Top five excuses for missing the train

Its a pretty humiliating experience missing a train. Its even more humiliating explaining that to someone. But fear not. Presented below are some excuses that should hopefully endure the rigours of time. While some of them may be perfectly acceptable, the others might border genius.

  • The first excuse for missing the train is that there is no excuse for missing the train.
  • Geet did it. Twice. On the same day. With the same train. I have only missed once.
  • The station has something like 27 platforms. And then, at the last minute, they switched platforms from number 1 to number 42. Can you imagine?
  • I tell you, it was a smart decision. The Maoists would have either blown up the tracks, or the government would have asked the trains to crawl along. I can walk faster than that.
  • I was able to dispatch it. But Balayya never taught me how to call the train back.

Movie secrets unravelled

Water cooler discussions often rich sources of keen insights one can gain into the workings of this mad mad world. It was a motley group of Mallus who gathered one such instance and the topics generally discussed revolved around the pained expressions perfected by Prem Nazir, the impeccable English spoken by Jayan and the societal divide very subtlely captured between Sheela and Jayan.

That done, we veered towards the more intriguing aspects of Indian cinema. The collaborative discussion helped shed light on some very interesting nuances that were usually laughed upon by the so called ‘thinking’ public, but which in fact, had very deep connotations into the state of cinema as a face of society.

One intriguing question we attempted to solve was the issue of the vile henchman. We know [from Animal Farm and other sources] that all men are created equal. But why is it that the life of a henchman is depicted lesser valued as compared to that of the protagonist or the antagonist? How many times have we seen the protagonist laying to waste all the henchmen of the antagonist but not being deemed a criminal in the eyes of the law? The question has foxed me over the years and i had almost begun to believe the smart critics when they said that the movies are plain stupid.

However, deep analysis into the lives of the protagonist and the antagonist explained the situation to us with utmost clarity. As movies mirror the utopian society, we are led to believe that both the antagonist and the protagonist are elements of the repressed society and the choices exercised by them led each of them down the path of crime and justice respectively. The key point to remember here is that the antagonist is a product of the repressed society; he has been forced to choose the path of evil by fate. While the vile henchman, alas. He is true evil. The henchman chooses a path of evil inspite of the society. He chooses to join the antagonist even when the protagonist shows that living a just life is possible. The extreme lack of apathy exhibited by the henchman shows that he is, in fact, the most evil natured among the plot elements and thus, deserves death at the hands of the just protagonist. The law understands the nature of the justice thus dished out and hence chooses to forgive the protagonist.

The realization of this film making fact drew nirvana upon me. i have now decided to play closer attention to the henchmen; look at their pained expressions while they are beaten to pulp by the protagonist and continue to cheer the beating up till the evil henchman meets his end.

Another keen insight: why does the protagonist in Ghajini develop such an immense muscular structure after he develops anterograde amnesia? Since his memory lasts in quanta of 15 minutes, he does not recollect when was the last time he worked out; he also forgets the pain associated with each workout. Thus, he works out every waking minute and hence, builds up his biological structure. i tell you, these subtle nuances are so abstract.

Big Brother is watching you

Ever get that feeling? It is pretty well understood that there are companies that make their living by watching what you are doing, what you like, what preferences you keep and what is buzzing in your immediate vicinity that is of interest to you.

It is also pretty well understood that Internet as a medium boasts of bridging the gap between the “you” and the “them” in the most effective and non-intrusive manner. In fact, let it be known that for every second that you spend in front of the browser, you are dropping a part of your identity back for someone to gain some knowledge about you. While there are tools that allow you to build up a social profile of yourself online [like Facebook and Myspace], there are others that are a lot more subtle about the manner in which they gather information about your tastes [like Youtube for visual medium, Google for almost anything, Last.Fm for music]. There are, in addition, social aggregators that build up an interest profile of your self by aggregating niche interest profiles from each of these online tools [like FriendFeed].

i have no grouse against leaving my identity traces behind for everyone to see. Otherwise, you would not see me blogging here and you would not see an aggregated list of my activities online here [via Friendfeed]. In fact, you are served content better suited to match your interest profiles and the Internet companies can show finer targeted ads for you, resulting in a win-win situation for everyone. But sometimes the sheer power of the availability of this data in someone’s hands scares me.

