Saturday, 21 December 2013

Don't read this

The blog that was to be a territory of erudition and enlightenment has metamorphosed to a sad and pathetic animal lying half dead in front of you. Wouldn't it be better to just pull the plug?

Unfortunately, I'm a sucker for second chances and the blog will regain a fresh lease. We shall again try to tap in the vast and chaotic whirlpool of stuff that I do. And we begin with some memorable words from Yeats,


Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.

Yeats wrote the above poem purportedly to describe post-War Europe but notice how the lines are readily applicable for today's world. Orwell did say (and I paraphrase) that every generation is in war with the last. Deeply held conventions are uprooted mercilessly. Debates that were clinched by axioms are no longer as easy as they were before. The axioms become mere opinions, and the opposite view has to be accepted as another opinion to be respected.

Of course, it shouldn't really be all that bad. The problem that I see is the fact that people hardly use facts to argue. Their stand is based on hear-say and their arguments based on a natural extension of their thinking patterns. I have intelligent friends who believe some things should exist simply because they are logical. But they don't. It was Cicero, I think, who said that logic is the last and weakest tool of a debater because it doesn't convince people as emotions do. I have other friends who have an orthodox set of beliefs and every act is based on the verity of these "indisputable cornerstones". Their judgement attains acceptance because of their success.

Is that a contradiction for the traditional debater?

Debates are artificial environments. They're rings where there are rules to be followed. It is a cult in a broader sense. For who can say if logic is the way the human world works. It has become fashionable to use irrational behaviour in economics and Kahneman won a Nobel for proving that we don't think straight.

It is essential but challenging to raise a routine individual's level to a logical base to argue. It's impossible for the masses. Underneath the mask of good intentions is a selfish beast that feels jealousy and threat; it attacks the enemy to attain dominance. To get past all that one has to assume that one can convince the opposition to argue with logic. What if they refuse?

This isn't a far fetched concept. Here's an analogy. As the system of more equality of opportunity arises for, say the middle class in India, the more is the scope to disparage previously held notions of class, propriety and art. The obvious fuel that charges these proponents in their thinking? Success. Success essentially means money and those who have money are assumed to be far more intelligent, far wiser and far more capable of giving advice than those who aren't having so much with themselves.

(Are you now mounting the thought that I must be a failure in life and this blog post is the result of pent up disgruntlement? My point exactly.)

So, the current craze for exercise and fitness can be analyzed socially as an accessible way of attaining social acceptance within a clan of people who cannot think about learning another language (physically boring), singing (high investment; late returns) and heaven forbid, going to a museum (what?!). It's much better to go out trekking.

Is this my stand? Hardly.

I'm a disgrace to the whole concept of taking a stand. I'd love to go out cycling but I might just enjoy time in front of the canvas too. I do want to know why we're talking more about fitness these days. And I'd love to know why people put the "you're too judgemental" clause when they're being analyzed.

And about being analyzed. Can you have a frame of reference?

Can you get out of this world and judge anything? Is logic really sacrosanct?

How random was that post?

Saturday, 30 November 2013

Sadly...

The chances are remote that this blog will ever grow to up to see what it was once destined to be.

Sunday, 10 November 2013

The Search for a New Superhero

I know of friends who feel disoriented and depressed without keeping a crush. The harmless sort; the ones way above your league and who can hardly reciprocate the same frantic breathlessness that they experience in the chosen crush's proximity. Some of the idiots I know have managed to get hooked irreversibly to the said seemingly unreachable target - often a tragic outcome of completely misjudging (1) their own true level or (2) the desperation of the guy/girl who had been a single loser for years.

I like to invoke a similar shameful obsession, and that's to think of my idols.

My list is not unique. I am certain friends in my own circle share my favourites. And I have written about them occasionally not only on this blog but also on other media. On days when I feel down or when I really don't feel like going out or reading a book, when I don't feel like expressing my views on the latest debate on facebook (that's the state of affairs these days), I close my eyes and recall...an exquisite off-backhand from Roger, or a flick of the hand from Michael, or an on-drive from Sachin's bat or a birdie from Tiger at the US Masters, or the beauty and layered complexity of Artemis' ingenious plan or the fine strokes of genius on Leonardo's notebooks or a jugalbandi between Bhimsen Joshi and Rashid Khan or a Bach composition or some immortal lines from Byron...for that time, whether sprawled on my bed after a hard day at the office or sitting in a boring routine party, I lose track of time. I lose track of the world. I feel ecstatic and almost constantly belittled.

It's only natural that the heroes you grow up with rear their ugly imperfections sooner rather than later. In the case of sports persons, there is a power decline that is painful to watch. The older maestros retain their magic but it's difficult to extract a sense of exhilaration or addictive climax. And then, they will retire. I envy the people who support teams in the various football leagues for this reason. Even if United fans eventually face the heartbreak of becoming a mid-table team, they can live out their lives with a love that was borne out of passionate romance in the time of great success. Yeah, it actually works like that.

(As I write this piece, Roger is losing, somewhat expectedly, to Rafa Nadal. Nadal is rock solid as usual but it's Roger who's making the crucial mistakes)

Michael Jackson is long dead and Artemis Fowl has run his course on the print circuit. I need someone who can surprise and inspire me again.

