Monday, June 29, 2009

Play: Ek Mulaqat Manto Se

I saw the act play at the India Habitat Centre in Delhi yesterday.

It was a semi-autobiographical play on the famous author Saadat Hasan Manto.
Combining psychoanalysis with human behaviour, he was arguably one of the best short story tellers of the 20th century, and one of the most controversial as well. When it comes to chronicling the collective madness that prevailed in the Indian subcontinent, during and post the Partition of India in 1947, no other writer comes close to the oeuvre of Saadat Hassan Manto.

The play had Manto sitting around and telling brief portions of his life history to the audience. Then in the middle he brings up the charge of obscenity leveled on him for one of his stories, “Khol Do”. This leads him to read out the story to the audience – it was arguably the most moving part of the performance. It is always difficult to read out a story – acting out parts of the narrator and different protagonists. But Ashwath Bhatt, the writer, director, and actor of the play did it superbly.

Then in the latter half of the play, Manto’s character describes one of his morning walks around the by lanes of Lahore. Again, setting up the scenes by way of interaction with the people he met and the things he saw was done very nicely. Manto had a scathing sense of humor. Upon seeing some dogs he remarks that the government should find out which of these dogs were pets before. Thus both the governments of the two countries can then also “allot” these dogs to their new owners, as they have done to houses, businesses, etc. Clearly partition (and its madness) was the underlying theme of his works.

The play was an hour long and the script was in Hindustani with a lot of classical (i.e. what we don’t use in common parlance in India) Urdu words that may have made some of the lines difficult to understand. This in its own subtle way reflects the gradual demise of the language in India (which is a whole other topic).

If someone gets a chance to catch the play then definitely do so. It is incumbent upon us to be aware of the past and in Manto we get to see it in all its honesty and ugliness.

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Sunday, June 28, 2009

A Hot Day In Delhi

I could feel the blast of hot air as soon as I stepped out of the airplane.

Summers in Delhi are as predictable and unbearable as one of those TV soaps and yet one cannot escape either. Despite the hefty UDF, ADF, or one of those numerous fees taxed on the "fortunate" people who had the misfortune to use the airport, Delhi airport still was missing those aerobridges that prevents sensitive people like myself from being exposed to the elements. And especially so of Delhi's.

I had not planned to make the trip. In fact I had not been to the city since the last 7 years. And yet the heat in the air reminded me that I probably never left. It was only due to a last minute glitch in Mumbai that the conference was switched to the city and unavoidably I had to make an appearance as planned originally. There I was ensconced safely in my 57th floor office in Hong Kong, but as someone said, "Religion can only move mountains, it is Capitalism that moves the world." Not highly original, but apt in my case.

I trudged to the awaiting bus and to a welcome experience of smelling my fellow passenger's BOs when they grab on to those what-you-call-'em for their dear lives. I smiled wryly to myself, Delhi summers do have a way to get the best sarcasm out of you.

I finally picked up my luggage and trudged to the pre-paid taxi booth. "Aha! I see computers," I said to myself, quietly appreciating (sarcastically obviously) that the land of underprivileged and poor can actually afford such extravagances for the privileged air travelers.

"One cab to Hotel Centura in South Delhi," I told the clerk.

He looked up and saw me through his horn-rimmed socialist-era spectacles.

"I am sorry Sir," he said. "There is a taxi strike in the city and we are short of cabs. Therefore, we have to put two people in one cab. Would you like me to do it?"

Typical, I thought. Well there was no other option and as an old hand in the Delhi summers, I knew that anything was better than standing around in a suit - a heat stroke would only be minutes away.

I took the receipt and walked out to a crowd of taxi wallahs, touts, families with children, and assorted security men. To see how far a city has progressed all one has to do is to walk out to the reception area of the airport. The Microsoft, HSBC, Amex, GE, Caterpillar on the various placards held aloft told me that there has been a seismic change. Now if only we could change this darn weather.

As I made it to the parking bay and looked for the taxi I saw him.

There was no mistaking him. The slightly puffed up face, fancy suit, fancier sunglasses, slicker hair with gray streaks in between, and the same cocky style. 7 years and the first person I see is Rakim (prounounced Rack-eem as per his instructions years ago at IIT Delhi).