So why this age old ramble of privacy issues with respect to data available with companies and the chances of their misuse? Well, today i posted a comment on Facebook about how i enjoyed some chocolates the other day. Within an hour, Facebook shows me an ad asking me to become a fan of M&Ms. Scary?

I think what shocked me here was that the ad was not shown as a result of me being in a group of chocolate addicts, or me having watched and liked the movie Chocolat or me having added an application that had anything to with chocolates. It was an innocent one liner comment that resulted in that ad being rendered. Food [or cholocate] for thought?

A Wednesday

i had fallen in love with her as a kid. Even though i had only heard about her, i knew instantly that she would hold always a special place in my heart. i, enviously, listened on while i heard people singing praises of her magic and the vibrancy she possessed and the very magnetic appeal she held. i was dying to see Bombay [as she was then called] ever since i could remember.

My father recounted stories of his days in Bombay; the hustle and bustle of the crowd, the urgency displayed and conveyed in every artifact that found a place in her arms. It was a keen eyed adolescent who boarded the ship that would take him to finally complete the wait that he was longing for for years. Yes, it was the very same waters that carried him to her. i awoke early the next morning, still dark, dying in anticipation. My first glimpse of her in the greying dawn took my breath away and i died there. i could make out the hazy outlines of the skyscrapers, reaching for the sky. i rubbed my eyes in disbelief and glee. The outlines took shape and so did my admiration. We finally approached the docks and i was greeted by a heady concoction of buzz, odour and slick rainy slush. Ah! my first experience with Bombay.

My early experiences of Bombay were a spilaring mix of awe, wonder and amusement. i remember the ever bulging suburban locals, the yellow and black Premier Padmini taxis, The Times of India and Churchgate. Bandra was a passing memory and so was a drive-in theatre that left me puzzled about how one could drive a vehicle into a movie cinema. Bombay was also a fleeting memory of gullies, Akbarallys and RK Studios. i recollect being told that Bombay was a land of opportunities and “oppucations”; i was fiercely corrected that it was, in fact, a land of opportunities and occupations.

She was raped for the first time in 1993. i experienced unscalable fear for the first time then. i knew nothing about what happened and why; only that Bombay was no longer the Utopia that she was always considered to be. My belief stood shaken. Names of blast locations and suspects whizzed by me but i could only think about how things had changed that day. She withstood the trauma and the violence after that as only someone as resilient as she could. A brief encounter with her as a 20 year old on my way to a college tour left me poorer by a jacket that was vilely stolen from Dadar. My love for her only increased.She remained in a corner of mind for some time, till 2001 when i was to join my first job in Pune. Immediately, my mind conjured up comparisons between Pune and Bombay due to the relative proximity between the two. Of course, Pune was no Bombay; Pune had a charm of its own but it was still Bombay who ruled my heart. i was looking forward to my first solo trip to Bombay and was shifting nervously when it did happen. i stuck out like a sore thumb at Dadar waiting for the central line local to take me to Vikhroli. i carefully climbed the local amidst commotion from fellow passengers, always being vigilant of my wallet and my belongings. i remember the terror at realizing that the platform can be on either side and would never come announced. To this day, that terror strikes me dead whenever i am travelling in the locals.

Following that, i have travelled a number of times to Mumbai. i remember sighing whenever the local rolled into Victoria Terminus. i remember watching in awe when Marine Lines and the Mahalaxmi race course rolled by. i recollect the massive scale of Dharavi. i recollect being duped into losing my cell phone in a local at Dadar [again]. i recollect the impressive layouts at Breach Candy and Peddar Road. i recollect walking by the very expensive suburbs of Bandra and their very Goan influences. i recollect the lazy afternoon lunches at Cafe Leopold with me sipping my fresh lime soda and being ridiculed by the friends. i remember the lunches at Cafe Mondegar with its Mario Miranda caricatures, again sipping fresh lime soda and again being ridiculed. i remember the sumptuous treat of kebabs at Bade Miya at Colaba and the very expensive coffee and dessert at the Taj Heritage. i remember being cheered on as i ran the Mumbai Marathon amongst the quaint buildings of South Bombay and the sea face at Marine Drive.

