Friday, November 20, 2009

Green Green Shine and Sheen

Kyle is an accomplished "Doctor" who can treat laggardness faster than you can spell it.
Kyle is a known supporter of the Green Party for US national elections.
Kyle is the only official reader of this blog.

What a lame way to acknowledge Dr Burke's contribution to enrich (one) human's life on earth.

Recently Germany held his national election and the Green Party secured close to 11% of the votes. That is a remarkable figure to attain (in two decades) for a non-mainstream party.

The Green Party, in different avatars around the world, are formed by people who are concerned about the environment; primarily, natural environment, but also social-economic conditions around us. They are about "All Things Good". Google-era netizens are encouraged to think of their "Do no evil"-overlord. Like most parties, except they are _also_ concerned about trees and clouds and bubble clad waves.

Talks are on in India for a similar Green Party. While I wholeheartedly welcome the initiative and would put all of my 2oz weight behind it, the situation is different in India. Like most things copied from the "West", adaptations are necessary and very much crucial, for any concept to survive the Indian potbellies. The usual hurdles are prejudice and fanatical conservative ideals. Of the two broad classes of ideas in matters of social customs, the "timeless" ones end up getting hurt to protect the "time-bound" ones. "This practice of blah is going on for 237 years." is hard to beat even when "blah" has fallen out of the grace of time. Bonus if the harbinger is from outside the community.

Another hurdle is the very Indian fight to survive Indian evils. Hunger, poverty, ill to family, ill to God, ill to any dent in social customs. Most good speeches are still made from high up podiums. The people at the frontline are just too busy to fight. You speak to them about emissions. At the best you get an absent minded nod. He doesn't care. He has to earn money to take his ill mom to a clinic. The nearby hospital has redefined the notion of "free treatment".

Yet the effort to launch an official political platform is laudable. To think beyond "isms", think beyond social strata, with objectives that do not change with upcoming elections. A true green party.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

three colours : Blue Red White - liberty fraternity equality

Trois couleours - Bleu/Rouge/Blanc is a trilogy of French/Polish movies directed by one of the masters of modern cinema Kieślowski'.

This was recommeded to me by a close friend long time ago; he said the movies would appeal to my taste of visual narrative. I saw the "Red" part on the TV a few days ago and just finished watching the "Blue" one. If you appreciate eloborate story telling and are easily mesmerised by breathtakingly beautiful shots, then you should make an extra effort to watch this. Other than the superb direction, another reason I liked Blue is because of its music. Possibly after Ray's Pather Panchali, I have seen no other cinema which uses excellent music to enhance the experience but does not let the music come in the way of the movie.

Edit: Not hard to guess, I watched the "White" story soon after. This one is about "equality" and is a soulful story of equality through venegance. Mind the word "soulful" - there is nothing gory about the revenge. I liked this one the best of all three.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Don't Panic

Trident (Booksellers &) Cafe on Newbury Street could easily be labeled as the best cafe in this blue-green planet. But Don't Panic! It is not.

Say, you are in the USA.
Say, today is Labour Day (which in 2009, happened to be on the 7th day of the 9th month).
Say, you woke up with a ravenous urge for omelette and pancake ... no ... pancakes ... and fries.
Now, say today is not Saturday or Sunday (e.g. Monday, which is worse because not only Monday is not an S-day but also just one day after an S-day - I mean what can be more worse).
And you thought ... gee ... I'm gonna hit Newbury Street and just find an all-day breakfast place among the numerous listed-unlisted, famous-deserted, pricey-cheap food places there. After all ... today is a holiday! And brunches are made to be consumed on holidays.

All of this would be good for you ... could be good ... for I, since I am the one writing this whiny blog here, didn't get a chance to try other options, if you arrive at Newbury street before 12 noon.

But brunch is breakfast+lunch, ab initio, so on that eventless day, in USA, having gone to sleep the night before wanting to go to a brunch the next day and having decided that, after looking at yelp and boston-citysearch, walking along Newbury and deciding one among 20 based on some super-cosmic-hyper-complicated algorithm would be relatively easier, for I was more worried about finding the places open on "Labour day" than they serving brunch (if they are open on a holiday, they must brunch - this sounded one of those gotta-be-true statements to me), at about 1pm I walked the entire stretch of Newbury street once forward and then back, walking past restuarants saying that they don't serve brunch on Mondays or their breakfast menu is only till 12, only to find the saviour of a sickening stomach, Trident Cafe (near Newbury St/Mass Av).

Don't try to parse the above "sentence". Don't even bother reading it.

Just remember that if you want a good brunch, you can always fallback on Trident Cafe. For two good reasons. Their (probably bottomless) coffee is really good (take it without milk and sugar) but more importantly, their menu says (only) "BREAKFAST" in BOLD, BLACK letters on the front cover. Now isn't that just good to know ?!

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Emotion Reason Justice Law and Human Rights

Nobel laureate Amartya Sen is in Kolkata to talk about his new book The Idea of Justice. I read about the launch of the book in the UK and it was reported to be a phenomenal success. Yesterday's The Telegraph has his interview on some of the ideas he discusses in this book.

I have never seen him in person. That's a shame because he came to my school to give a lecture but I didn't go. All those who went or asked me to go was excited because "he is definitely going to get a Nobel prize". That must not have proved to be a sufficient motivation at that age.

Meeting him is one of the things I would like to do before ... well ... him and a few other people that I am slightly crazy about.

Emotions can be very murky in the court of law. But it would be wrong to blatantly ignore its satanic powers (in the context of justice). I liked his response to the question What is the place of emotions in your theory of justice?
I don’t regard emotion more important than reason, but we do have reason to take emotion seriously.
I wish I had studied about human rights and justice and related matters to be able to see through some of the things he talked about. But as I was reading the interview, I sort of saw 3 different pillars, slightly leaning against one another, that the idea of rights stands on.

(Human) Rights, Justice and Law.

Following is my 5 minutes reflection on these ... what I would have said should the interviewer have asked me.

Human rights are, at least roughly, the rights a person has just for being a human being. The other rights are given to her/him by some law, and that makes HR so special. Think about it ... the concept is amazing yet so simple ... as amazing as Dubito, Ergo Cogito, Ergo Sum.

Law is a technical gadget, like the belt that the skinny dude is wearing to protect his modesty. It lacks novelty but boasts of necessity.

Justice is by far the most complicated of the trio. Syntactically it means being just. The fuzziness comes from how to measure justness. I think most people would share the same opinion as A.S., which is also what comes naturally to my mind, that justness is what a bunch of people, in a relatively fair and free way, accepts. There is a lot of unspoken detail here. The interview mentions two classical theories about justice - one by John Rawls (author of A Theory of Justice) who requires the people to be local and the other by Adam Smith whose requirement is based on an impartial spectator (I guess the spectator needs to be a human being ... no kidding ... seriously, rowing the waters of the initial years of The Age of Synthetic Thinking with robots and machines, it is time to think about when does 'an orga become a mecha' (*) ?).

