Monday, February 27, 2006


Gaurav has an interesting post, where he raises the point that those pro-Gandhians who criticize Bhagat Singh's methods, should take note that Bhagat Singh and his followers went on a non-violent satyagraha in the form of a hunger strike when they were in jail. While this makes a case for saying something about Bhagat Singh's true philosophy, I think it also demonstrates his diplomacy.

I have always believed that methods to fight oppression cannot always be divided into cut and dried shades of white and black, but they have instead to be adapted for the times. I for one, even being a professed pacifist at heart, believe that it is difficult to conform to one universal philosophy that will hold for all time against bigots and rulers. While non-violence is definitely a potent weapon against imperialism and the suppresion of freedom, it cannot always be so. In the last century, we have seen so many examples where non-violence and peaceful methods failed to bring about revolution. The Jews went to the gas chambers in peace. The French went down before the Germans in peace. The British were wiser, and as much as Neville Chamberlain touted the virtues of the facade of 'peace with honour' that he believed he had negotiated with Hitler, it took a Winston Churchill to rouse the nation into rightfully answering a blow with a blow. The British were absolutely right in fighting tooth and nail against the Nazi menace, their carpet bombing tactics of Dresden notwithstanding. It's quite clear many times- peace is simply not the prudent way to go.

From what I know, Bhagat Singh was not only a great patriot, but also a very intelligent and perceptive man. He probably knew for sure when he went to jail, that he and his friends would be hanged, all of them. He wanted to make his message heard by as many people as possible. An armed revolution would definitely have given him enormous public support, but he and his compatriots would almost certainly have been killed in the conflict; in fact, it would have given the British a lucrative chance of killing everyone in an 'encounter' right away. At that point, I believe that what he urged his companions to engage in was the most effective measure, an act that would maximize the potential for making his message known. A hunger strike by its very nature is a war of attrition. It takes its own time and so gradually pervades the mind of the entire country through various information channels. It creates considerable problems for your tormentors, because they cannot kill you outright, and at the same time have to try to suppress the strike. I think that the real virtue of non-violence is that it brings about a protracted conflict which goes on for a long time. Bhagat Singh probably knew this. Gandhiji knew it even better. Bhagat Singh knew that if he and his friends went on a hunger strike, it would give them the most time to rally the psyche of the nation. And it did. A quick attempt at uprising may have led to a quick death. On the other hand, a hunger strike makes people constantly aware of the fact that every moment, there are souls inside a prison who are getting tortured, who are febrile and in a horrible physical and mental state of mind, but who are still not yielding. It creates an ever present atmosphere of harrowing discomfort. And that's precisely what I think Bhagat Singh understood; and that precisely was what I think was Gandhiji's philosophy.

The politics of attrition, that is what I think non-violence was. At that time, it served as a sterling weapon of dissent and helped to get us freedom. I enormously respect Gandhiji, and at the same time agree that he was flawed. But I also think that he was even more of a social thinker than a patriot, and knew exactly what would drive the British to chagrin and at what time. So was Bhagat Singh. That he seemed to adopt Gandhiji's philosophy in jail was not so much a reversal of his belief system as a conscious decision taken after rational thought. When he was out of jail, he thought that armed revolution was the right way to bring us independence. He was anything but a belligerent war monger. Once he was in jail, he knew what the right tactics were, and he never hesitated to use them. I personally don't think that Bhagat Singh was completely polarised against Gandhiji's philosophy. But firstly, as a matter of social and psychological impact, when you are a leader, you cannot appear as if you are in two minds, especially in times of crisis. Sometimes, even if you believe in another philosophy, you have to unilaterally preach one philosophy to pound its principles in people's minds. Secondly, just like most of us, he simply believed more in one principle than another. That he could mould his principles as and when the situation necessitated it if anything shows a remarkable sense of politics, diplomacy, and foresight. And of course, patriotism and bravery. To me, Bhagat Singh and Gandhiji will always be beacons shining from the same lighthouse, disparate as their philosophies may appear.