As destiny would have it we were in the same cab. As I looked at him from 5 feet away I think I espyed a slight trace of surprise, but then as soon as I spotted it, it was gone. As if he were mocking me, "Your move compadre," his curled lips seem to say.

I knew immediately what I wanted to do. Though I had played this scene many a times in my mind, especially during the early years since after graduation, I threw away all those scripts in an instance: surprise, coolness, forced ecstasy, faked happiness, bluffing, and downright hatred.

I just looked right through him and he returned the compliment. I was not surprised. We were always alike.

As we both got into the back seat, he told the taxi driver a home in South Delhi. "Doing well I see if he is living there," I thought to myself. Immediately I checked myself. There was no need to get into a curious mode and start charting his life history for the past 7 years. I don't care, I had promised myself a long time ago and coming back to Delhi should not break that.

I could not afford it. Not after all those things that happened in the past.

As the taxi driver started the slow crawl out of parking he did not switch on the air conditioning. "Bhaiyya, start the A/C," I said using the universal North Indian term of addressal.

"Sir the A/C is on the brink and it not working and everything is closed due to the strike that is going on. I am sorry but we would just have to keep the windows open."

Damn it, first Delhi, then Rakeem, and now the drated heat. Well it would soon all be over. You can take it, I told myself without quiet believing myself or understanding which of the three bete noirs I meant.

As the taxi moved on to the Ring Road I could see the once-ubiquitous trees of Delhi. I never knew their name but they used to be everywhere in IIT. Medium-sized, small leafy trees, which neither provided shade nor sustenance. Typical (again), like Delhi - nameless/faceless people in the city going about their God-forsaken jobs with neither an end in sight to neither miseries nor a hope for a better tomorrow. They are just there for no reason. While the trees may have disappeared due to the much trumpeted bastard word of the past decade - "infrastructure", the ever growing populace had taken their place.

Sweat started to pour from my brow and on to my glasses. I fumbled in my pocket to find a handkerchief. Should I loosen my tie? Pat came the reply, "Well Rakim has not loosened his, then why would you?" The old competitive self again.

It was like from day one when we were clubbed as roommates in Nalanda Hostel. It did not matter that I was one of the elite who cracked the toughest exam in India and was chosen out of 100,000 aspirants (the word still had a nice ring to it; we Indians are always aspiring to something - sounds better than the western term "rat race"). I was only in the Civil department of IIT Delhi - a branch of a bygone era when people everywhere used to be on their hands and knees whenever an "Engineer saab" was in the vicinity. On the other hand my nattily dressed roomie was in Computer Science - the top choice of IITians everywhere and one with a one-way ticket to the land of dreams and plenty - "USA des" in popular IIT parlance.

I came back to the present. Gosh what a long time ago. I firmly put those old images behind me and looked outside.

The few trees now left on the side of the road had a doleful look about them. This heat has no mercy. I could see the leaves turning a shade of lighter brown and leaning expectantly, as would a Brahmin or a Fakir who comes to a door looking for alms. The stray dogs looked too hot and tired to do anything but lounge around under the inadequate shade of the trees. That is before they are chased off by some humans who want to do the same. The dogs would then settle into some other location (they have plenty) and continue to pass the time, too hot to even think about food, till the dusk brings some respite of a couple of degrees and not more. "Roam as you like you dastardly curs," they seem to say to some dogs that have encroached on their territories; heat is a great leveler - their designated scavenging area would be as much baked by the sun as those of their competitors. There is no benefit to be accrued by going hither and thither - just pick a spot and stick to it, seems to be their working mandate for the summer months.

I glance at my fellow passenger. Yeah, the heat does make strange bedfellows. Here am I sitting inches away from a person I had vowed never to set sight on again. But the heat makes us weak, it throws us at its mercy, and as a moment of weakness became an indecision, I turned my back and walked right into the cobwebs that I had skillfully made over the demise of memories past.

I was curios, I admitted to myself. I turned slighly in order to get a better look at him. Where would he be working right now? Is he more successful than I am?

He must be working in India as he clearly lives in Delhi. Let me think back and remember what other flights arrived around same time as mine did. There was one from Mumbai, another from Cuttack, couple from Bangalore. He has a Jet address tag on his laptop bag, so that eliminates Bangalore and Cuttack - so it has to be Mumbai. Now what was he doing in Mumbai? There are no huge software operations in Mumbai, well not as big in Bangalore or Delhi. He has to be a software engineer. But on the other hand he is wearing a suit. Maybe he has become a banker as all those engineers tend to do now days. Four years of wasted time and subsidised Government of India education.

