Tuesday, May 30, 2006

Effed up Gujarat

This, should be the last word on the Gujarat riots. Irrespective of what you may say, "It was necessary", "This nation will be ruled by Muslims" yada-yada, all that I have to say is, "No Sir, siege mentality is not the way to run a country. Remove hatred or else be consumed by its flames."

As Basavanna, the great Veerashaiva philosopher said,

"Maneyolagana Kicchu Maneya Suttitallade, neremaneya sudadu Koodalasangamadeva"

Meaning: The fire within one's house will burn only his/her house and not the neighbour's, hear this, O Lord of Koodalasangama.

Ashis Nandy Link courtesy: Chandrahas

Tears of 'senti' fall down my face???

Crying is a phenomenon which is normal for any human being. But overdoing the tears part is something that I don't like.

What am I hitting at? If you are a KRECian (present or ex) you will be aware of the large deluge of tears that are shed whenever people from the final year batch quit KREC for ever. You need to see it to believe. People whom you would never have associated with tears breakdown like kids.

My only question is, why all the tears when in any case after a couple of months all that you will do is meet them on orkut/yahoo/gtalk and have the occasional 'meet up' business for lunch/dinner at some mall/restaurant??

Never seen any of the final years here in IITD do that. (be they BTech or MTech)

Bliss, as they say, is found here.......

Monday, May 29, 2006

The Post Graduate

It’s been nearly two years since I set foot in Delhi. I had anticipated a long, protracted struggle. But to be honest, these two years have sped by at a pretty healthy clip-clop.

Getting sentimental is something that I have promised will never happen to me. Hence, whatever I feel about the two years here may seem stoical and cold to some, but believe me, its not so. It’s just being objective and matter-of-fact about certain things.

I had this chat with one of my good friends, advisors and occasional Chetak baiter, Sharath Rao. What followed was an introspective discussion about how I found M.Tech now that I had the ‘wisdom’ of two years.

This mail, which I had written in May 2004 started it: (if you are wondering where this came from, let me tell you that Sharath is one of the best archivists that I have known. It’s a surety that whatever you have communicated in writing to him, will be there forever, and may haunt you some time too!!!)

Date: 18 May 2004 10:00:09 -0000

Hey man

Thanks for the mail. You have really cleared all my doubts. I am now more convinced than before to do my M.Tech.

My joining is on July 29th. I have also got an interview call from BARC wherein if I clear the interview I get to study in IITD on a BARC stipend and at the end of it get to join BARC. I'm giving that a shot as well because
1) Its a good chance to get into NPCIL (nuclear power corporation)
2) I can also drift into the high tech areas like particle accelerators, power electronics,
robotics etc

Let’s see how it goes.

By the way
Smriti came out. The printer fucked up the book but still its grt. The cd is even better. I'll show it to you when I come home. It has a 'Mile Sur Mera Tumhara' special. Vitruvian is supposed to come out today.

Only Rao's paper left.

Nothing else here. What’s up on ur side?

What follows is ‘declassified’ chat conversation, which we believe will hurt no one, specially after 2 years!!!

krishnandeepak1: man, those were the indecisive days..
krishnandeepak1: i might sound senti..but believe me..u were a catalyst in my decision..
sharath rao: huh....i was trying to dig out the mail i wrote to see what i wrote...but cant find it..
sharath rao: but thats interesteing...who else did u talk to abt this ?
krishnandeepak1: my dad
krishnandeepak1: and immanuel
sharath rao: oh...what did they have to say ?
krishnandeepak1: dad was mostly like "there are advantages of doing ur degree immediately after BE. but go only if u are sure 100%"
krishnandeepak1: immanuel was also more or less the same
krishnandeepak1: but he also added his IISc exp
sharath rao: that is ...?
krishnandeepak1: in addition to his tata days
krishnandeepak1: so he too showed me both the paths
krishnandeepak1: so with my dad and immanuel it was like i was able to see 2 paths after getting thru a fog
sharath rao: okay..okay..
krishnandeepak1: but final path, i owe it to ur mail..
sharath rao: do you have that mail man ? i cant find it damn ...!!
krishnandeepak1: wait
sharath rao: i feel honored
krishnandeepak1: lemme see
sharath rao: but how do you look back at it ....now that you have the benefit of hindsight....
sharath rao: okay..am waiting

krishnandeepak1: hmm..mixed feelings..one moment lemme get rid of one of my sleepy frns by giving him an address that he wants..

krishnandeepak1: i guess that mail exchange was in the bad old days of rediff when there was limited space...so lemme check thoroughly
krishnandeepak1: which id did i send my mail to??

