Category Archives: Assorted

Yesterday

24 hours went by. The universe expanded a little more. The sun shone. The moon was coy. A little more ice melted from the polar ice caps.

353,000 babies were born. They will grow up to be moms, dads, sons, daughters, sisters, brothers, cousins, grandparents, nieces, nephews, aunts, uncles, friends and strangers. Families smiled. 150,000 people died. They were moms, dads, sons, daughters, sisters, brothers, cousins, grandparents, nieces, nephews, aunts, uncles, friends and strangers. Families cried.

Stars were born. Stars died. Flowers bloomed. Bees buzzed. 150 species of plants, insects, birds and animals went extinct.

More than a billion pizzas were delivered.

Hundreds of millions of children went to school and complained about home work. Millions didn’t get that chance.

Stock markets rose. Stock markets fell. People made money. People lost money. Some became rich beyond their wildest dreams. Some lost their savings to their great shock. Most didn’t even know.

Men broke women’s hearts. Some cried. Some shrugged their shoulders. Women broke men’s hearts. Some shrugged their shoulders. Some cried. There were millions of smiles. There were millions of tears.

294 billion emails were sent. 2 million blog posts were written. People spent 472 billion minutes updating 532 million statuses and uploading 250 million photos on Facebook. They spent 22 million hours on Netflix, 18 million on Pandora, and bought 378,000 new iPhones.

Men killed men. Men raped women. Some were just angry. Some did so because they felt they needed to. Some will escape. Some will be forgiven. Some will not seek forgiveness. A lot of people became angry hearing about what others had done. Many retreated to lives of quiet desperation, flitting from one debacle to another.

Moms hugged children. Children refused to eat their vegetables. Women wondered what their husbands thought. Husbands remained oblivious. Families re-united. Others said goodbyes.

Some rose at the crack of dawn. Some were unwilling to rise. Many went to work. Many looked for work.

People argued. They debated. They mocked. They praised.

Some were dissatisfied. They wanted more. Others were despondent. They could have used more.

Some promised to start new lives. Some ended theirs. Some were cared for. Some went to bed in tears. Some died unsung.

There was joy. There was sorrow. There was life. There was death. There was fear of tomorrow. There was promise of a new day.

It was the best of days. it was the worst of days. It was a day of wisdom. It was a day of foolishness. It was a day of belief. It was a day of incredulity. It was a day of light. It was a day of darkness. It was day of hope. It was a day of despair. We had everything before us. We had nothing before us. We were all headed to Heaven. We were all going directly the other way.*

Yesterday, life happened. Just as it did, the day before.

*paraphased from The Tale of Two Cities, by Charles Dickens.

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India – Cut and Dried

India – Cut and Dried takes artistic liberty in chronicling real experiences during my life in India between 2002 and 2014.

The Indians invented zero, built the Taj Mahal, threw the towel in and called it a day. Historians were told to take the next several hundred years off. Deep within the Indian psyche once lay an adventurous spirit which sought to understand the best of things. Now it asks, “‘What’s the worst that can happen?

A couple of years back, I went to see a doctor in Bangalore. As luck would have it, he was one of those wizened, cynical men who have seen it all. The man waved me to a chair as he fiddled with a phone. He made no attempt to establish eye contact. As he fiddled, his sub-conscious voice rang out, “I’ve been in this profession for 40 years. I’ve seen it all. The Hippocratic Oath be damned. It’s not worth saving you people. You can wait until this app finishes downloading on my pathetic 2G connection. Feel free to leave anytime. What’s the worst that can happen?

I took in the windowless room. The man had shut himself out from the rest of the world. And here I was, an unwelcome intrusion.

I’ve been to doctors in America. The startling thing about them is that they communicate. Rather fluently as a matter of fact. They use sentences with more than two words. They wear clean shirts. And shoes.

“You think I’ll make it, doc? The faint rash on the lower thigh looks fatal, doesn’t it?”

The doctor always resisted the temptation to slap me across the face. Instead he’d put his notepad down, look me in the eyeballs and explain why I wasn’t about to tragically die young.

As my thoughts wandered, the doctor in Bangalore continued to fiddle. After five minutes, he looked up and made fleeting eye contact through a mirror on the wall as though I was Medusa and he was Perseus.

Then I heard him speak. Hallelujah!

“So what’s your problem?”

