Showing posts with label The Hindu Editorial. Show all posts
Showing posts with label The Hindu Editorial. Show all posts

18 July, 2016

Here and How

Despite our differences, we all share a common desire to live a fulfilling life. It’s one of the things that make us humans — well, human. As social beings, we crave for meaning in everything we do. We want to get the most out of our experiences and so we intentionally seek purpose in things we go through.

The question here is: what does a fulfilling life look like to you? Is it one where you’ve got a lot of money for everything you want and need? Or is it where you have the best relationships with the people you love and those around you? Or is it a life of peace, wellness, and contentment? The following are five helpful tips that will help you create a happier and more fulfilled life.

1. Live in the moment.

Our physical body resides in the present, but from a mental standpoint, things don’t often go this way. Even though we are physically here at this very moment, most of our thoughts drift far away to the distant past or the imagined future. Because of this, we’re losing connection with the present moment — with the important “NOW.”

Psychologists believe this is the reason why so many people feel like they’re trapped in the past or scared of the future. It’s also the reason why we may feel like days are so short, or that we’re always running out of time. What we fail to notice is these small moments that make up our memories — this is our life. It’s what happens now that should be your greatest concern. What happens now has the greatest impact on who you will be.

2. Don’t follow the herd; tread where your heart takes you.

The world needs more brave people who can stand up for their own decisions — people of principle and determination who are willing to dig in their heels because they know that it’s the right thing to do. People like Mahatma Gandhi, Nelson Mandela, and Nikola Tesla who stood up for their own beliefs and made great things happen.

We all lead different lives. Each one of us has his own desires and needs. To live fully and become the best version of ourselves, we must discover where our true passions lie. Follow your own path; work with your core purpose; be a ray of light in this otherwise blindingly dark world.

3. Acknowledge different forms of success.

In our money-driven society, it’s quite a common misconception to measure success by how much you make, how big your house, or how nice your car is. Money is important — no need to argue about it. However, there are other forms of success that prove more valuable. Success in relationships, health, and career are better source of happiness and fulfillment than financial wealth.

4. Learn how to use obstacles as compasses.

What stands in the way becomes the way. The things we call obstacles are not things we must “overcome.” These are things that will point us to the right direction; in other words, they are our pathways to success and fulfillment. Great things come before a turning point — people often encounter difficulties before they achieve success. The next time you have problems, try to see them as a compass, and use it to achieve what you want.

5. Aim for progress not perfection.

On the surface, both progress and perfection are good things; however, one of these two things breeds fear and undoing, while the other cultivates confidence and creativity. Can you guess which is which?

It’s simple. While aiming for perfection is really admirable, it’s not always good. Perfectionism can be paralyzing, and most of the time, it only leads to fear, avoidance, and undoing. Because you want to make something “perfect,” you fear for flaws, so you avoid doing the task because it creates so much stress — ultimately, it will make you abandon the work.

Progress on the other hand allows you to make mistakes; it emphasizes that there is no need for utmost perfection as long as you make progress every day. And this is really good. As you gain progress, you feel better, more confident, and more trustful of your skill — which leads to more happiness and fulfillment.

15 July, 2016

Mohammad Amir Returns

By Kartikeya Date

Don't think be deluded into thinking Mohammad Amir was prosecuted for causing the noble game the blushes. His crime was rocking the boat for private interests in the business of cricket.
Very few human beings in the history of the world have bowled as fast and as well as Mohammad Amir could by the age of 18. By then, Amir had been through multiple back injuries and a nearly fatal bout of dengue fever. The first time he met the then Pakistan coach Geoff Lawson, he was 16, attending an under-19 camp. He was delayed by three hours because the Taliban had closed the highway. An introduction to the great Wasim Akram came courtesy the former Pakistan all-rounder Mudassar Nazar, at the end of which Akram pronounced the teenager “ready to play for Pakistan”. He was duly picked and made his Test debut at Galle in 2009.
Amir got a wicket in his first over. It was a classic fast bowler’s dismissal. Steep bounce and sharp inward movement cramped the opener Malinda Warnapura for room and his hurried stab resulted in an inside edge onto his stumps. In the next over, the other opener, Tharanga Paranavitana, was dropped at third slip. In the third over of his Test career, Amir dismissed the great Kumar Sangakkara, caught at third slip, poking at a ball delivered on perfect length just outside off stump. In his fourth, Pakistan’s notoriously unreliable wicketkeeper Kamran Akmal spilt a routine caught-behind chance from Mahela Jayawardene.
Amazingly enough, Amir topped this epic beginning to his Test career in the very next innings. In his second spell, with Sri Lanka relatively safe at 81/2, Amir ran through Paranavitana, Jayawardene and Sangakkara in three consecutive overs to reduce them to 101/5.
Despite the heart of their batting having been dismantled by Amir twice in the match, Sri Lanka went on to win by 50 runs after Pakistan were shot out by Rangana Herath for 117, chasing 168 in the 4th innings.
Unlike all the other more common forms of cheating, fixing contains within it the despicable element of treason, to the game, to their bosses, to their fans
For his first 14 Tests, Amir toured Sri Lanka, New Zealand, Australia, and England, and took 51 wickets at a cost of 29 runs each — a stellar return for any bowler in this era. Cricket fans all over the world looked forward to the prospect of a stellar career as an elite fast bowler. On August 29, 2010, all these hopes were dashed. The News Of The Worldreported that three Pakistan players had agreed to, and delivered no-balls to orderin the then ongoing Test at The Oval. Mohammad Amir was one of them.
Of all the different types of cheating endemic to top-level sport (professional appeals, claiming bump balls as catches, appealing to put pressure on the umpire, not walking, throwing the return to the ‘keeper hard and right past the batsman’s nose, ball-tampering, fudging descriptions of ball-tampering by describing a picture of a bowler with his studs on the ball as “stopping the ball with one’s foot”, taking huge starts at the non-striker’s end and then complaining that bowlers who mankad non-strikers are not acting within the spirit of the game), fixing — spots in matches or entire matches — is the rarest one. It is also one which perpetrators of all the other more common forms of cheating consider to be beyond the pale. This because, unlike all the other more common forms of cheating, fixing contains within it the despicable element of treason (or at least, as in the case of spot-fixing, disinterest to the game).
It is not the dishonesty that is so repellant about spot-fixing, but the treason. Players who fix spots are traitors to the game, to their bosses, and to their fans. As nearly every spectator sport in the world shows, a team’s fans are perfectly happy to back their own dirty players, but not the opposition’s. As long as a player cheats to help his team, there is even a certain nobility associated with it.
As Pakistan prepare to face England in the first Test at Lord’s on July 14, the papers have been full of discussions about whether or not Amir deserves to be there. The mainstream consensus appears to be that Amir has completed the punishment that was awarded to him and ought to be welcomed back into the international game. The quality of his bowling leaves little doubt that he belongs at the highest level.
Whether he will survive the rigours of a full Test series remains to be seen, but his case should be considered the same way that any other player’s would be.
The Judge who sentenced the three players — Amir, Salman Butt and Mohammad Asif — concluded that Butt and Mazhar Majeed were the architects of the fixing operations and blamed captain Butt for corrupting Amir. Amir was described by the judge as an “unsophisticated, uneducated, impressionable” youngster from an impoverished background.
If you think Amir cheated the sport and went to prison, you are wrong. What he did was, in the eyes of the cricketing establishment, far worse. He cheated the business. That’s why he went to prison. Now he’s back to serve the business
As someone who supports the idea that sport is a public good, and that great societies are also great sporting societies, the fact that the 18-year-old Amir went to a notoriously violent juvenile prison for little more than being gullible in the wrong place at the wrong time does not sit well with me. Now, after the fact, it is all very well to say that Amir has served his time and the matter is done. But there is a reckoning that the game and its fans have to deal with as well.
While sentencing the players, the judge observed: “You procured the bowling of three no-balls for money, to the detriment of your national cricket team, with the object of enabling others to cheat at gambling. Now, whenever people look back on a surprising event in a game or a surprising result or whenever there are surprising events or results, followers of the game who have paid good money to watch it live or to watch it on TV, in the shape of licence money or TV subscriptions, will be led to wonder whether there has been a fix and whether what they have been watching is a genuine contest between bat and ball. What ought to be honest sporting competition may not be such at all.”
The criminal prosecution and convictionwas for conspiracy to cheat at gambling and conspiracy to accept corrupt payments. Spot-fixing isn't a crime. When a player tries to hit a six because the crowd demands it, he's disregarding the team's interests as much as Amir did, but the crowd isn't paying him specifically to do it — there's no explicit material interest at stake for that single action. Professional sportsmen say all the time that they aim to "entertain the public". Negative cricket is criticised because it fails to do so, even though, as a rational sporting strategy it probably makes more sense than being attacking.
In other words, spot-fixing became a crime because there was money involved. If Amir had bowled that no-ball at the behest of a friend but accepted no money or any other material gifts, it would not have been a crime, even though the consequences to the game would have been identical. The UK Crime Prosecution Service got involved because cricket is a private business, not because cricket is a public sport. The problem was that Amir and the others were involved with money exchanging hands in ways which were not sanctioned by the professional sport. It was that the players were dishonest in unacceptable ways. The problem was disloyalty, not dishonesty.
If you think Amir cheated the sport and went to prison, you are wrong. What he did was, in the eyes of the cricketing establishment, far worse. He cheated the business. That’s why he went to prison. Now he’s back to serve the business. Hopefully, he is no longer gullible enough or embittered enough to cheat it again. And hopefully, we are not gullible enough to look at Amir as if he is someone who is being done a huge favour by being allowed back in the international arena.