sharath rao: lets see wait..
sharath rao: i have ur reply..in which u havent included my mail

krishnandeepak1: fuck..rediff is so unfriendly..i have to navigate a lot
sharath rao: i dont know..i had it an archive acc. i maintain ..which got disabled due to not loggin in for months together..
krishnandeepak1: ok
sharath rao: its may 18, 2004 ..around that time.
sharath rao: take it easy..take your time
sharath rao: some other day..
sharath rao: but continue...on but how do you look back at it ....now that you have the benefit of hindsight....
krishnandeepak1: ok..
sharath rao: fuck you ...
krishnandeepak1: well after 1st sem i was convinced that i had made the right choice
krishnandeepak1: though there were issues like distance, new ppl to tackle
krishnandeepak1: weather was another issue
krishnandeepak1: 2nd sem sowed the seeds of doubt
sharath rao: okay...okay..
krishnandeepak1: this was when all the guys started getting salary hikes
krishnandeepak1: and when my project also started (a mini proj)
sharath rao: guys as in ur krec peers in corp. world ?
krishnandeepak1: yeah
krishnandeepak1: plus faced real pressure and long periods of no-results in my project
krishnandeepak1: this was when thoughts like "what if" crept in
krishnandeepak1: then in the summer of 2005 i went home en-route Hyderabad
sharath rao: okay...okay..
krishnandeepak1: and asked my batchmate Bharath (chemical guy) to show me the oracle campus
krishnandeepak1: where i wud have been working if i had joined
krishnandeepak1: what i saw there was lotsa comforts..but none of the corporate guys were having a challenging life
krishnandeepak1: i mean all they did was code
krishnandeepak1: eat
krishnandeepak1: go to multiplexes
krishnandeepak1: and sleep on weekends
sharath rao: i know bharath...was ur partner on few occasions..nerd looking bespectacled
sharath rao: okay..okay..
sharath rao: okay..
krishnandeepak1: whereas i felt that i was doing something different atleast
krishnandeepak1: plus bharath also talked abt how i made the right choice etc etc
krishnandeepak1: so that was the story of 2nd sem
krishnandeepak1: 3rd sem was a mix
krishnandeepak1: that was when i started doing lotsa things at the same time..like games, music, project, studies etc
krishnandeepak1: it was a real hotch potch wrt time management
sharath rao: okay...interesting
sharath rao: then ?
krishnandeepak1: things went downhill..
sharath rao: blog
krishnandeepak1: and i also showed signs of cracking
krishnandeepak1: i even went to the extent of alomost quitting my course
sharath rao: OMG !
krishnandeepak1: luckily i stopped at the moment of paying for my train ticket..some inner voice..
sharath rao: dont tell me..you came that close to quitting it !!
krishnandeepak1: then the winter of december 2005 and the new year week proved to be my boost
krishnandeepak1: things came together
krishnandeepak1: just in time before the final sem started
sharath rao: okay..
krishnandeepak1: final sem proved to be a slightly bumpy ride for the first half
krishnandeepak1: but smoothened out towards the end
krishnandeepak1: the job helped things a lot...i must say
krishnandeepak1: took off a lot of pressure
sharath rao: true ..true...
krishnandeepak1: 4th sem was when i discovered myself as a person
krishnandeepak1: what i am capable of

krishnandeepak1: what my dark side is..what can really crush me

krishnandeepak1: what weaknesses i have
sharath rao: 4th sem is final sem..post feb 06 ?
krishnandeepak1: so in hindsight, i am glad i did this
krishnandeepak1: yes..Jan 2k6 to may 2k6
sharath rao: jan 06 i guess..
sharath rao: okay...i see..man some journey uuh..
krishnandeepak1: it has been a journey of self discovery..which i wud not have made if i had been in oracle
krishnandeepak1: i mean it wud have been a different journey,
krishnandeepak1: but not as varied as this
sharath rao: i guess that wud have been a different kind...
krishnandeepak1: yes yes
sharath rao: but u wudnt have a got an extra degree for making a journey of self-discovery..
sharath rao: u wud have gotta few bucks
sharath rao: but big deal ...!
krishnandeepak1: yep..but bucks are not that big a deal...thats one more thing that ahave realised

krishnandeepak1: they don't give u as much pleasure as a happy mind

sharath rao: Certainly the difference between happiness on the one hand and a good and meaningful life on the other can’t be overemphasized. Last year when I lectured to my introductory psychology class about happiness I made this point using a set of thought experiments from the late philosopher Robert Nozick.

sharath rao: If a genie offered you the possibility of living the rest of your life in a state of sublime happiness, but you had to be asleep the whole time and dreaming, never to taste reality again, would you take it? How much extra happiness would you agree to if you had to lose a unique talent, like athletic or musical giftedness, or if you had to give up 30 IQ points?

sharath rao: To take an extreme case, would you agree to a lifelong increment in happiness on the condition that you would be transformed into a pig? Would you agree to become happier if it meant that one of your siblings had never been born or one of your children? All these examples, I said, show that happiness is not our only goal, perhaps not even our main goal, in life.
krishnandeepak1: i wud prefer the reality roller coaster
sharath rao: http://happinesspolicy.com/
sharath rao: blog dedicated to economics, policy , happiness etc.

krishnandeepak1: ok

sharath rao: harvard eco. prof.amazing chap ..
krishnandeepak1: ok
krishnandeepak1: one of the blogs u link to?
krishnandeepak1: now lemme see what PWC teaches me..
sharath rao: too late perhaps but read this http://post.economics.harvard.edu/faculty/mankiw/papers/My_Rules_of_Thumb.pdf
krishnandeepak1: too late for what?
sharath rao: "Doing research is not like digging a ditch. A person can dig a
perfectly fine ditch without enjoying his job for a minute."
sharath rao: "Doing research is not like digging a ditch. A person can dig a
perfectly fine ditch without enjoying his job for a minute."
sharath rao: thats for grad students
sharath rao: A book I read long ago revealed to me the secret to a happy life:
find out what you like to do, and then find someone who will payyou to do it.

sharath rao: u shud put on record what u told me abt ur Mtech exp...
krishnandeepak1: i'll do that..

