Drawing for 3 July, 2020

July 11, 2020

For 3 July, I picked this photo from Flickr’s explore page:

Weert, St. Annamolen (explored)

And this is what I drew:


I have no idea how things went so wrong.

Drawing for 2 July, 2020

July 10, 2020

For 2 July, I decided to recreate this photo:

This was from the flickr photostream of someone named Denis Cauchoix who’s removed it since then. I’ve contacted him to see if he’s okay with me putting up his photo, and I’ll be taking it down if he says no. His photostream has some amazing animal photos, and I recommend it highly.

This is how I drew it:

This was easier compared to my catastrophe with faces the day before this; and restored my confidence. It’s still off in certain ways – I completely messed up the lock, drawing the outline, erasing it, and then forgetting to do it properly. I could have done better with the bird’s head as well, and I can’t quite grasp just how I’m off with the bicycle’s carrier. But I think this is a step up.

Drawing for 1 July, 2020

July 10, 2020

I decided to recreate this photo from flickr:

Waauw that's a nice picture - Wow dat is een leuke foto!
Waauw that’s a nice picture by Luc Bauwens – Lumafoto

And this is what I made of it:

If either the photographer or the subjects ever see this, I’m apologising to them for the terrible mess I’ve made of their faces. I have such a long way to go when it comes to getting faces right. And it only becomes harder when the face is smiling.

I think the Rolling Stones logo from the day before this was so easy, it made me overconfident.

Drawing for 30 June, 2020

July 10, 2020

On that day, the Flickr explore page had a photo of a bar which had a Rolling Stones logo on one of its signs. I was feeling unambitious or rushed, so I decided to skip reproducing the whole photo, and only to copy the logo. This is the logo:

And this is what I made of it:

Reasonably easy, which made it a good confidence booster.

A New Era of Bad Drawing

July 8, 2020

About two weeks ago, I…

Actually, scratch that. It wasn’t two weeks ago. It was years and years ago. Years and years ago, when I was a small boy, I enjoyed my school’s art classes and wanted to paint more.

There was a small problem. I was a terrible painter. I was just as terrible at drawing, and any science exam which required a diagram would have my pencils returned to me with despairing red ink. So I moved on to other things, like quizzing, writing, and computer programming. I stuck with some, and less so with others. The drawing never stuck around.

Fast forward to my first year of college, when I was introduced to engineering drawing. I liked it. I also flunked it in my first go, but that’s relevant contextual information, not the point in itself. Engineering drawing had rules. You knew what you had to do in order to get the end result. Emboldened by my new knowledge of plan, profile, and elevation views, I tried to draw comics. I was still terrible, and so after my first enthusiastic sheet, I gave up, and thought vaguely of becoming a comics writer and finding an artist. I never did anything about it.

Fast forward some more. I read lots of comics. I read lots of webcomics. I started seeing even more webcomics thanks to Instagram and imgur. And over five years, the message that those webcomics artists were putting out – that they didn’t have a blessing of talent, and that they had just worked at it for months – sank in. Posts where they showed how their drawing of the same subject had changed dramatically for the better over two years or five years or ten years really drove the message in. And I began to think that I could do it too.

I bought myself colour pencils late last year, watched the first episode in Schaefer Art’s Youtube tutorial, and then promptly got too intimidated to continue.

And then the pandemic hit. And stuck at home in lockdown, without colour pencils but with regular HB pencils and a notebook, I began to draw things again.

Right now, I don’t want to be great at drawing. I just want to stop being terrible.

I realise that as currently stated, this isn’t a specific, measurable, or timely goal. I have no idea if it’s achievable or realistic. But I think I need to start the process before I can even decide a goal.

And part of that process is going to be drawing again and again, and putting my drawing out for the world to see, and probably, to point and laugh at. You see, I’m still terrible.

But the thing about being in my late thirties is that I’ve made peace with being terrible, and even with being terrible in public. So here goes nothing. If things work out, I’ll be posting regularly on this blog again, and getting better, and I’ll have a record of my progress and improvement. If things don’t work out, well, I’ll be as bad at drawing as I was before – and maybe I’ll have chased away the few people who still read this thing. And if it does get that bad, let me know, and I’ll shift the drawings over to their own blog.

