Sunday, June 30, 2013

Redeveloping the sky

The sudden swell in redevelopment scares me. I sit at my window and gaze outside and I can see greenery and a beautiful, these days slightly overcast, sky. And yes both my window and I are located in Mumbai. I happen to be amongst the few lucky ones to have a real big garden view and not those miniature ones in building compounds. But apart from the greenery what I really enjoy is staring into the sky. The sky with its changing colours and various dimensions. It is pitch black around 4 am occasionally orangish black and it continues to remain so until suddenly sometime around 6 am its oozing bright sunshine. I always find this transition from dark to light sudden. I may keep peering into the sky and yet it catches me unawares. I don’t have a view of the sunrise, may be that’s why I don’t feel the transition. As the day progresses it keeps changing hue. Every time I look out I love to gaze at the marvelous expanse and as night pours in darkness floods my view. I hate to switch on the light. It seems shallow before the beauteous sunlight and its varied shades that I have been enjoying through the day. But nature has its way. And darkness has to come and go. However, it is not this hindrance that worries me. There is a building that is being redeveloped diagonally opposite mine. Along with the sky I have also been seeing its progress as floor after floor gets added on. And now that it has reached a substantial height it has begun to come in the way of my clear sky view. It continues to grow taller. The coconut tree just outside my window is now panned by this grey structure and not the grey rainy sky. I realize when it is completed I would have lost a substantial chunk of sky view. Then I console myself to change my angle thus effectively throwing the building out of my line of vision. I can see the sky again without any hindrance blocking my view. And it’s beautiful as ever. Towards evening I can clearly see its changing colour. It is orange at times and maroon at others and if I don’t switch on the light the house is partially dark yet it is filled with a dim reddish light. It’s a completely different hue. I love basking in it. And again the switch from this light to dark seems sudden. All gone, the tubelights must come on. Against a dark twinkling expanse of the sky the ghostly silhouette of the under construction building stands tall. Reasserting itself and taunting that all of the remaining buildings are also going to be redeveloped into way taller structures. Contracts are already being drawn up. Some days more and it will have tall companions. And when I look out next I will get to see only snatches of the sky from between the space distancing these tall buildings. My sky is going I will be left with only the greenery of the garden panned by tall buildings.

Sunday, June 23, 2013

The death of the telegram, who's next? Google search – From indispensible to dispensable?

I have been reading nostalgic articles by people much older about the trajectory of the telegram – how it was so revolutionary and how immensely if affected and changed their lives and how now something that was so indispensible has been rendered redundant. It got me thinking what piece of technology impacted me immensely and changed the way I function and instantly Google search pops to mind. When I was in lower classes in school there was nothing like Google search. And that has me thinking, so how did I study? I wasn’t one who frequented the library, rarely so. There were many books on the shelves at home but I preferred they remain there neatly stacked. I realize I mainly looked to my text books, a Self-study series and a few other educational books that my mother insisted were essentially a part of my course (though they weren’t). In those far away days I remember the computer as a tool to either play games or unleash my artistry with Paint. Either I was too lazy to discover its potentials or probably most kids my age had restricted their knowledge to the same extent. I hope the later is true. As I entered higher standards the computer evolved into a tool to assist in making projects. The scourge for relevant pictures was immensely curtailed by Google search. Yet in those days I’d print the pictures and stick them onto chart papers, unlike my nieces who conveniently paste everything onto PPT slides, transfer the file onto a pen drive and leave for school without any hassle. I remember my projects to be at the other end of the no hassle spectrum. I would employ water colours, felt pens, occasionally glitter. My master piece would occupy the central position in the house, sprawling across the floor, and would block convenient passageway. It would leave visible marks on the floor, walls and of course me and my clothes. It was never hassle free neither was the process neat. But I must say I am proud of each and every one of those charts. To me they were all my own Mona Lisas and definitely more cheery and vibrant. I am not certain whether the feeling of creation with a similar intensity can be generated by a PPT. But it is definitely much cleaner to carry a pen drive, especially during the rains, than my masterpieces. Coming back to my developing relationship with Google search. As I moved onto college the strain of excessive and elaborate chart papers was off my back. There was no Work Experience or EVS. So now if I used Google search it was with no specific purpose. However, even though chart papers were off my back I realized a new burden was to be added called – reference. Apparently, while in college there isn’t anything like one or two authoritative books of medium size in which a complacent person may repose her trust. One has to go to the library and read through tomes for any decent degree of study. And so I tentatively entered the library. There were walls of books on all sides of me. I could choose from where I wished to study. I gathered my own material. Strangely, I liked the power I wielded over the contents of my study material. Sometime around then I discovered what happens if I search for material on Google. A plethora of information was just a click away and within the confines of my house. The significance of this statement may seem ridiculous to those younger to me who have grown up when ‘Google’ was not just a proper noun but also a verb. However, I have experienced its evolution into a verb and yet it evolved into a verb early on in my life so even though theoretically I know I have lived in a Google – less world I can’t imagine getting through this day without Google. I realize people must have felt the same way about telegrams some day. And yet life seems much easier without them (and with Gmail). This makes me dwell upon the corollary that one day Google search will be rendered redundant. Will ‘to google’ then appear in the dictionary as archaic. old use. in ancient days enabled people to locate information based on keywords from a virtual information cloud. And if the telegram is replaced by instant emails what would replace Google search? Would I have a devise so connected to me that it detects my very thoughts and instantly generates only relevant results and collates them in a format uniquely suitable for my requirements? Realistically, I look forward to days of e-libraries. With the advent of availability of Google search on phones one has immense information and e-books not only a click away but the click itself is merely a pocket away. And yet I feel the necessity of visiting a good library from time to time. And this is not owing to my loyalty to or nostalgia for tangible objects. Google search makes available a wide variety of information, connects me to articles and research papers, books and scholarly treatises, magazines and novels and so on and so forth. I have access to some of these for free and some need to be purchased. Whereas some scholarly treatises that have been traced are yet in the libraries as hard backs. Once all this knowledge is converted to e-format and made available by e-libraries for a reasonable fee, probably the best e-library that can guarantee complete and unrestricted access to all the search results that encompasses everything from trivia to scholarly treatises might render both Google search and libraries redundant. A beginning in this direction, that I am aware of, is British Council’s ebrary. Though it has a very limited collection as yet. The mind boggles at the contemplation of the convenience that shall be derived from the device that necessitates that we bid farewell to Google search.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Lucifer’s Contract

