The lost art of writing

This man really set the alarm bells ringing when I read this about him in the newspaper

Sanjay has forgotten how to write and is completely dependent on fellow inmates even to write simple names of items that are to be procured from the jail canteen.

According to the sources, Sanjay Dutt has not written anything for the last 30 years. His servants used to write for him. He seems to have lost the practice to write as he has only signed for a long time.

Although I tried to convince myself that this could never happen to me, a quick reflection was enough to tell me that this was definitely something that could happen to me.

I used to write a lot when I was young. I still remember my sheer frustration during holidays  when I was done with playing : My fingers felt the burning desire to catch hold of a pen and write something. Although things that I wrote were unlikely to land me anywhere close to the league of even the lowliest of authors, writing certainly gave me a sense of achievement and satisfaction. The act of penning down paragraphs, admiring my handwriting and the beautiful curves associated with it brought with it a delight which very few things can bring today.

Although I started this off as a hobby and a way to kill time, little did I know that this would give me a very valuable skill for the days to come. I aced almost every school exam because all you have to do in an Indian examination is write. The meaning never matters. The strict south Indian upbringing that emphasized good handwriting and the fact that I also understood a bit of what I wrote  aided my cause .While my friends left no stone unturned in cursing the subjects Hindi and Social Science, I actually loved writing the exams for those subjects. Consequently, I fared quite well till my tenth grade and my love for putting pen to paper and writing something was at its zenith.

Post tenth grade , however, things changed. I had to answer for an objective examination where I had to just circle bubbles with a pencil. In the eleventh grade, we got a computer at home and things were never the same. Typing became the in-thing and the keyboard replaced the pen. My interest in writing dwindled and by the time I was in college , most assignments were submitted online and exams hardly involved writing continuous paragraphs. I hardly ever wrote a paragraph or more out of my interest.

Then came Facebook, to worsen matters further. Today, even on the odd day when I feel like writing, I cannot think of more than a line or two. Whenever I have an interesting thought, instead of “how about writing a few paragraphs on this” my reaction is “how about putting an interesting status message about this”.  Even writing this blog post has been a stretch of my mind to its fullest limits and still all I could do was come up with around 2-3 ill-constructed paragraphs.

Perhaps it is really high time that I buy that diary that I have always wanted and fill it with creases of ink from the fountain pen that I always loved writing with and continue writing my thoughts down rather than typing them first. The pen may not be mightier but is definitely smoother than a keyboard.


Why this kolaveri on the Tiger?

Of late, I have come to believe that everyone is entitled to an opinion.  I was not like that before. If the works of Carl Jung are to be believed , I am an INTJ (  a rational, with a heavy tone of judgement ). I was convinced by people around me that it is not okay to pass a judgement without having all the facts in front of you, and  it seemed quite a fair point to make.   The recent death of Balasaheb Thackeray,  led to a variety of reactions and opinions , which statements  ranging from the standard “RIP Balasaheb”  from his followers to “I hate Balasaheb” from his haters. One particular reaction captured my attention and I have been fixated with it for the past 2 hours. Here it goes ( for full post click here):

It is a disgrace that Bombay is shut today. It is a disgrace that Thackeray is being wrapped in the national tricolor. It is a disgrace that he is being given state honors in his death. And it is a disgrace that none of our political leaders, celebrities, or media personalities seem to think any of this is a disgrace. And that if they do they are terrified of saying so

I am not a Marathi manoos. In fact I can hardly  speak Marathi.I probably belong to the group that was number two on Balasaheb’s hitlist. I, in fact do not agree with most of his principles. But the above comment stuns me in particular because of the shades of human hypocrisy that it reveals, and amuses me because of the fallacious reasoning employed by the post.

It is a disgrace that Bombay is shut today: Yeah ,there are lots of interesting things to do on a Sunday. An internet user like you did not have food stocked at home. Or wait, you did , but you are suddenly more concerned about  the livelihood means of the  average Maharashtrian, which has been jeopardized by the bandh . Somehow,  he was  never visible to you before. He was never visible to you when you bought that expensive mobile ( 90 percent of whose applications you do not use) or when you spent 300 odd bucks on an Old Monk.