But for now, let’s begin. The exercise I follow nowadays is to go the Flickr explore page, pick something that looks like the right level of challenge, and try to reproduce it. This is the first one I did seriously, from 29 June. Here’s the original:

me & my bass

And here’s my reproduction:


Here’s to not quitting this time around.

Announcing a New Podcast

June 11, 2020

About nine months ago, Ashish and I started a podcast. We started out at it being both very bad at it and very irregular at it. However, things changed since March – being locked down at home, we found lots of spare time to become much better at it; and after months of thinking of everything we recorded as a trial run; I now feel confident enough about it to call it a finished article and not just a trial.

Our podcast is called That Reminds Me. It features Ashish and me talking about what we’ve read, or watched, or even about other podcasts we’ve listened to. There are lots of digressions. Frequently, these digressions are about coffee, or PG Wodehouse, or cities, or about how good the internet was in the 1990s. But they’re also about all the other books or articles or movies we got reminded of while reading or listening to the original subject of discussion. If you want to listen to middle aged men talk excitedly about the things they find cool, we are just the podcast for you. If you’d like that, but with fewer middle aged men, we’re working on getting guests, and if you have cool stuff that you get excited about, please go ahead and… be our guest.

The podcast website lets you listen right there, and to subscribe to the podcast feed. We’re on Apple Podcasts already, so if you have a podcast app, you can search for That Reminds Me and you’ll be able to find us.

If you want to try before you dive right in, here are three recent episodes you can pick from:

When This is Over (For a Given Value of Over)

May 10, 2020

I exited lockdown about five days ago, after at least thirty days of not leaving the house at all – and more of not leaving my neighbourhood. I was at my family home in Delhi when flights started getting canceled, remained there when the Indian lockdown began, and have been here since; with no fixed date on when I can reunite with my wife (in Singapore) or with work (outside Kanchipuram).

That’s been more than enough days spent locked down to realise that even once lockdowns are lifted, perhaps even if or once we have a working vaccine against Covid-19, things will not go back to how they were before the outbreak started immediately. They may never go back at all, or it may take years for that to happen. The businesses we relied on may have gone bankrupt during the lockdown. Workforces which fled for their villages may not come back, and probably definitely won’t for the same wages or living and working conditions. Flights and travel could become rare and expensive luxuries once again.

It’s also been enough days for my mood to change from day to day about the same thing. Sometimes, the memory of being able to walk to a cafe brings about immense melancholy, and sadness at not having done it since the middle of March1. And sometimes, it brings about immense excitement at the prospect of one day being able to do it again.

The past month has had me trying to focus on the excitement of doing something again, or something new; rather than get melancholy about not doing it at all. I haven’t always succeeded, but I’m trying to get better at it; and listing those things down in this blogpost is a further attempt at that.

Things From Before Lockdown that I Hope are Coming Back

  • Stepping away from work to stretch my legs and have a coffee or a snack while people watching or writing something.
  • Chocolate and cheese being easily available.
  • Travel, and being able to fly to another country within my disposable income
  • My company’s sales growth
  • Online shopping of “non-essential” goods. Being stuck at home for a month with very little work is a great opportunity to do home improvement projects. Unfortunately I haven’t been able to get parts.
  • Being able to take public transport without any fear of catching something

Things that Started in Lockdown that I wish would stick around

  • high fuel taxes
  • farmers being allowed to sell produce outside mandis
  • being able to see the stars in night at Delhi. With skies clearing up; Castor, Pollux, Procyon, Sirius, Regulus, and Arcturus have been visible every evening. Out of the planets, only Venus seems to be in the northern sky for now.
  • being able to see birds in Delhi. My family house’s trees have been hosting bulbuls, mynas, and parakeets in much larger numbers than any time in the last ten years. There are also more cheels, though they prefer to sit on genset chimneys, and I’ve even spotted a rufous tree pie and a yellow-footed green pigeon for the first time ever in Delhi.
  • Social video calling, especially group calling. I spent my twenties without reliable internet, and never got into the habit of using Skype for calls. Then the pandemic came along, and turned video calling from a benefit to a necessity for work. But in the process, friends and family scattered across the world discovered it, and now regular group video chats are happening with people who I was struggling to remember to call in the pre-pandemic life.

