Friday, 12 December 2008

While I was away...

I'm back in Bombay this weekend for a friend's wedding after more than
a year away, and it feels like the whole city has just fast-forwarded
into a state of decay. There's this grey haze rising up all over from
the airport all the way at least to Goregaon and everything looks like
it's crumbling-the roads, the fly-overs, the older buildings. The only
things that seem to be be untouched by the sense of disrepair seem to
be the new malls, full of foreign brands and their cheaper Indian
knock-offs. It's like people just gave up on the city. Kind of sad,

Friday, 28 November 2008

This too shall pass, unfortunately

For the past two days I've been in a state of slight numbness, trying to keep track of what's been happening in Bombay while going about with work as usual. I worked there for a couple of years before moving to Bangalore, I have friends there, I spent a fair amount of time in and around Colaba, my dad used to take me out to dinner at the Taj or the Oberoi when he used to visit the city. Before me, my sister fell in love with the city, and since I do a fair amount of sibling hero-worship, that would have been reason enough to feel bad about what's been happening. For those around me that do not have that personal connection, this is just another in a series of attacks, to be followed on TV and discussed over coffee and then forgotten like the last attacks and the ones before, relegated to some dark corner of their memories by the time the next cricket series shows up. And I don't blame them for it. This is how we've come to live with the sadness around us. I am benumbed to the pain of those affected by terrorism in Kashmir or  in the north-east; I found Amit Varma's poems about farmers dying in Vidharbha mildly amusing. Ask not for whom the bell tolls, just hope that it stops by 10 o'clock so you can get some sleep. 

Which is why this particular attack comes as a jolt, set up to grab our attention no matter what. There's no going to sleep thinking that the bodies will be cleared up by morning and we can go back to the old tropes about the spirit of the Mumbaikar.  In an era where others out-sourced their work to us, we had out-sourced our willingness to think and form opinions to an increasingly shrill media, which followed the same pattern after each attack - day 1: gory stories of the attack; day 2 - everyone comes on TV saying that India will survive and we will work together; day 3 - the same people come back on TV to blame each other for what happened. Watching the news these last couple of days made me realize just how far we've let things slip in that regard: presenters getting almost orgasmic in their enthusiasm to talk about the latest details, politicians straining to stick to the sort of quotes that come on day 1 and 2 when they want to get started on the day 3 denunciations, Shobhaa De talking rubbish. It almost made me feel like throwing something at the TV. 

But that would be wrong, because the fault lies as much with myself and people like me. The sort of terror that was unleashed may not have been predictable or stoppable, but the apathy that lets us get by without facing up to its causes or consequences is something that we could have dealt with. I've lived in this apathetic state for a pretty long time, and I'm sure a lot of my contemporaries have too. I've had the right to vote for almost 8 years now, I've carried out that duty not once in that time. Which is why, it's our own fault. And yet, I was trying to make that change, as were others. I decided to finally get registered as a voter, and signed up online through to get the basic details of how to go about it. I got a mail on the morning of the 25th from the site, saying that they had already signed up one lakh visitors, making it possibly the fastest growing voter registration campaign in India. In a quieter, happier time,  I would have pointed out that this wasn't bad for what started out as a CSR exercise for a tea company. Right now, I can only point to the sad irony that the company that is sponsoring it is Tata Tea, whose parent conglomerate also owns the Taj Mahal hotel.

Wednesday, 26 November 2008

All Ur Lolspeak r Orginaly Belong 2 Indian Criket Fanz!!1!

In the years to come, as linguists document the rise of Lolspeak as the lingua franca of pet owners with too many cute-sy pictures and too much free time, they will also come to realize that a parallel argot evolved independently amongst the various cricket fans of the Indian sub-continent, almost simultaneously with the rise of cheap text messaging and Cricinfo. It allowed them to vent their their spleen on the various imperialist know-it-alls who dared to make any disrespectful remarks against their cricketing demi-gods, without requiring the patience to identify either constructive criticism or syntactical correctness (to say nothing of the tedium of perfect spelling). 
It would seem to be only a matter of time in this vastly inter-linked world before the two language forms would come together, and yet it looks like there's nothing out there yet. 
And so, without further ado, I present : LOLballz!! (in case you ask, LOLBatz was already taken).

And Finally,

PS: Han, I thought about the initial part of this post a while back, though seeing the lulz on your blog gave me a definite push in terms of figuring out how to flesh it out. 
PPS: Yeah,  ok the commentariat's English isn't as badly mangled as all that, I just needed an excuse to put these up anyway. 

Tuesday, 25 November 2008

The sad part about getting older is...

...You can't wear clothes with years printed on them without thinking thoughts like '1987? Sh*t that's 5 years after I was born!'.

Sorry about the minor hiatus from blogging. I can't think of anything I want to write about that can't wait, and in the meantime I'm trying to get used to the idea that I am now on the other side of 25.
Thankfully, the recession means that I can keep any talks of an arranged marriage at bay by saying that I can't think about it because I'm worried I might lose my job. That's not really true, but it's just scary enough to keep my mom quiet.
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Tuesday, 4 November 2008

..And Bhajji Would be Robin

Now that Anil Kumble has announced his retirement, it seems odd that so much coverage at the beginning of this series was only about the batsmen, the Fab Four, and how it might be the last time that we might see them all together, but not much was said about him. Consider, for example, this article on Rediff comparing them to the original Fab Four - Sachin as Paul, Sourav as John, Laxman as George and Dravid just falling short of being Ringo because he wasn't as much fun. Thinking over that analogy, I realized that it didn't work for me simply because the author wasn't aiming high enough. Instead, I present to you the true super-group to compare the nucleus of the Indian team to - the Justice League (albeit without Wonder Woman)!

To start with, Virender Sehwag would obviously be the Flash - all quick reflexes and fast scoring, but not necessarily the smartest in the pack. The occasional match-winning innings, but otherwise quick supporting roles, as it were.

Rahul Dravid would be the Martian Manhunter, brooding, introverted and yet with great abilities. He can shape-shift from stodgy Test batsman to innovative ODI-player when the mood becomes him, and yet also be strangely vulnerable at times to fire, or at least fiery fast bowling. His arange of abilities would put him second only to Superman.

Who, of course, would find his parallel in Sachin Tendulkar. Supernaturally talented, expected to carry the hopes and dreams of at least a billion people, and as his testimony after Sydney proved, he is considered to be the defender of Truth, Justice and the Cricketing Way.

Considering that Sourav Ganguly is called the Prince of Calcutta, he would be Aquaman - the King of Poseidonis, the underwater kingdom. He has his own powers, including the ability to withstand a lot of pressure, and to pierce the off-side (even without a harpoon for a left hand, heh), but mostly his powers are supplementary to those of the other members of the team.

The Green Lantern would be personified by VVS Laxman - with the bat in his hands, he has the almost magical ability to visualize strokes and bring them to reality, and yet without it, becomes a mere mortal, dropping the simplest of catches and looking somewhat lost.

Which brings me to the last of the founding members of the JLA (except of course, WW) - Batman. Amongst a group of supernaturally gifted heroes, he is 'only' human. It might seem like he'd get his butt whipped by pretty much anyone else out there, and yet, when the going gets tough, the rest of the team picks up its cues from him. To quote Wikipedia: '
Unlike most superheroes, he does not possess any superpowers; he makes use of intellect,..., physical prowess, and intimidation in his war...'. That would pretty much sum up Anil Kumble quite nicely, too, I would say.

Like all such comparisons, this post too is basically a lot of faff. You could come up with any number of reasons why these comparisons don't hold true, since these are after all merely sportsmen out to entertain, not to save the world. And yet, for at least one player, I think the comparison would hold. I remember watching M. Night Shyamalan's 'Unbreakable' back in college, and coming away tickled by the concept of the Square Jawline of Good, as explained by Samuel L. Jackson's character, Elijah Price - basically, that comic book heroes are always depicted as having sharp, square jaws. In cricket,then, there can have been few men with squarer jaws or greater claims to heroism than Anil Kumble.

