January 23, 2011

Ignorance is this

As you may have guessed, I am still in Coimbatore(most of this post was written about 2 months ago), stuck in my room since morning, as a quick glance out the window tells me that the heat outside could possibly modify my cell structure, and, as a direct consequence, I find myself writing one more post that is of little consequence.

Before I get down to business, I would like to clarify that for some reason, my parents thought it best that my brother and I not be exposed to TV at a young age(read: until the age of 12). Looking back, I think that worked out pretty well, as we often spent our summer holidays playing cricket all day, occasionally taking the time to beat our grandma at trump cards, playing brick game till we managed to set a high score, reading Hardy Boys and Secret Seven books--with Nancy Drew thrown in occasionally for variety, painting(with a Paintbrush, heavens be praised, not on Paintbrush), and playing Monopoly so often that we even knew all the Chance cards by heart. Hindsight, unlike my vision at age 13, is 20/20 they say.

Against this background, it is also not hard to understand why we would wait eagerly for Sportstar to arrive every Thursday, and then fight over who should read it first and/or keep the poster. Then, we would get down to the serious business of scavenging each page and extracting every little bit of useless information, like the lap records of Damon Hill, the ingredients of Vicco turmeric, David Coulthard's qualifying times, Venkatesh Prasad's batting average, Ronaldo's transfer fees(the original Ronaldo, not Cristiano, you idiots), Kasparov's opening move against Deep Blue and Thiru Kumaran's IQ. Every passing minute of every passing day was also spent perfecting the lost art of cheating at chess. As I write this, my cousin sister, all of five years old, has an LED TV mounted on the wall across her bed, watches Youtube videos, uses Google Instant to help her with  her homework and dammit, keeps asking me why I don't have an iPhone. Now unlike her, since I did not have Google at my disposal while growing up, it was easy to be misinformed/completely oblivious of certain things while growing up without a TV in the '90s. Here are some of the embarrassing ones.
  • How to pronounce Grand Prix. Ever since my brother and I started reading about Formula1 and MotoGP in aforementioned Sportstar, we got so carried away with glossy pictures of the F1 circuits and MotoGP bikes, that diction took a backseat. We spent the better part of our childhood asking neighbours if they had watched the French Grand Pricks. Sometimes, they would just collapse in a confused heap. Other times, they would complain to our parents about our excessive use of racist expletives.
  • Harry Potter is an author. To the best of my knowledge, Harry Potter mania struck shortly after I had enjoyed my childhood, and since calling myself an avid reader would amount to perjury, I was not really equipped to differentiate between authors and characters. A thousand apologies, Ms. Rowling.
  • Israel and Egypt must be on the same continent since almost one half of a famous book is dedicated to their incessant quarreling. Maybe it was the fact that we had Scripture as a subject till 12th Standard, but Kannada only upto the 7th, but suffice it to say that everyone in School took Israel vs. Egypt more seriously than Allied vs. Axis forces. In this context, it came as a big shock to me to find out that these two countries hated each other so much that they fought across continents. 
  • The Undertaker actually has 7 lives. Most of our early childhood was spent buying one rupee posters of WWF superstars, and trump cards for special occasions. We knew useless "facts" about most of the wrestlers, some of them legitimate--Fights fought, Height, Weight, Fights won and Waist, but some, dubious, like how many lives The Undertaker had left.  
  • In keeping with the WWF theme, I also thought the owner of the WWF was called This Big Man. Needless to say, a few years later, when I figured his name was actually Vince McMahon, my whole world collapsed around me, as I came to the realisation that I had been living a lie.
  • Michael Jackson was a woman who had a sex change. She pioneered breakdancing, wore stylish cooling glasses and inspired Prabhu Deva.
  • Wimbledon is tennis. It takes a very secure human being to admit to this, since it is extremely embarrassing. However, till about the 5th standard, I was sure that Wimbledon meant tennis and vice-versa. Not sure how I came to that conclusion, but luckily for me, I was not in a position to bet large sums of money on this assumption.
  • Steven Tyler is Aerosmith
    So there, for your kind approval and judgement, is my list of popular myths during the '90s. Whoever said "Ignorance is bliss", certainly wasn't referring to this, I presume. Luckily for me though, back in the day, small mistakes like these didn't really matter so long as you knew how to balance chemical equations and the formula for volume of a cone.

    For the reader: This is just a preliminary list, prepared out of boredom, more than anything else, which I'm sure will be frequently updated, as and when I remember or am reminded of other notorious errors that didn't really seem to matter when we were kids. At the risk of never getting another visitor on this blog and also against every blogging instinct in my  body, I have decided to publish this post. If you can think of other myths that you subscribed to in the 90s, let me know, and for a small fee, I can publish it on this blog. If you can't think of any misconceptions that you had while growing up during the 90s, you and that high horse you rode in on can go straight to hell.

      January 17, 2011

      Learn to be Still

      Between posts, I generally like to take some time to aggressively publicize my blog, add widgets that can do the same job in my absence, closely monitor my blog's stats, wait for the occasional comment and sometimes(depending on the amount of free time I have), play around with the themes. Sometimes, it so happens that in the middle of all of this, I come up with an idea for a new post. This is one of those times.

