Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Recap 2008: End-of-the-year Nostalgia

20 years from now, what will be the first thing that comes to your mind when you come across something dated 2008? Besides the fact that that 'something' is no longer in its warranty period/edible, what will it be? Of course, it may be something personal, but how am I to know that. All I can do is list out a few events which I think 2008 will be remembered for. In no particular order (or rather the order in which they come to my mind, thus dependent on their importance, their taking place in January/December and whether they fall in my areas of interest):
  • The year of the meltdown
    Sadly, the first thing that comes to mind is the Economic Recession. The time when every other news item/advertisement reminds you "in these hard times"... But then, every other decade has had its recession. Let's just wait for the global economy to rise back and hope we ride the boom in 2009.

    Alternately: The year the stock markets fell, The year of the mortgage crisis,  The year the investment bubble-burst, The year of the Recession etc.

  • The year of Heath Ledger
    I could have bulleted it as the year The Dark Knight was released, but this is just too close to my heart, as to anyone's who's seen this guy play 'The Man who laughs' the way nobody ever has. On a related note, I plan to blog about the movie as well as The Joker's philosophy in the coming year.

    Alternately: The year of The Joker, The year Heath Ledger died, Why So Serious?
  • The year of Obama
    2008 will always be remembered, by me and the rest of the world, as the year Barack Obama was elected President, of a nation half-way across the globe from where I'm writing this. 2009 will see the Presidential Inaugration of Obama. This makes 2008 the year we all said, Yes We Can. I will be blogging on Obama pretty soon as well.
    Alternatively: The year we said Yes We Can, The year Obama became President, The year Bush left the White House, The year Hillary almost became President, and quite possibly: The year Obama First became President.
  • Mumbai Attacks
    No one can ever forget the attack on India's largest city that took place on 26/11, often dubbed as India's 9/11. While the crisis was massive, with 10 coordinated attacks taking place in the city, they were rather dwarfed by the reactions to the crisis. A range of resignations and political changes, and almost insurgent movements my civilians. International reaction for the attacks was also widespread. Media coverage highlighted the use of new media and internet social networking tool in spreading information about the attacks, observing that internet coverage, especially the blogosphere, was often ahead of more traditional media sources.

    Alternatively: The year of 26/11, The year of the Mumbai Hostage Crisis, The year of Taj, The year we realised it was enough

  • The Year of the Iraqi Shoe
    Oh, nobody can forget Muntadhar-Al-Zaiydi, though nobody knows how its spelt either. The guy who did was millions of people in Iraq, in the United States, and across the world wanted to do. Though it's a pity Bush dodged the farewell kiss, and quite quickly at that.
    Alternatively: The year Dubya got his farewell kiss, The year Iraq thanked Dubya with all its sole, The year of THE shoe
Of course, these are not the only major events of 2008. I am just predicting that these are the ones that'll be remembered throughout.

Now for those for which 2008 will NOT be remembered: (in no particular order, as before)
  • Our Olympic Medalists
    Nobody cries about not winning medals at the Olympics more than India. No one celebrates their victories and joins their orkut fan clubs more quickly than us. And nobody forgets them the way we do too.
    How many medals did India win at the Beijing Olympics? And which ones? And who won them, and in which events? Was he a colonel or a major who won that Silver last Olympics at Athens? And what was his name? And did you have to use Google to check any of this out?
    I think I need not say any further.

  • Possibly, the aftermath of the Mumbai attacks:
    While we are all up in arms against the politicians at the moment, aren't we going to vote the same bunch of goons back to power again? Not something that I hope, but expect.

  • Chandrayaan, and the record-setting 10 satellites sent into orbit with a single launch by ISRO.
    The next time you complain about India lagging behind in technology, try sounding C-H-A-N-D-R-A-Y... in your mind.

  • Ghajini
    Sorry guys, for bringing this up again, but I just couldn't resist all the forgetting/amnesia punny situation. I hope we DO FORGET this one. I also hope I forget certain scenes from Harold and Kumar's escape from Guantanamo Bay. While the aforementioned The Dark Knight holds the record for being the highest-grossing movie of the year, this one is the most Gross movie I've ever seen.

  • I'm sure there's some more, but I seem to have forgotten already.
So there you are, 2008 for you. The new year's eve is also seen as a time when people take stock of their lives, but I prefer doing that on my Birthday, which falls in the same week anyways.

My resolutions will be coming up on my Birthday. You make sure you keep up with yours atleast till the next weekend. Let's try make this world a better place to live, and we'll see what we've got by this time next year. With these thoughts, I wish everyone reading this, a very prosperous 2009. Happy new year, everyone.

For the last time this year, I bid you, Peace...

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Ghajini - A Review

Go on, read the review. Absolutely no spoilers!!! Except Ghajini itself of course.

For the first time, I saw a movie being touted as a Hollywood remake not being anywhere close to the 'original'. And for another first, I actually wished it was a blatant copy, not an ‘original’. Of course, in Bollywood terminology, a frame-by-frame reconstruction is a remake, but if you pick up 3-4 good Angrezi films and make a messy cocktail, well that's ORIGINAL. So there it was, a drop of Memento (just a drop, mind you), a bit of The Butterfly Effect, with a large serving of THE HULK. Add some good old Rajni-style action for some desi tadka, and that’s Ghajini for you!

So there’s this medical kaalij Professor assigning projects to final year students, but he wouldn’t let Nishabd girl Jiah Khan take the “short-term memory loss” patient (apparently the term “anterograde amnesia” is not good enough for a final year medical student researching neuroscience). Anyways, her heart yearns to know this guy, and next thing she knows, she bumps into him by pure chance. Knowing his past was a cakewalk using his journals. Oh did I miss the journals part.

