Friday, December 30, 2005

The King William's College GKP

By way of young Thos. at the Coffee Shack, we learnt about King William's College on the Isle of Man. Said College appears to have been founded a few nanoseconds after the Big Bang, and has been going strong ever since. Wikipedia tells us that
Since 1904, the College has set an annual general knowledge test, known as the General Knowledge Paper (GKP). The pupils sit the test twice; once unseen on the day before the Christmas holidays, and again when they return to school in the New Year, after having spent the holiday researching the answers. However, the test is now voluntary. It is well-known to be highly difficult, a common score being just two correct answers from the list of several hundred. The best scores are 40-50 for the unseen test and about 270 of 360 for the second sitting. Traditionally, the best scorers were given a free half pint of bitter, while anyone doing particularly badly was given a detention.
Apparently 2 points per question. Feel free to impale yourself against this year's edition. It is bloody difficult. You need to be very, very, very well up on your Eng. literature (classical, pulp etc.) and Eng. history. The Guardian carried an interview with the bloke who sets the paper.

Thos. also points us to the Financial Times Arts and Culture quiz, which is apparently what you attempt once you've been humiliated in the GKP. Then for some of us who, having been mocked by the FT quiz, are on the verge of applying asp to nose (in the manner of Cl.), there is consolation in the form of the KQA quiz.

This will be the last post of the year. Be happy.

Friday, December 23, 2005

Acknowledgements

Our first "guest post". Sort of. More like a post extricated from guest under severe duress. Friend Tahei just submitted his Ph. D. thesis. We hereby present the "Acknowledgements" section of said monumental work, with all names blanked out. It loses some of its mood and vitality, but privacy needed to be protected and so on. Enjoy.

Acknowledgements

As I neared the completion of my PhD, I felt much as I had imagined the Hobbit Frodo Baggins would have felt as he cast the One Ring into the smoldering crater of Mount Doom, after having encountered several trials, tribulations and anxieties on his monumental journey not to mention the recent loss of one of his fingers to the vicious jaws of Gollum just moments before the denouement of his quest. As the end approaches, relief blends with well-springs of gratitude. Had Frodo written his memoirs on the shores of Valinor, he would undoubtedly have devoted large sections of his chronicle to thank the many people who aided him in his seemingly impossible quest Hobbits, Elves, Dwarves, Men, Wizards and Ents among them. Now it is my turn to attempt to acknowledge the folk who aided me in my quest for a PhD.

Any journey such as this begins at home, in the Shire. I owe perhaps the deepest debt of gratitude to my own hobbit-folk the Baggins', Tooks, Brandybucks, Grubbs, Chubbs, Bolgers and Bracegirdles that are my family. I will start off with and would especially like to thank _____, Amma and Appa for their unconditional encouragement, patience, love and support for everything I have ever attempted to do. None of this would have been possible without them. Next I would like to thank the Bilbos of my world _____, ______ chittappa, ______ mama, ______ manni and ______ thatha for their indefatigable attempts at the rather thankless and perhaps Sisyphean task of infusing me with some worldly wisdom (buddhi). They persevered where mere mortals would have long since surrendered. ______, ______ and ______ added just the right amount of nonsensical amusement that allowed me to retain my sanity, while in the eyes of ______ and ______ patti I could almost do no wrong. I will be forever grateful to all of them. On to the Elves of Lothlorien: ______, ______, ______ chithi and ______ mama who ceaselessly provided me with 'lembas bread' (Sambhar, Rasam, Keerai, Kootu, Kesari and other Indian victuals) for my long journey, and indulged in healthy debates over every international, national, county and village cricket match that was ever played. ______, ______, ______ and ______ who transported me back to a lost world of innocence and bliss that I had all but forgotten. My years in California would not have been the same without them. I would like to thank ______ thatha, ______, ______ mama, ______, ______, ______ perima and ______ perippa, who influenced me through my formative years. Last but certainly not the least I am especially happy and proud to thank ______ the newest hobbit to join our fold and one with whom I will embark on several journeys in the years to come for her understanding, belief and support towards my quest. I dedicate the entirety of this work to all of these enchanted folk.

Any fantastical tale involves a Wizard (or three). My three committee members, a veritable mixture of Gandalf the Grey, Yoda and Obi-Wan Kenobi, provided me with an astonishing amount of wisdom, knowledge, guidance and support that helped me decimate every Orc, Troll or Balrog that I encountered throughout my perilous quest. Of these wise men, I would first like to thank my principal advisor ______ for his continuous support, confidence, comments and thoughts on my progress. I am convinced I learnt more about research from him than I could have anywhere else. I would also like to express my heartfelt gratitude to Prof ______ and Prof ______ who held aloft the light of Earendil and illuminated my path as I navigated the webs of literature, methodology, analysis and writing that all constitute a PhD. Even as modest as my work might be, their guidance has helped it attain a quality that I did not think was possible at the onset. Many Ents, wise and un-hasty beings, also liberally bestowed their wisdom upon me, though they had no obligation to do so. Unplanned trysts with ______, ______ and ______ often led to matchless insights that cleared the cobwebs from my addled mind. Dr ______'s varied experiences and real-world insights contributed greatly to both my research and to my own personal life. I also benefited greatly through comments from Prof ______, Prof ______, Prof ______, Prof ______, Prof ______ and Prof ______ as well as from CIFE's and the NSF's support of my research.

What of the Fellowship? Of the Elves, Dwarves and Men that accompanied me through rain and snow? ______, ______ and ______ my office-mates and co-researchers whose work closely complemented my own, provided me with much needed solace and company as we spent long hours hunched over our terminals. Research is a social product, and I learnt as much from talking with them, as I did from my own lonely vigils with my data, journals and books. I would also like to express my heartfelt thanks to ______, ______, ______, ______, ______, ______, ______, ______, ______, ______, ______, ______, ______, ______, ______, ______, ______ and all the other researchers who shredded my thoughts and presentations, and helped me patch it all back together into something even better.

My journey was not merely metaphorical. Just as Frodo left the Shire and marched boldly up the peak of lofty Caradhras, under and into the mines of Moria, through the woods of Lothlorien, across the Marshes and even into the land of Morder, my quest too led me to France and Germany, through Finland, across Taiwan and deep into India before its end. I would like to thank ______, ______, ______, ______, ______, ______, ______ and others from ______ Inc. for accommodating my early data collection efforts. ______, ______, ______, ______, ______, ______, ______, ______, ______, ______ and ______ for their German hospitality. ______, ______, ______, ______ and ______ for their thoughts and introduction to Finnish culture. To ______, ______ and ______ for taking a chance on me and allowing me to visit projects in Taiwan. I cannot forget the Rohirrim or the Riders of Rohan and the Men of Gondor from India who came out in droves in my hour of need to provide me with data and insights that have formed the bulwark of my dissertation. ______, ______ and ______ eased my passage considerably and did not shy away from relating the 'real stories' that transpired on their projects. ______, ______ and ______ were far more cooperative than I could have ever wished for given the constraints on their time. ______ often provided me with lunch, enjoyable company and analytical insights into the Indian mind that proved invaluable in the final analysis. ______ graciously arranged for me to visit the project site and to talk to as many people as I possibly could. Not only did ______, ______, ______, ______, ______, ______, ______, ______, ______, ______, ______, ______, ______, ______ and several others on the projects in India and Taiwan provide me with anecdotes and data, their warmth, interest and encouragement made field research a far more enjoyable proposition than I had ever imagined it would be. I would also like to thank Prof. ______, Prof ______ and Prof K.N. ______ of IIT-Madras, as well as ______ of the Indian Railways for making my visit to India possible.

I would be amiss if I did not acknowledge the avocations that made my life at Stanford such a pleasurable experience. My interests and desire to contribute to social development and innovation were kindled through my interactions with BASES and ESW. Through conferences, speakers and conversations with ______, ______, ______, ______, ______, ______, ______, ______, ______, ______ and many others I spent delightful years learning about the magic of social change. ______, the EPATT kids and crew, and other tennis players and coaches at Stanford taught me about tennis and patience and provided me with some much-needed exercise. My "institutionalized values" have been molded and shaped by my numerous friends and teachers from ______, ______, ______ and other places ______, ______, ______, ______, ______, ______, ______, ______, ______, ______, ______, ______, ______, ______, ______, ______ and ______ to name but a few of the multitude that I alas do not have the space to acknowledge. I am eternally indebted to all these people who have enriched my life and from whom I have learned so much.

Finally, every day of my life I have been grateful for all the fascinating things that I have been able to see and do and for this I thank God.

