Monday, August 27, 2007

Cities and the people who love them

Sample this extract from Orhan Pamuk's 'Istanbul: memories of a City'

In the Return of the Flaneur, Walter Benjamin introduces Franz Hessel's
Berlin Walks by saying that "If we were to divide all the existing description
of cities into two groups according to the birthplace of authors, we would
certainly find that those written by the natives of the cities concerned are
greatly in the minority." According to Benjamin, the enthusiasm for seeing a
city from the outside is exotic or picturesque. For natives of a city, the
connection is always mediated by memories.

Beautiful!!! Wonder where such culture has disappeared when I hear bad remarks about Bangalore, Bombay, Delhi, Madras, Calcutta and Nagpur from the non-natives.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Some Observations

1. How do you rate 'Transformers'?

Been asked this question? Floundered, irrespective of whether you liked it or not? Been at a loss for words? Are awesome, mind-blowing on the one hand and shitty, yucky on the other are the only words that come to your mind and by propogation to your mouth?

Fear not ye mortals, here are two phrases that will exhibit your scientific temper, your appreciation of the movie, your presence of mind "Phalaana Dimaaka" (Slang Hindi for etc etc etc)

Transformers = Artificial Intelligence+Smart Materials

2. How do you ensure that the economy is flush with sufficient loose change?

Ever whipped out a deci-k (read as hundred) or k (thousand) note and been stared at and told "Sorry saab, khulla/chutta/change nahin hain?" The answer is simple:

One in a while ditch going to the ATM and take the pains to withdraw cash
in your desired denomination from your nearby branch.

Words from Istanbul

I'm currently immersed in Orhan Pamuk's Istanbul: Memories and the City.

Found this word which i loved instantly:


A monochrome picture made by using several shades of the same colour

Is this to me as what serendipity was for Kate Beckinsale and John Cusack?

Wednesday, August 08, 2007

An "I give up" post

To all the readers of this blog, I only have to say this:

I am absolutely fed up of trying to format my entries on blogger. So, the
articles that you read will generally be pathetically formatted for no fault of
mine. There are the odd articles which appear neat - that is because i would not
have used the italics or block quote formatting. I try to lay emphasis on the
content; leaving formatting in the hands of God and Blogger. I am broken,
frustrated and defeated by formatting... Hence I shall not try to make my
articles visibly pleasing

The Tata Power AGM

For the first time in my life, I attended an Annual General Meeting (AGM); the one of Tata Power on 8th August, 2007. The jugglery of mathematics was quite interesting – the 88th AGM was being held on the 8th day of the 8th month of the year.

The AGM was held at the Birla Matoshree Sabhangan (Birla Auditorium) on Sir Vithaldas Thackersey Marg running parallel to Queen’s Road (Maharshi Karve marg), the road running adjacent to Churchgate terminus. SVT Marg happened to be a quiet rain drenched street, something which roars to life during lunch breaks and begin & end time of institutes; and is deadly silent otherwise. Interestingly this road houses the Anti Dowry Guidance Cell.

The entrance at the Birla auditorium was chaotic, and instead of the usual rude, pushy, unruly crowds of youngsters, this was a noisy complaining crowd of senior citizens. My first reaction was to panic – “What am I doing here? Let me get the hell out of here!!” Better sense prevailed over me, telling me to wait and watch.

Observing children and senior citizens is a nice pastime. They generally carry on with their activities with nay a care in the world, but if they know that someone is watching over them or if they are among their peers, the extra energy to make oneself noticed comes out of nowhere. But they are a lovely set of people to be with, if you have the patience to listen, observe and be like a sponge absorbing their mostly harmless rants.

The AGM started in the usual manner with the resolutions to be adopted being put up for approval, customary addresses by the chairman Mr. Ratan Tata and the MD Mr. Prasad Menon. Hearing these two guys speak, even though there was no hormone pumping message usually seen during convocations was inspiring. Specially the way Mr.Tata has handled a vast group and the effortless transition Mr. Menon has made from heading Tata Chemicals to Tata Power.

The interesting part followed – the session for questions from shareholders. Many speakers put forth their views on the annual report. Some of the views were redundant, considering that they wee already in the report. There were a few moments of humor, like when this lady rattled off Shayaris (poems) in honor of Mr. Tata. Something on the lines of “Tata group ke Shehanshah; Agle saal bhi aap dividend issue karenge, yeh umeed hai mujhe” types.

