Posted by: Aadisht on: May 23, 2013
I finished reading The Three Musketeers yesterday. (These days, as a result of being broke and unable to afford books, all my reading is either review copies that newspapers send me, or out-of-copyright classics.)
The book approves of, among other things:
and throws in a bonus girlfriend-in-refrigerator.
It’s impossible for this book to be anything but a guilty pleasure. But pleasure it is.
Incidentally, one of the chapters begins this:
It was a stormy and dark night; vast clouds covered the heavens, concealing the stars; the moon would not rise till midnight.
Hmmm. The Three Musketeers was published in 1844 in French, and I think the translation I read dates to 1846.
The more widely known “It was a dark and stormy night” dates back to Lord Bulwer-Lytton’s 1830 Paul Clifford, so now I wonder just what is going on here. Does the original French version also contain “It was a stormy and dark night,” and did the translator reproduce it faithfully, or was the translator trying to sneak in a pop culture reference on his own accord? (Actually, back in the 1840s, was “It was a dark and stormy night” a meme at all, or did it explode into consciousness thanks to Snoopy?) And if Dumas had written this in the original French, was he making fun of Bulwer-Lytton, or was he just doing it unselfconsciously, and being as melodramatic a writer? This is a mystery, on the order of, dare I say it, the identity of the man in the iron mask.
Posted by: Aadisht on: April 5, 2013
I started bicycling last year. I’ve been doing it regularly now for a little over a year, and I’ve improved a lot in the past six months especially. I can now easily ride 40 to 50 kilometres a day. If I practice really hard, by December 2013 I could possibly be riding a hundred kilometres or more a day without wearing myself out. If I achieve that sort of stamina, I could conceivably complete the Tour of Tamil Nadu (a thousand kilometres in a loop through mostly flat terrain in Tamil Nadu) or the Tour of Nilgiris (only eight hundred kilometres, from Bangalore to Chamrajnagar, but almost all of it through hilly terrain).
Both these tours are in the end of December, so I have eight months to train for them. Both tours also let you associate with a charitable cause and ride to raise awareness about what they do, and money to help them do it.
So let’s talk numbers. The registration for either tour will be approximately 18,000 rupees. The costs of transporting my bicycle from Delhi to South India, the costs of additional gear and provisions, et cetera, could come to about seven or eight thousand rupees. Let’s say twenty five thousand rupees total for the venture. I’m pretty confident that I can raise twenty five thousand rupees from my freelance writing from now until December.
If I’m getting this money from my freelancing anyway, I could just donate it to a charity of my choice straight away without going through the rigmarole of riding through South India. The activity only becomes worth it if you guys pledge to support the charity if I complete the ride, and end up donating more than twenty five thousand.
So I’m now asking you straight up: if I rode either the Tour of Tamil Nadu or the Tour of Nilgiris (I have three months to decide which), would you pledge money to a charity? If you would, please leave a comment.
Ideally, mention how much money you’d contribute in the comment, but if you feel shy about doing this in public, you can instead ask me to email you for the amount. If I get pledges for more than twenty five thousand rupees, I’ll do one of the rides instead of just donating my money directly.
And now, I’ll leave it to you to do the pledging in the comments.
Posted by: Aadisht on: March 6, 2013
Sometime last year, Beatzo had a blogpost up where he griped madly about the traditional (and according to him, outdated) obsession with “good” handwriting, and then demolished all the claimed benefits of good handwriting one by one. Towards the end of his post he did grudgingly acknowledge the one benefit of beautiful handwriting, but it got lost in the debris of his earlier demolition job. This post, then, is my attempt to balance things out and focus on the actual benefits of good handwriting, not the claimed but irrelevant ones.
(Disclosure: a couple of years ago, when I was diagnosed with anxiety, the shrink told me to play sudoku to keep my mind active. I decided that it would be more productive and challenging to teach myself cursive writing instead. I never actually got started back then, eventually using my free time for German classes instead, but last year, when I moved back to Delhi and couldn’t get admission to the next level of German, I had spare time again, and finally took up cursive writing. By the time Beatzo wrote his post, I was finally able to write in cursive again, after about twenty years, and that too without the benefit of guide lines. So I took Beatzo’s hatchet job on handwriting somewhat personally. There, now you know I have a dog in the fight.)