She underwent further trauma in July 2005 with floods and rains and July 2006 with serial blasts in the lifeline of the city. Yet every next time i visited her, there she was in all her finery and splendour. The very metaphor that this beauty and abuse suggested left me devastated and sad. i was to travel to Mumbai day after tomorrow; an opportunity for me to pay my homage and respects to her undying spirit and the love she showered on her citizens. But a wednesday before that, those bastards defiled her yet again. They came by the very waters that had brought me to her the first time. They wreaked havoc at the magical environs of Cafe Leopold and Colaba. They turned hell loose at that Oh so Majestic Taj. They raped her again. And i was watching this sitting in despair and quiet rage.

Five days later, i am still enraged. Mumbai does not deserve this; she always stood for perseverance, respect, virtue and love. She spread hope to millions of Indians in darkened cinema halls with eager eyes devouring the grandeur. She showered prosperity upon the multitude of citizens who basked in her glory and added to it. Perhaps, i have no right to love her so much since i never resided there. But this i ask, what of all of you who do? How could you let her be abused as such?

i remember Naseeruddin Shah drawing out a horoscope of Mumbai on a rain-dampened window in Maqbool, prediciting disaster and catastrophe. i wonder whether he foresaw his part in A Wednesday, i wonder whether he foresaw the wednesday….

Fuel subsidies in India

Cost of sending an indigenous unmanned mission to the moon: Rs. 400 crores.
Cost of putting that unclean fuel into that gas guzzling tank of yours: Rs. 1,00,000 crore.

Use your math knowledge to figure out which is higher and by how much. Use your sense to figure out which is an asset building measure and which is slow poison. Shut up and think about these numbers the next time you want to crib about how the government is raising fuel prices.

You may argue that its the taxpayers’ money that is being used to foot the fuel subsidies and that you honestly pay your taxes; as such, you are entitled to such a favourable situation. Well, i too am a taxpayer and i do not want my money being used to help you fill your tank at such a steeply discounted prices. So, the next time you are stuck in a fuel line with umpteen others like you, grumbling about how things will never be right, be a human for once and think rationally.

Fuel shortages and foresightedness

The representatives of the water cooler discussion the other day included three young, bright and enterprising engineers [one being yours truly] and the topic, while being not centered around anything in specific, eventually veered towards the then impending truckers strike called for by the Federation of Karnataka State Lorry Owners and Agents Association. While not going into the sensibilities of the move by the federation, we were mourning over the wide spread effects of despair and angst that would be subject upon common people like us due to the shortage of essential commodities. It exactly typified the sort of conversations that involve a set of well intentioned invididuals who think the world could be a much better place if only so and so were not like so and so. Conversations meant to be blogged about, in short and left at that.

One keen observation that came up was regarding the snaking lines at petrol pumps consisting of harried motorists wanting to fill up before the strike would catch them unawares along with their vehicles fuel thirsty on the roads. The conversationists came up with contingency plans to counter the fuel threats since the strike was threatened to be ‘indefinite’ and the said members of the conversation were chronic motorists.

One of the trinity simply said that he could walk over from his house to the office since he happened to be resident at a neighbourhood that was within acceptable walking distance. The other two acknowledged the smart position he was in while the second piped in that he was in posession of a bicycle that he could utilize to cycle to work. Smiles beaming, he was commended for his efforts at locomotion in spite of grave and fatal dangers posed by other fellow motorists. The third commented that he was in possession of a bottle of fuel at home that he could fall back on in case dire circumstances presented themselves. His measures at beating the game were highly admired by the other two before the conversation eventually broke up.

