Thursday, May 20, 2010

Upgrades from Blogger

The new look for the blog, for those 2 of you who sometimes stop by, is courtesy the new set of tools offered via on their new tools test site. There are far more options in terms of design templates, layout and customizations of both. This helps eliminate the need to hack the CSS and HTML - which I had been doing earlier with somewhat limited success in terms of liking what I saw.

Don't get me wrong. I am happy to be able to take somewhat of a crack at stylesheets. But I will be the first to resort to WYSIWYG editors. Especially when it comes to layout and design. These new abilities are much overdue. Not sure if it's enough to catch up with Wordpress and its tools. But at least Blogger is showing some intent in doing so. Of course, Blogger does one thing better - it allows users the ability to modify HTML for free as opposed to Wordpress who only offer that ability for a fee.

Anyways, those few of you who still have a Blogger account and haven't already moved over to Wordpress, you can finally do a few cool things with your blog's look and feel.

Rocket Singh: Salesman Of The Year

This is yet another movie review. As you've probably noted by now - I've had some time on my hands to watch these movies. Because of a whole lot of changes in my personal life (and professional for that matter), haven't really had the chance to pen down thoughts. Until now - sort of

Rocket Singh... is about a rookie salesman Harpreet Singh played by Ranbir Kapoor who fresh after graduation joins a company that assembles and sells computers. Things seem good at first but trouble's ahead because Harpreet has been raised an idealist of sorts with a solid grounding in values by his grandfather. His value system is soon challenged the day he's sent out to visit a potential client to close a sales deal and the manager over there demands a bribe to ensure that Harpreet and his company are awarded the contract - as opposed to someone else. Harpreet, seriously offended by the bribery demand, walks out thinking he's done the right thing. He can't wait to tell his superiors about the sleazeball client manager.

However, instead of the pat on the back that he thought would be forthcoming for his honesty, his superiors are livid with him and berate him for having offended and walked out on a major client. Harpreet soon realizes that what he encountered at the client location was actually standard practice. What's more - he soon becomes the butt of ridicule in his company for being a naive loser with no idea how the world works. And this is only the beginning of his disillusionment. He also learns that another standard practice adopted by his company is to mark up the prices of their computers exorbitantly - far higher than the sum of the parts - and to never offer the promised offer sales support.

When things finally reach breaking point for him (by now his fellow sales staff toss paper rockets his way all day), he decides to turn on his company and clandestinely start his own computer sales company from inside his employers facilities. As he starts getting clients for his own secret company he also slowly starts recruiting disgruntled employees of the parent company to secretly work for him as equal partners. He also wants to do things differently by offering his clients lower prices and fantastic after sales service - all things that his original employers don't practice. Also, he will offer no bribes to get contracts. In short, he wants to maintain the highest standards and ethics for his nascent company. His company's name - Rocket Sales.

Little by little, Rocket Sales starts to steal away clients from Harpreet's original employers. It turns out that there is a market for an honest, upfront company that delivers what it promises at a reasonable price. Of course, this situation where Harpreet operates a company secretly within the premises of another cannot last. That of course forms the remainder of the movie. A lot of what happens next is predictable. But its done well.

Rocket Singh is about an idealist and his attempt at trying to do things his way. But it's also a simple story about ideals and ethics and whether those have any relevance in the real world. The movie has a very low-key, indie movie-like feel to it and that works really well for the subject matter at hand. Though it's a feel good story of sorts, melodrama is at a minimum. The story moves forward pretty evenly and all the actors do a pretty good job. Ranbir, especially, does a very convincing job as Harpreet Singh.

I really liked this movie as well. It's a good story thats well told, well acted and well directed (dir: Shimit Amin).

Definitely a must see.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Ishqiya: No Sh*t - Love actually kills!

Produced by Vishal Bharadwaj, and directed by Abhishek Chaubey this movie is about 2 incorrigible thieves - played by legend Naseeruddin Shah and the more-often-than-not fantastic Arshad Warsi - on the run from a local don. In the course of their flight they end up taking shelter temporarily in the house of a pretty but not-so-fragile widow played by Vidya Balan - who was married to an outlaw herself until a cooking gas cylinder blast under mysterious circumstances killed her husband and barely left her alive. And while she may be beautiful, little else about her is as it appears on the surface. All this makes for an interesting triangle of relationships. The triangle develops slowly and keeps us guessing about how it's all going to look eventually. It helps that the three leads do a great job with their characters. Like the relationships between the leads, the story arc also takes its time to move forward. But I thought the journey was worth savoring. For the most part that is.

Unfortunately, just as the inter-relationships brew starts to get real interesting two-thirds of the way through the movie, the story sort of falls apart a little. It's almost like the director suddenly realized that he's got to end the movie pretty soon, and hurriedly arranges events to bring the earlier juicy proceedings to an abrupt and somewhat improbable finish.

I liked the movie a lot though. The story was for the most part very well written. Some of the dialogues were difficult to understand because of the regional dialects used - but that also adds to the charm of the movie about life in the hinterlands. The actors were all extremely good, and the best thing I can say about the movie is that I disliked the ending because it brought an end to what was turning out to be a delightful, depraved love triangle.

More power to depravity.

Friday, May 14, 2010

Mumbai Meri Jaan - When love and Hate collide

A "Crash"-like amalgamation of separate story threads involving different people living in the city of Mumbai, Mumbai Meri Jaan shows how different people from various walks of life are affected by bomb blasts on Mumbai commuter trains and their aftermath. Its main purpose is to highlight the fact that the veneer of cosmopolitan life that Mumbai prides itself on is really only held together by fragile threads that strain and break often when such terrorist attacks happen.

I really liked how the different characters that we follow in the course of the movie are forced to question their beliefs and assumptions about the city of Mumbai, and society in general in the aftermath of the bomb blasts. One disturbing aspect the film focuses on is how easy it is to raise the level of distrust between Hindus and Muslims - the two main religious groups in India. Via the character played by Kay Kay Menon, Mumbai Meri Jaan offers a very realistic, no-holds barred window into the sometimes paranoid mind of an average Hindu and his almost complete lack of trust in the patriotic intentions of his average Muslim brethren and the belief that Muslims are behind all terrorist attacks in India.

Other threads focus on themes which include the callousness and the lack of sensitivity of the mainstream media in its constant pursuit of the sensational, the internal struggles of an idealistic rookie beat cop trying to find his place within a corrupt law and order establishment, a poor family man trying to avenge his daily losses in the class war society inflicts on him daily and a techie slowly losing his faith in the ability of Indian society to keep him and his family safe and sound and considering greening pastures abroad. In the end though, all the characters mostly find consolation and redemption of sorts even though their personal journeys are somewhat painful and littered with more questions than answers.

Mumbai Meri Jaan is well directed. Weaving the parallel story threads into a coherent narrative is an extremely difficult job. Nishikant Kamat, not only does that wonderfully, he also does the details really well. There is a certain authenticity in depicting Mumbai and its people in ways that most other Hindi movies, to say nothing of movies by outsiders like Danny Boyle, have not been able to do right. And the acting is close to top notch by most everybody - with both veterans Paresh Rawal, who plays an experienced, worldly-wise cop partnering the conflicted rookie, and of course Kay Kay Menon essaying their roles brilliantly.

This is the kind of social commentary that is both relateable and entertaining. It is also thought provoking because it doesn't beat the audiences on their heads with simplistic, preachy messages like the Munnabhai series or 3 Idiots but instead places the onus on the characters to find their way out of tricky moral dilemmas. And because these characters are everyday people, perhaps it's a message for us folks to also find our own ways out of tough conundrums?

