Wednesday, 25 January, 2012

Driving You Mad

I was at the doctor's yesterday and he said something which made me think  . He said "In India, people don't value their life, you've been given one life and that's it". Its consistent with what I see when I'm driving. Most Pedestrians don't pay any attention to the vehicles around them. Cyclists and motorists don't check before changing lanes. If they collide with a car, the car driver won't get hurt, probably nothing more than a scratch on the car, but the pedestrian or cyclist might be fatally injured. For many of the pedestrians, one accident, one injury is sometimes all it takes to push them over the brink into debilitating poverty. If they are hurt or unwell, they can't go to work, they might lose their salary for a few days or even their job. This leaves them with lesser money to buy medicines or get treatment, and this delays their recovery which leads to more absenteeism. So its a vicious cycle, often very difficult to break out of.

There is a lack of awareness among pedestrians, but that can't be the only reason. If you see your neighbour get hit by a car and die, pretty soon you will figure out the cause and effect. You should be able to realize that you need to be more careful on the roads. Why haven't we evolved into more careful beings, I don't know.

Driving is like a car racing video game, you never know which creature might jump out from behind the bushes right in front of your car, and it is your responsibility to avoid hitting the target. Maybe this next generation, which plays video games all the time, will be better at it than we are. I honk alot, to caution people, because they seem to be solving some complicated maths problem in their head while walking in the middle of the road. Or they are busy looking in the extreme left direction while taking a turn towards right. But if the have headphones on, or music blasting from their car, even my honking can't save them. So I have to take it upon myself to be alert while driving, expect Brownian motion from the moving objects, expect people, cows, dogs to suddenly come to life when they see a car approaching and try to cross the road at the exact same instant and expect everyone on the road to feel that he / she is the blessed wise one for whom traffic rules and universal laws of physics don't hold.

Maybe the evolution is happening, the drivers are slowly learning to follow rules, and the pedestrians are learning to look before they leap. And maybe in my lifetime the evolution will be complete and driving would be a breeze.

Sunday, 22 January, 2012

Books I read in 2011 - Part Two

This post is about just one book. "The big short" by Michael Lewis. Its a brilliantly written book explaining something very complex, very simply and with a story. The author looks at the Subprime crisis of 2008-2009 and the subsequent financial crisis in US economy, from the point of view of those few people who managed to understand that there is something unnatural and wrong about subprime loans and its all going to blow up spectacularly. They bet against the system and stood their ground in face of severe disbelief from all quarters. They were proved right and the system collapsed.

I was in college when the news broke and what with one thing and another, I didn't pay enough attention to what actually caused the crisis in the first place. I knew the effect but not the cause. And this one book made it all clear for me. If you want to understand how the problem assumed such vast proportions and spread throughout the world, this is the one book you should read.

I am putting up a flowchart of the events that I made after reading the book. Its the original, in the crappy handwriting for authenticity, except for one spelling correction.


Friday, 20 January, 2012

Why you like a particular Book / Movie / TV serial or soap

Unlike a painting, a book / movie / TV serial or soap, tells a story. A painting is just one scene of a story, you imagine the rest. There are two reasons why you like a book / movie / TV serial or soap :

1) You relate with one of the characters, mostly the protagonist or the situation :
You connect with the character. You want to see where the story will take him. You find justification for your actions in his actions. You feel the comfort of validation of your decisions. Or you are in a similar or parallel situation and you want some answers. Here you are very sensitive to the plot, the development of characters, the why and how of the story.

2) You find one of the characters attractive :
You can't resist the charm. You want to find out more about him / her. You want to know whether you stand a chance. Needless to say you wont bother too much about the story line as long as he/she is not killed unnecessarily.

Then there is the lethal combination of the two, you relate with a character who in the story is interested in the character you find attractive!

Disclaimer: There are a million reasons for liking or not liking a book /movie /TV serial or soap. Some of them are relatively rational  and some are unique to you. That's why your experience of the book / movie / TV serial or soap will be very different from mine even though we both read the same book, watched the same movie / TV serial or soap.