So, what are the actual benefits of good handwriting? I’ve discovered that writing stuff out by hand instead of on the PC means I get less easily distracted by the internet, but this is not a benefit of handwriting, it’s an indictment of my self-control. So that doesn’t count. I’ve also discovered that writing in longhand is an easier way to deal with writer’s block than trying to fill in a Word document – the sight of the entire blank page in Word is far more psychologically debilitating. But again, that’s something personal to me, and I can’t reasonably claim it as a universal benefit of handwriting. I also can’t claim that people write at the same speed as they think which makes for better finished pieces – depending on the person, that could be as true or false for typing or dictating.
When you come down to it, there is only one good argument for good handwriting – that it is a work of craft, and beauty in craft is valuable for its own sake. There is also the baser, but still valid argument, that good handwriting impresses people. The utilitarian arguments for good handwriting – clarity, legibility, and so forth – crumble in the face of technology that does this so much better. All that is left is the aesthetic argument – that good handwriting can look beautiful by itself. Beatzo does grudgingly, almost afterthinkingly, concede the aesthetic argument, but in a fit of curmudgeonliness restricts it to calligraphy.
Now, I thoroughly appreciate calligraphy and its beauty. I’d quite like to take it up myself (once I make time for it from all the other out-of-work activities I have planned). But calligraphy hasn’t captured or laid claim to all the beauty there is in the craft of forming glyphs by hand. Non calligraphic handwriting can also be ridiculously beautiful.
As far as the baser argument of impressing people with your handwriting is concerned, Beatzo claims that a person will be impressed with any handwriting that is prettier than their own, and also that the mere act of writing a message by hand signals that you took extra time and effort on it – and it’s this signaling that matters, not the quality of the handwriting itself.
I actually agree with Beatzo on the important thing being the signal, but while I can’t speak for the world at large, for me personally, there are boundary conditions to the impressiveness of the signal. If I get a handwritten message where the writing is so awful that I have to spend time deciphering what has been written, any goodwill that could have been earned by the additional effort will evaporate. (This is also true for when the grammar is so atrocious that I have to devote time and cognitive effort to deciphering the message). If other people have the same reaction, that’s a reasonable argument for making your handwriting ‘good enough’, if not actually ‘good’.
At the other end of the spectrum, when handwriting crosses a certain threshold of prettiness, it blows me away independent of the content. I then get impressed with the person with the fabulous writing because s/he’s a fabulous graphist, over and above the content of the message and the signaling. That, then, becomes the argument to take your handwriting from ‘good enough’ to ‘great’. But, yes, that does mean that for a long time, there’s no marginal benefit to improving your handwriting until it crosses into greatness.
All that said, I do agree with Beatzo that the insistence on making every kid in school practice ‘good’ handwriting is stupid. After all, if the only value of handwriting is that it’s beautiful, you should be encouraging people to create beauty in whichever area they’re most talented in, not insisting that they hit a standard of beauty in handwriting, which they may have absolutely no aptitude for. Then again, a kid in school may not know where her aptitude lies until she tries everything (and this is not just true for kids in school but also for thirty year old men. Ahem.)
This reminds me of a conversation I had long ago with Manasi, who, rather daringly for a children’s books publisher, had gone to an education conference and said that there was probably nothing special about reading books, and that if a kid decided to send his or her free time playing video games or football or making craft projects, that was as potentially good or useful as reading story books is.
Similarly, singing or playing a sport can create as much beauty as writing well can, so why do our schools and parents have an obsession with handwriting? As Beatzo says, it’s probably just a lucky meme that has managed to capture Indian society’s mindspace.
While I’m happy to place singing, sports, painting, and handwriting at the same level as valid forms of art creation; when it comes to handwriting as a way to impress people, I’m a little more conservative about holding other ways of impressing people at the same level. Dressing well is also a way to impress people, but in this domain, I do get far more impressed by somebody who sends me a handwritten letter in clean and beautiful writing than by somebody who shows up to meet me dressed well. The handwriting, after all, is a form of creation, while the clothes are a form of consumption. Now, if somebody had made their own clothes, that would be a different matter. (And for a two hundred page long expansion of this argument, I recommend Geoffrey Miller’s Spent: Sex, Evolution, and Consumer Behavior.)
All right, Beatzo, the ball’s back in your court. I hope your response comes as a blog post and not a comment, so that you get restarted blogging.