In Yeats' words, it was a 'lonely impulse of delight' that started my journey. Now the quest is nearing completion and I leave it to you to ascertain the extent of its practical or academic merit. However the scales of knowledge might value this work, it would not have been possible without all of these people that I have mentioned above. Wherever I turned I found support and inspiration, and through my meanderings I learned from all of you what Bilbo Baggins captured in verse:

All that is gold does not glitter
Not all who wander are lost


Wednesday, December 21, 2005

Stopping By The Kitchen On A Wednesday Morning

In the manner of Fleming, we have serendipitously discovered a law of nature this morning.
Ants, given enough time, will find all food.
P.S. In brief, there are a number of ('prominent') 'libertarian' desi bloggers. A royal to-and-fro has been happening elsewhere, which one must note. This DesiPundit thing is all over it. Take a day off and read everything. Perhaps we will have more to say about this later?

Sunday, December 18, 2005

More Highbrow Movies

*sigh* Yes, we're very wannabe this weekend. In one fell swoop, tried to remedy some deficiences in the movies-seen list.
  • Charulata, Satyajit Ray
  • Rashomon, Akira Kurosawa
  • All About My Mother, Pedro Almodovar

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

More Movies

blogger.com says this is post #50.
Saw a bunch more movies recently.
  • Apaharan, Prakash Jha - Apaharan is like the proverbial curate's proverbial egg. The first half is eminently interesting and watchable. Somewhere in the second, Jha loses the plot. Not too stupendously, by the standards of Bollywood, but nevertheless the phillum meanders a bit, the histrionics and melodrama are kicked up a notch, and it all ends in a somewhat predictable ending.

    Jha seems to be inventing a "Bihari-politician-criminal-nexus" factory (a la Ramgopal Varma) all by himself, you go by Gangaajal and Apaharan. He has his stock set of actors doing the Bihari thing, and they all seem very convincing, to a non-Bihari anyway. Devgan is decent, as usual, except that he seems a little too old to play the "student" type role. Much better off as the fiery cop in Gangaajal. Nana Patekar (and indeed everyone else who plays a politician) is very engaging.

  • Children Of Heaven, Majid Majidi - Have the Iranian directors (Majid Majidi, Jafar Panahi, Abbas Kiarastomi, the Makhmalbaf family) taken over the "Cinema Featuring Children" franchise? Children of Heaven is very good, even if it does border on sugary-sweet sentimental at times. Like Panahi's White Balloon, the story revolves around the predicament of a brother-sister duo. In The White Balloon it was goldfish, in Children of Heaven it is a pair of shoes.

    The brother loses the sister's shoes, on his way back from the cobbler's, and now the children have to somehow (a)hide this from their overworked, somewhat irascible father and sick mother (b)pull the wool over their schoolteachers' eyes (c)find a pair of new shoes. Not to mention do chores at home, look after the baby, study, help out at the mosque and so on. There are many slices of life from Teheran's poorer quarters, and a foray into the posh end of town.

    The actors and actresses (the kids especially) were born for these roles and nothing else, or so it seems. Majidi weaves in what seem to be a atleast a couple of near-tributes to other directors. In one sequence, father and son get on a rusty old bicycle and trudge to the richer part of town, where they work as gardeners for a day. After a hard day's labour, they cycle back home, and on the way the father basks in thoughts of lifting his family out of their poverty (with the help of cycle), and of course its too good to be true and something happens. Shades of Vittorio De Sica's The Bicylce Thief.

    Majidi also has a way of building up suspense, using the most mundane devices. In one sequence, the girl (who is wearing her brother's sneakers) loses one shoe, which falls into a gutter and is borne away by the water. She gives chase, and the camera duly accompanies her, at breakneck speed through the alleys and lanes of their neighbourhood. As this is happening, the tension mounts. Will she get the shoe? You find yourself rooting for her, because losing this pair will just result in disaster. In another part of the movie, the brother signs up for a road race. The third prize is a new pair of shoes, and he must come third. In possibly one of the best sport sequences ever in cinema, Majidi's camera runs the race along with the kid, and here too, in the end, the suspense is unbearable.

    Enough already. Go see this one. One additional source of paisa vasool is the language (Farsi is absolutely beautiful), and the fact that you can catch glimpses of the origins of Urdu! Even the Farsi title (Bacheha-Ye Aseman) is tantalizingly accesible. The only complaint - the thing borders on the sugary-sentimental, the kids are tad too goody, but for someone inured to the "Mere paas maa hai" variety of movies, it isn't too bad. Nevertheless, it is Hereby Decreed that all directors will have a copy of "The Lord Of The Flies" close at hand when directing children's movies. So let it be written, so let it be done.

  • Mighty Aphrodite, Woody Allen
  • Sideways, Alexander Payne
  • Das Boot, Wolfgang Petersen
  • Manhattan, Woody Allen
  • Contempt (Le Mepris), Jean-Luc Godard - More about the movie later, but there seems to be a (possibly unintended) connection1 between one scene in this movie, and The Two Towers. There is a scene where the Fellowship sails down the Anduin, through Argonath "The Seat Of Kings", they pass between two huge stone statues, the likenesses of Isildur and Anarion. Part of this scene is a shot, where the camera appears to track from front and below the bearded dude (Isildur?) who is holding his arm out, to his left, and finally behind him, as the boat floats from upstream of the statues to the gap between them, to a point downstream.



    Cut to "Contempt". There are a couple of shots where Godard shows a figurine of a bearded dude (Zeus?), from a point-of-view that is below the statue. In this case, instead of the camera turning around, the statue itself rotates. Unfortunately, a picture of the statue/shot is not to be found anywhere, but there is a mention in a review. Both shorts are startlingly similar, or is it just that time has dimmed the powers of recall, and the memory of the first has fused into the already fading memory of the second, making one see things that don't exist?
  • Batman Begins, Christopher Nolan
Details to follow.

1. Another coincidence: In The Last Castle, Robert Redford plays a certain US Army Lt. General who rejoices in the name of John Eugene Irwin. Surely, it is not mere happenstance that this bloke's name more or less matches the first names of a certain other commander. Have not yet found anything to suggest this is more than a coincidence, but but but....

Saturday, December 10, 2005

On Cyclones

If you grew up near the Coromandel Coast, in the Northern Circars for example, the the weather generally played a fair to middling part in your life. Indeed, evidence of this obsession with the ritus may be found elsewhere in these pages (here and here). In particular, one remembers those annual offerings that the Bay of Bengal used to dish out with impressive, metronomic frequency - the tropical cyclone.

Wotitis?
In meteorology, a tropical cyclone (or tropical depression, tropical storm, typhoon, or hurricane, depending on strength and geographical context) is a type of low pressure system which generally forms in the tropics. While they can be highly destructive, tropical cyclones are an important part of the atmospheric circulation system, which moves heat from the equatorial region toward the higher latitudes.
These things used to be phenomenally regular (in the late 80s and through the 90s, anyway). From April/May to September/October, one after the other, they would show up. They were moderately predictable, like salespeople who ring the bell in the middle of your Sunday nap. You knew they would show up once or twice a month, but you were never sure exactly when. The sky would start to turn leaden, battleshippy. You would read in the paper, or listen to the AIR newsreader's dire tones, that there was a "depression in the Bay".

There was no telling where each one would end up. Would it try to diddle the good people of the Godavari-Krishna doab into staying at home, while it went and lavished its tender attentions on the good people the Madras, Nellore and Prakasam country? Would it feint a move towards Puri and Konark, but actually come storming through the N. Circars and extinguish itself in the Agency areas? Or would it bugger off in a generally nor-noreasterly direction and do unspeakable things to the long suffering people of the Ganga-Brahmaputra-Irrawady deltas?

Equally, there was no telling how strong it would be. At the bottom of the scale, you had your depressions that stayed depressions, and lived up to their names. Annoying, gloomy, wet things that draped themselves over all the land and sobbed their guts out in slow motion. Some were made of sterner stuff. Vigorous demonstrations of strength and intent, in the form of rain, wind, whirling leaves and fallen pylons up and down the coast. Not enough to seriously interfere with life, other than plant the voluptuous maybe-no-school-tomorrow thought in impressionable minds, and disappoint. Mama Gaia saying, "I was here".