Ah! I see a Rolex. He has to be a banker for sure, I thought to myself as I pulled my own cuffs to hide my once-proud-of-Omega watch. A reflex reaction. There I go again.

The suit seems one of those generic Indian brands I said to myself smugly as I caressed my hands on my own patented Italian garb. Even-stevens.

He looks so smug, is he not being driven crazy by the heat and this chance encounter? What are odds of this happening? Certainly much worse than being dealt a pair of Aces twice in a row in a game of Texas Hold 'em Poker.

I always liked to calculate the odds. Back in the day of "Teen Patti" and 5 paise chaals I used to do it all the time. Even though on an average I used to win I did not quiet enjoy it as Rakim used to on losing all that money.

Well if I can't loosen my tie I can certainly remove my jacket. I did so, carefully flashing the brand tag on the inside of my jacket. He barely moved his eyes.

"How much more time will it take," I asked the driver.

"Sir, 30 minutes more," he replied.

"Oh damn it! I forgot to call my wife," as Rakim said those first words since the airport I felt someone had taken a hot hammer and banged me on my stomach with it. I ignored the operative sentence, his tone, slight clipped accent, and concentrated on the last word in the sentence.

Goddamn it! I should have known better than to come to Delhi. And even if I did why the heck I could not have gotten another cab. All because of this bloody heat that messes up one's mind - it makes weaklings out of all of us, always has and always will.

I bit my tongue and looked firmly outside of the window, gulping down blasts of hot air that hit my face any blinded me to scenes outside. I did not care, I just wanted to find a small corner and hide in it.

Rakim took out his cellphone and I heard him dialing someone.

"Hey cutie! Sorry I could not call you earlier. Yes, the flight was fine. Mumbai was much cooler than Delhi, of course. But the damn place floods like crazy at the first showers. Yeah, see ya soon."

In spite of myself I held on to each of his words. Dissecting his tones and pauses, and analyzing her responses on the other side of the line.

Stop it, I screamed silently. But the damage was done.

"Cutie". Was it not how I used to refer to her. The bastard even stole my one term of affection that I had found the courage to address her.

"Where is my Engineering Drawing submission," I shouted at Rakim on a really hot day of the 2nd semester of our freshman year.

"Well," he paused, "I gave it away. Like a Good Samaritan."

I was pissed more because I was used to his shenanigans involving my assignments as he was my best friend, but to give it away to some third-party was unacceptable in my book.

"What?! How can you just give it away. I spent hours on that Goddamn thing in this bloody heat. Tell me who you gave it to and I will get it back."

He smiled his mischievious smile, "Well you will have to go where no freshman has gone before: Sarojini Hostel."

"You gave it a girl!," I said with dread of redoing the assignment and with the secret pleasure that I will soon be famous with all the girls in Sarojini.

"Yes, I did," he said with apparent pride in his accomplishment.

"Well what is done is done. Tell me her name so that I can ask her to lend it back to me so that I can redo the whole thing." I forgot all about my earlier anger.

"Arre yaar, I do not know her name. She is the one who sits on the first row. The one with those pigtails."

"The one I call 'cutie'?"

Oh God, how I hated him. All those years of suppressed hate, made up self-reconciliation, mad rantings, and final acceptance washed upon me in waves upon waves. The heat made me feel dizzier.

I could not imagine them together. With their neat home: potted plants in the balcony, a leather couch in front of a big wall TV, the bed that they own, the meals they share, and so on. Clearly they were very happy together. I could make it from his voice. I could bet he could not want anything more. A Ferrari maybe (he was nuts about them since the time I knew him), but nothing else.

This has to be the worst day of my life. Well actually, it could only be the 2nd most worst day as nothing touches that last day of IIT, 7 years ago.

"I can't be with you," she said. As ever, she was simple and elegant and God how much I loved her. "You are my best buddy, but I like someone else," she continued.

I had always suspected something but this was like a punch in my stomach with a hot hammer. I pleaded with her but it was inevitable. Four years of friendship does not a love make. Why not, one may ask, why not so, comes back the reply.