Posted by: Aadisht on: February 11, 2013
Last year, I managed to get three Hindi songs stuck in my head, or on my playlist, for extended periods of time. (In 2013, the only one so far has been Khamakha from Matru ki Bijlee ka Mandola.) The first one was Subha Hone Na De from Desi Boyz, and that happened because it was what me and friends flashmobbed the Kodhi-VaiBa wedding reception with. The suggestion to use Subha Hone Na De had come from Pushy – thanks to him, the image of Deepika Padukone looking shattered at having her trust violated is now indelibly marked on my brain. The second song is Abhee Naa Jaao Chhorrh Ke (अभी न जाओ छोड़ कर). That kicked in just after the wedding, largely because the song’s wistful desire for a tryst to be just a little bit longer seemed to capture my feelings about having to leave Chennai and my flat there. Then, for about four months, no Hindi song particularly stuck, until the morning of Bhai Dooj, when I heard Radha from the Student of the Year soundtrack for the first time, courtesy my brother, who likes to have a Bollywood radio station on when he’s driving.
While this was the first time I’d heard the song, it wasn’t my first exposure. For a couple of weeks before Diwali, my timeline on Twitter would, every so often, break out with people (particularly @CookyDoh and @ShwetaKapur) tweeting the lyrics of the refrain. I’d also heard that a bunch of jobless wastefellows (such as this one) had been outraged at the lyrics saying that Radha had a sexy body because saying such things about goddesses is Not Done. But the controversy and the tweets had left me thinking that the song itself was a piece of disposable dance pop, and not worth actually listening to. Oh, how wrong I was.
Because while my earlier earworm, Subha Hone Na De, is inane lyrics carried on the backs of just as inane tune and musical arrangement, and makes me confess my addiction to it in a guilty, shamefaced manner, Radha is above that. True, the tune is simplistic and the synthetic trill after ‘राधा तेरी नटखट नजरिया (Raadhaa teree naTkhaT najareeyaa)’ is particularly grating. But the lyrics, oh, the lyrics! They’re iconoclastic and cheekily feminist, and turn this piece of dance pop into an unlikely anthem for freethinking, For the next few paragraphs, I am going to share my thoughts (and I admit freely that these are possibly far more thoughts than the song warrants) about the lyrics. So here we go.
Assume first, as many believers do, that the Kanja and the Radha of the song are also the Krishna and Radha of the Krishna-and-the-Gopis myths, and moreover, that that Krishna is also the Krishna of the Bhagvad Gita. (Scholars of language and myth will point out that the Gopi stories and the Bhagvad Gita probably came from different times and places, and later on fused so that two very different characters became a single Krishna-as-Supreme-Being. And now, having assumed all that, consider the repeated punchline: ‘But Radha wants more!’
In the Bhagavad Gita, Krishna tells Arjuna that the entire universe, all of creation in fact, is contained within himself. (Pssst. Note how I managed to bring in a Vishwaroopam connect.) There is nothing outside of, beyond, or greater than Krishna. And you don’t have to look only at the Bhagavad Gita for this: there’s also the story where Yashodha angrily opens baby Krishna’s mouth to see if he’s been stealing butter, only to find that he has the whole universe inside his mouth, after which she freaks out.
And with this background, we suddenly find Shreya Ghoshal’s backup vocalists claiming that Radha wants more. More than the universe! More than all of creation! Either she’s insatiable, or she’s rejecting the notion that Krishna encompasses everything there is – and in the process, overturning the Bhagavad Gita. See what I meant about the iconoclasm?
But there’s more than just the refrain. Pay attention to the rest of the lyrics, and you’ll discover a Krishna and Radha dramatically different from the Amar Chitra Katha or Ramanand Sagar versions. In ACK, Krishna is the centre of attention, with hundreds of gopis vying – pining, in fact – for his louw, and Radha just happens to be the one gopi who’s most attractive to Krishna. Other men don’t enter the picture. The song, though, flips things around – now Kanha is the one pining for Radha, and Radha is the one with the pick of lovers, because she has the whole town running after her (पीछे पीछे सारी नगरिया , peechhe peechhe saaree nagareeyaa). Krishna is now just another guy, and not even particularly interesting.
And that particular line about the whole town running after Radha is something that gets me geeking out even more. Krishna has to settle for rustic gopis. But Radha has a pick of urban and presumably urbane city slickers. This is a bigger deal for me than for other people because of my severe antipathy to the countryside and its people, but looking at migration trends and the preferences they reveal, I’m clearly not alone in this.