A tale of cunning and conceit. Of one Doctor Faustus whose waxen wings did mount above his reach. A tale above all of trickery. Of crafty equivocation of contract laws that caused fair Lucifer to weep.

Faustus hath entered into a deed with Lucifer granting unto him Faustus’s soul at the expiry of four and twenty years certain conditions being met. Poor Lucifer unaware was he of the intricacies of contract laws! Not so easy it is to contract and get what you want for ignorance of law is no excuse.

God the owner of innumerable souls bestows them upon humans to be utilized during their lifetime and to be retuned upon expiry of the said lifetime. In consequence making Faustus a mere trustee of the movable property soul. And as is well known, though not by Lucifer, that a contract made by trustee in excess of his powers cannot be specifically enforced, so could poor Lucifer not obtain specific enforcement of his deed with Faustus.

Moreover, the soul promised by Faustus to Lucifer was one of the innumerable souls owned by God. This soul wasn’t specific movable property. For God makes all souls equal. It is the use to which each soul is put that characterizes one human from the other. Nevertheless souls remain indistinguishable. A soul may easily be replaced with any other other soul all being one and the same. An again as is well known, though not by Lucifer, that a contract for movable property cannot be specifically enforced unless the property were specific movable property of irreplaceable nature, so could poor Lucifer not obtain specific enforcement of his deed with Faustus.

On expiry of four and twenty years as Faustus lay upon this death bed God’s claim to movable property soul was upheld. And thus was the treacherous of all, most astute conniving and devious Lucifer tricked by simple contract laws!

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

What happened back then?

The youth rebellion is a worldwide phenomenon that has not been seen before in history… Millions of young people all over the world are fed up with shallow unworthy authority running on a platform of bullshit.
–William Burroughs, “The Coming of the Purple Better One,” Esquire, November 1968.

Once upon a time in a village named Naxalbari there lived a peasant. He was attacked by landlords and they were counter attacked by those who were later named Naxalites. So began the saga of Naxalism.

Well not exactly so. Naxalism was a manifestation of a global desire to rebel. Back then world over the educated privileged youth, behaved in a very peculiar fashion. Instead of bunking lectures and watching movies or plays or whatever was in vogue then, as is the duty of all good students, they were hanging around debating politics, Mao Zedong, revolution, organizing protest rallies, hurling bottles and brick-bats!

The 60s were a turbulent decade and a number of events in conjunction led to such behavior. The post-war era had heralded peace with eagerness. People had suffered significantly for decades. Loved ones had been lost and generations were wiped out. Contrary to this misery were the theories of communism that promised an end to all suffering.