I knew what I had to do. My body was covered in sweat so that my t-shirt was sticking to my back. I raced down to confront Rakim - my best buddy in the world and a backstabber.

It took only 4 minutes for me to get over four years of compadreship (I always thought it was a stupid make-believe word) - I have been always melodramatic so I had timed the 4 minutes of my rant, after which I left, swearing never to return.

I lost two precious things at once.

And now here I was, sitting with the same man with whom I still brooked resentment, which this damn hot day had fanned into flames of hatred of yore.

It was always easier to imagine them being unhappy or even if they were happy then not knowing or hearing about them (I had strictly kept off those stupid social networking sites for the same reason). The dusts of time had settled this episode of my life. But now, in one stroke of a brush, I could once again see the twin graves of love and friendship.

I did not know what to do. The carefully constructed edifice of iciness had melted away in the heat of Delhi. And I was once again exposed to the elements.

"Sir, your hotel is here."

I was woken up from my time traveling, but unfortunately a little bit late.

I got out and walked into the hotel with a heavy heart. One more time carrying the baggage of my past with me.


"Bhaiyya, switch on the A/C now," Rakim said to the driver while handing him a Rs. 500 note.

Rakim had a quiet smile on his face. He had noticed his old friend's first reaction when he had seen him at the taxi stand and not a single subsequent one had escaped his meticulous mind during their long and (purposefully made) hot journey.

The idea came to Rakim when he saw him taking his luggage from the Hong Kong flight's conveyor belt. It would be an interesting sociological experiment, he mused. He promptly left to slip a note into the hands of the booking clerk, asking him to make a cock and bull story and get the man in the Italian suit to share a cab with him.

The rest was easy. His old friend always had an over active mind and a vivid imagination. All he needed to do was take him to the KoolAid and he would gladly oblige.

Rakim took out his cellphone again.

"Honey! Do you want to go to that new Italian joint?," he said.

"Yeah sure, I will be ready when you reach home. By the way, why did you call me 'cutie'? No one has ever addressed me like that," the voice on the other line said.

A smiling Rakim replied, "Well I said it for the benefit of an old friend - he never got the truth before and therefore I did not want to disappoint him by shattering his long-held illusions."

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Saturday, June 27, 2009

Word of the Year

A friend of mine recently invented a new word. Muck.

It was indeed appropriate for a claimant to "lady-like" behavior but prone to lapses into her baser self, to invent a word that adheres to both of Jekyll's/Hyde's ways. The word turned out to be an inspired one.

Methinks that muck is an all-encompassing bundle of human emotions. Some erroneous persons may state that the honor should go to muck's more original cousin, but I disagree. For one the original is now a common crass phrase, while muck has the regality of regents of yore; it is like comparing the Vikings to the Frenchies in 1800s. Both may be selectively bloodthirsty and exploitative of common folk, but come on, who does not like them Frenchies? Then there is the wide spread shame and taboo involved with the original. Imagine telling your professor what a no good [insert *original cousin* here] he is; a no good muck is more like an absent-minded professor - so you can vent yourself without fear of any censure. Also, muck by virtue of the Oxford dictionary IS dirty but poshly and rightfully so.

Now that we have firmly established the superiority of muck (oh! muck off if you don't agree with me!), the next thing to do is check out how it will go in common parlance.

"What the muck," is a great way of saying what a muddy predicament the speaker has been put in. I can't think of a more civil way to express dismay, despair, and hatred in one phrase.

"Go muck yourself," would imply that the subjectee of the mucking go and wallow in the muck that he or she is spouting.

"Mucking hell" - blasphemous, but yet it tells you how bad and dirty place hell is so that all yea lost sheep repent and repent now! Makes for some great sermons all round.

"Muck off!" - the greatest use of the expression would sound so like Clint Eastwood in "Dirty Harry"; can someone say with genuineness that they don't want to sound like him? Seriously? Punks!

Well I think no more mucking around with the award and let us bring our dirty hoofs together in appreciation of this great mucking word.

And if you don't, then no problemo - you just go and have a mucking great day.