Once every few years, the elements would bestir themseles into putting up a real show of power, usually with tragic consequences. The Regional Meteorological Centre in Mumbai informs us that in October 1737 one of these whoppers hit the Calcutta deltaic region and took 300,000 lives to the accompaniment of a 12 metre storm surge. 12 metres!! In December 1964, the Rameswaram cyclone wiped out the town of Dhanushkodi, and en passant carried off a passenger train and a biggish bridge. The Bangladesh (then East Pakistan) storm of November 1970 tried to pip the 1737 one in the Lives Lost Stakes and seems to have given a good account of itself (this disaster's aftermath must surely have had something to do with the geo-political events of the next year). In November 1977, much of coastal Andhra Pradesh was hammered by a storm that took 10,000 lives. Even closer to our times (1990, 1999) there have been tastes of disaster. The Orissa Supercyclone of 1999 was the last really humongous event. Since then, things have been ominously quiet.

There are many places on the internet where you can find information on tropical storms and hurricanes. That stalwart newspaper, The Hindu publishes a satellite image every day, which you can use in your betting games. Don't worry, the one in this picture is Cyclone Fanoos (yes, they're naming them nowadays), which weakened in to a depression and crossed the Tamil Nadu coast at Vedaranyam a few hours back. The Indian Meteorological Department is slow, but purportedly has animated satellite and Doppler imagery (a la weather.com).

Hurricanealley has a Bay of Bengal section where you can track the progress of cyclones in the bay. But why settle for chaff when you can go directly to the motherlode? The US Navy's Joint Typhoon Warning Center provides eminently readable information on the path of cyclones around the world.


They also have a plain text message written by Tom Clancy.

         MOVEMENT PAST SIX HOURS - 270 DEGREES AT 04 KTS
         POSITION ACCURATE TO WITHIN 060 NM
         POSITION BASED ON CENTER LOCATED BY SATELLITE
         ...
         110600Z --- 11.0N 77.7E
         MAX SUSTAINED WINDS - 020 KT, GUSTS 030 KT
         DISSIPATED AS A SIGNIFICANT TROPICAL CYCLONE OVER LAND
         ...
         TC 06B WILL CONTINUE ITS WESTERLY TRACK UNDER THE
         SOUTHWESTERN PERIPHERY OF THE LOW TO MID LEVEL STEERING RIDGE
         LOCATED OVER THE NORTHERN BAY OF BENGAL.

and so on. They even have a ship avoidance graphic.


So if you happen to be driving a US Navy warship in these waters (as some of us do during weekends), you might want to take a gander at this ever so often. Note that Baaz and Fanoos having departed for their Meteorological Abodes, the corresponding graphics and warnings are no longer available on the website, but they do track Bay of Bengal cyclones too.

One has noticed recently that the stalwart newspaper has 'lifted' the graphic verbatim (pictoratim?) from the JTWC website and planted it on their front page. One is not sure if all sources were credited or not. Finally, we have the National Hurricane Center. The spelling of 'center' should help you identify the nation in question.

TAILPIECE
They're naming the Bay of Bengal storms using names from countries in this region. We recently had Baaz, and Fanoos. Strangely enough, both these storms hit Tamil Nadu, leaving many a scrawny Dravidian scratching his head in bewilderment, "Ennaaya idhu, indha Baaj, Fanoos? Onnume puriyillai." In certain quarters, voice has been lent to the Unspoken Thought that the names should be more sensitive to culture and geography. Therefore, we hereby declare, that all TN bound storms will submit to the following naming ordeal this year: Arumugam, Balasubramaniam, Chokkalingam, Dayanidhi, Elangovan ... Pachaiyyappan ... Thirunavukkarasu(!!) ...Venktachalapathi ... Yenkatachalapathi ... Zebra. Being the state animal of TN. If you take a close look at some of the better designed intersections in Madras.

OK, enough.

Thursday, December 01, 2005

Confusious Says


Drinking the 4 day old Gatorade from fridge,
After licking clean the spoon from the jam jar,
Like Titanic sailing without enough lifeboats.

Very bad idea.

Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Run, Pentayya! Run!!

The Hyderabad 10K happened on Sunday. Discovered that it isn't such a great idea to suddenly get up and run 10 kilometres after months of inactivity, and years of not having run anything like that distance. Nevertheless, it was a pinkish Gatorade day in the annals of one's running.

In the crepuscular (and crenellated and crustaceous and many other cr. words besides!) light of dawn, we wended our dopey way across silent Begumpet, through a Brahmanwadi in the process of waking up, crossed the railway lines near Gussain Sagar Jn. to Neckless Road.

When we got to People's Plaza, the starting point, there was already a multitude there, waiting. For the Mahatma. Usha Uthup's voice (tinny over the PA system) was urging Hyderabad to "Ron! Ron!! Ron!!!" The urge did come over us to ron and torch the PA system. The feeling passed. Meanwhile, the (very annoying-ish) anchor was going on and on about sundry things. An Aerobics Lady came on stage and got everyone to jump around and warm up.

Busybodies were going through the crowd saying, "Cucumbers. Fresh cool cucumbers. Cucumbers for thirst..." [This is from a different book, innit?] Time passed, to the accompaniment of the flapping of wigeon pings. Some people dropped in on us, with flags. The Mahatma came and said, "Hey Hyderabad, how y'all doin'? S'great to see everyone so energetic. Peace out, man. Satyameva Jayate.", in his dopey voice. The Chief Minister came, and said things about being healthy, but no one paid any attention, because it was raining men. Hallel.

Shortly thereafter, we started plodding along at a sedate pace. Lake on left, Lakdi-ka-pul on right, lafangas all around. Into the Valley charged the Two. The cunning organizers had put up countdown signs all around 10k-9k-8k... Of course, didn't notice this. So come the 6k sign and the spirits soared in joy at the thought that only 4k remained. After 1k, when the 5k sign hove into sight, the airborne spirits lost power in their starboard engine, lost airspeed, stalled, and came crashing down with a sickening squelchy thud on some imaginary pigeons that had happened to be roosting near at hand.

The Hyderabadischer Tankischer Bund was commissioned by Emperor Fünf (the Fifth) of the Qutub Shahi dynasty. The grain had separated from the chaff at this point. The problem with being the grain though, is that one tends to get cooked in short order. This is precisely what proceeded to happen. In that arid stretch between the end of Tank Bund and the beginning of Necklace Road, where Reality packs Its bags and goes to Mallorca, where the delicate odours of bovine ordure mingle with the ether, the spirit faltered.

Newertheless, ve plodded on and on, until we were back at Eat Street. At this point, certain unnameable sandbaggers produced extra propulsion and scooted off into the waiting finish line. The rest of us sweated it out, finished, and died. Short funeral services were held, the corpses were held upright and finish line photos were taken.

And so it ended.

Thursday, November 24, 2005

Zug Poems

It is a well-known fact that we are train freaks. We have spent the endless hours at IRFCA, like others of our persuasion. We have taken trips that have left Others flabbergasted and flummoxed at our enthusiasm. And, some time back, we said we will attempt a post on railway poetry. And since the days between the posts are turning into trackless wastes, and we are too lazy to actually write something ourselves, we take the slimy way out, and post other peoples works. So, railway poems.

Turns out that the most unlikely people have written poems about the railroad. Knew about Eliot, Heaney, and Stevenson. But never knew that Nash and Dickinson were in the market. You Google and you learn, eh?

I
The Winged Ones
    - Ogden Nash


Nash's cribs are very valid, especially if you've ever taken a train on the US East Coast in a winter snowstorm, when the planes are grounded. You, of course, being train freak, did plan to take the train all along. These other aerodynamic slimeballs that ooze in from Logan or JFK are a bit much.

II
The Railway Train
    - Emily Dickinson


Dickinson lived in Amherst, MA. We were...ah...neighbours, so to speak. In fact she lived very close to the railway line that runs through Amherst. Maybe she saw the Vermonter thunder by, and was inspired.

III
From A Railway Carriage
    - Robert Louis Stevenson


Quintessential railway pome, a must in a railway pome list.

IV
The Railway Children
    - Seamus Heaney


Quite possibly, the best railway poem ever. Even though, strangely enough, there is no mention of trains in the damn thing.

V
Skimbleshanks: The Railway Cat
    - T.S.Eliot


Utterly delightful, hummable, singable, danceable rhyme. The Broadway version is a totally enjoyable experience.

VI
Piggy
    - Anonymous

Piggy on the Railway, picking up stones,
Down came an Engine, and broke Piggy's bones.
"Ah!", said Piggy, "THAT'S NOT FAIR!!",
"Oh," said the Engine Driver, "I don't care!"

' "Ah!" said Piggy '? One suspects Piggy said a lot more than that when Piggy was plastered by a locomotive. This remarkable poem on non-violence and compassion towards our fellow beings is possibly the first railway poem we all learnt. When your education starts off like this, you don't have to seek far to find the reasons for the world being the state it is in!