Even without value judgments about the relative merits of being chased by country bumpkins (bumpkettes?) as opposed to city slickers, Radha looking for (or rather, at) options other than Krishna remains a revolutionary idea. Another of the old Radha stories talks about the parting of Radha and Krishna, and describes Radha being upset, but accepting (or to use the desi phrase, adjusting) and telling him that if he must leave he should at least thereafter be known as Radhakrishna and not just Krishna, so that his name is forever a mark of their love.
This is a remarkable lack of ambition. Of all things in the world, Radha only wants to be remembered as the one who Krishna loved the most (and vice versa). Think about it for a little while, and it’s alarmingly short on self esteem if your greatest desire is to be defined i relation to your (ex-) boyfriend. Also, considering I personally know one Radhakrishnan P, but a Krishan Agarwal, a Krishna Sundaresan, a Krishna Thirungavedam, a Krish Ashok, a Krish Raghav, and several Krishnamoorthis or Krishnamanis, the ambition was never even realised. In the song, though, Radha can’t be bothered. She’s ready to look for other people, who aren’t so boring, or whose approach to romance isn’t harassment (भूलेगा तो सताना and छेड़े है हमका दैया are the lines I mean). This Radha is a player, not a doormat. Meanwhile, Krishna, totally at a loss, is reduced to persuading Radha to be with him because she won’t find anybody else (मिलेगा न कोई सावरिया, milegaa na koee saawareeyaa), and because everyone knows that they’re meant to be together (सारी ही दुनिया यह मानी है, शुरू हमसे तेरी यह कहानी है, saaree hee duneeyaa yah maanee hai, shuroo hamse teree yah kahaanee hai). And not because, you know, he possesses any good boyfriend qualities. The song’s Krishna is utterly useless.
And despite this utter devaluation of Krishna, the only thing religious nutcases found to protest about was Radha’s body being described as sexy – protests which were neatly sidestepped by rereleasing the song with ‘sexy’ replaced by ‘desi’, and nothing more. It reminds me of what Douglas Adams wrote about the Sirius Cybernetic Corporation’s products:
It is very easy to be blinded to the essential uselessness of them by the sense of achievement you get from getting them to work at all.
In other words – and this is the rock solid principle on which the whole of the Corporation’s Galaxy-wide success is founded – their fundamental design flaws are completely hidden by their superficial design flaws.
Similarly, the song’s superficially outrageous lyrics conceal its fundamentally outrageous lyrics. Genius.
Personally, I find the transmogrification of Radha’s sexy body to a desi one to be one of the few instances where a censored version of something is as naughty (and possibly naughtier) than the original. A sexy Radha body isn’t particularly interesting, but a desi Radha body conjures up images of a dark-skinned, long limbed young girl, perhaps with a Bangalore accent. Ahem. Pardon me while I fan myself.
But now, the bad news. Despite the intense badassery of the song, I expect it to have zero impact. Zip. Nada.
This is not because the song’s potential for radicalising the masses is visible only to my fevered mind, though that possibility can’t be ruled out either. No, even if it turns out that everyone else is reading between the lines in the same way that I am, nothing’s going to come out of it.
The reason for that is the way Hinduism, and Vaishnavism in particular, deals with threats: it co-opts them. (If I recall correctly, Sir Humphrey Appleby had independently discovered this technique.)
It works like this: faced with something that challenges the status quo of Hinduism, you start claiming that in fact, due to Hinduism’s inclusive nature, it is actually already part of Hinduism. The catch is that it’s important enough to be acknowledged, but not important enough to be allowed to change mainstream practices or status quo.
Faced with atheism? Point out the existence of the Carvaka school of philosophy, while gliding over the fact that its teachings never became mainstream, and are never discussed today except for the fact of their existence. Buddhism? No worries, declare that the Buddha is actually an avatar of Vishnu – and in the process you make the Vishnu cult even stronger. This is reminiscent of how Shang Tsung gains power by absorbing the souls of the warriors he’s defeated, but I digress. For an intramural example of Vaishnavite co-option, there is the way Iyengars turned Ganapati into Thumbikai Azhwar.
So with this horrendous track record of Vishnu-bhakti assimilating its challengers into a Borglike collective, I expect that the eventual fate of the party loving Radha will be to be upheld as Hinduism’s token independent woman. People will say “But of course Hinduism has a feminist side to it! Look at how Radha turned down Krishna! And with that established, please get back to exalting gods for their creepy woman-attacking ways!”