It is a disgrace that Thackeray is being wrapped in the national tricolor:  If by disgrace, you mean unlawful , let me bring to your kind notice that the Indian Flag code has no set criteria on who deserve state honors. It is the discretion of the government you elected ( The more likely scenario is that you were probably too cool  to vote , rationalizing  that everyone is corrupt).If you mean he has done nothing to deserve this , I recommend reading this post. It provides more than a compelling case about why he fully deserves it.

The above post probably negates the next two sentences as well and makes them irrelevant.

And it is a disgrace that none of our political leaders, celebrities, or media personalities seem to think any of this is a disgrace.And that if they do they are terrified of saying so:   I certainly am terrified,  but you definitely seem very brave and I can see your bravery through a  post from a remote undisclosed location. Kudos!  If he you accuse him of using fear, you are guilty of  succumbing to that fear despite being an educated citizen ( attempting to show off that great education you received through this post) .

Some people still argue about the killings that he incited, the riots that he spread. I do not justify them at all. The man was definitely not a saint.  But neither are you and me.What baffles and irritates me is that we use different value systems to judge similar situations . We follow a capitalist ideology and thrive on a consumerist culture, the root of all economic discontent/disparity and crimes, but we rationalise those personal acts because those acts lead to personal convenience, something we value the most.Those acts seem insignificant because there is no direct causal link and the cause effect relationship traverses several intermediate links. But we leave no stone unturned in criticizing someone else who did a similar thing for the sole reason that it inconvenienced us. We were happy going behind a certain Anna Hazare when he organized a bandh against a  cause which we felt affected us.  Thackeray did the same thing for a cause that affected over 10 million people in Maharashtra . It is sad that you weren’t a part of that populace but if you read the post above, you shall know what he fought for.The man had his vices, he did commit unpardonable offences which should definitely be highlighted. But he does deserve a better evaluation , rather than being projected as a war criminal. After all,  we live in a nation and a culture where even a Kasab gets a shot at a  fair trial.


Banana leaf v/s Buffet

I have been obsessed with attending weddings ever since childhood. I really don’t care about who weds whom. I don’t even bother standing in a long queues just to give an envelop containing Rs. 10 n + 1 ( n belonging to the set of positive integers) . I hate posing for a photograph with two strangers in front of lights whose intensity would put  floodlights of  cricket stadiums to shame.  I simply do the thing that matters to me the most – head straight to the food counter, the moment I enter the  hall – without even a hint of shame . 99 percent of the people present ( i.e everyone except the bride and the groom’s immediate family) at the reception  come to do exactly the same thing, but are ashamed to admit it.In fact, if you ever want to distinguish Indians from others in a crowd, the magic words to be used are ‘free’ or ‘food’. Indians jump at anything that sounds even remotely close to any of these words and if used together , stampede management squads might be required.

Being a country with probably the  highest per-capita marriage expenditure in the world , you can expect to see a lavish dinner even from households who struggle to meet even basic daily needs. Hence, the prospect of such nice delicious food makes us  ever ready to attend weddings , no matter how hectic my schedule for the day is. Growing up in a traditional south Indian house, with daily meals consisting typically of rice, curd, rasam , sambhar , vegetable curry , idli or dosa, I have hence always preferred north Indian wedding dinners, where you have lavish delicious buffet dinners and  a menu so elaborate that you have to plan what you eat, in order not to fill your tummy too early and miss out on a majority of the dishes. I have  never liked the south Indian wedding food menu. The reason is that the south Indian  menu essentially consists of the same things I eat at home, thus offering no scope of a refreshing new flavour or dish to look forward to.

However,  after attending hundreds of North Indian buffets and a few south Indian dinners, I have recently  realized that a south Indian wedding food system is much more elaborately thought out and planned than what it seems . While its north Indian counterpart, invariably offers more choice, variety  and taste, the south Indian variety has these clear advantages , which can never be overlooked :

(1) Health : A typical south Indian wedding dinner has all components of a healthy meal – minimal oil and fats used for cooking , appropriate fiber and nutrients. The food is also hygienically served in a banana leaf, which is known to be a good practice, besides being easy to dispose. Moreover, the menu encompasses all the four basic tastes – bitterness ( Yes, you have karela fries on the menu !!) , sourness , sweetness and saltiness , in perfect balance, thus giving the ultimate exercise to your tongue and other senses. There are even portions of flavoured ginger paste to aid in digestion. Compare this to the tasty, yet heavy and fatty North Indian food, with excessive usage of oil/ghee and spices.  The following day invariably becomes a frustrating day for your bowel system