TAILPIECE: India is a train-crazy country. Are there Indian poems or poems by Indians on trains? Surely, the Seths and the Ezekiels must have tried their hand at this. Wait...remembered a train poem...but will have to wait till the morrow (being Scherezade).

Monday, November 14, 2005

Weird Animals In Songs

An issue that has been bothersome for aeons. Many a <your choice of language goes here> film song involves the cunning use of some animal imagery/metaphor type thingies, for effect. Unfortunately, they don't work very well for all people. Yours truly, for example, has been trying to compile a list of well-meaning songs which have fauna references, that completely kill it (song, not fauna). Two contenders have emerged for the numero uno spot:
  • O hansinii - Doesn't anyone else find this song mildly disturbing? Do you really want the woman of your dreams to have a moderate wingspan, a sophisticated thermal regulation system, down ("Down down down!"), gajraa, kajraa, mujra and other such accoutrements? Take a minute, close your eyes, and try to visualize what this epitome of pulchritude looks like. Go and read some biology to find out what your average anthropomorhic type hansaa is capable of. Please stop writing songs like this?

  • Hawaa mein udtaa jaaye, mera lal dupatta mal-mal ka - If you do not understand Telugu, you will not get this one. So move on, and go back to whatever pointless thing you were doing before1. The kicker here is the udtaa. udtaa (something close, anyway), in Telugu, means squirrel. Coochiecoo. Commit this salient nugget of natural history and vocabulary to your undoubtedly capacious vaults of memory, and now think of the song once again. Hawaa mein udtaa jaaye...? Wotitis, airborne "Chip 'n Dale"?

    When the song plays, the image that comes to mind is not some red dupatta billowing in the winds, but rodent (1 nos.), mit mucho mucho i-can't-tell-you-how-mucho perplexed expression, locomoting sedately at cruising altitude of about oh 30 feet or so 2, windspeed 20 knots, sou' sou' westerly zephyr. Very strange, I know. But there it is. Of course, since squirrels can't fly, sooner or later, our perplexed furry friend will umm...rendezvous with terra firma, with what has been described in certain quarters as "a hideous plop".
Sorry, to foist these images on unsuspecting public, but hum apne dukh hameshaa mil baantke yada yadaa hi dharmasyah....

Public is invited to add to lists.

THIS JUST IN
  • Telephone dhun main something waali - A person of superior quality, tender years, and human-eating proclivities reminds us of the reference to "Melbourne machli machalne waali" in said song. So now the damsel is like a fish? Not only an ordinary fish, but a machal-ing fish. Sounds like fish out of water. " 'O you Beauty, who are asphyxiating in a lively manner on the strand...', said the hero." Thanks, you person of superior quality, tender years, and human-eating proclivity.

THIS ALSO JUST IN (19 May 2007)

1. You must have been doing something completely pointless before, right? This post itself is monumentally pointless, so one assumes that since you're reading this, the alternatives were positively Taj Mahalish in their pointlessness.
2. Observations from recent flights taken: Why does the pilot insist on telling you the outside temperature when you're at 30,000 feet? "Ladeej and jantalmains, we are cruising at our assigned altitutde of 29,276 feet. The outside temperature is zero degrees kelvin, but for your comfort and convenience the cabin temperature is set to IDontCareHowMuchAsLongAsImNotFreezingToDeath degrees." Really haven't fathomed this one yet. Do they think they're doing us a favour by letting us live through the flight? So many conundrums in the world, so little time...

Friday, November 11, 2005

Dinner At Chez Ludwig

I come back to you now, at the turn of the tide.

Much travels and travails have happened. Perhaps those tales will end up here someday?
He, the first origin of this creation, whether he formed it all or did not form it,
Whose eye controls this world in highest heaven, he verily knows it, or perhaps he knows not.

Anyway... We move on to more pressing matters. Like dinner, for example. See what was served up last night.
  • Rice
  • Curd
  • Kerala fish curry
  • Tomato pappu(=daal)


Mmm...

Saturday, October 22, 2005

Amtrakking Across America

We've run out of things to write home about. So we'll just regurgigate something written over a year back, and point at the blog and say, "Its alive!!". Also a chance to see if this photoblog thingumabob works in the specified manner. Notes on a Philadelphia-Chicago-Oakland trip. Thanks are due to
  1. Falstaff (who, we notice today, also writes of "Of shoes -- and ships -- and sealing wax...") for the...ah...inspiration
  2. Veena, for effortlessly making us feel very inadequate vis a vis American experiences :).
June 13, 2004 - Concourse, 30th Street Station, Philadelphia


Me: Excuse me, but do you know if the Three Rivers Express starts from Philadelphia, or does it come from somewhere else?
Large, male [speaks very slowly and clearly]: This [expansive gesture here]...is...Phi...la...del...phia.
Me: Do you not understand the words that are a-coming out of my mouth?

Of course, I didn't say that. Wish I had. I am filled with a sense of foreboding that this is a taste of things to come. Heaven knows what he took me for. Is this to be expected from all Midwesterners? Living in Massachusetts for nearly seven years hasn't prepared me for dealing with homo sapiens midwesternus, I suddenly feel under-equipped.

Philadelphia-Harrisburg

There is a girl sitting next to me, writing a letter on a brown paper bag. Of course, I catch a glimpse. "I'll miss you very much..." etc. etc. References to the possibility that recipient of said letter may end up going to Iraq. An example of someone's life being touched by the occupation...

Her name is Maggie, and she wonders why someone would photograph rolling stock. How do you explain you're a train freak? She's a high school graduate, starting pre-med in Penn State in the fall. She doesn't seem to be very excited by the thought, although she did mention that she got a scholarship ("I'm supposed to be smart, I guess...") Her siblings all went to Penn State. She likes cheesy horror flicks. Cabin Fever, Aliens, Predator, Alien vs. Predator. Of course, I promptly recommended Jeepers Creepers. She is starting college in 2004, and we like the same cheesy movies. Maybe there is some hope after all!

Somewhere in Pennsylvania

Rolling green, copses in the distance. Gray afternoon to be leaving the east coast for good. As gray as it was on the Greyhound from South Station last week. Later on, we follow the bank of a river, traveling upstream. Hills, hills, hills. The occasional smokestack. Deer Hunter country?

Altoona, PA
A number of Amish get on the train. They are so different from everyone else, I feel a strange kinship with them. Minority-minority bhai-bhai. They speak American, when they speak English. And a kind of German (I guess) otherwise. We're traveling downhill now, towards Pittsburgh.

Next morning
Toss and turn fitfully in the seat all night, never really falling asleep. Doze off in the early hours, wake up to find that all semblance of hilly country has disappeared. We’re in Indiana, or Illinois. And it is flat flat flat as far as the eye can see. But it isn’t a desolate flat – there are farms, and grain silos, and trees, and the rising sun is just beginning to scatter the pools of mist...


June 14, 2004 - Union Station, Chicago
The train took forever to get to Chicago. An hour late.


Took the Metra to ____'s place. Shower, lunch with him and ____. Back to Union Station by Metra. The concourse in Union Station seems to be the most crowded in the world, next only to Madras Central! They announce the California Zephyr soon enough, and a small snake of passengers detaches itself from the throng and wends its way to the Zephyr, all two storeys of it, waiting quietly on Track 26 in the sepulchral bowels of Union Station.

We have to walk past several freight cars before the passenger half of the train begins. California bound people have to get on the last car, and I stow away the backpack, take out all the books and camera, kick off my shoes and sink into the comforting navy blue-brown of the seat. A few minutes later, two pretty girls get into the same car, the cake is now iced. A few more minutes elapse, and a strict matronly conductor comes in and asks us to "Find seats upstairs." Apparently we’re too fit, and the lower level is reserved for the not-so-fit. I debate whether to show her my delicately swollen ankle, and the extra post-marathon tyres around my waist, but give up, mostly because the girls begin to leave.

Upstairs, its brighter, more crowded, and there are no window seats. Out of frustration, I plonk myself into an aisle seat, next to a lady who is large and seems grumpy (in the manner of Midwesterners). Rambha and Urvasi aren't to be seen, they're in the back somewhere.

As we leave Chicago, a number of voices from the PA system tell us
  1. What train we're on
  2. Where the bathrooms are
  3. Where the dining car and lounge car are
  4. What the next stop is
  5. Where the bathrooms are
  6. When pillows will be handed out
  7. They're sorry for the number of announcements
  8. Where the bathrooms are
  9. What the next stop is
  10. The menu

Chicago,IL - Denver, CO
We're off. Sprinting (in the words of one Disembodied PA Voice) across Illinois. We stop at Galesburg, unremarkable except for being the birth of Carl Sandburg and a rail museum.


