Archive for October, 2011

Scaled-down Spam….

October 27, 2011

What with inflation, even the spammerers have scaled down their operations, it looks like! Last week I had a enquiry (probably from someone’s hacked account) asking for suggestions for bed bugs “to go away from home” (sic). Just now, I got this:

“Hello My name is Linda Williams, My Dad Birthday is coming up on the 4th of November so i will like to order for grilled onions and peppers served with tortillas rice and beans for 200 GUESTS and it will be picked up by 3pm. so can i have the grand total cost plus and your shop address, your name , what major type of credit card do you accept also it will be pick up order can you handle it for me.”

Still puzzling this one out, because as far as I can see, Linda wants to pay me, not take my money…

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Silence

October 27, 2011

On a mailing list to which I belong, the subject of silence came up….the list is of people who have studied at IIM, Ahmedabad and the architect of the campus, Louis Kahn, was a man who understood silence:

As Vasu mentioned it in his email:

“I was reading about a book about silence and the author mentioned Kahn as an architect who understood silence.

http://www.theatlantic.com/entertainment/archive/2010/06/escaping-the-noise-machine/58106/

He went on to talk about how he has moved to a remote location in Ohio, where one would expect a rural silence…and yet, the sound of the lawn-mowers every weekend makes a huge racket!

Silence is something worth reflecting on. Especially in India (whether rural or urban), silence is something one very rarely finds. Civilization seems to be accompanied by noise, chatter and sounds….perhaps one of the reasons why I like going into the forests of my country is the prevailing silence,which is still relative, because the jungle has its own sounds!

Our places of worship and meditation usually are places of silence. It is, perhaps, in silence, that one can look into one’s soul, introspect, and conduct a spiritual journey. One may not miss the lack of silence, but surely, it will tell on one’s mind and thoughts…quite apart from damaging one’s hearing, noise can be deeply disturbing to the pysche.

One of the most haunting songs I know is “Sound of Silence” from the movie “The Graduate”….and in singing that song, the silence is broken, what an irony!

Silence is the still pool of reflection in which we can see into our souls. As I begin a process of introspection to try and solve my problems, I muse on silence…as the firecrackers burst in quick crescendo, and I wonder how much further each succeeding generation of humanity must go in search of the simple, calming aid that silence is.

For many of us, a lack of sounds could actually be traumatic; lack of noise equals lack of activity, and as D’s dad said, we are human doings, not human beings. We find it difficult to handle silence…perhaps because, to us, silence reminds us of that eternal silence that awaits us beyond life.

But this is, surely, not true….silence is the music of the soul, and every one of us, at some point or another, seeks a silent place in which to realize, confront, comfort,and resolve ourselves.

An architect….

October 26, 2011

LS was a math major in college; after her sons were born and were in school, she decided to study architecture. A few years ago, she took the very tough 9-part licentiate exam and qualified to practice on her own.

here

is her website…Wave House is her own home, designed and built recently. I’ve visited there a couple of times…it’s a warm home, not just an “architect-designed house”.

I am proud that my daughter is her daughter-in-law!

Excellent blogpost….

October 25, 2011

I wanted to write about the Urban Lakes workshop that I went on…but I found someone has done it much better than I!

So

here

is Depalan’s account of the workshop. A very balanced view of what we experienced…plus and minus.

My pictorial account of the day is

here

It’s on Facebook, so you need an account to be able to see it.

Staples….

October 25, 2011

Staples. A “staple” is something that is supposed to be very good…it forms the main part of what we eat, for example. But another kind of staple…those ubiquitous little twice-folded pieces of metal that hold two surfaces together…seems to be taking over the world. They are so popular that a famous chain of stationery is named after them!

I’ve learnt to utterly detest staples. Every document of an official nature that arrives at my doorstep seems to be festooned with them. A cheque or an important document is attached to the covering letter with one, the envelopes are often closed with two or three more, and several other staples seem to be added on in some random way, for what reason, I cannot fathom.