(2) Personal Attention : Although nowadays almost all Indian wedding dinners have begun to adopt this , the practice of coming to you and asking you whether you want something more, is essentially south Indian. It makes you feel important, it treats you with much more respect. Buffet is more like “‘ we know you only care about food. So go to that corner there, eat and leave. We dont care as well. ” Although true, we don’t like to hear the truth.

(3) Timing : South Indian weddings are typically held early in the morning or just before noon. Thus , food is  served in the afternoon as lunch in comparison to the north Indian counterpart which serve supper/dinner. The lunches are a no-nonsense affair, held in batches according to dinner hall seating capacity, and you are expected to eat quickly without talking and leave, making way for the next batch of people to begin their lunch. The entire exercise is generally over in around an hour. People eat quietly, then leave for work. Contrary to this, north Indian dinners are very disorganized, with people coming in when they wish to, talking more, eating less. And because the dinner is held too late, not only are you tired by the end of the day, it also affects your work next day.

(4) Efficient Supply Chain : I find the system of food being served far more efficient than the self-service method used in North Indian buffets. Although labor intensive, the servers are really efficient and quick in serving food. It is akin to an assembly line for food with minimal bottlenecks. In order to ask for extras, all you need to give is a signal, which is relayed almost instantaneously to the source of your desired food item , who arrives in a jiffy. Buffet on the other hand is very clumsy. Because of unpredictable arrival times of people for dinner, you often have to face situations where you need to stand in queue just to take a single dish. I have seen that even multiple counters of the same food item does little to solve this problem.

(5) Wastage : Last , but not the least, food wastage in south Indian weddings is far lesser that the north Indian ones. South Indian menus don’t try to please everyone through variety, but through quality. Sort of like mother’s food, which has only two choices – take it or leave it. The North Indian menu, in its attempt to please everyone’s taste and liking, results in heavy wastage despite proper estimation and planning. Not to the forget that they are damn expensive as well.

MInimalist, yet efficient

I  still prefer a north Indian dinner over a south Indian any day, because my tongue rules over my brain. But then, I feel it is time the north Indian wedding system learnt from the south and gives me a chance to eat healthy and delicious food in an efficient way.

PS: Use of the words North Indian and South Indian is due to a large number of observations by the author. It refers to families of that origin and not the location of the weddings

Why IITians love consulting

If you go to any IIT Campus in India (be it Bombay, Madras , Kanpur or Delhi ) and mention the names McKinsey, BCG or Bain ( the Big Three as they are referred to ) , you will certainly see turning heads, lit eyes and attentive ears. These consulting firms are the darlings of the placement season, and people who earn interview shortlists are given demi-god status( you can literally hear the words, “Tu God hai yaar” if you manage to get on the shortlist)  in a campus where almost every one already is treated like a demi-god back home( whether they deserve it is a different question altogether). The Big 3 are known for their rigorous selection procedure, which supposedly , only the best , brightest and the smartest can get through.

If you ask anyone why they would love to work in these firms, you will definitely hear a lot of similar responses. These mainly  include the prospects of 1) An Up-in-the-Air-esque lifestyle 2) Doing an MBA from a top US B-School 3) building a wide network. All of these are definitely true, but what has always baffled me is why they think they are a good fit at these firms. I mean , all the ‘problem solvers’ and ‘analytical mind’ arguments aside, I believe that human interactions and relationships are at the heart of consulting ( you need to meet new , important , and  rigid minded clients everyday )  , and at the risk of stereotyping ,I feel  IITians terribly suck at that. I think even the firms recognize this fact to a great extent , but strangely, they still recruit mainly from the IITs.

I was having a conversation today with my manager today about the Indian education system  and she made a remark , which immediately reminded me of this issue.We were discussing about how as children , we were able to learn  English despite growing up in an environment where the only place you speak English is the school. Strangely enough, the kids we teach struggle to speak in proper English. This is what she said  :

The problem with the Indian education is that it follows an “up or out”policy. People like you have succeeded not because , but rather in spite of  the  terrible education system .