      The seeds of this new post were actually sown sometime when I started this blog. Well the original was actually more of a tirade than a post, but quite a lot has changed since then. The weather in Bangalore, for starters, has been strange for this time of year, with blistering day temperatures and a very short winter. By the time this post is published, we could well be into summer and as my sweaters lie neatly folded in the cupboard, I am determined to find out what's been causing this change.

      Over the past few months or so, it has repeatedly been brought to my notice that nothing in 21st Century India is quite as popular as a good Rajnikanth joke or a noble Cause. Save our Tigers. Greenathons. People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals. So much so, that, of late, we have gotten used to the sight of Prannoy Roy and his buddies going live from deep within a wildlife sanctuary, to bring us a 12-hour telethon to raise awareness on how human interference in ecosystems affects them adversely(?) More on that, here. We have also become accustomed to the sight of Bollywood actresses dressed up in their best green sarees telling us about austerity, churning out sizzling performances at lavish ceremonies, being driven around in eco-friendly cars, wearing eco-friendly watches, swearing by organic vegetables and 100% natural baby-wipes, trying to raise money for "the environment". We have become used to people posing nude to raise money for People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, but fail to realise that no similar group exists for the ethical treatment of humans. However, regardless of all these observations, the above initiatives have, in some way or another generated money that will hopefully be used wisely. So what is the problem, you might be tempted to ask. Here is my humble reply.

      I remember reading an article recently on the United Nations Climate Change Conference that was held in Cancun in December, that was laced with common sense. A small snippet is included below. 
      "The problem of climate change cannot be solved only by investing funds from the developed countries and implementing bureaucracies or diplomacies. What about the change of our inner climate? What about the mess in our individual life? Climate change is an issue of human values which is directly related with the green values of the planet earth”  
      Some of you may still not have got the point, so let me try and paint you a little stereotype.

      You are a manager at some obscure company, the unnecessary details of which you proudly furnish on your LinkedIn profile. You don't go anywhere without your bluetooth headset. You probably already own a Hybrid SUV and in your efforts to make the world a better place you are planning to buy a Prius sometime soon. You don't mind paying an undisclosed amount for a good buffet, where, depending on your diet, you either eat like you're auditioning for America's Next Top Model or like a competitive eater who's just had a swim. But since you "Like" the "Help the Hungry" app on Facebook, I suppose that's ok. You definitely own a handycam, which is used rather liberally, to capture life's precious moments, such as your child's first steps, the first time he soiled his pants, his first swimming lesson and so on. Speaking about children, you probably already have three, but the target lies somewhere in the middle of the Fibonacci series. Whatever the number, their education has been planned meticulously, in advance. A few moments after childbirth, the first one was asked to write an entrance exam for a highly sought after crèche. The second one got a Britannica for his first birthday. The third one, after kindergarten, pursued vocational training from NIIT. Currently, all of them study at Random International School, where the teachers make more money than you ever will. However, since money is no object for you, the cost of a movie ticket is considered reasonable so long as it doesn't exceed the cost of a healthy pancreas, and therefore, the multiplex is your sanctuary. Family outings imply trips to the mall and team outings mean bowling at Amoeba. Coming back to you, you almost certainly have a smart phone. Your work generally involves coding of some sort or preparation of PowerPoint presentations that can almost certainly be done from the confines of your LED lit bathroom. Lets face it, the work you do is probably just as important as Sharad Pawar's views on corruption or Laloo Prasad Yadav's views on family planning. But you love the daily commute and since your corner office won't occupy itself, you make it a point to set out during peak hours in aforementioned hybrid SUV, roll up your windows to keep the dust out, turn on the A/C and sing along to devotional music. Your idea of contributing to society entails taking out coins from the glovebox and handing it out to deserving beggars at signals. To accommodate yours and other similar vehicles, the government decided to build flyovers, underpasses and what not. They also, rather short-sightedly, decided to cut down trees in order to widen the roads. Needless to say, birds slowly started to disappear. You and your kind thereby managed to do away with Bangalore's sparrows and since the guilt was too much to handle, you started Twitter, hoping that no one would notice.

      Now that we're done with the stereotype, let me try and paint a solution for you. In a word, I'd call it restraint. It could mean leaving the SUV at home and taking out the bike. Leaving the bike at home and taking the company bus. Shortly, in Bangalore atleast, it could mean leaving all of the above and taking the Metro. In its final stage it could also mean convincing your managers that working from home would be more productive and efficient. From a family welfare point of view, it could mean exercising a little more restraint than a stray dog in heat. If you are incapable of such high levels of restraint, I could even summon the BBMP to neuter you for free. The highest form of family welfare could even be the realisation that bringing up a child is more important than the content of his DNA, and adoption could follow. Now that you are working from home, assuming that your education was not an utter waste, you could easily teach your own children, atleast upto the point where they could prove that what you studied was wrong. Extra-curricular activities such as sports, music and dance could be taught and encouraged within the residential community itself. Once we have spared ourselves the rigours of the daily commute, traffic congestion would start to ease. We would have more time for ourselves. Travel could actually mean seeing new places or meeting new people. Trees would remain and we could slowly have our weather back.