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The Little Big Things In/Of Life

New York/Delhi, present/past

Written circa 2004

There is a slight drizzle in the air as Anonymous is crossing 42nd street from 7th Avenue to Broadway. It is Anon's birthday and he (humor me and let Anon be a 'he' - does not make a difference) is on his way to one of those exclusive Manhattan restaurants to hook up with his friends and celebrate in style. It seems like a "big" thing, with Anon being good (and lets say fortunate) enough to be ironically enough in the "Big" Apple, doing pretty well for himself. Who would have thought some years back in India, that he would be celebrating his birthday in such grand style in the "City" (there, I have used a third substitution and all in one paragraph!).

But maybe it's the dark clouds on the horizon reminding him of the time when such pictures brought relief from a scorching sun at the same time of the year at another place; or, the sea of unknown faces in this rush hour crowd reminding him of those he may not see for sometime or, probably never; or, just something too deep to fathom in his mind; He looks back in time and remembers (and maybe even pines) for another birthday party he had with friends at another not so exclusive joint with a lot less budget (especially considering the $ to Rs. conversion rate!), and this time in a now seemingly far-off New Delhi.

Let us assume for a moment that being at this present stature in life is a "big" thing for Anon. If so, then why does he still craves for and try and refresh those "little" yet important things in life?

Switch the places and the scenario, but the question remains the same. The questions being not what are those things that excite us - those vary from person to person. But what stature of those things in terms of "big" and "small" makes us feel the way we do. Now before we jump to answer at an individual level (which probably is the right answer!) let us delve a little bit more into this seemingly-abstract-and-waste-of-time-but-good-time-pass topic.

What would have Juliet preferred, i.e. if such a person really lived outside of Shakespeare's imagination. Would she have liked Romeo's little gestures of giving her a rose every time he met her, and writing and singing sonnets for her each day? Or, would she have rather preferred to only be presented with say, a huge bouquet and a lovely "epic" poem for her once in a while, say on her very own birthday. A silly and a completely hypothetical question, but serves as a good example.

On one hand, giving something at every meeting, serves as a small and potent reminder of Romeo's love for his beloved each day. On the other, does not doing something day in and day out give a mechanical flavor to things, in spite of what we can assume are true feelings? Does it not maybe, in Juliet's eyes cheapen the value of the emotion being presented every day? And now, to take reverse the case the "big" example and get rid of these "small" gestures. Not doing those small things, which tokenize Romeo's affections, would not they drive his thoughts and bliss away from her mind when he is not there. But again on the other hand, if one does not expect anything like that because one was never used to it, then getting all those tokens in one big "chunk" - would not that serve as a far more fitter and stronger reminder of someone's love.

So were those small gestures more important, or will one big declaration of love sweep all the old ones into other recesses of the mind before it?

As the protagonist Alex, in Anthony Burgess' "A Clockwork Orange" used to say, "So what's it going to be then, eh?".

Another small example can be put in form of a choice to be made. Would one want a cell phone right from the onset of say the teen years, or only when one is an adult and able to afford one on your own. Here the question may not be posed as a trade-off between the big and the small, but more a question of time - constant v/s sudden. Is the constant possession of a cell phone a bigger blessing than the sudden appearance at which time it gives more the gratification due to all those years of waiting. But really in effect, it boils down to a question of small and maybe unrecognized pleasures much like those single rose buds presented to Juliet, as against a bigger but a single surge of happiness.

Let us get rid of these "prosperous" questions involving love and celebrations and technological gadgets and other capitalist-propaganda crap, and go to a baser level in life for a bit more perspective.

Consider a schoolteacher in a village who teaches a bunch of kids coming from farming families, which are not too well off. Suppose she (see I balanced the examples now!) is pretty diligent and sincere in her efforts and tries her best for the kids. Now what would give her more happiness, or let us say satisfaction, or maybe pride, or, any other adjective the reader may want to attribute if he/she were substituted in that teacher's place. Will she get more [use your adjective here] some of the kids to finish high school and maybe get a job as a clerk some place and be if only a little, but still better off than they are now? The students do well and they owe their success in part to her. Or, will she get more [use your adjective here] just a single kid to do amazingly well, get a really good break in life, get interviewed in some magazine later in life, and names her as one of his inspirations/drivers? With of course, the catch being that none of the other kids being able to get to that basic proficiency level as in the prior case.