I hope you like this, so kindly comment below the post and do share your response. Thanks for reading :)

08 July, 2016

The Internet and the thirst for trauma

By Anisha Ralhan

Information is a good thing, no? That's why the Internet, as an inexhaustible and inexpensive repository of knowledge, is the go-to option for many an ailing curious cat. Only, it's important to realise that it can afflict you with anxiety as easily as it can diagnose or inform you.

The Internet teaches you a lot of things. How to bully a stranger. How to survive a bully a you barely know. Ten things to watch before you die. Ten ways to make a man fall in love with you. How to make your life seem more interesting than what it is because YOLO. The internet is like a cabinet of curiosity. If you open the right drawer, you could end up being popular or even smarter. But if you happen to be a hypochondriac like me, you could unleash upon yourself a world of misery — or in Web MD’s lexicon, an “Irritable Bowel Syndrome” — and things only spiral downward from there.

I can’t remember when exactly I began to worry about my health. It certainly didn’t happen overnight. I wasn’t raised in the shadows of a hypochondriac. All I remember is waking up in the middle of the night and breaking into a cold sweat as my eyeballs scanned the dark, grisly corridors of WebMD and Symptom checker. Tingling hands, bloated tummy, nausea, day-time headache, night-time headache, pain in the chest, heart palpitations...

The number of tabs kept growing. One night, I would diagnose myself of multiples scleroses. Two weeks later, it was colon cancer. There came a point when I could finish a friend’s sentence when she would describe her illness to me. This was around the same time, I had more doctors on last-dialed-contacts than friends and relatives.

What began as a harmless inquiry of symptoms gradually manifested into something bigger and demonic. The impact of my health-anxiety came to haunt me with the intensity of Thom Yorke’s lyrics. It was all-consuming. I began to encounter several of the low-flying panic attacks he describes so poignantly. The more I read, the more I suffered. What the hell; wasn’t it supposed to be vice-versa?

Cyberchondria, or hypochondria fueled by a relentless study of one’s symptoms online, is the bane of modern-day technology and access to a wormhole of unsupervised information, ie. the Internet.

Within minutes, stomach cramps escalated to an exploding appendix, a headache into a severe migraine attack, palpitations into a cardiac arrest. I would shake vigorously while picking up the phone to call a doctor, while making an unsolicited trip to the ER. Needless to say, the entire ordeal would leave me exhausted and embarrassed in equal parts.

A month-and-a-half back, I was diagnosed of Irritable Bowel Syndrome. The symptoms: consistent pain in the stomach, erratic bowel movement, nausea and bloating. Surprisingly, it wasn’t the gastric symptoms that led my doctor to raise a red flag. He expressed concern about my mental well-being. Do you think too much? Are you stressed about something? Why are you so anxious? 

These questions nudged me to sit back and regain the reins of my mind. After weeks of introspection, I came to terms with the fact that I’m a compulsive worrier, a hypochondriac. I have been a worrier all my life. And if that wasn’t bad enough, I was spending too much time on the internet dwelling upon unimportant symptoms.

Cyberchondria, or hypochondria fueled by a relentless study of one’s symptoms online, is the bane of modern-day technology and access to a wormhole of unsupervised information, ie. the Internet. According to a recent survey, 1 in 5 people reported escalated levels of medical anxiety after a week’s ingestion of health-related websites. That’s the corrupting effect of unsupervised information floating on the Internet. Who’s to tell how many of those websites were well-intentioned and not publishing content for clickbaits. 10 foods that can cause you cancer, anyone?

I’m no psychiatrist to have understood the complex ways in which our minds function. But I do know that the blackbox that resides in our head musn’t be fed with too much information. Especially, if Worrywart is your middle name. An anxious person running to the Internet for help is like a drunk man asking a coke-head to drive him home. I was destined to be damaged.

There’s no easy answer as to why some people are predisposed to anxiety or might, at some point or other, find themselves grappling with inexplicable worries. However, the most alarming thing about us worrywarts is that we fail to acknowledge it as some kind of an aberration to the rule.

Reading up symptoms, I thought, was hardly different from the act of folding every single towel that came from the laundromat or insisting on drinking tea from a cup-and-saucer. Until recently, I used to laugh about my symptom-checking urges the way people laugh about their compulsive habits (not disorders, mind you!). After all, worrying over potential worries sounds like some kind of a meta joke right?

Here’s the thing about Dr. Google. It works as an opiate for us worriers. It lures us into thinking that this inveterate curiosity is good for us, that information snorted in small doses won’t get us hooked to it, that it helps us sleep better after aching for a long time. To know the extent of its addiction, try stopping yourself from searching for 'ebola virus' soon after you’re down with fever, which is unaccompanied by cold and throat-ache.

I won’t say I have forgotten what it is to not obsess over health but I have stopped surfing in the bottomless sea of discussion forums and symptom-checking websites. I try to disassociate myself from other people’s sickness, their experiences and, to a large extent, even my own. I’ve had no panic attack recently. And on days I’m running out of things to focus on the Internet, the meme featuring a cat wearing a YOLO cap comes in handy.





Information is a good thing, no? That's why the Internet, as an inexhaustible and inexpensive repository of knowledge, is the go-to option for many an ailing curious cat. Only, it's important to realise that it can afflict you with anxiety as easily as it can diagnose or inform you.

The Internet teaches you a lot of things. How to bully a stranger. How to survive a bully a you barely know. Ten things to watch before you die. Ten ways to make a man fall in love with you. How to make your life seem more interesting than what it is because YOLO. The internet is like a cabinet of curiosity. If you open the right drawer, you could end up being popular or even smarter. But if you happen to be a hypochondriac like me, you could unleash upon yourself a world of misery — or in Web MD’s lexicon, an “Irritable Bowel Syndrome” — and things only spiral downward from there.

I can’t remember when exactly I began to worry about my health. It certainly didn’t happen overnight. I wasn’t raised in the shadows of a hypochondriac. All I remember is waking up in the middle of the night and breaking into a cold sweat as my eyeballs scanned the dark, grisly corridors of WebMD and Symptom checker. Tingling hands, bloated tummy, nausea, day-time headache, night-time headache, pain in the chest, heart palpitations...

The number of tabs kept growing. One night, I would diagnose myself of multiples scleroses. Two weeks later, it was colon cancer. There came a point when I could finish a friend’s sentence when she would describe her illness to me. This was around the same time, I had more doctors on last-dialed-contacts than friends and relatives.

What began as a harmless inquiry of symptoms gradually manifested into something bigger and demonic. The impact of my health-anxiety came to haunt me with the intensity of Thom Yorke’s lyrics. It was all-consuming. I began to encounter several of the low-flying panic attacks he describes so poignantly. The more I read, the more I suffered. What the hell; wasn’t it supposed to be vice-versa?

Cyberchondria, or hypochondria fueled by a relentless study of one’s symptoms online, is the bane of modern-day technology and access to a wormhole of unsupervised information, ie. the Internet.

Within minutes, stomach cramps escalated to an exploding appendix, a headache into a severe migraine attack, palpitations into a cardiac arrest. I would shake vigorously while picking up the phone to call a doctor, while making an unsolicited trip to the ER. Needless to say, the entire ordeal would leave me exhausted and embarrassed in equal parts.

A month-and-a-half back, I was diagnosed of Irritable Bowel Syndrome. The symptoms: consistent pain in the stomach, erratic bowel movement, nausea and bloating. Surprisingly, it wasn’t the gastric symptoms that led my doctor to raise a red flag. He expressed concern about my mental well-being. Do you think too much? Are you stressed about something? Why are you so anxious? 

These questions nudged me to sit back and regain the reins of my mind. After weeks of introspection, I came to terms with the fact that I’m a compulsive worrier, a hypochondriac. I have been a worrier all my life. And if that wasn’t bad enough, I was spending too much time on the internet dwelling upon unimportant symptoms.

Cyberchondria, or hypochondria fueled by a relentless study of one’s symptoms online, is the bane of modern-day technology and access to a wormhole of unsupervised information, ie. the Internet. According to a recent survey, 1 in 5 people reported escalated levels of medical anxiety after a week’s ingestion of health-related websites. That’s the corrupting effect of unsupervised information floating on the Internet. Who’s to tell how many of those websites were well-intentioned and not publishing content for clickbaits. 10 foods that can cause you cancer, anyone?