Friday, 24 October 2008

Structure and Discipline

(That's supposed to be time on the X-axis, Enthu level on the Y-axis. It's oriented like that because it wouldn't fit otherwise within my blog template. Also, my handwriting is tough enough to read without having to try and read it with your neck twisted.)
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Sunday, 12 October 2008

Swaminomics sings a new tune

In my last post, I talked about how Swaminathan Aiyar was being unfair in blaming the financial crisis on financial inclusiveness in his article 'The Perils of Inclusive Loans'. In this week's article, 'What MFI's can teach Wall Street', he seems to be contradicting himself.
Big financial institutions of all sorts are in dire straits across the globe. But one category remains unaffected - micro-finance. Even as the global financial system freezes and giants like Lehman Brothers collapse, micro-finance institutions (MFIs) are expanding unfazed. Famous financiers face defaults big enough to wipe them out, but MFIs report virtually zero default...
So, the MFI model is small but sound. But don't lavish excessive praise on it. Western banks lend far too much. But Indian lenders - including MFIs -lend far too little. Rural studies suggest that poor rural households need Rs 25,000 of credit per year. MFIs provide far less. The balance is made up by borrowing from relatives and moneylenders. The system cries out for more formal credit...
So, don't get too excited by the fact that we've avoided the excessive lending of Wall Street. Bemoan the fact that our stunted financial system fails to reach hundreds of millions. Microfinance has its merits, but is not enough. The big challenge is to move from micro-loans to mini-loans of Rs 50,000 to Rs 2 lakh. These alone can transform poor borrowers from objects of pity to objects of envy.

So a couple of weeks ago, he thought that giving loans to poor people was a bad idea, this week he says they should be given more and bigger loans. Yeah, whatever.
Almost makes me consider subscribing to 'The Hindu' instead.

Wednesday, 1 October 2008

Financial Inclusiveness, Now Exclusively for You!

Swaminathan S Anklesaria Aiyar has been writing a regular pop-econ-based column every Sunday in the TOI called 'Swaminomics' for ages now, since well before Freakonomics made pop-econ, umm, popular. This Sunday's article is a bit of clunker though, as he tries to lay some of the blame for the current economic crisis at the feet of financial inclusiveness:
Inclusive finance—giving loans to everybody, including the poor­­­—is desired by politicians in India, and in all democracies. Yet the current US financial crisis shows the perils of taking this goal too far.
The crisis arose from the bursting of a housing bubble. That bubble was created, fundamentally, by government policies and institutions seeking home ownership for all Americans, including low-income ones. Politicians rooted for such inclusive finance. But this “inclusion” extended finance to ever more borrowers with fragile and low incomes, causing disaster. This holds lessons for India.
Opening with that line, he goes off on a general re-telling of what happened, mainly laying the blame on Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac via messed-up tax incentives and securitization. While the facts that he lays out are correct, they do not necessarily lead to the conclusion that financial inclusiveness was at the heart of the mess.

To begin with, while the stated intent may originally have been financial inclusiveness, the tax breaks and government regulation eventually set up incentives that were more attuned to getting the middle classes to borrow more than they could reasonably repay - a tax rebate "on the first $ 100,000 of second mortgages", for example, cannot have been targeted at first- generation immigrants just looking for a place to stay. While financial inclusion may be paid some lip service, most banks would rather lend a large amount to a middle-income family looking to buy a second home than a small amount to a poor family with a poor or non-existent credit history. Middle-class Americans were willing to buy larger homes because loans were cheap, and even with a limited ability to repay, they hoped that if the value of their house kept increasing, they could go in for products like reverse mortgages, that would keep them in the clear. These weren't people who needed to be 'included' into the financial system, rather, they formed the sweet spot of commercial banking activity - not low-income households, but households with a decent inflow of money that flowed into the banks' deposit accounts, and a greater outflow of money, accumulated through the banks' lending products like loans and credit cards.

Securitization, per se, was not the problem - after all, without the ability to raise further financing at reasonable rates through transferring their mortgage portfolio to other financial players, the commercial banks would have been limited in their ability to lend anyway (see asset-liability mismatch). For an explanation of securitization, specifically CDOs, see here.The bigger problem was that not enough people who bought the securities knew clearly what the risks associated with them were. That's partly a failure of the credit rating agencies, whose job it was to assign a level of risk to them, the ability of investment banks to sell products that they themselves had no clue about, and the investors' own greed (for an exposition of the latter two points, you could read Michael Lewis' 'Liar's Poker').

The major problem was insufficient regulatory oversight, as banks could get away with taking more risk than was prudent. An alternative approach to the Fed's would have been the one followed by the Spanish central bank (HT Felix Salmon), taking a more active role in monitoring and proscribing where necessary the activities of the nation's banks that it found fault with. To me, this really is what the role of the government (and/or its agencies) should be - setting up the right checks and balances through the regulatory regime that allows the markets to function as they should. The laisse-faire approach meant that people made up the rules as they went along, relying basically on the brand names and selling skills of Wall Street. Nationalization, on the other hand, produces mixed-up incentives for the nationalized firms.

Aiyar concludes his piece, on somewhat flimsy evidence, by saying that financial inclusiveness can be disastrous on a large-scale, and advocates giving the poor grants instead. This is messed-up thinking on two counts: firstly, financial inclusiveness is not just about giving loans to the poor, it's also about allowing them access to other banking facilities like deposits and insurance, which grants do not necessarily accomplish; secondly, grants are not self-sustaining and rely essentially upon the kindness of the rich.

In the Indian context, I don't think the rich are kind enough, or the kind rich enough, for that to go very far.

Sunday, 28 September 2008

Is this the beginning of the end?

No, this is not about market capitalism - this is about Test cricket. Mukul Kesavan in his piece on Cricinfo writes about how Australia's upcoming tour of India may well portend the end of test cricket's hegemony:

"It costs me to say it but this golden age of Australian cricket, from Mark Taylor to Ricky Ponting via Steve Waugh, through which they produced a whole regiment of modern greats, gave Test cricket a longer lease of the cricketing limelight than it might have had in the normal course of cricket history. If we're at the end of Australia's modern heyday, we might well be looking at the end, not of Test cricket, but of its reign as the hegemonic form of the game."

Sounds ominous, except that it's a little over-the top. Test cricket hasn't had much of a hegemony since the beginning of the decade, at least not for most fans. Of course everybody appreciates a good Test series and all that, but that's not the same thing as dominance or primacy. If this series turns out to be less than spectacular, it's not going to suddenly change people's view of Test cricket. Besides, there's another very good series coming up in a few months - England under Pietersen versus South Africa in South Africa, which should also be a good advertisement for Test cricket.

That's not to say that the series won't be exciting. There definitely are a lot of questions that will be asked of both sides, as both Mukul's and Ian Chappell's articles note. One contest they both don't mention strongly enough, though, is how Sehwag and Gambhir take on the Aussie opening bowlers. The last time the Australians were here, the fast bowlers were willing to set conservative fields and choke the boundaries. That worked since the bowlers were of the quality of McGrath and Gillespie, backed up by the experience of Michael Kasprowicz and the spin of Shane Warne. What the Indians may want to look at though, is the tour before that, in 1998, when Australia came with a fairly inexperienced pace attack and the openers along with Dravid at 3 were able to dominate them and neutralize Warne, setting up the series win in the process.

This time around, Gambhir could play a very important role - he's coming off 50's in 3 consecutive Tests in a series where the rest of the batsmen mostly faltered, and he's great at rotating the strike, which is something that will help to stave off the pressure if the boundaries dry up for Sehwag. Given that Dravid doesn't have too many domestic matches in which to find form, how the openers do could decide the fate of the series. And if Dravid doesn't seem to be coping so well at number 3, a case may be made for switching positions with Laxman who is in slightly better form - it's been done before, with some success.

The other aspect that India's going to have to decide on is whether to go in with 5 bowlers or 4. Sourav Ganguly may still make it to the squad, but maybe they should consider 5 bowlers for the first test at least, before the Australians get completely acclimatised. Maybe Irfan Pathan, so there's a bit of batting back-up as well, though a more attacking option would be Munaf. I doubt if they'll be very adventurous with team choices though. My 15 for the squad would be: Sehwag, Gambhir, Dravid, Tendulkar, Laxman, Dhoni, Kumble, Harbhajan, Zaheer, Ishant Sharma - all 10 likely to play, Ganguly, Pathan, Munaf, Piyush Chawla and Badrinath. It would be unfair to keep Ganguly out of the squad - he's been one of the best Test batsmen for India in the last couple of years if you go by the numbers.