The GOAT

So, who's going to be my next living idol?

Sunday, 3 November 2013

Change

For far too long have I carried the insufferable burden of the past.

I have punished my senses incessantly over my transgressions. Subjugated my true nature in the name of compromise. For far too long have I concealed the evils that have beleaguered my life. Misfortunes have plagued me; I refuse to rot in the muck anymore.

Pain is a wise teacher. It is a cruel teacher. It is when you are an inch away from dementia and permanent neurosis that you receive the lesson which disengages your mind from the fiction of urgency. From the illusion of goodness.

I have found myself again.

Wednesday, 30 October 2013

Poocho Na Kaise Maine Rain Bitai

Life's been killing me from all sides but I think there is still enough space for a small footnote to be made in memory of Manna De.

Manna De's second on my list of favourite singers of all time and he's definitely the best mainstream voice for a semi-classical song we've ever had. Laaga chunri mein daag has been shared by many friends so I spent a good 15 minutes debating my pick from his immense discography. For a few moments I wondered if I should act smart and put in a romantic number that people know of but don't readily associate with him. Then I speculated on putting in a duet with Rafi (Manna De sang the most number of duets in his career with Rafi, by the way). I figured I shouldn't do that today and that the following song can be a worthy snapshot of his gargantuan contribution to Indian Music.


Poocho na kaise maine rain bitai, Raag Ahir Bhairav


Monday, 16 September 2013

Requiescat in Pace

A man lives in a cruel world. He lives in constant fear of failure and the even larger fear of social rejection. He wants to conform to the expectations of his peers but he cries when he's alone. The worst off are those of us who are misplaced by harsh strokes of fortune - it is impossible to set yourself right in the ocean of humanity. Some people are born to suffer. Others suffer when they take steps to come closer to the ones they love. For some, you can hardly say where they went wrong.

You may claim to need only some money, you may say you wish to study for eternity or that you have the luxury to do what you like. How many of us can say that there isn't a repressed dream buried under a mountain of denial and a fair sprinkling of "success"? How many of us have the courage to face a truly horrid reality - that we have lost almost all what we once desired?

Some people, then, are set in the right direction. The others paddle frantically to catch the right current. God bless them all.

I always wondered when I'd get to use the posh sounding Latinized version of RIP. I didn't know life could be so cruel. I wasn't intending to write an eulogy but today I found myself feeling something which Prateek told me about.

There are others far more qualified to speak of Prateek. There were his department batch mates, his quizzing partners, several boisterous personalities and surely many more outside the realms of Roorkee.

Prateek was a friend. He wore a smile on his face at all times. He had a garb of contentment and satisfaction. He was a great quizzer. That's all I know. And that's what I'll ever know.

But more than that, today I could feel that suffocation - that panic at facing an ugly maze of uncertainty and helplessness. And then, that dark and depressing reality of life - time moves on and all you can do is flail at the dreams which were most alluring. Which were lovely to contemplate and which were soothing to the senses. Those which brought a cool and calming breeze to an overloaded forehead. And then they were gone forever.

Imagine being prisoner to this damning indictment of life.



The last chat I had with Prateek was when he contacted me on Whatsapp. Here's a transcript,

19:47, 6 Dec 2012 - ‪+91 84 39 695120‬: You too frust with work ?
-Prateek
21:15, 6 Dec 2012 - *: Yeah man. A lot of times
21:38, 6 Dec 2012 - ‪+91 84 39 695120‬: I can understand . Life is short man. Do what you want yo
21:38, 6 Dec 2012 - ‪+91 84 39 695120‬: To*

Sunday, 1 September 2013

Haaris' Weekly Round-up 10

I hate Sundays. They're the little fiends who make you realize you've got nothing going in your life. They're the insouciant critters who make you sleep a little more than usual and give you body pain and arrested movement in return. And Sundays are responsible for making Mondays so unbearable; lulled into a false sense of freedom you are pushed back into the workhouses.


Nothing has changed

This week's HWR has some tennis (the US Open is on) and some other random links:
  1. A brooding article on the inevitable decline in Roger Federer's tennis. Great read.
  2. On the more positive side, here's an attempt to mentally simulate a match between Federer and Sampras (both at their respective peaks). You may also read a very old post on Federer written by yours truly.
  3. Sinkholes are rare occurrences in India because people don't recognize them for what they are. I once recall an elderly couple beaming with happiness when their puja was disrupted by a sinkhole that developed in front of their eyes. Their explanation? "Dharti maa phat gayi!" [Mother Earth has, err, blown up]. Read this great article on National Geographic explaining what conditions lead to the formation of sinkholes and do look at this mind blowing picture of a sinkhole in Guatemala.
  4. Recommendations on non-mainstream sci-fi shows on TV. And, if you've missed it, my take on science fiction as art.
  5. Elon Musk's transportation panacea is predated by more than a century of development on pneumatic transport. The history in a nutshell.
Sleep is a great drug. Use it well. Happy Sunday!