      So then, why, sweet Moses, are we trying to raise money for issues that never needed money to be resolved, investing that money in technology that has always been a substitute for common sense and a remedy for thoughtlessness? Maybe we have done enough already and we just need to Learn to be Still for a while, because trying too hard is probably the cause of and the solution to all of these problems.

      January 7, 2011


      Since this is my first post for 2011, to freshen things up a bit, and in keeping with my resolution to try something new with every post, I have given myself sufficient creative license to attach a disturbing piece of footage below.

      I stumbled across this video shortly after reading that India would be hosting a Formula1 Grand Prix in 2011. It took me some time to digest that, and the obvious question that followed, was Why India? Does India really need Formula1 or does Formula1 really need India?

      Before I comment on that, let me honestly say that what follows is bound to be a biased viewpoint, since I have recently discovered that live golf is more interesting than Formula1 highlights. For starters, I would like it very much if some of these drivers grew gonads and overtook each other on track as opposed to gaining track position from the relative comfort of a pit-lane. I would also like it if the people who made these rules could make up their minds about refuelling, tyre changes and KERS, since I'm not really inclined to watch any sport in which the rules change as often as the costumes in Endhiran. Also, on behalf of tree-hugging, vegetable-eating, eco-friendly Prius-owning types, I would say that Formula1 is a criminal waste of fuel and rubber, not to mention time. Lastly and quite importantly, ever since the 2002 Austrian GP, where team orders undermined driver talent and arrested common sense, I have found myself repulsed by the "sport". However, a couple of years back, I decided to put all of this aside and support the Force India team, because my heart swells with pride every time I see the Indian flag on anything and also because the team is supported by several major alcohol labels. Well that, plus Shahrukh Khan got all choked up and asked all of us to support them.  However, when I realised that neither of the drivers were Indian, that the car did not run on Tata engines, and that the team did not do it's testing on the Outer Ring Road, needless to say, my sense of pride and patriotism took a beating.

      If I haven't already been a bit of a buzzkill, here's the clincher--the deal to bring Formula1 to India was finalized by the Indian Olympic Association. Really? Why, pray tell, are we giving the CWG boys more money? Didn't Suresh Kalmadi sodomize us hard enough the last time? While we're at it, why don't we ask Chetan Sharma to bowl the last ball of a match against Pakistan or put A. Raja in charge of 3G spectrum allocation?

      Let me try and put all of this in perspective. We are still fighting over religious and historical issues that have been left unresolved for so long that it takes carbon dating to figure out when it happened. The victims of industrial catastrophes that happened before I was born, still haven't found justice. As if these weren't bad enough, the people we empowered to resolve these issues somehow found enough time to convince dictionary publishers the world over that the word "scam" was actually more of a suffix and less of a verb. Click here if you don't believe me. Jesus Christ, they've even managed to scam urea. So the moral, if you haven't already guessed, is that in India, wherever there is money, there is some to be made.

      But who really cares, so long as Formula1 helps generate revenue and employment in India? Liquor sales will undoubtedly go up. Formula1 merchandise will be in huge demand. Sports bars would be back in business. Money will be made from the sale of tickets to people who actually care enough to go to Noida. Obviously, a lot more would be made from the sale of broadcast rights and advertising. A few thousand people will be employed in the construction and maintenance of the circuit. Obviously then, an estimated Rs.15 billion is a reasonable price to pay to put India on the Formula1 map. Also, it would be nice to be famous for something other than Slumdog Millionaire. 

      Unfortunately, the truth of the matter is that for quite a while now, India has overestimated its place in the world. We love to think of ourselves as one of the fastest growing economies in the world, not realising that our population is growing at a faster rate. We love to think that we are among the most powerful nations in the world, in spite of being politely kicked in the nuts every time we seek membership to the UN Security Council, but, like a stubborn child who wants a lollipop, we continue to ask. Historically, we don't have much to brag about when it comes to sport either. For a country that multiplies at a rate that can be matched only by anopheles mosquitoes in stagnant water, we still cannot find eleven people who can take us to the football World Cup. Hockey, for a while, got a boost in the form of the now defunct Premier Hockey League, but still lacks proper infrastructure and funding from the government. Forget about investing in the development of sports in rural India, schools and colleges making sport an integral part of education, providing funding for football and hockey academies, for 15 billion bucks, hell, we could have even bought the entire Spanish football team or the Australian hockey team.  

      Allow me also to say, for the record, that I'm not against India hosting Formula1 races, but maybe, just maybe it can wait until after we have shed the tag of a third-world country where corruption is a cottage industry and spelling-bees are the national sport. I suppose the silver lining in all of this is that the Noida circuit will supposedly also be hosting MotoGP races in the near future. For the time being though, I will let you decide whether India needs Formula1 right now. But I guess what we can all agree upon is that India needs F1. India needs a lot of F1.

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