Saturday, 28 February 2009


Those roses in our backyard have left this world
once again. Silently, without fanfare.

I suffered happier bruises
when I picked some for you,
foolishly bartering somber memories for an elusive hope.
The ones that escaped my touch persisted,
sticking to their unwavering loyalty
for a life that wasn't theirs to own or nurture.

The ones that stayed back-
scented our tea and enlivened our home
through their life;
Emboldening my need
for someone other than themselves.
A wandering dog decided to lie beside them
and breathe his last.
And pat they fell like a pack of cards,
to sheathe him in tender blossoms.
That was it.

The ones that I sent you-
must have long withered by now.
But in this short inconsequential life,
the grandeur of their silence
dwarfs our individual destinies.

Friday, 27 February 2009

The Boxer

One of my favourite-st songs performed by one of my favourite-st singers.

Now the years are rolling by me,
they are rocking even me;
I am older than I once was,
and younger than I'll be, that's not unusual.
No it isn't strange, after changes upon changes,
we are more or less the same;
After changes we are very much the same.

These lyrics, surprisingly, are not present in the original album version. But those are fantastic lyrics anyway. If I was the Mahmud of Ghazni and Simon and Garfunkel were my court composers, I would have given them a dinar for every couplet they ever wrote; and certainly not renege on my promise like the Mahmud originally did to Firdausi when the latter presented his magnum opus, the Shahnamah. Now enough with that anachronistic fantasy :P

Thanks Sudeep for 'leading' me to this :-).

Thursday, 26 February 2009


Some days ago, a friend with whom I regularly correspond by e-mail, complained that my blog posts were getting heavier by the day. I wrote back saying I could not help it for I don't really have a talent for humor in writing; or to put it more equivocally, I haven't really bothered to 'cultivate' that skill.

But then humor exists around you, and even knocks on your doorstep thanks to rapid dissemination through the internet. During the last two days, whenever I logged on to IBNlive to check for updates on the 26/11 chargesheet, a particular link caught my attention for it was the only one on the page in blue font. Of course, on finally reading the article I was "hee-haw-guffaw" for at least twenty minutes and promptly shared it with my fellow grad-student friends who, like me (as the rest of the world sees it), lead boring "monochromatic" lifestyles, in need of succor.

Now I won't go about analyzing the article because there isn't anything much to it beyond its hilariously ridiculous content. In a nutshell, it talks about the results of a survey which indicate that indians are extremely happy with their sex-lives and top the list in a 13 nation survey. Now that has either got to be a lie (99.9%) or unfortunately, as I have said before, I need to accept being on the wrong geographical side of cultural evolution at the wrong time (0.1%). However, it is more likely a case of flawed experimental design more than anything else. It's like conducting a survey on the degree of satisfaction with public intellectual discourse and having a tribe in the Papua New Guinea hitherto untouched by civilization topping the list. Or alternatively conducting a survey on cultural pride and finding that the Texans made it on the top.

On a side note, I confessed to a friend yesterday that eating tofu is going to be extremely difficult for the next few days (ref: article). As it is vegetarians have limited options in the west; the rest of the world, please don't hijack those to construct disturbing metaphors as you fancy :-). Now I go for lunch, but Oriental is out of the list for sometime.

Wednesday, 25 February 2009

I realized today

that I have completely lost interest in following any kind of commercial sport on the television or the internet. I do not look forward to 20-20 or the Grand Slams or the Football leagues. I wonder what happened.

Monday, 23 February 2009

A day in a life

Should have been practicing at the piano but did not. Was reading stuff that I should not have been. Was clicking my fingers when I should have been thinking more coherent thoughts.

I have been dreaming and sleeping all of today when it ought to have been a day of productive activity. Had the most peaceful nap on the floor of the common lounge on the side of the infinite corridor. I dreamt about my losses. The hour seemed like five and I woke up fresh and resolute, eager and earnest to seek redemption. But the cajoling lightness of the day caught up soon and I found myself walking out of a tepid immunology lecture to watch the early sunset by the Charles. Then I felt bad about it and wondered when I was going to catch up on the biology that I have been procrastinating for so long. As one grows older, one wishes one were more cavalier during past years.