Tangentially related, there was an old Devdutt Pattanaik column that started doing the rounds again on twitter recently about how Indian Hindu myths are full of examples of both womens’ bodies being treated as somebody else’s property, and of women being people in their own right. Pattanaik asks rhetorically why Hinduism is so often placed on the defensive and made to answer for its misogyny instead of being applauded for its positive female characters. The rhetorical answer to that is to point out that the misogyny is central and the positive women are footnotes.
That may be because Hinduism’s assimilative, acquire-everything nature has no filters on what it assimilates. And when it assimilates every idea it encounters, without any concern about their ethical content, the nastiest ideas end up beating the other ideas out in the quest for mindspace, in a sort of Gresham’s Law of Memes. This is probably why every reform movement that has challenged hierarchy – Sikhism, the Arya Samaj, the Brahmo Samaj, and what have you – has caught on, expanded the liberal space a little, added adherents, and then sunk into stasis. It makes me pessimistic, and worry that the only way to shatter the Vaishnavite death grip on societal renewal is the Kulothunga Chozha method.
Pessimistic as I am, there’s a small mercy that can’t be denied: in the face of all this co-option, Radha will still have a beat that you can dance to.
Posted by: Aadisht on: December 2, 2012
Parental conservatism (or paranoia) is not an on-off state between liberal and conservative, but a continuum from chilled out to liberal to conservative to batshit fucking insane. Parents can be less or more liberal or conservative in various ways.
Take, for example, curfews and how long the child in question is allowed to stay out. Some parents will just not give a damn. Some will hand the keys over and make annoyed phone calls starting at eleven. Some will impose a midnight curfew. Some will impose a ten pm curfew. At the truly paranoid end of the scale, you will have parents who will not even let things come to the ‘आज से तुम्हारा college जाना बंद!‘ situation, and pre-emptively force the kid to enroll in a correspondence course while sitting at the family shop instead of being out and about. In such a situation, you can just sigh, shake your head, and reflect gloomily that the best case scenario for the kid in this case is to elope with Rajesh Khanna. Tragic, no? Especially considering that Kakaji is now dead and it will therefore be a zombie romance.
However, the fact of how willing you are to let your kids go out and do1 what they want to do lies on a continuous curve leads to a startling conclusion: there exists an uncanny valley of parental conservatism. To wit: there are parents who are so conservative that they don’t even know the interesting things that there are to do, like teenage sex (after all that happens only after marriage), experimenting with recreational drugs (what is ecstasy?), and racing borrowed motorcycles (Bunty doesn’t even know how to drive!). Such parents will happily agree to their children going off to college or internships in different cities, because after all they are so serious and hard working and will only concentrate on their studies. Likewise if they are headed out for a birthday party, what more could be happening at a party than birthday cake and Pepsi?
1: Yo, let’s not delude ourselves into believing the bullshit that an 8 pm curfew is about ensuring your kids don’t get mugged or raped or conned out of all the money they’re carrying. If you’re paranoid enough to set an 8 pm curfew and your motivation is the safety of your kids, then the appropriate way to channel that paranoia is to dress up as a giant bat and strike fear into the hearts of criminals (a cowardly and superstitious lot). If you’re locking up your kids instead of beating up thugs, your motivation is actually to ensure that your kids aren’t doing something that they might actually enjoy.
Posted by: Aadisht on: November 4, 2012
Today, I read Through the Language Glass, about five or six years after Guy Deutscher’s work was first recommended to me by gaspode. Yes, what remarkable timing, I know. Turns out that being a 2010 book, it wasn’t even what gaspode had recommended in the first place. Yes, what remarkable attention to detail, I know. Anyway, it had this rather poignant passage:
In 1887, Weismann embarked on his most notorious–and most often ridiculed–research project, the one that George Bernard Shaw lampooned as the “three blind mice” experiment. “Wismann began to investigate the point by behaving like the butcher’s wife in the old catch,” Shaw explained. “He got a colony of mice, and cut off their tails. Then he waited to see whether their children would be born without tails. They were not. He then cut off the children’s tails, and waited to see whether the grandchildren would be born with at least rather short tails. They were not, as I could have told him beforehand. So with the patience and industry on which men of science pride themselves, he cut off the grandchildren’s tails, too, and waited, full of hope, for the birth of curtailed great-grandchildren. But their tails were quite up to the mark, as any fool could have told him beforehand. Weismann then gravely drew the inference that acquired habits cannot be transmitted.”