The Indian teaching methodology is extremely uni-dimensional and caters to students with specific learning styles students . Only those students move up the academic ladder and the others are ignored completely  and are left to rot. Other students who do not have these specific learning styles as their natural styles have two options before them : A) Adapt to these styles or B) Be Academically backward throughout life.

If you notice , most IITians have very similar learning styles : Listen to someone speak, write and then learn. This comes naturally to a very few people, but most of them are able to cope up, because their parents wired them into Option A, very often with the warning that you won’t survive if you don’t adapt. Thus, the notion of “Up or Out” is wired into them right from childhood. And this, I hypothesize, is the very reason, why they prefer working in consulting , because they have been equipped with the requisite mindset to work in such environs right from childhood.

The case for Greece

No, I am not talking about the economic crisis looming over Greece. It is clear that no one can save them from that. The one I am referring to is the one that happened at the UEFA Euro Championships 2012. Greece advanced to the quarter-finals after defeating Russia 1-0 in the final match of the league phase. Both Greece and Russia were tied at 4 points apiece , but Greece went through on the basis of a controversial rule that favors head-to-head records of tied teams over the usually used goal difference method.

While critics argue on which rule is better, the inherent mistake everyone is committing here is that everyone  first decides who should be the actual deserving winner and then proceed  to rationalize why one system is better and the other is not. In deciding who should be the winner, people ironically apply no objective criteria ( possession percentage sometimes, but that hardly counts as a criterion in the post-  Mourinho days) ; they just go by what their gut tells them. Useless statements like “Greece should not have won, because they are so shitty”, “Russia deserved to win because they were so good in their first match” are  common to hear. While these are okay as expressions of shock, they definitely cannot form the basis for deciding which system is better. In fact , you cannot and should not even try to decide which system is better

Please give it to Greece. They were able to take  advantage of the given set of rules and constraints.That is what every sport is about   and therefore, Greece deserve to go through.

The Open Mind Conundrum

The phrase  ” have an open mind”  has always intrigued me. Although it means something as simple as being receptive to new ideas,  I am still pretty confused about it. While I always try to be an open-minded person ( or at least project myself as one), of late , I have had a dilemma with being one. Whenever someone advises you to have an open mind towards something which you clearly don’t agree with, I fail to understand why someone brands you as someone with a not-so-open mind. Here is my argument : The person pushing for  the change  is clearly not open to the idea of not having the change. Then , in that case ,  you should not be blamed for being a rigid person.

A classic example would be the situation where you are a teetotaler and you go out with a few of your friends to a bar. The situation would definitely gravitate towards your friends pushing you to not be a wuss and be ‘open’ to the idea of drinking. I have been in this situation many times and I argue that I don’t think I would enjoy it much. The standard reasoning given against you is that a person who has never drunk can never claim that one does not feel better when drunk. Well, you would never understand the fun of not succumbing to this pressure and not drinking ( being in your current state forever).

Summarizing, while doing X is considered being open, not doing X is considered as being not open. But if we let “not X” be Y, doing X is now ” not doing Y ”  and not doing X is ” doing Y “. Clearly, now not doing X seems being as open to me as doing X.

P.S : Just a notion in my head that I tossed out.

Indian Parents

Indian parents are notorious for taking more than the advised amount of interest in their children’s life. Most Indian kids complain about the extent of invasion their parents have on their academic and personal lives. Their argument is that if their western counterparts do so well with so much freedom( which I believe is a false premise in itself ), why can’t they?

The reason , I hypothesize,  is the innate difference in the cultures of Indians and the Westerners.

The Western culture places heavy emphasis on individualism, identity , self respect and personal achievement. Achievement is central to their value system , it is in their genes, and hence even under trying circumstances, their passion for achievement can help them eke out a decent life.

Most Indian kids, inherently,  however think the other way round.They look at obtaining a decent and comfortable living as their greatest aims in life and do not care about achievements and personal feats. Thus, although they are able to survive , they stop at that point and without proper intervention, would never try to live the achievement oriented life that is coveted by the whole world.