A definite must watch, especially for people of and from Mumbai.

(image from Yahoo India)

3 Idiots is 3 too many

The most recent movie directed by Raju Hirani, whose portfolio consists of the phenomenally successful Munnabhai series. 3 Idiots is essentially about 3 college students and their experiences vis-a-vis the Indian education system (more specifically an engineering college) telling us - the unsuspecting public - that the odds favor the rote learning robots produced by the aforementioned system as opposed to free thinkers attempting to and sometimes tragically failing to find their true calling in life. The movie stars Aamir Khan, Madhavan, Sharman Joshi - all 3 alumni of the popular Viva-La-Revolution themed "Rang De Basanti" - here playing both young college students in their late teens/ early 20's shown in flashback, and slightly older men set in current times which is a few years after their college years. Boman Irani - a staple of Hirani movies playing the rigid, negative person who eventually turns over a new leaf at the end of the movie - is around once again doing more of the same in a slightly different getup. Here, he plays the inflexible and insensitive principal of the engineering college in which our 3 Idiots aspire to get educated or earn a degree or both.

The movie begins with the characters played by Madhavan's Farhan and Sharman Joshi's Raju trying to find Aamir Khan's Rancho as they seem to have lost touch with him ever since they graduated from their engineering college together many years ago. It is during this search that the movie flashes back to their college life and their struggles with the rigid establishment. And as they seem to get closer and closer to locating Rancho, the flash backs continue to tell us, nay, beat us on the head about how so very depressing the whole education system is and how it kills eager students from the inside.

I shouldn't be so harsh though - 3 Idiots isn't all that bad. The problem is that while the message is somewhat decent - that the Indian education system favors rote learning and that Indian parents force their children into Engineering or Medicine related disciplines - both of which are true - it is so far from new that any Indian who needs to watch this movie to learn about the state of affairs is the real idiot. Also, 3 Idiots has an overly simplistic take on the whole issue as well. This simplistic take is delivered via various unsubtle scenes (which unfortunately are far from few) whose sole purpose are to serve as setups for Rancho, the anti-establishment whizkid, to first demonstrate how very clever he is in comparison to his inept lecturers and fellow bookish students, and then next to carp on about how the whole system is so rotten that it produces f*ks like them and not studs like him.

The characters too were all completely one-dimensional to really be able to relate to in any realistic fashion with the all-knowing Rancho easily being the most difficult to relate to. Only Sharman Joshi, who plays the self-doubting Raju who eventually finds the confidence to tackle the naysayers, and Omi Vaidya (Chatur Ramalingam in the movie) who plays the punching bag rote-learning bookworm really tried to break out of the narrow confines written for their roles. And the direction, while very competent, was sadly very much like the education system it beats down with glee - formulaic and by the book.

Occasionally though, there was some surprisingly dark humor - the hospital scenes for instance were good tragi-comic. Moments such as those briefly elevated the movie while bringing back memories of the classic "Jaane Bhi Do Yaaron" - but thats all they were - moments and very brief at that.

Overall, for a movie with pretensions of being social commentary of sorts, the message was far from convincing. If the director really wanted to take on the education system - he should have focused on primary or secondary education when the rote learning behavior actually takes shape. But then if he did, he wouldn't be able to get a bunch of popular actors in their mid 40's to impossibly play one-dimensional college kids and thereby lose out on the ability to hype the movie and rake in the big bucks all the while harboring pretensions of bringing in radical societal change.

(image from

Thursday, March 18, 2010


Me and the wife at a SuperTarget recently. She's off browsing some section of the store. I wander off to check a nearby section. I turn a corner and see a guy walking towards me. Guy breaks into a smile and points a finger at me with an expression of a slowly dawning familiarity.

GuyFromTraget (GFT): "Hey - do I know you from somewhere? You look familiar."
Me: "Really? Sorry I can't seem to place you." (I'm trying real hard though!)
GFT: "I think I saw you at #$% - are you a student there?"
Me: (realizing that it might be possible I met this guy somewhere at #$% while I used to work over there) "Yeah. I used to be at #$% but not as a student. I was a researcher and I also worked with faculty at the business school."
GFT: "Yeah. Yeah. The business school. I think I met you over there. Cool. I'm {GFT}.
Me: "I'm Sarat. Nice to meet you {GFT}."
GFT: "So Sarat, what do you do?"
Me: "I am currently looking for work but I am actually a computer science researcher and software developer (I go off into my small prepared intro that I have had the opportunity to use extremely often these last few months - with limited success)."
GFT: "Really? What do you work on?"
Me: "I am visualization expert. I focus on visualizing and analyzing data, that is, make graphical representations of complex information to make them more easier to absorb and understand quickly."
GFT: "Oh Cool. That's really very interesting."
Me: "So what do you do?"
GFT: "Oh. I am an entrepreneur. I work in the distribution and retail industry."
Me: "Cool! Good to hear."
GFT: "You have a business card or something? We're constantly looking for people who can work with us."
Me: "Sure. I don't have a business card anymore - but here's my phone number. Do you have a business card yourself?"
GFT: "Thanks. No - I'm not carrying one but here's my email address."
Me: "Thanks. Nice meeting you - and good luck with your venture."
GFT: "Nice meeting you as well. Good luck with your job search."

Chance meeting over. Driving home from SuperTarget. I'm thinking: Wow. GFT seemed like a real nice guy. I wish I had recognized him. I need to do something about being so forgetful and stuff off late.

Couple of days later, phone rings.

Me: "Hello?"
Voice: "Sarat? Hey - this is {GFT} - we met at the Target."
Me: "Oh Hey. I do remember. How are you?"
GFT: "Good. Good. Listen - are you still looking for work?"
Me: "Sort of."
GFT: "I may have an opportunity for you if you are interested."
Me: "Cool. What does it involve?"
GFT: "I only have a minute right now but me and my associate would like to meet with you sometime. Do you have time on Tuesday or Wednesday?"
Me: "Not on Tuesday. But Wednesday evening's good?"
GFT: "Cool. How about 8pm at Panera Bread on Wednesday?"
Me: "Uh... Ok. Sounds good."
GFT: "Good. You will show up though right?"
Me: "Oh of course. I'd be happy to learn more about the job opportunity."
GFT: "Excellent. So see you on Wednesday at 8 p.m."

Cool! That chance meeting turned out to be interesting. There might be something there. Of course, a lot of potential job opportunities for me haven't quite turned out right off late. But meeting with people is the most important thing when looking for a job, right?! Plus maybe distribution industry folks need my analytics experience and stuff. So it might be useful to meet those guys - if not now then maybe sometime in the future.

Wednesday evening - 8:05 p.m. @ Panera Bread. I am sitting at a table all by myself waiting for {GFT} and his associate to show up. Phone rings.
Me: "Hello?"
GFT: "Sorry I am running a little late because of a conference call. However, my associate {Ass} is on his way over to meet you. He should be there in a few minutes. Is that Ok?"
Me: (Something starting to feel a little off - dunny why tho). "Umm... Ok. But I have no idea what I am meeting for yet." (Ok - dat why!)
GFT: "Dont worry. {Ass} will explain everything."

8.30 p.m. A guy - not GFT - walks in wearing a buttoned shirt, trousers and a tie with a couple of other nicely dressed folks.

