Tuesday, January 02, 2007

Babel

How much do we know and much do we assume? This is the question that Babel asks you. And, its harsh answer is that we know little and assume much, at least in as far as dealing with other humans is concerned.

The plot is very simple: A gun gifted by a Japanese guy to a guide, who sells it to another local, who gives it to his sons, who while playing with it, shoot a woman, which leads to the woman and her husband not reach home in time, which leads to their kids being lost in desert and their housekeeper being deported to Mexico. We see snippets of the life from the perspective of the boys who shot the lady, the couple, their kids and the housekeeper, and the Japanse hunter and his daughter.
yes, so much in the movie does not make sense, and so much that seems irrational. And, yet, that is what the movie is all about. There are things in this world that do not make sense to us, and there is only so much that we understand. And we have to accept irrationality and understand our limitations in making sense out of everything.

The movie deals with human conditioning and human alienation; from those with a different conditioning. What does not make sense to us elicits a reaction either of fear, or of rejection. And so, a group of american tourists fear the natives as terrorists in Morocco, and Japenese boys reject a girl because she can not speak their language. Any person who is different from us, is an outsider; although Babel restricts the differences only in terms of language.

But, Babel is not only pessimistic and about the problems of misunderstanding. The movie also tells us that with a little bit of humanity, we may as yet create the Tower of Babel and reach the heavens. Humanity is what allows us to embrace what we consider foreign or irrational at times. Humanity is what the stranded tourist finds in his Moroccan guide, humanity is what changes the reaction of the wounded lady from an insolent rejection to silent, yet unequivocal acceptance of her benefactors, and humanity is what goades the Japanese cop and the father to accept, even if he does not understand, the seemingly irrational behavior of the deaf-mute girl.

The movie also tells us how much conditioning plays a part in our so-called character. Left to ourselves, we could have taken any shape. The deaf-mute girl intially does not understand why people are dancing when there is no music (that she can hear), but finding herself with friends, she blends in and learns to find happiness in dancing when she can hear no music. We are all looking for acceptance, a little bit of understanding and we devise strange ways to achieve it. Some may play with a rifle, others may search for sex, and it may all seem irrational to us. But, the truth is that our rationaility is limited by our understanding, by our conditioning, and to accept the foreign/irrational is the road to Babel.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

how can ppl writesuch stuff

came across this on a blog.. and shamelessly copied it.. of course, the source is somewhere else..
an absolute gem!
----------
She loved the guy.
She did it for him.
She would've done anything for him.

Some women are like that.
Some lovers are like that.
Some loves are like that.
Most loves are like that, from what I can see.

Your heart starts to feel like an overcrowded lifeboat. You throw your pride out to keep it afloat, and your respect and your independence. After a while you start throwing people out - your friends, everyone you used to know.

And it's still not enough.
The lifeboat is still sinking, and you know its going to take you down with it.

--Shantaram
page 63

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

On the 2-wife theory: or why you need 2 wives in this mobile world

let me first get this disclaimer out of the way.. the idea expressed in this blog is half-baked and half-minded; for it was baked in 15 mins while driving and the other half of my mind was busy driving..

so, we are coming back to the marriage question.. now, as yash uncle (of the yash chopra fame) pointed out in DTPH, there is a soulmate for each of us. now, if you know me even fleetingly, you would know that I have scant intellectual respect for yash uncle's theories.. but, what yash uncle probably wanted to point out (and here I may be giving yash uncle more credit than he deserves) is that there are very few people in this world who really understand us. In fact, there may be nobody who would completely understand you so having one soulmate is also probably optimistic. But, during my limited stay in this world, I have met a few people who mostly understand me. Now, as the careful reader may point out that 'mostly understand' is not quite the same thing as 'completely understand' but then we are not living in the ideal world of 'yash uncle', and a little bit of approximation is a necessity.