Anyway, it should be a fairly entertaining series. Too bad it's all on Neo Sports, though.


Will resume posting on more comment-inducing subjects later. Just been a while since I talked about cricket, that's all.

Saturday, 20 September 2008

Batman minus Bruce Wayne

I finally managed to get around to watching 'The Dark Knight' today, and I have to say it's pretty good. But you probably knew that already. The one problem with the movie though, is that it comes off not so much as a Batman film as it does a Joker film. That's partly due to the fact that Heath Ledger was perfect as the Joker, but also because it seemed like the Batman, and more importantly Bruce Wayne, got relegated to the sidelines in the story. Which just dims the brilliance of the movie a little, since it means that you could have replaced the Batman with any other generic cartoon superhero/vigilante, (or even edited him out of the film, sort of like this) and it wouldn't have made too much of a difference. But then that's something that you all probably knew too.

So instead, to add a little novelty to the post (and to test out Google Docs), I decided to do a little 'analysis'. I pulled up the memorable quotes from IMDb for both 'Batman Begins' and 'The Dark Knight' - 502 versus 273 - and then droke it down into which character had the most number of memorable lines (in terms of percentage). This is what I got:(source data for charts available here)

For 'Batman Begins' Bruce Wayne had about 25% of all the memorable quotes in the film, and Batman had another 8%. The main bad guys - Henri Ducard/Ra's Al Ghul, Dr. Jonathan Crane/Scarecrow and Carmine Falcone, together made up about 21%.

Now contrast that with 'The Dark Knight':
The Joker alone gets 30% of the best lines, while poor Bruce Wayne comes in second with 11%. Batman, incidentally, has fewer interesting dialogues than Lt. Gordon.
And the few dialogues he does get to mouth are delivered in a voice that makes him sound like he needs to gargle. You'd think someone with the sort of R&D setup that can ostensibly turn mobile phones into sonar equipment would be able to get a better voice masking device made.

But that's another thing about the movie - it's not just that Batman doesn't have too many lines, it's also that Christian Bale just doesn't do much with whatever he's got anyway. He gets upstaged by pretty much everyone else in the cast, including not just Morgan Freeman and Michael Caine, but also Aaron Eckhart, Maggie Gyllenhaal and I dare say even Eric Roberts as Salvatore Moroni. I guess the guys at Warner Borthers/DC Comics decided that they botched up by asking George Clooney to play Batman - why would you become a rubber-clad vigilante when you've got that smile and ooze Danny-Ocean-charm from every pore? - so they went in the opposite direction and picked up Bale, who ends up as being neither suave enough to be Wayne, nor physically imposing enough to play Batman.

So, on the whole, great movie, not-so-great Batman. And Google Docs works pretty well too, if you have a good net connection.

Friday, 19 September 2008

The Anonymous Lurker Weblog Awards

Last week, Han was kind enough to nominate me for a BrillanteWeblogPremio-2008 award, one of the conditions for acceptance of which is to nominate 7 other blogs. Now since there are only about 7 (active) blogs on my blog-roll (the one named 'Other People's Blogs'), that's not really a tough ask. All the friends' blogs that I read regularly (and sometimes comment on) are listed there, except for one who I thought might not welcome the attention. Anyway, most of them appear on Han's list and I second his thoughts on them, so I'm not going to list them all out here. Instead, I'm going to link to a few of the blogs I keep checking out every once in a while - lurk around anonymously, so to speak - which are not full-on 'professional' blogs, but are well-written and worth checking out:

Memsaab Story is a blog I've discovered relatively recently through some random link-clicking across a few other blogs. To quote Mem Saab's story , the purpose of the blog is 'to write about films that aren’t already extensively covered elsewhere', focusing mainly on Bollywood movies from the 60's and 70's, but with other interesting bits thrown in as well. The joy with which she writes about masala films is infectious, and since I rarely have the attention span or time to actually go off and watch movies, the plot summaries are perfect for me. And I've got to say - she has one hell of a cute dog.

The New Friends Colony Community Centre is a blog that I check out every once in a while. It is 'about fifteen minutes from the agency and two from hell'.It is also probably familiar to most readers of this blog - there is at least one Stephanian I know of who contributes to it, which should bring it to the attention of most of you. It can get a little arbit sometimes, but on the whole it's interesting, and worth a read.

The Corridor is a blog mostly devoted to cricket, and is the closest to a 'professional' blog on this list. It's written mostly by Will Luke, who also contributes to Cricinfo, but is a bit snarkier (more snarky?) in its style form the articles you find there. If you're interested in cricket, subscribe to the feed. If not, pass on by.

Daly Haal, the online hub for the Karnataka Quizzing Association, is another site I keep checking regularly. Most of the questions are fairly esoteric, but since this is quizzing in the world of Wikipedia, getting the answer right is as much about typing in the correct search term on Google as it is about 'knowing the funda'. A lot of interesting trivia, though perhaps not enough 'little known facts' of the sort that floated around the Delhi quizzing circuit.

There you go - 4 blogs that should keep you entertained through the weekend at least. What blogs have caught your fancy in the recent past? Do tell.

Friday, 12 September 2008

Happy Onam!

This is what you get when you get home late from work on Onam and end up watching 'Blade 2' on TV. The name was originally thought of as the punchline to the following not-so-funny joke :"What do you call a Mallu assault rifle?"
Feel free to invent your own back-story in the comments below.
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Tuesday, 2 September 2008

Driving in Cars with Mallus - Part I

"Don't tell your mother about this. She wouldn't approve", he says. We're driving down through rubber plantations on our way to Ernakulam.
"About what?"
"I'm going to have a 'small'", he replies, and he pulls out a bottle of McDowell's whiskey and a bluish glass tumbler. Booze at 11.30 in the morning, and that too IMFL? Heck, forget about my mom, I don't approve. However, I don't say anything. I have to get into town today and buy a ticket out for a flight this evening and I can't afford to not take the ride. Besides, he isn't driving, so it's not so bad.
"Life in Kerala is a little different", he offers by way of explanation. I murmur something and offer my conciliatory smile - tight upper lip, flash of the teeth, emphasize the pseudo-dimples on either side of my mouth. "We'll have to stop for a second so I can pour a drink", he tells the driver.
We're making pretty good time down the two-lane state highway through the hills, overtaking slow-moving autos and KSRTC buses by playing chicken with on-coming traffic in the opposite lane, ducking back onto our side of the road just in time. I'm pretty impressed with the Lancer - there really is something to that whole rally-based technology thing. Trying to find a place to stop, though, is a bit more difficult on the narrow road. The first open space near the road that we spot isn't suitable - it turns out to be in front of someone's gate, and they're trying to get their car out. The second isn't much better - it's right in front of a chapel, and my host's Syrian Catholic upbringing gets the better of him. The next spot has a similar problem - there's a temple just up the road, and our driver's a Hindu.
Rejecting another spot because it's just after a blind turn, we finally stop in front of a small shop, probably shut because it's a Sunday. A little fumbling with the bottle, a Patiala peg (how's that for North-South integration?) poured into the tumbler with soda and then we're off again.
The only CDs in the car are compilations of old Malayalam movie songs. Chitra's voice skips on the CD player every time we go over a pot-hole, of which there are a fair number. It's like a bad remix, like when she did that arbit album way back in the 90's with the Voodoo Rapper.
"I think I need to pee", he says. We start searching for another place to stop. This time not only does it have to be away from places of worship, other people's gates/fences/walls, and not around a blind turn, it's also got to be a little secluded. Man needs his privacy.
We find a spot, and he asks me if I need to go as well. I say I'm fine, thanks. Since he's gotten out of the car, he decides he may as well smoke a cigarette, so I get out to stretch my legs. I'm wearing a slim-fit shirt, and he looks at me and says - "Do you work out? You should. You've got a good frame." Gyaan on working out follows. Repeat conciliatory smile and mumblings.
We get back into the car. "I might as well pour myself another, save us the bother of finding another spot later", he says. Why not. After all, we're still an hour away from Ernakulam, and lunch.
The music's changed to songs from old black and white films - Prem Nazir in white pants, women in mundu-pavadai, the promise of communism and social revolution in the air.
My mom calls to check on how we're doing. "Everything's fine", I say,"Don't worry."