“Umm.. we met last week.. ”

This caused him to lose any interest he might have had in me at this point. His eyes lowered and he reverted to Neroesque fiddling as I sat likely dying of an incurable ailment.

I waited in uncertainty. Sensing a rapidly losing cause, I spoke again.

“I have a ringing noise in my ears. You told me to get hearing tests done. I have brought the results.”

He looked up.

“Yes, I remember you. Why is it not ringing?”

I stared, wondering which of us had a hearing problem.

 “I said that MY ears are ringing.”

“I know. I meant my phone.”

Foxed by his cryptic words, I stayed tuned in for further updates.

 “I just bought a new phone. It’s not ringing. What could be wrong?”

He handed me a brand new Samsung Galaxy 2.

“Maybe if my phone rang and your ears didn’t, we could call it a win-win, no?”

He laughed. It was a good one. But it failed to move me. Resentful, I turned the volume of the phone up.

“Here you go.”

I handed the phone to him. His facial expression continued to indicate that interest in my welfare had not made an appearance yet.

“How about I give you my phone number and you call me?”

I like to think of myself as a Zen kind of guy, with an inner Buddha chanting Tat Tvam Asi and the works. I believe that anger resides only in the bosom of fools. I have let go. And I’ve been happy ever since. I even wrote a book on all of this. Yet I felt a rising tide of anger.

“You want me to leave now and call you later?”

He looked at me, his eyes crinkling as though they were staring at the sun.

“No, not like that. Can you call me so I can hear the phone ring?”

My inner Buddha struggled to process this request. Glumly I acceded. It made him distinctly happier.

“Let’s see your results.”

He opened the envelope and began reading. His next question was a wicked doosra.

“Have you ever stood in front of a large speaker?”

“No. Why?”

“Because you have lost 50% of your hearing at higher frequencies.”

I waited for more. I was pleasantly surprised to hear him continue.

“Your hearing is normal enough to hear humans speak. Isn’t that good enough?”

My inner Buddha fought valiantly to contain my inner Hercules from slaying the man with a machete in one fluid motion. Outwardly calm, I responded.

“You said that I’ve lost half my hearing at a higher frequency. Is this normal? How did this happen?”

“I told you already. You must have stood in front of a large speaker.”

“But I have not stood in front of a large speaker. I once watched Nitin Gadkari speak on TV. That doesn’t count, does it?,” I protested.

“You must have. Unless you are 60 years old. Anyway, how does it matter?”

His inner Buddha had stumped mine. I resorted to another line of attack.

“Can you make the ringing noise go away?”

“Depends.”

“Depends on what?”

“Are you willing to wear a hearing aid? Some people think they look weird.”

“If you put it that way, no.”

“Then I can’t make the ringing noise go away.”

“But I got your phone to ring. That was our deal.”

My plea fell on deaf ears. Pun intended.

“Sorry. There is nothing I can do.”

“Wait. Is this a symptom of something else which could be serious?”

“Like what?”

“You are the doctor. You tell me. Please.”

“Probably not. I don’t think so. Unlikely.”

“Probably? You don’t think so? You are not sure? Don’t you want to look inside my ears or something?”

“No.”

“Come on, doc. I say we check for something.”

“Like what?”

I was licked. I let go.

“Fine. Let me understand what happened just now. I fixed your phone. And then you told me that you can’t fix my hearing. That I have to live with a ringing noise in my ears. That we should not bother because I am PROBABLY not dying of something serious right now. Is that correct?”

“Correct. Look at it another way. What’s the worst that can happen? You’ll just lose all your hearing in another 10 or 20 years. Speaking of bad things, do you think I should get a screen protector for my phone?”

At this juncture, I did as any normal Indian would. I threw in the towel and called it a day.

Falling In Love With India

I recall reading Plato’s Republic in 1996. At that time, I was living and working in the US. In the book, Socrates asks what Justice is and Polemarchus responds by defining it as “helping your friends and harming your enemies.” Indeed, it was the accepted opinion among the ancient Greeks (and many societies which followed them) that the morally right thing to do was to favor the “insiders.” And Socrates responds to Polemarchus by questioning the exclusivism of his moral position. Thus was launched a debate over the morality of patriotism and nationalism that reverberated through Europe over centuries. Nearly two thousand years later, Kant and others concluded that morality could not be confined to narrow dimensions of ‘me, mine, my family, my city or my nation’ and extended it to include humankind as a whole.