I am more inclined, as much as I could be in 5 mins at work, towards the former idea which is similar to the jury of peers idea popular in the USA. The impartial arbitrator who can, for purpose of argument, appear from thin air and disappear after delivering his verdict, does not interest me, not because it is unrealistically idealist, but because often different communities have different notions of right and wrong. Of course, I agree that human rights are something independent of the community but there is often a tendency to interpret other rights as cousins of some human right just to give it a greater edge.

(*) Spielberg's A.I. - highly relevant for the text in the brackets.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Guest post: Lyricism

I was permitted by N. to post his email in my blog. FYI, chocolate and poetry recommendations from N. are positively commendable. Read below.
So far, only you and omitted I can interest in poetry... It is always hit and miss of course, but that is fine, as long as some shimmer of interest is present. Perhaps what I send you in this email will leave you unmoved. That is fine. But it is strange how most anyone I talk to seems to perceive poetry as impenetrable, archaic, rusty, devoid of substance, and so on. But no. There are things which almost require the language of poetry. Sometimes also alcohol is required to, as you put it, tame soul's demons.

I know little about Heinrich Heine. Except that he was a so-called romantic poet. A lovely little poem (search for Der Asra):

This poem has a particularly interesting history in former Yugoslavia. It was translated to Serbian (call it Croatian or whatever) by Aleksa Šantić, a famous Serbian poet. It then found its real life in musical form, sung in the sevdalinka style all over the country. Of course, sevdalinka, a musical bastard of Turkish, Sephardic Jewish, and Slavic traditions, has nothing to do with German romanticism, which is precisely the beauty of this poem's infiltration into Balkans. It is hard to find a rendering which is as minimalist as I would like, but here is one of the best Bosnian sevdalinka singers:

It goes on. There was a band called Azra, I daresay the only band with an actual idea, in the 1980's in Yugoslavia. They were pretty much warning of what was to come, when things seemed dandy. Although the band's music was really "rock" , it began in a way as a sevdah band, inspired by that song, and named after it (Azra).

If one were to start somewhere in knowing and understanding what was Yugoslavia, Heine's poem wouldn't be a bad starting point. There is something really interesting about that.

Sevdalinka songs used to be sung in simple inns (called "kafana"), where you overwhelmed your demons with song, plum brandy, cigarettes, and maybe bean stew. These inns are, to my great sadness, disappearing. What is to replace them?


Friday, July 10, 2009

'Tis not just IIT

Flame me for speaking for my alma mater, but when it comes to brand name, there is nothing known as IIT. Instead there are IIT-K, IIT-M, IIT-Kgp...

First, the government wanted to create IITs and they did so. Now Miss M. Banerjee wants to create an IIT for the children of Indian Railway employees. All of them are so sold out by brand values, the buzzword, that they missed the entire point.

An IIT might be created by finding land, creating buildings, setting up infrastructure and finally invoking the coveted IIT Act which grants it the status. Other than the last step, it doesn't really seem any different than setting up any XYZ-IT. A globally recognised IIT brand is created not by the IIT act, but by vision and dedication and takes decades. India has other prestigious universities which have equivalent, if not more, charisma and prestige; only outshined by an infamous bureaucracy and political posters.

I am proud to be from IIT-K and I am also proud to be from RKM-Narendrapur. RKM-Narendrapur college was just recently granted autonomous status. Like IIT, RKM-Narendrapur has built a brand name over several decades.

Imitiation is the best form of flattery. But imitation can only take you so far.

Obligatory links for reference (the wiki pages have all the relevant links):

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

last time it bit me

Bummer! Went to donate blood today and was politely told that
Wait 3 years after completing treatment for malaria. Wait 12 months after returning from a trip to an area where malaria is found. Wait 3 years after living in a country or countries where malaria is found.
I didn't realise those stupid flying monsters of Dumdum could have such faaaaar-reaching effects. It will take more than the free T-shirt to cheer me up.

when god abandons ...

Elocution later. First, read this wonderful poem by Cavafy.
The god abandons Antony

When suddenly, at midnight, you hear
an invisible procession going by
with exquisite music, voices,
don’t mourn your luck that’s failing now,
work gone wrong, your plans
all proving deceptive—don’t mourn them uselessly.
As one long prepared, and graced with courage,
say goodbye to her, the Alexandria that is leaving.
Above all, don’t fool yourself, don’t say
it was a dream, your ears deceived you:
don’t degrade yourself with empty hopes like these.
As one long prepared, and graced with courage,
as is right for you who were given this kind of city,
go firmly to the window
and listen with deep emotion, but not
with the whining, the pleas of a coward;
listen—your final delectation—to the voices,
to the exquisite music of that strange procession,
and say goodbye to her, to the Alexandria you are losing.

- Constantine P. Cavafy (1911)
Translated by Edmund Keeley and Philip Sherrard
Cavafy was an Greek poet in early 1900s. He abandoned the usual notions of
ideals and morality. This one, The God Abandons Antony, is remarkable on two fronts. First, the title ... N. made a remark when he pointed out this poem to me long time ago: "I mean, imagine, when even God, I mean, The God, when The God is abandoning him. The God is whom you reach out for when everyone else abandons you and now even Him ... Shocking!". Can't dispute. Shocking.

The second: the reason I oft visit this poem is the bold tone in which he puts forth his message. Quitting is inevitable - not always, but sometimes and then, it becomes only a matter of time. It takes strength to realise this and even more courage to accept it. Cavafy doesn't mince words in accepting this. He, however, suggests the reader (or Antony, if he could read future) to take the next step boldly and pitch death against his dignity, his identity, his Himself.

On the face of it, the poem is about ... (copied from
Anthony, in Cavafy's poem is, of course, Marcus Antonius, Cleopatra's lover. The poem refers to Plutarch's story (Read it) that, when Anthony was besieged in Alexandria by Octavian, the night before the city fell into enemy hands, he heard an invisible troupe leaving the city. He heard the sounds of instruments and voices making their way through the city. Then, he passed out; the god Bacchus (Dionysus), Antony's protector, was deserting him. It is obviously a poem with many layers of meaning; but, I see it as a poem / lesson on how someone must face a great loss (Alexandria being a symbol for a beloved city, woman, past glory, but, above all else, life itself). It is a beautiful lesson on how to face death.
The reader does not have to belive in God. This poem applies to more things in life than merely death. Atheist, mono-theist, poly-theist - does not matter; symbolise God as whatever or whomever one reaches out to when evvvry other shutter is down.

When there is nothing, what remains ? Abyss or Yourself ? Que sera sera.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Proud of you Sri Lanka

Yes, it was not a non-violent operation. Yes, there were civilian casualties. Yes, there might have been human rights violation. But what needed to be done, simply had to be done and was done.

Sri Lanka is officially free of LTTE!

It was a war against terrorists; whatever their cause might be, LTTE is (was) not a peaceful outfit. It killed innocent people, created a local parallel government by force thereby causing political instability and other than their brainwashed members, hardly had any popular support. Their official agenda was to create a separate state; such separatist movements are immediately counter productive to a better Sri Lanka (the geographical territory, not the political state).