What is even worse is that so many packets of foodstuff are stapled shut. Every so often, these staples make their way into the packets themselves, and are a deadly danger to the unwary consumer. I remember, long ago, finding a staple in a dish of pulao that I’d ordered (it was the Peacock restaurant that used to be on Residency Road) and I promptly quipped that “rice is our staple diet, and the restaurant cooks know that!”

I googled around and can’t see much on the impact that staples have on the environment…but surely millions of small pieces of sharp metal can’t be a Good Thing!

So I was quite happy when a forward from Padma Kanani of Kalanjali gave the following news:

“Environmental company creates a staple-free stapler to avoid staple pollution.

“Staples are supposed to be so bad to the environment that a company decided to create a staple-free stapler. This product promises to make collation eco-friendly. Instead of using those thin metal planet-killers, the staple-free stapler “cuts out tiny strips of paper and uses the strips to stitch up to five pieces of paper together.” You can even order them customized with your corporate logo so you can, you know, brag about what your company is doing to stop the staple epidemic.”

paper stplr 251011

I would like to use one, but first I have to first find out how it works! Goodbye to the “staple” diet hereafter! Let me google and find out where I can get one…or, alternatively, I resolve to use only paper clips…and reuse them, too. Can anyone tell me who makes this eco-friendly stapler?

This post is for Venkat Mangudi, whose post on Facebook, and Gabin’s comment on it, that got me back to the subject of staples!

Schadenfreude

October 25, 2011

The Betel Leaf

Once a well educated botanist approached Kanchi Maha Periyava and out of ignorance,
asked ‘Why is betel leaf called ‘Vettrilai’ in Tamizh.

Maha Periyava non-challantly replied, ‘The betel vine does not have flowers, nor does it
bear fruits. It has merely leaves (’verum ilai’) and so is the name ‘vettrilai’ !

The botanist hung his head as he did not even realize this simple fact!

Did you read the story? OK, good!

Now…what struck me about this story was the extreme schadenfreude of it. When we see someone learned, or rich, or otherwise endowed with breeding or looks, we seem to take great pleasure in somehow bringing them down. We need to somehow know that they are not as learned or wealthy or handsome or well-bred…that they have their weak points.

But truly…is it possible for everyone to know every thing? Why is it a matter of shame that a “well-educated botanist” does not know the meaning of the name “vettrilai”? After all, he didn’t know, and he asked his spiritual guru about it. What is the shameful thing about this, and why is so pleasing to us that he should hang his head in shame? There may be several (million) “simple facts” that the very learned may not know….is ignorance, by itself, a matter of shame? Does our respect for learning have to be tinged with scorn for not knowing something?

When one does not *want* to learn, that, I feel, might be a matter for shame or scorn (though I would even disagree with that. I don’t want to learn quantum physics, or the details of grafting plants, for example…and I am not ashamed of this!) ..or if one claims to know something and then displays ignorance of it, perhaps that is shameful…but to crow over the momentary lapse of a noted person is surely, to me, a mark of mean-mindedness and intolerance….a form of a “superiority complex” which places ourselves, for that moment, above the knowledge of that particular learned person, or that plutocrat, or that film star….I am uncomfortable with this need to drag down our eminent people to below our level.

How many people (who are not TamBrams or Tamil Brahmins) know that the “Kanchi Maha Periyava” referred to above, is, to be precise, Shri Chandrashekarendra Saraswathi, erstwhile pontiff of the Kanchipuram Peetam of Shankaracharya? And if they don’t know “even this simple fact”, is it a matter of shame?

Well…what do you think? I feel ignorance, in itself, is NOT a matter of shame. It only means…there is something more to be learnt. And surely that is true for all of us, all the days of our lives.

“What’s the price of your cycle?”

October 25, 2011

Here’s a very witty piece written by one of the members of my ccyling egroup, on the theme of “What do you say when people ask you the price of your cycle?”