I attempted a jog in the cold but inadequate stretching over the last few weeks is troubling me in the form of a prohibitive muscle sore. Came back to my room, dreamt for a while and read some inconsequential physics for sometime with an attempt to engage a wandering mind. But the flickering yellow across the street is hell bent on putting me to sleep again I shall go back to some more unconsciousness with a hope of waking up to a more engaging day. It's been a light and tender day I could have done without:

This is my dream,
It is my own dream,
I dreamt it.
I dreamt that my hair was kempt.
Then I dreamt that my true love unkempt it.

- Ogden Nash
Not the best follow-up to an uncanny poetic brilliance but all my body is up for now is a big yawn! A sorry blasphemer I will be.

Wednesday, 18 February 2009

Excerpt from 'India after Gandhi'

It's the late hours of the night and I'm finding it difficult to sleep. I was flipping through the pages of Ramachandra Guha's wonderful book on post-independence India - India after Gandhi. I had read this book cover-to-cover in a marathon attempt about a year ago. It is a profoundly important book and deserves a second reading, especially when one easily forgets important details over time.

I was re-reading chapter 27 -titled Riots- and I came across a passage that I felt the need to quote on this blog. It was an excerpt from an older book called Nailing the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (by a certain D. R. Goyal) which Guha quotes as 'a concise summary of the ideology of the Sangh Parivar'. Now, many will think this is hackneyed and unnecessary. In our liberal minds (sorry for the presumption; but I doubt any conservative reads my blog), we know what the RSS/BJP/VHP stand for and desire to perpetuate. But such razor-sharp characterization is rare and I feel obliged to share it with the others. Goyal states that 'without fear of contradiction, it can be stated that nothing more [than the following] has [ever] been said in the RSS shakhas during the past 74 years of its existence'. (brackets mine)

Hindus have lived in India since times immemorial; Hindus are the nation because all culture, civilisation and life is contributed by them alone; non-Hindus are invaders or guests and cannot be treated as equal unless they adopt Hindu traditions, culture etc.; the non-Hindus, particularly Muslims and Christians, have been enemies of everything Hindu and are, therefore, to be treated as threats; the freedom and progress of this country is the freedom and progress of Hindus; the history of India is the history of the struggle of the Hindus for protection and preservation of their religion and culture against the onslaught of these aliens; the threat continues because the power is in the hands of those who do not believe in this nation as a Hindu Nation; those who talk of national unity as the unity of all those who live in this country are motivated by the selfish desire of cornering minority votes and are therefore traitors; the unity and consolidation of the Hindus is the dire need of the hour because the Hindu people are surrounded on all sides by enemies; the Hindus must develop the capacity for massive retaliation and offence is the best defence; lack of unity is the root cause of all the troubles of the Hindus and the Sangh is born with the divine mission to bring about that unity.

This straightforward ideology is transmitted among the Hindu thinking class in subtle ways - lofty religious liturgy from the Ramayana and the Gita are cherry picked to sugar-coat this nonsense, it is then mixed with a manufactured fear of a culture and identity threat; the Congress, with its many shortcomings and incompetencies, provides a closure to this potent recipe of obfuscation. As I sit in a foreign land and type these words, nearly 80% of my kin day-dreams and romanticizes about the BJP overthrowing the UPA in the forthcoming general elections. They are good people, lead honest lives as far as I know, nurturing their family and doing well in their careers; and they only form a microcosm of the large chunk of affluent society in India who openly root for the Hindutva brigade as a result of a self-imposed faith-based insecurity and manufactured consent that spread like a virus. They are blissfully unaware of the moral wager that rests on their conscience and more importantly, their common sense that is on a vacation. The BJP government in Karnataka has, with its mute spectator-ship of organized persecution of Christians in the state and its stellar handling of the Shri Ram Sena goons, proved once again where its loyalties lie. Rajnath Singh and Advani are resurfacing with their Ram-Janmabhoomi-talk; it is important not only that we call a spade a spade, but also try reason with others who sit on the fence.

