Monday, 31 March 2008

The Hard Rock Cafe Book Society

I suppose I could claim that this picture is a juxtaposition of the old Bangalore with the new,but then I have very little clue about either.
I think I might have been a little over-critical of Bangalore because of a lot of other reasons. Realised that when I met with Mukhi and his wife and saw how optimistic they were about having moved here. Also realised how poorly informed about Bangalore I am. While this does not change my relative rating of the city as being worse than both Mumbai and Delhi, perhaps I will be less harsh on it. No promises, though.
Incidentally, I didn't actually go into the cafe, in case you're wondering.

Thursday, 27 March 2008

The Elder Cousin's Guidelines on Drinking

Back in college, Adit and I came up with a set of guidelines for drinking (fairly) responsibly. They were for a cousin, not for ourselves, of course - we did the research to come up with them. Having done a fair bit of R & D then as well as subsequently, I figure it is now time to put up a slightly expanded list for the benefit of a wider audience (also, I'm a little bereft of stuff to blog about). I originally planned on mailing this out to a couple of cousins only, but then I figured this way I could invite anyone who reads this blog (yes, all 4.5 of you) to put in your suggestions in the comments and build up this list even further. Besides, this way I can direct my cousins here and increase my readership.

So, without further ado, here are my Guidelines on Drinking:

  1. Never drink on an empty stomach: Fairly obvious; it lowers your resistance, also makes you feel worse the next day
  2. Make sure you keep yourself hydrated: That means drinking enough water, not adding a little Sprite to your vodka
  3. Don't mix your drinks: Alcohol is alcohol any which way once it gets into your system (unless it's Lady Di vodka, in which case it's repackaged paint thinner); the issue with mixing your drinks is that it can mess up your estimate of how much alcohol you've imbibed, and accordingly, how much more you can take
  4. Your 'capacity' is not an absolute number: See 1-3 above - all of them make a difference to how drunk you get. Also, lack of sleep, fatigue, stress, etc can mean your threshold is lower. Watch it.
  5. Value quality over quantity: Even (especially) if someone else is paying. It will taste better going down, you'll feel better the next day, and you can claim it's part of your 'education'. None of that holds true for Bonnie Scot.
  6. If you think you're good for another 2 drinks, stop now: Once you've got some booze inside, you're likely to overestimate your singing abilities, sense of humour and sex appeal. What makes you think you can estimate your capacity correctly?
  7. Take a Disprin and a Digene before you sleep: The Digene will help calm the stomach, the Disprin calms the head. More importantly, get sleep.
  8. Drink with people you can trust: It's safer, less embarrassing, and more fun. It's an added bonus if there's someone who can carry you home (trust me on that).
  9. Sometimes it's better to let it out than to keep it in: The booze, not your feelings for your crush from class 5.
  10. It's never just about getting drunk. Enjoy the experience: Even if you don't believe that, it's the kind of gyaan you should come up with when you're drinking. That way you don't come across as a potential alcoholic.

Bonus Guideline: If you do get drunk, try not to walk off on your own in the middle of the night.

(That last one will have to be explained face-to-face, in strict confidence.)

Tuesday, 25 March 2008

Nauseating Mawkishness

College seems to be having a lot of issues at the moment, first with the sexual harassment case and now the whole "The OSD who would be Principal" saga. Dr. Thampu is a nice person, but it is really idiotic on the part of the college authorities to not do a basic check to see if he had a PhD or not. How tough is that?
Amongst all the coverage I could find on HT's site, this passage really scared me:

M.S. Frank, the 54-year-old vice-principal of the college, is one of the
contenders. He was declared the protem administrator till a regular principal is
appointed. Frank, a faculty member in the chemistry department, said he intended
to apply for the post of the principal.

“I have a doctorate in Chemistry from Andhra Pradesh University and have been associated with the college for the last 27 years,” said Frank.

Difficult days lie ahead, it seems. And they haven't even gotten around to discussing that most vexing question - what will happen to Block Cricket with so many women's blocks?

Wednesday, 19 March 2008

Will the road to Hell now be paved with Carbon Credits?

The Catholic Church, in trying to get with the times, has decided to come up with a new list of mortal sins, but, like middle-aged parents trying to look cool in front of their teenaged kids, I think it loses the plot a little. The old ones: Pride, Envy, Gluttony, Lust, Anger, Greed and Sloth have one thing going for them - they are pretty clear and unambiguous. You know when you have been proud or envious or have eaten too much (the belching usually gives it away). The new ones - Environmental Pollution, Genetic Manipulation, Accumulating Excessive Wealth, Inflicting Poverty, Drug Trafficking/Consumption, Morally Debatable Experiments and the Violation of Human Rights- can be somewhat confusing in that respect. For example, if you were to buy carbon offsets, would you still need to go for confession? And just what counts as 'excessive' when accumulating wealth? Would Norman Borlaug and the rest of the team behind the Green Revolution be considered sinners for genetically manipulating crops, or saviours for making food more readily available to the poor?
Now that environmental pollution is a sin, one might well ask where the Church stands in terms of remedial measures. Is the Pope a Pigouvian, I wonder, expecting all sinners to undergo some penance for their sins so as to understand the true 'cost' of their wayward ways, both in this world and the next? Or, alternatively, would we see the revival of papal indulgences, now enhanced with a cap-and-trade system that creates a market for sin offsets? Apparently the Vatican is already the world's first carbon-neutral state, so you never know.