A keen insight to make out of this is that the first two silently registered the fact the third was in possession of a valuable commodity that could measure its weight in gold when need arose. Each made a mental note of consuming a portion of the fuel in case an emergency forced either of them to knock on the door of the extremely foresighted third person. i hope that eventually leaves something back for the original owner of the fuel.

i also certainly hope that the information has not been leaked out beyond the immediate vicinity where the conversation was held. It would be a real shame to see every motorist in Bengaluru joining a snaking line outside the third conversationist’s house laying a claim on a portion of the precious fuel he possessed.

Unjust retribution

Just as the Indian Govt. had placed a ban on commodities futures to control inflation, so has the US SEC [Securities and Exchange Commission] directed a ban on short selling on about 800 financial companies in a bid to arrest the deep slide faced by financial institutions in the US in the wake of the subprime mortgage crises.

Just goes to show how unfairly the only people in the world, who saw the bubble in the valuations getting built, get treated. While the executives who directed the funds to such fraudulent instruments walk away unscathed [at least financially] and the credit rating agencies which failed to mark the assets suspect remain ignored, the only guys who saw the true fundamentals [or the lack of them thereof] get blamed for the sorry state of the economics. What a shame and pity.

Ayn Rand vs Che Guevara

The past weekend, i completed a relatively unique double of reading through two distinct texts with strong communist influences; The Motorcycle Diaries and Animal Farm. The former recounts the journey carried out by Ernesto Che Guevara accompanied by his friend, Alberto Granada aboard ‘la Poderosa’ while the latter describes the Orwellian tale of an uprising staged by animals of various “classes” in a farm in England in hope of better living conditions.

While “The Motorcycle Diaries” chronicles the formative years of Che’s eventual revolutionary life, these very influences are presented in a very subtle manner wherein Che encounters deep class, societal, cultural and economic divides in his travels across Latin America while he himself battles tough medical and economic conditions. What essentially starts of as a humourous series of thoughts and situational anectodes penned down by Che towards the start of the journey eventually transcends into a soulful recording of the punishing conditions the native Latin Americans are subject to in their own lands. All this, while Che manages to keep the humourous thread running and at the same time, provide a poetic narrative of the mystic and enchanting lands that he visits as a part of his expedition. That the text might be called ‘Motorcycle Diaries’ while ‘la Poderosa’ gave up less that halfway through might appear strange. That is an academic anomaly in an otherwise thoroughly enjoyable book that does not give much of a scope for one to crib through.

In addition to these texts carrying deep socialist undercurrents, i have also had the privilege of reading throught the thoughts of one of the faces of capitalist societies: Ayn Rand. And the distinctions between the two are pretty easy to see. Reading through Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged had left a lasting impact on my thoughts at that time and it was very difficult for me to think in any other terms other than those propounded by those in Ayn Rand’s utopian world. And in hindsight, i must admit that they tend to be quite damaging, especially given today’s glocalization and mass movement of economies world wide to a democratic setup. Ayn Rand’s societies consisted of few men [and women, yes ok!] of strong virtues pitted against a mass society that tended to be parasitic in nature. And this corruption of character manifested itself not solely in individuals in trade but also those who practiced and created art. And her argument against the corruption of such societies was to revolt against them through non-cooperation. And in this manner, it had a very Gandhian edge to the revolt. But while the Gandhian way of life talked about reformation of the instigator, Ayn Rand preferred to profess destruction of the corrupt society in the absence of the ‘prime movers’ of the world.

But coming back to why i felt this outlook could now present damaging consequences, the basic fault lies in the very utopian society created by Ayn Rand herself. The only parameter against which an individual was judged was by his/her virtues to individualism while leaving out a number of very pertinent factors [which are prevalent today] like culture, historical class bias and education. And these are the very factors [or biases] that caused Che to eventually don the revolutionary streak.

History has been witness to the vast social injustice inflicted upon various races by colonialism ranging from suppression to mass extermination of races. These consequences of colonialism are most apparent in some of the most troubled of states today like African states of Zimbabwe and South Africa, contensted territory like Kashmir and vast colonization of Australia by European colonists after mass extermination of native populace.