I’m no psychiatrist to have understood the complex ways in which our minds function. But I do know that the blackbox that resides in our head musn’t be fed with too much information. Especially, if Worrywart is your middle name. An anxious person running to the Internet for help is like a drunk man asking a coke-head to drive him home. I was destined to be damaged.

There’s no easy answer as to why some people are predisposed to anxiety or might, at some point or other, find themselves grappling with inexplicable worries. However, the most alarming thing about us worrywarts is that we fail to acknowledge it as some kind of an aberration to the rule.

Reading up symptoms, I thought, was hardly different from the act of folding every single towel that came from the laundromat or insisting on drinking tea from a cup-and-saucer. Until recently, I used to laugh about my symptom-checking urges the way people laugh about their compulsive habits (not disorders, mind you!). After all, worrying over potential worries sounds like some kind of a meta joke right?

Here’s the thing about Dr. Google. It works as an opiate for us worriers. It lures us into thinking that this inveterate curiosity is good for us, that information snorted in small doses won’t get us hooked to it, that it helps us sleep better after aching for a long time. To know the extent of its addiction, try stopping yourself from searching for 'ebola virus' soon after you’re down with fever, which is unaccompanied by cold and throat-ache.

I won’t say I have forgotten what it is to not obsess over health but I have stopped surfing in the bottomless sea of discussion forums and symptom-checking websites. I try to disassociate myself from other people’s sickness, their experiences and, to a large extent, even my own. I’ve had no panic attack recently. And on days I’m running out of things to focus on the Internet, the meme featuring a cat wearing a YOLO cap comes in handy.



07 July, 2016

The profitability of leisure

By Sneha

We live in an age where every moment is enslaved in the service of capitalism. Productivity is regarded as the highest virtue and leisure a wasteful self-indulgence. But sometimes, the best ideas and innovations are lurking mischievously in the fogs of loitering.

About four years ago, a book titled Why Loiter? put forward an apparently simply, but effectively radical, proposition: why not loiter? Arguing that it is mostly almost always men of a certain class, caste, and religion who have the privilege of loitering in public without the risk of stigmatisation, dishonour, and violence, this book proposed loitering as an emancipatory political act which women and other subaltern groups might take up. The authors of the book argued that loitering out of choice means resisting codes and norms that make it acceptable for men to do so but not women. Taking this a step further, one might even add that loitering as an act in itself is an affront to capitalism which thrives on the principles of efficiency and productivity. Loitering and doing timepass do not have the kind of productive potential that generate profits in a monetary sense. Since time is money, according to capitalist diktat, wasted time is a costly affair. Due to such a mindset, leisure takes on the character of structured and planned activities that focus on developing one’s personality, skills, or resumé. Ironically, we seem to be working towards leisure.

Not too long ago, I was conducting preliminary research on public displays of affection in Mumbai and during that time a friend’s mother invited me over for dinner. Upon learning about my research, she was initially overwhelmed by a cascade of shrill giggles but after a while, she regained composure and decided to share with me her insight on the issue. After going through the motions of talking about crammed houses in Mumbai pushing people to public spaces for intimacy, she said, “Although, it is obvious that these people have nothing better to do than sit with each other for hours together. They should read a book, pick up a hobby together, or something! What is the point of just sitting like that?” I commented on her wry sense of romance, which she took to be a compliment for some reason, and asked her if there was no place for romance anymore. To this, she quickly said, “Look, priorities should be priorities. As young people, you need to think about jobs and career, not just romance. These films are spoiling everyone…The smart ones will get all the jobs, and these lovers can continue doing timepass with each other.”

While consistent with the general angst that older generations reserve towards the untoward habits of the younger generation, what this particular woman was saying additionally referenced contemporary social anxiety about the productivity and efficiency of our country’s greatest asset — its youth. Not wanting to engage in a fight while unabashedly devouring the three-course meal she had prepared for me, I kept mum. However, this conversation continues to haunt me whenever I see couples or groups of young men and women doing nothing ‘productive’ for hours: sitting and chatting, sharing stories of laughter and pain, texting, or simply watching pulsating crowds on the road while waiting for a perennially late bus. Very often, I see young men and women in cafés in America looking very busy, very stern, very seriously watching a show on NetFlix or browsing Facebook. It does not matter whether what they are doing is work or not; the point is that they perform busy-ness precisely because it has so much social sanction. As I see this trend catching on even in cafés here, I wonder if we can accept leisure without terms and conditions. I, for one, am finding it hard to.

In a neoliberal modern India that is impatiently trying to cultivate a sense of global belonging and superstardom, unproductive acts of leisure index a dangerous residue of people who are indolently strolling in an Olympic running race. Loitering, doing ‘timepass’ and loafing around — and the people who partake of such activities — are perceived as roadblocks in the path to speedy progress and socio-economic development. Take, for example, anarticle in The Wall Street Journal that took the dangers of loitering and ‘timepass’ to an extreme albeit with the intention of solving the ‘problem of rape’ in India. This article argued that if young men in India had productive jobs, and if they didn’t indulge in ‘timepass’, perhaps cases of rape and molestation might be avoided.

It, unlike the book, did not make a case that men and women of all castes and classes ought to loiter; it said, instead, that it is precisely loitering and timepass that are probably causing crimes like rape. Reeking of a class bias, this article is exemplary of a certain attitude towards the act of loitering and the elite perception of those who indulge in unproductive ‘timepass’. Too quick to mount the blame on working class and unemployed men, it also very quickly and conveniently stigmatises certain behaviors as suspicious and problematic. Such an attitude also makes it appear as if unproductive leisure is something that one would not do if one had a productive avocation in hand.

Of course, the negative associations with ‘timepass’ are not new. ‘Waste fellow’, ‘jobless’, or just ‘loafer’ are terms of derision and mockery in everyday conversation. Films and books from the past are littered with references to slothful characters, being reprimanded for their lack of initiative. However, the difference today is that along with increasing emphasis on self-cultivation through activity-oriented projects, choosing to do nothing in an age brimming with a wide array of things-to-do is becoming unthinkable. Why would one not want to squeeze the productive potential out of every moment when there are so many options available? This is precisely what my friend’s mother was getting at. Why would young couples while away time talking to each other instead of doing something that might be more profitable? Something must be wrong with someone who wants to waste time, while it away. It must be privilege (and, sure, it could be); it must be pathological; or, it must be criminal amounts of laziness. In the haste to wish away the act of ‘time waste’, however, we need to be a bit more cautious. Must the way we spend time involve some tangible benefit to oneself or someone else? Are we not being too arrogant in our understanding of ‘productivity’?

Sure, one can be supremely productive and do activities that involve structure, are close-ended, time-bound, and fairly predictable in their input-output models. Amid the increasing range of leisure-oriented activities, the quest to add more activities to one’s bucket list is hardly in danger. However, for those who find their calling in the slowness of life, in the randomness of every moment, ‘unproductive’ ventures like timepass and loitering might actually be the source of unbridled creativity and joy. In being so committed to developing productive capabilities, we need not give up on the pleasures of being surprised by moments that sneak up on us while we are doing nothing: one might chance upon a strand of conversation one hadn’t planned for; a string of puns and wordplays, strokes of genius repartees that one is never going to be awarded for; one might see a whole new side to one’s own neighbourhood while loitering on the streets without an agenda; one might feel a whole new feeling while sitting by the beach watching the sunset; one might smell something noisome which might provoke curiosity, thought, a solution, a story; one might hear a sound that inspires a whole range of musical notes; one might also end up discovering nothing surprising, be assured of life’s rhythmic humdrum; or, one might simply want to be. We only always hear of the dangers of loitering and timepass; let’s, for once, embrace the possibility of the pleasure and profit that they offer.


03 July, 2016

What does a true Brit bite?