So, the question arises : which type of life is desirable ? I would definitely prefer the latter. The reason ties back to my reflection in a bid to answer this question : “If India was indeed so prosperous centuries back and so ahead in science and technology, how the hell did we manage to fall behind in the race? ” It occurred to me that , centuries ago, Indian rulers committed the same mistake of being content with what they have. They lived a good life, grew food, ate, slept, mined gold and were content with that. Apart from a few random individual achievements, as a nation, we really did not make any progress. The foreign imperialist rulers were able to satisfy us by providing us with our basic needs for survival and we were satisfied with that. Post independence , some of us did drift to the western school of thought , but deep down inside , most of us still remain the same. As part of a  nation aspiring to be a superpower, I certainly feel that we need to change.

However, such a change would be very difficult to develop on our own. It would be highly wrong on our part to let teenagers figure out their own path – the genes would definitely win. The lack of role models in the society adds to our woes. The achieving Indian kids are the ones whose parents have conditioned them to the Western value system right from childhood. Parental help and conditioning is definitely required if we are to overcome our genetic instincts.

I am certainly not suggesting that parents need to take control and ownership of life forever. I am certainly not suggesting this. But in the larger interest of the nation, it wouldn’t hurt to let go of a bit of that control. Chances are you’ll end up being a high achiever. A somewhat miserable childhood( which if you are not getting beaten/abused is really not that miserable at all)  is a small price to pay for that.

They say, the future of India lies with its youth. I differ. It lies with their parents – for they alone can help them shape the country’s future. Instead of blaming them for your misery , use them to your advantage and give them due credit.

A sincere request to Aamir Khan

Dear Mr. Aamir Khan,

I am a huge fan of your show, and really appreciate the effort you have taken towards bringing social evils and injustice to light. I respect you even more for your smartness in positioning yourself as the common man’s savior , and timing your foray into television at the right time : when the other Khans are either depreciating in value or fading into oblivion.You fully deserve the 3 crore rupee fee for this shrewd move and its timing alone, if not for the show.

Now comes the real deal after all the sycophantic banter – a sincere request . While,I agree that there are many issues that are of concern to society, their number is still finite. I have a few suggestions for you, which you can use once you run out of issues/ideas.


Where art thou?

Every time I use money , this is my biggest headache. Apparently, all the coins in India have decided to play a practical joke on us, by absconding for almost a year. Almost every transaction I do, ends up with one party being frustrated because the other party did not tender exact change. I have sometimes even asked the other party to keep the change( in the tone of a rich guy tipping at a five star hotel ), which has placed a huge burden on my already shoestring budget. And not to mention the numerous times I have been chucked out of buses just because I did not tender exact change.


This is one issue I am extremely particular about.India is probably the only country in the world which has so much fetish for a language that is not native to it – English. So much is the obsession that we have made it our official language and our primary medium of instruction. And in the middle and upper classes, this fetish for English has manifested itself in a new form of subconscious and implied racism : I am probably judged more by the language I speak than the colour of my skin or my caste.This is the sort of look you are likely to get :

Ew! You speak Hindi. Don’t you know English?

It has gone to the extent that it is nowadays more cool to use English equivalents of derogatory phrases than the Hindi one. ( In fact, I hypothesize that all other factors remaining the same, if 2 persons yell out the same abuses at you – one in English and the other in Hindi – you are probably more likely to be pissed of or have a poor opinion about the second person). Chinese people are proud to speak Mandarin everywhere, Russians are proud of their language, Most Europeans prefer their native language to English, but we are still obsessed with English.

We frequently blame our education system to be pathetic, which might be true to quite an extent. But a fact that we have overlooked here is that our system uses a medium of instruction, which is native to neither the teachers nor the students. A gap in growth is bound to occur. And in scenarios where the medium of growth is the native language, the gap occurs due to the fact that adequate text/literature is not available in that medium. An argument offered is that learning English opens pathways to opportunities in India. I choose to disagree. These pathways to opportunities require English because of our society’s obsession for English. Look at Chinese kids and the growth they have in studies, despite studying in a language that is atleast 10 times more f***ed up than English , but is native to them.

P.S: I write this blog in English too because I have no other option.

You do see my point , Mr.Aamir, don’t you?