Saturday, February 25, 2006

Science in a straitjacket

It's simple. If countries want scientific collaboration with other countries, they have to learn to empathize with the whole global enterprise of science and scientists, and understand its nature. If they really do, then they would understand that asking questions like the ones they asked to Prof. Goverdhan Mehta of IISc. before rejecting his visa application for attending a scientific conference in Florida, are not consequential, even if they are necessary as a formality. Asking a chemist "Can your work be used for making chemical weapons?", is like asking Isaac Newton, "Can your calculus be used for making missiles?". Although the answer to both questions is a resounding yes in principle, both the question and the answer don't make sense at all, because then that means that every scientist (or engineer for that matter) should in theory be considered a security risk. Dr. Mehta, an internationally recognised organic chemist and former director of the Indian Institute of Science, has said that he felt humiliated by the questioning at the US consulate, which seemed to hint that he was actually hiding information from them. On the other hand, this is not a new incident, and has happened scores of times before with lesser known scientists.

Almost any competent scientist, given enough time and resources, can harness his expertise for making weapons of mass destruction in one way or the other. Another trivial point is that you don't need to be a scientist in order to "work on WMDs". Even the most mundane technician at Los Alamos, for example, could be said to have "worked on the atomic bomb". So that's another inconsequential point. And the general point was already driven home more than enough during the Manhattan project, when the most "pure" of scientists built the atomic bomb. Science can of course, always be used for good and bad. But governments have to understand that by stifling the flow of scientific information because of the tenuous possibility that it may be used for dangerous purposes, they are stifling the much larger amount of good that can arise from the flow of that information. Of course, there do have been cases like the infamous A Q Khan case, where high profile top scientists have engaged in unethical and terrorist like acts. But one sparrow cannot make a bird, especially when the scientist in question has an unusually clean track record of being not just the leading organic chemist in his country, but also one who has done more than many others to further the national and international cause of science in peace. It's not surprising that many Indian scientists think that we should just stop all scientific collaboration with the US. In this age when national priorities have become particularly complicated, governments should put in extra efforts to separate the wheat of honest efforts and collaborations from the chaff of underhanded aims and insidious objectives, without colouring these issues with their own prejudices in the first place. Should we stop collaborating with all scientists because in theory, they can put their expertise to malicious use? There is a big difference between perceived and real threats, and now more than ever, we really need to weed out the differences between them.

Also, I do think that just like in other matters, there is bias based on nationality involved here too. A couple of years ago, there was a story about a well-known US chemist, who had wanted to demonstrate how easy it is for terrorists to order the chemicals necessary for making chemical weapons. To this end, he ordered a dozen or so of the basic chemical ingredients of nerve gases from Aldrich, the leading producer of laboratory chemicals in the world. Within a few weeks, he photographed himself sitting in his office, surrounded by canisters containing chemicals that would make enough nerve gas to wipe out a big city. While he obviously did this to make a point and in good faith, I did not hear about him being rejected a passport by the US State Department, or a visa by any other country. If an Indian scientist had done this, would he ever have received a US visa in his life?

Science has the potential to do many things, and politicians would do well not to interfere in the normal spread of pure knowledge that is necessary for progress in science. Governments are looking for completely risk free scenarios, and within that narrow and naive definition, no scientist is 'risk free'. But by imposing their own convenient norms and ignoring the big picture where pure and general scientific knowledge brings about much good, they are actually putting society at much greater risk in the future. Especially the current administration, with its false tunnel vision of pseudo pious motives (like their ludicrous and objectionable handling of the morning after pill related 'Plan B'), should take note. It's them who have to lose the most. And if you really want to shoot yourself in the foot, at least don't stand on someone else's feet.

P.S: Thanks for the previous good wishes by the way. The report went OK, and I stay alive for at least another year.

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

The impending doom of an annual evaluation exam on Friday means not only imbibing massive doses of coffee, but for some strange, unknown reason, also means preparing and studying for it.