Saturday, 24 August 2013

Ramblings of a Restless Mind

Life has slowed down since the hitherto hectic times of managerial training and manic breakdowns. There was a time when I was liaising with a German manufacturer, obeying the lords above me (Head Office), appeasing a disgruntled and increasingly volatile union and scolding some desi repair contractors. Now, all I do after a couple of hours of routine work is read manuals on different equipment, and college textbooks to strengthen my mechanical engineering. Some big ticket projects are lined up but they are almost 45 days away and the economic slowdown is creating all sorts of problems with my earlier profligate multi-crore budget. Even the consolation of getting a raise within a year of joining (crossing the psychological barrier of a monthly INR six figure salary post tax) elicited a short lived euphoria that was numbed by the fact that I have no real expenses.

Another spurt of happiness was provided by getting published in a prominent journal. The achievement brings a lot of relief - a considerable amount of time was spent in weighing minuscule quantities of salts - and a touch of triumph. Not so much of happiness though. There is a lingering sense of incompleteness. Therein lies another path in front of me, barely touched but greatly loved and it begets a series of thoughts that raises far more questions than answers. 

The pursuit of happyness brings new epiphanies and a fair bit of cognitive dissonance. It punishes procrastination and fear in the human world (a tad too severely at times) but brings a fresher perspective on life. Pain gives way to wisdom. Wisdom tempered by fierce hope and courage. Only time can tell if it has been too late to recover fully.


************

Dullness does bring out some positives. Free time can be used judiciously in getting all sentimental about Space Ghost. Man, that was one heck of a cartoon.


I have seen every cartoon that was ever aired on Cartoon Network since 1995 and I've loved most of them. It was mainly through cartoons that I learnt to speak English (Toon Tamasha was a travesty) and that combined with tonnes of books made for great friends.

It's surprising, then, that I never really saw any Sitcom in my time at college. I've seen three episodes of Friends and some seasons of BBT and HIMYM but really nothing with a lot of passion or addiction. I was trying to catch hold of some good recommended shows on Sci-Fi but I really don't foresee a change in my habits. (I have to complete a sequel to my sci-fi post though).


************


My birthday came and instead of lifting my spirits almost crushed it to inhuman proportions. It was low key and I slept through most of the day before taking some colleagues out for dinner. Thanks for the gifts, people!






Extra money isn't always a bad thing. With all that cash I was able to buy myself a remote powered helicopter. A toy Ferrari was gifted later as well. For three thousand bucks and a few heart stopping crashes I had finally conquered the skies. Not to mention the tiles too.



***********

I am working on a couple of projects in office that are sort of exciting. The biggest challenge in the factory is handling people at least 10-25 years older than you - all different but very dignified - so that no one really requires your presence in the long run. That's one thing that has interested me a lot (more in a coming post). I am also looking at introducing dynamic manufacturing in the workplace and that's a project that's going to take a while to complete. Some other work is related to chemical engineering (that's my branch FYI) and some others on creative cost cutting. I am planning to introduce a feature on my blog that talks about these projects in detail through analogies. Also included will be explorations I made in college for contests or projects or for fun that were pursued subsequently. Watch this space for more.

Tuesday, 20 August 2013

Harmony


Many days have passed,
In depravity and misery, and dread terrible.
It is all forgotten and forgiven
As I lay my eyes on your name.
The symmetry of the letters do justice to thy nature
In perfect harmony
I see you at last.

Tuesday, 6 August 2013

HWR - 9

This is the first ever edition of an HWR that comes a week after the last one was published. Yup, I've become serious with my life.
  1. Starting off with one of the biggest disappointments of my life. Most of us know the Discovery Channel as an authoritative source of spectacular visual education. I've spent my childhood growing up with NGC and Discovery. It was a shock to all of us when this year's shark week started off with a fabricated story. That's right, the whole documentary was a lie.
  2. A bit late in the day to post an article on Man of Steel but I might as well tell you how superman was just not superman in the movie.
  3. Jeff Bezos has bought the Washington Post. It's an acquisition that's thought provoking, to say the least.
  4. Barack Obama recently intervened in a patent dispute between Apple and Samsung. It has interesting implications.
  5. The internet has allowed many of us to speak out our minds. Unfortunately, most of the people in the world are dumb so that's not always a great thing, especially when they are reviewing classics on Amazon.
  6. Raghuram Rajan is the new Governor of the RBI. What better time for us to read Rajan's own words on the tricky role that a central bank plays, written a few months ago.





Sunday, 4 August 2013

In Defence of Science Fiction

Let’s face it. Science fiction isn’t high on the list of Art of the critical thinking community. Specifically in the world of enduring literature there are a handful of sci-fi writers who are included in the Classics bookshelf while a perfunctory glance is bestowed on the humongous number of novels with dystopia, parallel universes, time and interstellar travel. Having just finished a brilliant book by Cory Doctorow, I was consumed by the question: why is science fiction so harshly ignored?




The world looks at the writers who turn inwards towards society and the ramshackle depressing thoughts of losers. Lyrical prose, Kevlar piercing deadly observations and powerful themes mark these creations. I was re-reading parts of Jane Eyre recently and I was struck by the beautiful balance of Charlotte Bronte’s writing. Science fiction writers are scrawny scratchy runts in comparison.