Kudos to Sri Lanka. Some years ago, no one would have believed this was possible. This is probably the first complete de-terrorisation in recent times and the most peaceful one. Sri Lanka army and government took every measure to ensure minimum civilian casualties and other disruption. Politics and keen warfare insight ensured large public support among general mass. No major human right violation was reported till now. From what media reports, everything possible was done to minimise stray damage and get the job done, finally, after more than a decade of other unsuccessful efforts to ensure peace.

A peaceful non-violent tactic is always welcome. But that might not be an optiob. And then, behold the rest of the world, then this is how to do it. And this is exactly how you do it. Salut!

Sunday, May 17, 2009


Just came back from the 27th convocation of the Department of Computer Sc., BU. I try to attend ceremonies like this. All these bright minds in even brighter red gowns remind me what persistence and optimism can achieve and kindle hope for the future. Maybe there is a tomorrow. Maybe the world will be a better place sometime.

Being a theory student meant I had to be supported as a teaching fellow for most of the semesters. As a result, over the last I_won't_disclose years I have seen two batches of students arrive and leave. I have seen most of them when they were sophomore. It is really a wonderful feeling to see these minds develop and grow and transform over the years, proudly and successfully. They deserve all the claps and kudos showered on them today but a part of me wants to feel proud too. When Bob, who gave the undergraduate speech, mentioned that computer science is all about solving puzzles, I remembered how many times I have mentioned this to my class. Glad someone at least got it right!

Being a smallish department has its advantages, the primary one in my opinion being the camaraderie that develops between the students and the acquaintance developed between the teachers (including us) and the students. Most of the students (including masters students) present today were my students for some course during their 4 years here. And a fair amount of them were in multiple 3 or 4 courses. Wow! I have an embarrassingly poor face memory but still I hung around and tried to meet as many of them as possible. Some of them even came and shook hands with me themselves; that is a nice feeling. Maybe I was not that bad a TF after all.

Computer science is not a hot field any more, not in this country and even not in India. People have realised, little late but still, that the return is not immediate and easy but that it is equally competitive and laborious as other fields. These 40 or so graduates of today will hopefully rise and shine in their career, whatever they might be doing, and spread the message that computer science is still useful, that it may not immediately shelter the homeless but a CS major will not be without home, that it can get you a decent challenging job and that it has a fair role to play in modern day technology, which is necessary whether you aim for world peace or conquest! Although, CS may not be quite helpful in fixing your Internet Explorer trouble.

Sigh... only if the future was equally rosy for PhDs - now that would require some serious brain washing of the industry.

I asked most of the students their future plans. One of the smartest kids is joining a PhD program, in Brown, in crypto ... I am very impressed. Good job, James. Andy took up a job with Infosys and will be training in India for sometime; he wanted to do something different. A brave decision but he has that something in him to go forward and accomplish. Several of the students have jobs in defence companies so they could not really tell me much except that whatever they are doing will not directly kill people. Good feeling.

A biG bIg BIg bIG BIG congratulations to Dr Kyle for graduating with the department research award, finding a wonderful teaching job and and and (yes, you got it) getting engaged! The perfect finish.

Also congratulations to all other graduates as well. This is the usual graduation month ... I saw graduation tent set up at MIT. Universities nowadays provide webcasts for people like us who want to but cannot attend commencement ceremonies. I plan to make full use of them. It is very inspiring to see milestones being reached and dreams getting fulfilled and of course get to see famous honored guests and hear great speeches.

Well... congratulations to BU CS class of 2009! Good luck on your journey. And remember ... quicksort is quick only on average.

Saturday, May 16, 2009

A little drop of delirium

Morns and eves are when time plays cruel jokes with souls in solitude. On their journey to earth, the rays of dawn also drag me down from the clouds where I am merrily sojourned. And after hours of being occupied with work, as night approaches, the dark corner of my room brings me back to reality. Enough to drive me mad.

My revolting mind critiques my own actions. Sometimes my actions resemble those who are certified mad. Yet at other times, when I am teaching, window shopping..., my thoughts and actions are cohesive and consistent. Does this make me a mad person? Don't we all act inconsistently in some way or the other? Can I be both a rational and a lunatic? What about the drastic optimistic view ... everyone is out of their minds but me? Questions of life ... the answer maybe 42 yet our ignorance can worst a toddler. My actions make perfect sense to me, and not an iota is without a reason yet I feel I am rowing the oars of insanity to cross this stream of rationality. Could it be that the logic inherent in human heart, the one that we are born with, is different than the one we invented where 2+2 is mechanically always 4.

One evening several months ago, I exchanged a $10-bill for a student rush ticket to a Tennesse Williams' play Cat on a hot tin roof. I was looking forward to a temporary relief from solitariety. Peace remained elusive but I was hooked to the play nonetheless. So much that the next day I watched its movie version and during the next few months, watched all the famous Tennesse Williams' movies. Reading the plays would have been better but I was in a haste to seek answers to certain questions about how our mental state morphs when stressed. In his own life, the master playwriter himself and his dear ones underwent abnormal mental condition. He seemed to possess an unmatched insight to human mind in this regard and I desperately wanted a share of his wisdom.

Maggie (played by Elizabeth Taylor) in Cat on a hot tin roof" was obsessive and impulsive. She was desperately trying to win the struggle of life with a remarkable resistance against surrender. There is life in the character; her gait, her flamboyant statements, her persistence ... she had an halo around her enough to charm Big Daddy and me alike. She was at times almost hysteric, frightened by insecurity, of loneliness, of being "old without money". So she directed all her energy in living, as simple as that. She could be misthought as fragile but to me, she is the strongest among everyone in this play.

On the other side of the bed, Brick her husband, presented a contrasting character. After his best friend died, he developed a complex in himself which was partly fueled by Maggie's constant endeavour to grab his attention. His agonized self countered bereavement and depression by drenching his mind and soul in alcohol till he heard "the click!" in his head which he claimed was followed by eternal silence and peace.

In A streetcar names desire, Blanche (played by Vivian Leigh) unfortunately ended up isolated from the world and was desperate to reach out to people, to any bosom that welcomed her. She came to find a shelter at her sister's place. It was interesting to watch the rawness of her sister's husband, Stanley (Marlon Brando), trying to uncover a very deceitful Blanche. Out of fear of seclusion, she was permanently in a mixed state of illusion and reality. Not really hallucinating, but still it is hard to blame her for the "virtual memories" she created for herself. She gave us a sneak peek of what goes on in her mind "I don't want realism. I want magic! Yes, yes, magic! I try to give that to people. I misrepresent things to them. I don't tell the truth, I tell what ought to be the truth. And it that's sinful, then let me be damned for it!"