That, my dear friends, is the inspiration behind this entry. Now, in case you are wondering about the mail Sharath sent me, here it is: (does this make me an archiver too?)

Hey fella...

Firstly about IIT-D ...I heard from people about it being really good for PowerSystems and alsocos its the only IIT with a Mtech ( integrated ) for Power System among the options in the JEE. Sothat is kinda their forte...plus I think one of nagrath or kothari is at IITD the other being atBITS...this I guess you already knew.........

About if I know someone there, I dont. But just talked to one chap here ...he is a summer studentfrom IT-BHU and couple of his friends are there. Will pass on their IDs tom, so you can get intouch.......Hope that helps........:-) Besides its very likely that one of Delhi party gang atKREC itself will have their school mates studying there....check that out as well......

About the idea of taking a break Vs joining right away.......

Lets really look at reasons why people go one way or the other.....

*****Some people take up jobs because they have concluded at the end of their BE that they have had enuf of technical stuff and they are not made for technical things. you DONT belong here anyway so forget it....This wont make you go for a job..

*****Some do want to study further, but want to take a break from studies and work for a while,they are fed up not of studies but of the system - of sessionals, exams, projects.....they want toget fresh in the industry and return at some undefined point in time. you DONT belong here anyway so forget it....This wont make you go for a job..

*****Certain others take up a job cos they actually wanted to take up CAT/GATE in final year butdidnt cos they also wanted to have a good time in 7th sem and so dont clear it. you DONT belong here anyway so forget it....This wont make you go for a job..

*****And finally those who take up jobs cause of financial problems, family compulsions, not beingable to find a groom upto their educational qualifications etc. This is a miniscule number and youdont belong here either. :-) This wont make you go for a job..

***** Finally, some get irresistable job offers - generally reputed MNC and well paying. They areunder tremendous pressure from peers, seniors and relatives etc. to take it up and feel foolish tolet go of it. Now since you asked me this question that I am answering, you appear to be slippinginto this category :-) THIS MITE JUST MAKE FOR GO FOR IT. Bear with me if my assessment is off the mark.

Look at reasons why people take up studies :

***** They simply love a certain/ a few subjects and feel they are made for it and want tospecialize here. You do belong here. THIS MITE JUST MAKE FOR GO FOR PG.

*****Certain others take up studies cos they have few well paying job offers and they would ratherbuild their resume and try for job after post-graduation ...typically civil, mining etc. Well youdefinitely dont belong here. So this wont make you go for a PG degree.

***** Or They 'fear' that if they take a break, they may not feel like coming back to studies andso want to finish off with it.

***** Or THey got into one of the top Univs In india or abroad and dont want to let the offer go.So they go study.

So final analysis what do you have left,

** you mite go for a job if :since you have a real good offer. reputed MNC and well paying.

Not too sure its a good choice ...firstly am not too sure you like ERP, Database etc. and secondlyyou dont want to head for Oracle and simply dilute your learning at this stage. and dont worryabout well-paying, post Mtech ( and maybe PhD ) too you will get good offers....

if you want to get into academia i.e . do a phd and get into teaching and consulatancy, youcertainly musnt go to Oracle.

** and since you also arent against MTech and the area in principle, you will really enjoy yourprogram. So you can very much go over.

I am recommending this cos I have known you as a rather academic person and dont burn my head if you have changed over time and I have got all the above fundas wrong. :-D

Finally, even if you have a slightest of doubt that you arent as interested in power systems ( orElectrial Eng. ) as you think and that someday you might want to come over to things like Computer Eng, Information Systems, or ERP or Management etc, take a break ...check out Oracle and give yourself time to be sure.

But for the above situation ( which is perfectly justified if it is true ), I dont see any reasonyou shud back out of IIT-D.

In one sentence : It wont harm to 'try out' Oracle, but it will if you 'try out' IIT-D......

Let better sense prevail.


P.S: If you havent already slept off by now, :-), good night !

Saturday, May 27, 2006

Huccha Baccha!!!

1 AM on a cool summer morning on the 28th of May 2005. My penultimate official day at IITD. I have to make a presentation to present before The Execution Squad on Monday, the 29th. I find that all the graphs that I have are in black and white and have to convert them to color. Not wanting to waste time clicking on each waveform and changing its color, I decide to run the simulations again and get all my 'rang bhari' results.

The only company that I have is Dire Straits singing 'Telegraph Road' and "In Those Days There Was No Coffee", a book by A. R. Venkatachalapathy. Was going through a chapter named 'Consuming Literature: The Contemporary Reputation of Pudumaipithan'. (Pudumaipithan = pen name of C. Vridhachalam, a Tamil short story writer).