Ass: "Sarat? Hey - I am {Ass} and I work with {GFT}. This is {Ass_2} and {Ass_3}."
GFT: "Nice to meet you."
Ass: "So {GFT} explained to you what this is about right."
Me: "Nope. I really have no idea what this is about and what you guys do other than that you wanted to meet me regarding a potential job opportunity for me." (I'm starting to feel that this is all going to lead to something monumentally horrible... still not sure how or what tho!)
Ass: "This is actually not about a job opportunity for you but about a way for you to be self-employed and make some money."
Me: (A sinking feeling in my stomach. Realization finally dawns on me - I got suckered into meeting with the class of people I detest the most...) "Oh ... Ok!"
Ass: "So basically let me tell you how..."

Ass launches into his marketing spiel with fancy acronyms and charts. But I'm not really listening to the drivel. My mind has already raced back to the Target meeting with {GFT} and the epiphany that I've just been had with the "Dont I know you from somewhere?" trick! That's right! I've just been had by a fking pyramid scheme dude peddling some new kind of pyramid scheme BS.

15 minutes later the meeting ends. Although for me the meeting had been over 15 minutes ago. It was supposed to go on for another hour or more. I decided that I had had my fun though. That fun involved interrogating Ass about their pyramid scheme, about why I would buy stuff from him when I could buy at wholesale prices from Sam's Club or Costco, about why they having a website is no great shakes because the wholesaler membership clubs like Costco and Sam's have their own website as well, about how much profit each customer of his really makes, about how much he makes on each of his customer's profit, about why the products he sells have no real benefit for me... and so on.

I take pity on myself and the fool. I've had enough. I tell him I'm done - that I am looking for a job and that this whole setup was miscommunicated to me by {GFT} and that you guys should go after him for wasting both our time.

Meeting over, I call the wife and I tell her we need to celebrate me being had by another pyramid schemer - after a 10 year gap. She's laughing too. The only good thing that came out of it - they guy behind the counter at Panera gave me a free coffee. Small mercies like that let you keep faith in humanity.

Those that feed on the insecurity of folks in real tough situations are the worst of sh&t. Good trick tho GFT. But I'm hopefully not falling for that one again.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Pachauri in hot water

Rajendra Pachauri, the chair of the International Panel on Climate Change or the IPCC is presiding over some of the toughest scandals to hit climate change and global warming research.

First, came ClimateGate. Hackers hacked into email servers of the Cliamte Research Unit (CRU) of the IPCC and got hold of several Megs of email communications between scientists. When the contents of these emails were examined, it came to light that, among other serious issues, some of the temperature measurements that were used as major indicators in the claims of Phil Jones, a climate researcher with the University of East Anglia, that global warming was real, were seriously flawed, i.e. fudged.

Next, came Glacier Gate, in which a benchmark study on glacier melting in 2007 conducted by the The Energy and Resources Institute (TERI) and whose director is Mr. Pachauri, that predicted that the Himalayan glaciers would melt by 2035, was found to be seriously "flawed" as well.

Most recently, came Amazon Gate, in which new evidence was discovered that the IPCC's claim that large portions of the Amazon rain forests are in serious trouble because of global warming was also based on faulty and non-peer reviewed information.

The damage done by these scandals has already discredited the world's leading climate research organization and by extension, the whole notion that climate change and global warming is real and is happening. That last effect is the one that is the most disturbing, forcing ordinary people to lose faith in the scientific work behind climate change and allowing climate change skeptics to regain their foothold in the debate on whether global warming is real or not. As discussed in the above piece by Christopher Booker, the notion that IPCC is and has been conducting global warming research impartially is probably mistaken as well.

Mr. Pachauri is definitely in the hot seat. Calls for him to take responsibilities for the scandals and resign as chair of the IPCC are growing. And while he has been resisting these calls for now, he may not be able to do so for too long. But his options if he were to leave the IPCC are also somewhat limited given that the government of India is also not all that predisposed towards him as they may have been before - especially after that faulty Himalayan glacier melting report.

There's more. In early 2008 he greeted the launching in India of Tata Motors' low cost passenger car called the Nano, with a statement that the launch of the car was giving him nightmares, filled with images of Indian roads clogged with these little pieces of metal and polluting the world to kingdom come. This disregards the benefits of the Nano (low cost vehicle that makes traveling for poor families a lot more safer than is currently possible for them while positioned precariously on a 2 wheeler in both rain or sun, very low emissions compared to gas guzzlers) and the production and distribution limitations on that scenario ever becoming possible. Coming from a person of Indian origin, these comments were certainly perplexing to say the least. Or perhaps he said those things to stay on the good side of the environmentalists and the green lobby.

Whatever. Mr. Pachauri is morally responsible for the scandals even if he does not have a direct contribution to the faulty claims and reports issued by the IPCC. The damage done to the credibility of climate studies is going to be very, very hard to repair.

But, if the IPCC is itself not exactly committed to serious, impartial research and is only interested in pursuing its own agenda (however well-intentioned) then it probably does not matter who becomes the new chair after Pachauri.

Tuesday, February 09, 2010

The Good, The Bad and The Sulky

Five Rupees has a very interesting discussion between three political science PhD candidates on the Indo-Pak issue in the backdrop of the Indian side recently proposing to renew talks with Pakistan. The talks had been halted rather abruptly after the terror attacks on Mumbai on 26th November, 2008 and India since then had been understandably sulking about it. It's been over a year though since that horrific incident and a lot has happened since, not least of which is the rapid decline in the internal security situation in Pakistan.

The discussion is enlightening in many ways as it touches upon several topics of relevance for people in that region (and outside as well). Topics include nuclear deterrence, Pakistan's strategy of strategic depth against India by its involvement in internal Afghan politics, the Indian reasons for coming to the table for talks, the water dispute between the two countries and of course Kashmir.

With regards to the talks, it seems that one of the main reasons for India initiating the new rounds of talk is its perceived weakness in the Af-Pak region. India has seldom wielded real influence in Afghanistan except for its support to the Northern Alliance during and after the Taliban rule. But what little influence it had just suffered a still larger blow with the powers-that-be in the region, i.e. US, UK, Canada and Pakistan, having recently consciously chosen to sideline Indian concerns on Afghanistan. This despite India having invested billions into redevelopment efforts in Afghanistan since the dismantling of the Taliban regime. The US of course wants to assuage the concerns of the Pakistanis so that they can focus on going after the extremists in their midst and worry less about encirclement by India.

But the Indians seem particularly alarmed that everyone (except India) seems to be very inclined to start talks of some sort with the "good Taliban" in the Af-Pak region to solve the region's problems. The Indians insist that there is no such thing as good Taliban - a view expressed by Indian foreign minister S M Krishna recently. Of course, Krisha was forced to backtrack somewhat on those comments and suggest some flexibility on the issue because its stand has fallen on deaf ears, with the powers-that-be only intent on offering whatever confidence builders are desired by Pakistan for now.

It does seem that the security situation in the western part of the sub-continent has changed little since the Mumbai terror attacks. India's standing has not enhanced much and for the moment at least, despite its recent warming to and alignment with the United States. While the internal terror threat has been tackled with a lot of vigor, the external threat to India primarily in the form of anti-India extremists residing in Pakistan still exist largely untouched by the govt. of Pakistan and are not the focus of US action in the region. This could definitely be perceived as a failure of Indian foreign policy in the region.

There seems to be little option for the Indians than seeking the help of the nascent Pak civilian government in reducing that external threat, even as the Pak govt. once again tries to battle on many fronts. As in the past, the perception remains that it is still the Pak Army and its intelligence agencies who call the actual shots. In that context does it make sense for the Indians to talk to the civilian government in Pakistan?

