Friday, November 20, 2009

The red carpet

There is a plantation near Shimoga in Karnataka.  This plantation is owned by an uncle of one of my friends. One night at around midnight, a band of armed Naxalites barged into the plantation and demanded to talk to him. They charged that the workers on the plantation were not being treated properly. The said that the workers were being paid too little. The uncle asked them what they thought the appropriate pay would be. They said that the workers should be paid atleast Rs 100 per day. The uncle then replied that he was prepared to pay Rs 150 per day, and even then he faced difficulties finding workers. And when one was found, he had to be pampered by arranging transportation to and from the plantation. He then asked the Naxalites to send anyone they knew who was looking for work to his plantation. The Naxalites weren't seen again.

I don't know how much of that story is true. But reality wouldn't be far off the mark. I guess such stories show this as a version of paradise to people elsewhere who are prepared to toil for Rs 35 a day. And what would anyone do when told of paradise? Try to go there. And why wouldn't they. The people already there have every reason to prevent more from coming. And then you hear stories of Bangaloreans trying to prevent people from immigrating to Bangalore.

The Bangalore I was born in was a very different place. A sleepy provincial town famed as the Pensioners' Paradise. But the times have changed and how. The Bangalore of today is a very different place and trying hard to keep up with the times. And I believe that is for the best. Cities that failed to change with the times are the ones now under 10 metres of sand. Long forgotten except as footnotes in history textbooks. When people come to a city from far off places, they bring with them their culture, their experiences and their points of view. All this gives a healthy shot in the arm to the locals. It keeps the ideas flowing and the city fresh. Kannada slang would have been considerably poorer without the Tamil influence. Andhra spice made the food that much richer. Those that deny outside influence and experience are the ones that miss out on the party. To enjoy the experiences of other cultures, one must, I believe, have confidence in one's own. People who choose to surround themselves with walls, to exclude others in the name of preserving their own, face stagnation and isolation.

Ruined and empty. And not a soul in sight. Is this what they mean when they talk of dead cities? If so, cities throbbing with people surely aren't dead. Then I suppose reports of Bangalore dying have been greatly exaggerated. It is people that build cities, not the streets and buildings. And I don't think that there would have been any place for the young in the Pensioners' Paradise. I want to live in a place with life, not a place where people come to die. So please, do come to Bangalore. And bring your family and friends too.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

The point of life

Astronomers have long debated the existence of life on other planets. That whether it exists at all. And even if it did exist, would we even realise it. Given that the sheer number of star systems out there, and the variety of environments in which life thrives on our own planet, the probability of other life in the universe is definitely non-zero.

In the beginning, we assumed that the distance of the planet from its star was the most important factor in determining the existence of life. After all, all life on the Earth's surface depends on the Sun and its energy. Too near to the Sun, and we would burn, and too far, we would freeze. But, now we know of life in the depths of the ocean. One could of course argue that the life in the depths depend on the fallout from the surface.

But what about life near the hydro-thermal vents. Life that depends on the Hydrogen-Sulphide released from the volcanic depths. They certainly don't depend on the Sun. And the bacteria discovered two kilometers deep in the Earth's crust, buried away from the energy from the Sun? Now, we no longer see the distance between the planet and its star as the deciding factor. But all these life-forms depend on the existence of liquid water.

As we were recently bound by the notion that the planet-star distance was paramount for life, we are now bound by the notion that presence of liquid water is paramount. But, as science proceeds, this notion may also be proved wrong. This may not be possible on Earth. But, very possible on other planets and their satellites. This presents us a problem. If we are strongly bound by our preconceived notions, would we recognise life if it were found in environments were these notions fail? Would we know it when we see it?

Some scientists have thought about this problem. Is the deciding characteristic movement? The trees certainly don't move. Could it be that they breathe Oxygen? Anaerobic bacteria certainly don't require it. Scientists have struck upon the idea that whatever may be the life of an organism, the most definitive factor that proves their life is that they reproduce. Being able to reproduce is what makes life Life.

René Descartes once said "Cogito, ergo sum". But this applies only to animals we know to think. This statement does not apply to all life. The universal truth should have been "Coito, ergo sum". This statement applies to all life, thus reducing Cogito, ergo sum to a mere corollary.

Footnote: There is a small programme that comes for Linux called fortune. This spits out funny one-liners on request. Excellent for procrastination. Anyway, the statement "Coito, ergo sum" was one of the one-liners. That got me thinking, etc... etc...

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Groping in the dark

The Economist had once published a special report on India titled, "An elephant, not a tiger". A very good read. It goes into various details on the achievements, challenges, screw-ups, etc, etc... But, that is beside the point. The point is that several blind men are trying to figure out what this elephant looks like. Exactly like the poem.

Its filled with dirt, filth and desperate poverty say those profoundly impressed by Slumdog Millionaire. India is a lawless backwater filled with beggars at every corner, abound with stories of police torture and corrupt politicians all within an excuse for a democracy. This is the real India. India has the world's highest number of malnurished children. Half the nation is living under back-breaking poverty. The stories of a rising power are just hogwash as they say. But are they wrong? Most definitely not. They are correct on every account. Poverty, corruption, lawlessness; there is plenty of those. And they are certainly real.

India is a rising power in Asia, with GDP growing at 8%, well atleast before the downturn, filled with young professionals say the industrialists trawling for investment overseas. Indians have bought over foreign gaints in steel and automobiles. It is one of the handful of countries to launch satellites, build nuclear submarines and supersonic jets. Those talking of poverty are living in the 60's. This is the new real India. The information techology powerhouse housed in gleaming glass towers in Hyderabad, Bangalore and Pune. We are coming, whether the world is ready or not, as they love to proclaim. Well, those definitely are real. The satellites, the submarines, the jets; they are all very real, aren't they?