New Things That I Hope Will Emerge After the Lockdown Ends

  • Face masks becoming part of every day wear and etiquette, the way that they did in South Korea after the SARS epidemic.
  • And leading on from that, facemasks as stylish as the South Koreans’. Chennai adopted the camo-print earmuffs so enthusiastically ten years ago – will we get something similar with face masks? We can hope.

What I Worry Won’t Last after the Lockdown Ends

  • Chennai. I love the city, but first the floods, and now the coronavirus have exposed its vulnerabilities. But I don’t know what will happen next. Nothing, so that it continues to lurch from disaster to disaster; suburbs taking over, or British Raj style “knock down the diseased slums and shift everybody”.

Which of these will actually happen? I don’t want to say; because the last few weeks have had a parallel outbreak of people making predictions, most of which are suspiciously on the lines of “After the pandemic, people will end up doing what I used to do before the pandemic” or “After the pandemic, people will realise that my social and political views were correct all along”; and I don’t want to go down the same path. The lists above have been a confession, not a prediction; and I’m happy to wait and see.

What I’m Watching In My Lockdown

April 17, 2020

Readers who are still sticking around here, I am delighted to have the opportunity to plug something to you that is funnier and more regular than I am: the India Wants to Know quiz-(ish) show.

Friend Hari Shenoy (whose blog, alas, is now an ex-blog) has been working, along with the rest of Team #9 on a small webseries where the quiz questions are real, but the answering is an opportunity to bombard viewers with puns. They’ve put out ten short episodes so far, and will have more to come. Whether your primary problem in lockdown is anxiety or boredom, this spate of punnery is the solution.

You can start here:

and work your way onwards. Please like, subscribe, et cetera, et cetera; and help build support for a second season.

A Wile E Coyote Theory of Religion

January 16, 2020

I was listening to the BBC’s In Our Time program / podcast, and it had an episode about the rapture, the Christian belief that at some point God will physically carry people away to heaven:

Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the ideas developed by the Anglican priest John Nelson Darby (1800-1882), drawn from his reading of scripture, in which Jesus would suddenly take His believers up into the air, and those left behind would suffer on Earth until He returned with His church to rule for a thousand years before Final Judgement. Some believers would look for signs that civilization was declining, such as wars and natural disasters, or for new Roman Empires that would harbour the Antichrist, and from these predict the time of the Rapture. Darby helped establish the Plymouth Brethren, and later his ideas were picked up in the Scofield Reference Bible (1909) and soon became influential, particularly in the USA.

At one point, one of the panelists said that Vice President of the United States Mike Pence has gone on record saying that he believes in the Rapture, and literally, not as a metaphor. The panelist also said that while many people believe in the rapture, we shouldn’t worry too much about this affecting their actions.

I scoffed and rolled my eyes a bit when I first heard this claim, but after about five minutes, I realised that it was actually plausible. After all, we humans have an amazing capacity for hypocrisy, or to put it in more polite terms, to ignore cognitive dissonance as long as we can get away with it. Even when we believe or know that some things are inevitable or so likely as makes no difference – asteroid strikes, climate change, an earthquake on the Cascadia fault line – we carry on regardless.

As Terry Pratchett put it:

[…] one particular planet whose inhabitants watched, with mild interest, huge continent-wrecking slabs of ice slap into another world which was, in astronomical terms, right next door — and then did nothing about it because that sort of thing only happens in Outer Space.

Yudhishtira telling the Yaksha that the greatest wonder in the world being that everybody knows that death is inevitable, but that they behave as though they will live forever may be one very specific example of our ability to behave as though the future will never happen.