Taliban havoc continues

A week after a supposed 'peace-treaty' was arrived at between the Taliban and the state of Pakistan, a Journalist who was doing no more than what his profession demanded was shot and decapitated in the Swat Valley. The ceasefire is a euphemism for Taliban to impose its will on the valley and its people in the name of the oppressive Islamic Shariah law. I wonder what was going on in their minds when the safeguards of democracy in Pakistan agreed to something like this. What could this possibly achieve? It reminds me of the fable of the frog and the snake.

This is disturbing news. India has palpable reasons to fear Taliban's rise; I wonder what the West is thinking. As another article puts it:

But in the event the Taliban are seen to be moving in on Islamabad or there is a danger of Pakistan's nuclear weapons falling into their hands. America's mini war in the tribal territories could escalate into a full-scale war with uncertain consequences.


I came across the Opinionator article in the New York Times earlier today; notwithstanding its title that might obscure the gravity of the Taliban takeover of the valley, it spreads out some of the western opinion on a platter:

The Pakistani government has essentially given control of the Swat Valley to the Taliban. It means that the Taliban are now 100 miles from Islamabad and the military center of Rawalpindi. It also means that Pakistan’s Northwest Province is well on its way to becoming what Afghanistan used to be–a sanctuary for Al Qaeda and related terrorists. The most infuriating aspect of this development is that the Swat Valley residents were apparently looking for a simple government service that Islamabad could not provide–a justice system.

Monday, 16 February 2009

Muhammad Yunus

A conversation with a friend earlier today reminded me of Muhammad Yunus's autobiography which I had the chance to read a year and a half ago. In fact, I had gifted a copy of Banker to the Poor to my dad on his 53rd birthday without reading it myself. It was my dad who read the book and shared his excitement with me over a dinner table conversation which lasted till midnight. He presented, in a seasoned raconteur's style, the gist of what Yunus and his colleagues accomplished by establishing a sustainable system of microcredit in Bangladesh. I was thoroughly inspired by what my dad said and I ended up reading the book over the following week.

Today I found myself in my dad's shoes, making a loose attempt at narrating the events that led to Yunus's conception of Grameen bank. I came back to my room to look for some online chapters from the book to refresh my memory as I have forgotten most of the details. It turns out that the online website of the book displays the very chapter that affected me the most (when I first read it) for free reading. It's only a few pages long , the prose is simple and I strongly recommend that you read it. What is perhaps most striking is Yunus's underlying humility behind the things that he did, his earnestness to learn about the problem before attempting a solution and the sense of purpose that motivated him to execute his vision.

I remember a conversation I had with an American office-mate some months ago; he happens to be a registered republican. He was explaining (nothing was argumentative here because I was a mute listener) why he was economically conservative- 'people are poor by their own choice and deserve to be so. I work hard to earn my money and I don't want to part with it to help someone undeserving in the name of taxes or charity'- a simple argument with high rhetoric value more than anything else; but something that people find easy to buy and ideologize. After all, one doesn't have to read Milton Friedman to be Republican. Furthermore, this is probably what many libertarians feel too. Perhaps the reasonable right minded ones among these might change their mind or move to a less extreme ideology if they read Yunus's account of rural Bangladesh and are willing to be affected by what he saw.

People like Sufiya were poor not because they were stupid or lazy. They worked all day long, doing complex physical tasks. They were poor because the financial institutions in the country did not help them widen their economic base. No formal financial structure was available to cater to the credit needs of the poor. This credit market, by default of the formal institutions, had been taken over by the local moneylenders. It was an efficient vehicle; it created a heavy rush of one-way traffic on the road to poverty. But if I could just lend the Jobra villagers the twenty-seven dollars, they could sell their products to anyone. They would then get the highest possible return for their labor and would not be limited by the usurious practices of the traders and moneylenders.