now, even this approximation does not quite solve the 'happy marriage' problem. For, even though there are a few ppl out there who are approximate soulmates, there is a little chance in my finding somebody whom I can marry before my 'marriagable age' is over. The distrusting statistics-oriented reader may point that if I met a few ppl who understand me (and here I am avoiding the soulmate term to keep any 'gay accusations' off), chance are half of them are girls and I could just pick one of them. But, real life is not as simple as mathematics. Firstly, the chance that even couple of them are girls is very low; forget the naive assumption of half of them being girls. And secondly that even if some exist(and this is more important, so listen carefully), they may not be eligible for marriage. Most men who agree that the women most likely to understand them would be their sister, if they any. Now, even if some lucky folks know of females other than their sisters who understand them, they may be (a) already married or (b) not interested in marrying you (considering that they already know you). To take an example, which girl in her right mind would consider marrying me if she really knows and understands me.

But, the situation is not as hopeless. Consider the fact that I may have been looking for friends maybe only in the last 10 years of my life and I found half a dozen folks who understand me. Now, if I continue this exercise for another 20 years, I would have about 20 folks who understand me. Assume 25% of them are females, we have 5 left. Take the sister and like-my-sister girls out, and I might still be lucky enough to have at least one candidate still standing. Alas, there is a catch. She might already be married since (assuming she is the same age as me), she woulld be close to 50 after 20 years and all decent girls are supposed to get married by 25. So, as you see it, the chances of finding an approximate 'marriageable' soulmate (assuming you have not found one by the time you are 25) are fairly low and decreasing very rapidly with every passing year.

And, to top it all, the worst is still to come. Assume you do find a soulmate by some reasonable age, consider the probability that she would 'fit in' your family. I have lately realized that my definition of 'biwi' is very different from my mother's definition of 'bahu' and it is very unlikely that any one person would be able to meet both these definition. The moment I want my 'biwi' to understand me, I am placing constraints on the perceptiveness of the girl involved. To understand anybody other than yourself is a very difficult task and requires a certain objectivity that , in all probability, I lack. Any girl with such an objectivity is quite likely to question the rigidity of the roles that are defined very clearly in a family life. If she is an agnostic, she may not quite like to be a party to the elaborate pujas that happen at my ghar. The fact that I am a guy (and hence is permitted to be a rebel) allows me the leeway to act in a manner that I deem fit, but the rigidly defined role of a 'bahu' would not afford her that flexibility.

Now, this last factor is what makes a single wife theory unsustainable. For even if you increase your looking-out period and hope that everybody else does the same, the person you may end up with may be your approximate soulmate but not the 'bahu'. There could still be a solution by reducing your expectations from your wife; essentially, find your 'best friend/soulmate' somewhere else. This is quite a promising approach as the moment you open up the definition from a 'soulmate' to a 'best friend', all restrictions imposed earlier are gone. The only catch is the increased mobility in our life: which implies that the paths of our best friends diverge, and after a certain age, it is difficult to find a 'new best friend'. The notion was quite handy and probably the way earlier generations survived as folks sticked around in the same place for years and found one or more friends who would understand your, and stick with through the years.

Today, one has limited options in this regard. Hence, the 2-wife theory. To formalize things, consider the following framework. Every person is allowed 2 spouses: a ghar-wala spouse who you would essentially reside with and is similar to the current definition of the spouse and a formal 'soul-wali' wife/spouse who is your intellectual wife and is the person who understands you, the person you turn to when seeking advice, the person with whom you discuss what should you be your goal/priorities in life, the person who would understand your fears, and a person who is formally obliged in this framework to stick with your all your life.

Yeah, yeah there are a lot of catches in this theory/framework but, as I told you at the very start, this is a half-baked and half-minded theory.

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

my name is RAM (of the ramayana fame)

I have had enough of this listening. I hear liberal men and feminists baying for my blood, clamouring that I be removed from their temples, their puja-rooms and their heart. For, they say, that I have sinned. They say that I treated women badly and, even worse, set an example for generations of men to treat woman as anything but an equal. But, I interject that, they are unable to see the world as I see it, from the eyes of a man who lived a long time ago, in an age that was very different from what you see today.