We cross the Mississippi (Verily, the Poet has said, "First Emma comes, then I come, then two asses, then I come again, and two more asses, and then I pee pee, and I come again.") near Burlington.



The food on board is wrapped in plastic, expensive and insipid. The lounge-cum-cafe car however, is worth the visit. The views are great. I sit and read in the fading light. Also manage to strike up conversation with the lady next to me. She's OK, returning to Omaha, Nebraska after visiting friends in Michigan. Works at the University of Nebraska, has desis in her hospital, wants to drive to Alaska, and is not as grumpy as I'd imagined!

"Dinner" is pizza and tuna salad sandwich. Yuck. There is a movie in the lounge car afterwards. Which is nice. Sitting with fellow satiated passengers, and a cup of coffee, as the sun plays a very short symphony with the hills of Iowa, watching Gene Hackman and Ray Romano in the gathering dusk.

In the middle of the night, we pull into Omaha, Nebraska. This one place I never expected to see in my life, but here we are. Not much of a city by the looks of it. My neighbour gets off, and I rejoice at having appropriated the window seat and try to fall asleep. Alack, this is not to be. A gigantic man, in a beard and dark glasses, with walking stick, plants himself next to me. Which event per se is not such a big problem. Other than leg space issues (Theroux in The Great Railway Bazaar has something to say about the conceit of the long distance rail traveler that I can't remember).

Just as I begin to doze off, neighbour starts snoring, and keeps it up with impressive volume, periodicity and continuity for the rest of the night, and into the morning. I don't get a wink of sleep and wash up at the unearthly hour of 6 a.m. Next morning, Hagrid gets off at Denver, which is a blessing.


The scenery has become flatter and more arid, after we left the Mississippi behind, but far away to the west, there be mountains! With snow glimmering on the tops. Mountains...I get muchly excited by the thought of the train going through all that. My dreams are dashed.

June 15, 2004: Denver, CO
20 minute stop. A bunch of schoolchildren in T-shirts that say, "From Wyoming to San Francisco and Back!!". Were told by Disembodied PA Voice (Lugubrious) that the Moffet Tunnel is closed, and so we'll go through Wyoming on the Union Pacific line. What this turns out to mean is that we don't go through any mountains, gorges, tunnels. Instead, from dawn to dusk, there is trackless Wyoming.


With "smoking halts" at Laramie and Green River.


The day passes in reading, writing, and chatting with the others on board. By now it is clear that the novelty of the trip has worn off for most. The kids are antsy and even the grownups' patience is wearing thin. In the evening, we cross into Utah, and the scenery becomes more palatable. Beautiful sunset.


Not a whole lot to write about, and "The Great Railway Bazaar" to read means that not a lot of thinking gets done either. The entire question of what to do in the fall is still there, a gaping hole in the future. We are in the Great Basin now...

[Scheherezade saw the approach of dawn and discreetly fell silent...]

NOTE: Remaining pictures are online. The train of thought, as it were, ran out of the steam of energy and inspiration at this point, and didn't pick up again till September 04, 2004, in Madras Egmore. But that tale will have to be told some other time.

Friday, October 07, 2005

Two movies, a book, and a quizzer's place

Come, come. Surely, even you can't come up with such a beautifully contrived title for a post. Cinema Paradiso is definitely one of the better things to happen to movie lovers in these parts. One is circumambulating Nagarjuna circle (clockwise) a la Ganymede around Jove, as one often does, and then one catches a glimpse of a store that calls itself "Cinema Paradiso". With heavy heart, and virtual certainty that this will be a gigantic letdown, one detaches oneself from Nagarjuna's beguiling centripetal charms and propagates rectilinearly into said establishment. " 'pon my word, what do we have here?" [This is the little rational choice idiot having fun. See here.] Shelves thickly stacked with all kinds of movies - there's your Kurosawa, your Ray, your Truffaut, your Godard, your Hitchcock, your Tarantino, my Emmanuelle Beart, your Schwarzn., your Wong Kar-Wai, my Meryl Streep, your Woody Allen and so on. Started by Santhosh, a cinematographer, "Cinema Paradiso" can now be found in Madras, Bangalore, Calcutta and Hyderabad.

Veena (methinks) had a post at Yossarian Lives about the Tamil movie Autograph that had been in the pending list for a while. So, this becomes movie #1. And truly, it is as they say, thoda hatke hai. The director takes you on a romp through an autobiographical and autographical (as in everyone he knows signs his autograph book) journey through his past, mostly about the girls and women he fell for. #1 is a classmate from high school, this part was done rather nicely, one thought. #2 is a classmate from college. Turns out the bloke studied in Kerala, so this part of the movie is all backwaters and elephants and kai kotti kaLi, mohini attam, kathakaLi. The story though, isn't as credible. What with our 'hero' from Tamil Nadu de-boating a gang of slimy, oil-slick Mallus because they taunted him; the girl's pop being some kind of modern Capulet or Montague pater familias; and so on. #3 is not really a 'love interest'. This one is a colleague who inspires the hero/diro to pick himself up, 'become something in life' (aambleah aNaa vaazhkayilu vaazhapazham yada yada (The last bit is from Seinfeld, but its very confusing with the italics, isn't it? Tee hee...)). This tries to deal with the "we're just friends" aspect of man-woman relationships. Hmm. On the whole, the movie is decent. "A welcome change from the standard fare", as they quoth. But nothing spectacular, at all. The Tam chauvinism bit was played up a little bit too garishly (the interior Mallu speaketh). Hopefully, better stuff will emanate from the same crew soon.

Apparently, all self-respecting intellectual cinematic types are supposed to have seen many Truffaut works. Self had not seen even one. This was remedied, thanks to Cinema P. Les Quatre Cents Coups became flick #2 to be borrowed. Truffaut was a rather opinionated and vocal film critic, the "...enfant terrible of the Cahiers du Cinema and Arts..." Rather uncharacteristically (for a critic) and bravely, he decided to put his money where his mouth was, and with money borrowed from his father-in-law ("Eef zee feelm failz, Eye weel ave atleast ruined Papa..."), he plunged into the murky (how can it not be with the French) world of cinema. The result was The Four Hundred Blows. The story is autobiographical (do all first films have to be?), and deals with the growing up of young Antoine Doimel (Truffaut went on to make 4 other movies with the same chief character). The film is a landmark in the French New Wave cinema, and so on. Suspect that the modern day viewer will be left a little bit cold at the approach this movie takes, but apparently some features of modern cinema that we're accustomed to originate from this seminal work (the last shot 'freeze frame' for example). All said and done, a watchable movie for the acting, the photography, and the historical and conversation value. Doimel as an adult holds promise. At some point in a grown-up French movie, someone is bound to take off their clothes. Mmm...

Concurrently, one has been flipping through the latest collection of Satyajit Ray's writings/speeches (some in Bengali) on cinema. Can't quite remember the name of the damn book now, but definitely worth a gander. Or goose. If that's how you're inclined. Not sure all of what he says is clear, but you can't miss his almost 'measured passion' for cinema, in the way he talks about film makers and movies that inspired his work. There is even a chapter where he analyzes shot-by-shot the scene from Pather Panchali where Harihar is told about his daughter Durga's death. Thought seems to have gone into every facet of the shot (scene composition, lighting, camera angles, weather), and it does show, in the movie as a whole, even if you don't notice individual items. Read it.

TAILPIECE: Now we have to write about quizzing too? Two movies and a book weren't enough? Ostrogoths. Vandals. Visigoths. Anyway, the IIT Madras Open Quiz happened on Sunday last (October 2, 2005). 300 odd teams (of four people each). Usual IIT quiz, some really good questions, a decent amount of highly obscure stuff. The usual suspects won. The usual suspects came second. We came fourth.

Wednesday, September 21, 2005

B    is for Boston

Continuing the powdering of the Begumpetian rasa podi, on a theme by Ludwig. The strange thing is, even in Begumpet, there are things that will drag one kicking and screaming to Beantown. For example, almost right outside the office here, there used to be a huge advertisement board, carrying an ad for Emirates (the airline). "Experience New York daily!" or somesuch, went the ad. And of all things, it showed Mariano Rivera about to lunge into one of his divine pitches. One year back, this would've been an incredibly painful sight, for obvious reasons. Yet, this year, it brings back the the happiest thoughts.