What amazed me was the detailed study some of the questioners had made over the report. Most of the questions concerned the issue of dividend, perceived unnecessary spending etc. Most of these worries were also coupled with the promise of security of power supply to the country. This is the right attitude to have, in my opinion, “Ask what the company has done for you and your country”.

Considering that TPC is 8 decades old, it is not surprising that most of its shareholders are senior citizens. They represent a breed of careful investors unlike today’s short term, short sighted, lusting after quick money investors. The joy on their faces on hearing about the declaration of higher dividend should have been seen to be believed.

I believe that they have reason to feel more joy in the years to come – TPC certainly looks to be a giant in the Indian power sector. Vriddhashrama vaasis certainly can be assured of that.

As I was walking out in the middle of the long and seemingly never ending Q&A session, the following conversation rang in my ears for the rest of the day:

Old Parsi shareholder: "During your father's time, Chairman Sir, there were advertisements asking Bombayites to consume more and more electricity. It is an irony that now, we are being asked to use as less as possible."

Ratan Tata: "Yes, it certainly is an irony. But hopefully our vision is that we should get back to the good old days in the future. Till then, every switch that you put off is a blessing."

For India's sake I hope the vision works out well!!!!

The Gulag Archipelago

Aleksandr I Solzhenitsyn’s riveting account of the system of persecution prevalent in Russia under Stalin certainly makes for moving reading. It shows the extremities to which mankind can go to safeguard their position, power and authority in the light of hallucinations experienced by leaders; and by all accounts, mystery leaders such as Stalin would certainly would have had reasons to be hallucinated.
Credit must also go to Thomas P Whitney for the excellent translation. The irony, the mockery, the joy and the sorrow that Solzhenitsyn must have experienced have been brought out in great detail. The supplementary explanatory title “An Experiment in Literary Investigation” is certainly an apt description of the intention of the book – investigating and exposing the Communist anarchy.
The book starts with a chapter on arrests. Aleksandr beautifully describes an arrest as follows: “It’s a blinding flash and a blow which shifts the present instantly into the past and the impossible into omnipotent actuality”. How many arrests have we seen? The dignified Sanjay Dutt, the bawling Karunanidhi, the unrepentant Alistair Pereira. But all of them constitute high profile cases and they had/have a way out either by way of position, authority or money respectively. How many arrests of ordinary people have we seen? Nil. That is because most ordinary folks do not have the money, position or authority to commit crimes to get arrested. But more important is the reason that we are in a thankfully tolerant regime which does not get into imagined fears about its very roots getting torn out. There might be instances of false cases being foisted upon innocent people, but I do not think the justice system would have clogged the “sewage disposal system” (as Solzhenitsyn says) with so many prisoners.
The second chapter deals with the history of the mass imprisonments, public trials, tortures and all those parts which make up that whole called a repressive regime. In fact, one gets to see that the seeds for this system are sown by V. I. Lenin, the first leader of the Russian Soviet. Sample this extract from the book:
And even though V. I. Lenin at the end of 1917, in order to establish ‘strictly
revolutionary order’ demanded ‘merciless suppression of attempts at anarchy on
the part of drunkards, hooligans, counterrevolutionaries and other
persons’…………...In his essay ‘How to Organize the Competition’ Lenin proclaimed
the common, united purpose of ‘purging the Russian land of all kinds of harmful
The chapter also describes the draconian Article 58 of the criminal code under which all the perceived enemies of the state were persecuted. The power of political commissars attached to the military units is also described; to see what powers the commissars exercised, you only need to see the movie ‘Enemy at the Gates’: how Vasily Zaitsyev is manipulated by the commissar – all for a woman. Yes, personal desires of a politically connected officer could land you in imprisonment.
There is a detailed description of the methods of interrogation and torture used by the Cheka/NKVD or whatever the agencies are called. In the middle of the chapter, Solzhenitsyn props up an unexpected gem: how to stand up and screw the interrogator“

From the moment you go to prison you must put your cozy past firmly behind you.
At the very threshold, you must say to yourself: ‘My life is over, a little
early to be sure, but there’s nothing to be done about it. I shall never return
to freedom. I am condemned to die – now or a little later. But later on, in
truth, it will be even harder, and so the sooner the better. I no longer have
any property whatsoever. For me those I have loved have died, and for them I
have died. From today on, my body is useless and alien to me. Only my spirit and
my conscience remain precious and important to me’. Confronted by such a
prisoner, the interrogation will tremble