Thursday, 12 February 2009

The Art of Mozart

I just got back from a wonderful All-Mozart program at the Boston Symphony Orchestra (BSO). Once again, free tickets could be procured through channels available to a lowly graduate student at MIT. As with the previous visit, armed with our cavalier sense of adventure, Priya, Varun and I managed to sneak into expensive balcony seats on the first floor. Over the period of two hours, the orchestra played 5 symphonies - 1) No. 1 in E-flat, K.16, 2) Symphony in G, K.45a, 3) No. 13 in F, K.112, 4) No. 14 in A, K.114, 5) No. 18 in F, K.130 (P.S: I'm typing these names out from the program brochure so that interested people can search for them on youtube. It's not like I remember them off the top of my head :P ).

The first of these was composed by Mozart when he was eight (by that time I had read my first comic book), the second when he was ten (that's when I started sleeping alone at nights courageously), the third when he was eleven (almost puberty), the fourth when Mozart had barely reached fifteen (that was when I first fell in love with a girl in my class; part sexual, part juvenile) and he was sixteen when he wrote No. 18 (never mind the attempts at correspondence). If I, without absolutely no talent for music could feel liliputian, read this:

Of course when we recall that Mozart was twenty-seven when he wrote that impressive piece (referring toSymphony no. 25), and that he was only a few months past his thirty-second birthday when he composed the great final triad, we are jolted into the realization that all his symphonies are in a sense early works (he wrote forty-one in his lifetime). At thirty-two, Brahms, Bruckner, Elgar, Hindemith, Martinu, Sibelius, and Vaughan Williams-among others-had not yet dared their first symphonies.
-Quoted from the BSO brochure (italics mine)

I have admitted before that I have no particular acumen for music or the technicalities behind it. If I love a piece, even my ability to describe my feeling in a manner that people might call 'aesthetically refined' is highly limited and susceptible to fallacies. But I have always felt with Mozart's music, that simple transcendental quality that makes it immediately appealing to one's ears. Be it the buoyant Turkish March, the sombre Requiem, the beatific Eine Kline Nachtmusik (one of the many movements) or my favourite, Symphony no. 25 in G minor, they are simple and will not fail to enthrall the accommodating and discerning ear. As a columnist in the brochure puts it:

Mozart of course came to take pride in his ability to write music that seemed simple to the simple but whose non-obvious complexities were there to delight those with more demanding ears. The minuet along with its tightrope horn lines, offers a canon to begin with and a few surprising harmonies in the Trio, and the finale brings everything to an exuberant, joyous close.

There's something in Mozart for everyone :-)

Wednesday, 11 February 2009

Modi's Gujarat

When my father was visiting Boston a few weeks ago, I brought up the topic of Modi and his recent deification by the Indian corporate lobby. I was not surprised to find some sympathies and even admiration for the man in him,being an entrepreneur and an industrialist himself. This naturally led us to a heated debate and the only concession I managed to extract from my father was the following - Modi's much admired efficiency in commissioning SEZs and removing red tapes for corporates with economic interests in the state is not going to extricate him from the moral obligation to commit to a fair trial on the 2002 events where his culpability as the leader of the state is a matter beyond reasonable doubt to any person of moderate intelligence. Even that drained me out of my powers. But as an essay by a sociologist that Deepa Nair mailed to me states:

The career of Narendra Modi is a case study that will intrigue many. He's a politician seeking to redefine himself and Gujarat. He's doing this not in terms of a holistic vision, but a fragmentary one. He has the industrialists on his side because he simplifies rules and regulations for them. He has the religious sects with him because he speaks the hybrid language of history and modernity. He claims the new by antagonizing the old, creating a middle class urban base that dreams of change, tired of the old grammar of party politics and caste equations. No leader is more contemptuous of his own party than Modi.


What defines him is speed: He is in a hurry, so he is intolerant. He hates any form of opposition and his ruthlessness stems from there. Often in India, we confuse the arbitrary and the ruthless with the decisive. Ratan Tata forgot the Tata tradition to opt for Modi's modernity, and created a favourable social contract between two outstanding modernizers. Gujarat is probably the only state where the SEZ and the privatized ports have legitimacy. In the short run, Modi is king. Long live the king of the short run. What of the long run?