Thursday, 28 August 2008

Expecting to get action? Leave your phone on 'Silent'

This bit of news is almost surreal:
Chants of “condom, condom” will now intersperse indipop and bhajan ringtones as part of a nationwide campaign to promote safe sex. Conceived to destigmatise condom use and encourage responsible sexual behaviour, the new ringtone targets young people between 15 and 35 years.
I can't think of anyone actually downloading the ring tone, except for maybe 15-year old kids with no hope of getting any action aiming to get cheap thrills by downloading the ring tone onto the phones of unsuspecting, less tech-savvy adults. And to think that the Gates Foundation is bank-rolling it along with the BBC. Bill's probably just trying to get some kind of tax break, I suppose.
As an additional bit of irony, the ring-tone is called 'condom a cappella' which can be loosely translated as 'condoms at chapel' or 'condoms in the style of the chapel'. I wonder what the Catholic church might have to say about that.
To listen and/or download, click here. You can even add an app to your Facebook profile and do your bit to curtail the spread of AIDS in India.

Monday, 25 August 2008


This sign's been up on the wall on the break-out area (basically, that means 'where the coffee machines are'), on my floor in office for well over a year now. Although whoever put it up probably did not mean it that way, the silence really did disturb me the first time, when I visited the place for my interviews. Since then, I've gotten accustomed to it.
I realized that today when I met a former colleague from the Bank who told me I had become much quieter since I changed jobs. I told him that was my default mode, I had to adapt to the Bank. The only problem with the silence is that it can make you forget that you need to speak up sometimes.

In case you were wondering, I took a picture of the sign during the week, before I met him. I was originally planning to weave it into a story of some sort about workplace angst or something. That didn't materialize though. Just not in the frame of mind for that sort of thing, really.
I do have a couple of posts half-typed out for a week now, so maybe I will get back to regular blogging pretty soon. See you then.
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Saturday, 2 August 2008

Rage, rage against the dying of the light

Han, among others, linked to Wordle a while back and invited others to try it out. The wordle created from my blog posts wasn't too interesting, so I forgot about it at that time. Then, last night, trying to get sleep in the midst of a 6-7 hour power cut in Koramangala, I got to thinking about Dylan Thomas' 'Do Not Go Gentle Into that Good Night', and wondered what it would look like as a wordle. Here it is:

For a bigger image, click here. The original poem by Thomas goes like this:

'Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night'

Do not go gentle into that good night,
Old age should burn and rave at close of day;
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Though wise men at their end know dark is right,
Because their words had forked no lightning they
Do not go gentle into that good night.

Good men, the last wave by, crying how bright
Their frail deeds might have danced in a green bay,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Wild men who caught and sang the sun in flight,
And learn, too late, they grieved it on its way,
Do not go gentle into that good night.

Grave men, near death, who see with blinding sight
Blind eyes could blaze like meteors and be gay,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

And you, my father, there on the sad height,
Curse, bless me now with your fierce tears, I pray.
Do not go gentle into that good night.
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

-- Dylan Thomas

For commentary, see the minstrels page, or good ol' Wikipedia.
So what poems do you think would look good as a wordle?

Sunday, 27 July 2008

New Toilet Reading

It's been a while since I blogged. First I was traveling, then I caught a fever and a sore throat, then I just realized my life was too boring to blog about, and then just when I thought I'd put up a post anyway, bombs went off all over Bangalore and blogging just didn't seem like top priority anymore, y'know. Anyway, yesterday I was at the Landmark bookstore at the Forum mall, and I flipped through the new edition of Rolling Stone India, which I then bought today and hope shall provide sufficiently interesting reading in the loo for a couple of weeks to come. It had this interview with Chris Martin of Coldplay, titled, 'The Jesus of Uncool'. While it's obvious that Martin is quite media-savvy now despite any appearance of un-cool-ness, with interesting sound bytes strewn throughout the interview, I found this quote really interesting:
But despite it all, Martin can't stop feeling like an underdog. 'You've got to be hungry,' he says. 'If your wife went out with Brad Pitt, you'd want to prove yourself, you know what I mean?'
I'm not sure if I should dislike him for being a wannabe with a Hollywood star for a wife, or like him more for being truthful about it. Makes him more human than, say, St. Bono of Sub-Saharan Africa.

Incidentally, after I got back from Landmark I turned on the news to find that a live bomb had been found and defused near the mall that morning. No wonder there weren't that many people around.

Monday, 21 July 2008

Guaranteed to make your Monday more fun

I came across this video through this article on Slate about cross-genre covers (also listed in my list of shared articles on the right, if you're reading the blog, and which is available separately here if you're viewing this in your RSS reader and want to see what I've been reading on the net lately):

I can't figure out who Alanis was really trying to spoof - Fergie and the Black-eyed Peas, or Alanis herself and her usual woe-is-me vocals. Either way, it works.

Sunday, 20 July 2008

If I haven't called you in a while

If I haven't called you in a while
You can rest assured that I'll
Get around to it sometime
I just have a lot of other stuff to take care of
Work and paying the bills and
Trying to figure out what to do with the rest of the day.

If you haven't called me in a while
I understand, you don't want me around cramping your style
I'm pretty good at piddling on other people's parades
You've got enough other stuff to take care of anyway
Work and paying the bills and
Trying to figure out what to do over the weekend.

If I haven't called in a while
It's because I wouldn't want to impose myself.

Tuesday, 8 July 2008

Bulls in Bowties: The Koramangala Test Kitchen

1/2 a pack of Sunfeast Benne Vita farfalle, though you could use pretty much any pasta
2 coffee mugs of water
1 helping of dry Mallu beef curry (olathiya erachi) that your aunt made for you a week ago and has been lying in your fridge ever since
1 brand new, unopened jar of salsa
2 eggs
1 album by the Rolling Stones, preferably Exile on Main Street

Bring the water to a rapid boil in the deepest vessel you've got. While it's boiling, start playing your Rolling Stones album. This will accomplish 2 things, namely (a) get you in a nice and enthu mood, and (b) remind you that no matter how bad the shit is that you might end up eating today, Mick Jagger's probably ingested worse into himself, and yet he's still bouncing around and getting action from women old enough to be his grand-daughters, so you're probably not going to end up too badly. Once the water is boiling, drop in the pasta and start stirring. You need to stir for about 10-12 minutes, so you better have the music on to keep you entertained. As the pasta gets softer and more cooked, i.e. chewy, drop in the beef and keep stirring till there's hardly any water left.
Serve on whichever plate you've got. It will look like this*:

Serves 2, or 1 if you're really hungry**.


Real men don't use garnish.

**Astute readers might notice that 2 of the above ingredients were never mentioned, and may hence consider them superfluous. In fact they serve a most important function: backup. If you can't cook anything else, break a couple of eggs into a pan with some salsa and oil or butter, scramble until cooked, et voila, you have a meal.

Sunday, 6 July 2008

I have my freedom, but I don't have much time

I've managed to set up a Wifi network in my house, which means I can now surf the net anywhere in my little itty-bitty one-bedroom apartment. That is, until my laptop's battery runs out-which, considering that it is about two years old, takes approximately half an hour-at which point I must submit to the tyranny of the power cord. Still it's the principle that matters, and I shall live (somewhat) wire-free till such time as the radio waves from my router combine with the radiation from my cell-phone and my microwave to fry me to a crisp.

Monday, 30 June 2008

Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost

To travel from Rochester, NY to Kent, OH, by road, you get onto Interstate 90, a long straight road that runs through flat green countryside, punctuated by tractor-trailers, truck stops, and road-kill, for about 4 hours, and then get onto smaller state highways and keep driving for another half hour or so. If you haven't punched in the destination address into your dinky, little GPS receiver, you also call up any Mallu family friends you know approximately every 5 minutes and ask for directions. At least that's what my aunt and I did, my last weekend in the US. I landed in Rochester late Friday night, and we set out early next morning - 4 AM - aiming to get into Kent by 9 for some kind of orientation program at my cousin's university. Having driven through bucolic, white-dominated, 'fly-over country', it was surprising to land up at the university and see the number of Indian/South Asian and Asian parents with their kids at the place. But then again, my cousin is studying medicine, so I suppose I shouldn't have been too surprised.
Kent had limited options by way of entertainment - a cheap, single-storied multiplex where we watched 'Get Smart', a chipotle chain and a random white woman with mottled skin who was very vocal in admiring my cousin's tan - and having exhausted them in a day, we headed out again the next morning back up the I-90 to see the Niagara Falls and then get back in time for my flight to New York and thence to Boston. This time, the GPS receiver was suitably set up, and we made it to the falls in good time. While the city that's grown around them is a complete tourist trap with, among other things, sari- and salwar-kameez-clad women walking around all over and cheap, vegetarian, Punjabi thalis prominently advertised, the falls themselves are really quite spectacular. I too joined the throng, pulling on the souvenir bright plastic raincoat and yet getting drenched, both at the Cave of the Winds and on the Maid of the Mist. By this time I was perilously close to missing my flight back from Rochester, and so we sped off back up the highway, stopping only to pick up gifts for the people back home and making it to the airport half an hour before the scheduled departure.