Chairman/ Managing Director/ CEO/ Maalik (terms used interchangeably) of India’s largest telecom company, and very conveniently one of the world’s largest as well, with firangi execs scampering around like pooches, this multi-billionaire returns from the States and goes to office dressed in tight body-hugging almost-cut-sleeved office wear (now that’s corporate muscle-flexing). And like all good Harvard-bred Chairmen/MDs/CEOs/Maaliks, he maintains a regular journal in Hindi, on his affair with his oh-so-simple & ah-so-gentle goody-goody girlfriend. And while this Sridevi 2.0 (or make that 1.0) helps blind-old-baba cross the street while giving him complete and colourful descriptions of the kids playing and wives beating their husbands along the way (she guessed it compensates blindness), she’s all over the mass-media falsely telling the world she’s in [mutually] love with the tycoon. The catch here is that neither she nor anyone else in the country has seen a picture of Mr.Rich-n-Famous or have any idea what he looks like. Oh, and about the journal, no hindi Romaantick diary is complete without shayari, and no reading of the diary complete without a bit of dancing around the trees with a whole bunch of colour-coded extras (dance routines which also serve as an additional showcase for that elusive 8-pack and the bulging biceps). But there’s another side of the eight pack..uh... story as well. The Diary stops right before Mr.Eligible-8-pack-Bachelor turns into the hulk.

Didn’t I tell you about the Hulk? Man, this anterograde amnesia short term memory loss thing is getting to me. Anyways, the rich-guy-poor-girl candy floss love story gets all bitter and really f***ed up with the girl getting brutally killed and the guy getting amnesiacally injured by this Haryanvi gentleman, Ghajini (Oh c’mon that’s hardly a spoiler...this is revealed at the beginning). Against all expectations, Ghajini’s a minor character in the movie, and played by a [deservingly] unknown face. Don’t blame Amir for using that for a title, it’s a remake after all. Mr. Ghajini also happens to be a Chairman/MD/Maalik of a pharmaceutical company (again very conveniently one of India’s biggest) and comes complete with a whole ensemble of skull-cap donning body guards.

So while Ghajini moves around attending college fests and trading kidneys, our bhoolne-ki-bimaari patient brandishes his injury on his head and goes all the way eight-packing to avenge his fiancé’s death, armed with pecs and abs and a Polaroid camera (complete with a beep every 15 mins) and notes and tattoos... Wait, tattoos?

But why the tattoos? To remind him every morning of all that stuff that he can’t remember? Hmmm... But he lives at his own home, which is full of post-it notes and helpful graffiti anyways. Maybe it’s just not the text, but rather looking at all that meat on which it’s imprinted that makes Mr.Mutton-ki-dukaan go into The Hulk mode. Anyways, don’t blame Amir. It’s a remake, remember. So what if the tattoos actually served a purpose in Memento. And unlike Memento, our avenger does not visit the local tattoo artist, and saves on his money in these difficult times by keeping a tattoo gun home. He’s obviously trained himself to tattoo on his chest and arms and legs all by himself.

So here’s our Hulk roaming around the city looking all over for... his own house at times, travelling in autos and buses, in malls and jewellery shops, all the time looking helpless and confused, but at the same time ceremonially beating his breasts and pumping his breath furiously to keep the fire of revenge burning. There’s the medical student to help him (whom he, by the way, almost murdered once, not that he’d remember that) track the G-guy, and keep reminding him of his mission. She understood the whole story by herself from the journals and newspaper archives (Man, why didn’t the police think of that. Everything was there in the old newspapers to solve the murder mystery.), which also helped our avenger re-learn his own story (à la The Butterfly effect). The 15-minute memory span conveniently vanishes during such times. It of course, reappears mid-fights, when our guy doesn't know why all these goons are piled around him like used polythene bags.

So while Amir throws around 15-20 goons at the same time, attacking them with bathroom fittings (At one point, he’s confused to see this tap sticking out from this guy’s tummy, only to turn it on and see blood flow. But damn the Censor Board!), the fight sometimes has to be choreographed by the to-be-doctorni. The fight sequences are doubtlessly Rajnikant inspired, and some of the old-school Bollywood dhishoom-dhishoom makes its way into the movie as well, mostly providing comic relief. But that sariya going through the navel, that’s gotta damage the picturesque eight-pack. Well, you win some, you lose some...

Till now everything you've seen is oh-so-bollywood-ishtyle, that even if I don’t tell you whether it’s a happy ending or not, you know it already. As for me, I was just happy it ended.
Maybe I’m biased in my opinion for having watched that masterpiece of a motion picture, Memento. Anyways, even ignoring the unique non-linear narrative of the cult film, Ghajini does not even remotely touch on the themes of memory, perception, grief, self-deception or reality the way Memento does. While the screenplay writer’s wildly swerving train of thought does seem to flirt with scientific coherence briefly, it may just be considered a chance event. The amnesia switches on/off as and when convenient. By the way, Memento has been cited by prominent medical experts as one of the most realistic and accurate depictions of amnesia in popular media and is recommended by neuroscience researchers to those interested in exploring the neurobiology of memory.

Anyways, I am still pretty sure this movie will do well in the first couple of weeks, and will probably be declared a hit. In case it doesn’t, there’s always the Recession-excuse for the producers to cushion the fall. I am an ardent admirer of Amir, but the perfectionism is reflected not in the content but only in the marketing of Ghajini. Look who’s using the brand name now.

My advice to you: if you are planning to watch Ghajini, well, don’t. Run to your nearest DVD-rental shop and get a copy of Memento for the weekend. Or, contact your nearest IITian for another cult classic, Gunda.

[Needless to say, comments are more than welcome.]


Monday, December 15, 2008

This is a farewell kiss, Mr.Bush

If you want the facts, it's a size 10 shoe that he threw.
--George W.Bush

US President George Bush, who was on a surprise visit to Iraq, was in for a bit of surprise himself. An Iraqi journalist just thanked him with all his sole.

Muntadhar al-Zaiydi, a local television correspondent, in Prime Minister Nouri-al Maliki's palace threw his pair of shoes, one-by-one, at President Bush during a joint press conference with Maliki. The president quickly had to duck to avoid the shoes, while Maliki stretched out his right hand to try to catch the second one. Neither leader was hit. As he threw the shoes the man, Zaiyadi yelled "This is a farewell kiss, dog!" and, "This is the end!". It may be noted that just over 5 weeks remain before Dubya hands over the Presidency to Barack Obama.