Pudumaipithan literally means 'the one crazy about the new/modern'.

After reading that line: "Aw shit!! I knew the meaning of this Tamil word even before I could speak properly." How, you ask my dear reader? Simple, in the good old 80's I could not pronounce the word Chitappa (father's younger brother) and instead willed my tongue to pronounce it as, you guessed it right (if you did) - "Pithan".

Forgive me all uncles, whom I have labelled crazy in the innocence of my childhood. But you got to admit, God sensed my literary potential!!!

Another childhood gem:

Q: "What is your name?"

My answer: "Deepak Krishnan I love You!!!"...and just when I remember this incident, my Orkut fortune for the day says, "Our first and last love is...self love"

Stranger things have happened!!!

Saturday, May 20, 2006

Venkatachalapathy, Chapter 3

Chapter 3 of “In Those Days There was no Coffee: Writings in Cultural History” is called ‘Caricaturing the Political’ and is about cartoons in pre-independence Tamil journalism. ‘Tamil’ cartoons, (well cartoons are just pictures and cannot be classified by language, but what I mean is cartoons that appear in Tamil magazines) have been a regular with magazines like ‘Ananda Vikatan’, ‘Kumudam’, ‘Kalki’, ‘Mangayir Malar’ circulating between the ‘mamis’ of Rajajinagar. Most of the times, it used to be kids like me who used to be the errand boys to deliver those magazines to another house and get the exchange set. Exchanges also used to take place at vegetable shops. Since I was (and am) illiterate in Tamil, the cartoons used to be the only thing that I could understand. Sometimes they used to come with dialogues, which I would ask mom or grandma to read out.

But this particular chapter is about pre-independence cartoons which would mean tremendous focus on the British, freedom fighters and the like. This chapter is a quizzers delight with names of many firsts dropping off nearly every paragraph on every page.

The author attributes the English magazinePunch’ as being the inspiration for all Indian cartoons. Read this extract,

“However, as Partha Mitter, the pioneering historian of art in colonial India, has rightly pointed out, “no single humorous publication made a deeper impression in colonial India than the English magazine Punch. A riotous procession of its offering greets us in the second half of the last century”1 –and it is perhaps from here that one should begin a history of cartoons in India. A series of journals, evidently inspired by Punch proliferated across India: the Delhi Punch, the Punjab Punch, the Indian Punch, Urdu Punch, Gujarati Punch, Hindu Punch. Parsi Punch, Hindi Punch and even a Purnea Punch.”

1--> Partha Mitter, “Art and Nationalism in Colonial India 1850-1922: Occidental Orientations”, Cambridge, 1994, p. 138

The pioneer of cartoons of cartoons in Tamil journalism was Subramania Bharati. The novelty of cartoons can be gauged by the following notices in the Tamil publication India.

A New Development in India: Readers would know that ours is the only magazine in Tamil which publishes cartoons. However, from the coming week onwards, we propose to add another adornment. Apart from the cartoon on the title page, we propose to publish other drawings and pictures to illustrate important news items. Such an arrangement is unknown in the Tamil, English, Telugu and Kannada language journals of South India. It is we who are introducing this novelty. Initially we can proceed only little by little. But in the coming days further embellishments will be made.”

The second notice was in English, though ‘India’ was a Tamil magazine, “A Weekly Tamil magazine on modern lines. Published every week with cartoons.”

Bharati’s typical style included the usage of animals and birds. In fact the author states, “Bharati’s cartoons constitute a veritable zoological garden teeming with lions, tigers, elephants, crows, bulls, goats, horses, dogs, cats, owls, fowls, crows, foxes and rats.”. He also goes on to describe some of the cartoons that Bharati had drawn/commissioned someone else to draw.

For example, England is portrayed as a plump Englishman in a bowler hat who is seen milking the cow (Mother India) dry while the small children (Indians) starve.

He then goes on to trace the path that he cartoons took in India,, reaching a peak after the civil disobedience movement. He also states that in the early days, if cartoonists didn’t want to print their name, they started doing so and in the process earned a lot of fame. At this point, the author adds quoting Mannikodi of 10th June, 1934, “Most of the cartoonists do not express their own opinion on day to day happenings. The editorial department asks them to draw such and such an incident and such a manner in order to express such and such an opinion.”

Another important characteristic of Tamil cartoons that the author draws attention to is the “predominance of the political in pre-independence cartooning. When Partha Mitter states that ‘The most popular Bengali cartoons were social’ it does not sound exceptional to the Tamil reader. The hypocritical zamindar, henpecked husband, pompous professor, obsequious clerk, illiterate Brahmin – such caricatured identities are strikingly absent in Tamil cartoons. Tamil cartoonists seem to have stuck to indicting the English.”

How long could the indictment of the British go on? The answer was ‘till 1947’. What after 1947? To quote O.V. Vijayan from Ibid pp 56-57

“the pre-independence cartoonist had simpler challenges to take on. The reality he was called to comment on could be separated into neat sets of black and whites. His characters were not so much precise political personae as they were folk totems. And he himself was not so much communicating as participating in the struggle along with the vast majority of his readers…The nationalist consensus, which made these primal totems viable, collapsed with the post-independence polarization. ..The cartoonist from now on would have to abandon his folk symbolism, and settle for the less apparent but more demanding job of analysis.”