Things started going awry at this point. I was told that my flight was an hour late. Then two. Then indefinitely delayed. Apparently New York had been hit by a storm which had disrupted all air traffic along the east coast. I spent the next few hours navigating the JetBlue interactive voice response system trying to figure out if I'd be able to catch my onward flight to Boston, or if I ought to cancel and fight for a refund, until I finally found a woman - a real honest-to-goodness, human being - who told me I ought to try my luck and fly to New York and see if I could catch the next flight out to Boston.

My luck, unfortunately, was not very good. I landed at JFK at 9, only to find that my flight to Boston took off at 8, and the next flight that was supposed to leave at 10 had been canceled. I got a ticket on the next flight - at 7.30 the next morning. At this point, I thought to myself, only partly in irony, "What would Ragupathy do?". My next thought was, "I ought to put that up on the blog". I considered trying to take a train or bus back, and even got to the nearest subway station, before I realized it was rather stupid and pointless.

And so it was that I lugged myself and my 2 bags into the Arrival lounge of Terminal 5. There were already a few people there who seemed to have made peace with the fact that they would be stuck there for the night, and had sprawled out on the floor or across a couple of chairs to sleep as best they could. The coffee shop upstairs had shut, but there were still a few people sitting there trying to last the night, most noticeable amongst them a man of possibly Middle Eastern origin who wore a long black faux fur coat that stretched from his neck down to below his knees, who sat up straight in his chair and dozed, and a another figure, possibly a woman, possibly of Sri Lankan origin, looking a bit like Ranjit Fernando with Albert Einstein's hairdo, who wore a shapeless white shirt and black pants and thumbed through a book, determined not to sleep. More people seemed to trickle in through the night, clustering at the various tables, talking softly, rearranging themselves amongst the furniture till they could find a position where they could give in to their weariness. Half asleep, I couldn't help thinking of 'Tokyo Canceled'. I wondered what stories we would all have shared, if we had spoken to each other. Instead, of course, we shut ourselves off from each other and our predicament as best we could. I looped the straps of my bags together and under the legs of my chair, briefly considered brushing my teeth in the men's room, put my feet up on the chair in front, and slept.

Wednesday, 25 June 2008

A Geek bearing Gifts

As kids, my sister and I, and indeed most of the extended family, would get gifts from various aunts settled in the US as they came down to Kerala in the summers to expose their kids to the land of their forefathers, pick up the latest sari styles and attend sundry marriages/funerals/baptisms/engagements/memorial services. Their huge Samsonite suitcases would be filled with stuff that we in pre-liberalisation India could rarely, if ever get our hands on - chocolates (especially KitKats and Toblerones), clothes, make-up for the women, electronic thingummies and grooming products for the men. The chocolates would be finished off in the first couple of weeks, but the clothes would be made to last for years, being passed from cousin to cousin until too frayed or smelly or out-of-fashion to be handed down anymore (I believe I once referred to the hand-me-downs as being 'secondhand imported', a term which my parents thought incredibly funny and smart and repeated for a long time). While the clothes may never have been considered tres chic, I used to find them fascinating - partly because they all had a certain smell and texture (both due to the generous use of fabric softener by the aunts, as I later realized), but more so because they seemed to come from exotic places like Colombia or Ecuador, places I had only read about in back issues of National Geographic or random GK books ( I am not ashamed to admit it - I read a lot of those books as a kid). I had a pair of shorts from Kenya, and they made me feel like a global citizen.

That, however was in the heydays of the Multi-Fibre Agreement. Since then, India has come a long way, and so has China. Which brings me to the point of this post: I'm down to the last 2 days of my US trip (I leave Thursday evening), and I need to figure out what to get for various people back home. It's pretty confusing because
(a) a lot of the stuff you find in the US would probably have been made in India (including man-hole covers, though I would not want to buy them) and is therefore available back home as well;
(b) even more of the stuff is made in China these days, and I find that somehow less exciting than if they were made in, say, Mexico - I have travelled all this way west, after all;
(c) I am fairly clueless about what it is that people would like, or at least, what they would like that I can afford;
(d) Assuming I wanted to buy clothes, I don't know what people's clothes sizes are, for the most part, and US sizes are a little larger anyway; and
(d) I am scared of being stuck with buyer's remorse (I don't actually suffer from it often, I'm just scared I might, which limits my willingness to splurge).
So far I've managed to buy an assortment of caps - Red Sox, one-size-fits-all - and a few shirts at Filene's Basement (thank you, Han). Assorted chocolates are, of course, on the shopping list. But somehow, I find this rather boring. I almost see myself telling the Customs guys at the Bengaluru International Airport,"I have nothing to declare but my lack of imagination", at which point I suppose they would seize a couple of packets of chocolates and some foreign exchange purely for trying to paraphrase Oscar Wilde and getting it wrong.
So, considering that the last bleg did generate some interesting commentary, I'm putting up another one: if you think you're one of the lucky people I should be getting something, leave me a comment with your preferences. Even if you don't personally want anything, drop a comment if you can think of something interesting to spend money on. Black Converse shoes are ruled out, incidentally.


Incidentally, is anybody checking out my Twitter feed (it's on the right,panel, under the picture, also available at Let me know if that's any fun.

Saturday, 14 June 2008

Lucy, Jesus, Buddha

One thing I've done in the US which I haven't gotten around to doing much back home is visiting museums. Unfortunately, most museums in India are looked upon as glorified warehouses, with very little effort taken to engage or educate. Out here, a lot more effort is put in, but I guess that's also because they aren't just under the aegis of some governmental agency with a limited budget. Also, I get the feeling that there's just so much stuff that is of some sort of historical significance pretty much strewn around all over, we get a little jaded by it after a while.
Anyway, back to the story at hand: I've managed to visit two museums so far - the Houston Museum of Natural Science and the Museum of Fine Art in Boston. The major crowd-puller at the former was an exhibit called 'Lucy's Legacy', which ostensibly was about Lucy, the skeleton of a nearly 3.2-million-year-old Australopithecus afarensis, but also had a lot of stuff about Ethiopian culture and history (Lucy was discovered in Ethiopia). The MFA had an exhibition of Spanish painters from El Greco to Velasquez, but since I don't really have any clue about them anyway, I chose to wander the halls on my own (also, they were charging more for the special exhibit).
Here are the highlights, if you will, in bite-size pieces:

Jesus with curly hair

More than Lucy, the images that really stayed with me from the exhibit were the icons that are part of the traditions of the Ethiopian church. What struck me was that although the arrangement of the figures in the icons was similar to Christian imagery elsewhere, the actual depictions of characters like Jesus and the apostles were different from that found elsewhere, where they all have European/Aryan features. That might possibly be because the church was founded based on contact with early Christians from Israel and the Middle East itself, not European proselytizers. It's interesting to see how the standard depictions have spread throughout the world though. I wonder if the early Syrian Catholic/Malankara church also had distinct imagery, at least to begin with. Funny how I never really thought of that till I traveled half-way around the world.

The Buddha didn't bother with maintaining a six-pack
The MFA has some good collections of art and sculpture from South-east Asia, including a lot of Buddha statues. While the Buddha may not be the sort of alpha male beefcake, it's still interesting to see how he is never depicted as having, ahem, chiseled abs. Neither, for that matter, does Michelangelo's David. While David, especially, is fairly buffed-out, he doesn't have the extreme definition of underwear models and body-builders. I guess the ancients knew the futility of getting 'cut'. Note - I have no issues with working out to stay in shape, I just think it's pointless to focus on certain muscles only so as to get attention.