Science fiction is what I call disbelievable. Science fiction takes its fuel not from stirring prose (not always true) or boast of a Kafka on the Shore (although Murakami does well in cyber punk) but from Ideas. Ideas that can light a candle on the underbelly of Enceladus through a magical mix of science and telepathy. Ideas that have inspired countless young minds. Ideas that have pushed us to invent miracles of modern life such as the remote control. And the genre is huge. People who quote Asimov and Bradbury have just scratched the surface (it’s still a great start).

And science fiction has evolved. It all started during the mid-nineteenth century with books like Frankenstein. It took off with the concurrent brilliance of H.G. Wells and Jules Verne. These stories spoke of nascent scientific achievement and the dangers of going overboard – one can always find an underlying acknowledgement of Nature’s supremacy. It didn't take long for people to break those rules as Huxley chose to paint the future in a Shakespearean mass tragedy. Then came the authors who came to define modern and conventional science fiction. Today, we’re deep into cyber punk and as always, fantasy and science fiction continue to mix.


Frank wasn't my name, you know

In fact, there are so many sci-fi writers that a rookie like me has no right to list them down let alone comment on them. So, what's the blog for?

My question touches on the correlation between accessibility of different novels and their relationship with Art (you can read a previous post on Art). On the fag end, you have the rather too accessible horde of "Life is Love" authors (copyrighting that name) which despite clicking with a number of people aren't qualified to be considered in the same stead as, say, Catcher in the Rye. Note the choice of analogy. It is not necessarily an over-pumped highfalutin work of GRE words that needs to be called Art. It's okay to be raw and to shriek and scream at your audience. That indescribable element of class is all that's needed.

Coming back to science fiction, there are two factors IMHO that hamper its chance of being rated as Art:

  1. It's too accessible.
  2. It's more about ideas.
That sci-fi is accessible makes it a mass choice. Edgar Rice Burroughs was pulp fiction. Kurt Vonnegut, on the other hand, was class the moment people saw him as more than a science fiction author. Asimov has inspired eminent academics such as Paul Krugman, but he has already been listed in the Big Three and that's enough respect for a guy who writes, well, science fiction. Accessibility cuts at greatness. You have to be Douglas Adams to turn prophetic science fiction into a work of unmatched humour and satire.


That beats the Nobel any day

The second point holds weight as well. When you choose to speak with ideas and visions, you are capturing the imagination of a child, whatever be his age. That's hard to keep hold of. For one thing, the world is turning increasingly gruesome before your very eyes to care about a possible Hari Seldon. As a reinforcing consequence, it's disturbed and emotionally complicated stories (not necessarily romance) that catch the eye. There is only so much of hope in the world. I think this might well be a bigger reason for the resurgence of sci-fi on the wave of dystopia and despair (Others may well blame this trend as killing nascent curiosity and that's an open debate for another day). Writing in ideas also has the distinct disadvantage of coming across situations that can't be conveyed in words. Some things are best left to the imagination.

Science fiction is Art. It can bring to life a world that never existed. It can predict inventions long before science has the wherewithal to actually build it. It is utopia and dystopia. And there is an unexamined overstated assumption of its works lacking beauty. Go read Bradbury and witness the haunting loneliness in his prose. Read Orwell and his command over ideas and words. Imagine having no conceivable image of Rama in the world around you and reading Clarke for the first time. Look at robots and planes but don't forget to notice the small bits and pieces of innovation that have changed the way we live. Science fiction may well be a far more democratic form of Art. All you need is your imagination.

Science Fiction deserves respect.

(Next time: I'll move to contradict this post. Some good fun, eh?)

Thursday, 1 August 2013

HWR - 8

All it takes is some blood from your tonsils, dizziness and an excruciatingly painful throat to sit patiently in front of the laptop and write a few sentences.

Welcome to Haaris' Weekly Round-up:

  1. A crisp case for shale gas and its future. No environmental speculation please.
  2. I won't go into the Sen-Bhagwati debate. You can have a field day reading about it on the net. Instead, I offer some speculation why Bhagwati may not win the Nobel, ever. Again, don't pick sides. Yet.
  3. It took money to open people's eyes in accepting anthropomorphic climate change. Insurance money.
  4. Time to bring out your debating books. Zeus could have been alive; he might still be there.
And that's a wrap.

Wednesday, 24 July 2013

The Big Sulk

I am a victim of my own impulsive impetuosity. I can recall with vivid and embarrassing clarity each and every one of my indiscretions in life. Self-gratification can be so alluring. Arrogance can be blinding. Mix the two up and stir. You can then approximate those rational moments of insanity.

Aeschylus memorably said, "Man must suffer to be wise." He forgot that most men (and women) continue to suffer with no obvious increase in wisdom. And so must it be with me.

In a short life, I've seen the worthlessness of promises. Pull out the outliers - the compulsive liars and the obsessively virtuous and you end up with the three sigma crowd of convenient moralists and justifiers.