By Vidya Venkat
Those rallying for British nationalism and a concomitant Brexit are forgetting that 'British culture' today is a nebulous idea.
If people are what they eat, then there could be nothing uniquely ‘British’ about the Brits. When the news of the Brexit vote started coming in on Friday, June 24, my mind instantly went back to an ethnographic study of the popular UK supermarket chain Sainsbury’s, which I had done five years ago as a student of anthropology in London.
Source: Wikipedia
Bronisław Malinowski, a 20th-Century anthropologist, argued that culture functioned to meet the needs of individuals rather than society as a whole.
Meaning, in an age of globalisation following a history of colonial cross-assimilation, Britain can hardly have an 'authentic culture'.
In the study, I had set out to decode the Malinowskian “imponderabilia of everyday life” of the average British citizen. Bronislaw Malinowski, the father figure of British social anthropology, had famously used immersion in the everyday life activities of the Trobriand Islanders in Papua New Guinea to understand their culture. I too had followed on his footsteps, only I chose to study the Brits instead. And what better way to explore their culture than study their food habits? What I discovered during the research shatters the myth of a unique British culture, which the UK Independence Party’s Nigel Farage often gloats about.
My “field of study” was the Sainsbury’s supermarket store in the posh London Borough of Islington. Being a popular store and one of the largest supermarket chains in the UK, it provided an ideal sample as to what Britain ate. This was where I had been initiated into the ritual of supermarket shopping in the UK, an experience that was vastly different from the more modest affair of grocery shopping in India. The field that I had chosen bore a symbolic significance too, in that the project was intended to be an exercise in understanding the material culture of the erstwhile coloniser. As an Indian student finding my way around London for the first time, my effort to unravel the “other” — in this case the British people — was rather instructive in how the process of colonisation had not only impacted the colonies but — in reverse osmosis — the coloniser as well.
The first time I walked into this Sainsbury’s store, I was awestruck by its sheer size. It had a floor space of 36,000 square feet. Never before had I come across such a variety of food items representing a multitude of world cultures. I could count more than a hundred different types of cheese and butter alone! The store, I noticed, had a separate World Food section stocking everything from Chinese herbs to Indiantikka.
^ Queen Elizabeth meets some shoppers during her visit on Tuesday to Sainsbury's supermarket in London's Cromwell road, on March 6, 1985. It was believed to be the Queen Mother's first visit to a supermarket. | The Hindu Archives
My flatmate Michael Houlgate, who was English and had a fondness for food, was my trusted research informant for the project. He was from the English countryside and not a Londoner and I thought that added value to the research question that I was seeking to answer about ‘authentic British culture’. For what I saw in London could not have faithfully captured everything that was British. Michael had been shopping at supermarkets for groceries ever since he remembered.
A walk through Sainsbury's will reveal, with its bevy of imported foods, how much of foreign culture colonialism has forced the English to assimilate
It was around 11 a.m. on a Wednesday and the store was teeming with shoppers. At the entrance was a stack of newspapers with cigarettes and mint stocked beside. The store beyond was divided into long rows of shelves stocking meat and fish on one end, then fruits, vegetables and flowers; followed by toiletries, milk and eggs, cheese and butter, breads, confectionary, et al. Products sourced from Britain carried a ‘Taste of Britain’ logo on them, but such items appeared to be fewer when compared to imported food. At the end of the shopping trip, I couldn’t help notice how much of what I saw on the shelves of the store was either imported from outside or local variants of food influenced by other cultures. The only food items at the store that could qualify for being called British-sourced ‘local’ food were milk, poultry, potatoes, or meat items such as beef, pork and turkey, and salmon.
^ The Cornish Pasty, originating circa the 17th Century in Cornwall, might be about the few English dishes that can be traced back to England. | Special Arrangement
Thus, my initial conception of the Sainsbury’s store as a symbol of British food and culture began to fall apart after several visits. I also realised how the mental barriers of “us” and “them” that I had erected could not be maintained, because not only had my own relationship with “the field” changed through an unconscious process of assimilation into London culture but also because what was supposedly ‘British’ did not necessarily originate within the geographical confines of the country.
When I asked Michael as to what an authentic British meal would comprise of he laughed and said, “Oh! Bangers and mash maybe. But people of this generation no longer eat what you might consider ‘authentic’ British cuisine. My grandmother does, but I don’t.” Michael then directed my attention toward the videos of Jamie Oliver in which he traces the origin of what many consider British food today to immigrant cultures from all over the world. Fish and chips, the popular road-side food item that you can find in every nook and corner of London and other parts of Britain, originally came from Jewish communities. Hash browns, the popular ‘British’ potato dish, are said to carry strong influences of the Swiss origin Rosti, or a variant of the potato French fries. Even steak, the popular beef roast eaten in Britain, is said to have French origins.
^ In 2001, British Foreign Secretary Robin Cook declared that "Chicken Tikka Masala is now a true British national dish, not only because it is the most popular, but because it is a perfect illustration of the way Britain absorbs and adapts external influences."
What I understood through my fieldwork was how the idea of a local English culture had been marginalised by macro-processes of the global food industry. To borrow a term used by the anthropologists Rapport and Overing, modern-day supermarkets are ‘zones of transit’ where culture is produced on the move and actions performed within this space can’t be understood in isolation from the larger processes of globalisation determining them. Therefore, I turned to secondary literature on the subject of food, globalisation and culture to construct the broader canvas within which I was to locate my British subjects. It became clear to me that what we today understand as British food and culture is a product of both globalisation and colonialism. No wonder then that the Indian recipe chicken tikka is so popular across Britain that many English families even include it in their daily meals.
In the post-Brexit world, where sentiments around the need to preserve ‘British culture’ have gained importance, what with Nigel Farage’s UK Independence Party claiming freedom from Europe and the unwanted influence of ‘immigrants’ in their land, it is worth asking what is the uniquely British thing about Britain that they are now seeking to preserve. The whole idea of a unique British culture is indeed nebulous. The historical process of colonisation, led by Great Britain, has resulted in the country assimilating a great deal from the food and cultures of the countries they interacted with, with the result that today it has warped their own identity. In fact, the English peoples themselves are originally of Anglo-Saxon origin, of Germanic tribes that migrated to the British islands.
^ Fish and Chips is well-known as a British staple delicacy, along the likes of Bangers and Mash. But the dish has been found to have Jewish origins. | R. Ravindran
Anthropologist Paul Rabinow notes in his ethnography on Morocco as to how fieldwork is about “the comprehension of the self by the detour of the comprehension of the other”. In attempting to locate the culturally mediated and historically situated self of the ordinary British citizen in the continuously changing world of meaning created in a globalised supermarket store, I too had comprehended my cultural self. I realised how my regular excursions to the store had encouraged me to experiment with Italian pasta sauces, Thai red curry, Middle Eastern hummus and other exotic foods which I did not eat back at home. They were the newfound luxuries that had become part of my life as a student in London. What had therefore started as a pursuit of cultural ‘otherness’ had led me to discover that I was after all united with the ‘other’ through a common gastronomic gluttony, an expression perhaps of the common humanity which Malinowski had discovered among the Trobriand islanders he was studying.

28 June, 2016

Colour me in the pink

By theRead Desk

We rely on colours — external appearances, second-hand information — to understand our world, in most cases. Yet, they can be very misleading. Here's a selection of lucid images to help explain how to deal with this...

Colour. It's what defines an object. Colour is literally what differentiates an edible melon from a poisonous one...

^ A Hello Kitty face is embossed on a melon, grown specially in Hokkaido, Japan. The melons are harvested after the design is etched onto them. Once they ripen, they will go on sale for 5,400 Yen ($53 approx.), pictured here at the Sanrio Co headquarters in Tokyo, on June 23, 2016.

Yet, colour is only a property — not the essence — of the melon. And here's the really cool thing about colour. You notice it only when light reflects off of the melon. Until light informs you of its external surface, you really don't know anything about the melon. But even then, light can only give you information about the melon's surface. And that's pretty superficial, when you think about it. Because appearances can be fabricated. Artificial strawberry milkshake looks quite identical to the real thing...

^Participants react to a downpour of foam during a Bubble Show event in Beijing, on Sunday, June 26, 2016. Thousands of residents enjoy coloured foam churned out by machines along a running track at the event designed for children and parents' interaction. | AP

We say, “See it to believe it”, as though sight — afforded by light — is the most sureshot way of comprehending something. But when you think about it, when you rely on colour and light, you're relying on a truly second-hand source.

You literally have to believe what light tells you. But it's daft to believe what a politician — someone self-avowedly seeking power — tells you...

^ Republican U.S. presidential candidate Donald Trump speaks during a news conference in front of a lighthouse at his Turnberry golf course, in Turnberry, Scotland, on June 24, 2016.

Sound familiar? When we let demagogues tell us what to think of the world we live in, we can be sure that we will end up distrusting our neighbours and handing the demagogues the keys to the city. It's what they do. It's called divide-and-rule. Set up a fictive danger, then campaign for power on the promise that they will save the world from it. Thing about demagogues, though, is that they concoct and fabricate so much that fact begins to matters very little to them.

^ Edinburgh Castle rock is illuminated with a sign to "Vote Remain" in a show of support for the campaign for Britain to remain in Europe ahead of Thursday's EU Referendum, in Scotland, on June 21. Therefore, it was understandably odd that Donald Trump would tweet congratulations to Scots on Britain leaving the European Union.

And that's how Donald Trump ended up tweeting his congratulations to Scotland, where he addressed a rally earlier this week at his golf course, even though the Scots had voted against the U.K. leaving the European Union, by a ratio of 62:38. But, you can rest assured his campaign-managers will come up with some rationalisation of the faux pas — some colourful story to justify the comment.

Ok. This is not to say that colour — by which we mean externalities, or the stories/narratives we tell about ourselves, in general — is bad or doesn't matter. It allows us to display our vital statistics up front. It allows us to make the snap decisions needed to understand something at a glance and get on with life and not sit around pondering for hours on end about the real truth behind each and every little thing.

But wasting time being obsessively contemplative is one thing; and deciding to vote for your country to leave its continent without knowing what your ballot is for, is quite another.

^ A sticker reading "I'm in" is left in the mud at Worthy Farm in Somerset during the Glastonbury Festival, Britain, June 24, 2016.