It's no surprise that such qualities will immediately find the admiration of industrialists like my father. It is not that their kind is morally shallow or even oblivious but one has to understand that one is often limited by the boundaries of one's own interests and perception. It will, however, be an extremely sad state of affairs if in the futute, political dissent becomes the prerogative of merely the academic elite and the vast ocean of illiterate masses. As the essay puts it better than I could dream of:

As John Maynard Keynes said, we'll all be dead, but memory lives, and the future will ask questions which may not be popular today. Is Gujarat India's China, seeking to substitute Chinese ruthlessness for Indian deliberative democracy? What of justice for marginals and minorities and for all the opposition that paid the price for dissent? Dissent is a precious way of life. If Gujarat were measured in terms of a dissenters' index, it would rank abysmally low. If competence were evaluated in terms of diversity, well-being and value maintenance, we've already lost the battle.

Modi's Gujarat is a future urban nightmare. On ecology, health and welfare, Modi shows little competence. Privatising health is no way to well-being. Creating education as a business is no guarantee of quality. As a master of methodology, Modi is all technique and speed, without vision.

Tuesday, 10 February 2009

Two things

made my day today.

The first was an article in the Indian Express which Purushottam Dixit forwarded this morning. The article described RSS's recently announced plans to synthesize a cola drink based on bovine urine, which is considered extremely nourishing in some older Hindu texts. Ordinary human beings and the late Morarji Desai would disagree there, albeit with different points of view and naturopathic propositions. Now, we always accuse the Hindutva brigade of the lack of imagination but the Sri Ram Sene and now the RSS have proven beyond reasonable doubt that they have developed a fine capacity to think out of the box. I imagined it'll be wonderful if these guys actually make and market such a drink and get it patented. Furthermore, it'll be awesome if this drink, let's call it Gau-cola, kicks Coke out of business. They might even sign up Aamir Khan as their brand ambassador, who knows!

But then the Coca Cola company might hit back with their own shocker. Remember, the recipe for the original Cola drink still remains a secret from the world. There might just be a secret ingredient beyond our imaginations. Yikes!

The next was this blog page about the 'Pink Chaddi' campaign. It's suddenly all over the place- Amit Varma has written about it, there are facebook and orkut groups attracting throes of members and even the TOI and IBNlive mentioned it over the last couple of days. It's pink chaddi vs saffron dhoti one on one now. Suddenly, the west has become a hackneyed spot for St. Valentine's. Some Indians always find themselves on the wrong side of revolutions :P

Saturday, 7 February 2009

Ram is back

The headlines of all the Indian newspapers are displaying a new pet topic - the BJP has asserted its intention to resurrect the Ram Janmabhoomi issue and place it among their primary political agenda. Articles in the Indian Express, TOI and The Hindu have quoted Rajnath Singh's words at a recent rally:
"Jahan tak Ram Janambhoomi ka sawal hai, koi ma ka lal Bhagwan Ram me hamari aastha aur nishta ko diga nahi sakta (No one can shake BJP's faith and reverence to Lord Ram),"
I was surprised to see the party president so vehement on the issue for I have memories of him as an inarticulate, almost incompetent speaker when he tried miserably to defend his party in the aftermath of Godhra. But then I saw the actual video of his speech where the man raises the gauntlet of faith to be cheered by an audience with cries of "Jai Shri Ram".

It is just miserable that a mainstream political party is able to win seats in the parliament by harnessing its agenda on an religio-centric issue like this. The talk of giving this issue the highest priority in their political agenda is understandably directed to a section of the Hindu classes comprised of the middle class and upwards. And it would be least surprising if a large part of educated Hindus actually vote for the BJP across constituencies obeying the calling of their faith. A good part of my extended family falls in the bracket of these deluded fools. They remain blissfully unaware of the moral obligations that they have failed to live upto.

We have a plethora of political critics attacking the BJP's stand on the basis of its provenance in pernicious identity politics but surprisingly, not on the basis of its inherent irrationality and subterfuge.