Displaying the soles of shoes or throwing shoes is not polite behavior anywhere, but in much of the Arab world the shoe is used as a special tool of insult or affront. Before the Iraq war, Saddam Hussein had a mosaic of former President George H.W. Bush on the ground at the entrance to the main foreign hotel in Baghdad, the Al-Rashid. You had to step on Bush's face to get in.

Right after the fall of Saddam, men beat his ubiquitous posters with their shoes.

Mr Zaidi, a correspondent for Cairo-based al-Baghdadiya TV, was then wrestled to the ground by security personnel and hauled away.

Bush, who reacted spryly as he saw his assailant winding up, joked about the incident, saying, "That was a size 10 shoe he threw at me, you may want you to know. "

As security grabbed the man, White House press secretary Dana Perino got knocked beneath her eye by a microphone and ended up with a small shiner.

After order had been restored to the room, the man could still be heard screaming from another room. Al-Baghdadiya's bureau chief told the Associated Press that he had no idea what prompted Mr Zaidi to attack President Bush, although reports say he was once kidnapped by a militia and beaten up.

Shrugging, Bush said, "So what if the guy threw his shoe at me?"

"It's one way to gain attention," he said. "It's like going to a political rally and having people yell at you. It's like driving down the street and having people not gesturing with all five fingers."

I don't know what you think about Zaiydi, but I'm a fan.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Ask Steve Jobs: It's all about Peace...(Part-II)

This may be considered a sequel to Peace...

The essential part of the philosophy is knowing, realising and coming to terms with a simple fact, and don't expect it to be anything you haven't heard before. It's very simple: It's an unpredictable world.

What? Hadn't I told you it's a simple fact. While it's an oft-heard statement, few realise its significance. Before I go expounding my interpretation philosophically, why not consider the case in point: Steve Jobs on being Laid off.

I was lucky - I found what I loved to do early in life. Woz and I started Apple in my parents’ garage when I was 20. We worked hard, and in 10 years Apple had grown from just the two of us in a garage into a $2 billion company with over 4,000 employees. We had just released our finest creation - the Macintosh - a year earlier, and I had just turned 30. And then I got fired. How can you get fired from a company you started? Well, as Apple grew we hired someone who I thought was very talented to run the company with me, and for the first year or so things went well. But then our visions of the future began to diverge and eventually we had a falling out. When we did, our board of directors sided with him. So at 30 I was out. And very publicly out. What had been the focus of my entire adult life was gone, and it was devastating.......

I didn’t see it then, but it turned out that getting fired from Apple was the best thing that could have ever happened to me. The heaviness of being successful was replaced by the lightness of being a beginner again, less sure about everything. It freed me to enter one of the most creative periods of my life.

During the next five years, I started a company named NeXT, another company named Pixar, and fell in love with an amazing woman who would become my wife. Pixar went on to create the world’s first computer animated feature film, Toy Story, and is now the most successful animation studio in the world. In a remarkable turn of events, Apple bought NeXT, I retuned to Apple, and the technology we developed at NeXT is at the heart of Apple’s current renaissance. And Laurene and I have a wonderful family together.

I’m pretty sure none of this would have happened if I hadn’t been fired from Apple. It was awful tasting medicine, but I guess the patient needed it. Sometimes life hits you in the head with a brick. Don’t lose faith. I’m convinced that the only thing that kept me going was that I loved what I did. You’ve got to find what you love. And that is as true for your work as it is for your lovers. Your work is going to fill a large part of your life, and the only way to be truly satisfied is to do what you believe is great work. And the only way to do great work is to love what you do. If you haven’t found it yet, keep looking. Don’t settle. As with all matters of the heart, you’ll know when you find it. And, like any great relationship, it just gets better and better as the years roll on. So keep looking until you find it. Don’t settle.
This comes from Steve Jobs' Stanford Commencement Speech, which I came across on Sramana Mitra's Blog. You can also watch the speech:

And as for why I reproduced it above- other than the obvious fact that Steve Jobs' Picture and name in the title might have actually got many of you to read this post, it was the best example that came to my mind. You see, Jobs, immediately after his boardroom coup, and the inevitable resignation, must have seen it as a great failure on his part, since at that point of time, it seemed, to him AND to the world, that between 'being kicked out' and 'not being kicked out', the latter was obviously a million times better for his future than the former. Had he not caught hold of himself after that devastating moment, he could never have gone on to rebuild his universe. For all we know, he might just have joined Hare Krishna or otherwise escaped from the valley. And what resulted is for all to see: Steve is back with a bang, with another boardroom coup at Apple, but this time making him the CEO. I consider Jobs Peace personified.

There are tons of other examples, what's important here, is not about rising from your failures. It's about knowing that there are no failures. It's just a different route taken by destiny. Whether it's the whole world, or just your peer group (which are in fact the same for most people), who believe that you've lost, it's you who should know that there is no such thing as a permanent loss. Life is indeed not about ups and downs. What seems down may just lead you to the top faster than you can imagine. It's an unpredictable world after all. Who can say where your circumstances might take you, how things may turn out. If you're down, don't be. Take a cue from Steve. Go ahead and bite that Apple!


Friday, December 05, 2008

Blogger's Code of Conduct (?)

You know a blogger is going through Writer's Block when he actually writes about Blogging (or writes about Writer's Block itself). Of course, it may also be because he is too busy to come up with something for his/her blog and has to write something he just stumbled upon to maintain a respectable blogging frequency. And then, perhaps he might just have seen something of interest to share with his readers, who are usually bloggers (I assume not many people outside of bloggers themselves read blogs).