The general mood was infused with a strong desire for and belief in an egalitarian society. The decade was characterized by decolonization and independence movements. Alongside was the civil rights movement together with Martin Luther King Jr.'s speech “I Have a Dream”. And, King’s Student Nonviolent Coordination Committee or the SNCC under Stokely Carmichael’s slogan “Black Power!” was heading towards increasingly aggressive rebellion. As such campus-based movements were popular in the Paris student revolution and the Students for a Democratic Society in the US. What’s more, feminism was also at its zenith. People from all sectors craved equality. And communism put on offer the ‘all men are equal’ rule. Consequently, rebellion was everywhere. This made the World Revolution seem imminent with the famous slogan “the East is Red and the West is Ready”.

Anti-capitalist sentiment was further fuelled by the Cuban Revolution, Fidel Castro and the heroic guerilla fighter image of Che Guevara. Che viewed capitalism as a “contest among wolves” where “one can only win at the cost of others.” On similar lines, Arthur Miller declared in All My Sons “You don’t love a man here [in a capitalist society], you eat him!” The idea of replacing selfishness with selflessness was contemplated with admiration. Charged with such moralistic emotions, the youth of this era leaned towards communism as opposed to the reviled capitalism.

All the disparate protest movements of this decade were combined in opposition to the Vietnam War. Prevalent anti-war sentiment was manifest in the pop-culture of the times with Country Joe’s Fish Cheer, in the 1969 Woodstock Festival that went,

Yeah, come on all of you, big strong men,
Uncle Sam needs your help again.
He's got himself in a terrible jam
Way down yonder in Vietnam
So put down your books and pick up a gun,
We're gonna have a whole lotta fun.
And it's one, two, three,
What are we fighting for ?
Don't ask me, I don't give a damn,
Next stop is Vietnam;
And it's five, six, seven,
Open up the pearly gates,
Well there ain't no time to wonder why,
Whoopee! we're all gonna die.

This universal hatred for the Vietnam War created a general distaste for the U.S. which was extended to its ideology –capitalism.

Such was the global scenario. Closer home post independence, Indian youth was also gripped with analogous idealistic sentiments. Nehru himself had a socialist bent with the vision to establish a Welfare-State. But the 60s youth felt betrayed, sold-out and irrevocably ruined by their elders. This was a generation that had grown up in the wake of India’s independence, coupled with the worldwide move towards self-determination and equal rights. They dreamt of changing the world. However, the emergency, the still prevalent injustices and class distinctions and the Sino-India war shattered their hopes of a socialist haven.

Osborne’s Look Back in Anger heralded the “angry young man”. This angry frustration was manifest in Indian universities as well, wherein angst driven quixotic youngsters felt that independence had not attained its true aim. Democracy had not been achieved. In the words of Kobad Ghandy, “we think the society is in a semi-feudal, semi-colonial state and there is a need to democratise it.”

Against this backdrop, Vijay Tendulkar and Adil Jussawala produced revolutionary works heavily critical of prevalent societal systems. Kobad, Anuradha, Asghar Ali Engineer and Krishnaraj set up the Committee for the Protection of Democratic Rights. The Progressive Youth Movement was joined by many young people. At a time Navroz Modi was editor of its magazine Lalkaar. Study circles were regularly organized. Students vigorously debated communist theories.

And post the skirmish in the village called Naxalbari, these communist youngsters headed towards it and reacted under the leadership of communists such as Charu Majumdar. Their brand of communism came to be christened as Naxalism after the village whose inhabitants triggered it. So the worldwide wave of an idealistic youth desire for equality and resultant discontent hit India as Naxalism.

Politically correct !!!

It was decided by a politician that another’s visit should be greeted by ‘something black’. Why not re-make a ‘Simon go back’? He sure looks like a Simon. The other enthusiastic youth politician, like most youngsters, on a sudden impulse changed course and decided to experience what his wise colleague had attempted to describe in 140 words. So keeping this adventure in mind he landed penniless, on an impulse, at a railway station. By the sheer number of dramatic pauses that our railways take it was generally felt that a padh yatra would have served the cause better.

Certain movie makers paying regard to the dictionary of politicians thought better of doing away with certain names. So what if it was once a fact. Be it moon, or sun, or what you please. Henceforth they vowed it shall be so.

It had once been Marie Antoinette’s advice to those who could not buy bread to eat cake. And now it was adviced to those who could not buy sugar that it was not essential to living. So diabetic patients cheered for now on all were supposed to join them.