Only rich societies equate skinniness with looking good
Through the ages, most depictions of women show them as being fairly well-fed, irrespective of time or location. Look up Nell Gwyn, for example. I suppose being well-fed is an evolutionary sign of being able to survive through lean times or something. I doubt if it's a coincidence that the size zero figure has come to be considered desirable at the same time that human prosperity is at its highest. Kate Moss doesn't have to worry too much about disease and famine.

There was more stuff I learnt, but most of that would be better discussed by the experts. I'm just a blogger, you know.

Friday, 13 June 2008

Maybe I should get around to reading Zadie Smith sometime

On the train in to work today, I saw a woman reading 'White Teeth'. She was really engrossed, occasionally smiling to herself, and sometimes, almost subconsciously, running her tongue over her teeth, as if to clean them of any leftovers from breakfast.
A book that simultaneously makes people think, laugh and bring about a change in their behaviour - even 'Das Kapital' only managed 2 out of the 3 at any point of time. Maybe there is something to Zadie after all.

Saturday, 7 June 2008

Read any good books lately? - A quick blegging experiment

I'm out of reading material and I don't want to have to keep staring at my comp screen for intellectual stimulation. Also, I don't have WiFi, so I can't take the laptop (or my spanking new iPod touch) into the loo to read through the RSS feeds on my Google Reader account (673 new items, at last count). I'm making do (or doo-doo, in this case) with a free copy of 'Men's Fitness' someone gave me on the street my first weekend in Boston, which is especially irritating since I prefer 'Men's Health'.
So instead, since all of you readers are such intelligent, cultured, beautiful people, I'm inviting you to recommend stuff for me to read in the comments for this post. It doesn't have to be something you think I will definitely like - just something you wouldn't mind sharing. I won't promise that I will go out and read it, but if I do, I'll post my views here. Let's see how that goes.

Oh, incidentally, this is what I meant by 'blegging'. But you probably knew that already, right? Right?

Friday, 6 June 2008

I'm not Avoiding Eye Contact, I'm Looking Off Into the Future

I'll admit I'm a bit of a gawker. If I see something interesting, I stare. If I see someone reading something, I'm consumed with curiosity trying to figure out what it is. In crowds, I get my kicks looking around and observing everyone around me. And I guess back in India, not too many people mind.
Which is why one thing I find really difficult in the US is maintaining that particular, unwavering gaze that's aimed off into the middle distance, meant to be non-threatening, yet not making it obvious that one is avoiding eye contact. It's especially difficult in places where you're packed in tight, like elevators, corridors and subway trains.
A related problem is what to do once eye contact is made - some sort of acknowledgment is usually necessary, yet an actual conversation is too much. It's like the gunslingers of the Wild West, making eye contact, sizing each other up, and then firing off a quick "Hey, how's it going?" and turning your gaze away before the other person makes the mistake of thinking that you actually care. So far the most I can manage is a quick nod and some sort of a gurgle in my throat. It's something I'm working on, though, and, hopefully, I'll get it right in a couple of weeks. Maybe I'll even be able to say "Have a good one" without laughing. I'll just have to stay strong and tell myself, "Yes, I can".

Wednesday, 4 June 2008

Let me root, root, root for the Red Sox

I have to say, I really love my job. First, I got to watch a match from the IPL as part of a team outing, and today (that's Tuesday night), I got to watch the Red Sox play the Tampa Bay Rays at Fenway Park, which is sort of like a pilgrimage in Boston.
One of our hosts was sweet enough to give us a quick debriefing on the rules of the game before we left (being the thorough Wiki-trawler that I am, I looked up the rules there as well). As a game, I'd say baseball is a lot less complicated than cricket. No worrying about no-balls and free hits and stuff. There is a certain charm to it though, and as we were told repeatedly, it's very 'American', notwithstanding the fact that a lot of the stars seem to be from the Dominican Republic or Japan.
After an early (all-American) dinner of beer, fries, nachos and sandwiches (chicken for me, veggies for the others from B'lore), we found our way to our seats in the bleachers, which is apparently where the crazier sorts of Sox fans sit. Fenway Park is, (Wikipedia informs us) the oldest of all current MLB stadia, and its got a lot of charm. The size of the ground itself is a little smaller than a few cricket grounds, but that's also because of the shape of a baseball diamond vis-a-vis a cricket ground - you need a lot less space down the sides and back. You sit closer to the action than in most cricket stadia (or at least the ones in India, which leave a fair gap between the crowds and the players). The fans - the Red Sox Nation - are pretty vocal and yet supposedly fickle: they'll willingly heckle one of their own if he doesn't find favour with them. They're also very enthusiastic about showing their loyalty, wearing caps, tees, sweatshirts all emblazoned with the 'B' or with the red socks. Out of about 40,000 people, we were probably the only group not wearing any Sox-related outfits (as an aside, I've noticed that in the city in general, the desis are probably the only group that don't seem to wear much stuff related to the local teams, except for a few people wearing cheap knock-offs of the caps).
The game we saw was fairly exciting as far as regular season games go, with a few home runs, a little bit of decent fielding, some tension in the middle innings and some impressive pitching at the end by the Red Sox' closer, Jonathan Papelbon. On the whole though, I'd say cricket's got a lot more action going on at every minute, especially when it comes to Twenty20. And some of those specialist batters make Sourav Ganguly look athletic. No wonder they wanted Gilchrist to try out.
Based on my limited experience, I'd have to say though that baseball is a lot more fun to watch live than cricket. The fans were loud and foul-mouthed - as one of our hosts pointed out in understatement,"There's one obnoxious American in every crowd"- but they were really into the whole game. One even managed to jump the fence and run across the park, evading three security guards, till he crashed into the seats on the opposite side and got tasered. There were also the quaint traditions that kept the crowd's interest alive just in case the beer high started wearing off, like the seventh-innings stretch and the karaoke-rendition by the crowd of 'Take me out to the Ball-Game', followed by 'Sweet Caroline' in the middle of the eighth. It's a lot more fun than trying to find clean seats and dying of dehydration.
The IPL was supposedly modeled on American sports leagues, but there are are obviously a few lessons more for them to learn. One important lesson is in how to build the fan base. There have been a few quotes along the lines of how it would take time to build up loyalty among the fans, but that sort of loyalty comes only with greater engagement. The Red Sox Nation, for example, also gets involved in charitable causes locally, which fosters a greater sense of community amongst the members. Similarly, some of the 'traditions' themselves have only been around for 5-10 years, built up by shrewd team principals at Fenway Park. Part of the reason, though, why the local fans get more respect is because a fairly large part of the revenues for each baseball team comes from the gate receipts, whereas the IPL mostly gets its revenues from TV. Perhaps as the IPL franchises decide that they need to sell more team memorabilia to the fans to generate money, they might give them a bit more respect, but in the meantime, I'd say the chances of getting clean seats at Chinnaswamy stadium are probably lower than the chances of seeing an Indian version of Sox Appeal.

This calls for a celebration

I got a little itty-bitty mention on Ultrabrown! Yay!