Not to get into moralistic and ethical issues, as this is not the forum for that - just to think about it at a human level, what would give that teacher more happiness? Those trickle of students all through her life gradually doing something for themselves, or a sudden flood of plaudits once late (or, even early) in her life, and that's that. Again, a trade-off between numerous little things, as opposed yet again (never in conjunction, as that is the premise of this essay, and in the author's opinion, usually what happens in life) to a single big thing.

Well if you get my drift and think about it, then life in general seems really unfair to set us up with such choices all through one's life. And let it please be clarified, that one choice may not really be better than the other, just a question of patience versus contingency. As an example, and I know this may sound frivolous - does a student take Biology or, Math in school? On the one hand engineering is comparatively fast and will yield quicker results in terms of job prospects and stuff. Medical school is longer and more arduous (not to offend any engineers) and setting up a practice after a MD and other kind of things, may result in more time, and hence delayed returns. I took this (bad) example, to show that either is a good choice for a career, and yet there is a time factor involved. And in turn a question of little gains now and possible bigger returns later.

Do I spend money as I earn it and get high on these small peccadilloes, and hence forgoing the option to possess some big-deal materialistic thing? Or do I save up, live like a hermit right now, and later on life get a big house, big everything, big etc.? I know some people may say, "Well I can do both". But that is really not the point. Some little pleasures now will surely delay the big ones, unless one hits a jackpot or something.

Do I study real hard in under graduation and forego some of its pleasures in my quest for my career, or should I enjoy life as it comes and look to the future as and when it arrives? Again, can do both at times without conflict - just take it as an example.

Do I stay and relax at home every evening and maybe grow fat and ponderous. Or, do I forego the pleasure of lazing around and exercise regularly for me to be fit later in life, and maybe relax then?!

Do I call up my friend every so often to keep in touch or, do I call him once in a while to feel the surge of delight as it were renewing an old acquaintance.

So many (inane?) questions and these are maybe things that we never need to give a thought about in the first place, or sit back and think, "Will this be more agreeable in short stints or, at a single go?" We do not really have to. Then what is the point of all these rantings. I think, so that when we do certain things we can justify to ourselves as to why we did it. A model may use either of the two arguments. "Yes, I eat an ice-cream everyday (even though it may make me fat later on!) as eating it each and every day makes my life brighter and cheerful". "Yes, I do not usually eat an ice-cream as it makes me fat, and more so because eating it once in a blue moon makes the wait worth it, and the culminating 'sinful' act all the more pleasurable!"

It is when performing this act of justification that we can fall back on our trusted psychological arguments of little v/s big. And come to think of it, we have really used similar kind of arguments at different points in our lives, and continue to do so even as I write/someone reads this.

Writing this boring behemoth at one single stretch of two hours gives me immense pleasure right now, rather than writing it in small pieces over the course of a week and enjoying the expository journey if only in lesser intensity, but for a longer time! See I am already putting it in practice, if only this time, consciously.

But there may be other times as well where we made our choices unconsciously and more as a matter of head/heart than needing the straw of justification to cling on to. We may have whispered sweet nothings into the ear of a sweetheart for the small fluttering of the heart it gives us every day. As opposed to a single avowal of love spaced out far and few in between. And we may have not really thought about it and made the decision(s) on some complex chemistry which I would not dare to venture in. We may have chosen to forego all those parties in preparation of a test and finally getting the desired result felt that rush of exhilaration. But when refusing all those temptations we may have not really done it due to any immediate justification or, any expectation of a reward, we just did it.

So what is the point? The point is that no matter whether we attribute justifications or, conscious/unconscious choices, we do make such decisions and distinctions in our lives between big and little returns. We discriminate for reasons unknown to each other, but yet we all do it.

No two people are the same, and everyone has their own preferences, prejudices and final judgments. But we all are somewhat the same in the types of decisions that life throws our way and the outcome of those choices. I guess it is a long drawn game, and what choice one makes on a day, on another may move to a diametrically opposed direction with a flip result/reward.

The onus is on us, i.e. if we feel like it, to be once in a while in a position where we can think of the consequences of our actions before we plod headlong in them. And maybe then we may not do the things in the same manner. I may choose to get the very best of life in small measures or, I can wait patiently to ride out the storms and have then reach the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow later or, I may do what I am best at, and be just plain old confused.