I will still tune in to Star Plus at 11 am every Sunday , in the hope that one day, you shall throw some light on the concerns I have. May the truth always triumph.

‘Exam’ining life

As I blankly stared at the opposite wall , struggling to think of ways to kill time at 3 in the morning , I could not help but press the rewind button in my life to what changes had caused me to suddenly become so restless. In the 22 years I have spent on Earth, I was supposed to have acquired a lot of new skills to help me be occupied. However, the past three days have been undoubtedly the most boring 72 hours of my life , second only to the 50 odd matches I have watched  Chelsea FC play.

After deep thought , I realized that this was the first time in my life that I did not write a single examination for  a whole year. Writing examinations has been an integral part of my life, right from ‘peaceful’ first grade, where I wrote about 35 tests a year, to ‘terrorizing’ undergraduate years at IIT  where the number rose to 65. I always thought that I hated examinations, but being away from them for a year has been so difficult for me that I actually miss them. Having been raised up in Nerd-vana( read this to know why), examinations are to me what  a canvas is to a painter – a means of expression. In fact , I missed examinations so much that I searched for online university courses and registered for them – just so that I could study and write examinations. It also occurred to me the only reason that would force me to pursue higher studies would be that they entail an examination  component.Examinations give me a platform to prove my worth , prove what I learnt , something, which no theatre stage, microphone or podium can do .

Does a good education really need  examinations ? All these years, I have thought that the answer to the second question was YES. But, now, as I stand on the other side of the court – as a teacher to 32 students , and make them write exams every week, every month – I wonder whether I still hold those views. I suddenly wonder whether I was actually a victim of the educational system –  addicted to exams and with it the urge to outscore  peers. Is this a value worth passing to my classroom kids ? A big question for me to answer.

On Criticism and Hypocrisy

Recently, an interesting incident  came to my notice.Although I was a third-party spectator to this incident and don’t have access to the details , it probably went this way –

 A show was performed by a group of people, who we shall name X . To make the show entertaining , members of group X  slogged for over a month, sometimes staying awake for even 36 hours a stretch.In a nutshell – they put their heart and soul into the show.  The show finally happens ,  but does not go down well with the audience,  who make their disappointment clear in a review . However one member of the audience Y , goes a step further and  gives a scathing, disparaging ( apparently even arrogant ) review .Members of X get offended by this review and launch a series of  slurs and insults at Y.

Let us look at the situation carefully here. It looks quite familiar to us , considering we stay in India – land where criticism is hard to accept for most people.We are a nation whose politicians get reporters bashed up for reporters unfavorably about them. When we view the above incident now, verbal slurs hardly seem a big deal.

Hence , I do not wish to argue on who was right in the above scenario. It emerges that both parties were at some fault , and without getting into the knitty-gritties of who started it and other childish stuff( I have had enough of those in my class) , let us get straight into the point. I am solely against the argument given by X to secure the right to abuse Y. The argument given by Y was this: ” Y has no knowledge of how a show is made and hence has no right to comment. Being unqualified in the art of show-making, Y has to be a silent spectator”.

Seriously, are you kidding me? The reason I found the above argument amusing would become clear when we look at the behavior of people like the members of X  in similar alternate situations, suggesting hypocrisy.

  • They watch international cricket and football matches and automatically acquire the right to comment on whether Sehwag knows cricket and whether Roberto Mancini or Arsene Wenger knows how to manage a club.
  • They know nothing about how a country is run but feel free to make comments like “This government is a seriously screwed up on.They epitomize bad governance.”
  • They believe that  they know the nuances of filmmaking, the theme and inspiration of the director and tell friends on which films are shitty and which are not. ( i.e, which films you should download and cause a loss to the producer and which should not)
  • They launch victory parades filled with  verbal abuses against competing rival shows on being victors.
X might now counter argue that in these situations, they were not serious but hypocrites as they are , they won’t give the same benefit of doubt to Y. X would even argue that the above instances are not similar, but if they look carefully, I am sure they will notice the  striking similarities.
My free piece of advice to X : Stop being hypocrites. GROW UP. ( I fail to understand how the adjective BAD can offend grown ups. Even fourth grade  kids  in my class do not get affected by it).