Irrespective of whether I am the recipient of your benefit of doubt or not, I present to you  the Blogger's Code of Conduct. While it may already be common knowledge amongst many of you, I'll confess that I recently came to know about it. Tim O'Reilly, active supporter of open-source and free software movements (or Free culture movement), and famous for coining the term 'Web 2.0', came up with this set of rules as a response to another blogger's complaint, about being targeted by a series of increasingly violent and disturbing anonymous comments on her blog and a series of weblogs that appeared to have been created for the purpose of celebrating cyber-bullying. O'Reilly and others came up with a list of seven proposed ideas:
  1. Take responsibility not just for your own words, but for the comments you allow on your blog.
  2. Label your tolerance level for abusive comments.
  3. Consider eliminating anonymous comments.
  4. Ignore the trolls.
  5. Take the conversation offline, and talk directly, or find an intermediary who can do so.
  6. If you know someone who is behaving badly, tell them so.
  7. Don't say anything online that you wouldn't say in person.
For detailed description of each of the guidelines, do refer to the original Call for a Blogger's Code of Conduct. An alternate code of conduct has also been suggested:
  • Be courteous.
  • Give accurate information in the spirit of being helpful.
  • Respectfully disagree.
  • Use the correct venue for your post.
  • Admit the possibility of fault and respect different points of views.
  • If you screw up, take responsibility for your actions.
The code is under further review with the aid of a wiki. Doubts have been expressed over its fairness and feasibility. A comment management proposal has also been given by Jon Garfunkel, and endorsed by O'Reilly.

Of course, whether to follow these or not is a personal choice, and I personally feel that Blogosphere is too free from any power to heed any commandments. Your call!!


Sunday, November 30, 2008

How the Widget stole your privacy

So many bloggers are using it, including me (depending on when you are reading this). The widget in question here is FEEDJIT. Not the harmless one below my Followers list, but the one further down the rightmost column below the Blog Networks Badge. While some feel it's a fast way to get them to leave your blog, others see it as an infringement of their privacy. In case you still haven't noticed, FEEDJIT shows YOUR location (City), and the address of the page where you clicked on my Blog's Link. If you click on 'Watch in Real-Time', you'll see your as well as the previous 50 visitors' location, Browser (Name and version), Operating System (Name and version), the precise URL of the page from which they arrived on my page (and precisely which one), and the exact time when they did so. You can also see at what point of time they clicked on which of the links present on my page. And, in case they arrived via a search engine, it'll also tell you the query searched. Sample this:

As you can see, a certain user from Delhi, using IE 7.0 on his Windows-XP landed on my blog when wanting to see Rape Videos. I don't know who he is, but I am pretty sure this is not the kind of information he had wanted to give out in the open. While it is alright for me as a blog administrator to have access to all this data (which I could have had anyways through SiteMeter or Google Analytics, and which I can use to improve my website), it doesn't make sense exposing all these to any random net-surfer.

This may not seem that offensive initially, but consider this. A certain friend of mine lives in Srinagar, Jammu & Kashmir, and most other friends of mine know about her. The time when she visits my blog, how much time she spends surfing it, which links does she exit from, is all visible to my friends, since I do not have many readers from Srinagar, and not many Linux users amongst them as well. She wants to remove her traces from the Widget, but surely wouldn't dream that she'd have to click on "Watch in Real-Time" first, from where she'll get an option to remove her IP. And by the way, she has to do that every time she visits my blog. Supposedly, FEEDJIT also has an option to ignore all future visits from being recorded, but fnding the "ignore my browser" button is more difficult than finding Sudan on a World Map. Besides, this works one-site-at-a-time, so you have to activate this cookie every time you visit a new FEEDJIT-enabled site. And in case you clean your cookies often, you're back to square one each time.

In case you are wondering why I've put FEEDJIT at all, or why I posted this all of a sudden, it's actually because recently a friend told me he prefers reading my blog feeds rather than visit it due to the presence of this widget. As I found out, there were indeed many annoyed by this widget and uncomfortable with it's presence on any website, especially blogs.

While the opting out option is practically invisible, would it matter even if it was visible? Would you have clicked if there were an opt-in option instead of opt-out? I would let FEEDJIT remain there for a week more from now for you to see before removing it. Comments and views are welcome.


Tuesday, November 25, 2008



Every language has a few words that are its own, that other languages just have no equivalent for. There's Bakku-shan, for instance, which is Japanese for a woman who "seems pretty when seen from behind but not from the front." There's Drachenfutter, which is German for "dragon fodder" when translated literally, but means "the peace offerings made by guilty husbands to their wives." And then there's Peace... not [only] the English word, but rather its usage in IIT-Kgp's lingo...And I'm not talking about that brief interlude between wars, during which the prudent study the lessons of the last war and prepare for the next one, though it may be related.

I use the term very freely, so much so that it has become my catchphrase. Peace is a philosophy, a way of life, or rather, an ideal way of living a life. It can be described as living without worrying, with comfort of mind, living in the present, without crying over the past or cribbing about the future. True peace can only come with deep knowledge and understanding about oneself, to keep oneself strong in the face of discord or stress. Whether you call it Peace of mind, serenity, calmness, or simply, Peace, it is the ultimate path (or rather, the ulti path, as Kgpians wud say) to bliss and happiness. It is not wrong to think, or even to think a lot. In fact, thought is usually an unknown territory for most people, due to which many claim to be lost in it. It's just about thinking positively, cause 'freaking out' doesn't really count as thinking. Worrying gets you nowhere.

However, Peace should not be confused with 'Hakuna Matata' or any of its variants. While it seems just right for the meerkat-warthog duo, this harmless Swahili phrase meaning "There are no worries", should be a good cause of worry if applied to reality. Peace is not about being lazy. Or about Procrastinating. And even not about not caring for the future. It's about not worrying about the future. It's about not caring for the options you never had, and by not cribbing about it, you can make the best of what you do have. It does not preach running away from responsibilities, but about being at ease with them, with yourself. The most successful people I know, are in a state of complete peace, or very near to it. While Timon and Pumba may have The Lion King eat bugs and turn into a hedonistic jerk, being at Peace pushes you to excellence, ensuring that of all the ups and downs in life, it is the ups that count for you. The more you crib over the downs, the more down you go.