Another thing about Hyderabad, there's an obscene, inordinate number of people wearing NYY caps. If they ever got booted out of Yankee Stadium, they'll find a warm welcome in Lal Bahadur Shastri stadium. Orai Jeter, nee yenkamma, sixer kotta ra, orai...!!!, scream the fans.

We digress. Boston was home for 4 years and 4 months. Well, actually Cambridge was home for 4 years and 4 months, but we can do a "C is for Cambridge" post and get away by copy-pasting this one there also [Paataala Bhairavi type laughter here]. The very first place one had a coffee in the US (Tosci's, Central Square) in August 1997 decided our fates, my precious. "Got to live in Beantown! Got to live in Beantown!", went the little idiot inside the head who passes off as a rational choice type character, mostly.

So the menage a trois (me, my precious, and Mr. Rational Choice Type C.) moved lock, stock, barrel, tyres and so on to Somerville. 4 years and 4 months of fun and games followed. What did we like about Beantown? The bookstores, the T; the squares (that aren't); the river, the running, the running around the river; the winters (pre-New Year); those two universities and even the third, fourth and fifth; this museum and that one; this, that and the other cinema; those two teams; that ocean (only one); these woods (lovely, dark, deep); the restauarants, the dhaaba!, Chinese 'truck' food with Nobel laureates on MIT lawns, the bars...

This is pointless, the list is too big. Strangely enough, the list is almost entirely about Cambridge. Boston was also cool :)

Friday, September 16, 2005

Poems From Phillums

Before we do the Light Brigade act into the pomes, a delightful discovery needs to be shared. Terry Mordue (may his tribe increase) is trying to annotate as many allusions as he can from the works of P.G.Wodehouse. And from the notes on The Clicking Of Cuthbert, we learn about this absolutely delightful lady, Jael the wife of Heber. Read on. Its absolutely deliciously cute. Might have to slip a little something in Heber's drink and live happily ever after with Jael.

Poems from fillums. First of all, before you Google experts scuttle away to your little searches, in the manner of roaches when the light is turned on, a very decent list is available. So no nenu cheppanu kadaas from you. Secondly, we have already spoken of some of these here and here. And finally, perhaps we should try to avoid being lazy by resorting to such stratagems as including Shakespeare poems from "Shakespeare movies", Neruda poems from Neruda movies or even including Paul Verlaine's tragic sounding Song Of Autumn, just because the verses were used by the Allies to advise the French Resistance about the impending Normandy landings (and this was later depicted in The Longest Day.

Caveats having been dispensed with,

I

A very favourite movie has a couple of very favourite poems. First, Robert washes Meryl's hair to the pace of the fantastic Rime Of The Ancient Mariner. Very apt poem for such an activity. Also a great poem to mug up during long runs. Then, near the end, Meryl reads A.E.Housman's To An Athlete Dying Young over Robert's grave.

II

Surely, we must include The Hollow Men, read so chillingly by Marlon in Apocalypse Now.

III

The very very entertaining Dreamcatcher apparently has this one thrown in there somewhere.

More can be added.

Thursday, September 15, 2005

Smorgasboard

0. Happy Onam.

1. Finished yet another John Keay book, The Spice Route: A History. This man is rapidly turning into one's favourite historian about these matters. His India: A History was also very good, a judicious mix of history sprinkled with Keay's own pointed remarks about everything ("...the Near East in the Middle Ages was almost as troubled and strife-torn as the Middle East in nearer ages..."). Of course, it all started off over a year and a half back when we wrote about Tall Ships and en passant touched upon The Honourable Company, which was a history of the British East India Company. "The Spice Route" and "The Honourable Company" have much in common, intertwined as the history of colonialism and spices is.
The chronology of "The Spice Route" however starts in the dimly seen past, when Phoenicians, Egyptians and other sundry Levantine types started sailing. A history of spices follows - Greece-Rome-Dark Ages-Middle Ages and so on, before arriving at the point where the Iberians, the Italians, the Low Countries, and of course the English took to serious blue water sailing in search of "The Origin Of Spices". The pioneering work of Hippalos; the mysteries of Periplus Maris Erythraei (which is available in its entirety here); the peregrinations of Marco Polo, Ibn Batuta and Xuan Zhuang; of Admiral Cheng-ho's argosy (thanks to Zoo Station) and so on.

This history is full of the most surprising characters: shady Italian industrial espionage types who converted to Islam so as to be able to hang out with Arabs and learn their secrets; a Greek cabin boy who joins a British ship, finds his way to Siam, becomes a favourite at the King's court and is virtually Prime Minister of Thailand for a few years; Siam and Golconda going to war over the harassment of Indian porters (at British instigation) who carried cargos from the eastern end of the Malay peninsula to the western end over the isthmus of Kra, and so on.

UPDATE: This should've been posted yesterday (thanks to Anonymous for the reminder), but John Keay is indeed touring the country. More information is available. If you get a chance to hear the man speak, please intimidate us at Choultry also.

2. There are many blogs devoted to economics. Zoo Station, Indian Economy, Deesha, Secular Right, India Uncut are some blogs that frequently feature very readable posts on economics, government, the role of government in economics, and so on.

While they present different and interesting facets of and takes on various economic systems, it wouldn't be unfair to say that by and large the bloggers agree on (for want of a better phrase) "laissez faire free market capitalism" as their preferred economic system, for various reasons. Further, in general, these blogs are critical about socialism, communism and all other related -isms (complete the list yourself).

As someone who's knowledge of conventional economics and economic history is abysmal, and further more someone whose ability to gather the facts and analyze them is also pathetic, it becomes hard to frame any decent questions, or come up with any decent arguments about these issues. But but but...as someone who writes a blog read by 6 people, who's to stop us from asking some stupid questions anyway? Huh?!

  • What are the ethical/moral underpinnings of any economic systems? What is "good", "bad"? What does "equitable" mean? Is "equal access to resources and opportunities" "good"? Is it necessary? Is it sufficient? Have people who advocate any one system over the other answered these questions to their satisfaction? Is that necessary?

  • Generally, the laissez faire folk seem to be "meritocrats". This means, you have minimal regulatory interference, let individuals/firms compete in the open against each other, may the best man win, and to the winner go the spoils. This is "fair", and this is "good" for everyone. This seems to work nicely when all concerned start on the same level playing field, in terms of access to resources and opportunities, and the only variables are the capabilities of the entities concerned.
    Unfortunately, these entities include people. What happens after the first generation?

    Mr. A did well in life, so his children go to the best schools and so on. Ms. B didn't do so well, so her children weren't able to get an education and so on. Now what? Is anyone studying the effect of inequalities and how they are propagated across generations? What is the "good" solution to this problem? What is the "fair" solution? Wouldn't it be "fair" and "meritorious" to separate all children away from their parents as soon as possible, put them in some kind of residential school system where everyone is equal and turn them loose in the real world, without their parents' accomplishments backing them up? How do we draw these lines?

  • Doesn't it seem as though for about 5000 years, we lived in a free-for-all smash-and-grab world, where the bhains resided with the owner of the lathi, and the more you managed to hoodwink others, the better off you were? Then, suddenly, in the last 100 years or so, we've discovered "ethics" and "fairness" and now we changed the rules. "Oh no, you can't use violence to become rich any more." Seems like a bit of a children's game.

  • Macro economically speaking, what is the "end" of economics? If economic performance is measured in terms of "growth", and rewarded based on that performance, does this mean that this "prosperity" thing is inextricably linked with "growth"? Does "economic growth" always mean that, ultimately, we are using up more and more of some non-renewable resource? Per conventional wisdom: "economic growth" is a "good" thing, population growth is a bad thing, does this mean that the same number of (or fewer) people have to consume more and more things forever? Aren't war/calamities and the subsequent rebuilding, or even economic activity for the sake of economic activity, then a viable solution to our economic problems? Does this ever end? Where does this end? Where do economists want this to end, and where do they see this whole shebang going?

And so on and so forth... Very vexing these questions are, no answers in sight, and no one making a halfway decent attempt to explain this to the hoi polloi like us.

And a bloody long post.

Finis.

Friday, September 02, 2005

Waraldu Blogu Day

Apparently, it was some kind of World Blogger Orgy Day on the 31st, where we all go around slapping each other on the back, with general expressions of, "Jolly good show, old chap, eh! Tea?" & c. But since we've taken the "if you can't beat 'em, join 'em" approach to blogging, we will also mark the occasion.

Look to your right. More lynx have been added. It is a positive infestation of lynx. Some bookmarks, transferred from browser to blog. This, apparently is what is known as a blogroll. Every blog that has been linked to, is like butter. Because its on a roll. Ha ha. Very droll, we are also thinking.
  • Muesli Harmless - Be careful. Take your surgeon friend along. Will be useful when you need to shove your guts back inside and stitch them up, after you are done laughing.