So, by proud analogy with my personality, blogging will be hazy for the next week. Got a few things to pen after that. See you. (hopefully not in hell)

Friday, February 17, 2006

How exactly do I explain 'Chiwdaa' to Americans? The best I can do is tell them "This is the Indian equivalent of trail mix, the spicy version. Eat it (but not too much of course; it's supposed to be for meeeee) and you will grow healthy, wealthy and wise..."
I also have to convince them that the silver foil on top of Chitale Barfi is edible, and that no, even though the whole thing looks like raw fish because of the foil, it's not.

As for my advisor, he was persuaded to take a bite only after discussing the chemistry of Silver 1+ in the human body with me.

God save dem Americans! ;)

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

Comprehensive collection of more than 500 anti-war quotes, many quite illuminating.

Tuesday, February 14, 2006


Rang De Basanti and the likes of it made me think about the kind of messages that we are getting from these spirited youth oriented films. I notice that most of these films are promoting direct participation of the youth in government and democracy. While that is necessary and commendable, the folks at the sidelines who make indirect contributions are also key to the upliftment of a country and its masses. Many times, help for social or/and political problems comes from unlikely quarters and it is important to realise the continuation of these efforts.

War provides the most vivid paradigm. In the first world war, when nations, blood and guts were pitted against each other, two key inventions helped to broker "peace" (as short lived as it was). One was the machine gun. On the surface, it may seem like 'just another weapon' would have little effects on one of the bloodiest wars in history. But the machine gun (and later, the tank) obviated trench warfare- that gory man to man struggle, where guts were spilled out and eyes were gouged- and in one of the perpetual and pathological paradoxes of war, made war cleaner and more 'humane'. So did the tank, with its capacity for instant long-range obliteration. So did chemical weapons, on which worked some of the more esteemed 'pure' scientists, including Nobel laureate Fritz Haber. Of course, the illusion of 'just another weapon' not helping to win the war was forever put to rest by the atomic bomb.
The point is that in war, conflict, and the constant struggles in society and politics, 'help' can come very unexpectedly from behind the stage curtain.

Who were the people who worked on the machine gun, the tank, chemical weapons, and the atomic bomb? -Scientists, who in Haber's words, "belonged to the world in times of peace but to their country in times of war". What would have happened if all these men and women had been urged to participate in the war in a direct manner? Or worse, what if they had been forcibly conscripted and possibly lost their lives? And indeed, they were, and they did. The brilliant physicist Harry Moseley, protege of Ernest Rutherford, lost his life in the ill-famed and bloody Gallipoli campaign. Nobel laureate Robert Millikan said that "his loss alone made the war one of the most hideous and irreparable crimes in human history". What if Harry Moseley had been kept ensconced peacefully in his laboratory, contributing to our knowledge of the atom? What if he had chosen to be that way? Would he have been labeled a coward?...As they say, better a coward than a dead man. But quite aside from that, Moseley emphatically would ironically have served his country better, and catapulted it into the front ranks of progress, freedom, and knowledge with his contributions. It is fallacious to have a narrow definition of a patriot, especially in these times, as one who gives up his 'karma' and races to the front. I believe that each one of us finds his karma sooner or later in life. Once we find it, it is through that karma that we can do the greatest good for ourselves and humanity, no matter that the total contribution be small.