It does seem as if its just the start of a new cycle of "Talks - catastrophic security event - Confrontation and No Talks" a sentiment expressed by Five Rupees as well. Any bets on the breaking of that cycle this time around?

Monday, January 04, 2010

Royal Restaurant Mahal Indian

Among the things we expat Indians invariably ask about when we get to any destination outside of India is - Does this place have any Indian restaurants? If so - how many? And what kind of food do they serve?

Not all cities are equal. Some have a few Indian restaurants and some have a whole lot to choose from. Of course, the restaurant scene is constantly evolving, growing and Indian students and IT workers play a huge part in that phenomenon here in the USofA where I be located currently.

Besides the quality, the type of Indian restaurants that you encounter in the many cities and towns also vary. For me, I'd say these joints (restaurants) come in 4 Types:

Type 1:
Which is: A restaurant named using a combination of the words "Taj", "India/Indian", "Spice", "Curry", "Palace", "Sitar" and of course "Royal", serving what used to be once called North Indian cuisine but is just some pale, bastardized imitation and reduction of both the palate and the range. They get by serving mostly nostalgia. When you walk in on a weekday for lunch - the buffet has Chicken Tikka Masala, Saag Paneer, various Naan bread types, some Pakoras, and salad with ranch dip on the side.

You look around and there are pictures/potraits of various dead Kings who you've never heard of in your history lessons, and if you strain your ears you'll probably hear some morbid sitar music or instrumental old Hindi cinema music (i.e. Bollywood stuff). You'll also notice that most of the people eating at the restaurant are non-Indian (unless you're in a small college town where the university has a graduate engineering program - in which case you will most definitely seen a smattering of Indian graduate students too - usually the ones who have a scholarship of some sort).

Now there might be places that get those dishes reasonably right. If you're not Indian and you don't have any baseline to compare the dishes to you don't really care as long as the stuff tastes good. But if you are Indian you know that they rarely ever get it right. And that's probably because the owner doesn't care about being authentic because his clientele for the most part isn't you - its people who tell him that they like Indian food except for the spice part of it (Go figure!). Any guesses what he's going to do in the name of customer retention.

Where they at: A small, occasionally miserable, city or town in the US more than a couple of hours from a major US city by road.

Type 2:
Which is: A North Indian restaurant that opened very recently whose menu caters to the Indian palate for the large part - and what's more - the food's almost good! Well - except for the lunch buffets of course which still sucks because thats when the non-Indian office goer who likes the food but not the spice comes by. But coming back to the menu - it actually has a lot more items to choose from and they serve a lot more than nostalgia. Even the Bollywood songs they play are new and not necessarily instrumentals inspired by the 80's.

Where they at: A medium sized city with a few IT establishments and/ or a reasonably large college town nearby. Type 1 places still exist however because the locals have finally gotten used to them. If you're living in just such a place, you may also have recently heard at the local Indian grocery that a South Indian restaurant is going to open up soon in your neighborhood and you're now looking forward to boasting to your Indian friend going to school in Wyoming or Alabama, about this recent development. Which brings us to...

Type 3:

Which is: A decent, recently opened South Indian restaurant serving idli, dosa, utthapam and sambhar. (Note: These are on par quality-wise with Type 2 places but the only reason they are a number higher is because they usually start showing up after Type 2 places do. Let's not get into a North India-South India debate here.)

Where they at: A large city with several IT establishments and a few universities (big and small) around. There are the usual Type 1 places around along with a few Type 2 ones as well. If you live in such a place, you wouldn't want to be caught dead in a Type 1 restaurant ever again unless there's you had to be there because your American friends at work operate under the impression that its a great restaurant and dragged you there for the lunch buffet thinking that you'd be happy to eat over there. You've also realized the pointlessness of explaining to them that an Indian lunch buffet, however inauthentic, is a soporific like no other and you'd much prefer Mediterranean/Mexican/Chinese/Soup&Sandwich for lunch.

Finally, Type 4:
Which is: ...And this is f***ing GOLD, a no-frills, self-service style Indian Fast Food i.e. Street Food restaurants where you're going to get chaat, bhel, vada-pav, pani puri, dahi puri, Indian Chinese and a whole bunch of other stuff the dinosaurs running Type 1 places only remember as distant memories of a past life or have probably never heard of at all.

Where they at: A large city with several IT establishments that has been this way - large and booming - for a while. This place also has Type 1, 2 and 3 places. By now, you'd probably have detected the pattern - the smaller town has only Type 1 restaurants, the medium-sized has Types 1 and 2, a large city has Types 1, 2 and 3. But its only in the really large cities that you're going to find a Type 4. And if you're a new expat - its these Type 4 places that help keep India fresh for you. If you're current location has one of these, then you've got it made bud!

Now if you could just keep your job...

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Climate Changers

The whole debate on climate change and who needs to take responsibility and do what continues to rage with no end in sight. The so called developed countries - mostly in the West - while promising a cut in emissions, have in the past demanded that the developing countries also do the same across the board. This is of course not exactly to the liking of the developing world.

For one, the rapid industrialization of the developing nations is an essential ingredient to their growth and to ensuring that hundreds of millions of people are able to climb out of the poverty hole. Cutting down on emissions would in essence mean fewer conventional industries, etc. - which would mean fewer jobs as well as much less wealth generated by the local consumption and the export of the products generated by these industries.

The second reason is of course, how did our climate get to this point? It would be safe to argue that until very recently the biggest polluters in this world were indeed the most industrialized and developed countries of the world, whose per capita contribution to climate change and global warming is staggering to say the least. It would only be fair that they take the burden of the major changes on themselves, since it was their rapid growth that brought us all here. To now deny the developing world their industrialization and growth, especially without adequate compensation of any sort, is/ would be hypocritical at best. Combined with the crimes of their ancestors during their colonial pasts (forcible occupation, subjugation, colonization and massive exploitation of the people and resources of several developing countries), it alarmingly creates the impression of a new form of repression.

It also hints at immaturity in trying to somehow maintain an extreme consumption based lifestyle that has brought us to this point while requiring the more populated developing world to bear the brunt of the problem. More alarmingly though, it points to a protectionism agenda in trying to maintain their industrialized economies as is and perhaps keep the rapidly gaining competition in particular from Asian nations from achieving parity and overtaking the developed world.

But, while there is some truth to all of the three perspectives outlined in the previous paragraph, the issue is not simply apportioning blame. The fact of the matter is that we are all in this together. Some more than others. But eventually, it will affect most, if not all people on this planet. More populous developing nations with several big cities surviving right by our ever rising seas are in the most danger. Expecting the West to help out before it becomes too late would be rather reactive and wishful thinking too I might add.

While I do believe that global initiatives for climate change action are extremely welcome, the fact that everyone has differing opinions on how to go about doing it and the fact that there are clearly two opposing viewpoints in the whole discussion means that very little is going to be done going forward multilaterally.

Instead of course, we must recognize that rapid industrialization, while improving the economies of many nations and bringing more of their population into prosperity, also brings with it a degradation in the quality of life in terms of health and well being, especially if the western model is to be followed. Smog is a daily feature in many big cities in the developing world (just as the megacities in the developed world). Health problems arising out of carbon emissions, as well as chemical affluents are not desirable on any level as it would add significantly to health costs in the long run and a significant degradation of life as we enjoy it.