Katherine Hepburn was stunning as the aged mother Amanda Wingfield whose mystic world consisted only herself and her two children in The glass menagerie . They were both adult yet her obsession for their happiness made her turn a blind eye to pragmatism. Her daughter Laura at first seemed mentally under-developed - always in her own fantasies, playing with glass toys and skipping typing lessons to walk in a park. But as the movie unfolded, her actions seemed perfectly normal to me. Amanda's obsessions, for her son's well being and her daughter's marriage and future, was due to failed aspirations of her own life. She saw her life go from riches to shambles, more spiritually than in a monetary sense, and was terrified of a similarly abject future for Laura. Williams created a magnificent character in her, who wanted to "create truth" the way she though it would be the best. Bravo!

Suddenly, Last Summer calls for a separate ovation because of its dual heroine - Katherine Hepburn (Violet) and Elizabeth Taylor (Catherine). But that aside, this is indeed a strange play about "power and passion" involving characters with, for the lack of better words, a strange view of life. Extremely rich widow Violet created a separate world for herself and her son, Sebastian. An actually separate world, where People didn't speak of Sebastian and his mother or Mrs. Venable and her son, they said 'Sebastian and Violet, Violet and Sebastian are staying at the Lido...'. What an audacity towards loneliness. Sebastian died on a trip where for only once, he took his cousin Catherine instead of his mother. Catherine saw his death, which was dreadful enough to make her "mad" and Violet, out of agony, despair and shy shadow of jealousy, planned out a risky brain surgery for Catherine to erase her memory of Sebastian. The story ended with Violet became insane, probably medically. Earlier in the play Catherine tried to ward-off the visiting doctor by listing the gruesome things she could do to him since she was mad; a fantastic enactment of the classical catch-22 situation involving mad people ... Does a mad person realise he is mad?

The Rose Tattoo is probably the only one with a happy ending. Serafina loved her husband more than probably she could bear; after his death she began living on his memories - rarely leaving the house or dressing appropriately. Call it devotion, call it passion, call it stupidity, call it whatever you like, Tennessee Williams used extremism to his credit to show how some people breast agony. She wanted to protect his memories like her own child and at times, it was not clear whom she is more protective of, her feelings or her daughter Rosa, whom she loved very dearly too. The Sicilian household where the play is set at, has a punctilious air of sentiment, very unlike the traditional western family usually portrayed in literature and movies.

All the "abnormal", if you pardon my usage, women were as much justified in their actions as a dying man in banging on my door at high noon of the night. Their idiosyncrasies were desperate measures for their survival, be it physically or emotionally. Yet, they would not conform to the rules of social behaviour that we have set for ourselves. Rules are general principles, and hence they fail miserably in confronting specific cases. One can choose to abide by the laws or be brave to be branded a madman. The latter group would not be the first to be accused of heresy; they will certainly feel proud to find Galileo Gallili among them.

It is sometimes natural to want to lose our mind. Sometimes nothing makes sense and the world seems mechanical. And if world refuses to grant us the dose of delirium, the only options left are what Brick said in the Cat on a hot tin roof

Mendacity is a system that we live in. Liquor is one way out an'death's the other.

Monday, March 30, 2009

credit where it's due

This wonderful picture is adorning my computer desktop for several months. We have dual monitors in the lab, so every passerby can see the full picture on the uncluttered monitor. I am used to the following dialogue:
"Nice background. Is that near BU?"
"Yes, river side. Near Marsh Chapel. Taken last fall."
"Very relaxing picture. Taken by you?"
"No, I wish! Someone I know took it."
I cropped the image. A few people made a special note of how the bench is enhancing the mood of the image ... that is my contribution to this beautiful piece of art ;-)

Friday, March 27, 2009


The civilised food industry has found a new cheerleader - Omega-3 fatty acid. Good for them, I say, for their earlier darlings have lost their charm.

The food lobby comes up with these keywords, scary and deary alike; once it was cholesterol, then trans fat. MSG came into spotlight probably a decade ago. Several years ago, it was egg in UK (successively as hero and anti-hero). When I was young, I remember a crusade against potatoes. Dietary fiber is still going house-full. After red meat, yellow meat has followed leaving the rather tasteless white meat on the table.

The tag lines for these often read clinically proven. Of course, we should follow what is clinically proven. But should we banish wisdom from our menu? Does being rational entail brainwashing by commercial manifestos, supported by cleverly manipulated statistical results, which were in turn commissioned by the food lobby themselves?

I read such reports all the time in the news. E.g. today I read a BBC article saying

Drinking steaming hot tea has been linked with an increased risk of oesophageal (food tube) cancer, Iranian scientists have found.

The British Medical Journal study found that drinking black tea at temperatures of 70C or higher increased the risk.

The article then goes into some details of the test and its speculative nature. The actual report, I presume, is more detailed. But the news article could very well be used to promote iced chai latte (eeks!).

My problem here is two fold. Primarily, now I find the shelves of the supermarket loaded with all kind of synthetic junk labeled as "yummy yummy and with Omega-3". Am I supposed to eat for dinner huge portions of fish fillet, coated with strange seasoning and dipped in an unfriendly batter, deep deep fried and with a side of french fries sprinkled with extra salt to make it palatable? And feel good? Just because the fish has omega-3 fatty acid and the oil has no trans fat? I wonder which is worse, a normally cooked chicken leg quarter or a chicken breast cooked with extra salt and cheese.

The problem is partly due to the super-sized fantasies among the people here. Having created a perfect consumer market, they almost develop a fetish for products (apparently) guaranteed to have some good effect. But eventually we learnt that coke with no sugar is still bad; it has to be also caffeine free. Eating burgers fried in no-trans-fat oil is fine as long as part of a balanced moderate diet (anyone remembers McDonald's initiatives on obesity issues?). Vitamin supplements should be taken only when advised. A modern study (yet another!) even reported that egg has moderate cholesterol, safe enough to be consumed regularly by normal people.

Why can't the food lobby put up an ad saying, eat what your forefathers ate, home cooked food from fresh natural products. Genetics ensure that people from a particular locality thrive best on the local food that the race has consumed for centuries. If bored, try cuisines from other locality, but again choose fresh, natural goodies.

My other concern is that since the developing countries like to copy the habits of the developed countries, the mutated food habits find no time in invading the poorer regions of the world. The fun begins then. Western food industry, giving in to consumer demands or pure health concerns, fixes the problem. However, that "fix" is usually expensive or not so tongue-friendly, so it seldom crosses the ocean. Viola! Most Indo-Chinese food in India have high amounts of MSG (which is by the way, a synthetic version of a chemical found naturally e.g. in tomatoes and its fatality is still being debated) whereas, Chinese menu cards in the USA are often marked "No MSG".

I am glad that most people in India are so poor that they cannot afford brown bread made from enriched flour.

Monday, March 9, 2009

Jai Ho Naari

Today is Women's day. Now in a different timezone, as the city for the first time appears lifeless and lacklustre, an intellectual from Mars indulges in pensive thoughts while sifting through the pages of the Times of India. A poll conducted by TOI shows that more (67%) women consider family over career (24%) ... the question of choice should not ever arise but for the fact that marriage is a binding social contract, full of negotiations and plannings to maximize some utility function unclear often to the parties involved. Less than half of the fairer force decide how to invest their own money (46% in general and ... alarming ... 49% for single working women).