It's true. Google reported a 250% spike in the number of people searching for “what happens if we leave the EU...” almost half a day after the referendum had taken place. This sort of thing is bound to happen when you allow second-hand information to dictate your judgement — or when you allow second-rate politicians tell you a superficial story about “dangerous” immigrants and con you into abandoning the virtue of togetherness and unity.

^ The Dome of the Rock is seen in the background as Palestinians pray on the third Friday of the holy fasting month of Ramadan on the compound known to Muslims as Noble Sanctuary and to Jews as Temple Mount, in Jerusalem's Old City, on June 24, 2016. Jews are barred from offering prayers at the compound.

Because, there are already enough artificial things dividing humanity. Just take a look at Israel, where Muslims and Jews revere the same structure, but refuse to share it. Such a powerful allegory about the contradiction between religion and spirituality...

^ A pregnant woman performs yoga on International Yoga Day, June 21, 2016.

See, the former is based on indoctrination and leads to sectarian strife; whereas the latter is based on free-thought, and makes you all-embracing and generous.

^ A participant takes part in the annual Pride London Parade which highlights issues of the gay, lesbian and transgender community, in London, on June 25, 2016.

Because to truly engage with the spirit, you need to open — as they say — your heart and your borders. And relieve yourself of your prejudices in order to truly embrace life and your brethren. As Charlotte Brontë put it, “Happiness quite unshared can scarcely be called happiness; it has no taste.” It's like the tongue needs to share its taste information with the brain in order for the taste to actually manifest.

^ Revellers walk near tents at Worthy Farm in Somerset during the Glastonbury Festival, on June 23, 2016.

There is something contagious and colourful about the joy that people can generate when they come together. It's strange, but in a way, when you share joy, or have your joy reflect off of another person and rebound back to you magnified, it is a form of second-hand joy, just like light seems to be a second-hand sensory informant. Right?

^ A man selling unsewn fabrics locally known as "Ankara" walks past through a street at Agege district in Lagos, Nigeria, on June 22, 2016.

Our theory is, the more you are weighed down by your colours — or the narratives we attach to the world — the less freedom of thought you will have. And the less freedom of thought you have, the more susceptible you may be to attempts by demagogues to inject their colours into you. We must be individuals to avoid the pitfalls of mob mentality, yet collectivise in order to defeat those who would seek to infuse mob mentality in us. A colourful irony, no?

So, the key might be to approach life with the understanding that we are all on the same planet, on the same boat, on the same diet, on the same highway...

^ U.S. Customs and Border Patrol officer Constantino Zarate walks an Emu off the highway as a wildfire continues to burn north of the U.S. Mexico border near Potrero, California, U.S. June 21, 2016.

... and unless we decide to look out for one another — no matter our individual colours — and strive to lead one another out of harm's way, we may all end up as roadkill.

(All photos courtesy Reuters, unless specified)










25 June, 2016

Break a leg, Kumble

By Kartikeya Date

Does Anil Kumble's appointment as the top man in Indian cricket by a panel of his former teammates indicate the BCCI's desire to tackle the court's recent scrutiny and repackage itself behind a modern and homegrown mascot?

Anil Kumble has been appointed Head Coach of the BCCI’s senior men’s team by a three member cricket advisory committee comprised by Sachin Tendulkar, Sourav Ganguly and VVS Laxman. Depending on your point of view, this is either a truly great decision, or just yet another addition to the incestuous web of conflicts-of-interest that animates the Indian cricketing firmament.

Kumble has been appointed by a committee constituted by three former players, two of whom captained Kumble. All three also played under Kumble’s captaincy. Kumble, Laxman, Tendulkar and Ganguly played 65 Tests together for India. Three of them picked the fourth as India’s head coach from among 21 other candidates even though Kumble did not meet the very first parameter of the criteria laid down by BCCI for a successful candidacy.

^ VVS Laxman, Sourav Ganguly, Anil Kumble and Sachin Tendulkar (in addition to Rahul Dravid) have played enough games together to have developmed a special rapport and understanding of each other. | S. Subramanium

An attempt to understand the merits of the BCCI’s choice entails two difficulties. First, it is difficult to understand how the committee chose one from 21 options. For now, let us leave aside questions about whether the committee was well-constituted. Second, it is difficult to understand what the head coach is supposed to do. Ask other head coaches, as Subash Jayaraman has in his podcast series Couch Talk, and they will all give more or less the same answer.

The head coach is an overseer and a man-manager whose job is to ensure that elite, high-performance athletes are able to play their game as best they can without worrying about day-to-day match results. The received wisdom about head coaches is that they must put in place systems and methods which ensure that good habits are cultivated. If this is done, results take care of themselves.

Cricket is changing rapidly and this makes understanding what a head coach must do even harder, even for head coaches. With big data, psychology, physiology, marketing and a few other fields directly involved in the game at the highest level, the head coach of an elite international cricket team is managing not just highly-motivated, highly-talented young players, but walking, talking incorporated business concerns.

^ Anil Kumble's deportment has always been that of a respectable gentleman. Add to that his friendship with the coach selection committee members, and he was a shoo-in for the job. | PTI

John Buchanan has discussed how new methods of measuring and assessing team and individual performances have introduced new modes of accountability for players (which has not always been well-received) and transferred power in a cricket squad towards the coaches. This shift has been resisted the world over. Once it is complete, the game will probably look nothing like it did 10 years ago.

The image of the older man in a tracksuit at net practice does not fully describe the job Kumble has been appointed for. A more realistic image is that of a man in a suit who supervises other men in tracksuits. The head coach today is more managing director than headmaster. By virtue of his record as a player and his record at the National Cricket Academy, Anil Kumble is one of the few figures in India today who is a perennially acceptable figure for the job. Every advanced sporting culture (and Indian cricket is certainly one of the world’s elite sporting cultures even if Indian sport — more generally — is not) has such figures at hand.

Instead of being seen as a significant appointment for the Indian cricket team as it transitions from the MS Dhoni era to the Virat Kohli era, this appointment ought to be seen as the BCCI’s attempt to burnish its reputation. The elaborate process of advertising the job, appointing a selection committee which, while not above criticism, is certainly above reproach, and then finally appointing an Indian coach indicates the BCCI’s desire to surmount the difficult scrutiny it has recently endured from the Supreme Court of India.

Kumble’s involvement with so many different parts of the game — from player management to coaching, cricket academies, and administration — makes palpable conflicting interests inevitable. Should India begin to lose, you can be sure that fans and reporters will pounce on these. But this type of criticism is routine. It will only mean that things are back to normal. The Supreme Court’s attention represented an existential crisis and the method of Kumble’s appointment is a nice way to show that the BCCI is listening.

^ While Anil Kumble has done intensive and extensive coaching post his playing days, he has not coached a major team. Something that should have let him down as a candidate for Team India head coach. | Special Arrangement

Usually, people who rise to this level in any sport have done the hard yards working as batting coaches or bowling coaches or as other specialist coaches on the staff of a major team. Even Zinedine Zidane, who is arguably one of the 5-6 greatest midfielders in football since World War II, trained Real Madrid’s 2nd team before being promoted to the first team job. The implicit understanding about anybody who becomes the overall boss (which is what a head coach is), is that they have experience of doing the lower jobs, and could do them better (or at least as well) than those currently doing them. This is probably why the BCCI listed the criteria that it did when it advertised the job. The first two criteria referred to prior experience and credentials. On these criteria it is clear that Kumble was not the best available choice (he fails on the first).

Still, Kumble is a figure of the establishment. He is proficient in English and he unquestionably knows not just his cricket but also the world that today’s superstar players inhabit.

^ If any Indian sportsman has a work ethic, it is Anil Kumble. He should look to impart his approach to disciplined practice to the current crop of players. | The Hindu Archives

The appointment of the head coach is one of those mysterious things through which national sporting establishments signal to the world what they stand for. The appointment of the foreign coach, starting with John Wright, was a sign that the BCCI was ready to embrace modernity and set aside the squalid regional insecurities inherent in any representative set up. It is in this light that Kumble’s appointment as well as the manner in which it came about ought to be understood. This new step signals to the world that the Indian establishment no longer requires foreign help in order to be modern.

One wonders what might have ensued had Tendulkar, Ganguly and Laxman recommended that the job be offered to someone other than their old friend “Jumbo”.



23 June, 2016

Brexit and the art of being forever alone

By Tishani Doshi

As the author engages with the late Bhupen Khakhar's art, she finds a clear and strident message serving as a warning for those being peddled nostalgia into supporting Britain's estrangement from Europe

Some days ago I visited the Tate Modern in London to see the Bhupen Khakhar retrospective “You Can’t Please All”. I went with an agenda: to love the show. My friend and teacher, the choreographer Chandralekha, had shared many stories with me about Bhupen. When I began dancing with her in 2001 she told me about his incomparable wit. She said that he was a homosexual with a toothy smile, that they were always laughing together and that his paintings were marvellous and playful and ribald. She must have said more, but this is what I remember.