As I trawl through the internet, I realize that social media has become repulsive. There they are - the stalwarts. The brave men and women who tirelessly uphold the merits of their political convictions which are scarcely theirs. Indeed, I would be surprised if any of these truth vigilantes have moved from the stance promulgated by their families - the indoctrination could never give them a chance to think otherwise. I see that people are worried about the madness (or so they call) of religion. I disagree. I believe that it is worse to spend your lifetime defending an inherited political inclination. Exceptions, I am sure will snort at my apparent disregard for public debate. I apologize. This is my cynicism talking. Optimism is slotted for another day.

That you pump your fist in the name of your man is good. That you attack your adversaries' opinions is understandable. That you do not accept your side's inadequacies is disturbing. That you paper over the gaping holes in your idea of utopia is saddening.

I scroll through the posts. People have dragged Messrs. Amartya Sen and Jagdish Bhagwati into the imbroglio. And they have conveniently drawn lines and completed a batwara between them. Amartya Sen, of Harvard, Oxford, Cambridge, Stanford, Cornell and MIT doesn't believe growth is important. Jagdish Bhagwati, likewise, doesn't care for starving citizens of the country. People are freely quoting and arguing petty articles with no knowledge of anything these great men have done except for media tidbits. That's what I am talking about.

It's at times like this that I feel comforted. The world stinks and we all live like we can't see it.

Sunday, 7 July 2013

The Push

So what do you do when you experience a sense of exasperation with your daily life?

You go to a flashback.

A year and a half ago, I recall a cold evening. Winter was leaving. I had ordered a couple of full Maggis and was sitting on the hard stone bench of a park. I was dreaming out loud. I was happy and I was sad. Over and above that I was content knowing that my feelings were sparked off by hope pure and childish - the sadness an acceptable corollary considering the dread that lingered in the background. A man with stunning white hair brought us the food. As I slurped the bland and then spicy concoction, I felt safe. I had little money, a superlatively untidy and stuffy room and some stupid ambitions.

Those were the best days of my life.

The flashback is more than simple nostalgia. 

It's a push.

Friday, 5 July 2013

Kafka


Kafka was crazy.

If you read his works you get the inexorable impression of a mind that was ruthlessly sardonic; a mind that hollowed out conventions with the deftness of a surgeon and the brute force of a sledgehammer – often in the same sentence. All of this in a backdrop that evoked a tinge of sadness or laughter – depending on how demented you felt while reading, say, The Castle or The Trial.

The above two works along with The Metamorphosis count as the most definitive examples of Kafkaesque literature among critics and general readers alike. My choice in celebration of his birthday week is titled Before the Law which achieves Zen-like profundity in its short, one page glimpse of life through the pen of a man who, to all outward appearance, was a lawyer and, from within, a peacock with the wildest flashes of insight wrapped in a coat of gloom and heavy irony.

It is only fitting that Kafka’s dying wish to never have his remaining stories and novels published was completely ignored by the custodian he chose for the task. The illusion of reason. The madness an inch beneath our veneer of civility. Kafka stood for this and more.

Here we go:
(translation by Ian Johnston at Vancouver Island University, Nanaimo, BC)
Before the Law
Before the law sits a gatekeeper. To this gatekeeper comes a man from the country who asks to gain entry into the law. But the gatekeeper says that he cannot grant him entry at the moment. The man thinks about it and then asks if he will be allowed to come in sometime later on. “It is possible,” says the gatekeeper, “but not now.” The gate to the law stands open, as always, and the gatekeeper walks to the side, so the man bends over in order to see through the gate into the inside. When the gatekeeper notices that, he laughs and says: “If it tempts you so much, try going inside in spite of my prohibition. But take note. I am powerful. And I am only the most lowly gatekeeper. But from room to room stand gatekeepers, each more powerful than the other. I cannot endure even one glimpse of the third.” The man from the country has not expected such difficulties: the law should always be accessible for everyone, he thinks, but as he now looks more closely at the gatekeeper in his fur coat, at his large pointed nose and his long, thin, black Tartar’s beard, he decides that it would be better to wait until he gets permission to go inside. The gatekeeper gives him a stool and allows him to sit down at the side in front of the gate. There he sits for days and years. He makes many attempts to be let in, and he wears the gatekeeper out with his requests. The gatekeeper often interrogates him briefly, questioning him about his homeland and many other things, but they are indifferent questions, the kind great men put, and at the end he always tells him once more that he cannot let him inside yet. The man, who has equipped himself with many things for his journey, spends everything, no matter how valuable, to win over the gatekeeper. The latter takes it all but, as he does so, says, “I am taking this only so that you do not think you have failed to do anything.” During the many years the man observes the gatekeeper almost continuously. He forgets the other gatekeepers, and this first one seems to him the only obstacle for entry into the law. He curses the unlucky circumstance, in the first years thoughtlessly and out loud; later, as he grows old, he only mumbles to himself. He becomes childish and, since in the long years studying the gatekeeper he has also come to know the fleas in his fur collar, he even asks the fleas to help him persuade the gatekeeper. Finally his eyesight grows weak, and he does not know whether things are really darker around him or whether his eyes are merely deceiving him. But he recognizes now in the darkness an illumination which breaks inextinguishably out of the gateway to the law. Now he no longer has much time to live. Before his death he gathers in his head all his experiences of the entire time up into one question which he has not yet put to the gatekeeper. He waves to him, since he can no longer lift up his stiffening body. The gatekeeper has to bend way down to him, for the great difference has changed things considerably to the disadvantage of the man. “What do you still want to know now?” asks the gatekeeper. “You are insatiable.” “Everyone strives after the law,” says the man, “so how is it that in these many years no one except me has requested entry?” The gatekeeper sees that the man is already dying and, in order to reach his diminishing sense of hearing, he shouts at him, “Here no one else can gain entry, since this entrance was assigned only to you. I’m going now to close it.”