Hmm…post-independence Tamil cartoons would sure be an interesting study. The rise of the Dravidian movement, the anti-Hindi agitation, the emergency, the emergence of MGR, the Cauvery issue with Karnataka, all will be an interesting study. Also, from what I have seen till now, Tamil cartoons have turned the social page………

Also, talking of the issues of ‘black and white’ that a cartoonist has to face, read this blog by Rajdeep Sardesai about The Middle Ground.

Sunday, May 14, 2006

M.Balaji, L.Balaji, T.Balaji...yella OK aadre V.Balaji???

There used to be a serial on Lord venkateshwara on DD with the song,

"Balaji..Tirupati Balaji
Tirupati Nayak Balaji
Tribhuwan Palak Balaji
Jeevan Poshak Balaji......"

I read this in the Deccan Herald. Got me wondering, I know or have heard of M.Balaji (my friend in IIT), L.Balaji (ex(???) Indian bowler) and T.Balaji (Tirupati Balaji of course)...

And now, I can only sit back and say, "I've got the visa power".......................

Saturday, May 13, 2006

Acidic oder Basic!!!

The ball is passed on the right flank, DK is onto it, so is the opponent X. DK tries to nudge forward, X cuts off the angle. DK takes it back fakes a pass and when X is thrown off balance, kicks it, runs down the line and passes into the D.

As he makes his way back into his D (he was the defender u see) a strange feeling of having dribbled and fooled an opponent sunk in. So did the following dialogues...

Dr.Anand:"You started playing football pretty late I suppose.Your running indicates that.Your upper torso just follows your lower torso.Why don't you try to lower your CG as you run?"

Ahsay:"Man,you have improved a lot ever since you came to play with us."

Ah bliss!!! Now, the dialogue that I am waiting to hear from my prof is,"You have improved after coming to this M.Tech program,now start typing your thesis."

Tuesday, May 09, 2006

Dum Maro Dum

One skill I have tried to learn unsuccessfully (and I am now thankful for that) is that of smoking a cigarette. Maybe it was a sub-conscious impotence imbedded in my lungs, but I just could not draw the smoke inwards. Maybe it was the 'warnings' that I had been fed with. Whatever, the cigarette stayed as anathema unlike alcohol which I enjoy in small amounts at treats/parties.

For all the smokers who swear by their malboro/wills/kings and the non-smokers who curse the existence of tobacco, A.R.Venkatachalapathy's book "In Those Days There Was No Coffee: Writings in Cultural History" has a chapter on tobacco. This blog-entry is the second in the series of 'chapter-wise' review of the book. A little slyly titled chapter is:, "Triumph of Tobacco: The Tamil Experience". Sly wrt to what?? Before you get any Madrasi vs Hindi debate, let me put it straight that the slyness is wrt to the word 'triumph'.

The obsession that Indians have for tobacco is to be seen to be believed. It is consumed in three forms namely inhalation by burning (cigarettes and bidis) and chewing (tobacco leaves) and inhaling snuff. Historically, it is proved that tobacco came from shores far away but got Indianised sufficiently. As an extract goes:

"Tobacco, along with pineapple, cashewnut, papaya, guava, chilli and potato, came with the Portuguese to India in the sixteenth century. But tobacco has become so much a part of Indian society, that, following Ashis Nandy on cricket, one could almost say that tobacco was an Indian crop accidentally discovered by the Europeans!..."

There is another extract which proves that economics played a vital role in tobacco fanning out all over:

"...Newcomers always do indeed face resistance from existing crops and consumption habits.But K.N.Chaudhuri observes that tobacco(and maize), unlike potato, was readily accepted and from this he surmises that it found 'an immediate opening in the economic and social surface of existing farming practices.'. Irfan Habib calls the rapid extension of the cultivation of tobacco 'one of the most remarkable changes in the crop pattern that occured within the course of the seventeenth century' and, contrary to received wisdom about pesant traditionalism, sees in this a 'remarkable readiness' on the part of peasants to cultivate anything that could sell well"...

Another interesting extract is this: "A crucial aspect of tobacco cultivation in India was the fact that it had no export market. '[N]early the whole of tobacco produced in India is consumed in the country, the great bulk of it in the district in which it is grown'.In fact it was not quoted in the London market at all......"

Francis Buchanan in 'A Journey fron Madras through the Countries of Mysore, Canara and Malabar', 1807 (AES Reprint), Vol I, p 52 says about the differential response to tobacco:

"In both the upper and lower Carnatics, taking snuff is much more common than in Bengal: indeed, I have never been in a country where the custom is more prevalent. Smoking, on the contrary is in great disrepute..."

All the above statements have been taken from the Government records. More info is found in the Tamil literary texts. They are mainly in the form of poems disguised as odes to Gods but which contain huge references to tobacco. Example?