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

Once again,

we have cyclists who are particular, insecured, serious and cautious about their cycles and their image.

Its India folks, take it lightly, even if your cycle is 2+ laks, a guy with LUNA moped is considered rich and more suitable for marriage alliance than a guy with cycle.

In case I am asked this question by the lady who is planning to wed her daughter to me she would be shocked that someone really really duped me and sold me a junk for any amount more than 3K. I mean can a road bike carry milk, coconuts, family, handle Indian roads, and more so why do we not prefer putting on full clothes while cycling?

In case a police personnel asks me that question and I tell the real price, he will end up noting the address of the guy who sold it to me, and ask me to file a FIR for being cheated.

In case a girl asks me that question and I tell her the cost trying to impress her she would just update her list of the greatest fools she has met on planet earth. Girls all over the world somehow have this impression about themselves that they are more beautiful, wanted and evolved for planet earth. I am not complaining, actually I enjoy this point of view.

In case its a guy still facing economical challenges, and he tells you do you have so much money to buy a cycle, dont feel insecured about your cycle, he is just asking whether you have so much money that you allow yourself to be looted. He will obviously start thinking about ways to sell you something else, like a bottle of water, for 11k. You see its not his fault really.

Try telling it to the office guys for one, your boss with a wife two daughters one dog, home and car loan would definitely stop your promotion in favour of those who are in greater need of it.

In case you want to tease you college frends definitely do not miss the opportunity, you will go up in their list of guys of whom they must be jealous of, ofcourse they would first try telling you what a fool you were and share their prudence on finance and savings. Just tell them the long ride that you had been that weekend when he was buying vegetables and cleaning his car, that will somehow drive home the point.

In case you have met with an accident, like me several times, never tell it to your doctor, I dont know how exactly, but it does effect your bills in some ways.

Definitely aviod telling it to your house owner in case you are on rent, I guess you know what I mean.

Try seeing the world with naked eyes, its beautiful, you have already taken the first step getting down off your car and being a cyclist, the windows are gone, the seat belts are off, the wind is directly hitting on your face, just embrace the world in its true bare meaning – be a cyclist.

Regards,
Gourav

Ponderisms…

October 24, 2011

Ponderisms

1. Ever wonder about those people who spend $2.00 a piece on those little bottles of Evian water?
Try spelling Evian backwards : NAIVE

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2. Isn’t making a smoking section in a restaurant like making a peeing section in a swimming pool? (My sentiments exactly!)

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3. OK ….. so if the Jacksonville Jaguars are known as the ‘Jags’ and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers are known as the ‘Bucs,’ what does that make the Tennessee Titans?

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4. If 4 out of 5 people SUFFER from diarrhea does that mean that one enjoys it?

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5. There are three religious truths:
a. Jews do not recognize Jesus as the Messiah.
b. Protestants do not recognize the Pope as the leader of the Christian faith.
c. Baptists do not recognize each other in the liquor store or Hooters.

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6. If people from Poland are called Poles, why aren’t people from Holland called Holes?

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7. If a pig loses the “grrrunt’ in its voice, is it disgruntled?

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8. Why do croutons come in airtight packages? Aren’t they just stale bread to begin with?

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9 Why is a person who plays the piano called a pianist but a person who drives a race car is not called a racist?

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10. Why isn’t the number 11 pronounced onety one?

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11. If lawyers are disbarred and clergymen defrocked, doesn’t it follow that electricians can be delighted, musicians denoted, cowboys deranged, models deposed, tree surgeons debarked, and dry cleaners depressed?

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12. If Fed Ex and UPS were to merge, would they call it Fed UP?

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13. Do Lipton Tea employees take coffee breaks?

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14. What hair color do they put on the driver’s licenses of bald men?

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15. I was thinking about how people seem to read the Bible a whole lot more as they get older; then it dawned on me … they’re cramming for their final exam.

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16. I thought about how mothers feed their babies with tiny little spoons and forks, so I wondered what do Chinese mothers use? Toothpicks?