India is the land of spiritual richness say the backpackers flooding to its shores. The land of religious harmony where all the world's religions find a home. The land of a culture spanning thousands of years, of remarkable diversity in languages, customs and lives. It is where one finds peace and the meaning of life. Those talking of poverty and wealth are missing the point. But what about all the riots and killings, ask the techies recently relocated to the phoreign. People are killing each other everywhere. The number of people killed every year by terrorism is second only to Iraq. The minorities are being repressed and the government ignores the fate of the tribals in the name of development. And even that development is a sham. Just like the mask of "Unity in diversity". That is the real India. And they are most certainly right.

The point is that they all are right. They are all talking of the real India. But the elephant is big and the men, blind. We all are.

Well, what do I think is India? It is a circus. A veritable three-ring circus. It is a land filled with acrobats dodging everyday traffic jams. Trapeeze artists dealing with the beaurocracy seemlesly jumping from one babu to the other. Lions when leaving under crushing poverty, lion tamers when not. A land filled with clowns dealing with religion and culture. And jugglers when trying to paint a picture of a beautiful India to outsiders. And the audience too, all enjoying the show. Isn't it that it is every little kid's dream to run away to the circus. Well, I am living in one.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

In pursuit of Deacency

Limiting the number of bags you carry on a trip is a very useful tip. Ignoring that very tip caused me a Rs. 75000 headache. When you have two bags dangling from your shoulders, getting hurriedly off a bus to Mangalore driven by a manic homicidal driver may result in you not quite noticing that you are missing one. As it happened to me. That particular bag contained my camera, along with a new lens I had recently acquired all totally worth about Rs 75000.

After I, along with Subbu, Bhayak, Tho and Goobe, got off the bus, Goobe points out that I am missing a bag. My camera bag. By then the bus had already left. After the initial minute of panic, me and Subbu hail an auto and head to the bus stand where all the private buses halt. We reached there and began to hunt for the bus. Fortunately, Bhayak still had the ticket stub. The bus belonged to an agency called Deacent travels. We asked around the bus stand for the bus, but none knew where it was. It was certainly not in the bus stand. One fellow helpfully pointed out that if we could track down the phone number of the owner of the travels, we could find out where the bus was parked for the night to refuel. Also since the time was 9:30 pm, this would the last trip and the bus would still be in Mangalore. That gave us hope.

A little more asking around told us that the bus probably was headed in the direction of Pumpwell. At this point, me and Goobe head off to the police station to see if the police could track down the number of the agency. While Tho, Bhayak and Subbu jump into an auto and head in the direction of Pumpwell with no clue as to how to find the bus. Also a point to note, doing business with stoned auto drivers is not a good idea.

Me and Goobe arrive at the police station and file a report saying that I had lost my camera and the police set about trying to locate that illusive phone number. I actually recorded our entire conversation with the police on my phone just in case they tried something funny. But the were decent, almost to a fault. In the meanwhile, roaming from petrol bunk to petrol bunk, were Subbu, Tho and Bhayak. Tracking down the bus proved fruitless.

At this point Bhayak has a plan. When we studied in college, we usually booked tickets home from a travel agent in Surathkal named Santosh. Bhayak acquired his number through a friend in college and called him up. Santosh, we wonder at his contacts, called back with the number for the travel agency. The boys give him a call. The bus was parked at a petrol bunk in Kattara Chowki. They hurry over only to see the driver and conductor going through my bag. Subbu immediately runs over and claims the bag. The bag was dropped by my friend he says. They found it while cleaning they say. They hand over the bag while asking what it was and how much it was worth. Subbu artfully evades saying that it was his friend's and he didn't know. They hoped into the auto and called me to tell me that they had found my camera intact.

After withdrawing the report filed at the police station, me and Goobe arrive at the bus stand where we were to catch the bus back to Bangalore. As it so happened, we were to head back to Bangalore that very night by the 11 pm bus. We arrived at the bus stand at 10:45 pm. The whole ordeal had lasted only one and half hours. But this will be remembered for a life-time. Forgetting it may prove very expensive. A very grateful thanks to, in no particular order, Goobe, Tho, Subbu and Bhayak.

All things considered, it was a brilliant close to what could have been a disastrous weekend. Then again, as Bhayak put it, if we had ended up at Liquid Lounge as was originally planned, it would have resulted in us not remembering anything at all.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

A repeat of history

Those that refuse to learn from their history are bound to repeat it. Some, on the other hand, are conned into it. And hence I came to watch Transformers: The rise of the fallen.

The original plan was to watch some other movie and tickets for that movie being less than available, I was some how convinced to watch this movie. My friend has that dark talent. Anyway, the movie title, for me atleast, is rather poignant. You see, I had presumed that the memory of the first movie had fallen through the drain cover of my memory to be blissfully lost forever. Unfortunately, it rose like the evil 'Decepticons' (again, really!) to haunt me again.

I really have no idea what the movie was about. Halfway through, I longed for a big bottle of vodka to soothe my nerves. I remember fits of hysterical laughter at some of the dialogues, hair tearing annoyance at the ridiculous music that was the background for equally ridiculous action scenes, with even more ridiculous slow motion scenes to heighten the "drama" of one metallic fist colliding with one metallic jaw. I have come to the realisation that I am doomed to watch all the installments of the Transformers franchise. Atleast the company with which I watched this movie was entertaining. It led to some very good spoofs. Like this for example:

Vivek S: My code is ready for review.
Manager: How do you know it works?
Vivek S: I know.
Manager: How?
Vivek S: Because I believe.