Sunday, February 25, 2007

Satyajit Ray's documentary on Rabindranath

In 1961, on the insistence of Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru, Ray was commissioned to make a documentary on Rabindranath Tagore, on the occasion of the poet's birth centennial, a tribute to the person who probably influenced Ray most. Due to limited real footage of Tagore available, Ray faced the challenge of making a film out of mainly static material, and he remarked that it took as much work as three feature films. [Link]

The script, commentary and direction is by Satyajit Ray. In a word, a brilliant documentary. Ray himself has mentioned, “Ten or twelve minutes of it are among the most moving and powerful things that I have produced”. [Link]
On the 7th of August, 1941, in the city of Calcutta a man died. His mortal remains perished. But he left behind him a heritage, which no fire could consume. It is a heritage of words, and music, and poetry, of ideas, and of ideals. And it has the power to move us, to inspire us today, and in the days to come.

: Developing a historical consciousness is important. It frees us from the bondage to the present, and from a fanatical devotion to the practical. It restores in us the dignity of thought, and instills in us a sense of what-could-have-been.

Saturday, February 24, 2007

Hojoborolo: Mathematics from elsewhere

Harvard gazette reports:

Intricate decorative tilework found in medieval architecture across the Islamic world appears to exhibit advanced decagonal quasicrystal geometry - a concept discovered by Western mathematicians and physicists only in the 1970s and 1980s. If so, medieval Islamic application of this geometry would predate Western mastery by at least half a millennium.

From this excellent website on Indian Mathematics:
The later Sulba-sutras represent the 'traditional' material along with further related elaboration of Vedic mathematics. The Sulba-sutras have been dated from around 800-200 BC, and further to the expansion of topics in the Vedangas, contain a number of significant developments.
These include first 'use' of irrational numbers, quadratic equations of the form a x2 = c and ax2 + bx = c, unarguable evidence of the use of Pythagoras theorem and Pythagorean triples, predating Pythagoras (c 572 - 497 BC), and evidence of a number of geometrical proofs. This is of great interest as proof is a concept thought to be completely lacking in Indian mathematics.

Oh yes, I have read Meera Nanda's take on all this. I got little agitated when I read her sneer at Vivekananda and Aurobindo, but with some training, I know now not to lose my cool. Smile.

Here's a suggestion: Meera Nanda, astrologers, postmodern rants What about experiments, and quasi-experiments? What about getting back to the proof? I know it is a reductionist approach, compared to pramana, but wouldn't that instill in us some respect for data, and cause-effect relations? Indians don't do experiments, either in the social sciences (where economists chatter about 'structure' and 'self-interest', happily ignoring everything in between) or in the physical sciences (strings, knots and jellyfish).

It's all intellectual speculation. When the cursor follows the text, who needs data? Theory is everything.

For those interested, try this excellent postmodern generator. And read about Alan Sokal and the Social Text affair. Meera Nanda makes a brief appearance somewhere.

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

España, España


This travelogue may I share with you all A
Although, I am just a novice in this form. B

So, first, please excuse me for any shortfall. A
I may betray the wrong tetrameter norm. B

I hope you wont laugh or scoff. C
As I just want to bounce it off C

the management students at IIM; D
It's not for money, nor for fame. D

Call it a poem, poetry , a verse or a sonnet, E
A hyphen, comma or a bullet point, as you deem fit; F
I am quite poor at nomenclature, I must admit. F

And yes, one more thing before I forget E
It will rhyme in a particular way e.g. G
AB AB CC DD, and then EFF EGG. G

Going Away

Listen then, lets begin from the beginning.
We sift through matrushka dolls, souvenirs & 'things'

While at Moscow airport we are kept waiting
Till, after a long 10-hour wait, finally we got wings.

Flying over the Volga and the Caspian Sea
Jit Rai and Tin Nash while sipping coffee,

Dreams of neon signs, Ferraris and the Mediterranean,
Sunkissed beaches, sex bombs and the pseude bohemian.

Midnight we touch base. Its Spain finally -
The country of FC and Real Madrid,
Picasso & Cassals, Velazquez & El Cid.

Its 1 a.m. Stranded at a Raval (old town) alley
We make some frantic phone calls for a place
To stay put for the night and untie the shoelace.