Friday, 6 February 2009

Some music

I attended a concert at the Boston Symphony Orchestra today; MIT students get the privilege of attending fifteen free concerts in a year and today was one of those days. The menu consisted of two Mozart arias, a piece by a modern American composer by the name of Schuller and Brahms' Symphony no. 2 in D, Opus 73. I had not heard any of these previously. The two sopranos were wonderfully sung by a lady in a pretty black-purple dress and the Brahms' Symphony turned out to be a fantastic experience. The Schuller piece was a bit tedious and I didn't enjoy it very much (the complete absense of melody was one reason. Postmodernism may sound cool, but it does get a little difficult on you sometimes). The concert was conducted by a cheerful corpulent old man in the grand Symphony Hall which dates back to the late 1800s. Though all student tickets had been assigned the front rows on the ground, some of us to smuggle ourselves to the balcony seats on the second floor since they were vacant and inviting. The theater has a wonderful ambience that combines baroque designs on a Victorian canvas with some Greek sculptures placed in a series on the high walls. When the concert ended with the Brahms' crescendo, it was as if the entire hall lit up with a double luminescence as everybody arose to close the ceremony with a thunderous applause.

I didn't follow any of the technical details in the musical pieces, but hopefully someday I will. I learn that Mozart's 25th and 40th are going to be played sometime soon; I hope in all earnestness that they allow students. Following this line of optimism, on someday much farther than today, I hope I'll be able to play Chopin's waltzes to someone willing to listen.

So intimate, this Chopin, that I think his soul
Should be resurrected only among friends
Some two or three, who will not touch the bloom
That is rubbed and questioned in the concert room.

- from Portrait of a Lady (by T. S. Eliot)

Over the last few days, I've developed a great liking to Bruce Springsteen's latest song which also happens to be the title song of "The Wrestler". It is 'existentialist' in its theme, and that is perhaps the most appropriate word that fits the feeling that the song induces. But it's not exactly that either. There is more of the defiance of Prometheus than the stoicism of Sisyphus in the song according to me, and that makes it all the more appealing.

Something about the song resonated with my own mood for the last couple of weeks and I guess it gradually grew on to me and I became fond of it. I don't have the words to express it, but then these friends always defect when you want them the most. Of course they have your interest in mind lest they appear out in the open and reveal more than you yourself can fathom. It is difficult to talk about the things and experiences that affect you while avoiding the landmines of affectation.

I remembered the first time I had read Albert Camus' 'The Stranger' and the thoughts that occupied my head when I tried to make sense of the philosophy from the fiction. Mersault, the principal character in the novel and the narrator, reveals so less of himself throughout the story and suddenly there is an avalanche that flows from his voice in the last few pages. The last paragraph of the book is one of my favorites in among all the fiction I have read:

People were starting on a voyage to a world which had ceased to concern me forever. Almost for the first time in many months I thought of my mother. And now, it seemed to me, I understood why at her life’s end she had taken on a “fiancĂ©”; why she’d played at making a fresh start. There, too, in that Home where lives were flickering out, the dusk came as a mournful solace. With death so near, Mother must have felt like someone on the brink of freedom, ready to start life all over again. No one, no one in the world had any right to weep for her. And I, too, felt ready to start life all over again. It was as if that great rush of anger had washed me clean, emptied me of hope, and, gazing up at the dark sky spangled with its signs and stars, for the first time, the first, I laid my heart open to the gentle indifference of the world. To feel it so like myself, indeed, so brotherly, made me realize that I’d been happy, and that I was happy still. For all to be accomplished, for me to feel less lonely, all that remained to hope was that on the day of my execution there should be a huge crowd of spectators and that they should greet me with cries of hate.

Thursday, 5 February 2009

Pramod Muthalik, the kingpin of the Sri Ram Sena has announced (Excerpt from

Our activists will go around with a priest, a turmeric stub and a mangalsutra on February 14. If we come across couples being together in public and expressing their love, we will take them to the nearest temple and conduct their marriage.

There exists a second level of absurdity beyond the obvious - the tacit assumption that the couple in question would necessarily be Hindu.


Already Myanmar’s government is one of the most brutal in the world, and in recent months it has become even more repressive.

