strengths and weaknesses, and I very much am aware that I am not an abstract research person – I am simply a problem solver, who can see problems when others cannot. That being my strength I already know what would be the nature of my research in academics. And it did not take me long to realise that ‘arriving at the problem’ is the fundamental requirement for performing research, and not necessarily the solution. It is quite the opposite with the persons I have observed for the last few months.

Now, with the shifting environment from industry to academia, not as a student but as a teaching faculty I have been overwhelmingly disappointed with the majority of research instances I have encountered. As students are taking up engineering education without any aim, but of getting a job, the incentive for performing research is all contorted. Research for the sake of climbing up the hierarchy in an institution seems to be the most common incentive, which has an associated perk of better pay.

Research when motivated by anything other than passion to solve a problem is futile, and the many instances of research I have seen are in essence futile. A thesis which sits in a booklet impacting neither science, nor society but only adds a prefix to the title of an individual is in all senses derogating all the progress we have made in science and society.

Researchers lacking clarity of the problem they are trying to solve, in a domain unrelated to them is a commonality today in India. With the easy access to content on the Internet, most work is outsourced to search engines and effort is minimised on the individual’s part.
And hence, the lack of research in India.

Not to end this post on a low, there are a handful of minds I am lucky to know, who are immersed in the subjects they are working in. They are researching problems which they are obsessed with, and these are the specks of hope for a better intelligentsia to usher India into a future that is bright in all senses.

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