The same goes for serving your country in peacetime. No matter how riddled our politics is with corruption and vile human beings, I think that it's not everybody's job to try to change it by direct action (and of course certainly not of the kind depicted in movies). Progress is always slow; quick progress is always akin to a revolution, and that brings its own problems. Better be a quiet worker, doing your job, fomenting the silent revolution that happens in many infinitesimal steps. As a scientist, I can speak from that perspective, and I know there will be many more of others. Radar, for example, was nothing more than an interesting experiment in electromagnetics in world war two. The scientists initially working on it had no idea it would be so vital later on. In fact, many people still believe that it was Radar and not the bomb, that ultimately saved more lives. Even in peacetime, there are so many people who are going about their work and essentially are unknown. To equate their quiet work with disinterest in the country's affairs is extremely unfair to them. After all, in its sum totality, a country is judged not only by its polity, important as it may be. Compulsory conscription and an insistence on any kind of direct participation is to enforce a blind law that ignores worthy cases that may better serve the nation otherwise. Compuslory conscription especially, except in case of an emergency shortage, does not make sense to me. Leave alone the people who are doing their job in peace. Don't exhort them for direct participation. It is through indirect contributions that they can do the most; let the artists create art, writers create novels, and scientists make discoveries. These people are as interested, and as critical for, the development of the nation as are the young men that march into government buildings and demand explanations. Their value is more subtle, but no less crucial. In war as well as peacetime, don't detach them from their duty under the guise of obvious, more important, or critically necessary diversions, for diversions they will be for want to know 'what's their use'?...ask Newton; when he was asked what was the use of his calculus, he responded, "What's the use of a newborn baby?...Let it thrive. Wait and see.

Sunday, February 12, 2006


How does a chemist
love someone?

By distilling the essence of romance?

By plotting the curve of bonding affinity?

By refluxing the elements of affection?

By using the method of steepest descents
to find the maxima and minima of his relationship?

By extracting the love
from the dross of fights?

By bubbling moles of understanding and patience
through the sublime vapour of disagreements?

By proselytizing the alchemy of emotions?

By amalgamating the twin pillars
of emotional dependence and strength?

By fusing faith
and fissioning doubt?

By synthesizing pure love
in sixty-four convergent steps?...

Stop the sophistry!
Just kiss the girl…


Inspired by "How does a chemist, write a poem?", by Carl Djerassi

Thursday, February 09, 2006


Nancy Thorndike Greenspan has finally come out with an authoritative biography of Max Born. It is high time I say. Born is one of the most publicly underappreciated scientists of the century. Few people apart from historians of physics or physicists have heard about him. This is a little unfortunate, because not only was he a scientific great in a century of greats, but he was also one of the premier physics teachers of the century, an illustrious author, and a man of great and wide learning and conscience.

Born occupied the chair of physics at Gottingen University, which was the preeminent world center of theoretical physics during the century. Sojourning through Europe and Germany before, he had studied under some of the greats of the time, including David Hilbert. Born came to Gottingen, endowed with a deep understanding of not only science, but of literature, philosophy, and poetry. He fit the image of the dignified, intellectual professor in every sense.
A partial listing of Born’s students, assistants and collaborators is essentially a list of the most important physicists of the century; Heisenberg, Pauli, Oppenheimer, Dirac, Teller, Maria Goeppert Mayer, and Pascual Jordan, to name a few. The fact that the man trained no less than nine future Nobel Laureates in physics is testament enough to his erudition as a scientist and teacher. Born came to Gottingen and almost single handedly made it into the Mecca of physics to which flocked the most remarkable men and women in the field. In this Mecca, the stampedes were only for satisfying the thirst for knowledge. The quiet, amiable pacifist, who loved science for its pure beauty, mentored half a dozen of the physicists who contributed significantly to the atomic bomb. He also worked with C. V. Raman for a year in Bangalore.

But Born was more than an outstanding physicist; he will always also be remembered as a very compassionate, conscientious, and kind man. Most of the premier scientists in the world were his personal friends. His relations with his students were always gentle and even deferential. His correspondence with Einstein, a special confidante, is well known and still in print in book form (although Einstein's disagreement with Born's quantum probability is also well-known). When Hitler came to power in 1933, Born, like most others, faced a series of crises. In a time when the doors of fate were shut in the face of the most talented scientists in the world, it was Born who made sure that his students found respectable jobs. It was he who wrote letters to Bohr, to Einstein, and to Robert Millikan (at Caltech) to recommend promising and needy Jewish researchers who could not have gotten jobs anywhere else; and in fact who would certainly have faced worse than simply lack of jobs.
Born himself had to emigrate to Scotland, to Edinburgh, where he worked and lived for the rest of his years.