IS PATRIOTISM MORALLY JUST?

I recall pondering, as an immigrant in a foreign land, the notion of patriotism. What logic lay in blind loyalty to a nation, whose citizenship you hold only because of a random act of nature? Or did it make sense to be patriotic to a nation which welcomes you as a citizen after having examined what you had to offer? Have nations done enough to deserve our loyalty? Wasn’t cosmopolitanism, a notion first espoused by Diogenes who declared himself a citizen of the world, more morally acceptable than patriotism? Wasn’t patriotism at odds with a just, moral view of the world?

THE SLIPPERY SLOPE OF MORALITY

Should one country succeed at the expense of another? What makes anyone believe that they are “the chosen ones”? There are no easy answers. Suppose, for example, the Prime Minister of India when faced with the choice of securing Indian access to oil in Iran versus the choice of withdrawing to allow Chinese access to those reserves, decides (rather disinterestedly and morally) on the latter because it would lead to greater overall good of mankind. While morally laudable, it may, by no stretch of imagination, be construed as rightful discharge of his duties as a leader of a nation. Morality can be a slippery slope.

FALLING IN LOVE WITH INDIA

To this day, I haven’t yet resolved the conflict which Plato created in my mind. I am rather enamored by a universal humanism in which I choose not to belong to just one nation or people. I believe in John Lennon’s secular humanism that believes that all humans are equal and share the same aspirations, fears and hopes regardless of our histories and geographies. At the same time, I have a hard time holding back tears when the words “Hey Ram” stream into my consciousness and evoke my pride in having come from a society which brought about a man who Einstein described as “generations to come will scarce believe that such a man as this one ever in flesh and blood walked upon this Earth.

I have interrogated myself often and at length on why I fell in love with India. And I have come to believe that I love India not because I was born on her soil but because there’s something touching and deeply inspiring about the way she’s tolerant and merciful of the human condition with all its frailties and foibles. It is a country that that will lift you from a low to a high that will amaze you. Never mind that it pushed you into the low in the first place. After all, you need to truly understand pain before you can enjoy pleasure. There is no question that she will provide you with an adequate supply of both. If there’s one place on earth which has willingly embraced everything, it is India. If there is a place on earth that will teach you humility and awaken your soul, it is India. May she prosper and shine and provide comfort to all other nations and peoples.

Take your time to examine your beliefs. Find yourself before you fall in love with India. And when you do so, I will guarantee you that it will be a love of a lifetime.

Happy Independence Day (in advance)! God bless India. God bless us all.

To Love and To Cherish

The time has come to confront the question that’s been on the lips of women since the dawn of time. “Why do men suck?” I will attempt to answer this question as only a man would, which is by lying through my teeth. Fasten your seat belts. And here we go.

A Long Time Ago, Life Arose.

First, you’ll have to imagine an age long before dinosaurs roamed the earth. An era that dates back millions of years. Imagine a time when Lal Kishan Advani was in his diapers. When Shahid Afridi had just entered Test cricket. We’re talking about a time so long ago when life itself first originated on this planet. A few carbon, nitrogen, hydrogen and oxygen molecules got together to form something called amino acids. One thing led to another and pretty soon, we had something called DNA. And out of these building blocks arose life.

And a Lot of Things Happened After That.

A lot of things happened after life forms evolved. The long and short of this history is that enormous numbers of incredible combinations of life attributes (shape and gender) expressed themselves forth in a wonderfully disorderly process of creation. And in an equally wonderful process of destruction, many of the life forms were weeded out in what Charles Darwin has called the process of natural selection. Short giraffes went out. Striped zebras stayed in. And so on and so forth. In short, you should be very happy that you are here reading this. Congratulations, my friend. You are a survivor of an astonishing cycle that started millions of years back.

DNA Matters.

What I have been trying to tell you in a somewhat elaborate and grandiose fashion is that “DNA matters.” And as remorseless as Darwin’s theory sounds, it is my painful duty to point out there may be just two rules that govern life on earth.

1. You’re not in charge. Your genes are.

In fact, the relationship between humans and their bodies is rather like the one between the Speaker of the Lok Sabha and its members. She may sit around in a stern pose, striking the gavel all day along and doling out instructions. But if a few members decide that they’re going to jump into the well and slap a minister or two, they’re going to do it. You’re not in charge. Your genes are.