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18. If it’s true that we are here to help others, then what exactly are the others here for?

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19. You never really learn to swear until you learn to drive.
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21. Ever wonder what the speed of lightning would be if it didn’t zigzag?

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22. If a cow laughed, would she spew milk out of her nose?

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24. At income tax time, did you ever notice: When you put the two words ‘The’ and ‘IRS’ together it spells … ‘THEIRS’?

Inner wheel debate

October 21, 2011

Today, I was asked to judge a debate on the theme, “Are Women Truly LIberated?” for the Inner Wheel of one of the Rotary Clubs of Bangalore.

rotary sign 211011

I had a fellow-judge, a lady called Purnima Ranganath, and there were two teams of three speakers each. The moderator was my friend Raji Radhakrishna, who invited me.

Since it was also “Spread Breast Cancer Awareness Day”, every woman had a pink rosette pinned on as a corsage, including the District Governor, who came to attend:

pnnng ribbn 211011

The debate waxed fast and furious, and the “for” team were very positive about women being liberated…however, they did have to cede points to the “against” team when things like female foeticide, and violence against women, were mentioned.

One of the participants, Roopa, was herself a Pink Ribbon Warrior…someone who’s beaten breast cancer. The audience remained very attentive, and participated quite vigorously when it was their turn!

dnce rtry 211011

The participants and the judges were all given pink roses, which look lovely here, over several lit lamps:

rss and lmps rotary 211011

In all, it was an interesting evening…we unanimously declared the “against” team the winner, and Roopa was the best speaker!

It was nice meeting several old and close friends after a long gap, too….I enjoyed myself thoroughly, and pigged out on the high tea that followed!

Here’s a short video:

A documentary, and my thoughts afterwards

October 20, 2011

Yesterday, as part of the

Ranga Shankara Theatre Festival

I watched a documentary, “Nero’s Guests”, made by Deepa Bhatia. There was extensive footage of P Sainath, Rural Affairs Editor of the Hindu, as he showed how poverty is never properly covered by the mass media, even though farmers are regularly committing suicide. The film was made against the specific backdrop of the cotton farming areas of Vidarbha.

It was a moving documentary, and had the audience close to tears. At the end, Prakash Belawadi moderated a discussion, which, of course, ended in the air, as all such discussions do. Each of us probably came away resolved to try and do something about the tragedy of farmers pushed to the point of death…but I have been thinking about this and other documentaries, plays, and other such events…. and several rather negative thoughts occur to me. Let me state them and they are open to be debated on…or violently disagreed with.

Films of this kind, however moving they are, are not as effective as they should be. This is because the people who come to see them are NOT the consumers whose excessive materialism is fuelling the crisis…the audience usually consists of people who are already aware that there is a problem (even though they may not know the depth and complexity of it). What is the use of spreading the message amongst those who are already trying their bit to contribute to society, and right some wrongs, in whatever way they already can? Most of us in the audience, I’d say, are already people who are trying to live “green”, cut down conspicuous consumption, work with the poor or in the villages or forests. There is, sadly, only so much of spare time, money, and energy that we have. We cannot channel all of that into too many directions. The fat cats, the conspicuous consumers, the conscience-less administrators…the documentary should be viewed by them. But they never do.

Also, there seems to be a kind of guilt overload associated with such documentaries. “Nero’s Guests” seems to be particularly pointed in this…it points (as does Sainath in the documentary) directly at us, and says, let us not blame the government which has instituted such awful rules and regulations that make farmers’ lives, and livelihoods, such hell that they take their own lives. Rather, the blame is shifted to Nero’s Guests..the guests who attended the huge celebration that Nero organized when Rome was burning, and who ate and drink by the illumination of torches…that were human prisoners, who were set alight for the purpose.