Saturday, 29 June 2013

Flashback Time

After months of painful deprivation and mortal turmoil I feel the impending omen of a collapse. Sucked into a bottomless whirlpool of ruin the only consolation is the revival of my reading habits (three books a week). What started off as a journey full of the effervescence of the mind's hopeful imagination has fizzled out on a dark, deserted dead end in an unknown land.

Nothing symbolizes the dramatic denouement of my life than the loss of a dear friend. Owing to a location made permanent by my job, I bid farewell to 9045589130. 

It was in my second year that I sent out messages to friends and family informing them of the experiment, or so I called, of changing my service provider to Docomo. The number wasn't chosen by me, nor was I personally present when the SIM was procured. I just took the number.

We hit off immediately. I used the number like crazy. Mornings and evenings and classroom sessions by Profs, late night gossip and SOS calls back home - 9045589130 was with me through thick and thin. My life's secrets were with it and so were my recurrent failures and occasional triumphs. It was a great partnership. 

Third year brought forth an intellectual flourishing never expected by a boy completing a degree he had no intention of taking in the first place. Fourth year had dizzying heights and nauseous lows and ended with a broken leg that all but laid the foundation of my detachment from the world. 

9045589130 stood firm and solid.

It was only in the summer of 2012 that cracks in our relationship emerged. Money was never an impediment but the distance of my beloved number from its motherland took a toll I could scarcely predict. The strain was obvious; its utility had declined and it experienced black-outs when the effort to connect was too large. My faith was unwavering.

Bangalore in the year 2013 changed it all. What was then a weakness, a minor and easily ignored fissure became a gaping crack. I could only do so much to stall the doom that destiny had laid out for me.

And now that I have already bade farewell, a lingering flame of hope remains. I may go back to you, 9045589130 but you'll have to wait. Months have passed but my unflinching loyalty is unquestionable.

Farewell.

Saturday, 8 June 2013

HWR-7

I had a choice between writing another long and winding philosophical discourse on the nature of the human mind on one hand, and putting up a Weekly Round-up on the other. Laziness wins hands down.
  1. Facebook's IPO was much talked about before it came out and is much maligned now after falling from the lofty heights of expectation. Some people made a lot of money.
  2. The Great Gatsby evoked mixed opinions on aspects such as the casting, the use of 3 D and the interpretation of the original book. My favourite review.
  3. Stephen Fry nearly killed himself. Seriously.
  4. The best review of Sheryl Sandberg's Lean In. A tad over-critical maybe but excellent analysis overall.
That's it for now. I am going back to that long and winding article once more. Stay tuned.

Monday, 29 April 2013

Haaris' Weekly Round-up - 6

Yup, it's still called a Weekly Round-up. I've spent three whole months in Bangalore and I have spent most of that period fixing things. Dealing with machines is tough because there are so many things that can go wrong. You might have a huge and complicated miracle of German Engineering producing high quality low cost products with interlocks and warrantees and all that it takes is one needle bearing to feel blue for the entire plant to come to a standstill. I've fixed a drier with a Hungarian dude who had one eye on the job and the other on how I could get him to a place with hooters (don't ask). I've had an entire pressure vessel replaced and tested with a tighter-than-a-dwarf's-bum schedule (I worked 14 hours for a month without holidays for that one). I've completed a crash course of sorts in kinematics. I've experienced week lag - a unique condition where you can't tell the day of the week because you've been working without any respect for the global convention of relieving weekends and frustrating Mondays.

Life couldn't have been harsher. A smart reader will now expect me to say something on the lines of, "And yet it was a brilliant experience." I will do nothing of that sort. It was stressful, strenuous and tortuous. I lost 8 kilos and a lot more besides fat.

I think I should stop right there. I was about to embark on another round-up and I ended up wasting valuable blog post material. Some other post then...

I'll soon be celebrating May Day with a mid-week holiday and here's the sort of links you should read if you are also part of a factory establishment (failing which you'll probably be on your way to work or to an exam).
  1. A brilliant response from Chris Anderson who is the curator of TED to "fears" expressed by luminaries such as Deepak Chopra on TED's apparent censorship of "speculative" subjects. A must read.
  2. Vincent Vega's red car from Pulp Fiction, Lost and Found.
  3. A defence of the emoticon by a guy who really doesn't seem to like them so much.
  4. The moment we all would have waited for if we had known John le Carre was writing another book. I did mention him in a previous round-up and I have read some of his other books since. Here's an abridged version of A Delicate Truth in the Guardian.
That's it for now. I generally like to have five links but I haven't managed to read anything worth putting here.