Monday, 17 March 2008

Ironic moment, while shopping

While on my weekly shopping trip at the supermarket ,I saw a man looking pretty hassled trying to handle the baby in his arms and his little daughter running around, who ended up standing in front of a shelf packed with condoms and looking at them with this resigned look on his face. You could almost see the thought balloon over his head.

In case you're wondering how or why I came to be looking at other men looking at condoms, the latter were placed in an aisle designated ambiguously as containing 'Household Needs', which also stocked air freshener, mosquito mats and other miscellanea. I'm just an observant guy.

The weekend was more fun than this post suggests, including getting pasted by Cricinfo again and also having a barbecue in the middle of a tropical downpour, but that is material for other posts.

Friday, 14 March 2008

And now, for something completely different

The Economist has an interesting article on the bureaucracy in India. To quote:

Yet the steel frame has now become a serious bind on badly needed reforms. As the author of a typical recent IAS history and former mandarin, Sanjoy Bagchi, puts it: “Overwhelmed by the constant feed of adulatory ambrosia, the maturing entrant tends to lose his head and balance. The diffident youngster of early idealistic years, in course of time, is transformed into an arrogant senior fond of throwing his weight around; he becomes a conceited prig.”

The article goes on to list the many things that ail the bureaucracy, from within and without. (Admittedly, there have been other articles about it in Indian publications, but being a true Indian, I chose to quote the phirangs on this.)

One thing that I have found surprising about calls for reform in the bureaucracy is that hardly anyone talks about overhauling the selection process, specifically, the UPSC examinations and the whole process that follows after that. It's a long, sapping and inefficient system for identifying future civil servants.

No-one realistically claims that being able to mug up facts on Geology or Chemistry is a good indicator of a candidate's potential as an administrator. The only justification is to think of it as a combination of Spence's job market signalling model, (go read it up on Wikipedia, I'm too lazy to describe it here) and a socialistic urge to provide a supposedly level playing field to, in some way, compare people from different backgrounds and disciplines. The latter urge, however, is also its failing. Since marks in any of the optional subject papers are considered equivalent, rational candidates would opt for papers which are easier to clear. Subjects where the answers are fairly unambiguous and easy to mug up would be favoured over subjects where there is room for interpretation and subjectivity. As anecdotal evidence, I can point to a senior of mine from college who attempted the exams twice with History as his optional paper, then decided that Public Administration was easier because there were fewer textbooks (I believe there are IAS tutorials in Delhi that specialize in teaching you Pub Ad, which charge fees in the lakhs, and people have to queue up at 6 in the morning on enrolment day). In the past, those with 'potential' may have been willing to make that sacrifice; now most would be able to find more worthwhile options. Spence's signalling equilibrium no longer applies, because the better candidates can choose to exit the 'system'. Instead, we end up mostly with a bunch of people who cynically chose to spend at least a year of their lives mugging up stuff about a subject they didn't care about, only to pass an examination. Why should we be surprised if that cynicism carries over to when they make it to the services, and look for ways to get the maximum return on that initial investment?

Then there are those who fail to get past the exams. The UPSC website claims that over 150,000 people wrote the Preliminary Civil Service examination in 2002, of which finally 286 were finally recommended (for recruitment, I presume; the site is ambiguous on that). One wonders what happens to the rest. Even assuming that many will make multiple attempts and will try to get into at least the state services, it is fair to say that a majority will not get a government job at the end of the exercise. Which leaves them with having given up a lot of their (and their families') time and money (all those classes and subscriptions to the Hindu and Frontline) to end up with limited job skills and an abiding cynicism.

Having said all that, the obvious question is -what is the alternative? I would suggest the government seriously consider recruiting some officers directly from the better post-graduate institutes (TISS, JNU, DSE, IGIDR, ISI etc) and perhaps the second-rung B-schools, bypassing the Civil Service Examination system entirely (perhaps administering a basic reasoning skills test and going on to interviews). With salaries set to go up for central government employees, they should be somewhat comparable to the compensation packages offered on campus, and the sense of power, experience and perks that the government can provide are pretty much unmatchable by industry. Considering that the students at these institutes would, for the most part, have actually made it to the PG course as a result of their own innate abilities rather than merely beating the system, Spence's signalling equilibrium once again becomes relevant. Further, they are more likely to have been encouraged to use their analytical skills and have a wider level of exposure to different perspectives. Such a system would reduce the opportunity cost involved in getting into (and also improve opportunities to get out of) the civil services, thus making it more attractive to people who are not entirely sure if it is the job they would like to do for the rest of their lives.