As it happens, Shaw greatly underestimated Weismann’s parience and industry. For Weismann went on far beyond the third generation: five years later, in 1892, he reported on the still ongoing experiment, now at the eighteenth of mice, and explained that not a single one of the eight hundred bred so far had been born with an even slightly shorter tail. And yet, pace Shaw, it wasn’t Weismann who was the foot but the world around him. Weismann, perhaps the greatest evolutionary scientist after Darwin, never for a moment believed the mice’s tails would get shorter. The whole point of his perverse experiment was to prove this obvious point to an incredulous scientific community, which persisted in its conviction that acquired characteristics and even injuries are inherited.
It reminded me of this bit from Neal Stephenson’s Anathem:
“I’d like you to punch me in the face,” he said. As if he was asking me to scratch his back.
“Not that I haven’t always dreamt of it,” I said, “but why would you want it?”
“Hand to hand combat has been a common element of military training down through the ages,” he proclaimed, as if I were a fid. “Long ago it was learned that recruits–no matter how much training they had received–tended to forget everything they knew the first time they got punched in the face.”
“The first time in their lives, you mean?”
“Yeah. In peaceful, affluent societies, where brawling is frowned on, this is a common problem.”
“Not being punched in the face a lot is a problem?”
“It is,” Lio said, “if you join the military and find yourself in hand-to-hand combat with someone who is actually trying to kill you.”
“But Lio,” I said, “you have been punched in the face. It happened at Apert. Remember?”
“Yes,” he said, “and I have been trying to learn from that experience.”
“So why do you want me to punch you in the face again?”
“As a way to find out whether I have learned.”
After some further conversation, Erasmas the narrator obliges the insistent Lio, and tries again and again to knock him out. About a page later, we get this:
I think we did it about ten more times. Since I was suffering a lot more abuse than he was, I sort of lost track. On my best go, I was able to throw him off stride for a moment–but he still took me down.
“How much longer are we going to do this?” I asked, lying in the mud, in the bottom of an Erasmas-shaped crater. If I refused to get up, he couldn’t take me down.
He scooped up a double handful of river water and splashed it on his face, rinsing away blood from nostrils and eyebrows. “That should do,” he said. “I’ve learned what I wanted.”
“Which is?” I asked, daring to sit up.
“That I’ve adjusted, since what happened at Apert.”
“We did all that to obtain a negative result?” I exclaimed, getting to my knees.
“If you want to think of it that way,” he said, and scooped up more water.
Science. It works, bitches, but the scientific method does call for a lot of slogging just for negative results.
Posted by: Aadisht on: August 2, 2012
Posted by: Aadisht on: July 11, 2012
This column by Isha Singh Sawhney is about how badly we, Indian tourists, treat our hill stations. (On a related note, see Hari the Kid’s rant about Indian travellers.) While the complaints in the column are legitimate, reading it, I couldn’t help but wonder if Ms Sawhney even knew about hill stations outside the Himalayas – the column makes it sound as if hill stations are destinations exclusively reserved to Delhi weekend travellers, and that Ooty, Kodai, Khandala, or Darjeeling don’t exist at all.
This is quite possibly an over-reaction considering the simplest explanation is a combination of limited word count for columns combined with the fact that the Sunday Guardian is a Delhi only paper, and so can happily hire columnists with a limited worldview, ahem, an extreme focus on Delhi, but since the emotional reaction is already there, I might as well run with it and turn it into a post. The whole thing got me thinking that parochialism isn’t only for villages, but lives quite happily in big cities as well.
The fellow from the village who is parochial is so because of lack of opportunity. Kept to his (or her) village (or to an industrial urban slum), he has no time or money to go out exploring, and sticks to what he knows (or can afford). The big city parochialist, on the other hand, is parochial because he lacks for nothing. The city (or perhaps even his neighbourhood) provides so many opportunities that he doesn’t need to know that other cities exist or what happens in them.
To pass now from merely dubious generalisation to active and reckless stereotyping, this exists in most Indian metros, or at any rate places which call themselves metros, regardless of whether such a tag is justified. Thus you have the Bombayite for whom Pali Hill and Pall Mall are in the same city, but who knows nothing of Pune (or perhaps even Goregaon). There is the Delhiite who has no clue about what happens in Bangalore or Chennai, and the Alwarpet resident who doesn’t know that Ashok Nagar exists, leave alone what is to be found in Delhi or Mumbai or Hyderabad.