Why is it that women are always at the receiving end (no pun intended) ?

Cat fight is futile. There is no point in blaming today's men alone. Again less than half of the women polled (46%) are capable of planning their evenings. There might be a few cases of social pressure, but most of them do not even want to weigh their options. Such has patriarchy found its roots deep in our veins and arteries and neurons. Reverting this major "magaj dholai" will require a billion clones of Soumitra from Hirak Rajar Deshe, if not more. The casual sympathetic among us often pass the buck by asking the women folk to protest. And then we feign helplessness when they do not. Suo moto action is uncalled for, unless there is a promised reward for the chivalry. How can we adjudge the self-mortification of many very mentally strong women ?

Some call it nature's fury, their destiny born as a girl but I refuse to buy the biological line of argument. Evolution ensures women are physiologically capable of child bearing and raising. Females of certain other species are born strong enough to independently look after their progeny but it is natural that we, as a species, might desire better security for our future race. But in the artificial social structure we invented, security has become a bad addiction; everyone wants security, of all kind and colours. Citizens agree to an Orwellian system for security from hooligans, parents seek security (huh!) in their old age ... this is now a matter of (Indian) legal technicalities, the illusion of the security of goernment job is strong enough for people to make compromises with their career. But the emotional blackmail faced by half of living humans is too widespread and ingrained. It cannot be mere the longing for security that incarcerated women are afraid to raise their voice. Domestic violence is present in the developed and developing homes alike.

It is not lack of strength, it is not want of security. What is it ... o Lord Buddha, show me the light. Show us the light.

I see the reason for the discrimination as evolutionary, but social, not biological. Human society invented certain systems to ensure parasitic propagation of its lineage. It was a requirement to guard women to protect foetus and bring forth pleasure to the "man"kind (who in turn, will create everything else but the foetus ... well, not directly). A system like this worked, with little ado, and our race reaped a lot of immediate benefit from it over the centuries. But the disbalance was there ... the intoxicated minds could never create much hullabulla about it. The master design of the system ensured that any turmoil would be local, confined only within families walls. Unity is strength - no chance to unify their plight, no strength to overcome. What is more, the system will condemn the outliers, including other women. A perfect matrix and no red pill.

But, any system has a tendency over time to stabilise to a local minima. After seeing thousands of autumns, when women are gradually understanding their identity, their position in the human race, finding self-respect, they find that they are hopelessly dependant on men ... spouse, father, brother, son, boss ... yada yada yada. And even though they dream about breaking off the shackles, they go at great lengths to make compromise with their life once they are awake. It's the system. When I ask "Why?" ... all I get is "Look, I am a woman".

"I need you" should be a spiritual confession, not a vapid social drama. Dear all, you gotta be toughie ... sweet and attractive ones. Like Erin Brokovich.

Sunday, March 1, 2009

End of paper NEWS ?

...a deep sound strikes like a rising knell! Did ye not hear it?
—No! 't was but the wind

This time it is not the wind. The catacomb are being dusted and readied for the eventuality that is striking everything around us in our passage in time. This time the victim are the newspapers. 33 newspapers in the USA have sought bankruptcy protection. The NYTimes probably used one of its lifelines in the $250 million investment - only time will tell if the Kohinoor of the news world will win the Who want's to be a survivor contest. Buy and store San Francisco Chronicle issues ... any day could be its last. The LATimes, the Chicago Tribu,e the Phil. Inquirer ... the list does not seem to stop.

Any toddler of generation Z could have predicted this. Internet, the jekyll and hyde child of technology, would wipe out many seemingly less efficient adornments of our modern civilisation. Who but hast resource to waste ?

Like audio/visual-cassette and book, newspaper face the imminent danger of being obsolete in the 24 hour timespan of a human day. It occupies precious space, in both the domain of time and desk space. Both are precious. Handling a newspaper requires more than a single key press by a single finger; never mind the chance of carpal tunnel syndrome which we smartly sidestepped by the dreary invention of speech-recognition software. Who needs fingers anyway ?

The end only came sooner. Usually the rich only gets richer and poor poorer. Millionaries are the product of natural selection said Andrew Carnegie. 2008-2009 would be remembered for a long time for bringing down everyone to similar level. The highrises are still there, this time rich and poor alike look at them from outside. And with no money and no time, who can afford to read newspapers ? Even more, print them.

I wish I could blame technology for the current economic debacle, some kind of software failure, like the ones that blew the space shuttles in midair. Fortunately or unfortunately, it is due to the collective failure of a group of minds. It is our joint responsibility, and I am sure, we, the human race will win over it. Maybe this year, maybe next. But on the way, we will leave behind some of our friends, dead or crippled.

There will be in future, a human race who will wonder how was it to flip a page of a book ? How was it to feel the paper with our fingers, read the words printed on a white page but sounding just like the author's husky voice ? How some people were irrationally biased towards one particular edition of a book because of its cover ? There is concerted effort in denouncing feeling from our actions. Evolution is not a consequence, a necessity. I miss horse carts, vinyl disks, but what replaced them was not lacking in warmth. Convenince came only in lieu of nostalgia. But a Kindle cannot replace the closeness of a book, an mp3 rip is no match for the affection I have for a V Balsara audio CD.

There is a redundancy in physical medium which makes it beautiful. Beauty is not for the mind to appreciate, it is beyond rationality and can only be absorbed by the synergy of our senses. There is no how or why for a great deal of things in humanity and these make our life worth living. Like a drunkard who knows not why he drinks, he merely drowns till the click of the door to tranquility sounds. Like parents who raise their baby without expecting anything in return. Like the unknown vagabond tramp helping the unknown blind whom he will never see ever again. Like the selfless love between two individuals, timeless in essence but packed in time in 2 days. Like the music of Beethoven, who composed 9th symphony when he was medically deaf. These are beautiful because they trespass explanation. Their essence is in their existence which can only be felt but cannot be justified by any balance sheet.

Is it too late to take control of technology and re-shelve it where it belongs, as a tool, an invention to make living memorable ? As heard in The Great Dictator,
Machinery that gives abundance has left us in want. Our knowledge has made us cynical; our cleverness, hard and unkind. We think too much and feel too little. More than machinery we need humanity. More than cleverness, we need kindness and gentleness. Without these qualities, life will be violent and all will be lost.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Apartment photos

I took photos of my current apartment. For my family (read: caring dearling ma) to see, but if you get high on this sort of stuff ... St Lukes %237 (current apt)/

You can pretty much see how austere and boring my lifestyle is. Oh ... you don't get to see the southern wall of my bedroom; it has the closet, a map of Kolkata, my camera (you can see the black bag) and some ... ahem ... wall writings capturing my thoughts. The green book on my table is Saint Joan by G.B.Shaw. After Sarat Chandra, this is my next foray into feminism classics. I don't know if Saint Joan is considered a feminist play but the strength in character of Joan of Arc, her spirit, her resolute stand against the society fascinated me the first time I read about her.