But, let me not jump the gun and first state the charges levelled against me, for many men are not yet aware of what my detractors say, are my sins. It all started one fine day when Lakshman, my younger bro, met a flirtatious surpnakha in the jungles around where I was leading a secluded vanvaas. Lakshman, not quite used to outgoing women, reacted in a way that my detractors find appaling. He very simply cut off her nose and walked merrily back, happy that he had put a 'loose' woman back in place. This, of course, set of a chain of events, with Ravan avenging his sister's honour (or nose, as you may want to call it) by kidnapping Sita, my wife, and the rest, as they say, is history. Lots of bloodshed, lots of killings but finally the issue alongwith Ravana was put to rest and we should have just put up a signboard that said, "and they all lived happily ever after".

But, real life rarely has such fancy endings. And, so, a dhobi had to step in, question the purity of Sita, and being the noble maryada purushottam king that I was, I was left with no choice but to abandon Sita.
And this is exactly what my detractors initially found to be my wrongdoing. But, as time passes, they have collected more ammunition, and putting it all together this is all that they have to say.

Consider, on one hand, ladies and gentleman of the 21st century the acts of Rama, and his younger bro Laksham, acting on the teachings of Rama
1. Lakshman physically assaulted a single female for some minor advances. Not only was he not punished for it, the whole incident was brushed under the carpet.
2. Sita, a wife who shared his misery when Rama was banished to the jungle was abandoned, when the tide turned and Rama made a glorious return the the throne and all comforts.

On the other hand, consider Ravan, a man who
1. only wanted to avenge her sister's assualt as any self-respecting brother would do
2. and who did keep Sita imprisoned but never mistreated or assaulted her, in any manner, as opposed to Lakshman, who for no reason at all, assaulted surpankha.

In other words, Ravan was fairly close to a throroughbred gentlemen whereas I and Lakshman treated women as dirt.
Some of these detractos even go as far as to say, that I fought Ravan only for my pride and ego. They say that no self-respecting king would ever leave his wife in the captivity of a foreign king. Hence, once I had been able to save my face by killing Ravana, I didn't have much use of Sita, and discarded her, as one would discard a war trophy.

And here I present my defense of my case.

Even though, this may come as a shock to all my worshippers, I accept all the charges. Yes, Ravana treated woman as more of an equal than I or Lakshman ever did. But, I was not acting on my own and I was not acting for my self. I was acting for my society and my actions were dictated by what that guy Darwin very aptly called 'Survival of the Fittest'. To understand my particular scenario, I implore all the people, my detractors and my fans, to go back to a time many centuries ago. An age when order was not ensured by laws of India and Geneva convention was not quite in place. I lived and ruled in an age where the only law and convention was the law of the sword and the convention of the mightly.

I lived in the age of wars.

I lived in the age where might was right. When might is right and the victor makes the laws, the good old fellow Darwin (or rather his law) favours the mighty and the ruthless. The one who survives is the one who is fittest; the one who hits first, hits hard and keeps on hitting till his opponent is knocked out, once and for all. You could very well see that this is a job that requires real men, men who wont shy away from a bit of blood and gore, from killings and yore, and rape and plunder.
In those times, if women had a say, they would be only but a thorn in the whole scheme of things. A soft state, as the rightists would say. And, in those days, a soft state would be a state under foreign rule.

A state in a which a woman had a voice, was a state in peril in those days of old. For a mother would not quite appreciate the idea of her son dying for the glory of an individual, the king; and a wife would try to convince her husband of finding a much safer profession than being in the pay of the king. A woman with a voice was, as you can see, not quite a good idea especially since war not only entailed killings but plunder and rape as well.