Of course, there are shades of this big city parochialism. The worst you can get is to live blissfully clueless about where other cities even are. Slightly better than this is to be aware of their existence and location, but to be unconcerned about what happens over there. And slightly better than this – and I confess to being guilty of myself – is to not live so much in a geographical city as a city of the mind made up of a certain very specific set of neighbourhoods from multiple cities. (As an aside, while I was discussing this with Narendra Shenoy, we realised that MachanIf there are tony neighbourhoods, there must be rocky neighbourhoods also. Sorry.)
In my case, I could at one point step out from the airport in Delhi, Mumbai, Bangalore, or Singapore; and instantly feel at home in – respectively – Green Park, Fort, 100 ft Road Indiranagar, or the stretch between Orchard Road and Bras Basah Road. This – fortunately or unfortunately – is no longer the case, since in the past three years I stopped travelling frequently, and now every time I visit these places I am struck less by what’s familiar and more by what’s changed.
It’s also worth pointing out that Bangalore residents rarely sink to the lowest levels of parochialism and not knowing anything about other cities at all. This is for the simple reason that it would deprive them of their favourite activity of taunting said other cities about their weather.
Posted by: Aadisht on: June 22, 2012
June has been the last month where I get to live in my own place (well, until I make new arrangements in either Delhi or Chennai. It’s complicated.) As a result, I have been making the most of it by inviting as many people over as possible and socialising like there’s no tomorrow (this will actually be true sometime between Sunday and Tuesday).
This means that over the past couple of weeks, many, many ladies have complimented me on how I have such a nice flat for a boy, and how it’s significantly superior to the usual bachelor pad. Success!
This success, I feel, has two contributing factors. The first is my stellar bai, Viji-amma; and the second is how my furniture has calibrated visitors’ expectations.
Right now I have beds with mattresses (and bed linen!), closets (these came with the flat and I didn’t buy them), a basic dining table with basic chairs (and a tablecloth!), and a speaker system propped up on a packing box. This means that my flat is significantly nicer than a bachelor pad where everything is kept on the floor. At the same time, there isn’t enough furniture that people start thinking of it as a family house that is either ill maintained or lacking in soul. That’s quite a sweet spot.
Had I remained in Chennai and continued to furnish the flat one major purchase at a time, this would have meant that at some point I would surely have entered a sour spot where it would be furnished just enough to raise visitors’ expectations to “family home” instead of “bachelor pad” and they would have gone away clucking in disapproval and wishing they had booked a hotel or met up in a restaurant instead. Oh Amma! After that, I would have to struggle for a long, long period; spending more and more time on cleaning and more and more money on furniture, linen, and decor before these new expectations could be exceeded. But then life is stern and life is earnest.
The important question, of course, is – at what point do expectations jump from “bachelor pad” to “family home”? One guest suggested that it is when the first sofa comes in. This seems very likely, but surely there are other things that could cause the expectation jump.
I think a more general solution is provided by the Cushion Rant from Coupling. My (arbit of course) hypothesis is that the minute you have anything that can be covered with cushions – be it a king sized bed, a sofa, or an ottoman; the expectations change.
If this is true, then the solution is to buy furniture in a sequence where the things that can be covered with cushions come last. So you first get single or queen sized beds so you can sleep, then a dining table so you can eat, and then a study/ work desk. Finally you get the sofa, and cushions along with it. I fear, however, that the cushions are necessary but not sufficient. Much more research needs to be conducted in this.
Posted by: Aadisht on: June 16, 2012
I’ve been thinking about the future recently.
What got me started was the news that Total Recall is getting a reboot. I mused that at least it was a reboot that was coming much longer after the original than the Spider-man reboot, and that in fact it might even be getting rebooted well after the time period setting of the original movie.
Thanks to my twitter-addled life and short attention span, before I even bothered to check this out, I then wondered if we were already past the date in which Back to the Future Part II was set. (I did check it out now, while writing this post, and I couldn’t find a fixed date for the first movie, and the original Philip K Dick story definitely doesn’t mention a date.)
And yikes! We’re only three years away from 2015, which is when the (future bit of) Back to the Future II was set. This got me wondering what would be different if Back to the Future were to be remade today, with the past sequences thirty years ago and the future sequences in 2042. This is an exercise that would be lots of fun if it was a bunch of fans sitting around and talking about it, but I dread how awful it would be if a reboot actually happened.