Ignore the musings on the whiteboard, they contain everything from heresy to phone numbers. You don't see stockpiles of research papers and books because whatever few I have, I have them in the office; in general, I have become used to reading of off the screen (and the trees ... I am sympathetic towards them). Math is like music ... happens in my mind =).

The two printouts are poems - one Chharpatra by Sukanta and the other Adios by yours humbly - both mean a lot to me hence they get to be up there. The south wall also contains a Monet (waterlily series). The other two pictures you see are by Dali, my favourite painter of this ... err... last century. His symbolism and surrealist subjects engross me more than anyone else's.

You don't see my bike because I left it at my office the previous evening. It sleeps in the corridor. My kitchen used to be more colourful ... but I have lost interest in cooking these days (hint: don't crash in untold - there really is nothing in the fridge).

There is space for one or two in my apartment ... as you can see, so feel free to stop by. Also, I don't have any use for the old issues of Desh, so you can have them too ... (you didn't get it) ... for FREE !

Thursday, February 19, 2009

crossing roads
Traffic in Delhi will stop at all junctions for 20 seconds every once in a while so that hapless pedestrians can walk across the road instead of waiting for the magnanimity of the traffic constable in the signal cage on the sidewalk or darting through a metallic slipstream risking life and limb.
I am sure all of this is going to fall in deaf ears.

I distincly remember I was defiant as I was once approaching the Ultadanga-Hudco crossing with my darling mom, this was about an year ago when I was in Kolkata. A pedantic empathy for following civic rules made me defiant. Elsewhere I would be just a good samaritan doing stuff the right way; but this is Kolkata my dear friend.

The conventional wisdom suggests the following simple steps to cross such intersections without significant loss of body parts.

1) Spot a physically permissible gap to pass. A valid intersection would be ok but a barrier with a bent rod is equally fine.

2) You cry, pray and beg ... there is no guarantee of life on these streets, but pray so that all the approacing drivers are asked by a divine angel to slow down.

3) Wait ... till they slow down. No point in waiting for the traffic light ... if you happen to be at a crossing ... because it won't ever turn green. After all, on the road it is all about cars; they cost money and ferry men with money.

4) Use your skills of pedastrial jugglery and rush to the other end. The person behind the wheel will inevitably slow down a bit, due to mercy or awe but you can postpone that debate for later. A swindling lane of rapidly changing but varying thickness will emerge between the cars ... think yourself as water, the cars as stones and the sidewalk ahead as salvation. RUN!

This is not hard to master; of course we, the children of this city, learn this trick as a toddler.

5) Make a routine check if you are ok ... if you have time ... otherwise postpone it for the late-night contemplation.

Ma wanted to cross the road just as everyone else does. I wanted to cross the road just as everywhere else it is done. Hudco crossing is one of main entry to EMBypass from north Cal and is extremely well-equipped to fight a mini warfare - traffic lights, guards, guard cages, walkie-talkies, sergeants with scary noisy bikes. An extensive distributed algorithm, enhanced by the wisdom of the traffic guards, makes sure that traffic flows like a smoothie at every juncture. Which amounts to, no more than a 5 min delay at the red light. The incoming and outgoing flanks are too complicated to allow anything better, but cars come in, wait and then eventually go out.

Did I just say "cars eventually go out" ? Right ... this elaborate system ensures smooth flow of traffic, which in the dictionary of Kolkata police (Indian police ? (*)) means vehicles. No bikes please, 4 or more wheels (3 wheeler autos are beyond indictment).

I refused to cross the street like everyone else, hold ma's hand strongly and waited for the signal ... either the one on the post or the one with a pair of legs - really anything would be fine. So we waited ... Buses are not supposed to stop at the crossing. Not a damn for the law but they abide by the sergeant's stare. They don't technically stop but by an immaculate display of acrobatics and timing, manage to fill a completely empty bus. This everytime reminds me of the Olympics relay race; a fraction of a second late and you could be either left stranded on the street or under the wheels. It is really a mystery how everything works. Makes me wonder if we are really programs in some Matrix ?!

So we kept waiting ... There is usually a rule for changing the traffic lights. There is a pattern, and eventually, yes ... theoretically eventually, the light would change to green. Should change to green. I felt like screaming after a while. Could change to green. Doesn't the traffic guard see pedastrians waiting to cross the road ? Forget rules, where hast thou sympathy begone ?

Blah ... after waiting for nearly ... (drum roll beating) 20 minutes, I gave up. I had to give up. I invoked my last rule to break rules in emergency. All kinds of car lanes opened up and I was looking for a magician to change me into a sleek car, any brand is fine.

You see... we are born jaywalkers but even when we try to follow rules, there is so little help from the institution that we are forced back into our slums of disrule. Disobedience is in our blood, our forefathers used that in the pre-1947 days. It will take more than 20 minutes to change the mindset but is anyone even willing to abet ?

Monday, February 16, 2009

Sleeping pill ... The Cardigans

How can someone fall asleep while listening to The Cardigans. Granted, they may not have the best pop albums in the world, but they are anything but lullabies. Don't you agree ... you, with the pirate hat ? Apparently K. specifically used some album of them to go to sleep. What a gem of a homosapien!

Anyway, I have developed a special fondness for some of their songs. They manage to pacify some of my neurons, the rogue ones.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

City of "boi"

From When a poet minds traffic (The Telegraph),
“The literary history of Calcutta is as old as the Battle of Plassey. The city has nurtured three languages, English, Hindi and Bengali. Sir William Thackeray was born in Calcutta, Rudyard Kipling wrote here. Both the National Anthem of India and the national song were written by writers here,” said Shankar, to establish the city’s literary heritage.
“In this city call girls carry half-read novels in their handbags, women of pleasure discuss Sarat Chandra in red light areas and indulgent policemen allow a drunken poet to control traffic,” he said with a smile.
This is just one of the million reasons why I, you and every Bangali by spriti (not ab-initio), should be in Kolkata (Calcutta earlier ... and actually pronounced as Kolkata even before the name change happened).

It couldn't be more true. Often mistaken as my modesty, which is surprising because I take particular care to dispel that myth, I attribute my poetry writing skills to simply being born of Bangali parents, in Kolkata. It is really as simple as that. That I am inclined towards art and literature would be a banal assertion, me being born and brought up in Kolkata, but sadly non-Bangalis often do not appreciate this trait among us.

Writing prose and poems was a commonplace affair in my school (and in other similar schools). It was given its due appreciation but the person was not coronated as the next Tagore. Those not quite apt with this amazing invention known as pen, found their creative outlet in a more verbal form, recititation, debate, jam, extempore speeches ... there was creativity even in the way our inner voice found its outlet. The aroma of literature percolated early in our lives and found its way deep into our heart, maybe also brain.

Throw in books to these intellectually hungry kids and you get a city where bus passengers talk about why should wife get custody of the child in Shankhini (a novel in a leading magazine). A lot many of the College Street boi dokans are in fact their own publishing houses ... maybe publishing a few not-quite read books. Yet they publish and don't perish - there are always niche readers for all kind of subjects. Little magazines to us were like garage bands in 50's USA. Shoestring budget, yet thriving with bang among bongs.