Also a new self- defence strategy was evolved. People were informed that a poor look keeps the bashers away. Fashion designers, it is heard are soon to release a new ‘poor avoid-rage’ look. The highest paid Bollywood actors are to be engaged as brand ambassadors.

What’s more, it was very thoughtfully concluded that a taxi driver must be able to converse with his passengers of local origin. The passenger might always be in need of some good counsel. And where better can one find it, if not with a taxi driver who has learnt it all by driving behind insightful trucks. Should not he share his knowledge, if so it is essential that he should be familiarised with the local tongue.

Sunday, February 7, 2010

How to be HAPPY? Decoded the fictional way.

People are unhappy because they are not content with their station in life. In Animal Farm happiness is approached by abolishing the very cause of misery – stations in life, all are equal. In Brave New World, a different approach is adopted, people are conditioned to like the stations allotted to them, they aren’t given another choice. They are made content. They aren’t given a chance to desire for anything else. Like machines they perform pre-conditioned activities and don’t think at all.

But do they achieve happiness? The answer is a resonating NO in case of Animal Farm, whereas in Brave New World an illusion of happiness is created. “Everyone is happy now” is repeated so many times that everyone believes themselves to be happy. The savage tries to tell them that they are not free, they are slaves. He tries to arouse in them the desire to be free and human. But they seem incapable of feeling. Strong emotions are beyond them. They are sub-human babies. As Mustafa Mond puts it, even after being decanted they continue to live in their bottles.

They have paid a price to be without suffering. They have sacrificed fun. Are they happy? They can barely feel any emotion. How can they feel happiness then? They aren’t happy. They are just devoid of feelings, and so don’t experience pain, but neither do they experience happiness. The joy that comes from thinking, toiling and then achieving is lacking.

So, then both books establish that it isn’t possible to have a happy world devoid of suffering. In Animal Farm suffering re-surfaces, in Brave New World, the inmates are unaware of any feelings.

In both books people are assigned their jobs, they are supposed to like it and not question it. If they don’t have desire for something else, they won’t suffer. Doing only that what is required of them. Not thinking much beyond their set role. Easily taking soma pills (read TV, movies, music, or whatever that does not require any action, any thinking) that just lets the day pass without having to actually do anything, thus giving no occasion for getting tense. No tryst with real good or bad emotions. Just no strain on our brains. Allowing it to lie peacefully in cold storage. No real experiences, a frozen existence.

But it is desire that leads to joy also. One should desire and strive for it. But somewhere one has to draw the line and be content with one’s efforts. For never-ending desire will destroy. But this line has to be drawn by the individual. An individual has to have an individual dream, a desire distinct from that of others, unique. S/he has to individually in her/his own manner strive for it and at some point has to feel happy for having achieved whatever part of that dream. But it has to be an individual decision. Then alone will the individual feel real happiness.

Happiness is created from within and not without.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Should Rivers have married Rosamond?

St. John Rivers in Jane Eyre picks his vocation over love. He is considered cold cause he won’t accept his love Rosamond. But had he done so would they have been happy?

Consider the doctor Lydgate in Middlemarch (incidentally his love interest is also called Rosamond) that apart, he accepted his love. Despite being a person with an aim, he set it aside for “true love”. Was he happy? He considered himself a failure for life. Can anybody be more miserable than that?
He tells Rosy don’t ever say that you don’t like my research, that’s like saying you don’t love me. Isn’t that true? How can one love half the person? One can love a person and hate certain habits, even endevour to alter them. But how can one love a person but not his/her defining trait?

Both St. John and Lydgate are defined by their work. If they are to be happy in love, their love interest will have to love them as a whole. St. John can’t be asked to give up his missionary zeal to marry Rosamond. He understood that. It would make them both miserable. Just as it did in Middlemarch. When they lived life the way Lydgate desired Rosamond was miserable. So was he, he needed a partner to share his miseries but Rosamond couldn’t offer that support. And then he changed course to live her way and remained miserable forever.

I don’t find anything amiss in either Rosamond. They have a dream for their life, but the person they choose doesn’t fit in it. An attempt to mould a person into the person of your dream can not beget true happiness. People can alter habits, not defining characteristics. And if such tremendous change is required then it is as Lydgate put it you don’t love that person.

And so I consider Rivers decision to not marry Rosamond just.

He may come across as cold. But he is right in this. Neither could he give up missionary work nor could Rosamond sacrifice her comfortable life.
And if their minds are so opposed, this cannot be “true love”.