Tuesday, 3 June 2008

Where the Streets Have No Names (for the most part)

Way back in school in Cochin, a friend once told me confidently that the song 'Where the Streets have No Name' was about New York, because the streets were numbered, not named. I am, of course, better informed now thanks to Wikipedia, but it was still a story I liked.
And so it was that this weekend I met with Bansal (may his tribe ever increase) and Kracker (may his blog readership increase). Being neither Yale students nor Cary Grant/Tom Hanks wannabes, we eschewed Grand Central Station and the top of the Empire State Building as possible meeting places and chose to meet in front of the Port Authority bus station at approximately 1 o'clock. Due to a lack of organization/lot of silliness on my part, I ended up waking up late and taking a Chinatown-to-Chinatown bus which, in the fitness of things, deposited me in NYC in the middle of a fairly robust shower. With neither a map nor a clear idea of which direction to head to, I did the manly (i.e. fat-headed) thing, plodding along in the shower in the general direction of the bigger buildings on the horizon, not bothering to ask for directions. I finally managed to find a place that sold me a map, from which I ascertained that I was going in the right direction, after all, and then continued plodding, until I met the others, approximately an hour later than planned.
Having filled up on pizza and Gatorade, we continued to plod, though thankfully the sun had come out. We managed to cover Central Park, the Rockefeller Center and Times Square, all the while enjoying the unique freedom that knowing a second language like Hindi offers, namely the ability to cuss without being comprehended. It's like having a mild super-power (besides the one we already had). After all that, we went to a place called Virgil's for beer and dinner (more of the former, less of the latter) and then packed off to Connecticut for the night (what can I say - I move in less upmarket circles than the Han).
The next day involved further roaming around NYC - a couple of rounds of Grand Central Station trying to figure out how to get south, a walk past the entrance to Wall Street, further wandering in and out of various subway stations (grimier than Boston, more reminiscent of Delhi/Bombay), and then a free ferry ride past Mme Bartholdi herself. Having taken umpteen photographs of the statue and of Kracker grimacing in the glaring sun, we then moved on to Chinatown, where I had my first taste of Malaysian cuisine (yay globalization!). I ordered stir-fried noodles, which tasted a bit like the sort of stuff you get in cheap Punjabi-Chinese restaurants in India, only with better ingredients and not so much of a greasy feeling afterwards. I think I may have impressed the waitress with my chopstick-wielding skills, although I did have a couple of beers, so I may have confused amusement with admiration. Then it was back on the Lucky Star bus to Boston.
So there you have it - My Visit to New York. I suppose I should have done a few more touristy things, like buying an 'I love New York' t-shirt, but then I'm sure I can probably get an equally authentic one back in India itself. They're all probably made in Tirupur anyway.

Friday, 30 May 2008

Await Rescue

I see the words
Spray-painted on the roof, seven, maybe eight floors up.
Perhaps they're meant for some modern-day Rapunzel, lonely in her high tower,
No longer willing to grow her hair
Knowing that it's futile in a world of
Air conditioning and sealed plate-glass windows.
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Monday, 26 May 2008

Rukawat ke liye khed hain

In case you've been wondering where I've gotten to, I've been gallivanting around America for a little over a week now, and before that was busy running around getting paperwork done for the trip, hence the hiatus from blogging. I'm mainly in Boston on a training stint from work, which basically involves meeting people and explaining to them, among other things, why I have a Christian name although I'm an Indian.

Boston's a nice place to roam around. In a rare instance of truth in advertising, it really is 'the large city that comes in the convenient small city size'. The Red Sox are apparently doing well, and since I'm staying fairly close to Fenway Park (I can see the light towers from out my window, see picture), pretty much every second person I see seems to be wearing Red Sox-related outfits. I'm beginning to get sick of seeing that big 'B' all over the place.

There also seem to be quite a few Indians around, and, since this is New England, I get my kicks classifying them into the kind that would fit into a Jhumpa Lahiri story, and those that would not. It's somewhat unfair, since I've only read Interpreter of Maladies and watched the movie version of The Namesake, besides flipping through this handy guide to Unaccustomed Earth, but it sure is fun. I also got to meet the (Zo(?)) Han over dinner, which involved a lot of interesting conversation with me nodding vigourously in an attempt to look intelligent every time I couldn't think of anything particularly relevant to add. I 'm not sure if he'll make it into a Jhumpa Lahiri story as is, unless she starts writing about cyclists or black Converse shoes, but he is getting a PhD and claims that he may not be averse to an arranged marriage, so maybe he does stand a chance after all.

I'm currently typing this all out in Houston, where I'm spending the long Memorial Day weekend with family. I like how most American holidays are set up around the weekends. I'm yet to get used to the large portions, though, and visiting family has meant that I'm being hit with the double whammy of large American portions and Mallu hospitality which principally involves numerous helpings. I think I shall be carrying a little extra weight back to India, and it won't be in my luggage.

Hopefully more blogging will ensue in the coming days, so y'all keep coming back around, y'hear?

Sunday, 4 May 2008

Five years on

Five years and two days ago, Nikhil Yadav played the song 'Nobody Knows You When You're Down and Out' by Bessie Smith on his show, 'All that Jazz' on AIR FM. Five years ago, I had a garbled version of the song's refrain playing in my head as I walked down Josip Broz Tito Marg past the Moolchand flyover.
Five years is a long time, but some things just stay stuck in your head, you know.

Thursday, 1 May 2008

At the foodcourt

I wonder if what they say about the abyss
Holds true for crowds as well:
As I look out at all of them,
Imagining their stories -
Their lives, loves, vices, workouts,
Do they look in to see
The teriyaki sauce dribbling down my chin?

Sunday, 27 April 2008

Bird-shit, Beer and Boundaries

We've got a couple of people from the Boston office in town right now, and they decided that they'd like to watch one of the IPL matches live, so a bunch of us from work decided to go along (read: team outing=company paying). As a result, I got to view my first Twenty20 match live - Bangalore Royal Challengers versus Rajasthan Royals at the Chinnaswamy stadium.

The tickets we got entitled us to a couple of free beers and dinner. However, when entering we found that they didn't allow bottled water in, and worse, didn't sell it inside either. This made things pretty bad for the visitors - they had chosen to walk down from their hotel, and were already red from the exertion. Drinking the water from the available dispensers was not an option, since there was the risk of picking up an infection. Surprisingly, hard liquor was also on sale at the venue, but they refused to sell Sprite without alcohol. Vijay Mallya certainly knows where his money comes from.

We had got seats in what was referred to as the 'Royal Challenge North Terrace' (all the stands were named for booze brands from the UB group, with the janta stands named after Bagpiper, the hep one near the pavilions named after Black Dog and so on), which overlooked the sight-screen from the Cubbon Road end. Getting to our seats, we found that, firstly, although the tickets had seat numbers on them, the seats didn't - you just went and parked yourself wherever you wanted. Worse still, Kailash Kher was performing on a stage next to our stand, and the noise had literally scared the shit out of the birds gathered in the roof overhead. The floor and all the seats in the front rows were white with guano. Considering the amount of money being thrown into getting in cheerleaders and such-like, you would think that they could afford to spend some to at least keep the seats clean. Anyway , after first depositing the visitors and a few others in the back, a few of us decided to sacrifice our jeans to be able to catch a better view of the action, moving right up to the first row. I joked that if we wanted to be shown on TV, we just had to move around while a ball was being bowled - the batsman would surely complain and the cameras would pan to where we sat to show who the offenders were. That didn't really happen though, but it would have been worth a try.

Having got a look at the players practicing (its surprisingly exciting to be able to recognize them purely from how they move on the field, without the aid of the camera close-up), and seen a couple of routines by the cheerleaders, we figured it was time to go get our free beers, only to find that a whole bunch of other people had the same idea. Which meant that there was a line that nearly stretched out to the entrance to get it. By the time we got the beer, we missed the first two balls, which encompassed Rahul Dravid's entire innings.

The cricket itself was fairly exciting to begin with. When you've gotten used to watching cricket on TV, it's tough to get used to not having replays and close-ups. Not having to listen to the endless prattle of the commentators is a blessing, though. I was really surprised to see how far the leather ball travels - Ross Taylor managed to top-edge one all the way over the third man boundary. Watching Taylor bat brought two things to mind - one, that he's an amazing talent and you wish he would not just throw it all away after a few bold strokes, and two, that bats these days are just fantastic. The aforementioned top-edge, of course, is an example, but there were also a few sweetly timed strokes that just seemed to keep going when you would expect them to land a few meters inside the boundary. Once he was gone, though, the rest of the batsmen were rather subdued, except for some late hitting by Praveen Kumar, who I think should be sent up the order to shake things up a little - the current Bangalore batting order just looks too slow-moving at times. The other highlight of the Bangalore innings was watching Shane Warne bowl. The waddle to the crease, the wind-up, the twirling delivery - they're all there, just like on TV. I tried to get a couple of pictures on my phone, but most were too blurred, which is just as well - I wouldn't want Lalit Modi coming after me. The Bangalore team was pretty disappointing in their batting, and if not for Kumar's slogging at the end, would have been hard-pressed to get to even the 135 they finally managed. Not too many pom-pom-waving moments for the cheerleaders, unfortunately.