Peace is used as a farewell greeting, an expression of delight, or as an affirmative. This is definitely not unique. While the phrase 'Peace out' is used frequently as well, it generally carries with it a negative air, the same as saying f**k off. A better example would be a greeting much of the world recognises, As-salaamu 'Aleykum ("Peace be upon you") responded with a wa `Aleykum As-Salaam (and upon you be peace). Salaam, here, stands for Peace, and also one of the 99 names of God from the Quran (Al-Salaam). Usage of the magical word, Peace, gives an immediate sense of relief and comfort to the mind, and creates a whole atmosphere of peace around it. Signing off with a Peace is as good as saying "May peace be with you", and reminds you of keeping peace in your life.

Its easy to take this in the wrong sense, which is true for pretty much every philosophy. Here at IIT-Kgp, I see people failing over half their subjects and thus prolonging their stay in the institute by years still refusing to study, since they are peace-maroo. Boozers, druggists and chain smokers, or the equally addicted counterstrike-players here become self-acclaimed peace gurus. This is as far from Peace as possible. Peace is when you perform your best under present circumstances, and have a feeling that you 'know' its going to turn out great at the end. Peace is when you look forward to giving you best. Peace is when you enjoy the little things in life, the small things. When you know that the future is going to be great, and the little pitfalls now won't spoil the big picture.

And with this, I sign off today, hopefully writing more frequently now onwards.


Wednesday, November 05, 2008

The Guy the British celebrate their own Diwali for

Remember, remember the Fifth of November,
The Gunpowder Treason and Plot,
I see no reason
Why the Gunpowder Treason
Should ever be forgot.

Guy Fawkes, Guy Fawkes, t'was his intent
To blow up the King and Parli'ment.
Three-score barrels of powder below
To prove old England's overthrow;

By God's providence he was catch'd
With a dark lantern and burning match.
Holloa boys, holloa boys, let the bells ring.
Holloa boys, holloa boys, God save the King!

--Traditional rhyme

The above have been taken on Fireworks Night, also called Crackers Night or Bonfire Night, of the previous years. If you still think its Diwali I’m talking about, you’re surely mistaken.

It’s Guy Fawkes Night. And no, Guido Fawkes was neither born nor martyred on this day (or night). This guy (or Guy), along with some other conspirators, attempted to blow up the Houses of Parliament in London exactly 403 years ago, which was actually an assassination attempt on King James I of England. However, he was captured possibly moments before lighting the gunpowder, finally being hanged, drawn and quartered.

This event is commemorated by lighting bonfires and fireworks in England and the Commonwealth. Effigies of Fawkes, sometimes alongwith George W Bush, Saddam Hussein or Osama Bin Laden, known as ‘Guys’, are burnt as well. It is a matter of opinion whether it commemorates the failure and subsequent execution of the Guy, or his courage to attempt the plot. Personally, I consider Fawkes a hero, for he had the guts to stand up against the government he didn’t believe in. Guy Fawkes is omnipresent in popular culture today, whether it’s popular media (references in Charles Dickens’ to J.K.Rowling’s works, John Lennon’s song, or the Simpsons to V for Vendetta), politics, Geography (A river, a national park, islands...), and even our everyday lexicon.

November 5 usually falls within a week of Diwali and Hallowe’en(which is also associated with fireworks in some cultures). In fact, most Northern hemisphere cultures have some kind of light/fire festival around this time – there are theories that it is connected to the human desire to defy the on-rushing winter hence occurring at the autumn equinox (midway between the summer and winter solstices). So Hallowe’en, Guy Fawkes Night and Diwali probably come from the same desire to celebrate life in the darkness (as does my obsession with night-outs, but more about that later). Imagine about a 1000 years from now, somehow the 5th of November gets linked with Deepavali and it either Ravana (a south Indian Guy) or Narakasura (A north Indian Guy) or Guy Fawkes (an Irish Guy) who’s effigy gets burnt. But it is still a great excuse to scare the shit out of your neighbour’s dog!


Friday, October 17, 2008

Mithun Chakraborty's Gunda: Watch it to believe it...

“There are two kinds of people in the world. Those who’ve seen 'Gunda'. And those who shall see it.”

I don’t actually remember when I first heard about the movie. It’s just that over the past couple of years, I’ve been asked countless times by various people if I had seen Mithun Da’s Gunda. They have usually peppered that baffling question with an equally baffling, memorised anecdote or two from the film: The auto-rickshaw action sequence; the fight scene while prostitutes swing on khatiyas; or You know that part when the hero, says to the open-mouthed villain with a sing-song voice, “Bulla, ye teri beti hai.” (This is your daughter), who then says, “Oh! Toh ye hai Hasina ka paseena.” (This is the sweat of sin.) I must desist from literariness that’s lost in translations!

It was just one of those times when me, Aditya and Vijay were trying to pick a movie to watch, and all of a sudden the name popped up. With unanimous harmony, we gave in and sat down to watch Kanti Shah’s Magnum Opus.

The synopsis can also be read on Wikipedia (Yes, it’s there), which is a masterpiece in itself. Some lines from the same have also been quoted below:

Mithun plays a coolie, Shankar, equally at home on airport runways and docks, where he has frequent run-ins with the villains as they take their pet leopard for a stroll or organise fighting contests. “...the protagonist, who works as a coolie in a shipyard airport...” (Yup, That’s Wiki). Not only was there a Shipyard Airport (?) in the film, it was serviced by labourers dressed à la Amitabh Bachchan in Coolie. Shankar represents the typical hard-working Indian man forced to balance time between an overweight girl friend, an even fatter sister, an overacting father, alcoholic friends and a pet monkey who can drive a car. It is Shankar and his family that is crushed underneath the “system” of the 90s—a system that Shankar rises against through the inspirational “Do, chaar, chhe, aath, dus. BAS!!” reciting of even numbers and associated retributory cleansing violence.

The most memorable sequence in the movie, however,  is when the villains introduce themselves.

First there is Bulla, the main ‘evil man’. “Mera naam hain Bulla, rakhta hoon main khullaaaaaa.”