And who else could set an example for others to follow. The Rama of 'ramayana fame'. After all, I was the model king. So, I acted in a fashion that the guy Darwin wanted me to and fought against an adversary, who was much more generous towards woman and hence, an apt model-villain in more ways than one. I acted in a manner that was ideal for surviving the age and the fact that I still decorate your puja-rooms is ample proof that survive, I did.

Today, the rules of the society have changed and so with it, the perspective on what is model behavior and unacceptable behavior. If I were to live today, maybe I would have acted differently. But, in those days of old, I lived the way I should have lived. I lived the life of Rama, the model warrior, the model king, and the model man.

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

bad idea

asking somebody 'to do something unusual' or 'to not do something usual' without giving proper explanation is typically a bad idea.. for, the person has no option but to assume the worst.. and sometimes the worst is a scenario that one would like to evade (and not seek a clarification), and get stuck with assuming it, even if that is untrue..

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

3 days in portugal

To say that my Portugal trip started with a very grumpy me would be an exaggeration, albeit not a very gross one. On my flight to Portugal, I was an automaton who hardly had anything to eat for the last five meals, and was desperately looking for a bed as well. Lack of sleep had played tricks on my mind and I had even refused meal in the Delhi-Frankfurt trip and was now hoping that there would be a decent vegetarian breakfast on the flight to Portugal. It is an altogether different matter that I may have eaten anything that was offered to me on that flight, but since I was served a vegetarian breakfast, I was saved from facing the dilemma.

Holiday Inn Lisbon Continental may not exactly have the worst location and view that you would find from a hotel, but you would be hard-pressed to find a 4* star hotel in a city that is not really known to be expensive, and is situated in a more cramped setting. To add to the disappointment of finding another building staring right in my face once I removed the blinds, I found that the room had no free internet. I took that as a sign to explore the city and minimize my stay at the room. However, there was the small matter of preparing my slides to take care of, which, in turn, required me make up for the lack of electrical socket converters by using naked wires. That I managed to blow the fuse of the power connection completed that day for me in a fitting manner.

I realized that I was facing a situation where I might have to present a rudimentary skeleton of my slides in the worst case, hoping that my battery would last for the 30 minutes of the talk at least.

‘Good morning. I am going to talk more and show less today and the reason for that is not that I am a very good speaker. Rather, my laziness in preparing slides beforehand coupled with my lack of foresight in getting, begging or borrowing an adapter that works in Portugal means that I have no more than some skeletal slides’, I could hear my opening line in my mind.

I suddenly felt a strange chill; not because of the impending scenario but because I found myself completely indifferent to the scenario. Nothing, it seems, mattered. That the chain of my TP bag broke on the way to the conference venue and I had to literally tie it up was another one of the unwelcome developments of the day. Of course, I had no directions other than a fuzzy idea from a map I had seen a month back meant that the next thirty minutes were spent asking for directions from folks who do not share a language with me.


The tide turned. I got the wire-thingy to work at the conference venue, checked my mails, realized that I could not get on the office network as I did not remember the password, marked that as a good thing as well, prepared my slides while surfing for information on metro and bus service in Lisbon, decided that I could cover the Castelo Sao Gorge and Tower of Belem today, asked around for any folks interested in sight-seeing, realized that I was among a bunch of serious folks, and trudged my solitary figure towards the metro.

Castelo Sao Gorge is an old castle with a winding path connected by a bus. My penchant for walking led me to skip the bus and take the path. My penchant for short-cuts had led me off the way to the backside of the castle, as a person would be soon be my benefactor, informed me. Losing you way is not always a bad idea, as one could witness the view on the other side, both literally and figuratively. My benefactor realizing that I was lost, and looked quite lost, offered me a lift to the front side of the castle. The walk to the castle is an interesting uphill walk, through narrow lanes reminding one of the walks in manali et al. However, the best part is the viewpoints that are en route and one of the reasons to skip a bus, though I would recommend doing that on the downhill journey. The view of the Tagus from the elevated porches one finds on the way is quite nice, to say the least.