H

Thursday, 25 April 2013

Remembering a Great Voice

On 24th April, we lost one of the most unique voices in Indian mainstream music. I am talking, of course, about Shamshad Begum. With a voice that was as surili as it was raspy she will always be remembered for some memorable songs. In this short post, I wanted to upload one of my favourite songs, Teri Mehfil Mein Qismat from Mughal-e-Azam. It's a contest between Lata Mangeshkar (Madhubala) and Shamshad Begum (Nigar Sultana). Discerning friends will also remember this song from a question I asked in the first Haaris Quiz.

Shamshad Begum wins the contest IMHO.


Another great but somewhat obscure (nowadays anyway) song with the same pair singing would be Door Koi Gaye from Baiju Bawra but I would recommend you to listen to the song since I couldn't find a video that did justice to it.

Sunday, 21 April 2013

Break a Leg

I am not sure how to start this post so I'll let the video do all the talking. The first time I ever danced on stage. Milestone.


Not too bad for starters.

H

(Update: I am the guy who enters from the right in Urvashi and moves forward. Forward right. Stop looking at the others.)

(Update-II: I am the guy at the center later in Muqabla)

Saturday, 20 April 2013

The Fairness of Art


Is Art fair?

The cherished ability to make money and have the textbook “good life” seems attainable even to the most deprived individual even if the chances of “getting there” are slimmer as you slide down to the BoP. People are driven. They’ll take great pains at disguising it as a path to some higher salvation and autonomy. They’ll grind out the hours and become unconditionally loyal to their ambitions. They’ll get to the top through their job or they’ll start a start-up and hope to get to the top. Whatever they do, they’ll want success with that irresistible cocktail of power and means.

The knack of experiencing the overbearing and uplifting enormity of an act of creation is, alas, much rarer. To see a stunning painting, one that captures the senses, one that seems to convey all that is inconspicuous to the conscious mind but is the true reason for adding authenticity to the description, is scarcely seen. You can go deeper. The layers beyond your conscious radar add an element of unfamiliarity, one that sprouts from the artist’s imagination, instantly and subtly inscribing a signature that pulls out the work from the clutter of imitation.

Is the ability to genuinely feel the above undemocratic?

One might argue that it is a provenance of the rich. Surely, the art connoisseurs and critics are generally no ordinary individuals. Their lives are those of privilege. Looking at them, one would not be exaggerating in feeling left out, in feeling that the taste of Art is artificial and lies outside the boundaries of experience of the majority.

And yet, we all go through moments of ecstasy; moments of unhindered, uninhibited joy; moments that transport us to a higher Truth and give us a transcendentally extraordinary realization.

It may be through a dusty old book, a book written originally by an author in a different tongue in a different time and place. The words attain the equivalence of a painter's brush as each stroke defines and conveys thoughts that seem so strangely familiar but would never be expressed with the same lightness of expression and depth of thought. It may be during a music concert when a strange radiance permeates one's thoughts and gives us a ridiculously short lived stay in paradise. At that moment, the lyrics blend together with the music to produce something that goes beyond ordinary expression.

There is, to be sure, a primeval understanding for the beautiful even in the most uncouth of individuals. It is a strange mystery to wonder what sharpens the mind - what tunes the senses to appreciate the beauty of Art. And, what do we gain from it?

Greater people have come and pondered over this matter, not least in the period of the Enlightenment. Let us call upon Jean Jacques Rousseau,

For all the rest of the day, wandering deep into the forest, I sought and I found the vision of those primitive times, the history of which I proudly traced. I demolished the petty lies of mankind; I dared to strip man’s nature naked, to follow the progress of time, and trace the things which have distorted it; and by comparing man as he has made himself with man as he is by nature I showed him in his pretended perfection the source of his true misery. Exalted by these sublime meditations, my soul soared toward the Diviniy; and from that height I looked down on my fellow men pursuing the blind path of their predjudices, of their errors, of their misfortunes and their crimes. Then I cried to them in a feeble voice that they could not hear, “Madmen who ceaselessly complain of Nature, learn that your misfortunes arise from yourselves!”
And he goes on to say,

“If nature has destined us to be healthy, I almost dare to affirm that the state of reflection is a state contrary to nature and that the man who meditates is a depraved animal” 
Rousseau's stand is interestingly contrarian to his own standing as an intellectual. In brief, what he says is that the very act of erudition pushes us into misery. It is an affliction or rather, an addiction. A person who has experienced the bliss of higher beauty or the comfort of knowledge will no longer feel content with basic material joy. This "state of reflection" is a curse, an irresistible power that forces normal primitive man to yearn for that which is beautiful, that which is fulfilling in a deeper sense. Talk about paranoia. And yet, if you ponder over it you would realize that there is more than an inkling of truth in his words.

For all of us are born with a fuzzy appreciation of the beautiful but it is the refined person who truly grasps the layered subtlety of Art. And a person need not be refined by the brute force of wealth. He may do so through a manic desire for learning, or the courage to discard the merely convenient.