When he died in August 2003, after a battle with prostate cancer, I found Chandra sitting outside her house in Madras, staring into space. “They’re all going,” she said. She was 74 then, losing friends steadily. I had only ever seen Bhupen’s work in catalogues but I already relished their wicked titles —“Tree with Flowers Grows from His Arse,” “He Took Enema Five Times a Day.” I knew when I saw them in the flesh I’d be drawn to them because they’d been spoken about so lovingly by someone I loved. The other reason I went prepared to love the show was because I’d read a snarky review in the Guardian, where the critic, Jonathan Jones, called the work “emotionally inert” and compared him to Beryl Cook. Snark, I believe, can only be countered with anti-snark.

When I entered the gallery I went straight into the second room where there was a film playing — Messages from Bhupen Khakhar, by Judy Marle. I sat and watched as this man from the past spoke to me. Being a somewhat sentimental type, I imagined that I saw my own loved one hovering there. Surely, at some point Chandra must have been in that room in Vadodara with the fan whirring. She must have sat with him at a roadside stall, maybe even with Ranchodbhai, not drinking chai because she never drank tea, but eating something, maybe a jalebi? I listened as he spoke of how an artist cannot be a respectable gentleman, how he must be sexually obsessed, how he cannot be ruled by the dictum of morality. “In life,” he was saying, “we all the time make social adjustments to please people around us, we forget our duty towards ourselves. What we should do in life and art is to do exactly what one likes. The difficulty, maybe, is to find out what one likes.”

There’s a scene in the film where Khakhar is leaning over a crocodile enclosure, watching as a man in a dhotistrides out with a steel dish full of raw meat. Two crocodiles charge towards the meat, banging their snouts against the steel, while the man scolds them in Gujarati as though they were stray dogs. The man keeps calling, “Manorama,” until this giant beast of a crocodile saunters up to him while the other two scurry away. It was an absurd, funny-sad moment, which almost made me weep, because there was something innocent about it, and it made me think of home. I’d been away from India for over three months, so to sit in a gallery in London and watch this man beating crocodiles on their snouts, shouting in Gujarati, filled with me what? Nostalgia, I think.

And nostalgia made me think of Brexit. Before going to the Tate I’d read an article by the columnist AA Gill about the Brexit debate. All anyone was talking about in the days I was in London was this referendum. On June 23, the UK will decide whether it wants to stay or leave the European Union. At dinners, complicated theories were being put forth which tied the outcome to weather forecasts or football results. Almost everyone I met was vehemently for staying in the union, but then a taxi driver told me that almost everyone he met — bankers, property people, theatre-goers (the “Mayfair mob,” he called them) wanted out.

Of all the articles I’d read on the matter, AA Gill’s was the most convincing. He pinpointed the emotion on which the entire Brexit campaign was being fuelled: nostalgia. “Wanting the country back is the constant mantra of all the outies,” he wrote. “Farage slurs it, Gove insinuates it. Of course, I know what they mean. We all know what they mean. They mean back from Johnny Foreigner, back from the brink….We all know what ‘getting our country back’ means. It’s snorting a line of the most pernicious and debilitating Little English drug, nostalgia. The warm, crumbly, honey-coloured, collective ‘yesterday’ with its fond belief that everything was better back then, that Britain (England, really) is a worse place now than it was at some foggy point in the past where we achieved peak Blighty….”

Gill being Gill (an established and sometimes unbearable toff) pokes fun at middle-class, middle-aged, middle-brow morals, at their desire for “warm beer” and “cars called Morris” and “gooseberries not avocados”. And this, in turn, made me think of Bhupen Khakhar and his complicated relationship with the middle-class. One can’t say that they’re the heroes of his paintings exactly, but certainly, they take centre stage. “De-Lux Tailors”, “Janata Watch-Repairing,” and “Barber’s Shop” are among my favourite works in the exhibition, and all of these extend a kind of adoration towards the middle-class Indian male.

And yet, Khakhar clearly had misgivings about the moral codes of middle-class India. He joked about how you don’t see kissing in Hindi films, rather the man and woman dance around and “tickle” one another. He believed they had inherited a sense of prudishness from the English with their Victorian values. But ironically, it was in England where Khakhar experienced his own sexual freedom as a gay man. He described it as a release. He first visited the UK in 1976, and returned a few times over the years. The only painting that brought a smile to the snarky Guardian reviewer was “Man in Pub,” and it shows an English man sitting alone at a pub, alone in his room, and alone in his car. Essentially: alone. The painting at the Tate is accompanied by this quote from Bhupen — “About England: Season | Winter You are not allowed to smile during this season which lasts for ten months of the year. If you are sensible then try to look as grumpy as possible. English people appreciate sulk.”

Perhaps it’s a bit of a reach to try and connect a contemporary political debate to the paintings and words of a dead man (a Johnny Foreigner to boot), but walking around that gallery I felt like I was receiving my own personal message from Bhupen and he was saying, “Safety is the word you should all hate” (actually, that was from the film). What he was whispering only to me was, “‘Man in Pub’ is the prototype of a Brexiteer. Look at him, sitting there with his drink, with his sad old gloves crumpled in his crotch, thinking how jolly things are, and how he’s getting along just fine without the company of anyone else.”

To Brexiteers, there’s pride in isolation, in a cheddar cheesy kind of Britannia patriotism. Pooh pooh to the single market, they say; just make sure to build those walls high enough. To me, it feels like an Enid Blyton story gone wrong. Hello, Mr Brexotic, what’s going on? Don’t you know you need the gang? You need Europe; otherwise you’re not going to get the secret password and you’re going to be left out in the cold.

I left the museum perplexed and walked into a classic scene of English rain. I crossed the Blackfriars Bridge, wondering whether my personal agenda had tarnished my viewing of the paintings. Had my own insufferable nostalgia elevated them unnecessarily? Was I being a squishy git with all that talk of jalebis? Did I really enjoy “An Old Man from Vasad who had Five Penises Suffered from Runny Nose,” or did I just like the idea of it, and was I secretly thinking, perhaps there had been one too many penises in this exhibition?

When I returned to India it was less snout-beating crocodiles with bansuri soundtrack, more relearning how to avoid getting agitated at the sight of every public defecation. Like so, should the Brexiteers achieve their dream they’ll find that getting their country back will also involve learning to fix their own pipes again, looking after their elderly and possibly letting go of Scotland.

The beauty of art is that even if it doesn’t initially please you, there’s always chance for re-entry. In politics the borders are more complete.



21 June, 2016

Pardon My hindi

If all Indians spoke just the one language, you might need to designate it official status. But the nation is too diverse and decentralised to suggest that embracing one language will improve employment prospects.

Roughly a week ago, Union minister Jitendra Singh made an announcementthat the government was going to undertake measures to popularise Hindi in the Southern and North-Eastern States of India, a move, according to the minister, which would make the language a common medium of communication for the whole country, and improve young people’s chances of landing better corporate jobs. As expected, the news drew varied and mixed reactions, from flak to favour. The first thing that came to my mind when I read the news, though, was a very specific scene from the 80s tamil film,Indru Poi Naalai Vaa.

One of the main characters, in a bid to get closer to the girl of his dreams, decides to learn Hindi from her father, a Hindi teacher with a short fuse. The closer he gets to the father, he thinks, the closer he gets to the girl, and so his lessons begin. “Ek gaon mein ek kisaan rehta tha”, says his teacher, urging him to repeat after him. “Ek gaon mein ek kisaan raghu thaatha” he repeats. “Rehta Tha”, points out the teacher, and “Raghu Thatha” comes the reply. This goes on a few more times until the teacher loses all his patience and gives his student a sound walloping.

The reason I recalled this scene was because it represents my own relationship with Hindi. I am the student, who, despite multiple attempts to learn the language, have only ended up with a sound walloping.

Hindi was my second language in school from Standards I to III, a choice that my parents made to ensure that learning Sanskrit — that great mother language which gave rise to not only a thousand other languages but also to every student’s Std X marksheet — would be easier (we had the Sanskrit option only from Class IV). As an 8-year-old, I learned letters, a few words and the very basics of how gender worked. The letters I retained because I went on to learn Sanskrit, but I couldn’t say the same for the grammatical aspects of the language. By the time I passed out of school, my Hindi was at a level where I could bargain with shopkeepers and know when to cry during a Karan Johar film, but nothing more.

It wasn’t that I disliked the language; after all, I listened to a lot of Bollywood music and generally imbibed a lot of Hindi pop-culture (I drew the line, however, at Splitsvilla) just like everyone else in my generation who grew up in Chennai. The reason my Hindi didn’t improve was because I had no opportunities for applying the language anywhere. I lived and studied in Chennai, where Tamil and English were more than enough to get you around and to carry a conversation, and your grasp of a language — whether it’s Hindi or French — is only as good as your ability to apply it.

The truth is that our country has no national language. If the purpose of this exercise really is to “connect” our great country together, why aren’t measures being taken to promote southern languages up north?