My next destination is the tower-of-belem and as I step down from the bus, I see a building that I feel I have seen before. I hate to admit it but I have always been quite fascinated by the reincarnation concept. My dreams about an earlier life are suddenly brought down by the realization that this is a museum arcade, and I had seen it in NP’s Portugal album. So much for the karz hangover. I pause for a minute, wondering if I should capture the arcade, but choose not to duplicate a photograph that already exists in NP’s album, especially since the direction of the sun would ensure that my shot would resemble a poor cousin of the original shot I had seen.
I cross the road to the Tagus side and take the walk to the tower with a gentle breeze blowing right across my face as the sunlight plays hide-and-seek with the clouds. I walk in to a roadside eatery, which as it turns out, has nothing vegetarian in the burger/pizza category. I make do with a large chocolate muffin and a packet of chips and continue my walk. With the gentle breeze on my face, with the Mediterranean weather, with a view of the blue Tagus opening into the sea on my left and the villa-styled buildings on my right, and with the peaceful seclusion of the walk, I proclaim that Lisbon is not a bad place for a few days, an observation that would stand corrected the very next day.

The next day would bring me to Cascais. But the story of this day is not yet over. There is the blackout, and the walk to Campo Pequino, and the realization that a drowsy mind is capable of playing tricks, many of which could turn out to be unpleasant. I browse the map and discover that instead of changing metro lines at two places, I can take a short-cut from Arreiro Metro to my hotel, and the walk would be no more than 20 minutes. The walk actually was 20 minutes, only that it required quite a few turns and I had not seen a bed for about 72 hours now. I took three turns. And then maybe another one and came to a cross-road. It was then that I blanked out completely on how many turns I had taken. The fact that it was close to 10 p.m., I was walking on the side-lanes, and the world-cup had led to deserted streets meant did not help matters. Of course, after wandering around a bit I came across an imposing structure, looked at my map, and found the name ‘Campo Pequino’ staring right across my face. I was adjacent to the hotel. The fact that it still took me another 15 minutes and a back-track to ‘Campo Pequino’ underlines how much of a problem a tired mind is, as compared to a tired body.


The next day, as it turned out, was the big day. I am not a big fan of beaches really, or so I thought. Cascais, a thirty-minute train ride, and the retirement haven for Europe, is where I was headed to. I expected to see the stylish-villas at Estoril, polished roads, and crowded beached. Nice but maybe not worth a trip. When I stepped out of Cascais station and wandered along the sloping lanes, listening to live music being played all around, and soaking the festive atmosphere all around, I knew that the trip is at least worth the 3 Euro train fare. I took a bus to the calm tranquility of boca da inferno, which set me back by 50 cents. Boca da inferno, or the mouth of hell, is all about listening to the waves in a solitary isolation, watching the sea change color from blue to green and then back to blue, and letting your mind wander. A good idea there would be to skip the actual mouth of hell, and boulder-hop to one of the desolate spots, as west as possible, and settle down to enjoy the view of the Estoril villas on one side and the neverending sea on the other.

Sufficiently invigorated, I decided to walk all of 8kms to Guincho. The walk initially was a lot of fun with the green and the blue of the sea on my left and the orange, yellow and red of the villas on my right. After about 5 kms or so, I made the following two observations: (a) it is never a good idea to hike with your laptop. Even if a trip to hotel would mean a loss of 15 mins, you can make up for it later on and (b) if a bus is available, it may not be a good idea to walk. Another 1km and I discarded the second observation, for I had reached Cabo Rosa. If Boca-da-inferno was enough justification for the train trip to Cascais, then Cabo Rosa was justification enough for both the walk and the train trip. If you look at postcards of Portugal, you may see a light-house featured often, though not often enough, in my opinion. What the postcards do not make explicit is the observation that light-houses are constructed at places where ships would be carried by the current of the sea, and light houses are the kind of places where you would expect strong waves. The sea at Cabo Rosa as you look far is still the blue and the green calm sea of Cascais, but as it approaches the jutting rocks of Cabo Rosa, the waves crash at the rocks in a deafening fury. If Boca-da-inferno showed the sea from a distance, Cabo Rosa gave you the front seat to the spectacle. Another 2kms of walk brought me to Guincho, with its many beaches, the most imposing of which are the sand-dunes of guincho where the sand actually hits you on your face, warning your camera of mortal injury if you try to capture its wild nature.