2. All your genes care about is themselves.

They don’t care if you’re the Pope himself. All your genes want is to ensure that they make it to the next round of the evolutionary game. And the ones who make it thus are described to be “evolutionarily stable.”

“Men Hunt. Women Nest.”

Now, the interesting thing is that this is true for BOTH men and women. However, the evolutionarily stable strategies of men and women have taken very different directions. This has been famously summarized as, “Men hunt and women nest.”

Jerry Seinfeld on “Men Hunt and Women Nest.”

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httpv://youtu.be/-d3diodXKPU

For example, women took the process of selecting a mate and the act of procreation very seriously. As opposed to men who tended to be looking for avenues to reproduce with one partner while the other one was out shopping for shoes. The way things turned out, the cost of a woman’s mistake became disproportionately larger than that of a man’s mistake when it came to selecting a partner. Naturally, this led to women viewing male behavior with deep suspicion and developing healthy disdain for it over time. Since women carry this enormous burden of not being in a position to afford mistakes, it has resulted in all kinds of irrational and unreasonable expectations, such as the following-

  1. Men must call 14 times a day. (16 if they are traveling on work and 24 if partying with buddies.)
  2. Men must purchase gifts for the marriage anniversary, which involve precious stones and rare earth elements.
  3. Men must pay attention to what their wives say.
  4. Men must respond with thoughtful answers.

It has also led to certain disturbing behavioral patterns among women as the following, to mention just a few-

  1. Making conversation.
  2. Caring.
  3. Not caring about Virender Sehwag’s string of low scores.
  4. Asking what you think of Sushmita Sen and expecting an honest answer.
  5. Buying gifts for others.
  6. Buying potted plants.
  7. Buying paintings and then demanding that they be hung on walls for all to see.
  8. Buying furniture for every room.
  9. Buying scented candles the size of Buddhist stupas.

And Then, There Were Children.

In particular, women seem to have developed a disconcerting habit of taking their children seriously. Don’t ever (I mean, EVER EVER) debate a heavily pregnant woman over what might be an appropriate size for a baby’s crib or if it is really worth the trouble to hunt in 42 different stores for the right color of pink for the baby’s room curtains. You’re likely to be hit over the head with a blunt instrument if you hint even the slightest of dissent. This pattern of obsessive behavior then carries through into birthday parties, which have now been widely acknowledged and recognized to be the leading cause of divorce among otherwise happily married couples.

The only impression of a kiddie birthday party that a man has, assuming he were ever to voluntarily consider hosting such a ghastly affair, is one involving purchase of exactly 4 cheese pizzas with no toppings, and no more than 10 children shrieking and running unsupervised around a table, while he watches cricket on television. You might note the word planning missing from the male concept of a party.

Unfortunately, the female of the species believes that it has developed a more evolutionarily stable strategy towards birthday parties. Parties are planned well in advance. Cards are created with ‘RSVP’ neatly emblazoned on them. Magicians are booked, and a cake ordered, which is inexplicably returned even if a single word is misspelled. It is reported that, in certain advanced cultures, some women have been known to go as far as having themes for parties.

Women are always looking to nurture something or the other. On the rare occasion they’re not pondering “Why do men suck?” they’re looking for someone or thing in their vast network of family, friends and potted plants who/which requires nurturing. And more often than not, their children end up being captive recipients of this evolutionary largesse.

Is There Hope For Women?

So, back to our question. Why do men suck? And, more importantly, is there any hope for women? Of course there is. There are seven billion people on this planet. Half of this population is a group of rational beings, by which I mean men. If you’re a single woman and looking for that ideal partner, fret not. The statistical probability of finding that one handsome, loving and sensitive male out of the pack is pretty high. It’s a different matter however that you might never run into him because he’s likely under scientific observation in a laboratory in MIT.

You might also want to check out:
For Better Or For Worse
For Richer Or For Poorer
Till Death Do Us Part

Why trains are way cooler than planes

I’ve re-discovered the joys of train travel over the last few months. And the more I think about it, there are a few good reasons why trains are way cooler than planes. And, here they are.

There are emergency exits everywhere.