Jitendra Singh’s announcement included a comment about how Hindi would give young people an edge in their jobs. This did ring true for me, once. During the early days of my Chartered Accountancy apprenticeship, I was once sent on audit to a bank in Mumbai. The audit was a prestigious assignment, one that even the most thorough and hardworking apprentices were overlooked for. I was selected because of my half-baked Hindi. The selection gave me great drive, so much so that when we landed at the branch of the Bank we were supposed to audit, I decided that I would only speak in Hindi.

My accent was good and my grammar was barely passable, but it didn’t matter because it turned out that most of the staff could speak English, and were able to provide the requisite information without us having to twist ourselves trying to figure out whether “statements” was Pullinng or Sthreeling. In fact, a senior staff member to whom I had spent half hour blathering about in Hindi asked me where I was from and politely told me that he was Tamil himself. We got what we wanted without the effort and language skills that we thought the job would demand. The audit firm I worked in decided to go back to their old policy of allocating assignments based on who was best and most capable for the job, as opposed to Hindi proficiency.

I never made an effort to perfect my Hindi afterwards. For, like I said before, I had no use for it, living in Chennai. Occasionally I would come across people who were outraged by my indifference and presented the argument that Hindi was the national language and that it was my duty as an Indian citizen to learn it.

The truth is that our country has no national language. It has official languages, one of which is Tamil. If the purpose of this exercise really is to “connect” our great country together, why aren’t measures being taken to promote southern languages up north? Surely knowing Tamil, Telugu, Malayalam or Kannada (or at the very least, knowing that there are four different languages that are spoken here) would help them when they travel to the South for opportunities? Why must connections be only one way?

I had travelled to Barcelona, San Sebastian and Bilbao, in Spain, on holiday the previous year. Apart from the fact that they’re both beautiful places with lively people, they’re both also centres of linguistic battles that is happening in Spain. In Barcelona, Catalan is the language of choice, as opposed to the Castillan Spanish that is spoken in — say — Madrid, and the people of Barcelona also identify themselves as Catalan.

The regional parliament had voted for the secession process to begin in November 2015, although it was eventually suspended by the Prime Minister for being ‘unconstitutional’. Nevertheless, there is strong support for Catalonian independence. Similarly, San Sebastian and Bilbao, belong to the Basque Country which spreads over the north of Spain and the southwest of France. The Basque National Liberation Movement, which has been going on for three decades now, seeks to achieve independence of the Basque speaking territories from Spain and France. The issues in Barcelona/Catalonia and in Basque Country are more complicated than these few lines above, but make no mistake that they arose because the people of that region identified themselves differently because of their language and culture.

At this juncture, I feel compelled to point out that Spain is a country of roughly 46 million people and is a little larger than Rajasthan. Here’s a country whose population is lesser than Tamil Nadu’s, a country which only speaks four languages in all, having not one, but two language-based secession movements!

India speaks twenty two officially-recognised languages. The Census of 2001 revealed that there are 234 identifiable mother tongues that are spoken in our country, a little more than ten times the number of official languages. We are a country of a billion with two hundred tongues, and yet, we are one. That the Union Government could even think that they could condense India’s vast and diverse linguistic history and heritage into one “official” language, is not only farfetched and impractical, but is also against everything that our country stands for.

Back and forth about father time

By Shruti Radhakrishnan/Shubhashree Desikan
The notion of Time travel has always fired up our imagination. There is something about being able to navigate and interact with events — before or after they happen. Is it theoretically possible though? What does it even mean?
Who doesn’t dream of time travel at some point or the other. Everyone has regrets in their life that they want to go back and change, or go into the future and change things there too. Ask Ronald Mallett, a famous proponent of the possibility of time travel, who latched on to the obsession of going back in time because he wanted to save his father, whom he lost at age 10, from dying. While the invention of time travel has to be the coolest Fathers' Day gift ever, it's worth pondering if this is at all possible. Mallett, backed by the science of no less than Albert Einstein, thinks so.
And what if it is possible?
Many ideas, in film and fiction, have explored the possibility of time travel and how playing with time can change the way we perceive it.
Here's Sruthi Radhakrishnan and Shubashree Desikan taking a short detour into time travel in popular culture.
How does science look at time travel?
Look at it this way — time travel is happening all the time. When compared to a year before, we have travelled one year in time, haven’t we? The point is whether we can travel time at a faster or slower rate than say one hour per hour, which is our “normal” rate of time travel. Also, we can ask whether we can reverse this and travel backwards.
The mind boggles, because we are so used to the Newtonian way of thinking, where time is an absolute thing, flowing at the same rate everywhere.
We need to look at how science sees time itself. Einstein brought in a whole new way of thinking about time. According to his Special Theory of Relativity, space and time are just two aspects of the same entity — space-time. And the speed of light sets a limit for how fast things can move. As a result of these two factors, time flows at different rates on objects that travel at different speeds. This is most pronounced when they travel at speeds close to that of light. Time flows at a slower rate on a ship — say — which is moving faster than another.
This gives rise to the so-called twin paradox. If one of two twin sisters is taken on a fast ride for twenty years on a spacecraft, while the other is left on earth, and then brought back, due to the fact that time flows slower on the spacecraft, that twin would have aged less than the other one who was left on earth.
Yet, we know they should be equally old. Much effort was spent in trying to resolve this so-called paradox, until experiments and observations showed that time-dilation is a reality and such a twin taken on a space trip would indeed age less than the twin left behind. There is no paradox there, just our perception of time.
Time can flow faster or slower, and all you have to do is to get on to a vehicle that moves faster or slower than earth to travel in time?
Not exactly. The earth is not moving at the speed of light — far, far slower than that. So, you cannot move slower and expect time dilation to happen. If you moved really fast, you would experience time dilation and would remain young while the world has aged, but when you come back to earth, it is not as though you have reached the “future,” it would still be the present for all concerned.
Physicist and popular science writer Michio Kaku describes the Einsteinian view of time as a river, flowing at different speeds at different places.
According to Einstein’s general theory of relativity, very massive or dense objects could warp the very fabric of space-time around them, causing space-time to flow differently around them. Kaku’s analogous “river” of time in such localities could meander or slow down or speed up. These are places where time travel can take place. What if, for instance the river can loop in on itself and come back to where it started. This kind of solution to Einstein’s equations was found by Kurt Godel.
It’s 2016 now. Does physics see time travel as a possibility?
In 1963, Roy Kerr, who has been given the Crafoord Prize this year, postulated a rotating black hole. Called the Kerr black hole, this is not a singular point as we always picturise the black hole, but a ring of very rapidly rotating neutrons. Unlike a smaller, simpler black hole, one can step into this one without being torn into pieces, only you might emerge in another space-time point where there is a white hole, spewing everything that has gone into the black hole. The connection between the two acts as a bridge in time. Since the Godel solution was known, in physics at least there is no taboo on time travel.
Stephen Hawking objected to it saying that we have not, after all, had tourists from the future, and so it is unlikely that such time travel is possible or at least has been cracked. But perhaps there are machines that can only take you forward in time… Now I many physicists see time travel as a possibility. But not now, sometime in the future!
In movies such as Back to the Future or books like H.G. Wells’ The Time Machine, the protagonists just hop into an object that takes them either back or forward in time. How is the idea of a time machine viewed?
Back to the Future is immensely enjoyable, especially because Spielberg is such a good storyteller. Same thing about H.G. Wells. But the thing is, neither work touches upon the paradoxes that may arise or the complexity of the time machine itself. The only point BTTF touches upon is that if you disturb your past you may end up in a totally different world (a parallel universe?) when you arrive at the present (note how Marty’s father is a loser when the story begins, but as a result of Marty’’s intervention in his past, he turns out, when Marty returns, to be a successful author and the bully neighbour is tamed).
To do H.G. Wells justice, it was far before Einstein and his theories that he wrote the book. So, not much scientific thought existed on time dilation and time travel at the time. In fact, there were even earlier stories than The Time Machine about time travel of that kind, but, at the time, it was a dream; now it’s a possibility.
An interesting thing about time travel is the creation of parallel universes. In Stephen Fry’s Making History, two people — a history grad student and a Jewish physics professor from Oxford decide to go back in time and prevent Hitler from ever being born. What then happens ends up as an example of a parallel universe. The student wakes up in Princeton only to find out that the Nazi party has won the war, and because of their actions, all Jews have been exterminated. The idea here of course, is to say that one shouldn’t mess around with time, and this remains a common trope in science-fiction.
The recently released Tamil film 24subverts this trope of creating a parallel universe that is worse than the existing one. But there are inherent issues with this film’s conception of time travel, too. In the film, which actually was a lot of fun, when Manikandan travels back in time, he grows younger and becomes a baby, having traversed 24 years. This cannot be done — for one thing it will mean that the time machine reverses everything that’s happened as you go back in time, which is extremely difficult — like un-eat the burger you just swallowed or make sure your hair is that the exact same length at that point in time.
Also, it puts a limit on going back in time, which depends on the person — 24 years for Manikandan who is twenty-five years old, 50 for his uncle who is fifty and so on. This is so arbitrary and person-dependent that it does not appeal.
In fact, there is a very physical possibility of travelling in time, using a wormhole. As Interstellar explained, these are shortcuts through spacetime, connecting points that could be a billion light-years apart. It is like a tunnel with its ends at two separate spacetime points. If you could figure out how to accelerate one end of the wormhole to the speed of light or close to it, and then brought it back to the original point, time dilation would cause that end to age slowly compared with the other end as observed by an external observer.
However, to a person entering through one end time flows differently compared to the one observing from outside, and he or she would actually observe the same time that the clock showed at the accelerated end at the time of his or her entering the hole. So, to an external observer, the one moving through the wormhole would have travelled back in time.
Which brings us to Interstellar. To quite an extent, they were able to pull off what they did and make it seem accurate since science still doesn’t know if wormhole travel is possible.
While Interstellar’s wormhole may be more similar to the one Carl Sagan posited in Contact, it’s very interesting how they dealt with time as a concept within and outside a wormhole.Interstellar also weaves in the so-called twin paradox that you mentioned, as Matthew McConaughey’s character Joseph Cooper comes back to Earth to find his daughter Murphy was in her deathbed, while he himself is relatively untouched by time.
Interstellar was one of a kind! Everything explained so well and incorporating the latest scientific thought on Time. You know, they even published a paper on how a spinning black hole would appear to someone orbiting it. It was one of those movies where fiction feeds fact.
Earlier, popular culture would take hints from science and build their own fantastical worlds. To an extent, as far as generic books and movies are concerned, this is still the case. But every once in a while, an Interstellar-like work comes around and we see science and popular fiction working in tandem.
While time travel may not be something we could see in our lifetimes, maybe a time will come when we shouldn’t be too surprised to see our future selves meeting us on the streets.