Populations in the developing world are not ignorant of these issues, in fact they are probably far more concerned about it than developed countries are. After all, it is the air they breathe on a daily basis. They are also willing to pursue (and in many cases already acting on it them) several options going forward be it wind farming, massive solar energy generation initiatives, implementing high standards for emissions from vehicles and industries, adopting environmentally friendly planning and construction practices among others. In the future, you can expect them to continue to adopt these green options in greater numbers and with ever-increasing pace.

Furthermore, the economies of these countries will probably be boosted by the development and mass production of green technologies including manufacturing of next gen solar power cells, wind technology and the adoption of safer nuclear power production practices and safeguards.

As these populations start becoming more and more affluent, their focus will shift from livelihood to quality of life. Clean air and water, direct results of cleaner energy production, will be up next in their list of wants and demands.

Overall, I remain bullish about the ability of the developing world to make fundamental shifts in tackling climate change.

Moon water and "Red Mars"

The discovery of water on the moon now confirmed by several different moon missions, and most recently by a NASA probe deployed via the Indian Space Research Organization's Chandrayaan I moon orbiter, is astounding news. That news has been followed with the discovery of large quantities of water on Mars much closer to the equator than was previously thought (earlier the notion was that water in the form of ice was concentrated closer to the polar areas of Mars).

All this really means is that both the moon and Mars are now colonizable, perhaps more easily than earlier thought possible because of the ready availability of water. Coincidentally, this past year I have been reading the wonderful science fiction trilogy on Mars by Kim Stanley Robinson; namely the award winning "Red Mars", "Green Mars" and "Blue Mars", which deals with exactly that - the colonization and "terraforming" of Mars.

The first book in the series, "Red Mars" (full book link on google books?), which I highly recommend, deals with the eventual arrival of permanent human presence on Mars in the form of an early group of astronaut settlers sent to setup bases which include power generation, and mining units as well as green houses, and research labs. The scope of Red Mars is not just scientific and engineering centric - the first settlers, while being the best scientists and engineers, are also highly opinionated and have brought with them their beliefs and philosophies. All of this makes for a fascinating read.

The remaining two books continue on that theme. "Green Mars" explores the continuing efforts to settle Mars by building some sort of an atmosphere on it for human beings to breathe freely in, and the resistance to both the greening effort as well as the control exerted by and from Earth. Finally, "Blue Mars" (which I am halfway through and which is not as easy a read as "Red Mars" was but is nonetheless very illuminating) talks about the eventual reconciliation between Mars and Earth in the backdrop of catastrophic events and displacements on Earth and the need for sending large numbers of affected Earth people to a new life on Mars, and of course the continuing struggles of the Mars inhabitants.

Overall, if there's a minor niggle I have had, its the fact that the author does have a Western bias of sorts in the array of characters introduced and developed. But the bias is far less than several others I have read - names, places and beliefs from Eastern lands have been liberally referenced, very appropriately too I might add which reflects the authors knowledge of history and literature. But I find it strange that given the large numbers of Chinese and Indian scientists in particular active in several engineering and scientific domains, there are hardly any characters of those origins playing principal roles in the Mars trilogy.

Of course, since I am Indian in origin, I am for more Asian representation as prinicipal book characters. Which basically means countering the bias against, with a bias for - a convenient zero sum game, I agree.

Regardless, the authors deep knowledge of the sciences and literature, and very sound storytelling skills brought together by a sweeping, detailed vision of life on Mars is what stays with you. I wouldn't be surprised if future events though reflect in some fashion the ideas and vision displayed in "Red Mars". Fans of good fiction will enjoy this book immensely.

(Red Mars cover image courtesy

Friday, September 25, 2009

Racism redux: Race in the mirror

Tehelka's latest edition has a series of stories/pieces on how racism is not something new to Indians - they are indeed old experienced hands at practicing it themselves.

These pieces are for the most part short in nature and are personal experiences and opinions expressed by individuals. For instance, in How to Draw Within the Margins, Kynpham Sing Nongkynrih talks about how people, particularly women, from the North Eastern Indian states are treated.

In another story, Navdeep Singh talks about how Indians in general perceive blacks, or being black or dark-skinned people. In particular, her generalization that:
"Most middle class Indians grow up with a sense that White > Indian > Black. (For some reason, East Asians aren’t competing)"
"...We often nominate ourselves as honorary white."
are quite telling summarizations.

Stories like these help construct a much broader picture of how prevalent racism is in Indian society and how there is very little done to address it.

(Older post on racism with an Indian twist.)

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Origins 06: Amar Chitra Katha

Origins 06: Amar Chitra Katha

Amar Chitra Katha (or "Immortal Picture Story" as translated by me from the Hindi title) or ACK is a graphic novel/comic book series started by Anant Pai (aka Uncle Pai) under the label India Book House (IBH). Early on, they were largely focused on ancient Indian mythology (as opposed to modern Indian mythology) - which is mostly Hindu in origin of course. But very soon, they expanded to include all stories pertinent to India including history, religion and folklore. The Wikipedia entry has more details - but of course.

These comics have been around for a while. They were a staple diet while I was growing up. My sister and I, being voracious readers, devoured them. As a result we grew up fat on Indian mythology and history. The fact that these books were well researched made them immensely educational as well.

Mythology is of course an extremely fascinating topic. Indian mythology, like other ancient mythology is extremely rich and you could spend years reading stories from it and yet still not know all of them. I was fascinated with it in my much younger days, like several other kids my age. Primarily because like the others I was a sucker for a good story. I wasn't old enough to find blonde haired princesses from foreign lands all that fascinating - not just yet (and no - I'm not referring to Paris Hilton or Pamela Anderson when I say that). Not that we didn't read about them and stuff. But Indian was where it was at.

When I was a kid growing up in Mumbai, we would travel to my father's hometown Elluru frequently where we would spend time with my grandparents and occasionally, some of our cousins too who would be visiting around the same time. In the evenings, around sunset just before dinner was served, us kids would sit on the steps leading up to the verendah outside the family home and my grandmother would sit down with us and tell us stories from Indian mythology. Those story sessions were fascinating.

As my sister and I grew older those trips to Elluru grew more infrequent (not entirely a bad thing as that meant we at least got to visit other places - sorry Dad!). ACK helped keep those stories alive and helped expand that knowledge-base considerably.

Of course, now that us kids of the ACK generation are older and stuff, we're all into interpretations and implications of those mythological stories. Part of the great Indian culture of discussion and argument as endorsed by Amartya Sen in his "The Argumentative Indian". But looking back, the basis for all that lay in that age when we were suckers for a good simple story, especially those rendered in ACK comics.

In summary, if you're a fan of mythology in general and want to learn about Indian mythology, you wouldn't do too badly if you picked up one of these.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Fake NHL Player Tweets: What does that remind you cricket fans of?

Apparently, people have been following fake tweets from tweeters who are pretending to be real NHL players.

Now what does that remind cricket fans of - especially those of the "Indian Player League" or IPL?

Tuesday, September 08, 2009

Origins - Part 23: Vividh Bharati

Maybe I still carry a grudge with my parents for cutting (figuratively speaking) me from Cable TV in high school in India. Twice. Both before important end-of-school-year exams (10th Std. and 12th Std.). Their reasoning: I could never probably have enough entertainment. Now, with only the regular TV channels on (all 2 of them - both run by state-owned media) instead of the several other enticing stuff on Cable, they thought that I'd spend very little time in front of the TV and spend more time studying for those exams instead.