"Seeni Chakkarai Pulavar in 'Pugaiyilai Vidu Thoothu' (Tobacco as the Messenger) in an innovative move, presses tobacco into service. Tobacco is given the task of taking the message of the pining lady-love to Lord Murugan of Palani. However, the message is only a pretext. For, of the 59 couplets (kanni),53 are in praise of tobacco with a mere six forming the text of the message".

The blind-love towards tobacco was broken with the advent of the English educated middle class and the rise of the national movement.But, see the irony..."..While the mahatma (Gandhi) went about condemning tobacco, enterprising traders marketed 'Gandhi Cigarettes'!!..."

All in all, this chapter was pretty dry without the thrill and feel-good factor associated with the coffee chapter. Or is my inherent dislike towards tobacco proving to be a mental block??

Friday, May 05, 2006

Kapi Sapidaraya?

1. Literal: Will you 'eat' coffee?
2. Actual: Will you consume coffee?

Why has a blog that has of late focussed on social issues like the environment, rising religious intolerance yada-yada suddenly shifted to the mundane issues of coffee drinking? Has Deepak finally decided to go the way of 'abstract' writing? Has he decided to write about coffee in a cryptic fashion which does not give out the hint that the writing is about coffee till the very end? Has he decided to earn applause and have his blog link circulated throughout the WWW?

The answers to the above are NO. I am currently going ga-ga about this book "In Those Days There Was No Coffee: Writings In Cultural History" by A.R.Venkatachalapathy (ARV). This is part of a series called 'New Perspectives on Indian pasts' published by Yoda Press. I picked this up at the Pragati maidan book fair in New Delhi in January.


The coverage of topics in this book is awesome. It begins with the divide between one's mothertongue and English in the study of history. He begins by quoting a Bengali historian named Jadunath Sarkar from a piece in The Modern Review of December 1915 from an essay titled "Confessions of a History Teacher",

"Our boys have to attend lectures and write answers in an alien tongue of which the immense majority of our freshmen have no such mastery as breeds confidence and facility in using it...Their limited power of English composition makes it practically impossible for them to express themselves in their own words freely"

"This unnatural arrangement of boys having to read and write in a foreign and imperfectly acquired tongue, is responsible for a twofold mischief: the meagre acquisition of knowledge..and the inadequate expression in writing".

Mr.Sarkar also bemoans the abscence of advanced historical in the vernaculars as an 'insuperable difficulty' that compounded the problem of lack of knowledge in English. He also confesss that it was beyond his power as a mere teacher to abolish the unnatural system of teaching and examining students (a clear dig at Lord Mccaulay's educational system which aimed to make Indians clerks to the British Crown); but he claimed that he had experimented with the method of 'vernacular seminar'.

This argument was countered by K.A Nilakanta Sastri whom ARV names as arguably the most distinguished historian of twentieth century Tamil Nadu. Supposedly Mr.Sastri is the author of 'the magisterial' The Colas (Cholas) and 'the synthetic' A History of South India. ARV even adds tongue-in cheek "...In the 60 long years that he (Sastri) lived after responding to Jadunath Sarkar, he wrote no book, nor to the best of my knowledge, even an essay, in the Tamil language".

What did Sastri reply in response to Sarkar's article? He wrote, "...I cannot confess to better success with a vernacular medium atleast in my college and in this district (Tirunelveli....this place is famous for halwas)....". He also went on to add that inspite of committing grammatical mistakes, his students spoke and wrote English better than Tamil.he also says that he himself found English a better medium of instruction than Tamil atleast in handling historical subjects. The last straw was the words, "..perhaps the vernacular is not so well off in this part of the country as it should be".

Sastri was cut to pieces by none other than Subramania Bharati, he of the "Acchamillai Acchamillai" (no fear! no fear!) fame. He wrote, "I must pity Sri Nilakanta Sastri. The wonder of persons who cannot speak their own language straight, teaching the sciences may be seen only in our country". And in the characteristic way linguistic fanatics ask questions, Bharati wondered why Sastri had to proclaim his ignorance of Tamil in a Bengali journal.

ARV also recounts the struggle between the two schools of thought: English and vernacular history writing, and how they missed the bus on some creative history writing and the social history bus.

Such is the mouthwatering preface to this book. ARV has divided the book into two distinct sections. According to him, the essays in the first section "contribute to an as yet unwritten history of consumption in colonial India." He takes up "both material (coffee, tea and tobacco) and cultural (cartoon, the city and modern literature)" consumption issues. In the second part he concerns himself with "the politics of language, literature and identity in colonial Tamil Nadu."

I'll provide a review of each chapter starting with the chapter on coffee from this blog onwards. Hope you like it....

Chapter 1: In Those days There was no coffee: Coffee-Drinking and Middle-Class Culture in Colonial Tamilnadu

Coffee was regarded as a modern intruder into the Tamil life. Sample a quotation like

"In those days there was no coffee",Va.Ramaswamy Iyengar, "Aimpathu Varushangalukku Mun" (fifty Years ago), 1943.

Coffee was seen as an essentially British and upper caste drink and its consumption by other Indians was seen as an intrusion, nay, a curse if I may say.H.R. Pate wrote, "The old practice of taking kanji, or cold rice-water, in the early morning is rapidly giving way to coffee drinking, a degenerate innovation at which the older generation shake their heads. Even Pallans [a Dalit caste] in some parts insist on having their cup of coffee before they go out to work; with the younger members of the richer classes the custom of drinking coffee is almost general."