20 June, 2016

From Start up nation to Orthodox State

By Suhasini Haider

Tel Aviv and Jerusalem are two sides of the Israel coin — one the seat of Ultra-Orthodox traditionality and the other a haven for modernists and innovators. The contrast is stark, yet bespeaks the same Jewish identity.

Israel, we are told, is a tale of two cities: Jerusalem and Tel Aviv. As much as Jerusalem is steeped in thousands of years of history and conflict, Tel Aviv is young, hip, bright-lights-big-city. Tel Aviv, built right by the ancient port town of Jaffa (Yafo), is only about a hundred years old, settled on sand dunes by a group of European Jewish immigrants. With the most gorgeous waterfront and continuous beach, Tel Aviv is the city that doesn’t sleep, the party city and the gay capital of the Middle East. When we land in Tel Aviv, the city is awash in rainbow colours because of an upcoming gay pride parade that is amongst the world’s biggest. On our first night, we walk into a club on Tel Aviv’s iconic Dizengoff Street (named after its first mayor) well past midnight. “What time do you close?” I ask the young lady at the entrance. “When the last person leaves,” is her smiling reply. Everyone here, it would seem, is young, everyone comes from somewhere different, and everyone is accepted here.

Tel Aviv is also a melting pot in the literal sense, with hundreds of different restaurants and cuisines. We dine at Fanta’s Ethiopian Café, tucked away in a more quiet neighbourhood, where she serves us the sourdough staple bread Injera, which is something like a large south-Indian Appam. Fanta moved to Israel when she was 8 years old and, like many we meet in Tel Aviv, is not a supporter of the more conservative Likud Party government of Benjamin Netanyahu. “I would like to see a more liberal party in power,” she tells us.

Interestingly, while the world outside sees Israel’s politics as an ultra-conservative monolith, there are as many shades of opinions here as in any other vibrant democracy. During the trip to Israel, we meet the former foreign minister and livewire opposition leader Tzipi Livni, who leads a faction of the centrist Zionist Union. “When Israel was created, it was clear to us that this is the establishment of a state for the Jewish people and, according to Jewish values, it would be democratic, which means equality to all its citizens without discrimination,” she tells us, adding that she remains an advocate of the two-state solution between Israel and Palestine, something more right-wing parties don’t accept.

“In order to forge peace with our Arab neighbours, we need to reachout to the Palestinian people too,” Ms. Livni says. Her candour isn’t unusual as many openly question government actions here, and what makes it more interesting is that the ruling coalition had only a 1-seat majority in the 120-seat Knesset or parliament until recently, when it took on board an even more right-wing coalition partner.

Away from politics, Israel is also known as a pioneer in innovation: the “Startup Nation”. In 2015, Israeli start-up received the maximum venture capital in the world, and it is ranked 3rd worldwide in innovation on the Global Competitiveness Index (GCI) for the World Economic Forum (India ranks 42nd on the same index). Even so, the young start-up entrepreneurs we meet are raring to work in Bengaluru, and have already made connections. Their projects are a fusion of what we agreed was Indian Jugaad and Israeli Chutzpah: using low-cost technology to make successful ideas. Nissan Bahar reworks old computers and provides them to schools where multiple students can use them with “keepods” to load their own programs and operating systems each time they log in. He calls Tel Aviv “crazytown” for the way it embraces risk.

Faception, an Israeli start-up headed by Shai Gilboa, has developed a software they claim can distinguish human traits, including potential security threats, in Tel Aviv. | Reuters

25-year-old Asaf Kindler is working on the next gen to the “Bitcoin” concept with “Bitwalking”, and finding philanthropic uses for it. His companysnapp.com builds applications for those who can’t, including one that helped detect Ebola in Liberia and Sierra Leone. “Tel Aviv is a soft bubble,” he tells me, “You have the ability to fail again and again and still be cushioned.” All of the young men and women we meet have been through compulsory military training which, they say, leaves them raring to catch up on their careers, but also gives them the ability to adapt. “One thing you learn in Israel is that you have a plan; that’s fine, but it’s only a base for change,” says Philip Pfeffer.

Another interesting start-up is actually a community service: Hatzalah is a volunteer service that connects up people willing to be ‘first-responders’ in emergency situations. We meet young Gavriel Friedman, who tells us that they often reach the scene long before police and ambulances can, simply because they have so many volunteers who are provided motorbikes by the group to beat traffic and more than one will reach the emergency caller as a result.

One of the most visible uses of innovation in Israel is that for water. In the past decade, Israel has gone from being a country of shortages to having a water surplus. “We no longer ask about the rain in our country,” the young pilot told me proudly on our visit to Golan, where he pointed out large ponds of sewage which are treated and “recycled” for agricultural use. Along with recycling more than 80% of sewage water, Israel used a combination of measures to defeat its drought conditions. Water is taxed at two rates, bringing them nearly at par with electricity if you use too much water, a measure that ensures citizens don’t waste water, and you never see people using water pipes to wash cars, etc.

^ Union Finance Minister Arun Jaitley with Union Water Resources Minister Uma Bharti (right), Uri Yehuda Ariel Hacohen (second left), Israel Agriculture Minister and Madhya Pradesh Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chauhan during India Water Week 2016, in New Delhi on April 04, 2016. | Sandeep Saxena

Every farm, garden and flower patch is watered with drip irrigation lines by law. And if you add crop yield innovation, it is possible to grow much more with much less. Finally, there is the technology Israel has pioneered worldwide — for desalination. We visit the IDE desalination plant at Sorek to see how sea-water is made potable, at the largest such plant that processes more than 624,000 cubic metres of seawater each day, accounting for about 20% of Israel’s domestic water consumption.

All the modern technology does clash, however, with the orthodox religious views of many in the country, that institutionalise Jewish practices in daily life.

The Sabbath (Saturday) is strictly observed in many places, the day Jews are commanded to keep as a day of rest and prayer and abjured from undertaking “any creative process”. This includes lighting a match, cooking, turning on your computer or pressing a switch on all day. As a result, our hotels have “Shabath elevators”, or elevators that have been programmed to stop at every floor so you don’t have to press any buttons, and a hot plate is kept on from Friday night so as to heat food, while public transport doesn’t work.

^ An orthodox Jewish family walks the pavements of Ashdod looking like a piece of retro art in a modern world. | Suhasini Haidar

But there’s more to the conservatism, that is now represented by the fast growing group in Israeli society. “Ultra-orthodox” or Haredim families are more prominent than before, and while the average Israeli woman has 3 children, the average Palestinian will have 4, and the average Ultra-orthodox Jewish woman will have more than 6 children in their lifetime. They also live secluded from other Israelis, don’t take jobs, and don’t allow their children to join military service. Women are expected to cover up, cover their hair, and not drive. There is even a Haredim newspaper that does not quote women or allow their photograph to appear. A G-8 photograph that morphed out German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s face caused quite a storm online. That and the segregation of men and women in schools, buses and in Haredim neighbourhoods, invoke comparisons to orthodox Islam.

Eventually, the future of Israel will involve bringing together all the strands that make up its society. The colours of the rainbow Tel Aviv is awash with are a small indicator of their range, and will need to come to terms with its Palestinian identity as well. At the heart of its debate, that one hears more of in Tel Aviv, perhaps, because of its questioning youth, is: was the nation built for the Jewish people, or are the people built for a Jewish nation-state?

WATCH: Inside the world's largest desalination plant at Sorek in Israel