Life at ESADE was cool, assignments were few.
From India to Italy, from Mexico to Monaco -

Our mix was eclectic. We were a motley crew;
My group had a Peruvian from faraway Cuzco!

They are all covered in brands, from top to bottom.
Behold! The consumption patterns of all consumables -

Tissue paper, kisses and public displays of affection
Of the young and old, old and new, new and veteran.

The young blonde cozies up to a moneyed sphinx!
But then, whats in a number, silly, formed of digits?
When what matters is a boy with a #ick & a girl with *its?

In the middle of this merry-go-round, Jit Rai thinks
After this what? Poor Tin Nash thinks of a vegetarian course -
He is tired of "Hola, como esta?", muy bien and carnivores.

Travel in Spain

Years later, Jit Rai while thinking of the places traveled
Remembers tits and bits, smiling he puts pen to paper.

The sights and sounds came back soon. A friend said:
Though it’s been almost 2 years, better late than 'later'.

Oh! What a place was Montserrat, the mist and the colorful kids;
The ascent of the cable car and the walk down to the green fields.

Who can forget the run to catch the train to Nice?
And yes, Zulu's cooked rice and egg did suffice,

To start the Nice sojourn - jaywalking through its thin alleys -
Quiet reflection by the sea at Cannes and the lights of Monte Carlo.
At nighttime after a nice dinner and tiramisu we said bye, Ciao.

At night (while sleeping in a park), 2 guys ran away with Jit Rai's valise.
3 novels and a pair of jeans is all they got. The poor souls did come to know
Jit was poorer. They gave him a limp (from the chase) & a cut on the brow.

Feel the gas

Friends kept visiting us from all over Europe
Barcelona is quite a happening place, you know

While Paris was freezing and guys couldn’t cope
With the cold, they came down south to say "hello".

One fine November evening, A Sad Rain Moth and A Good Paji
Came knocking on the door, "Koi hai ghar pe? Haanji?”

We hired a car to drive down to Andorra and the Pyrennes
Four of us left Barcelona to come back after three days.

Adrian Thomas was driving, and his test of the left hand drive
Was carried out right in the middle of the traffic! Hearts
In our hands and seat belts firmly tied, we were going nuts.

It was a great trip. The golden sunset at Andorra at around five,
Next day the beautiful Pyrennes, the villages in the hills, a happy quiet,
And the rain drenched San Sebastian (not to mention the ice-creams we ate).

Last days

Assignments (in Spanish) at ESADE, which were due,
Which Jit Rai had shelved for the very last moment,

Made him learn preterito past perfecto at half past two.
But sincere Tin Nash did well. He got almost 93 %.

Soon after Marathon Dias and his friend Good Paji left Spain
The good word spread far and wide- the fun at Cobra Lane

People came pouring in, in the coming weeks
And put Louis, our Mexican roommate, in a fix

On a weekend, a team of five went sightseeing to nearby Tarragona.
Valdimir Uno, Lanka Guru Aryan, Mannish Theta, Jit Rai, Atyadi
Shaked legs at a local disco, with Valor Indium screaming I feel free.

Few days later, came in a cozy twosome from another corner.
Habitual Kim and his better half Mikhail Tabu joined in the mirth.
Btw, they threw us out of the bedroom, till we gave them a wide berth.

Coming Back

The journey's over. We are close to finishing
We sift through matrushka dolls, souvenirs and 'things'

(Repeat from Going Away)

While at Moscow airport we are kept waiting
Till, after a long 10-hour wait, finally we got wings.

All over the world, people are finding ways to return,
To someplace they can call their own under the sun.

All this travel, near and far,
Isn’t a waste, dear mother?

It is late into the night. What is it that I just wrote?
Just a rhyme, shorn of emotions, nothing at all?
Its not so, believe me, but then it is your call.

Dear reader, the one thing that I did note:
Whatever I do - going away or coming in
I am the future and the journey is within.



Tin Nash - Nishant
A sad rain moth - Mohit Sardana
Adrian Thomas - Mohit Sardana
Marathon Dias - Mohit Sardana
Good Paji - Pooja Gadi
Mannish Theta - Nishant Mehta
Vladimir Uno - Vinod Murali
Valor Indium - Vinod Murali
Barcelona – Cobra lane
Kalyan Nagaruru – Lanka Guru Aryan
Mikul Bhatia – Habitual Kim, Mikhail Tabu

Saturday, February 17, 2007

Mile sur mera tumhara

When in school, I remember watching this collage, of lovely images and vibrant sounds of a variety of languages, as it first travels from India's north to south, and then from the northeast to the west. Created by the Lok Sevā Sanchār Parishad, the video was promoted by Doordarshan and India's Ministry of Information. Enjoy!