I understand reading is not quite an impressive habit to acquire these days, but for our generation ... do generation switch that rapidly ... we used to read a lot. Just by sheer coincidence, I was reading Prajapati (Samaresh Basu) when my pals were hiding Shobha De in their school bags. Bengali books were just cheaper and easily accessible ... there was a never a waiting list. The English ones I could lay my hands on ... they would be finished within a few nights ... they had to be ... there was always such a huge line waiting. It is really unfortunate I had read only a couple of Hindi books (wait ... did I ? I can't seem to recall ...).

The pujabarshiki craze actually got even the book-neutral to flip through the pages of some special issue that came out just before the Durga Puja - our "national" festival. The other significant craze was The Kolkata Book Fair. I have missed the last 10 years which shall be duly recovered in the coming years. Of course, no commentary about Bangla literary activity is complete without the mention of the bi-monthly periodical Desh. I read it (yes ... I subscribe to the magazine even in this country) cover to cover and you have to read the letters from the readers to realise that Bangla literature is not following dodo, not yet.

This is the city of literature... a city of books... a city of fine arts... it is only befitting that Kolkata becomes a City of Literature.

Online bangla movies

This is a public service announcement.
contains a huge list of online bangla movies (havn't checked if the links at all work). Watch them in good faith i.e. since this is all sub-legal, promise to contribute back to the dying bangla movie industry. Better than just being a voracious consumer.

The list starts off with movies by our Mahanayak but there is a larger list down below. Please scroll down ... your effort will be duly rewarded.

Sunday, February 8, 2009

Best at worst

You can say the pizza is good when you eat it even though you are not hungry. Alike, you can say a movie is good when it can elevate your mood from the lowest to the best, or at least above normal.

That did not quite happen when I was watching Bicycle Thieves. But judge not the movie by this inefficacy; by cosmic grace I am currently passing the worst moments of my life ... broken beyond repair. Moving the cursor back on the movie, it is the best movie I have seen so far.

I was alternately fading into my own thoughts (I am not sure I can use the word "thoughts", it is more like oblivion) and the movie. Thankfully the movie was in Italian with English subtitles which made the alternations pretty quick. The plot of the movie would not require more than 5 lines when written. It is the credit of the scriptwriter and the director (well... the auteur) to create a remarkable 90 minute unfolding of a drama taking place in the common man's Rome in the post-war era. Think of the impact it created on my mind when I, amazed by the acting of the little boy, looked up online only to find all of the actors were completely unprofessional. It has be the director.

The moments I was with the movie, I was this pensive socialist sitting with a brush and trying to decide exactly where to starting painting a new world. I later learned it is a neorealist movie ... I think I should find other neorealist movies and watch all of them - they are so simple made yet so powerful in effect.

Friday, February 6, 2009

I Proposed

I Heard "Yes" !
Others heard "Yay!"

It was supposed to happen several weeks ago but my preparations were not ready. I could have waited for 1 more week to hit 14th but sometimes the black numbers on a calendar make no more sense than ant trails.

Now that this is over ... I have to plan the messy details. I am feeling tired ... feel the honeymoon is already over.

PS: Since you are sooo curious, my thesis proposal title is "New lower bound technique for constant depth quantum circuits"

Wednesday, February 4, 2009


I was having a hard time concentrating myself since I woke up today. So when I was told about the Japanese Film Series 2009 at BU, I knew I had to be there tonight for the first movie. I somehow have to catch up the with proposal presentation but I doubt I would have gotten anything worthwhile accomplished in those 2 hours.

As I hinted, today was the first movie - Rikyu. Overall nice movie. It started with the message that this movie is about the conflict of art and politics ... and that was the sublime focus of the effort. The ending scene showed the revered tea master Rikyu walking away to court ritual suicide - I liked the way it was shot.

Like most people, especially of south Asian origin, I have great respect for the Japanese race. Apart from their sincerity and confidence there is one thing which I particularly like about them. Their respect towards everything that commands it. From the mighty steel structures to the stylish details - the actually take time and effort to appreciate the beauty in everything. Watching them, in person or in movie, is a learning experience of the oft-misquoted "beauty lies in the eyes of the beholder".

About the movie though, I am sure I have no qualification to make any technical judgement but I felt the movie was marred by its editing. As I said before, the movie tried to balance art and the harshness of Japanese lords (think 16th century). In fact, the main Lord was a comic character and he acted nicely. But serious editing issues ruined most of the artistic moments. Just when the mood for a particular scene was setting it, then the scene would cut. And there were several short takes which did not at all fit into the flow. The acting was good and the movie ... oh it was about a famous tea master and his ambitous comic warlord ... was well directed to show the Japanese way of life that I describe above.

Next week, it's a Kurosawa film that I have not seen. I plan to watch it too.

Friday, January 30, 2009

Dr No-Know

What are you doing here ?
- PhD. In theoretical computer science.
Why are you doing it ? You like it ... ?
- (pause) Why do people do things ... *shrug*

Between a student (junior, semester just began) and me (PhD, 6+ years).
The last sentence was a bit cliche - it sounded like "shaadi kabhi koi sochke karta hai?" from the movie KANK. But, really - why exactly am I doing a PhD ? That too in this good-for-boring topic.

It is definitely not job ... they are either PhD aspirants or wanna-be advisors who tell you that PhD can get you a good job straight away. More so if your topic is orthogonal to money making trades.

Money ... no job no athanni. And teaching jobs, the only ones we are not overqualified for, even claim to pay us with satisfaction. Its official.

Fame ... why not ask about being lucky to born as the prince of Brunei.

We are talking about books, journals and long nights with pen and paper ... so I am skipping the whole angle of social life, girls or glamour.

Someone at the corner beside the free coffee is mumbling satisfaction ... or is it me singing A situation leading to sweet salvation ? This is pure gambling ... achieving satisfaction is purely a mental skill .. yes *skill*. If you are desperate enough to be satisfied, it will happen. Things people do for ...

I don't think I had any particular benefit in mind when I decided to replace a good, interesting, paying (oh yes...) job by this doctoral pursuit of bottomless knowledge. I just wanted to see this field in greater detail ... and I think I just wanted to do a PhD. As simple as that. Well... not quite, coming to think of it. My job was interesting but was not creatively rewarding and not _that_ challenging ... you know ... yes, I enjoyed it but not in _that_ way. It is hard to pinpoint. Escape route towards fatal attraction ... a provocative mix to give birth to yet another PhD graduate student. Yours truly.

Friday, January 16, 2009

bananas ?

Do you know what a banana tactic is ? I am duh sure you don't. You can't. And you won't if you stop here. That's a good reason in my rule book, so read on...

I call it the banana tactic. I still have a mild addiction to my own life, so lets just say the name is inspired by what follows below. What is plagiarism elsewhere is inspiration in art and academics. So, no hard feelings please.