Thursday, 19 January, 2012

Racists by Kunal Basu

I cheated. I am supposed to be 'now reading' Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison. But I found it a little cumbersome and I wanted to read something which was effortless. When I saw the plot summary for this book, I knew I had to read it to find out how will he end it?

 Racists by Kunal Basu is the fictitious tale of an experiment being  conducted in the 1850s to determine once and for all the answer to the controversial race question. Is it nature or conditioning from environment, that delegates one race to slavery and elevates another to dominance. The experiment- two children ,a black boy and a white girl (yes I thought he was going to introduce the gender question also but he doesn't) are going to be kept on a deserted  island to grow up wild and free, free to follow their free will without any contact with the civilized world. Accompanying them would be a mute nurse,  who must not influence the children in any way. Her job is to just feed them and keep them alive. Each of the two scientists behind this experiment, believes in his own theory and knows which one will emerge superior. Both are just waiting for their 'samples' to prove them correct. Now the plot introduction was brilliant, and the book was too , in the beginning. Sadly, the rest of the book didn't live up to expectations. The main story line started diverging halfway- a professor's struggle to maintain financial backing for this experiment, the professor's assistant's love for the mute nurse, the professors deteriorating relationship with his wife. The biggest let down was the ending. I was very curious to know how will the author end it in an impartial yet credible way. Or will he take a side? But there was no conclusion to the experiment.

 The writing style is fine, nothing extraordinary. Pity, such an interesting concept count lead to more. I am not sure if I would like to pick up something more by the author. Maybe if I know before hand that it wont disappoint me, I might.

Friday, 13 January, 2012

How are women successful in Indian Politics

I have often wondered that in a country like India where women are still considered 2nd class citizens, crime against women is rampant and mostly goes unpunished, a girl child is a worry for her parents from the moment she is born, where it feels like society is deliberately trying to ensure that women don't break the shackles that they have been put into, how come the actual seat of power in the Indian government is a woman, the chief minister of the largest and electorally most significant state is a woman and the one holding the government to ransom from Bengal is a woman.

Our society will make it extremely hard for a woman have a modest career but will hand over the reins of the country to a woman. I have often wondered about this dichotomy. It happens in other subcontinent countries too. But since the Indian subcontinent countries are like cousins who grew up in the same household, this is hardly surprising. I read this great article by Sagarika Ghose in HT about women in political power in India. It was entertaining and thought provoking. She says " India’s women politicians cultivate a designer madness, a well thought out insanity, to force their presence and personality in the brutally male-dominated world of Indian politics". That's one way to look at it.

I think the entry of a woman in politics might be due to circumstances - logical consequence to the death a closely related male leader. The core group around the leader may have installed the woman as a puppet to pander to public sentiment and like Pinocchio, she came to life and started acting on own terms. Or it might be the fruit of a hard fought struggle for rights and power. But once they are in, I think the key is to downplay their gender as much as possible. They wear unassuming clothes, hardly if ever raise there voices for womens' issues and usually don't have a visibly significant husband/partner. If the people forget you are infact a woman, they will forget their bias and their opposition to women having power to live equally and freely. For the moment, I think this is how women succeed in Indian politics, but I hope one day it will be for their ability to lead and not because of or inspite of their gender.

Thursday, 12 January, 2012

Thought for the day January 12, 2012 : Challenges

Challenges are like grinding wheels and you are the me(n)tal block. When you first see them you feel a little reluctant, you have to steel yourself for putting yourself to it. It hurts a little when the wheel hits you and scrapes off the dull topmost layer of comfort and complacency. But after its over,  there is a brand new shiny you.