One could argue that it is in some way less fair than having one equalizing examination, but the aim of the recruitment process is finally to get the people most likely to provide cometent administration, not to dole out jobs to people best able to game the system.


What do you think? Does anyone who reads this blog think about it at all? The last few posts have generated a lot of comments (by my standards), so I'd like to see how this one does. I'm pretty sick of writing in rhyme, for the moment.

Tuesday, 11 March 2008

aa bb(?) c

There was a time
When I could rhyme
Not too sophisticated, mind
And sometimes pretty strained
But it was fun, nevertheless.

Pablo on the flight back home

Reading Neruda has a soothing effect on me
It fills me with an agape love
For even the worst
Brats and abrupt phrases.

Monday, 10 March 2008

Come out, come out, wherever you are

That last post was my 50th published one, so I guess this calls for a bit of a celebration. I wound up my last blog after about 10 posts or so, so I'm pretty proud of this. The quality of posts has admittedly not been uniformly good, and I probably have not found my true blogging voice yet, but it still feels good to put some stuff out there. It's also good to know, based on the comments, that there are at least 2 people out there who read this blog reasonably regularly. Getting feedback can get addictive (I'm looking at you, Y), but on the whole, knowing that there's someone out there reading what I write does make me want to write better, which is what this blog has been about.
So, to celebrate 50 posts, I'm inviting everyone (anyone?) who reads this blog to drop me a comment to let me know you're there and what you've liked/disliked so far. Thank you all for being here, and I hope you've not been too bored by my writing.

PS: I'm hoping someone other than the regulars will drop a comment, or else I will have to create dummy Google IDs and leave posts on my own blog so I don't look too stupid...

Sunday, 9 March 2008

'Papa, main rabbit hoon, aap bear ho;kya Mummy rabbit thi?'

Back in Bangalore after a weekend in Cal. Very entertaining all around. Stayed with Mukhi and family. Attended a wedding reception and a wedding (both at the same venue but on different days), had a chicken roll off Park Street and ate a rum ball at Flury's. I've come to the conclusion that Cal would be a delightful place to slowly go to seed in - life is laidback, the food is good (and cheap), the people are helpful and it would be pretty easy to throw pseudo-intellectual angles while blowing up all my money on books and DVDs of French movies which I would never actually get around to watching.
I got to form part of Dhruv's entourage at the press conference for a Bong movie. The press (one cameraperson and 2 journalists) left half-way through a panel discussion between the actors, but they very sportingly went on with it for a bit, with about 3 people in the audience, including me. Much fun, though.
I also got to see an improv 'movie' put up by Mukhi's 7-year-old niece, with stuffed toys playing the lead roles in a total potboiler involving an underworld don (played by Winnie-the-Pooh), his supposed daughter (played by an earless, stuffed rabbit named Namunazhen Nihkhazhen, Namuna for short) and sundry other characters. The title is one of the dialogues from the 'movie'.
You have to admit, it's one of the best masala movie dialogues you'll ever hear.

Saturday, 8 March 2008

Kolkata: first impressions

Felt a bit like central Bombay, specifically like driving via Kurla into the Byculla/Sion/ Matunga type places. Slightly shabby but somehow charming in an old-fashioned sort of way. Possibly because I got here at night. Will roam around tomorrow and get a better idea of the place.

Thursday, 6 March 2008

Kolkata calling

Off to Cal tomorrow, unless I miss the flight (Ive done that twice so far). Got a friend's wedding reception to attend. Will probably not be blogging much this weekend, unless I type stuff out on my phone.
Hopefully I'll actually have more stuff worth blogging about.

Prison Break: Chinese edition

The delivering of milk powder by no means achieves any sort of propaganda
purpose, nor will it become any sort of noble symbol; delivering milk powder is
just the goal. So, the means are many, and anything goes. The milk powder
delivery method written of in “Rushing Freedom City” reads like a citizen
storming straight into a trap; as brave and praiseworthy as it is, it's not the
approach for me. I remember once being told that even though losing your head
and shedding blood sounds quite heroic, it's just not something worth losing a
head or spilling blood for. So I had to think this action through. The opponents
are security agency professionals, so I must be sufficiently prepared.

That's from "Hack into Freedom City", posted on Link via How the World Works. Well worth a read on a Thursday when you're waiting for the weekend.

Tuesday, 4 March 2008

Some Books

Some books I have tried reading
That refuse to yield to my persistence
The writing does me in, the style
Or lack of it
And I find something better to do eventually
Keeping them aside to come back to
When there's a lean period.
Yet, paradoxically,
The thought of having to read them
Makes me want to go out and buy a new book.