You know the drill, right? That speech that you get from the stewardess if you’re seated in the emergency row of an aircraft? None of that if you travel on the train. Every orifice is an emergency exit. Windows, doors, etc.. All of these make for a quick and clean exit, especially if you don’t have a ticket and you see the examiner approaching. Anything is an emergency. Everything can be an exit.

You can show up any time.

None of the rules of air travel apply here. No ID to show to be simply let into the travel area. There is no need to show up an hour before departure at the check in counter. Instead, you can show up as the train is leaving and hop onto it as it leaves the platform. In fact, many are known to do exactly that. There is some part of the Indian psyche that believes that if something moves on land, it must be boarded only while in motion.

You can carry anything on board.

There is a long list of things you cannot carry aboard a plane. There is also a long list of things that cannot be carried aboard a train. The difference is that you can pretty much ignore the latter list. You will, in fact, be able to find a porter who’ll help you carry bulky, dangerous things into the compartment, and a friendly ticket examiner who’ll help you store aforesaid dangerous substances. All for a nominal fee, of course.

“Excuse me, Ticket Inspector. I have this rather large and unwieldy nuclear tipped missile that doesn’t seem to fit overhead. Is there a place I can keep this?”

“Of course, Sir. Why don’t you just place right behind the last row in the compartment? That space is designed to handle up to Agni IV.”

“Thank you, Ticket Inspector.”

“You’re welcome. Err..that will be Rs. 200, please.”

The journey is the destination.

Seriously, trains in India are not just a means of transport. They are a way of life. An astounding 20 million+ people travel by train every day in India. There are over 9,000 scheduled trains that start somewhere every day. Hundreds of millions of Indians go on pilgrimages, on vacations to visit family and friends and on business trips every year. The Indian Railways is, not coincidentally, the world’s largest employer, with over 1.6 million people on its payroll.

No matter how often you’ve traveled by train, there’s always that tingling excitement that builds as you walk on the platform, locate the compartment and place yourself on the seat. As you feel the jolt that signals that the train is on its way, that’s when you realize that the journey has become the destination.Now, that’s definitely something you cannot say about traveling on a plane.

The Few, The Proud and The Privileged

Good evening, peeps, listen up. This is your pre-boarding announcement for Flight 568 to Dubai.

We invite all first-class and business-class passengers, passengers needing special assistance, families travelling with small children, and children travelling with small families to now board the aircraft.

We now invite the Kardashian sisters, Diamond Encrusted Imperial Tiara Club members, Olympic Gold medal Winners, Facebook Founders, current and former Miss Universes and United Nations Secretary Generals to board at this time.

Thank you for waiting. We now welcome members of Rapidly Ascending Skywards Triple Advantage, Supremely Important Priority Partners, Surly Men in Suits Who Overpay for Tickets, Highly Preferred and Obnoxiously Rude Members, Members of Illuminati, Knights of the Templar, Top Dogs, Type A Cool Cats, Wealthy Tyrants of Small Islands and Top Class Numero Unos to now board the aircraft.

We appreciate your patience. We are pleased to welcome members of Silver Budget, Silver Platter, Silver Spoons, Just a Cut Above the Rest, Barely Above and Beyond, Members of Noticeable Distinction, e-Go Maniacs, Circle of Hubris, AlwaysMeFirst Super Deluxe and AlwaysMeFirst Classic Rewards Program, and You’re Standing in My Way Club. Please board the aircraft before we change our minds.

If there’s any one left, you don’t deserve to board the aircraft. Beat it.

A Bliss Mantra

From my notes from 2009. Here below is a “bliss mantra” from the Taitriya Upanishad in the Vedas, along with my interpretation.

<In Sanskrit>

Om saha naa vavatu saha nau bhunaktu
saha viryam kara vaavahai
tejaswinaa vadhItamastu maa vid vishavahai
Om shanti shanti shanti-hi

There are two interpretations. The first is as addressed to a friend or a partner

Let us enjoy life together, Let us experience life together
Let us engage ourselves together and share our energies to meet adversities
Pray we do not do or say anything that can divide us
Let there be bliss in our lives

The second is as addressed to the Universal Spirit (Parabrahman) which resides within all of us –

Let us be united, let our energies be united in overcoming adversities
Let our wisdom shine, Let us not be led astray by intellectual conquests
Let us be together in eternity, Let there be no division between us
Let there be bliss

Let there be bliss in your weekend.