Next there is Chutiya(!), played by Shakti Kapoor(!!!), Bulla’s hermaphrodite brother(!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!). Bulla feeds him “London se sex-vitamins ki goliyan” and like a kind elder brother provides him girls to rape. Till one day Chutiya emerges a man —an occasion he marks by disco-dancing with eunuchs to the tune of “Haye haye mere bhai jawaan ho gya, toota hua teer kaman ho gya“. And yet just when “tere tube main light aaya tha”, Shankar despatches Chutiya to his maker (as Bulla says: “tera fuse uda diya”) by cutting off his organ. The scene that almost got Aditya reacquainted with last night’s dinner!

Then there is Pote—jo aapne baap ki bhi naheen hote. He declares a gangwar, with barely controlled glee: “Hum aise lashein bicha denge jaise kisi nanhe-munne bacche ki nuni se peshaab tapakta hain…tap tap.” When the sound of dead bodies falling on the ground resonates like the pitter-patter of an innocent baby’s urine striking the cobble stones, you know its war.

And don’t forget Ibu Hatela, whose patented introduction is “Mera naam Ibu Hatela, Ma meri chudail ki beti, baap mera shaitan ka chela,[pointing downwards] khayega kela?” No comments!!!!

It’s really hard to be creative these days in the era marked by blatant piracy and copyright infringement, Gunda managed to defy the masses by bringing out original dialogues. While the dialogues may not be accepted by the elite (sample: Super-pimp Lucky Chikna screams at a sex-worker who is doing “liptam chipti chipkam lipti” with another guy instead of servicing her client. When she protests that “Woh buddha kuch karta naheen hain. Sirf bolta hain choos choos meri ungli choos“, Lucky Chikna delivers the line:”Dhande pe baithi hain to buddha kya, jawan kya, chotha kya bara kya, baitha kya khara kya.”), but kudos to the sheer originality of the writer, director and producer.

And who can forget the conclusion of the film where Shankar squares off against a legion of rickshaws with a grenade launcher — pausing only to look down the barrel of his weapon, to see if there are any more grenades where those came from — truly mesmerising, provided you are a viewer magnanimous enough to overlook the tacky production values.  
“In the climactic scene, Bulla and Shankar have a showdown in the shipyard airport complex. Bulla his backed up by several auto-rickshaws who run helter skelter and attack Shankar. Shankar is well prepared for this, and he takes out a grenade launcher and takes down the auto-rickshaws.
The action quickly switches to a coal mine, where Bulla tries to use the adopted baby which he thinks is Shankar's daughter to gain leverage in the fight. Soon Bulla realizes that the baby is his own, he still uses the baby as a shield, Shankar rescues the girl with the help of his monkey, Tinku [Actually just throws the baby in the air mid-fight, who is and then ‘caught’ by the monkey] and kills Bulla.” (You guessed it.... Wikipedia to the rescue)

The Mithun Chakarborthy-starrer has gained a surprising amount of cult popularity over the last few years, with several adulatory reviews and even fan-sites cropping up. Gunda is a triumph of style over substance — essentially the same old rape and revenge saga that several thousand Indian films are built around, packed with a truly bizarre and original assemblage of characters and situations. Gunda discards several of the rules, conventions and concessions to tastefulness that plague many Hindi films. The characters speak in rhyming couplets, laden with double entendre for around 50% of the film. But that’s essentially the charm of the film — a very casual put-together-on-the-fly vibe. It seems refreshingly unpremeditated, the spawn of a dozen ‘what if we...?’ and ‘wouldn’t it be cool if...’ conversations on the day of shooting. The dialogues are almost absurd in their crudity; like a desi Quentin Tarantino ranting on country liquor. 

Gunda is on IMDB at 8.4/10 with over 1400 voters. It is uniformly accepted as a masterpiece. Golden Plaza, one of the companies that’s released the film claims to have sold in excess of 5,000 copies at Rs 99. A few dedicated fans even uploaded it on google video. It has all the trappings of a cult classic like The Rocky Horror Picture Show: a legion of fans who spend time obsessing over the minutiae of the film and who can quote its dialogues verbatim. Kanti Shah’s creative partnership with his writer Basheerbhai Babbar has been compared to the likes of Ismail Merchant and James Ivory, or Akira Kurosawa and Toshiro Mifune! 

There are so many questions over which fans have agonized over the years. Why does the hero’s father’s moustache disappear and reappear between scenes? Why does the Mithun-da character, a coolie, have a cellphone in the mid 90s? And also a rocket-launcher? Why does 70% of the movie take place on a tarmac? Is the relationship between Bulla and Lambu Atta homoerotic (as Lambu says: Bulla ke naam leke tune khara kar diya hain mera)? Why did Chutiya think that the bathroom is the only place Shankar will not look for him? Are the Ambassadors in the movie remote-controlled? Why is the Vidhan Sabha and the High Court the same building? Why…

Some true fans have tried to find the solution to these questions through the Gunda FAQ. But of course, trying to find total coherence in Gunda is ultimately a self-defeating experience. The amazing thing about it, as noted by Vijay, is that, at no point does the movie actually try to be funny. This is probably the only time you’ll find yourself laughing your lungs out over a death scene.

My advice to you: don’t watch Tashan, Rock On, Hello, or, God Forbid, KARZZZZ – save your money, save yourself from the agony, save the film industry by not buying/downloading any CD/DVD (original/pirated) of any of these. Instead, simply watch Gunda on Google Video


Wednesday, October 08, 2008

Google's Goggles against Drunk Emailing

Necessity is the mother of all inventions. If that be so, then 'Mail Goggles' is just another offspring conceived under the influence of alcohol, with Google Labs playing midwife. Before you start accusing me of Blogging under alcoholic influence, I present to you the ultimate Sobriety Test that cops never had...................... MATHS!!!!!