  • A Walk In The Clouds - Another person with a wacko sense of humour [and some thousands (tens of thousands?) of adoring readers, apparently!]. Be warned about the PJs, though. They are all over the place, scattered, like dandelion seeds and shrapnel.

  • Zoo Station - One of the first blogs we bookmarked. Used to be a group blog, with a bunch of friends contributing, but now Reuben fights the good fight all alone. Very very interesting stuff here, almost every day. Lots of information, just the right amount of controversy, and so on.

  • Emergic - Rajesh Jain's writings on "Emerging Technologies, Enterprises and Markets"

  • Deesha - Atanu Dey on India's development. Disagree with many things here often, but always a thought-provoking read.

  • Indian Economy - This one is surely the flavour of the month. A bunch of A-list bloggers (Reuben, Atanu, Amit Varma etc.) present their take on the Indian economy. Interesting (if 'conventional') perspectives, even if one can't agree with them all the time. Or most of the time :-)

  • Sepia Mutiny - Another group blog where you're guaranteed to find something interesting, funny, weird every day. If you absolutely must read something new everyday, go here.

  • Meditations (of the DelphicOracle) - The DelphicOracle has sadly fallen very silently lately, although it used to speak at Zoo Station on many things - computers, Indian history (and the study thereof), the Red Sox...

  • Nanopolitan - Technology, society, more! Teaches at I.I.Sc in Bangalore, and has much to say about many, many things. Is also testing the theory that he is the only Abinandanan in the world. May Popper go with him.

  • Locana - That's not "loca" as in "locate", but locana as in the samskrtam for "eye". Anand writes on a variety of interesting things, and he doesn't know it but we find ourselves in concord very often.

  • Siddharth Varadarajan - Veteran journalist, very professional stuff.

  • Dilip D'Souza - Veteran columnist, writes about many things, with a personal touch.

  • Indianwriting - Uma M-D runs a fantastic blog. Like SepiaMutiny, something of interest every day. Bombay, books, movies, Bombay, people, animals, places, Bombay, issues, and so on. Did we mention Bombay? Well, yes a bit too much of Bombay (but then what would you have a blog about Bombay do?), but absolutely don't-miss-every-day blog.

  • AnandTech - Before you buy any gadget, check out what these guys have to say.

  • Joel On Software - Joel Spolsky's legendary blog, with his take on many many things about software development. He's very opinionated, but that's what makes this such a good read.

So that's that, then. More when we update the list next time.

Ah, it is Friday.

Stop all the clocks, cut off the telephone,
Prevent the dog from barking with a juicy bone,
Silence the pianos and with muffled drum
Bring out the coffin, let the mourners come.

Let aeroplanes circle moaning overhead
Scribbling on the sky the message He is Dead.
Put crepe bows round the white necks of the public doves,
Let the traffic policemen wear black cotton gloves.

He was my North, my South, my East and West,
My working week and my Sunday rest,
My noon, my midnight, my talk, my song;
I thought that love would last forever: I was wrong.

The stars are not wanted now; put out every one,
Pack up the moon and dismantle the sun,
Pour away the ocean and sweep up the woods;
For nothing now can ever come to any good.

Monday, August 29, 2005

Nauti Stuff - The Sinking

The title says it all. Gazing at the dying day, as the trackless plains of Andhra Pradesh rolled past the windows of the Hyderabad-Chennai Express (or, the Hyderabad-Chennai Express rolled past the trackless plains of India, as the case may be, if you're a stickler for these things), it is hard to keep thoughts of sinking ships out of one's mind. Your is not to ask why, yours is but to do or die. Die, die, die...[extricates ice pick]

Since we have not done a list in aeons, we will do a list. Famous ships that stank. Sank. Or were otherwise tragically interrupted as they went about their maritime activities. And the nominees are
  • The Titanic - this ship unfortunately has to top the list. Hated the movie, will not say anything more about this disaster, everyone and their aunty Akhilandeswari knows everything about this. You only have to say "Tit..." and people's arms just go up and glazed look colonizes visage, as though they were Leo and Kate coochicooing on the prow.
  • The Lusitania - The world's first quadruple screw steamer, and also the first ship to exceed 30,000 tons.
    On 7 May 1915, while heading east off the Old Head of Kinsale, Ireland...Lusitania was torpedoed without warning by U-20 and sank within 18 minutes. ..

    ...Of those on board, 761 were rescued, while 1,198 perished. Lusitania's sinking, and the sinking of White Star's Arabic a few months later, vividly demonstrated that prior concepts of the rules of war no longer prevailed, and that unarmed merchant ships were no longer safe from attack.
    The Lusitania incident was later used by Woodrow Wilson (who was officially keeping the US out of the First World War), as a propaganda tool.
  • The Kursk disaster - The Russian Typhoon (?) class SSBN sank with all hands off the coasts of Norway and Russia in 2000. He (the Russians use the male pronoun for ships, apparently) was part of military exercises, when it is believed that leaking fuel from a torpedo ignited and caused an explosion in the forward sections. Some 23 sailors survived the explosion and flooding in the aftmost compartment, and slowly asphyxiated, as rescue attempts to reach them, first by the Russians and later by an international team, failed. RIP.
  • The Exxon Valdez incident - No loss of life this time, but a lot of fishies and birdies and other cuties paid the price for this balls up.
    Exxon Valdez was the original name of an oil tanker owned by the Exxon oil company. The ship was renamed to "Sea River Mediterranean" after the March 24, 1989 oil spill in which the tanker hit Prince William Sound's Bligh Reef and spilled between 11 million and 35 million U.S. gallons (42,000 and 132,000 m³) of crude oil that killed billions of animals: the Exxon Valdez oil spill, or the EVOS. As a result of the spill, 10% of the wildlife died and 50% of the season catch of fish were killed. The captain of the Exxon Valdez was then found guilty of negligence, and in 1991 a federal judge rejected a $1.1 billion settlement reached by Exxon, the federal government, and Alaska.
    Interestingly, the ship makes a cameo appearance in a movie.
  • The Cheat List - Here we will bunch a list of World War II sinkings and be done...
    • HMS Royal Oak - Battleship. Torpedoed in Scapa Flow by Obertleutnant Gunther Prien
    • HMS Hood - Battlecruiser. Sunk by gunfire from the German battleship Bismark, in the course of The Battle Of The Denmark Strait" on May 24, 1941. There were 1400+ crew. 3 survived.
    • The Bismarck - Followed up her brief and spectacular success (above), by proceeding to be battered by the British Home Fleet, and was finally torpedoed by the HMS Dorsetshire. About 2200 died.
    • HMS Prince Of Wales and HMS Repulse" - Sunk by Japanese aircraft within an hour of each other off the east coast of Malaya on 10 December, 1941. The question of the battleship versus the bomber was answered.
    • TODO: USS Arizona and Pearl Harbor, the whole Pacific theater shebang, IJNS Yamato and IJNS Musashi, and so on...
This post has already been too long in the making, so here it is, unfinished, unhonoured, unsung.

Thursday, August 11, 2005

I Thoth I Thaw A Thweethybird

All right, very well! It has been ages since our desperate, thirsting readers were treated to a snack at the choultry. Last week was like a curate's egg. About the size of a regular chicken egg, round, offwhite, solid-yet-fragile and so on. Actually, that isn't true. Like all self-respecting layers of eggs and progenitors of hatchlings, the curate spent some time sitting on his egg. So it eventually ended up rather flat, yellowish, drippy, and mottled with little pieces of shell. So that's what last week was like.

And the disgusting egg and egglayer prelude lets us segue into the meat of this post. Not only does it let us segue into the meat of this post, it even lets us use the word segue in a sentence. Who uses segue in a sentence? We do. It is like wanting to use gargantuan, in a legitimate context. Some of use will go to any lengths, even feed an ex-colleague to a black mamba (or whatever), so that we can say "gargantuan" as the poor sod gasps his life out on the floor next to us. We're li' 'at.

We digress too much. For an urban jungle, Hyderabad seems to be exactly that. A jungle. A bunch of us go running ever so often on the banks of the Hussain Sagar, and the sheer variety of birdlife is amazing. You have your egrets, your cormorants (untrained, no politicians and/or lighthouse keepers in evidence), your ducks (not Ganguly's, yours! ha ha...), and so on. Vijay Cavale runs Indiabirds where you can see his rather fantastic pictures of various feathered fiends. Earlier this year, there was a bunch of differently plumed and hued egrets in the Sagar, a reliable source (not a little bird!) says that that's "breeding plumage" for 'em egret blokes.