A blogger, Nay Phone Latt, was sentenced to 20 years in prison. A prominent comedian, Zarganar, was sentenced to 59 years. A former student leader, Min Ko Naing, a survivor of years of torture and solitary confinement, has received terms of 65 years so far and faces additional sentences that may reach a total of 150 years.

We blame our political history for what goes wrong in India today - reservations, minority appeasement, corruption, Kashmir and what not. But isn't it noteworthy that we have a reasonably stable democratic political establishment compared to our immediate neighbors in the subcontinent? It is no less than a miracle of fate that has escaped our notice. I need hardly mention the state of Pakistan and its military history; Nepal is a fledgling republic with a history of Maoist terror and palace intrigue, parts of Sri Lanka are still reeling with civil war in its north and Bangladesh has just recovered from a inhuman period of military emergency.

A possible danger of a military coup in India would hardly occur to any of us even in the wildest of our imaginations. Unlike Myanmar or Bangladesh our military has been "mostly" loyal to respecting constitutional civil liberties (quotes to highlight Kashmir and the eastern states as outliers to this simplification). And unlike Pakistan, the Indian military has been quite faithful to the central governmental directives and non-intrusive in state policies.

It's difficult to imagine what the situation might be in countries like Myanmar, for even journalistic reporting of facts is scarce. One feels the same moral outrage against the Indian government for not speaking out against atrocities meted out by the military government as one feels against the US for its complicity with Israel against Palestinians. It's a country where over 3000 political prisoners are suffering injustice including the country's only Nobel Laureate who has been under house arrest for nearly eleven years. The military outlawed her lawful right to assume prime-ministership of the country in spite of winning an 80% vote in the general elections around 1990.

India has her own troubles to deal with at the moment. As I remember reading the words of an author (can't recollect the source)- India is an "unnatural nation" and an "unlikely democracy". My idealism might fade away soon enough as I gradually age. But will there be a time when we have governments and leaders who speak unequivocally against such crimes in our neighborhood (after having set our own house in order to begin with) calling a spade a spade? Or will future political and economic power (wishful thinking) make us indifferent or worse, embrace the American ways of unlawful intervention for propagation of self-interests under a sanctimonious guile? Only time will tell.

But one thing is certain - we can change our political friends and enemies, but not our geographical neighbours

Wednesday, 4 February 2009

A fascinating story

Tuesday, 3 February 2009

onerous music notes

The wasp and all his numerous family
I look upon as a major calamily.
He throws open his nest with prodigality,
But I distrust his waspitality.

-Ogden Nash

My piano instructor is a real wasp. He's passionate about his teaching but he stings when you try to be a smart-ass. I assumed I'd be able to compute note positions as fast as I could play them on the piano, but only ended up falling flat on my presumption and looking stupid. If only natural numbers were one-hundredth as close and personal with me as they were with Ramanujan, I'd have pulled this one off :-(.

No more mental gymnastics from now on. Read, repeat and remember will be the way hereafter. Ess muss sein!

Monday, 2 February 2009

The scientific method

This lofty phrase that cuts through much of the debate between proponents of intelligent design and Darwinists, theists and atheists, seers and scientists, astrologers and statisticians is really this simple (watch video).

One of the qualities of greatness is the ability to keep things simple and to be able to harness insight with a clarity of vision. People might disagree to this obvious simplification and they may be quite right in their criticism. Complexity is quite a necessity in the domains of writers, artists and poets - and I won't try to go exploring the nature of that kind of complexity because it is quite likely I might fail miserably. After all, there certainly is a reason many of us prefer Umberto Eco over Dan Brown. We can use this as a point of convenient departure.

A mail from a friend got me thinking for a while about directive principles like Occam's razor - unarguably human psychological artifacts that have proved quite useful while constructing scientific theories. They have also been misleading at times- the simplest example that comes to mind is the misplaced Aristotelian assumption that planets moved in circular orbits, the circle being the perfect shape. Another cute example that comes to recollection is the following conversation between a philosopher and his friend (I forget the names of the characters and I cannot find the source; I shall try to reproduce it from memory to the best of my abilities):

Philosopher: Tell me, why did they assume that the sun went around the earth in older times?

Friend: Why, because it's obvious isn't it?