In case you're confused by the above (which puts your BAC in question),  I would like to introduce you to Google Labs' latest innovation, Mail Goggles, which checks your sobriety (Soberness, if you will) before you send any Friday late night Gmail.  "And what better way to check than by making you solve a few simple math problems after you click send to verify you're in the right state of mind?" (in the words of Jon Perlow, Gmail Engineer). Sample this:

When I first heard of this thing, I thought it was one of their hoaxes, until I read it on their own Blog. You can choose the days, timings (By default set to Friday & Saturday, 10 pm - 4 am) and difficulty levels of the test as well. In case you're wondering, the above is difficulty level 5, the highest. Which brings us to one very important bug: it's practically useless for a good number of Gmail users, especially the ones living outside the United States of America(unless you're an Asian immigrant of course).

In case you're an IITian reading this, you know what I'm talking about. I cannot think of a single classmate of mine who can't solve the above in their sleep (or even boozing + sleep). Baby Math is not Rocket Science afterall. Once the Autumn break is over, I'm sure many of us would be giving a try, the only result being our Dean's overflowing Inbox.

But Google has the last word on it. I wonder if 'Goggles' refer to how a drunk Employee spelled Google (Which itself was probably an attempt to spell the number Googol with the aid of Vodka). In case it was an American, he may not even be drunk!!!


The Doodle Bug

The day I started this blog, I knew this entry was coming. And thank Palkush for that. He turned my word upside down for the first time at a sleepy "Introduction to Physics Laboratory" Class, and there's been no looking back (only upside down). Yes, that was the first time I saw an ambigram. 

For the uninitiated, an ambigram (short for "ambiguous anagram") is a design which may be read as the same word/phrase (or sometimes two different words/ phrases) when oriented in two different ways. The other orientation may be obtained by 180 degree rotation, or sometimes by lateral inversion (taking the mirror image). Here is my latest creation:

Try reading the following "from the left" as well as "from the right":

Albeit a very primitive form of ambigram, lacking any "artistic" feel the first time one sees it, being a full name ambigram makes it a bit special. But of course, a full name ambigram is not for everyone, or so claims Protik Roychowdhuri.

Ambigramming (Did I just invent the word?) is a very creative use of your doodle time. Not only does it give your head a spin, it forms a great gift, and may serve some other useful purposes as well.


Friday, October 03, 2008

In Popular Culture [citation needed]

The neutrality of this article is disputed.

In case the term WikiGroaning is new to you, the first thing you might have already done, or possibly planned to do before reaching the end of this sentence, is clicking on the link to its Wiki article. I assume that you've already done so by now, and are somewhat startled NOT to find a wiki entry on it (which may not be true by the time you're reading this, given the dynamic nature of the very large, popular free content encyclopedia). I don't really hate wiki, despite the occasional occurrence of "Mike's a faggot" and other assorted such delights hidden mid-paragraph here and there. In fact, I'm about to introduce you to a great game you can play with wikipedia. I'm not talking about hiding a clue to the supposed sexuality of your high school nemesis in the article about Lord Voldermort. A nondestructive Wikipedia game was invented by "Dr." David Thorpe and Mark D'Arensbourg, and I have to say that it blows that pedestrian-ass googlewhacking right out of the water. 

First, find a Wikipedia article on a "useful" topic that normal people might read. For example, the article on former Indian President and nuclear scientist, Dr.A.P.J.Abdul Kalam (Yes, some people do need introduction to this guy), or maybe the one on Observable Universe. Then, find a somehow similar article that is longer, but at the same time, useless to a very large fraction of the population. In this case, we'll go with another scientist, Dr. Ross Eustace Geller, or correspondingly, Transformers: Universe. Open both of the links and compare the lengths of the two articles. Compare not only that, but how well the respective topics are explored, and the greater professionalism with which the longer article was likely created. Are you looking yet? Get a good, long look. Yeah. Yeeaaah, I know, but that is just the tip of the iceberg. (It's called Wikigroaning for a reason.) 

Then there's
and the list goes on and on, which will be discussed sometime in the future... should be a useful tool at such a point (You can compare "Nerd Points")

The next step is to find your own article pair and share it with your friends, who will usually look for their own pairs and you end up spending a good hour or two in a groaning arms race. The game ends after that, usually without any clear winners... but hey, it beats doing work.
Now you've got it! You're well on your way to starting Wikigroaning clans and clubs in your college, school, city or prison. If you find a really great pair, please do share as comment, and I'll follow up Wikigroaning in the future on the blog, where I'll also tackle the associated wiki-controversies.

And before Doctor Evil does Something Aweful to me, I'd like to redirect you to his original article about Wikigroaning.

And just one last thing... Don't forget to rate the post and leave a comment...


Tuesday, August 26, 2008

You'll Know What I Did Last Summer...

OK, so here we are. After the usual inferno over the Title and URL, here I am finally writing the first post for my [ahem] blog. And it's a long one, so may you have the courage to begin reading it, the patience to continue reading till the end, and the earnestness to leave a comment. This is about how I spent the major part of my unexpectedly exhilarating Summer Vacations of 2008. It all started with me coming across Engineers for Social Impact (E4SI).

Engineers for Social Impact is a unique fellowship program in India for current engineering students to spend a summer at a social enterprise, gain understanding and contribute. In a search across the 10 best Indian engineering schools, they connect the 5 best candidates to 5 social enterprises that drive market-based solutions to development in India.

While applying to E4SI, I was going through the list of their partner social enterprises, all profitably driving social impact in diverse sectors, when I first came across iDiscoveri. iDiscoveri (read I-Discover-I) is a social enterprise founded with a mission to renew education in India, and is now a leading enterprise in the spaces of school education, enterprise leadership development and outdoor education. I was quite amazed to read the company description, and my curiosity got me to Google it for further info, which amazed me even more, mainly due to two reasons:
  1. iDiscoveri was backed by a team of "scholars & doers", exceptional individuals educated at institutions like Harvard, Cambridge, Georgia Tech., Wharton, MIT, Brown University, INSEAD, XLRI, the IIMs and the IITs, many of whom had previously worked with and played leadership roles in Fortune 500 companies in India and abroad.