The author beautifully says, "The incursion of coffee into Tamil society was marked by a cultural anxiety which was matched only by the enthusiasm with which it was consumed. This ambivalence and tension, bewteen the threat that coffee was supposed to pose to both Tamils' physical and cultural health on the one hand, and the fascination with coffee as a beverage with all its attendant cultural associations on the other, is something that the tamils have yet to get over."

The volley of criticism that coffee had received is to be seen and heard to be believed. probably we missed out a lot by not being in that generation. Sample the following points:

1. Fundamentalist Gandhians christened coffee as 'kutti kal' (junior alcohol)

2. Anjanenjan, "Filter coffee is more addictive than even beer and arrack".

3. Stri-Dharma, the organ of the Women's Indian Association, "These days the enemies called tea and coffee have entered all homes, wreaking havoc. They are not food. They seem to stimulate cheer for a little while after drinking, but gradually subvert the vitality of the digestive organs, and when the body is weak, they create all sorts of unknown diseases".

4. A 1914-chapbook titled "Englandu Kappikkum Indian Palayathukkum nerntha Chandai Chindu" (the battle between the English coffee and the Indian soaked rice) there is a debate between Cold Rice and Coffee where cold-rice potrays coffee as an immoral woman, who has led people astray and disturbed the (fasting) austerities connected with amavasai (new moon day), karthigai and ekadasi.

5. A letter from a correspondent to Gandhi, "The greatest obstacle in the way of success to our [non-cooperation] movement in Madras are our women. Some of them are very reactionary, and a very large number of the high class Brahman ladies have become addicted to many of the Western vices.They drink coffee not less than three times a day, and consider it very fashionable to drink more."

6. Stri-Dharma agin accused coffee by saying, "emaciated by coffee-drinking, young women are unable to suckle their children with the god-given, ambrosia-like breast milk and instead feed them with bottled milk bought with money."

If this was the scale of abuse, how did coffee entrench itself? The answer lies in the words of Maraimalai Adigal, "People who claim accomplishment in education, wealth and culture have begun to see the consumption of beverages through the day as indispensable and a matter of pride." Steven Levitt will be definitely happy to see his 'principle of incentive' leading to the success of coffee in winning the hearts of the Tamils!!!

From the war against coffee, the issue shifted to the caste wars over coffee. Brahmins considered themselves the high priests of pure coffee made out of cow's milk. Buffalo milk based coffee was considered a sign of cultural and moral degradation. Consider this writing by A. Marx, the tamil critic, "...signboard of 'pasumpal kapi klub' (cow's milk cafe) in Kumbakonam, the stronghold of Tamil Brahminism; whereas in North Arcot district, historically at the margins of Brahminism, this phenomenon is not only absent but also 'beef biryani' is widely available and advertised."

The consumption of coffee reached such proportions that, humorist S.V.V. wrote in an essay titled, 'Don't Meddle With Coffee', "..I cannot understand why every domestic retrencher starts with coffee. But that he does;...the step develops in the human body canine tendencies of the most ferocious character. I tell you seriously, and after bitter experience; whatever you do, don't cut out coffee. You may cut out food, you may go out in rags, or walk three miles to your office, but don't meddle with coffee."

Coffee also became a metaphor for writers to put forth their ideas. Invariably the metaphors were of both kinds, coffee as an enhancing metaphor and as a degrading metaphor. It also came into arguments about Tamilness - what constituted tamil identity, how the tamil language was to keep pace with the demands of modernity etc.

With coffee, came 'Coffee Hotels' a few of which in bangalore i can proudly say are the Janatha Cafe in malleshwaram and India Coffee House on M.G.Road. Nowadays, they serve tea also, but I don't think they would have done so at the beginning of the last century.

The setting up of these 'hotels' was at about the same time that the Dravidian movement against the Brahmins started to take roots in TN. The Tamil equivalent of the Devil's Dictionary defined a coffee club as, "A Public tavern instituted by Brahmins. A messenger from God to break Brahmin orthodoxy." This was because these 'hotels' were generally set up by Brahmins.

Bharatidasan, the fiery poet of the Dravidian movement called Brahmins as 'kapi kadai mundangal' (the wretches of the coffee hotels).

Caste divisions were practised in these 'hotels' by way of seating arrangements and it needed Periyar Ramasamy to eradicate this menace by symbolically tarring the word "brahmin" on the nameplate of Murali's Cafe in Tiruvallikkeni (present day Triplicane), Madras (present day Chennai).

The chapter also traces the effect of tea in a similar way to coffee. Tea was to the urban working class as coffee was to the Brahmin, middle class.Advertisements for tea also highlighted this fact.

The author quotes an interesting statistic at this juncture, "..in the Buckingham & carnatic Mills of Madras, the management had made arrangements in conjunction with the Indian Tea Marketing Board for a tea canteen which supplied a daily cup of tea to all workers at 4 annas per month. By 1943, as the factories Act: Administration report recorded, scores of mills across Tamilnadu, in Coimbatore, Madurai, Tuticorin, Tiruchi and Madras, served only tea to its workers. Only the Hindu, the acknowledged seat of Brahmin-hood, served coffee to its press workers."

