Monday, October 30, 2006

Creatures of habit

Stress is a foreign concept. Foreign i.e non-Indian.
The critical will most certainly ask how I can make such a bold claim having not lived the better part of my life in my country of birth (they of course do not count my first 15 years as 'better' part of life!).
Anything Indian - sells. From kurtis to Kiran Desai. Incidentally, several Indian born authors of books on very Indian themes Booker prize winners, have lived the better part of their lives overseas. Returning to the motherland for weddings, funerals and to write their books!
I write for pleasure - my own not others'. My policy is 'Write like no one's reading'. I guess the idea of writing this in a blog for the world to read is slightly contradictory.
Started reading Carl Sagan's 'Pale Blue Dot' last week. I never watched the acclaimed 'COSMOS' series on TV but I read as much of Carl Sagan as I could get my hands on. Him and I seemed to share a 'cosmic connection' in that we both think that 'we' are inconsequential in terms of the cosmos. And 'we' give ourselves much more credit than we deserve. The vastness of the universe is humbling to say the least.
I had a thought as I sat in my weekly Monday morning meeting with others of the research group. We were going over the list of things to do this week (and forever more as it were!) and the general idea is to go around the table and ask each one to explain what they did (or did not do!) the previous week, the plan for the week to follow etc. I sat there listening to everyone speak and my gaze wandered from person speaking to picture of a 'research highlight' (the space thruster developed here at ANU) showing the gizmo amidst stars of the night sky.
I wanted to get up and ask one question - why? Why measure nonlinearities or make compositions - if we go back far enough we really don't know why? We are up against the wall of 'because that is how it has been for hundreds of years and we know no reason to change it, we are creatures of habit'.

Thursday, October 26, 2006

Arey Deewano -

"DON को पकद्ना मुश्िकल ही नही नामुम्िकन् है ..."
Nearly 30 years (?) after the Big B immortalised this phrase in his much acclaimed performance as the DON, SRK dons the garb and is all set to make it his own - again.
I must say that I didn't expect much from this remake and was quite ready to do the ritualistic movie bashing post the theatre viewing.
Don exceeded all my expectations and not just because I had none. True, the movie was too long and the plot much to intricate but the adaptation to modern times is done beautifully. The one thing I thought would be the ultimate disaster instead proved the ultimate clincher - khaike paan banaras wala. To re-do this song, the dance, the voice of Kishore Kumar and above all the image of AB Sr. so ingrained in every Indian's memory to me seemed a Herculean task. However, they haven't tried to re-do it at all! Except the song itself the whole situation is different and has a very vibrant and refreshing aspect about it.
Now to SRK and his portrayal - the SRK image is something that every movie rides on. He makes up for the lack of Bachchan like personality by giving each scene his all and each song has a certain energy about it that makes you want to get off your seat and dance along.
This is not to say that I expect all remakes to be at par. Umrao Jaan with Ash and Sholay with God alone knows who - I have no hopes for.

Monday, October 16, 2006


My friend Megz sent me this quote:

Success: To laugh often and much, to win the respect of intelligent people and the affection of children, to earn the appreciation of honest critics and endure the betrayal of false friends, to appreciate beauty, to find the best in others, to leave the world a bit better, whether by a healthy child, a garden patch, or a redeemed social condition; to know even one life has breathed easier because you have lived. This is to have succeeded!

Now, most of the quote is very inspirational and to me it seemed to define a life well lived, except for one bit of it - ' leave the world a bit better, whether by a healthy child...'. I beg to differ slightly on this point.
I am not going to argue for or against this statement. I am only going to give my opinion on some aspects of it. This blog is not for the discerning types, who would say that I am reading too much into a quote meant to convey a general impression, why dwell on the specifics or for the stereo-types who consider that children are God's gift to mankind so make as many as you can or even for those who are unwilling to look at an issue from a practical point of view because they are creatures of habit. This quote triggered a, previously dormant, thought process.
Having a sick child can change one's life, but it does not and should not mean that you have left the world worse off in any way. In fact I have had discussions and thought about this issue of why people have children. Is it the inherent instinct to reproduce and ensure that your genes (how ever terrible they may be!) continue to live on (which, it has been scientifically proven, is a necessity for men and it is left upto the women to impose quality over quantity) or is it something deeper more like the sense of nurturing life and making another being in your image. I dont really know and I dont think anyone knows because it is probably individual specific.
There are millions of children around the world, as World Vision and CCF never fail to remind us by showing us the slums of India, who could do with a life (better or worse). It really wasn't their fault that they were born into this rapidly deteriorating world and really it isn't their fault that they are left to die. So, even with these millions needing one square meal a day (a home, an education etc. are 'door ki baat') the middle, upper middle and upper classes continue to make more of their own - maybe because who wants some random kid, wonder what caste it is, who its parents were/are.
The world as a whole, and not just China and India, faces a population crisis, there are more people than resources and just like we believe that one Green Bag is a step closer to a plastic free world, one less child could, potentially, feed one already born.
This is not to say that people and organisations are not trying - they are. But bringing a healthy child into this world does not amount to, in today's scenario, leaving a better world behind you. To me it amounts to bringing another life to fight a daily battle against the adversities and increasing the population by one more - when you could have changed another, existing life, for the better.