Friday, June 26, 2009

“The Story of Philosophy”, Will Durant

Mind over Matter

How does knowledge arise? Have we, as some good people suppose, innate ideas, as, for example, of right and wrong, and God, - ideas inherent in the mind from birth, prior to all experience? Anxious theologians, worried lest belief in the Deity should disappear because God had yet not be seen in any telescope, had thought that faith and morals might be strengthened if their central and basic ideas were shown to be inborn in every normal soul. But John Locke (1632-1704), good Christian though he was, ready to argue most eloquently for “The Reasonableness of Christianity,” could not accept these suppositions; he announced quietly, that all our knowledge comes from experience and through our senses – that “there is nothing in the mind except what was first in the senses”. The mind is at birth a clean sheet, a tabula rasa; and sense-experience writes upon it in a thousand ways, until sensation begets memory and memory begets ideas. All of which seemed to lead to the startling conclusion that since only material things can affect our sense, we know nothing but matter, and must accept a materialistic philosophy. If sensations are the stuff of thought, the hasty argued, matter must be the material of mind.

Not at all, said Bishop George Berkeley (1684-1753); this Lockian analysis of knowledge proves rather that matter does not exist except as a form of mind. It was a brilliant idea – to refute materialism by the simple expedient of showing that we know of no such thing as matter; in all Europe only a Gaelic imagination could have conceived this metaphysical magic. But see how obvious it is, said the Bishop: has not Locke told us that all our knowledge is derived from sensation? Therefore all our knowledge of anything is merely our sensations of it, and the ideas derived from these sensations. A “thing” is merely a bundle of perceptions – i.e., classified and interpreted sensations.

You protest that your breakfast is much more than a bundle of perceptions; and that a hammer that teaches you carpentry through your thumb has a most magnificent materiality. But your breakfast is at first nothing but a congeries of sensations of sight and smell and touch; and then of taste; and then of internal warmth and comfort. Likewise, the hammer is bundle of sensations of color, size, shape, weight, touch, etc; its reality for you is not in its materiality, but in the sensations that come from your thumb. If you had no senses, the hammer would not exist for you at all; it might strike your dead thumb forever and yet win from you not the slightest attention. It is only a bundle of sensations, or a bundle of memories; it is a condition of the mind. All matter, so far as we know it, is a mental condition; and the only reality that we know directly is mind. So much for materialism.

But the Irish Bishop had reckoned without the Scottish skeptic. David Hume (1711-1776) at the age of twenty-six shocked all Christendom with his highly heretical Treatise on Human Nature, - one of the classics and marvels of modern philosophy. We know the mind, said Hume, only as we know matter: by perception, thought it be in this case internal. Never do we perceive any such entity as the “mind”; we perceive merely separate ideas, memories, feelings, etc. The mind is not a substance, an organ that has ideas; it is only an abstract name for the series ideas; the perceptions, memories and feelings are the mind; there is no observable “soul” behind the process of thought.

The result appeared to be that Hume as effectually destroyed the mind as Berkeley has destroyed matter. Nothing was left; and philosophy found itself in the midst of ruins of its own making. No wonder a wit advised the abandonment of the controversy, saying “No matter, never mind”.

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Roger Waters in Concert - Circa Sep, 2006

Roger Waters was on tour in North America and was also coming to New Jersey. I bought tickets like 2 months in advance and couple of weeks back and me and my Pink Floyd t-shirt went to see the concert.

It was the first time that I had seen such a huge mass of people collected at the same place. There easily must be 40000 people over there. The concert hall itself was semi-open. With the premium quality seats right in the front and after that there were wide open "lawns" with allowed free seating of your butt on the ground - and this is where we sat. But the cool thing about the place was the acoustics, which were excellent, as well as there were these huge screens, so that one can get an up close view of the stage.

While the audience was hanging around waiting for the concert to start they were playing songs on the system. Now the cool thing about this was that on the video that was playing on simultaneously was showing an old radio, one of the big and old ones, that was being tuned simultaneously as the songs were changing. It just showed a hand, a glass of drink, and a "sutta" in the hand. This went on for some time...

Finally Roger Waters the man arrived on stage with his band. There was a guy on the lead guitar and another on the bass. There were also 3 ladies who provided the chorus as well as sang solos during the concert.