We’ll get back to Back to the Future in a bit. Right now, time for the other thing that got me thinking about the future.
Yesterday, this was delivered to my apartment: the Creative D200 speaker bar. The sound quality probably isn’t exceptional, but I’m not an audiophile so I don’t think I’d notice even if it was . The important thing about this speaker bar is that it’s wireless. Not as wireless as I hoped, though. It runs on a power cord and has no batteries, so my hopes of pulling a Lloyd Dobler in Chennai have been cruelly shattered. (I’d even found a cutie with her own balcony! We can ignore the likely outcome of what she’d have done after my boombox manouevering.) But it’s still wireless enough to be absolutely awesome, for it takes the audio input not only through an aux cable port, but also through (this is the part where I rub my hands with glee) Bluetooth.
Here is what this means.
There are mp3 files on my phone. My phone is in my pocket. I am in the bedroom. The speaker, on the other hand, is in the drawing room, and at the far end of the drawing room at that. I can set the songs I am listening to from a device in my pocket, while they’re actually played at the other end of the house, and loud enough for me to hear them anyway.
I asked Beatzo on GTalk if it was wrong of me to be so thrilled about this, and he said “Of course not! Welcome to the future!”
Minor aside. If I had asked Neal Stephenson, he would probably have said it was wrong, considering he is slightly grumpy about how in the past few years, so many people in technology would rather be passionate about making smartphone apps than about making rockets:
When he was asked, toward the end of lunch, where he thought computing might be headed, he paused to rephrase the question. “I’ll tell you what I’d like to see happen,” he said, and began discussing what the future was supposed to have looked like, back in his 1960s childhood. He ticked off the tropes of what he called “techno-optimistic science fiction,” including flying cars and jetpacks. And then computers went from being things that filled a room to things that could fit on a desk, and the economy and industries changed. “The kinds of super-bright, hardworking geeky people who, 50 years ago, would have been building moon rockets or hydrogen bombs or what have you have ended up working in the computer industry, doing jobs that in many cases seem kind of ignominious by comparison.”
Again, a beat. A consideration, perhaps, that he is talking about the core readership for his best sellers. No matter. He’s rolling. He presses on.
“What I’m kind of hoping is that this is just kind of a pause, while we assimilate this gigantic new thing, ubiquitous computing and the Internet. And that at some point we’ll turn around and say, ‘Well, that was interesting — we have a whole set of new tools and capabilities that we didn’t have before the whole computer/Internet thing came along.’ ”
He said people should say, “Now let’s get back to work doing interesting and useful things.”
Digression over. Now, back to Back to the Future.
We have three years left and portable fusion reactors, flying cars, and hoverboards are nowhere in sight. On the other hand, lots of other things that Back to the Future II showed as commonplace are in fact commonplace: flat screen TVs, ubiquitious videoconferencing, and electronics embedded in all sorts of machinery (though not quite accurate on how exactly this panned out). There’s a wiki on Back to the Future, so you can check out the page on the technology of the fictional 2015, and see for yourself how much it got right and how much it missed. There’s quite a decent hit rate, actually, when you consider how tricky this prediction business is.
So tricky, in fact, that a 1996 movie got one detail about 2063 even more badly wrong than 1985′s Back to the Future II got 2015 wrong. The 1996 movie was Star Trek: First Contact, and the detail in question (and this is where things all come together) is wireless music streaming.
As you see in this clip from the movie, Zefram Cochrane, while launching Earth’s first faster-than-light spacecraft, decides that he wants his tunes, and so slips a tiny octogonal, transparent disc into a music player. Optical media! Teehee! How quaint!
Okay, more seriously. Bluetooth was created in 1994. Flash storage was also invented at about the same time, but I remember that the first time I ever came across a commercial USB flash drive was in 2004. They both took so long to go mainstream, that back in 2006, the most futuristic thing the writers of Star Trek could conceive about playing music was a tinier, differently shaped CD. We now take the ability to whip out a palm sized device and have it send any music we like to any nearby speakers for granted – but Zefram Cochrane had to hunt for a particular disk and physically shove it in. Wow.
To be fair, Star Trek’s 2063 is a post-World War dystopia where most of humanity and civilisation has been wiped out, so it’s conceivable that there was a flash memory shortage, or a bluetooth shortage, and the war’s survivors had to resort to optical media all over again. Which makes the story even more remarkable - this is a world with no Bluetooth, but they were still able to build a faster-than-light propulsion drive. Whatay!