The author also makes an important point about tea being widely consumed cutting across caste and class barriers in north india. I have experienced this personally. Tea is the staple drink in my mess at IIT Delhi. Coffee is provided only during special dinners. Contrast this with NIT Surathkal where there was an option between tea and coffee. Of course plain milk is an option in both places. (except that at the NIT we had to obtain a special permit to get plain milk).

The concluding remarks of this chapter draw the contrast between coffee and tea in the following manner, "..If, as we have seen earlier, the coffee hotel was seen as a Brahmin institution,and serving and consuming good coffee a Brahmin habit, tea had another derisive association apart from its working-class patronage. To this day, it is generally accepted that the best tea can be had only at Muslim households and non-vegetarian restaurants, run often by muslims (popularly called 'military hotels')...."

Such is the brilliance of this historian's writing. Now, if only our history textbooks were so interesting!!! I pat myself on my back for selecting this book and expect your congratulations too, my dear reader.(my, my, what a modest man I am!!!)

Looking forward to writing the second installment of this series, and hope that you are looking forward to reading it..........

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

The Valley of Death

Once again, "The Massacre" has happened. This time its the shepherds and some village defence committe members of Doda and Udhampur. Amidst all the cacophony surrounding how "Pakistan is sponsoring terrorism", "How India is a soft state", "How Hindus in India are taken for granted"; Praveen Swami provides some interesting food for thought. Read this extract from The Hindu, Delhi edition of May 2nd 2006.

"Despite the high media impact of communal killings of Hindus, internal Union Home Ministry data exclusively obtained by The Hindu makes it clear that Muslims are the principal victims of the jihad Islamist groups are fighting in their name. Last year, for example, just 54 of the 489 civilians killed by terrorists were Hindu. In most years since 1989, less than 15% of overall civilian fatalities have been Hindu. Only in 1990 did that figure cross 20%."

This view is echoed in the editorial of The Hindu, Delhi edition May 3rd 2006 which says "...Terrorism in J&K is too often projected as a war by islamists against Hindus, a depiction amplified by media reports that, for the most part, ignore the large scale killing of Muslims who were either perceived as enemies by the armies of the jihad, or simply happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time......"

Interesting observations in the sense that the average Indian is bombarded with images of displaced Kashmiri pandits, Kashmiri women in burkhas and of course the jihadis (as an aside on the lighter side, JIHAD is a code word used by my team while playing AOE matches to indicate that a wave of attacks by petards is on the way!!!!) Also, the Hindu right has projected the condition of Hindus to be miserable and weak and who can only be saved by the forces of the right. There is also a lot of rhetoric regarding how Hindus should reproduce more to save the country from being overrun by Muslims. Infact it is surprising that even educated, supposedly modern, hi-fi yuppies also harbour deep religious hatred beneath layers of deceptive appearences necessitated by factors like work, teams, projects, deadlines etc. Dialogues like "What Modi did was right. 'They' had to be taught a lesson!!" are not only in bad taste, they are outright cases for punishment for showing sympathy to a terrorist group.

A similar strategy is being adopted by Kannada fanatics who take stuff to such extremes like "Kannada is getting extinct in Bangalore!! Ayyo!! Now that Annavru is gone, who will champion the cause of Kannada?". More on this in some other blog maybe!!! I am sick and tired of arguing with the Kandu-fanatics!!!!

OK, coming back to Kashmir, a few points that warrant deep and serious thought and discussion:

1. Was the migration of the Pundits just a panic reaction or, is it the reason that the percentage of Hindu killings in Kashmir has been consistently round the 20% mark?

2. Why is the home ministry keeping silent regarding the religion wise percentage of civilian casualties? I can understand if it is the NDA governmet. BUt the UPA doing this? Is this further proof of the shady communalism practised by the Congress?

3. There was an article in The Hindu, Delhi edition of April 28th 2006 called "Caught in a trap of its own making" by Praveen Swami, which focussed on the jihadic sympathies that are still inherent in the NC and PDP; and how these sympathies come out as covert support for the militants during election time. Since speeches by Mehbooba Mufti, Omar Abdullah are documented, why aren't they arrested? Infact it is such tendencies that create the image among other Indians that the Kashmiris are playing a double game between India and Pakistan. And as far as I know, Kashmiris are not anyone's favourite people be it in India or Pakistan.

Concluding remarks:

1. I have a suggestion for our Hindutva brigade. "Why don't you guys ban Arthur Conan Doyle's 'The Sign of Four'?" "Why?", you ask? Simple, it contains this paragraph:

'The thing stands thus, Sahib, and I tell it to you because I know that an oath is binding upon a Feringhee, and that we may trust you. Had you been a lying Hindu, though you had sworn by all the gods in their false temples, your blood would have been upon the knife, and your body in the water. But the Sikh knows the Englishman, and the Englishman knows the Sikh.'

2. For those of you who are interested in a holistic view of Hinduism, read Gavin Flood's "An introduction to Hinduism".