  2. It was working in the Education sector, including school-level education.
I was stumped. I had absolutely no idea that such a talented lot of people could be working in the education industry, and that too, at the elementary level, in the social sector. Besides this, I realised that the issues being addressed by iDiscoveri were the very ones that had been plaguing me for years. I had always thought that no one understood the plight of students on whom huge quantities of useless information was imposed to hammer them into the desired shape, judged on their performance in mug-and-vomit exams. Apparently, someone did. Naturally, my application followed.

Having got through the Interview, I was inducted in the first cohort of 'Engineers for Social Impact' fellows, and soon joined iDiscoveri as a summer intern. At this point I'll have to make a confession. Though having always been very interested in social entrepreneurship models, I still pictured such enterprises as not much different from NGOs and other not-for-profit organisations, stereotyped as employing spiritless social workers working in backward areas and being low on funds and motivation. And was I in for a surprise!!

So there I was, my first day at work, and was greeted by a surprisingly cosy atmosphere and relaxed corporate culture. A company that has held its Annual Review Meetings in the Himalayas, with a "you can be serious without a suit" dress code, complete lack of a sense of hierarchy, and office environment consisting of good sports facilities and culinary treats for employees in a very colourful and vibrant campus (with Calvin & Hobbes all over the walls), iDiscoveri was scripting its own version of the Google Story. And all this completely reflected in the iDiscoveri team's enthusiasm and dedication towards work.

Although some possible roles for me had been suggested during the selection procedure, I was still doubtful regarding my exact placement in the organisation during my two-and-a-half month stint with them. Keeping with the flexible nature of work at iDiscoveri, I was allowed to choose my project on my own after interacting with the various teams there. Finally, it was decided that I'd be working with the Curriculum & Knowledge team. My interest in Mathematics, and the way it is taught at the school-level, finally lead me to work with the Math team for XSEED.

XSEED is a comprehensive curriculum and training solution for schools, which is also suitable for CBSE/ICSE/IGCSE/IB systems, and has been changing the way teachers teach and children learn in classrooms across the country and abroad. As I worked with them, I came to know that the program was based on latest research in brain science, child development and learning science. XSEED aims at making learning more experiential in nature, and I decided that the best way to make learning of Maths experiential was by introduction of Math Labs to XSEED. My work was highly encouraged by my colleagues. I started out by studying the aids presently used by Maths Labs in Schools in India and abroad. I explored the use of "manipulatives" to teach maths, which have been very successful in the west, but are virtually unheard of in India. Based on what I had accumulated by then, I began developing some new instruments. After creating some prototypes, we tested them by using them to teach sample groups of children and made many alterations in their designs and implementation strategy based on the response. Ultimately, we developed some pedagogical aids which enabled learning of abstract mathematical concepts more intuitive. In particular, Math-tiles, a new product developed by me under the guidance of the Math team, was highly appreciated for simplifying the teaching of the most abstract and difficult-to-understand concepts at the school level, mainly relating to Algebra, using which Algebraic expressions and equations could be tackled with a hands-on approach. For example, quadratic expressions may be factorised by a simple game of rearranging the tiles, while another tile-train game will tell you the actual meaning of Lowest-Common-Multiple. The fact that XSEED was going use these pedagogical aids in its classrooms all-over the country and more, made my job even more exciting and rewarding.

Besides this, I also had the opportunity to interact with the Advocacy team at iDiscoveri which gave me a taste of Marketing and Strategy. My experience with them completely changed my outlook towards social entrepreneurship. It is, after all, not social work, but profitable work aiming at social benefit, so beautifully exemplified by iDiscoveri. Their schools division was changing the way learning takes place in schools, in a revolutionary way. iDiscoveri has worked with close to 200 schools across India, including The Doon School, Heritage, Cambridge, Mallaya Aditi, Modern School, Vasant Valley, Bharti Foundation Schools, and several DPS schools, and has entered an agreement with the Bhutan government where it'll be helping the Royal Education Council to enhance learning standards throughout the country. The social impact made by iDiscoveri is by far greater than most NGOs can hope. And yet it was reaping great profits, which ensured that the impact was sustainable and in effect, perpetual in nature.

iDiscoveri's work is focused on Education, but it includes more than just Grade Schooling. iDiscoveri is an audacious idea about using education to awaken our society, our schools, our work places, our lives. It's working in schools with its own preschools, XSEED curriculum and school transformation projects. It influences workplaces with its leadership development, teamwork development and other such people development programs. It has also been changing lives with its outdoor education programs and their quarterly journal on learning, Mindfields. iDiscoveri has been attracting passionate people in the field of education at the iDiscoveri Centre for Education and Enterprise as well.

What made iDiscoveri what it is, is its underlying philosophy. What I saw was a group of people full of dedication and great passion towards what they do, people with a purpose, who have decided to take charge of their lives and help others to do so. Teachers, psychologists, management experts, soldiers, photographers, rock-climbers, theatre persons and many others, who believe that every possibility exists for a child, man, or woman, who chooses to uncover what lies within. When I discover I, every fortune is conceivable, every dream a possibility, every community reformable. It's about education that unleashes the full potential of every mind. I learnt that good work and good rewards can co-exist. iDiscoveri has been experienced by Young boys and girls, teenagers, college students, corporate executives, journalists, entrepreneurs, educators, CEOs... and over 15,000 of them. By Microsoft, Google, JP Morgan, Ernst & Young, Deutsche bank, ITC, Oracle, ING, Wipro, Motorola, GlaxoSmithKline, Bharti, the Royal Government of Bhutan, and more. What I learnt at iDiscoveri was invaluable in comparison to any other opportunity I could've got. Along with giving me my first corporate experience, it was also a truly eye-opening journey which demystified my many myths regarding social entrepreneurship. In effect, it was true experiential learning for me, and had I not experienced iDiscoveri myself, I wouldn't have imagined the same otherwise. iDiscoveri is a journey that seeks to help make awakeful the lives of all those who take it. A journey that I took, and which I shall continue so forth...

And since you've reached the end of this journey with courage and patience, why not put a cherry on top with the earnestness and leave a comment!!!

Update: E4SI 2009 Edition has been launched. Don't miss it this time!!