If you can share a better quality video please do leave a comment.

Friday, February 16, 2007

Migratory birds

I often visit Sepia Mutiny to observe the dynamics of identity as it is revealed in the conversations. SM is a blog that brings together the South Asian diaspora for discussions on issues that are likely to elicit common interest. Sometimes there are discussions on interesting stories, and the importance of viewpoints in such communities cannot be exaggerated more. Indeed, migration is increasingly becoming an important issue to deal with. Families, governments, and multilateral institutions are waking up to this reality.

I was prompted to write this post after I listened to this ‘inspired speech’:

15 years ago India was just curries and cab drivers. Now you have uncles and babus out there in the media trying to tell you India is a superpower and has to have nuclear weapons. They are telling you that India’s economy is shining, and everyone should be investing in India. In fact, they are saying we should outsource everything to India because Indians are the smartest people on the world, right? They make it seem like it is great time to be proud to be Indian, and proud to be a desi. But do you really believe it? Well, you shouldn’t. It’s time for a reality check. If India disappears tomorrow, the global economy will not miss a beat. The city of Hong Kong exports more than all of India. India is by far, in fact, the poorest country in the entire world. There are more people scraping by next to nothing in India than the entire population of Africa. India’s bureaucracy is obscenely corrupt. There are no less than five members of the Indian cabinet who are under investigation for murder, extortion, racketeering, arms trafficking, cutting deals with Saddam Hussein. If you are from Pakistan or Bangladesh the situation is no better. In fact, it’s even worse. The whole region is just as likely to collapse, as it is to succeed. So here is the question: are you still going to be proud to be Indian, when India’s no longer shining? Are you going to be proud to be from Pakistan, when the country crumbles under civil war? Our job as desis is not to pretend that India, Pakistan and Bangladesh are great. They pay people to do that. Our job is to find ways to take advantage of what we have here, and make what they say a reality, to make that hype come true.
When is the right time to be proud to be an Indian?
In fact what you should be proud of?
When is the right time to leave India?
When is the right time to come back, if that's an option?

I remember a conversation between a schoolgirl and her grandfather in the movie Naseem (Urdu for morning breeze). Mayuri Kango asks Kaifi Azmi (famous lyricist and poet; Shabhana Azmi’s father) why hid he stay back in India after the partition. He said that he stayed back because of a tree in his backyard. He loved the tree so much, and he couldn’t take it with him.

While some people are rooted in their destiny, others may think differently. In fact, it would be interesting to see any research on migration tendencies. Like the standing ovation problem, it might be that migration too follows non-linear dynamics. Once there is a trend-setter (in the family; among friends; the Guptas next door), others follow suit. As Indian doctors are facing this court ruling in UK, I am sure thousand of doctors in India are looking up the details of USMLE. And if the initiatives of Naresh Trehan are any indication, migration may provide win-win solutions (at least when measured in money flows).

Recorded remittance flows to developing countries are estimated to reach $199 billion in 2006. The true size including unrecorded flows through formal and informal channels is believed to be significantly larger. [Link]

and this joint Duke University - UC Berkeley study reports that Indians have founded more engineering and technology companies in the US in the past decade than immigrants from the UK, China, Taiwan and Japan combined. Of all immigrant-founded companies, 26% have Indian founders (p. 4).

Migration within India, however, isn't only about money flows. Our country is diverse on many different attributes other than income opportunities. Specification can make us see things more clearly. So next time when someone tells you a particular move has immense opportunity, follow up with opportunity of what? Such qualifiers bring out the essence - suddenly the colorful seem so boring, and the seemingly dull reveal interesting ideas. Obsession with the distant paradigm has many unintended consequences. For example, the ghastly killing of Bihari laborers by the ULFA terrorists in Assam was instigated by migration.

We know Karnataka and Maharashtra has taken some bold stands on this issue. With Kannada and Marathi made compulsory, birds of a single feather (of any hue - moving migrants, urban upstarts, slighted suburbanites, or poverty-stricken peasants) cannot flock together. May be they still will, but migratory birds have to know the birds of the local habitat. They cannot continue to hang out in their cozy little circle of similar others. For this possible consequence alone, both Karnataka and Maharashtra deserve congratulations.