Finding a bus back to Cascais was an ordeal in itself, as everybody seems to drive there on their own. However, a bus is what I looked for, and a bus is what I found and 90 minutes later I was back to Lisbon via Cascais. This was the big night in Lisbon, the semi-final featuring Portugal and we (at last I found some company) decided to quickly finish off at the conference reception and move on to the giant screens at the Lisbon University grounds. The atmosphere was electric, and festive, and it was a surprise to see the festivity continue even after the match. You could see the pain of loss in the eyes of the spectators but they continued to sing their anthem, a long long time after the match was over. After another late night, it was back to the cramped surroundings of Holiday Inn.

The first thing that you notice when you enter the train to Sintra is that the windows do not have clear glass, in start contrast to the completely transparent glass of Cascais train. As the train leaves the Greater Lisbon area, you understand the logic behind it. Is Cascais shows the riches of Portugal, the road to Sintra is its grim underside belly with slums lining the track. The town of Sintra, though, is fairly well-to-do, being a popular tourist spot. We (I and a student from MIT) took the tourist bus round that takes us across Sintra and surrounding hills, stopping at Moorish Castle and Pena Palace.
Moorish castle is a lot of fun, especially the meandering walk and the winding roads that lead up to it. The walk along the narrow staircases is exciting and the birds eye view of the surroundings makes it worth the 4 Euro price tag.
The 7 Euro tag of Pena palace, and the fact that the walk in Moorish castle affords fine views of Pena Palace, made us skip the entry inside the Palace.

The evening brought with it a walk along the vasco da gama bridge, where my conference banquet was held. The bridge is a huge suspension bridge and a walkway along the coast is used as a jogging trail by the locals. To end matters for that day, we decided to go to the African music festival at bellem. The soccer defeat notwithstanding, the mood at the festival was jubiliant. Sitting perched on the tree, watching the Tower glowing with the Tagus in the background, and listening to the lively, vibrant African music was a fitting end to what was my last night in Portugal.

Of course, there was this small matter of using up the Euros I had got converted and the right place to spend them is the street-market at the imposing Praca de commerio. A few souvenirs were dutifully bought after driving a hard bargain, which I suppose is the way of this market, I made my exit from this laidback land of music, soccer, buildings and sparkling sea.

Friday, June 09, 2006

If I could paint

If I could paint, I would paint a picture; for this is one picture that I can not describe in words. The picture would seem commonplace to most, but for those who have lived it, this would be amongst the most beautiful pictures of all. The picture has people sitting around a fireplace maybe; or maybe not, for the fireplace is not important. The picture has people talking about what they want from life maybe; or maybe not, for even what they are talking about is not important. The picture has people looking in each other's eyes maybe; or maybe not, for even where they are looking is not important.

What is important that they are there at that frozen moment in time, what is important is that the past and the future have lost their relevance in that moment, what is important is that nobody else exists outside of that picture, what is important is that nothing of the world outside that picture is relevant. There is no movement in the picture, or the movement is so subtle that it does not create any ripples in it. When these people talk, they do not disrupt the calmness that permeates this picture. For this picture is one frozen moment in time, one drop of happiness stolen from the world, one abode of peace that shelters from the turbulence of people and time that are not part of this picture. This seemss like a picture of men (and women), but this is a picture of the minds of men (and women), at a moment when they are at peace. If I could paint, I would paint this picture.