As a scientist, Born would be remembered most as the progenitor of the concept of probability in quantum physics, a concept that is not only the bedrock of the science itself, but also that of the myriad and bizarre ramifications arising out of it. The most central entity in quantum theory, the wavefunction, is Born’s invention. On it rests the entire edifice of atomic and nuclear and particle physics, as well as the many practical applications in our life that originate in quantum theory. It would not be an exaggeration to say that once we know the wavefunction for a system, we can calculate almost anything about it that we want to. It is the starting point for all forays into the domain of the small. From Newton's determinism to Born's indeterminism, we have come a long way indeed.

Born’s Nobel Prize came extremely belatedly, in 1954, when all of his students had already gotten it. It seems fit to think that, as important as the wavefunction was, Born got it for a lifetime of scientific achievement. Apart from quantum theory, he made powerful contributions to atomic physics, to solid-state physics, and to optics. In each of these fields, Born penned a book that became the classic of its time. Remarkably, many are in print even now. In addition to technical works, he also wrote insightful books on philosophy, the social impact of science, and popular science.

Nancy Greenspan’s book is aptly and hauntingly titled The End of the Certain World, an allusion to the implication of Born’s discovery; that we live in a non-deterministic universe where nothing is certain. Like electron waves embodied in their probability distributions, we are nothing but will o wisps in the vast expanse of the world, and of history. And yet, like the electron, we make a difference in the fabric of space-time due to our sheer existence; modern physics buffs may like to say that we hold the power to collapse the wavefunctions of uncertainty and unreason. I would also like to think that the title of the book refers to the ominous political atmosphere of the times that led to the bloodiest and most brutal century in all of history. That was the end of the certain time of trust that human beings knew.
Born has passed into history, but his work lives on. Nancy Greenspan has done us a service.

As an amusing side note, the singer and actress Olivia Newton John (of Grease fame) is Born’s granddaughter.

Sunday, February 05, 2006

Hindi Cinema: I believe I can fly...

Like many others I saw Rang De Basanti and liked it. But these days, after watching many Hindi movies, I have the vision of a fledgling butterfly trying to emerge from its cocoon, which is showing a lot of promise, but not quite fully making it. RDB was no exception. Hindi cinema is beginning a march towards high quality movies, but is still falling short on important points. One of the big factors for this is that our film makers still have to conform to the tastes of the common man of India. So they are mandated to include even unrealstic factors for the sake of making the movie sell.

Two factors contribute the most I believe, to mar the quality of some of our top movies. First of all, the melodrama. In many great American movies, we notice that the lack of melodrama is the factor that most packs a punch. Nobody bawls out their heart or dances around to show their happiness. And this is in fact keeping in tune with real life. How many of us display such extreme emotions constantly in our lives? Many of the most emotionally effective American movies have been the least melodramatic. The underplayed emotions and the quiet performances stun us the most and make the movie remarkable and memorable (How about "Driving Miss Daisy", to quote one excellent example that randomly comes to mind?). Melodrama for many years, has been the sine quo non for Hindi movies. In the last few years, many talented directors have taken exception to it. At the same time, most of our populace still warms to melodrama. Once they enter the theater, they want to be enveloped in a world that completely makes them forget their own difficult existence. They don't want a movie where they have to think or appreciate the fine points of direction. They want a movie where they are drowned in a flood of emotions that would make the experience an emotional roller coster, or a humorous roller coster, or some kind of evocative roller coster for them; enter Karan Johar, Yash Chopra, and Sooraj Barjatiya. That is still the problem which keeps putting Hindi movie directors between a rock and a hard place. If they try to make a high quality movie with subtle emotions, they may not recover the revenue spent on making the movie because the masses may not be very impressed. If they put in melodrama, they inevitably end up compromising the quality. In recent years though, there have been many directors who made extremely simple, unassuming movies which were hits nonetheless. How about "Hyderabad Blues"? The trick in that case is to make a movie that appeals to a select class of the population, those who are part of a defined culture, social opinion, and mental makeup. If it strikes a tune with the hearts of members of the class, then they will identify with it even sans the melodrama.