They were right - about the first part at least. However, the part that satellite TV would have played was instead taken over by radio - via an old transistor radio that my Dad had bought. That radio, about the dimensions of a decent-sized hardbound novel, was more than 10 years old at that time.

Circa 1991, radio broadcast in India was still state owned and operated, just as terrestrial TV broadcast in India was until a little over a decade ago. During those days, cable TV was actually Satellite TV, transmitted locally within neighborhoods via cable from the neighborhood satellite TV hub. These hubs consisted of huge satellite dish antennas from which overhead cable lines spawned out to buildings across the neighborhoods. Each building hub then had several connecting cables that went into people's homes via windows. This form of cable TV then consisted of channels from all around Asia, the more popular of which were those owned by Star TV - based in and broadcast from Hong Kong.

Prior to 91, India not only had nationalized TV and radio programming, they had also closed borders to stations broadcasting from outside India. All that changed in '91 when the country finally opened up its skies just as it had opened up its economy in response to an economic crisis of great magnitude. Star TV was the first foreign entrant into Indian skywaves, and had quickly started to become pretty popular among the city dwellers. My parents contemplated getting us hooked as well. However, wanting their good-for-nothing yours truly to somehow surprise them pleasantly by doing well in the 10th Std. public exams, they decided against it.

India's state owned radio broadcasting corporation was called All India Radio or simply AIR. At that time AIR broadcast mostly on Medium Wave (MW) and Short Wave (SW). While discussions on starting an AIR FM broadcast in India were on, with private entities allowed to broadcast segments of time, they still hadn't begun yet.

"Vividh Bharati", was the main entertainment feature of AIR, and was broadcast on MW. It carried a broad range of programs from music, to radio plays, etc. These soon became staples for me. Most of these programs were in Hindi. And since I was cooped in my room pretending like I was preparing for exams and stuff, the radio was almost a constant companion. It actually made practicing math problems a lot more pleasant.

So - over the course of a single day, I would end up listening to a whole bunch of old Hindi songs ("Bela ke Phool"), new Hindi songs, trailers of new Hindi movies, famous radio hosts like Ameen Sayani hosting the Hindi music countdown show "Cibaca Geet Mala" (originally the Binaca Geet Mala), request-a-song shows, entertainment shows like the Diamond Comics radio show on Sunday afternoons (I think), radio plays like "Hawa Mahal", and so many more that I can't recollect on the spot.

While I had always enjoyed Hindi music - both old and new, there's nothing like listening to them all the time to really learn about them. I can't imagine how else I would have been introduced to so much Hindi music in so little time.

Another favorite on radio was to listen to the BBC world service on Short Wave (SW). This was especially the case when Vividh Bharati service on state owned radio stopped around 11.35 p.m. on weekdays.

All this while, I remained a voracious reader of English fiction and an avid listener of Western pop and rock. You may think that those multitude of influences may have played a large role as well in me being screwed up, or having experience being screwed up, or whatever.

Cable TV was briefly hooked up in 1992-93 for about a year or so. However, as all Indian kids educated in India, I had to start preparing soon for the public end-of-year exams for the 12th Std. It was decided again, that for my own good, Cable TV would be disconnected once again. Obviously I was pissed like any rebel-without-a-cause teenager worth his salt. But I didn't panic. I had my fallback.

So - being an avid radio listener in general, and of Vividh Bharathi in particular, especially during those 4 years i.e. 1991, 1992, 1993 and 1994 - probably ended up becoming a huge influence on me. Sure, all that reading, watching all that TV, MTV and getting hooked on to FM radio, were all pretty influential as well. But I think the one exerted by "All India Radio" has manifested itself in many ways; those that I recognize and those that I may never be able to.

Still not sure if I should stay mad at my parents for cutting me from Cable TV. Maybe it will be as they say:

"When you'll have kids one day - you'll know."


Tuesday, September 01, 2009

The Quick Gun Murugan is here

Shashanka Ghosh first created this memorable multi-layered character, a spoof on Old Westerns of the Clint Eastwood kind, and on boisterous Tamil and Telugu movies and their larger-than-life heroes, for a series of shorts/promos for "Channel [V]" in early 90's. Somewhere down the road he decided that "Quick Gun Murugan" (or "...Murugun", whatever), the "sambhar" cowboy as they're calling him now, deserves a larger feature-length movie for himself. That movie is now finally out - it released in India this past weekend and as I understand it has a mostly Hindi-English version, mostly Tamil-English version and a mostly Telugu-English version.

Trailer 1 is an international film circuit preview with mostly Tamil-English dialogues.

Trailer 2 is the mostly Hindi-English version.

Either ways, this does whet the appetite for the main course. I'll try and catch it sometime. I could use the laughs.

Friday, August 07, 2009

Clunker Cranker

The "Cash for Clunkers" program has finally wound down. I guess those who had "clunkers" but still couldn't make up their mind about replacing them with pragmatic, bang for the buck new vehicles, will still be out driving on the roads and highways. Which is sad for the rest of us. Still, I'm glad that the government for once offered people the incentive to make smart decisions. Especially, when it comes to giving people who made unwise choices the first time around a whole better second chance.

I'm not too unhappy about the program coming to an end though. Primarily because I got plenty sick and tired of seeing and hearing the "Cash For Clunkers" phrase everywhere - on TV, radio, print, the web. Everywhere.

But, and those of you who know me and my dislike for large SUV gas guzzlers will understand this more so, pictures like these do warm the heart.

(Pic from

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Geopolitical butterflies

India and Pakistan have problems. Several.
Once again, they're trying to talk those problems out in the backdrop of India trying to shake off the rope of regional conflict holding it from really flying off into the progress statosphere, and Pakistan trying to recover from the monster within fed on 3 decades of zealotry and hate that now wants to swallow its own master.

Each attempt at conversation has its own hurdles. The court of public opinion is the one that really matters though.

Here's an NPR attempt to wrap people's mind around the geopolitical dimension to the India-Pak conflict in the form of an NPR program with three experts from India and Pakistan lending their perspective. The whole discussion is an hour long so listen at leisure.

For a lot of people around the world the so-called "war on terror" depends greatly on the India-Pak conflict and its possible resolution. Thats because as long as Pakistan wants to get at India (for whatever reason), they will continue to go soft on the jihaidis within their midst.

If you're passionate about cinema...

... Then Passion For Cinema or PFC is the place for you (see new feed on right as well). I've been a regular reader at PFC. Being a follower of independent Hindi cinema for the last many years and of movies and cinema from over the world in general, I've enjoyed the insights readers of and contributors to PFC have provided. The list of contributors include famous folks like Anupam Kher, Anurag Kashyap, KK, Khalid Mohammed, and several others. This is not just your regular movie review site, it's basically a site for cinema musings about people who are - as the name suggests - passionate about cinema. And if ever you considered yourself to be so passionate about Indian cinema, this site is going to introduce you to a whole new world.

As an example of the myriad cinema related stuff, Here's a loosely translated (from Hindi) interview of Anurag Kashyap (writer-filmmaker of recent movies like Dev D and Gulaal) in which he explains some of his early days as a filmmaker and the accompanying frustrations he faced. He also discusses how his initial setbacks at trying to make movies the way he wanted to, were compounded perhaps by his naive idealism borne out of a sense of sticking to the pure form of storytelling via movies. And he also talks about his growing realization that the same idealism also opened other doors for him and has played a part in creating an aura around him.

PFC also shows how much thought processes of and within Indian cinema have evolved and continue to do so. Suffice to say that meaningful cinema is here to stay and will continue to grow.