So, yes, your beliefs, logically applied, would lead you to behave in one way. And yet you behave in another way. It happens all the time. To take a trivial and prosaic example from my own life, I knew for a long time that if I made mushrooms along with an omelette for breakfast, it would make me happier. I would buy a box of mushrooms, too. And then, for an entire month, I would wake up in the morning, get the eggs out of the fridge, and completely ignore the mushrooms until remembering after having eaten my breakfast that it would have been much better with mushrooms. Just knowing something doesn’t lead to action.

It makes you wonder about Socrates, who claimed that once somebody knew what was good, they could not act otherwise. Considering all the examples to the contrary, the possible explanations are:

  1. Socrates had superhuman self-discipline, or
  2. Socrates had somebody else to make mushrooms for him, or, to put it in more general terms, Socrates knew what was good, and delegated it to other people

But so much for refutation. Let’s get back to where this train of thought had started, the Rapture, that is. As I said, my personal experience, and the history of the human race points to the face that religious people can believe something, and still act as though it isn’t true.

For a certain kind of atheist, of whom Richard Dawkins is probably the prime voice, this can be exasperating and infuriating. It’s as though the inconsistency is even more annoying to these atheists than the theism itself. How dare these religious believers enjoy the fruits of science, complain these atheists, while completely denying the basic tenets of science? How can you refuse to believe in evolution, while still benefiting from all the pharmaceuticals that couldn’t have been developed if the theory of evolution didn’t check out?

And yes, inconsistency is annoying. But complaining about this inconsistency is a terrible idea. If humans have evolved to the point where they can hold two contradictory opinions together, then for the most part it means that everybody is getting on with life. As long as our brains are performing their superb job of compartmentalisation and keeping us away from cognitive dissonance, we are like Wile E Coyote, blissfully chasing the Roadrunner. Jesus could only walk on water, but we can run on thin air.

If you point out that somebody’s religious belief is inconsistent with their modern way of life, you run the risk that they’ll give up the modern way of life rather than the religious belief. It is like pointing out to the coyote that he is no longer on solid ground. Gravity will take over.

Obviously, this is very disturbing, because pointing out to religious people that their beliefs are disproved by reality is a great source of joy, or if not actually joy, at least smugness. If we give it up, where will we get a substitute source of joy, or at least smugness, in its place? I have no answers yet, but I will keep searching.

Small Aubergining

August 21, 2019

Many years ago, before the 🍆 emoji gave it a double meaning, the brinjal’s greatest nonculinary achievement was to be in the catchphrase of Meera Syal’s grandmother character in the BBC’s British Asian sketch comedy series, Goodness Gracious Me.

The sketches aren’t online, alas, so I’ll summarise quickly for anybody who hasn’t seen them. The grandma, in any situation where somebody is buying something – informs them smugly that she can make it at home for nothing. All she needs is an ingredient, another ingredient, and a small aubergine. The situations range from supermarket shopping to fine dining, to Masterchef, and eventually to a heart transplant.

I now propose that we honour this frugal grandma by using the term ‘small aubergining’ to describe a particular sort of shopping. That is, to spot some sort of clothes, jewellery, handicrafted accessories, or similar on an international website; to then roll your eyes at the first world prices, and finally, to take a screenshot or printout of the said product to your local tailor, jeweller, or carpenter and have them duplicate it at Indian prices – that is, practically nothing. Bonus points, or the term ‘advanced small aubergining,’ if you don’t even take it to a local craftsperson but do it yourself.

For example, a British lady is selling covers for A5 notebooks on etsy for $17.63 plus shipping. They are extremely nice covers, but my mind revolts at paying that much. So I small aubergined these covers by taking an old pair of jeans to a tailor in Hauz Khas market, who turned them into four covers for just 500 rupees. Like so:


Yes, the notebook sticks out a bit, and if the cover could have had a zip or button or other fastener it would have been even better, but I’m considering this an early prototype. The point is that I found a First World Solution on Etsy, and small aubergined my way into paying Third World Prices. It feels amazing.