I cannot agree with this viewpoint or shoulder this huge burden of guilt. Most of us (especially those watching the film) are law-abiding people, who pay our taxes, which are supposed to go for the betterment of our fellow-citizens as well a our own lives. Our own lives are not easy in India; we fight daily battles with the government and an establishment which is very user-unfriendly, and is deliberately kept so by vested interests which can then make money by bribery and corruption. To me, it looks as if the film targets those who are also victims, and says, “But you are more fortunate than these other victims, so help them.” We are those who want our elected government representatives to use the money we pay as taxes and cesses, and use them for the purposes stated…not salt them away in numbered accounts in Switzerland. It’s not we who are battening on the blood, sweat and tears of the farmers in the rural areas. We pay high prices, we pay for our fuel, are we to blame if it never reaches the sources, but is sucked away by the middlemen?

Then there is this whole “moral judgment” of such films. “I’ve brought this ill to your notice, now, if you do not do something about it, you are not a good human being.” Most of us feel that it is the job of the elected representatives and the civil servants, to administer our villages, not ours. We have our jobs, which we are doing with diligence. Surely the focus should be on revamping the administration instead of pointing accusing fingers at the citizens, and asking them to do something? And it is only those of us whose consciences are already sensitive, who feel this guilt, and squirm uncomfortably under its burden each time.The more I have a social conscience, the more I am constantly put in the dock, and asked, “What ELSE are you doing?”

Another factor, I feel, plays a role in our lack of engagement. Apart from the disconnect many of us have with the lives of people in rural areas, we are, from childhood, brought up to regard ourselves (the middle class) as the underprivileged. We are not taught to not look down, but up…at the billionaires and the magnates and the kingpins and their lifestyles. Our media and our newspapers and magazines splash pictures of malls and gadgets and cars and villas constantly in front of us…most of which we can never afford. And certainly, when our lives are so filled with strife and the need to earn our living,and face bribery, corruption and inefficiency at every level, it is difficult to see ourselves as empowered, privileged beings. The privileged people…are not us, so all we do is to strive to the extent that is reasonably possible, to lead ethical lives.

So…the constant refrain of “you must do something” begins to pall after a while. Should I teach blind children? Should I work with villagers on the edge of the forest? Should I work with spastic children? Should I only travel by public transport? Take bucket baths? Eschew our cars as much as feasible? Contribute financially to various organziations working in various fields? I’ve done..and am doing, all these, and to say so sounds as if I, too, am putting myself on some morally high ground…but I’m just trying to make the point that having done it, I am still loaded with guilt by such assaults, which point fingers directly at me, and say, “You are well-off and comfortable, you are not doing enough.”

Surely, we of the middle class have worked to be where we are today, and deserve what we have, without having to feel guilty about it? No one helped us, and we did not take crooked paths or cut corners to get to our present level of reasonable comfort. We still battle the establishment at every point, every government agency and social construct, that harasses us. We do not ask for mercy, we just get on with our lives; and yes, we do spare a thought for those less fortunate than we are, and try to spare whatever effort and time and money we can, for them. I like to think that the middle class is far more generous in spirit then we are ever given credit for. And yet, the message always is, “Do more, do more, do more, it is you who have to do it.”

Yes…I agree that we are the ones who have to bring in change, engage in the electoral process, and elect better leaders, and usher in transparency and accountability into the government, get rid of our attitude of apathy. But to be accused and told that it is we who have to constantly help our less fortunate brothers and sisters…we take it as much as we can, but there are times when it just turns us off, and we return to our own trials and tribulations (which no one helps us with) and decide, “We can’t do any more”. Too much of evangelism has an effect the very reverse of what it seeks to achieve.

But we will still go to see films like this, plays with a message, and still try to do whatever we can to ameliorate the lot of those who, we realize, are in far more of difficulties than we are..in comparison with whom, we feel grateful that, but for the grace of God or Fate, those unfortunate people could be…us.

So…I wish that those who make such efforts to sensitize common citizens to the plight of others, do not load them with guilt and reduce them by implicit accusation, into defendants, held responsible for the woes our society and country is suffering from.