Some changes to the site with colors and backgrounds. Still learning and playing around with CSS. I guess I'm not done yet with the fooling around (i.e. experimentation) - so there will probably be more changes.

Monday, July 27, 2009

They're taking over!

In a world suffering from a severe recession (sounds like a movie trailer opening line that - "In a world where..." Ok. Ok. Moving on...), its probably not the thing you want to hear - that ultimately, one day, some machine is going to be doing your job. Thats because, as this this NYTimes articles says, the damn machines are going to become smarter than you. Knowing myself however, they don't have all that much of a distance to cover.

There's hardly anything new in the fear that machines will ultimately take over the world. They've taken over a lot of stuff anyways. Planes use computers to fly themselves between take offs and landings. Cars use an array of sensors managed by processors to ensure smooth running. The internet manages our money. And computers have abstracted the complexity of data communication from us to make everything appear as simple as possible. In fact, systems are increasingly designed to be as idiot-proof as possible. Which leaves us human users increasingly ignorant about how these things work in the first place. And since they're doing everything for you anyways, where's the incentive in learning what's really beneath the hood

The field of AI has dedicated considerable effort towards creating machines that behave and act autonomously like human beings supposedly do. One of the chief goals of such AI systems is successfully clearing the "Turing Test". In this test, a human judge has a conversation with another human and a computer, and the judge has to distinguish which of the two she's conversing with is the other human and which is the computer. If the judge can't tell who is which or which is what, then the computer has passed the "Turing Test".

Which brings us to this interesting video - also off the same NYTimes page - on Microsoft Research's attempt to make a more human-like expert system to guide human users who come to it in need of medical advice. In the video, we see two parents - one after another - coming up to a kiosk of some sort, with their child in tow, and talking to a computer-generated face on the computer screen about their children being sick, and we see the face then trying to help them diagnose their child's condition better and finally deliver some sort of advice.

The whole combination of expert system diagnosing capability, computer graphics, speech interface and natural language processing capabilities is mighty impressive. But, I did have one main problem with that video (and by extension the system being demonstrated). That is: at the end of the long conversation with the users - all the AI effectively does is it tells them to go see a doctor and schedules an appointment for them.

Now why would I waste my time conversing with it if that's all its going to do for me?

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Signs you're getting older: #117

You spend a little bit more time than you used to looking behind you - worrying about who's trying to screw you.

Call it a "Welcome to the real-world" realization or another little slip down that slide into paranoid schizophrenia. Take your pick.

Movie Roundup - Titan A.E. and "W"

Just finished watching Titan A.E. a little while ago - or at least I caught the second half of the movie. Been almost 10 years since the movie came out and I had been meaning to see it since it had released in 2000. For those who haven't seen Titan A.E., it is a science fiction movie set in the future when humans live in space and stuff. It's also an animation/animated movie combining traditional cel animation (the type you see in movies like The Lion King and Mulan), with 3D computer graphics (the Toy Story/Pixar sort).

Well. I thought the second half was fun. Now I've got to wait till they show it again so I can watch the first half. Some of the themes were somewhat similar to Final Fantasy - The Spirits Within, a full length 3D computer graphics animated movie with photorealistic human characters (in lay man terms - movies without real actors but actors generated by computer graphics to look and act like real people). FF didn't do too well at the box-office, but it wasn't a bad movie at all.

Also, saw "W" a couple of days ago. Josh Brolin plays the most famous Dubya of recent times - George W. Bush. Oliver Stone directs the story of Dubya: how and why he is who he is, what possibly may have been his motivation to go for the presidency, and what drove him to commit his country into the Iraq mess. I was expecting a Bush flogging, but it turned out to be a lot more nuanced than how supposedly stupid the man was (Michael Moore did that anyway with Fahrenheit 911). There's nothing too new in the hypotheses of the movie: The man seem to be guided by his urge to find his true calling and for his desperate need to emerge from out of his father's (ex-president George H. W. Bush) and his brother's (Jeb Bush) shadows. And that his simplistic belief system (there are good guys and there are bad guys - and we're the good guys), coupled with the advice of highly motivated neo-con scaremongers (Saddam is making nukes and will sell them to the Islamic terrorists) and opportunists (America needs oil - the Middle East has it), made him invade Iraq despite the lone dissenting voice of Colin Powell.

But what we didn't perhaps know all too well was how it all went down between: Bush and his father, Bush and his staff (Cheney, Rummy, Condi, Colin Powell and Karl Rove), Bush and Laura, etc. And how indeed did he get his act together after spending a good portion of his early life doing "jack sh*t"? Oliver Stone tries and answers some of those questions. Not all too successfully all the time though. Some segments just seemed to run on autopilot - like re-enactments on the History channel - mannerisms, accents and make-up. But Brolin does a pretty decent job, as does the supporting cast for the most part including Richard Dreyfuss (Cheney), and Thandie Newton (Condi) among the others.

The presidency of George W. Bush will perhaps go down as an era that transformed the world in several ways - many of which we will only learn decades from now.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Warning: Your next big mistake is just around the corner



"As we grow older and more experienced, we overrate the accuracy of our judgments." - (Malcolm Gladwell)

Malcolm Gladwell, the author of the "The Tipping Point", offers his insight into why people still manage to f*** up even after seemingly having everything under control - or more precisely why he thinks Bear Sterns went down in the New Yorker.

Also, on Bear Sterns, Vanity Fair has a take on how it all came crashing down for the giant. According to this piece - the main culprit ... a simple rumor.

The scary part. The rumor was false.

The result...

Wednesday, July 08, 2009

Monday, June 22, 2009

Race(ism) against Time

Race (and or Racism) is still in the lead by some distance, although I've been told Time is extremely patient and will probably make a move some time in the future. Who's going to win though? Has someone won already? Depends on where you want to paint the finish line. For now though, Racism is sprinting ahead.

Sanjay Suri's article titled "Brownian Notions" in Outlook India magazine, has this extended tagline
"The prejudice NRIs exhibit is more complex than what they face ..."
. I can't help but agree with that - especially because its an issue I have struggled with internally for sometime. The article is a fascinating read as well.

Indians - especially those living abroad in the "West" - are still grappling (knowingly or unknowingly) with the many prejudices and the many insecurities ingrained in them by virtue of a complex, several thousand year past. Combine that with the misplaced belief that a somewhat superficial "Indian-ness" is still highly superior to other cultures, has only made this internal conflict worse over time and has externally manifested in an attitude embodying disdain for everything and everyone not like "themselves".

Skin color is the most easily available "mechanism for exercising prejudice" that Indians in India or abroad overwhelmingly avail of. That we still judge people using a skin-colored lens is as illuminating as it is tragic.

Illuminating because it makes us think about where it could possibly have come from. The "North-South" divide in India is sometimes held responsible for it. The caste system is another popular culprit. But they cannot be the only reasons. Skin-color based discrimination is also quite prevalent in several countries and cultures in Africa, as well as other South Asian and South-East Asian countries. I guess we could generalize this phenomenon by saying that skin-color prejudice exists in many societies that have various shades of black and brown amongst the people.

Tragic because Indians use that skin-color(ed) lens to make various blanket judgments and generalizations (yes - I'm generalizing here as well - so sue me!) - from a person's race, country or origin, their mother-tongue, caste, perhaps religion to their mannerisms, accents, and even the kind of food they eat, etc. And for decision-support they have traditionally relied on a database of both prejudices, and stereotypes as well as the underlying insecurities behind them that have been passed down over the centuries (millenia perhaps?). Indians living abroad have only expanded that database to include people from a wider set of countries and cultures including their host countries. All this assessment is done before the person in front of us has had the opportunity to even open their mouths to say something. Perhaps culturally, it is the most natural thing to do and can be explained away with a: "So what? Everyone else does it is too. Why shouldn't we?".