And just last week, outside the flat windows, as one dissolutely plied the toothbrush in the oral cavity and gazed out over the unfolding morning scene in customary why-me-why-now-Suzanna fashion, out of the blue, a brace of Indian grey hornbills (ocyceros birostris) showed up in the neem (azadirachta indica) tree. It felt like a dream, as they flitted around in the dappled sunlight, as birds are wont to in literary works. None of the neighbours (homo sapiens) seem to have noticed them, and the passing cockroaches (periplaneta americana) motored on and took no heed. Even the Irrawady dolphins (oracella brevirostris) and the blue whales (balaenoptera musculus) scarcely raised a waterspout. Which is well and proper. Would've been one helluva of weirdass dolphin or blue whale to catch a glimpse of an Indian grey hornbill. Having used many scientific names in a paragraph (in case you didn't notice)...

A very good place to see birds, if you're in Bangalore, is to get out of Bangalore. Drive sou' sou' west, towards the Biligiri Ranganna Hills. You will pass through several wetlands, where impeccably feathered and improbably named jacanas wade through the marshes, and fill you with joy (the sight of Nature's variety and beauty), and perplexity ("How do I pronounce jacana?"). When you get to BR Hills, if you're very lucky, you will get to see an Asiatic paradise flycatcher and be amazed. "How did an Asiatic birdie make it into India without passport, visa, and bottle of Scotch for Customs?", you will wonder. Perhaps not. Certainly, you'll get goosebumps from seeing this creature.

The point of this diatribe is, there are many beautiful things in the world, outside of well designed Java applications.

Tuesday, August 02, 2005

We Were There

Extended break from blogging, thanks to an interminable week in Bombay. New Bombay, to be precise. Vashi-Mahape-Nerul to be more precise. In the manner of Alistair MacLean narrating H.M.S. Ulysses, we will describe the week:

Monday, a.m.: "Hey, those hills look so pretty in the rain, don't they? The mist, and the little cataracts tumbling off the Sahyadris. Its so pretty. I'm glad for the clouds, otherwise it would've been beastly hot and humid."

Monday, p.m.: "Ah, the smell of wet earth, and green growing things, and that wonderful feeling of moist things squelching as we walk over the verdure. I hope it stays this way for the rest of the week, love the rains in India, can't get enough of it."

Tuesday, a.m.: "Though it stopped last night, it seems to have started up again just now. Looks a bit heavy too. And the sky has that dull, metallic, grey look to it. Wish I'd thought of some way to waterproof the laptop backpack. Hope it doesn't rain too much. It'll probably stop by the time we have to leave the office."

Tuesday, early afternoon: "Hey, look at these Bombay locals machaan, they're ready to run home scared of a little rain. Ha ha ha."

"Its still raining, machaan."

Tuesday, a little later: "Did that guy just say that he was up to his chest in water outside the office gate?"

Tuesday, evening: "Oh well, if these wusses are all heading home, we might as well too. Its still raining, so lets not walk in the rain with the laptops. We'll call the hotel guy and ask him to send a car."

"Hey, the hotel guy says his car is in Chembur, and he'll send it over as soon as it gets to the hotel. That's not too bad, maybe 45 minutes or 1 hour of waiting?"

"Hmm...why again are we walking in the rain, sharing a borrowed umbrella, trying to catch a company bus that is clearly going to burst at the seams before it leaves?"

[Outside the office gates]: "Holy Fuck! Was that Maruti 800 really up to its roof in water??...Mommeeee!"

[In downtown Vashi]: "The hotel is only 1 k.m. away, we can easily wade through the knee-deep sludge and get there. If you go into a manhole, I'll scream, and vice versa."

Tuesday, night: "Shit. This stupid room doesn't have a fan. Only airconditioning. No TV. No phones. No cellphones. No radio. No power. What are we gonna do?"

Tuesday, 11 p.m.: "Its still raining, machaan. Do you think we'll be able to finish tomorrow and go home on Thursday?"

Wednesday, 2 a.m.: "Its still raining, machaan."

Wednesday, 8 a.m.: "Its still raining, machaan."

Wednesday, noon: "Its still raining, machaan. WTF. I think I saw something slimy crawl out of yesterdays clothes lying in the bathroom. Apparently everyone else on yesterday's bus reached home at 5 a.m. Things must be bad. Remind me never to rave about the rain again."

Wednesday, evening: "Ah, finally. Its stopped. Good thing we bought those umbrellas. They'll be really useful, now that the rains have stopped."

Thursday, a.m.: "Atleast we made it to the office. Where is everyone else? Slackers!"

Thursday, evening: "Phew! Done here. Do you think we'll be able to make it to the airport in time for the flight tomorrow? Do you think the airport exists? Do planes exist? What are planes? Hasn't civilization dissolved into a blob and flowed into Mahim Creek over the last two days?"

Friday, 4 a.m.: "Hey, its raining again. Hopefully we'll be able to take off."

Friday, 6 a.m. [Sakinaka] : "Was that really a bicycle in that tree?"

Friday, 8 a.m.: "Huzzah! Out of Bombay. Is it raining in Hyderabad?"

The rains have been horrendous in Bombay.

Friday, July 22, 2005

Phavourite Phoren Phlix

There is nothing quite like that feeling as you sit in the darkened theatre, surrounded by the hubub of pre-movie conversation, and the lights dim, the curtains rise (in India anyway), something flickers on the screen. For We Who Love The Movies, this is a moment of anticipation unlike any other, the laws of diminishing returns never apply, the nebulous thrill never quite loses its edge.

It never really matters what movie you're watching - it could be some ho-hum mega movie or a true masterpiece, that moment is always there to relish. It is like...umm...the almost-burnt crispy portion of tandoori chicken. The finished article may be of varying quality, but you have to admit that the crispy bit is delicious, every time. Anyway, it is a magical moment, and if you don't know it...well, not everyone is perfect.

Many a time have we sat in one cinema or the other, and eaten the crispy bits of tandoori chicken. Let us all join hands before it is too late and salvage this post from the clutches of Chicken, Tandoori. This post is not about TC. It is about movies. Phoren ones. Seeing a good movie is pleasure enough, if it happens to be in a language you don't understand, and it has subtitles (slurrrp...weird, neh?), it is that much more satisfying. And the list of favourite foreign flicks is (classified by language):
  • Spanish: Amores Perros (Love's A Bitch). A tale of three interrelated tales, set in Mexico City, with a certain gritty feel to it. Y tu mamá también (And Your Mother Also) was also enjoyable - about love, friendship, desire, growing up, death and so on.
  • Iranian: There are many stalwarts here apparently, Majid Majidi, the unbelievable Makhmalbaf family, Jafar Panahi, Abbas Kiarostami and others. Badkonake Sefid (The White Balloon) was unbelievably enjoyable, and very very poignant.
  • Chinese: Clear all-time favourite movie, watchable again and again and again is Chong qing sen lin (Chungking Express) by the very talented (lyrical, almost?) Wong Kar Wai. Set in Hong Kong, two love stories that keep running into each other, and into a fast food joint. See this one. Buy it. In The Mood For Love is also fantastic, lovely background music.
  • Russian: Remember seeing only one of these, that too an old, incredibly long (200 minutes!), sometimes monumentally dragging Andrey Rublyov by Tarkovsky. This biopic charts the life of an (apparently) great icon painter, through a period of Russian-Tartar strife. It contains some of the most impressive shots and cinematic techniques one can recollect. This movie makes the list, simply because of one outstanding scene, involving a bell. Briefly (and probably inaccurately), the Tsar's troops spare the life of only one child in the village because he knows the secret formula for mixing the metals to make the alloy used in some stupendous church bells that his father used to make. The Tsar commissions the bell, and under the supervision of the kid, hundreds of thousands of peasants toil (think of the Saruman-Isengard-factory scenes from "The Lord Of The Rings" trilogy) to melt and shape the metal. All of this is pretty mundane stuff initially, but as the date for conducting the User Acceptance Testing of the bell comes closer, the audience is really set on the edge, the suspense is incredible, and the denouement comes with a palpable sense of joy and relief. Very rarely happens.
  • Japanese: This guy and his movies are very good (especially Madadayo), but the award goes to Tampopo. Really funny, and enjoyably weird, in the manner of the Japanese. Mix of Western (as in cowboy), the Food Network channel, erotica.
Of course, there are others. We have not even touched many areas of the world, but that will have to wait.