A recent article in a popular newspaper quoted an agent of a mainstream novelist as saying that it was an elitist illusion to assume that "Victorian" literature and style was what counted as good writing. What people really want, he alleged, was a read that was more grounded and easy to parse through. That's true, in a way. A good writer is tiresome- he'll make you stop occasionally to let out gasps of amazement, she'll make you re-read entire sections for correct comprehension and also make you use that dictionary you've had decorated on the drawing room shelf. Those who make that effort, who can afford to pause and not check the ending page number of the story, will find themselves bequeathed by something more substantial and longer lasting than entertainment. They'll feel enriched and inspired. Not that I hate the Meluha trilogy (it's all real good fun).

I surrender to the chains of this addiction. I cannot hope for others to follow me- it is good that they don’t. What I know is that every time I read a piece of classical poetry, whenever I ponder over the intention behind an artist’s portrayal of a war or when I see a Roger Federer winner I am transported to a place of pure ecstasy, one that I want to come back to again and again, at the risk of losing touch with the unadulterated joy of normal success…

I believe I am in a position here to write many more pages on the value and fairness of Art. I don't think anyone will read more. If you've come this far, I appreciate it tremendously. Let's talk some time.




Saturday, 16 February 2013

HWR - 5

Welcome to a new edition of Haaris' Weekly Round-up where I attempt to clear out all the links I had been meaning to put on my blog as far back as an year. Let's get down to it:
  1. Even as the protests and media discussions push for justice, newspapers continue to be littered with more cases of abuse of women. Outraged citizens can think of all that goes unsaid; all that is swept under the carpet and bludgeoned or burned with their bodies. It makes sense to have an outside perspective albeit one with a historical context of our reaction to the many evils that plague our society. 
  2. One of my first blog posts had been on how language was never in a state of stasis and was constantly evolving with almost random trends in popular usage. Here's another article with many interesting examples.
  3. A long and winding article on the fonts which create the right sort of impact in different situations. A personal confession: I love Comic Sans and use it in my presentations when no one's looking.
  4. On to the strange and increasingly inaccessible world of pure maths. A Japanese mathematician has claimed to have resolved the Diophantine problem, a result that would make the Fermat's Theorem a consequence of the general result. The problem? The paper is 500 pages long so any confirmation on its accuracy is not coming too soon.
  5. All wars have "collateral damage" and the patent wars are no exception.
That's it for now. 

Friday, 15 February 2013

Status Update

Once upon a time, I had harboured dreams of an active blog with weekly round-ups of wacky and informative links, apart from my trademark intellectual ramblings on anything under the sun. I hadn't factored in longer hours at work or the daily dance classes I took for about two weeks. The presence of some narrow minded, overly ambitious imbeciles also made the task of thinking freely that much more difficult.

Life balanced out eventually. I still put in over 12 hours at work but I'm enjoying my current project. My task is to reduce the raw material waste in production which means I'm using all sorts of high falutin words such as lean management and six sigma or doing statistical tests which are fun to learn. More importantly, I am reading again. I am currently gliding through a collection of short stories by the very talented Henry James. James isn't the kind of author most people I know would read. He is as far removed from fantasy or sci-fi as John Cage was from Bach (though not in any strictly analogous sense). The stories are complex but they would never try and alarm you unduly. The pace is steady with situations that are not extraordinary but allow the reader to sit right there with the protagonist and experience the ironies or frustrations of a rather normal life. My favourite story till now would definitely be Daisy Miller.

Sachin's retirement can mean only one thing -  my tryst with cricket is at an end. I feel truly privileged to have lived in an era which has seen so many (arguable of course) G.O.A.T's - Sachin, Federer, Messi, Armstrong, Woods, Phelps, Isinbayeva; the list is too long. That might also mean, somewhat depressingly, that we're going to have the greatest... in every generation but I'll leave that for my future self to handle. The greatest batsman of our era. Owner of the most transcendental on-drive. A man with 33 of 49 ODI centuries in winning causes. Sachin's retirement also marks the demise of the quintessential Bombay batsman and the "straight-bat". Now, we're left with a bunch of whack-a-mole hitters with very little class. It's a shame I didn't put this post up before all the cricket series of the past 3-4 months because I wanted to say it even then- India's World Cup was won because it was held in India.

I'll be back with my round-ups but here's a set I've meant to share for some time now. Random surfing on the net led me to an awesome concept of basing superheroes on fonts. It's the sort of idea I would have liked to have implemented in my college magazine. Also notable, a letter between two of my favourite artistes, Stanley Kubrick and Arthur C. Clarke. Letters between great minds make me extremely jealous of the days long past when you sat by your desk and wrote to be read by a friend, rival or lover. Lastly, James Gleick wrote an amusing article on how auto correct tests our patience with its personal opinion on the words we ought to use .

2013 has begun and I commenced my year with a dance contest. For over twenty years, the only dancing I did was at parties. I even avoided shaking the odd leg at weddings. School went by with a strongly entrenched perception of my geekiness which was all cool and humbling but which also meant I was the last to be picked in anything too hip. Come 31st December and I was dancing away for over 20 minutes. I got in some good moves, I stumbled at times and there were technical glitches. All of that is forgiven. We, a ragtag bunch of misfits who spent a little more than 10 days preparing 8 songs, won the contest, a victory in my eyes as great as anything else I might have achieved in my ordinary life.

I couldn't upload it on Youtube. Here's the dropbox link of the first number. Remember: I don't dance.