Roger Waters played a medley of songs ranging from classic Floyd to his own solo efforts. And he was as political as he could have been, berating the Republicans and Bush, and abusing the latter during some songs. Being a "blue" state, most of the audience appreciated his thoughts. He also played a song about his travails in Lebanon as a young guy, when his car broke down, and he stayed for the night with a Lebanese family. While this semi-song unfolded there was a matching b&w cartoon strip running in the background.

A notable song that Roger Waters played was "Wish you were here". Actually the concert was billed as the "Dark Side of the Moon" meets his solo hits. So obviously he also played "Brain damage". "Money" was also there some where in the middle. While playing "Shine on you crazy diamond", Syd Barrett was shown on the screens.

The band then took a break after playing for an hour and a half. There was so much weed being smoked that you smell it in the air!

After the break the band played for another hour and then went off. Of course we knew they were faking and when people started cheering they came back for an encore, and they started with you know what - "The Wall", which kind of surprised me that Roger Waters will choose to play this 'pop-ish' song on popular demand. But anyways, this was too cool for words; after hearing the same played in our hostels for I do not know how many times; during Thomso at the request stall, it was an exhilarating experience.

I do not remember clearly, but I think he then played "Learning to fly" after that. And the grand finale of the encore was of course "Comfortably numb".

Tullu and I were kinda disappointed that he did not play "High Hopes" (the "... grass was greener..." vaala song according to her), but then you can't play all.

Amazing show and I am sure damn glad that me and my PF shirt got to see it.

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Friday, June 05, 2009


A man, a plan, a caret, a ban, a myriad, a sum, a lac,
a liar, a hoop, a pint, a catalpa, a gas, an oil, a
bird, a yell, a vat, a caw, a pax, a wag, a tax, a
nay, a ram, a cap, a yam, a gay, a tsar, a wall, a
car, a luger, a ward, a bin, a woman, a vassal, a
wolf, a tuna, a nit, a pall, a fret, a watt, a bay, a
daub, a tan, a cab, a datum, a gall, a hat, a fag, a
zap, a say, a jaw, a lay, a wet, a gallop, a tug, a
trot, a trap, a tram, a torr, a caper, a top, a tonk,
a toll, a ball, a fair, a sax, a minim, a tenor, a
bass, a passer, a capital, a rut, an amen, a ted, a
cabal, a tang, a sun, an ass, a maw, a sag, a jam, a
dam, a sub, a salt, an axon, a sail, an ad, a wadi, a
radian, a room, a rood, a rip, a tad, a pariah, a
revel, a reel, a reed, a pool, a plug, a pin, a peek,
a parabola, a dog, a pat, a cud, a nu, a fan, a pal, a
rum, a nod, an eta, a lag, an eel, a batik, a mug, a
mot, a nap, a maxim, a mood, a leek, a grub, a gob, a
gel, a drab, a citadel, a total, a cedar, a tap, a
gag, a rat, a manor, a bar, a gal, a cola, a pap, a
yaw, a tab, a raj, a gab, a nag, a pagan, a bag, a
jar, a bat, a way, a papa, a local, a gar, a baron, a
mat, a rag, a gap, a tar, a decal, a tot, a led, a
tic, a bard, a leg, a bog, a burg, a keel, a doom, a
mix, a map, an atom, a gum, a kit, a baleen, a gala, a
ten, a don, a mural, a pan, a faun, a ducat, a pagoda,
a lob, a rap, a keep, a nip, a gulp, a loop, a deer, a
leer, a lever, a hair, a pad, a tapir, a door, a moor,
an aid, a raid, a wad, an alias, an ox, an atlas, a
bus, a madam, a jag, a saw, a mass, an anus, a gnat, a
lab, a cadet, an em, a natural, a tip, a caress, a
pass, a baronet, a minimax, a sari, a fall, a ballot,
a knot, a pot, a rep, a carrot, a mart, a part, a
tort, a gut, a poll, a gateway, a law, a jay, a sap, a
zag, a fat, a hall, a gamut, a dab, a can, a tabu, a
day, a batt, a waterfall, a patina, a nut, a flow, a
lass, a van, a mow, a nib, a draw, a regular, a call,
a war, a stay, a gam, a yap, a cam, a ray, an ax, a
tag, a wax, a paw, a cat, a valley, a drib, a lion, a
saga, a plat, a catnip, a pooh, a rail, a calamus, a
dairyman, a bater, a canal -- Panama!

This is the biggest palindrome :) ... now read it backwards...

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