Philosopher: What's obvious about it?

Friend: Why, it's obvious from the way it looks up in the sky, isn't it?

Philosopher: Well then, do tell me how it would have looked if instead, the earth went around the sun?

So, simplicity (or perceived obviousness) isn't always the name of the game. That said, there are other kinds of artifacts which scientists have exploited in recent years- things that fall under the bracket of 'transcendental reasoning' or 'enlightened empiricism'. Physicists, especially post Einstein, have very frequently made successful "leaps of faith" in order to preserve abstract concepts like conservation, symmetry, parity and even things like immutability of the second law of thermodynamics.

Why? Because there is a gut feeling that these things must be overarchingly correct. Of course, as Feynman himself says, the experiment should be the final judge of the thesis and also the progenitor of enlightened reasoning (as I read a couple of years ago in Freeman Dyson's "The Scientist as a Rebel", they found out that nature violates the principle of symmetry during reflection).

I have rambled enough without a direction. I return to my basic point about the power of simplicity and I now contrast it with what I percieve as obscurantism in the domain of knowledge (which safely leaves out art from the discussion). Many of us (and I confess I have been a prey too) have sometime or the other, succumbed to the temptation of being obscurantist in the process of sounding lofty and intellectual to others. Well some people in the world make make an entire life out of it :-).

I have, in the not so distant a past flung many a diatribe at my disregard for such postures. A much more eloquent essay against pseduoscience is the "Postmodernism Disrobed" by Darwin's rottweiler. I might be totally wrong (as my friend kp used to passionately reason) with my views and there is a possibility that I might be misplaced to an extent too. As a a student of science and more importantly a Bayesian, one cannot rule out any possibility wholly. But it does serve as a pretty robust working principle and makes me personally prefer Russell over Sartre, Feynman over Lacan and V.S. Ramachandran over Sigmund Freud.

But as much as I dislike obscurantism in scientific claims (to the point of possibly being irrationally militant against it :P), I love fiction and poetry. Oscar Wilde could not have been more closer to the truth when he said:

We can forgive a man for making a useful thing as long as he does not admire it. The only excuse for making a useless thing is that one admires it intensely.

All art is quite useless.

Sunday, 1 February 2009

The Respite Ends

Semester begins tomorrow. Coursework is not particularly exciting - a course on systems engineering which I daresay would be tedium, one on advanced reaction engineering which might hold something interesting and a graduate course on immunology; I'm looking forward to the last one for that is the only one of direct relevance to my research at the moment.

Florida turned out to be a welcome break for all sorts of reasons. For one, it helped me get away from the sense of mental haste that seems inescapable in Boston. Besides, thanks to my father, I indulged in a good deal of luxury and leisure during those five days. When pleasure ceased to please me, I thought. Some hovering delusions became apparent in the light of calm and calculated reason; the path of liberation, however, was not so evident.

My mind seems to waver and I cannot pay attention to the news either. Moving on,

I plucked out my tattered copy of Nineteen Eighty-Four and started flipping through its pages. Few books have affected me as this one did five years ago; it was like being punched out of a coma. I leave you with some of my favorite passages:

Never again will you be capable of ordinary human feeling. Everything will be dead inside you. Never again will you be capable of love, or friendship, or joy of living, or laughter, or curiosity, or courage, or integrity. You will be hollow. We shall squeeze you empty and then we shall fill you with ourselves.


Winston Smith: Does Big Brother exist?
O'Brien: Of course he exists.
Winston Smith: Does he exist like you or me?
O'Brien: You do not exist.

We are not content with negative obedience, nor even with the most abject submission. When finally you surrender to us, it must be of your own free will. We do not destroy the heretic because he resists us; so long as he resists us we never destroy him. We convert him, we capture his inner mind, we reshape him. We burn all evil and all illusion out of him; we bring him over to our side, not in appearance, but genuinely, heart and soul. We make him one of ourselves before we kill him. It is intolerable to us that an erroneous thought should exist anywhere in the world, however secret and powerless it may be. Even in the instance of death we cannot permit any deviation . . . we make the brain perfect before we blow it out.