In recent years, this class emphatically has been the Indian youth. Many directors have identified the Indian youth as that section of society that is in the throes of a distinct transition, a transition to adopt modern western ideas and still retain their identity, as that section of society that balances modern education with traditional values. And there of course have been many movies that try to exploit these connections. Many of them have succeeded fairly well, and Yuva and RDB are two examples which represent sincere efforts.

If Indian movies are to become truly effective, they will have to do something that my musical heart and mind is devastated in saying, and which may be the most difficult thing to do. Throw out the songs. Or at least, as in the case of one of the songs in RDB, keep them in the background. No matter how accomplished the movie is, the moment somebody breaks spontaneously into a song of any kind, it's like a giant and majestic balloon suddenly having its air released with a wimpy sound. No sane and rational person can identify with this kind of abrubt transition. I think that this is one of the most unrealistic factors in Indian cinema. How can people who seemed rational and 'normal' a moment ago suddenly start singing songs, and especially when they are feeling bereaved or sad?! As someone pointed out, this may be the single most important factor why our movies don't get nominated for Oscars. Those guys just don't get it, and they won't. For someone who has been steeped in Hindi film music since childhood, this opinion seems like shooting myself in the foot. But there's no choice if we want to make effective, subtle, and rational cinema. In recent years, some movies do have adopted this trend, and the difference is noticeable.

So how does RDB stand in the light of these factors? The performances are very good, that's for sure. And that's related to another thing which is seen in the best foreign movies, and one which we definitely have picked up; there is no one 'hero' or 'heroine' and it is the combined acting talent of a large part of the cast that makes the movie memorable. While the hero still plays the dominant role in our movies, many movies boast of an equally strong other cast which contributes to the depth of the movie. "Satya" is a great example. RDB is another. Although the movie still rests on Amir Khan's not-so-young-anymore shoulders, without strong performances from the other cast, the movie would have lost much of its vitality and spirit.
The one song that is played in the background is a very nice one, the dialogues in general are good, and the basic idea of the movie is impressive.

And still, like some other movies, the devil is in the details. Inspite of all these merits, the small things that matter end up casting doubt on the movie's accomplishments. Just like the kingdom was lost for want of the proverbial nail, so can a movie, after the solid groundwork has been laid, be lost for want of good details. Gaurav has pointed out some of the unconvincing parts of the movie and I agree with most of his observations. The irrational and emotional ending simply added to the problems. I lost a cousin to a MIG 21 crash under very similar circumstances, so I can empathize with many incidents in the movie, but I can also see the irrational responses of the characters that seem to be woven into the movie in order to retain its overall integrity. It seems a pity that, when everything is going well, the movie suddenly is spoilt because of a song, or because of a few 'small' outrageous and irrational happenings. Has the director put those in simply to satisfy the proclivities of the masses? Even if I can empathize with that, it still does the change the fact that a movie which could have been better fails to be so. RDB is not exactly a movie which has been spoilt because of irrational factors, but they have definitely affected the overall effect. After all, after all the discussions and reviews, it is what you carry in your heart when you step out of the theater, that assesses the value of a movie. In the case of RDB, you get a not wholly satisfied feeling. Somewhere, you feel the pinch of something that was not thought out, or not polished to make it of high caliber. Somewhere, we still have to learn to first stand, before we think of sprinting. We can now see the horizon, but it's still the horizon for us.

Saturday, February 04, 2006

As most of us know, The Onion is one of the best spoof sites around, publishing news spoofs on politics, society, entertainment and science and technology.

Yesterday, an otherwise dull day was brightened up for me when I read an 'article' on the website about 'Intelligent Falling', an 'alternative' to gravity that evangelical preachers and their overzealous patrons have proposed. According to The Onion, gravity cannot explain how things like smoke can rise upwards, and it certainly cannot explain flying angels, the ascension of Jesus into heaven, and the fall of the devil from paradise...reading the article, which in the typical style of the onion, read like a completely legitimate news article, I realised an amusing, ironic, and bizarre fact; that in today's United States, this very well COULD have been a legitimate article anywhere! If I had never known about Intelligent Design and had read about it somewhere, I would easily have labeled it as some well-written spoof article on evolution, published by a comic website.