How many of us will follow such austere measures cannot be foretold until we are subject to the same. The very thought of methods such as a blow on the genitals, drinking the interrogator’s urine etc makes us cringe and want to puke. Lucky for us: such sort of rulers we have never seen (excluding the Emergency period of-course) nor should we ever see, assuming though that the problem of the Maoists and naxalites is eliminated once and for all.
A comparison of the interrogation methods followed under the Tsar and the Bolsheviks can be seen from the following extract:
At the end of the last century and the beginning of this one, the Tsarist
interrogator immediately withdrew his question if the prisoner found it
inappropriate or too intimate. But in Kresty Prison in 1938, when the old
political hard labor prisoner Zelensky was whipped with ramrods with his pants
pulled down like a small boy, he wept in his cell: ‘My Tsarist interrogator
didn’t even dare address me rudely.’
True, nature puts us through ‘worse’ to realize the advantages of ‘bad’.
There are also descriptions of trials conducted by Stalin’s stooges – a mockery of justice; where the prosecutor changed color like a chameleon; double standards were used blatantly and all perceived enemies – church functionaries, engineers, political opposition, and intellectuals were sentenced by sham courts and trials.
The reader is also provided insight into the foolish policy decisions of the Soviet throughout the course of the book. Some of these policies are laughable and some even warranted the arrest of Stalin and his aides, but considering that those Stalinist stooges managed to imprison, execute and exile people under these policies, they cease to be a laughing matter.
The Soviet ‘tamasha’ continues with the description of how they rechristened the death sentence as the ‘supreme measure’ merely to make things look new and changed. There is a moving account of the execution of 6 collective farmers merely for having gone back to their fields a second time to collect hay for their cows – a violation of state planning principles and rules.
Take this extract as an example of ironical comedy:
Of course, the All-Russian Central Executive Committee would certainly have
‘completely abolished’ the supreme measure, as promised, but unfortunately what
happened was that in 1936 the Father and Teacher ‘completely abolished’ the
All-Russian Central Executive Committee itself
The author then proceeds to describe the inhuman slave labour system with chapters on the jails, the slave-convoy transports, the slave camps; how political prisoners are ill treated by the guards and common thieves; how they are denied their rations etc
As a conclusion, in my opinion, what should not be lost sight of is the fact that the common Russian populace is tired of the heavy hand of communism. They love their motherland alright, but not the type of rule that they are subjugated to. Considering the hardships that they were subjected to, with the cream of their population either lost to slave labor or to the jaws of death; the very fact that the cold war went on till 1989 is a tribute to the resilience of the Russians.
But, more importantly, this book proves that individual freedom coupled with the responsibility of humane behavior is the ultimate system which should come into the world. Capitalism, communism, fascism et al be damned. This message is the best review that one can give this book. Do read it.

Thursday, August 02, 2007

Childhood - Cricket fades, quarrels fail; but the memory remains

The Hindu of 2nd August 2007 carried this article about children in Britain not playing out
on the streets at all. Instant connections can be formulated from an Indian perspective.

The streets outside my home have gone dead since 2000, when many of us started going about
our professional degrees. Luckily, I had the grounds, courts and pitches of KREC to keep my
sporting side alive. Not so for many of my Bangalore-stuck friends.

Add to this the mushrooming of CCD, Barista and the IT boom; Bangalore lost both it's
street games and its quiet way of life.

Forum and Garuda mall put the final nail in he coffin of the street-playing Bangalore kid.

As the article says, those days I knew all my neighbours well, but now I don't even know
what changes have transpired. Add to that my seven years away from Bangalore.

As the Mettalica song goes, its only the memory that remains. Some unforgettable memories:

1. Being set up repeatedly for a ball similar to the one with which Shane Warne bowled Mike
by J

2. Myself and K always being on the opposite sides. Our different styles of play; the
sedate vs the aggressive; silky vs explosive; the high voltage clashes.

3. A 'definite' sixer by K landing on someone's chest prompting accussations of inducing
heart attacks by playing cricket

4. The methodical dismantling of the total by the other J

5. The arrival of the pace battery S

6. P cutting the ball into pieces and sadistically throwing it back to us for hitting it
into her house

7. Secretly eyeing the other J's sister and trying to impress her with our style of play.

Sigh!! Must restart........