If all this posturing comes across to you as fierce nationalism (or that wonderful phrase – ‘regional chauvinism’), let me hasten to add that I know I am sticking my neck out. But what isn’t so stark is the slow, gradual, almost innocent, 'blending in' - it is more difficult to deal with, because the process is gradual, as opposed to any radical venting of frustration. The gradual process is more oppressive (killing too?) because it works its ways slowly, treating anything other than the prevalent and expected moves as illegitimate. It is the same reason why we have got used to Bollywood worthies speaking in English in the award ceremonies of Hindi cinema. It is the same reason why - even in India - you have to justify your wearing a sari or a kurta. It also creates gulfs between generations, between people (we knew earlier; not the new found ones), between grandsons and grandparents, and between friends. Driven by economic reason, the migratory birds do not belong anywhere They genuflect to the only God they know, convenience that is, and are generally alert to survival.

When Rabindranath’s son-in-law Nagendranath Gangulee went to America to study agriculture, this is what Tagore wrote to him:
To get on familiar terms with the local people is a part of your education. To know only agriculture is not enough; you must know America too. Of course if in the process of knowing America, one begins to lose one’s identity and falls into the trap of becoming an Americanized person contemptuous of everything Indian, it is preferable to stay in a locked room. Those who are immature and weak-minded tend to lose their own identity when they go abroad and become spoilt - better for such people if they keep to their own home environment. From childhood all of you have displayed a Brahmo repugnance for other people's social customs and historical traditions. I know of no worse superstition or prejudice - unless you drive it from your mind, your foreign education will never benefit you fully.

The political leaders of India, as usual, are yet to discuss these issues. Till now we have not heard of any plans to deal with the twin problems of workforce mobility and offspring schooling. CNN-IBN had a shallow discussion on this issue and once again offered a twisted logic about the uselessness of keeping the languages alive 'artificially'. What is artificial and what is natural? When Steve Jobs dangles the ipod in his keynote, puts it on the shelf of a store and bombards us with the ads, is he not forcing, or creating a market artificially? Not only is this dichotomy misplaced, anarcaps should know that there are no market forces for languages. Money may be fungible (economists say that; i have doubts), but language isn't. The corner store that relies on its 'location' in the downtown has a captive audience that keeps coming back, regardless of boom or bust. Location matters (ask the Singur farmers) and languages are location specific. Choice-chasers need to understand that the answer lies in the ‘and/also’ solution: both Kannada and English. The market is speaking in English. When is the right time to jettison Telugu? Or Bengali? Riding on the market wave, if the nonchalant choice-chaser encroaches into others' way of living, and has an indifferent swagger for local customs, friction is inevitable and only a matter of time. Cause and effect is interdependent as the pratītyasamutpāda said long ago [recently some sociologists have started interdependent sampling].

This is not regionalism, but a larger tolerance for many universalities than the oppressively narrow opportunistic recipe of learning the shopkeeper's language only. English and Hindi are the lowest common denominators for communication in India. The lowest common thing need not rule the roost. As the market drives migration within the country, the LCDs will gradually flex their muscles and obliterate all regional identities. I think parents have a responsibility to teach their kids the mother tongue, the language of the state where he/she has started schooling, and English. If this is too much work, upward mobility seekers are free to make alternate arrangements (for them or for their kids - whichever works best) for 10 years (class 1 - class 10) in their career. The government can play parent-parent, if opportunistic parents do not see opportunities to learn local languages/ customs.

What about your choice of moving every year? Sure, Keep moving. Who is stopping you? But languages need not move with you. You adapt. Indeed, for birds who move every year, the forests need not offer any solution. The government has no burden to attend to choice obsessive disorders. The individual should decide what works best. I think the three language solution is easily manageable as several studies have shown that children pick up languages much faster than older people. It also forces migratory birds to get accustomed to the local birds, communicate with them, and learn and share their way of life. The 3LS also requires some awareness and initiative on the parents' part, a little less economic reason, and a little force from the government.

However, for those who do not put all eggs in the basket of survival, the question still remains. Why migrate? And like most hard questions, this one too gravitates to the debate between Krishna and Arjuna in the Mahābhārata, between consequentialist concerns and deontological ethics. Find your true calling.