That the ability to distinguish spoofs from legitimate news articles could be made redundant is the most ironic scenario in a country which more than any other, equates scientific and technological progress with progressive thought...

Friday, February 03, 2006

One of the qualities I like most in the American and British people, is their ability to laugh at themselves. I believe this is a very important quality, as it helps to bring even the most contentious issues out in the open. This ability, if not manifested early enough, becomes useless and even dangerous later. For example, can we dare to openly make jokes about Hindu Muslim riots in India, or about the Prime Minister? Sure, there is a difference of culture, and many jokes which would be quite acceptable in the US would be rightly considered derogatory in India. But I think the question is not just one of appraisal of the humour itself.

Jokes are not only a way of poking fun at someone or something, but their greater long-term function is to basically make the contentious issue an acceptable part of public dialogue. Also, the more you joke about something, the more of a cliche it becomes, and the more its exclusive, special, forbidden nature is rendered redundant. Most importantly, the cliche can signify that the event is a thing of the past, and through the joke, you express this sentiment. Just as you may joke about the Inquisition, which was a very serious matter, so you can joke about Bill Clinton or about Ronald Reagan. Rather than get enraged about these characters or events, the people who make the joke choose to vent out their anger through humour, sarcastic or otherwise, and not keep it seething inside until it becomes a red hot instrument of vituperation and violence. I believe that this is what has not happened in India and many other countries, unlike the US and the UK. I was quite exasperated at some of the outrageous jokes that Americans crack about 'respectable' personalities. But then, it is their way, and a good one at that, of saying that one should take it easy, and through the joke, make the discussion of the event or person water under the bridge. If you are to err, then better err on the side of humour. At least it pokes the dark, brooding issue into the open. As the joke becomes more and more prevelant, it also becomes more public, and one can identify with other people in expressing the humour. This fact again prevents the building up of resentment that would make the matter a personal insult. Laughing at yourself is one of the most salutary activities which you can engage in.

The jokes about the prophet Mohammad illustrates the case in a sad way. I completely sympathize with the people whose religious sensibilities it offended. But is it really worth spending all that time on it? Isn't it appalling that so many people took out to the streets and show no sign of stopping? Can we imagine the terror that must be going through the Danish newspaper's editor's and the cartoon illustrato's hearts? Is religion so important that it should completely disrupt the workings of the world? Then, if anything, this will make people respect religion and its edifice even less. What next? Another 'fatwah' on the editor and the illustrator? Is this how a legitimate snapshot of the world in the 21st century should be? Sorry! But if this is how it is, then it only makes a more and more convincing case in my opinion, for how religion is fraught with more evil than good, how it seizes people away from rational sentiment and hurtles them back to the middle ages. Can we say that Islam, or right wing extreme Hinduism, would have started their path towards modern progress, when they can start to joke about their Gods and Prophets? If not, these gods and prophets are going to continue to remain devils in disguise.

Wednesday, February 01, 2006

Dem bloodsucking fish!

A debate is emerging over who caught not the biggest, but the smallest fish. Last week, a researcher made news when he announced the discovery of a fish in acidic Australian swamps, whose females measure only 7.9 mm across. The scientist claimed this was the tiniest fish found until now.

The discovery raised a few scales when another researcher realised that he had chanced upon another fish before, whose males measure only 6.2 mm. The difference may not count much in daily life, but no difference is tiny enough when it comes to assigning priority and getting credit in science.

Curiously, the debate is made more complicated by the endearing fact that in the second case, the males have to undergo a bizarre metamorphosis, when they piggyback on the backs of much larger females of the species. In an event that would have befitted some gory sci-fi movie, the circulatory systems of the male and female become fused together, so that the female is doomed to have a bloodsucking male attched to her existence for the remainder of her life, a phenomenon not completely uncommon in the human world...

Sometimes size does matter, in a inverted way...