B: see u later. be back soon.
d: leaving ?
B: nah - going to get bananas.
(it was around 2:30 then and B usually finds midday ghas-phus around that time)
d: WHAT ! bananas ? you have decided to eat bananas for lunch to lose
that extra 2 kilos you gained <censored>
B: its funny. people don't respect fruits anymore.

And then I was bestowed the whats and whens.

You feel hungry. You step out. Wait you don't. It's cold so you find armour for windchill. As you add more layers, you start thinking where would you go ?

Incidentally, this question could be a hundred-dollar question or a hundred-cent question based on your spatio-temporal coords. Here it's really hard to find good stuff to disguise as lunch material. And if you have one of the many Indian restrictions, you are better off acquiring a taste in raw leaves. Which is not that bad anyway ... oh, well... I learned fast.

So ... instead of hoping for a miracle, B hoped to get a banana or two. They never fail, kind of like books or dogs or shrimp - all of them are hard to hate. If something nice to eat is found, good for you. Oh ... something nice do come up once in a while, it's not thaaat bad. And if you will pardon my adultery with food, I even miss McD fries after not having them for half a year. Personally, I find stuff to sate my appetite.

Oh I veer again. The point is, when you want something, you set something as your gold standard. Then you either hanky-panky try to reach that. Or you say that you are not going to get it realistically, and instead shoot for something less royal ... so much less that you are never gonna be disappointed. Either way, you can be content. Take your pick. I christen the latter way of life as banana tactic.

I personally tend to choose the former path. Being obsessive with almost everything I do, I mean the stuff I really really have a passion for, I overdo what I should do. Kind of like trekking my way to El Dorado instead of watching it in 3-D in IMAX. Failures and disappointments are my closest enemies. They come with this dude called me.

I think it helps if one has a blend of no-compromise and banana smoothie. In the end, being content matters. Do we agree on that one ? Maybe not. I have a fascination about the 'process' being right more than the 'end'. I guess the banana tactic is not my kind of game. Still its a good tactic. And a good name.

Do you want to know about Salami tactic now ? Fear not, it's not mine. Ask Ask.

Tuesday, January 6, 2009


It was shocking. It was shocking when I first heard it on CNN IBN livecast but at that time it was still in design phase. I read it today in The Telegraph and now it is seriously shocking!

After the 4 southern states and Rajasthan and Bihar, Maharashtra Assembly also passed a law for the domestic workers or housemaids or bais. What do they have to do? Register with the government. What do they get? Job security and perks like the salaried class. Weekly day off, proper sick leave, bonus, PF, pension, health insurance yada yada yada. Easy brownie points for the government.

This is one of the many unorganised sectors in India where some of the above perks might be beneficial but way too cumbersome. It does not make sense to have a compulsory weekly day off for a housemaid. What happens if the milkman says he won't come on Sundays anymore ? In fact, some of the perks are better left on a one-to-one compromise basis, as an understanding between the house mistress and the housemaid. That is how it currently is. In my opinion, there are other unorganised sectors which could be regularised with more efficiency and would actually make sense.

What was shocking was not the passing of this law. Well it was, to some extent. I, however, kept wondering how such a law is going to be implemented. Making a simple thing complicated by introducing paperwork never works. Then came the fun part. This law is going to be a welfare law, which means its just a recommendation. No one is going to be punished if they do not follow it, in short a big thumbs down to implementation. Shocked ?

The state is supposed to set up a Domestic Workers’ Welfare Board where housemaids have to register to avail these facilities. Presumably, the board will also take care of the government's share of the help. With any board in India, comes a party banner - is anyone else finding it fishy ?

I wonder why there is no such law in my darling state West Bengal. We are supposed to be the first to think and pen down the law on paper.

Saturday, January 3, 2009

Green bong intellectuals

Kolkata is a city full of intellectuals. You can find them of course in schools and colleges, but surprisingly you can spot a few even in the local chai-shop, in the evening gatherings in a park or even in an government office full of sorry-we-donot-work babus. A few of them, I suspect, are self-proclaimed antels. That is not the point.

I do not know if intellectuals are only supposed to use their so-called intellect to endlessly ramble about subjects of their liking, or disliking or of indifference. Or they have nothing else to talk about and so they create a subject from thin air. But historically the bengali intellectuals have caused many a changes to the society. Mainly through their voice, their writing, their support and in some cases, their actions. Even the politicians of east India knew how to think. If you do not think, you do not exist. This is not exactly what Cogito, ergo sum means, but I consider this a necessary survival guide. Bengalis as late as in 1970s knew this in one way or the other. No more now.

Statesman Gokhale once said What Bengal thinks today, India thinks tomorrow. This statement is true even today in a sense ... we kind of think even today - because we do nothing else.

There have been two occassions which caused a furore among these thinkers. One was the infamous Nandigram incident and other the Rizwanur case. There were mass protests by well known individuals, young credit-card rich generation and have-nots all alike. Kudos to them, but in hindsight both of them had a political flavour; protest the oppressions and favour the helpless. Instant brownie points - makes you a hero overnight.

Those who are in Kolkata or somewhat updated about happenings there know about the Green Crusade going on these for last half a decade or so. Sadly it can be summarised as Subhas Dutta vs State. Kolkata, along with the national capital, has been branded as the two most polluted cities in the region. Delhi is taking stringest measures, and is quite successful in that. That means we are going to the retain the top post all by ourselves. Feels nice ?

After a lot of drama in and out of the courtroom, finally the government seemed to be cornered this time. They had to remove all two-stroke autos from the streets of Kolkata. Well... as expected, that did not quite happen. The government found way to circumnavigate the ban; opposition and other parties raised other objections. In short, the autos are all back on the streets.

What is happening with the auto-wallahs and the government (the police in Bengal is effectively a government department) is expected. What I find surprising is the absence of any so-called intellectual in this movement. Couldn't they simply promise not to ride two-stroke autos. Granted that will cause them a lot of inconvenience. They can settle for a compromise - do that on every alternate day for the next 1 month. Something in which they suffer a bit to make sure the auto-wallahs and the unions and the parties suffer a lot more.

I heard TMC called an auto and taxi strike today - apparently Ms Banerjee thinks that if the public faces inconvenience, then there will be a flood of sympathies for the ban protesters. I am scared that she might actually have a working strategy there. Instead of countering her style of inconvenience by boycotting autos and making their life hell, the evergreen bong intellectuals will silently use other means and return to riding auto to earn their daily cup of tea. And talk about other issues like why is Australia cricket team doing so bad.

Here is a strategy: every alternate day, for 2 weeks, do not ride 2 stroke autos. 2 stroke autos are easy to recognise, they are labelled "2 RE" at their back. And a sign of protest, wear a green patch, cloth or paper, somewhere in their body.

Make them realise that you think about your city. You can at least be selfish and think about your own personal health that is in danger due to the smoke belching three-wheeler beasts. Make them realise that they could own the vehicle but you are the customer and decide the market. Make them realise that public opinion just does not mean rambling over cups of tea in coffee house and then hopping on to a Belgachia-Lake town auto because it is convenient.

Thinkers of the city which never stops thinking ... for once, stop pretending and actually think.