This is also an occasion to celebrate this rabindrasangeet (Debabrata Biswas's voice), captured poignantly on celluloid by Ritwick Ghatak in his Jukti, Takko ar Golpo (Reason, Argument and Story):

The poem was generated from Somen Bhattacharjee's digital library.

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

School in India, school in US

Sunday, February 11, 2007

Nothing like a good laugh

Friday, February 9, 2007


-- Sri Aurobindo

With wind and the weather beating round me
Up to the hill and the moorland I go.
Who will come with me? Who will climb with me?
Wade through the brook and tramp through the snow?

Not in the petty circle of cities
Cramped by your doors and your walls I dwell;
Over me God is blue in the welkin,
Against me the wind and the storm rebel.

I sport with solitude here in my regions,
Of misadventure have made me a friend.
Who would live largely? Who would live freely?
Here to the wind-swept uplands ascend.

I am the Lord of tempest and mountain,
I am the Spirit of freedom and pride.
Stark must he be and a kinsman to danger
Who shares my kingdom and walks at my side.

Nationalist, scholar, poet, yogi, newspaper editor, evolutionary philosopher. Aurobindo wrote this poem in 1908, when he was languishing as an undertrial prisoner in Kolkata's Alipur Jail. It was during this time he found his true calling.

You can read more about him here.

Wednesday, February 7, 2007

What do you see?

ROME, Italy (AP) -- It could be humanity's oldest story of doomed love.
Archaeologists have unearthed two skeletons from the Neolithic period locked in a tender embrace and buried outside Mantua, just 25 miles south of Verona, the romantic city where Shakespeare set the star-crossed tale of "Romeo and Juliet."[Link]

Mantua, interestingly, is mentioned in Shakespeare’s tragedy Romeo and Juliet. But what makes us contemplative and melancholy? What flows from one to the other across thousands of years?

Probably the answer lies in Tagore’s profound observation – ‘Whatever we understand and enjoy in human products instantly becomes ours, wherever they might have their origin.’

Our aesthetic and sense of beauty is hard to destroy. We recognize it instantly, and make it our own. In this Rabindrasangeet, Kanika Banerjee celebrates the endlessness of this aesthetic, the persistence of its true form in the formless. The beauty of the alliteration - anuprās in Sanskrit - towards the end [2:00] is indeed captivating : angabihin ālingane sakal anga bhare.

The poem was generated from Somen Bhattacharjee's digital library.

Monday, February 5, 2007

The pretense of knowledge

In his Nobel lecture, Hayek called it "a mechanical and uncritical application of habits of thought".

At some point in their lives, these people develop a perspective. Then, for the rest of their lives they vigorously defend it (the perspective). Seeing is not believing, believing is seeing. Equipped with the twin tools of language and evidence-that-supports, they can steer gullible you into their make-believe dens. Argumentation is war, and two weapons are required to make headway. First, mastery of using words that portray a basic proof of grasp; this helps in gaining legitimacy. Second, practice of rhetorical reason - as Aristotle says, 'the faculty of observing, in any given case, the available means of persuasion' - or the selection of required evidence for any topic. Perhaps, to stem this perpetuation of confusion, Wittgenstein remarked ‘Whereof one cannot speak, thereof one must be silent’. But bloggers will not listen. Opinions are a dime a dozen.

What can you do? When you have identified the dork, stop taking that person seriously. A lack of doubt, a nagging consistency in all judgments is suspect; methinks it is the first step towards fascism. Stay away from opinionated people masquerading as experts. Stay away from cock sure people. And by all means cling to those who nurture some ambivalence, who do not have all the answers. You will find their company comforting. To maintain your sanity you need spiritual fruits, not religious nuts.

The internet is a great repository. Look for poems, photographs, recipes, travelogues, movies, music. A picture is worth a thousand words, a good recipe a taste of joy, and music is the food of love. Stay foolish. Watch, listen, taste, laugh, work hard, enjoy!

Friday, February 2, 2007

And you feel laid back and your hands start clappin'

You don't need long hair to play the guitar. And you don't need to jump on the stage! In this video Chet Atkins plays the Yakety Axe, a version of Boots Randolph's Yakety Sax. In a more recent recording Mark Knopfler joined Chet in the picking. He sang too. Pure Joy!

Lyrics here.