Friday, October 13, 2006

Biking - a way of life!

The day has been a satisfactory one, barring the extreme heat. Maybe 35 degrees on the Celsius scale is not 'hot' by Canberra standards but it most certainly is scorching by Auckland standards. Spring is almost out and summer is about to rear its ugly head. I am not one for extremities, be it of the emotional kind or the climate kind. Moderate is my thing, which explains why I like melons (honeydew, rockmelon, watermelon) they're mild flavours. None of that sour pineapple for me!
Ive started biking to work again. For those of you who missed me bragging about my new bike earlier this year - well the picture is worth a thousand words. Avanti Blade Sport Fitness Bike y'all!
Cycling, apart from its obvious physical benefits (overall fitness, nice legs for summer shorts yada ya) teaches one a lot about life.
For eg. imagine you are cycling in peak hour (ok peak hour rush has a whole different meaning in Canberra, you could wait for 15 mins and the roads will be deserted again!, but for argument's sake let's assume that you have to bike in that 15 min interval when the human being + car count on the road is more than the fingers and toes!), cycling is very popular in Canberra, roads even have cycle lanes. You're on the pavement, weaving your way through people and prams when suddenly there is another cyclist coming towards you, narrow pavement and you are the indecisive sort. You move right, he moves right then u change your mind - Crash!
I am the indecisive sort. And a very nervous rider. My $80 dollar second hand bike sufficed a year ago when I lived a stone's throw from the university. However, living farther now, I bought a new bike ten times the price and to the say the least it took some effort to become moderately competent with it.
Cycling teaches you about decision making. It also teaches you patience. The first day cycling to work was all excitement. New bike, new helmet - by the time I got to work even though I didnt have an ounce of energy left I felt content! Second day - not so great. The initial excitement had been replaced by muscle fatigue and the old injured knee wasnt too pleased either. Even so, for the money spent, if not anything else I biked to work. Cycling teaches you about perseverence It is not enjoyable for a while but becomes easier with time. Much like life and this PhD!
Overcoming the pain barrier comes next. The cycle seat ain't exactly a leather couch and so after you get past the awkward questions of 'Why are you walking funny?' you have to use every bit of resolve you have to ride back home! This too comes to pass in due time.
To those who will learn, it can also teach you not to procrastinate. The ride to work will take you a half hour no matter how fast you go (you can only go so fast without causing damage!) hence time management in the morning.
Last but in no way the least there's that wonderful feeling of the wind in your hair (ok in your helmet!) and a sense of freedom, not to mention that you will be much fitter than your counterparts at 55!
I advocate cycling completely now. Thank you to my friend who took me, in spite of resistance, to buy my first bike. I owe you one!

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

"My dear and unfortunate successor... you I bequeath, my history"
The Historian by Elizabeth Kostova
my read of the month!
I bought this book at Sydney airport, before boarding a flight to Middle Earth. Started reading it straight away and only finished it last night. It took a while-yes, it is a big book, yes, Scrumptious I like to call 'em big books. 600-700 pages is a substantial amount, very ....filling!
A few thoughts on this book. I wish I could write like that! I will not include much of the story so as to avoid a spoiler but the gist of the book is clear to anyone who reads the synopsis. Dracula is back.
I remember when I read Bram Stoker's Dracula. It did give me the chills and no I was not twelve! Dracula, from what little I choose to remember of it, was eerie. The book succeeds in creating an uncomfortable atmosphere and one where, if you happen to be reading it after nightfall, the creaking of the wood could, potentially, send chills up the spine as it were.
The Historian is Dracula's rebirth in today's world. Kostova brings to life this 'undead' legend. The book does not offer much in the way of a plot. Although, it does once again score high for facts and research. The hunt through Eastern Europe is fascinating and full of information hitherto unknown, atleast to me. One could say 'whats new, its what they do, look at Dan Brown' but hold your horses everyone - Kostova can write! She has a beautiful grasp of the English Language and a certain amount of restraint in her style which allows one to read more than the written words. Unlike Brown, whose only saving grace was sensationalism and an age-old debate, Kostova's exemplifies the basics of book writing - language!
I cannot say that this was the best book I ever read, it wasn't by a long shot. But it was gripping nonetheless, eerie and very well written.
I liked The Da Vinci Code as a work of pure fiction, a figment of the author's overactive imagination and no one can succeed in convincing me otherwise. In fact I feel that Dan B could have avoided a lot of negative publicity and book-bashing had he chosen not to associate his book with any facts whatsoever!
Anyhow, read The Historian people, it is a lovely sequel to Dracula, even if it wasnt intended as one. It is not very often that someone comes up with a line fit to become a classic in modern literature - 'My dear and unfortunate successor...'