Monday, 9 January, 2012

Books I read in 2011 -Part One

Ever since I've started earning, I've become very impulsive and free in my book buying. Earlier when my parents were paying for it, I would buy a book only when I had already read it and liked it and wanted it for my collection, or it was highly recommended by sources I trusted or was another book by an author I liked. I didn't stray from my comfort zone. But now I buy all, though I am not reading all. One downside to this book buying spree is that for the first time in my life I'm reading multiple books together. My concurrent reading list has seven books on it, all in varying stages of being read. I still haven't decided if its a good thing. This is the reason last year I read twenty full books but five half books. 

1. Rabbit, run - by John Updike. 
When Updike died in 2009 it was in the news and a columnist/blogger for HT (Hindustan times) wrote a very flattering article which made me want to read some of his work. I looked him up online and decided to start with the first of the rabbit series. Its the story of a High school basketball star who's stuck in a marriage with an alcoholic wife. And as the tittle suggests, he runs. Its overall a sad tale, of how he never lives to fulfill the promise of his teenage years, how he finds out his god like coach is after all human. I admired the writing. There were quite a few phrases in the narrative which put little daily exercises of mundane existence into beautiful language, in a way I had not seen before. All in all, I don't regret reading it but wouldn't have regretted not reading it.

2. Rabbit Redux - by John Updike
Well after the first one I kind of wanted to finish the series just to earn that badge. Its set in the experimental sixties with many drug induced haze scenes. Rabbit is bringing up his son on his own and takes in a young teenage girl only slightly older than his son. This one was more pessimistic about life and I liked it lesser than the first one. This one put a stop to my relationship with Updike. 

3.Marley and me - by John Grogan 
It was a feel good book, that laid bare the truth about all the energy and love and time and resources that go into having a dog. Its like having a baby, nothing less. It made me realize that I would only get a dog when I am old enough to die before it does because otherwise I wouldn't survive the pain of its death. I am sure dog owners / lovers would appreciate and love this book alot more.

4. The English patient - by Michael Ondaatje
I loved the sheer poetry of the prose. If the writing is so beautiful, I can forgive anything-plot, characters, ending, anything. It was music. Its the story of a nurse who stays behind to help a wounded man recover after the second world war. It is also has the story of the man and his love. Sample this:

"Meanwhile, with the help of an anecdote, I fell in love. Words, Caravaggio, they have a power"

Highly recommended for the way its written. I'll get to other books by the author as and when I get time.

5. The Imperfectionists by Tom Rachman
Another book picked up from the Nytimes bestsellers list. I immediately liked the title. The opposite of perfectionists and its not actually a word. Its the story of a group of people connected with a newspaper which is shutting shop due to dwindling circulation - an obsessive reader, the editor, the publisher. The characters and the concept sounded interesting but the book didn't develop that way. The story of the old woman who obsessively reads every inch of the paper and has reached only 1994, is endearing. Not an essential read though.

Watch this space for Part Two.

Thursday, 5 January, 2012

Thought for the day January 5, 2012 : Life

Life is not a contest, its a journey and you are moving towards equillibrium.

Sunday, 1 January, 2012

Writer's block without even starting

Its been a while since I last posted. I've always believed that writing is an art- like painting or composing a song. It requires an original mind with an original idea. I guess I think a whole novel is going to fall into the empty living room of my brain and I am going to type it all out in one go, as if the words are themselves jumping from my mind on the pages into that "one" book so great, so intense, that even I start believing what a great writer I am. But yesterday I realized it doesn't work like that. An idea does take birth, but you have to work at it, develop it, think about how it fits in, how it tangents off, how to end it, where is it going and more importantly where its taking you. I guess what helped was a movie that was coming on TV, 'Finding forester'. I loved the parts I watched and would want to watch the whole thing uninterrupted. At one point, the protagonist's mentor/friend tells him to write. The protagonist pauses to think, so his friend tells him to first write, not to think, just write down whatever is flowing and then to sit down with the first draft you have so written and think about it and read it with your mind, edit it, better it. A couple of days back, a half formed idea for a short story popped in my mind. And this time I've decided to work with it, give it time and nourishment to grow, be patient with it. And who knows, it might actually turn out to be a happy ending. 
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