Whether we may or may not admit it, the most widely held (and practiced) prejudice and insecurity among Indians is that "Fair is Fair". And, as cheesy as it sounds, that's not really all that fair. It's critical that beyond the inherent racism that is embedded in our "value system" and the debate about whether we are being discriminated on the basis of race and skin abroad, there also needs to be a debate on why we think we need to be treated fairly (pun intended) when we don't do the same ourselves - especially in our own country? I do agree that this contradiction does not in any way diminish the nature of the discrimination that we sometimes face - it is and would be criminal to actually ignore or overlook it in any country. But it is equally criminal to not use this conflict as a means to start holding ourselves to the higher standards we feel entitled to from those around us.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Blast from the past: old DOS games anyone?

a. Revisiting the "Foundation" series by Isaac Asimov.

b. Also, playing an old DOS game that I used to enjoy back in the day. It's called "Megafortress" (circa 1991), a flight sim game. The graphics is pretty bare bones, but flying the Megafortress is not exactly a piece of cake - especially when the missions become more and more difficult.

While the game does run directly on XP - the problem seems to be that it runs a little too fast. Also, the mouse controls don't seem to get configured correctly - the click is too sensitive and becomes a pain at some point. The game also messed up my System Date setting.

After searching for solutions on how to run old DOS games on XP without problems, initially came across one suggested fix: applying/changing settings for the .exe file. ".Exe file"->RightClick->Properties->Program Tab->Advanced->Turn on Setting "Compatible Hardware Timer Emulation".

That fixed the system date problem, i.e. the Megafortress no longer messed with the System date after that. But it still didn't fix the "mouse too fast" problem. So searched a bit more for a better solution and came across a suggestion to give DosBox, an x86 emulator for Windows, a try.

Bingo. "Mouse too fast" problem solved using DosBox. Only issue now though is the small window size when running the game. They didn't have 1024X768 displays then. Changing the display settings to 640X480 could do the trick though and you could play the game Fullscreen. I just haven't given that a try yet.

Above fixes should let you play your old games on WinXP. If you still have them lying around somewhere perhaps you could give them another try.

While old DOS games could help you with your nostalgia fix, they aren't going to be a substitute for the ones that got away though. But then, let's also be realistic here. It's not like they would really want to have anything to do with you now would they?!

And no - you really don't have to finish that big bag of Lays just because you're all depressed now.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

"I was a fool - please take me back"

As is the case, when we all start with a ton of ideas and intentions, we almost always end up with not having done anything about most of those.

Naming my personal blog as "The Meltdown Chronicles", overlooking the inherent pretentiousness and the genuine lack of creativity in the title, was meant to provide the blog with some overarching purpose. The purpose being - some way of documenting how crazier I am going to get as the years roll on by even as MPB (Male Pattern Baldness) and CRS (Can't Remember Sh*t - Thanks Venky), among other afflictions, start working their magic on me. As with good intentions that fall by the wayside, (although "chronicling" my descent into what I will come to loosely being known as, i.e. crazy would not necessarily be termed as a "good intention" in any easily conceivable way - there in perhaps providing a decent enough glimpse of that future dementia), I fear I am not doing much justice to it.

If you thought though that the whole purpose of this confession was that I would somehow start spending more time trying to achieve that purpose... you're not in the same room as I am. Perhaps fortunate. Because while I am busy trying to become mental, I am not doing a good job recording it.

Anyways, besides the confession that I'm really bad at following up sometimes with long-term goals, or that I'm really good at making course corrections whenever convenient, whatever, I've also had this realization (yes yes... the useless epiphanies keep sparking up) that it would be easy to read all this one day (ok - it won't necessarily be easy) and discern the madness between the lines camouflaged by the increasingly extraordinarily mediocre writing.

I will try though to be a little bit more regular. It's not that I have to look around real hard for material. I've been fortunate that way - it doesn't take too much to have me go off on a long rant about something.

So please take me back (If I gave myself a rupee or a nickel for every time I said that ... I'd be richer if it were more nickels than rupees - plain old exchange rates you see).

Monday, April 27, 2009

Last word on Fake...?

Well, according to "The Real IPL Player", apparently the power that be have unearthed our Fake IPL Player. Whatsmore according to "The Real IPL Player" he's been cut off from his source. Who was Fake IPL Player's source? Well - it was Real IPL Player of course. Duh!

But does not Real IPL's writing style seem a lot more similar to the earlier Fake IPL Player's - before the whole rumor about Fake being finally found out surfaced a few days ago?

So was Fake really a journalist getting insider info from Real, as Real claims? Is Real the authentic Fake and Fake - well - fake? Or is Fake the authentic Fake? Or are Real and Fake the same people?

I'd like to say I don't give a damn eitherways... but then it would be a little bit of a lie. But enough on Fake. Stay tuned to the news feeds for more news.

Friday, April 24, 2009

(Was) the best thing about the IPL so far...?

No. No. I'm not about to say that the previous day's cricket games - despite them being fairly tense and nailbiting - have upstaged "Fake IPL Player".

The past tense indicates that there seems to have occurred a big new twist on the whole situation. As Prem Panicker first indicated on his twitter page, apparently the identity of the Fake IPL Player has been uncovered - referring to Gulu Ezekiel's piece in the Indian Express (go down to the "Op-ed" page and see bottom section).

Oh well. Sadly, it may seem that the whodunit part of the story is finally over. Or is it? Maybe there's still a lot more drama to come our way - now that matters seem to be coming out into the open. Or we may likely never know who was truly involved either.

Personally, it seems to me that "Fake..." become too famous (or infamous) for his own good.

Monday, April 20, 2009

The best thing about the IPL so far...

(IPL = Indian Premier League; an Indian city-based franchise cricket league/tournament currently in its second year being held in South Africa because of security issues in India)

Last year the IPL was a huge novelty, an unknown. It was also wildly successful. The idea of a city-based cricket league really took off in India in a big way. Twenty20 is certainly here to stay.

Disappointingly, this year the IPL tournament is being held in South Africa. The Indian government was not able to guarantee the safety of the tournament given that it coincided with the Indian general elections - a super mammoth exercise in itself that would stretch security agencies, supposedly, to the max.

The tournament began this past weekend in SA. A few games have been completed. A lot of big name players and a good amount of cricket has been seen. But the best thing that has happened so far is not the cricket, or the fanfare (or lack thereof), or the hype, or the asinine Bollywood activities surrounding the event, or even the player slappings, coach firings, and other going ons...

The best thing is the surfacing of this blog that started on the eve of the game called "Fake IPL Player". The interesting thing about this blog is not just the humor/satire, particularly involving and directed at the Kolkata Knight Riders, a team owned by Shah Rukh Khan, but the level of detail with which supposedly fake events that happened outside the cricket field are described. Despite the disclaimer that all events and people mentioned in that blog are fictitious, there is just too much information for the blog to be considered an entire fake. Which means, in the guise of a fake blog, we may have someone who has insider access to the KKR team and is giving us some sort of factual insight into all thats going on behind the scenes. And for a team thats struggling on all aspects and heading towards a huge meltdown of some sorts, it makes for very interesting reading.

Fake's posts are something to look forward to, even more than the cricket.