This note is not meant to serve as a treatise against colonialism; what i am trying to convey is that Ayn Rand’s vision of the world was extremely lopsided and could not account for a number of factors that would eventually present themselves to the global polity and economy in the times to come. And with the divides across the world today brought down to their knees by equalizers like the Internet, free trade and consumerist culture, Ayn Rand’s vision of individualism reeks of a defeatist attitude that would not do the world any good.

The world economy today needs new consumers and new markets. The success of an individual today depends upon another individual halfway across the world; the failure of one also brings down another equally antipodal. So the essential need to is general upliftment of peoples across the world, making them contributors to the world rather than subjects of charity and building a local market thus perpetrating general good. And in this, Che’s vision of upliftment of the suppressed classes makes more sense that Ayn Rand’s vision of their destruction.

Of revenge and purposes

Let us accept it. Revenge is a basic human emotion; if not, it most definitely is an extension of one. Civility and the good books teach us to forgive and forget lest one bad act begets another. Yet, humans express the entire range of emotions, from apathy to murderous rage, when faced with unpleasant situations.

But then, let me start with an illustration. i usually consider myself a peace loving citizen of the world and inhabit this world in the hope that it keeps getting to be a better place to live in. Most insults directed at me are usually met with a passive indifference or a smirk [subject to the gravity of the situation]. However, its highly unlikely of me to fly off the handle and abuse the person and/or enter into non-speaking terms with an individual over an incident.

But i just lose it when someone cuts in front of me while in traffic. Whatever be the size of the intruding vehicle, i make it my sole purpose in my short term existence to teach the offender a lesson. Even if that means having to cut other fellow motorists and pedestrians to achieve my aim. i recollect distinctly, at the peak of my vengeful existence, having gone out of my way [literally] to exact revenge even though the motorist was headed to a destination that was obviously not on my route. It never fails to amaze me what it is that makes me react in such a manner. This behaviour also realizes itself when i notice a fellow motorist being very kind in testing his/her horn and subjecting us to the test.

As almost every action performed by a human, even the cause of revenge, is driven by a purpose. Now comes the key part of my argument. The good books, the media and history have always preached that the purpose for revenge is the result of a senseless urge arising from the individual to exact an even more grievous punishment upon the offender as a method of “teaching a lesson”. While i am not debating the virtue of forgiveness here [in fact, i praise the nobility of the act and hope to fully embrace it soon], it is very often unfair upon the subject exacting revenge to suggest that the vengeful act is a result of a senseless urge. And my issue is with the “senseless” part of it.

Getting back to my reactions while on the road, terming my actions as senseless would be missing the entire essence of the act. Here are my explanations. For one, it is quite a smart move since both me and my would-be-victim are strangers and our lives would intertwine only for that instance when i would be paying the dude back in kind for cutting ahead of me.  The chances of us meeting again are extremely slim and as a result and very importantly, the act would NOT influence my life in any negative way. In addition, i am also teaching the offender some civility while in traffic. Hence, for one, i am being smart and not senseless.

But an even more interesting aspect to the situation is the central issue we are focusing on: the purpose. That the act by the offender has now given me a purpose [aside from just reaching my destination]. And as long as the newly purposed purpose does not deter me from my longer term purpose [in this case of reaching my destination safely], i might as well fulfill it with some extra elements of fun thrown in. In conclusion, i have proved it beyond doubt that revenge is most surely not a senseless act; rather, it is an act that essentially presents the purposes/choices to the subject, who in turn, executes the vengeance in full cognizance of the consequences.

That is the reason why i have been terribly aggrieved by the portrayal of revenge afforded over the years by various art and media forms upon us. The act of revenge makes sense for the subject because that is, in fact, the sole purpose left for him/her to remain in existence. So be it Captain Ahab in Moby Dick, The Bride in Kill Bill, Lenny in Memento or the characters in Chan Wook Park’s Vengeance Trilogy, life has rendered their existence useless and in this orphaned existence, they sought out a purpose to live. And this purpose, for more bad than good, turned out to be exacting revenge upon subjects who rendered an otherwise trouble-free life to harm. And this lends a karmic angle to the whole equation.

So while an eye for an eye would make the whole world go blind, God only helps those who help themselves.

tongue in cheek. firmly.