It was approximately dinner-time by then, but since the whole stand decided to head toward the buffet tables, the queue spread across two floors and the intervening staircase, so we decided to chuck dinner. The Rajasthan innings began shortly after, and a few early wickets notwithstanding, it was a fairly easy effort for them. The field settings were a mess at times, with Dravid seeming to make an extra effort to appear different and aggressive, with two slip fielders and loads of people in the 30-yard circle. While aggression is all very well, you have to temper it with common sense - with small boundaries, big bats and little pressure, the opposition batsmen could just swing away in the knowledge that even mis-hits would get them boundaries. Comparing Dravid's captaincy with Warne's, it seemed somewhat forced, especially when trying to build camaraderie within the team. Warne, on the other hand, seems to get along much more naturally, although it must be said that he has a whole bunch of youngsters who are already in awe of him, so its easier to make his presence felt.

We left the stadium early, just as Shane Watson took a liking to Kumar and pasted him for 26 in one over. This time it seemed the crowd didn't anticipate our move, and we could get out easily without having to shove and push our way through. Our visitors had left early since they couldn't survive without the water, so we dropped in on them at the hotel and chatted for a while about cricket and all the ads they'd seen on TV before heading back home.

Overall, what did I think of the experience? Worthwhile only if someone else is paying - which I guess held true for most of the other people in the stand, most of whom seemed to be there with free passes or because they knew someone in the setup. Apparently for the first game the beer had been unlimited, but they realised that too many people just didn't know when to stop. Mukul Kesavan had a long rant on Cricinfo a few days ago about the IPL and Twenty20 in general, and I'm guessing he was in a particularly bilious mood only because he watched the match at the ground. It reduces him to cribbing about the fact that you can't figure out who the players are because the game's too fast, unlike Test ('real') cricket where
you get to know the players, specially if you're at the stadium because you watch them move about when nothing is happening; cricket has lots of "dead" time in between individual deliveries and overs, which helps the spectator into a state of relaxed alertness.
I've never heard someone extol the virtues of dead time before, and really, since the players are all in white (as his blog's name so clearly states), it would have been pretty difficult anyway to identify them without looking at the scoreboard, which is an option available even in Twenty20.

Having said all that and done my little bit of cribbing, however, I have to say that I think the game, stripped of the razzmatazz and the flying Bollywood heroes and all that, is still exciting, fun and does showcase the skills of the participants very well. The fact that the players are playing for personal and professional pride rather than national honour takes some of the pressure off them, and allows them to give their talents free rein. It's still early days for the tournament, and pretty soon the actors will all have to go back to running around trees, the American cheerleaders will be replaced by East European wannabe models, and a lot of the big name foreign players will head back for national duty. That's when the real staying power of the format will be tested, when the young Indian players have to start shouldering greater responsibility, and everyone starts to figure out each other's game. I think there's definitely going to be a dip in viewership at least till the finals, but the hardcore fans will still stay on, and will be rewarded with an early look at some of India's future greats. Now, if only there were some way to replace those annoying commentators on TV.

Tuesday, 22 April 2008

A Thought Experiment on Gender Stereotyping

A quick follow-up to my previous post.
Consider this - the model, while being an exercise in sophistry, could just as well have been applied keeping a woman's preferences in mind over the intelligence and looks of the available male population. Even assuming that women may rate intelligence more highly, the recommendations for intelligent, single men would pretty much be the same - get pretty and get out there.
So here's a question - would your reaction to such a prescription be:
(a) that is so true - women would kill for a guy who has exfoliant and isn't afraid to use it;
(b) looks-schmooks - girls just love guys with a sense of humour;
(c) girls select guys? Hai hai what evil, western influences are you perpetuating!; or
(d) where does love fit into all this? Every girl should have the right to fall for the first ugly, dumb jerk who comes her way.
Answer in the comments please, and preferably specify your gender as well, if not your identity.

Saturday, 19 April 2008

Who needs Pop Psychology when you've got Pop Economics?

It looks like (mangled) concepts from economics and game theory are set to take over from pop psychology as the rushed journalists' choice to explain social phenomena. Besides the advantage that economics is more en vogue than psychology these days, sounding more logical and, um, hygienic (no messing around with sexual issues and being badly treated by your mom), it has the added advantage of allowing the journalist to link to incomprehensibly mathematical papers as reference, so it becomes difficult for readers to call their bluff. Take, for example, this article on Slate (linked to by both MR and SM), which tries to explain 'The Eligible Bachelor Paradox', using economics and game theory to 'explain the shortage of available, appealing men'.

You can think of this traditional concept of the search for marriage partners as a kind of an auction. In this auction, some women will be more confident of their prospects, others less so. In game-theory terms, you would call the first group "strong bidders" and the second "weak bidders." Your first thought might be that the "strong bidders"—women who (whether because of looks, social ability, or any other reason) are conventionally deemed more of a catch—would consistently win this kind of auction.

But this is not true. In fact, game theory predicts, and empirical studies of auctions bear out, that auctions will often be won by "weak" bidders, who know that they can be outbid and so bid more aggressively, while the "strong" bidders will hold out for a really great deal...

Where have all the most appealing men gone? Married young, most of them—and sometimes to women whose most salient characteristic was not their beauty, or passion, or intellect, but their decisiveness.
All of this sounds great, except that there's very little related to auction theory in there, especially if you were to go through the paper the author links to. In fact, while the paper does talk of the weak bidders bidding aggressively, that's in the context of bid shaving - bidding less than their total holdings. In effect they're driving a tougher deal with the seller, not settling quickly. Overall, it's a lot of faff dressed up as game theory - after all, just because some women are 'easy', doesn't mean men have to get married to them. Indeed, there's absolutely no discussion of the men's preferences. But I guess it's written to appeal to single, lonely women who read Slate and have a higher opinion of their intelligence, to make them feel better about not finding an eligible bachelor yet. The women who've found guys are all probably too busy to read Slate - the hussies.
But I come to join the ranks of pop economists, not to bury them. So here's my take on the same problem, using good old-fashioned Consumer demand theory and indifference curves.
To begin with, let's start with a utility function describing the preferences of a man over Intelligence and Beauty:

i.e. the individual gets utility from (his partner's) intelligence and beauty, and aims to find a partner with the optimal combination of both (assuming convex preferences). The indifference curves would be as given at right.

For this particular model , let's consider the individual's endowment to be in terms of time, which constrains his ability to choose. The budget constraint can be written as
M=P1I + P2B
Where M is the time available, P1 is the 'price' of intelligence - interpreted as the time spent to search/identify intelligence. Similarly P2 can be considered the 'price' of beauty (given that it's easier to identify beauty, P2 would be less than P1, with the slope of the budget constraint, (-)P1/P2 >1). The budget constraint for one endowment is shown in the diagram as M1, with the individual choosing the combination (that is, partner) A.
Now consider that it's becoming easier for women to look pretty these days - better make-up, shampoos, hair irons and what-have-you, which means that the 'supply' of beauty has gone up, which in turn means the price has gone down-with more pretty women around, the individual has to spend less time to find them. This change in price will affect the final outcome, which can be split into the substitution and income effects.
The (Hicks) substitution effect is the effect of the individual changing his choice, given the new prices, if he had to stay on the same indifference curve - i.e. get the same level of utility, for which he would in fact require only an endowment M1'. This would see him shift from combination A to combination A', opting for a greater level of beauty and substituting away from intelligence.
The change in prices also implies an increase in purchasing power, which is captured by the income effect. The individual's new budget constraint is M2, putting him on a higher indifference curve (i.e. getting a higher level of utility), and his final choice will be the combination B, with greater beauty and less intelligence. (if we considered beauty to be an inferior good, we might have expected the income effect to counter-act the substitution effect to some extent, but, hey, that's not realistic now is it?).
In a nut-shell, that means that as it becomes easier for women to look pretty, men would readily substitute away from intelligence and opt for a partner with greater beauty. And we didn't even need auction theory to explain that.
But we might as well ask what this means for the intelligent, single women who read Slate magazine. One option is to go out there and get themselves noticed - that would reduce the 'price' of finding them, which should cause the price effect discussed above to work in their favour. The other option is to pretty themselves up - that moves them up to a higher indifference curve, and thus more desirable. Of course, both options are not mutually exclusive.
So there you have it, all you intelligent, single women, your prescription for relationship success: look good and get out there.
Hooray for Pop Economics!