Wednesday, January 31, 2007


After some scary experiences with my blogger dashboard disappearing, I discovered the simple solution; log in using the correct account name...

One of the most valuable lessons I learnt from this trip to India was an invaluable back-of-the-envelope calculation that my father did for me, that reminded me of the cute Fermi problems which the great physicist was famous for solving. Essentially the calculation revolved around Why I Should Not Buy Any More New Books.

Let's say I own 100 books (a ludicrous underestimate)
Let's say each one has 300 pages on average (another fatuous miscalculation)
Let's say my 'reading life' extends for another 30 years (plausible if not certain)

30 years, 30,000 pages...boils down to 1000 pages per year, which is roughly 3 pages per day of old and existing books.

The italicised and underlined last phrase is key: most of the times, we spend time reading new books, not old ones. In addition, I am constantly surprised by the fact that when I promptly buy a book because I have been bowled over by it, curiously, I almost never end up reading it in the next one year, and certainly not with the same enthusiasm. A good prescription might be to not read a book for two years, and then decide whether to buy it or not based on the level of enthusiasm you still possess.

So I have decided that for now, at least until I am an impecunious graduate student, I am not going to actually buy new books from, unless they are desperately needed technical books that the library does not have.

Several benefits emphatically exist:
1. I save money (trivial point which sometimes annoyingly turns crucial)
2. I don't end up paying 1000$ for moving charges when I leave this city after I finish up
3. I do the library a great service (they have already told me that I am their hottest customer- unfortunately only in a bibliophilic sense)

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Tuesday, January 23, 2007


...was bittersweet. Sweet because of the obvious reasons; parents, friends, all the big little things that make home home. And bitter because of all the little big things that have left me and others a bit disconcerted. The way we are defining progress and development by the number of malls and multiplexes springing up. The way we are turning shamlessly immune to the state of the roads, which have been defiled beyond comment. But it's not the condition of the roads but the absolutely spineless and inisdious politicians which are responsible for that condition that defies all belief. As elections approach, it is becoming more than obvious how the gutless bigots are cranking out more and more contracts for road contractors so that they can make all the money they possibly can from these transactions. Give the contracters the contracts, make as much under-the-table money in the process as possible, and then who cares if the roads are left as they are.

And what is the common man to do about this? Leave his life and his family and try to launch a one-man campaign against this perversion? We are caught in a cycle of helplessness. We circuitously blame ourselves for not doing anything about the politicians' flagrant excesses and at the same time cannot do anything because of the sheer will and maverick like tendency that would be needed to fight against such travesties. One of the features of a healthy democracy is that common citizens can seek redress for their woes with a reasonable amount of effort. In a healthy democracy, they should not have to all turn into rebel rambos in order to secure, what are after all, their rights. By that token, ours has long since ceased to be a healthy democracy. In our country, either you turn a blind eye to what is happening, or become a rebel and devote a significant part of your life to fighting even for your own personal rights as a citizen, possibly sacrificing your job and the time you are entitled to spend with your family. You live almost exclusively in these two extremes. One can hardly blame citizens who choose the blind eye option. The one solace is that thankfully, you can still blog about it.

The gratuitous symbols of 'development' that highlight our landscape are yet more examples of what I have repeatedly talked about on this blog- our tendency to want to sprint before we can even stand. Much ado about IT and private management institutes without having a semblance of quality in primary and basic education. Many scenic places for tourists to visit, that lack basic tranportation and hygiene facilities. Much sophisticated instrumentation in our research institutions, without access to the simplest of lab equipment. And, as was highlighted for me in this trip, a rash of new malls, multiplexes, and restaurants, that make their home along narrow roads that are dug up, perpetually congested, and a nightmare to drive on. It's like a naked beggar proudly displaying his latest pair of expensive and sleek leather shoes.

The more alarming realisation is that many young people are quite oblivious of these basic problems, and want to tout these extraneous symbols as the face of 'modern' India. They somehow think that the higher they climb in the escalator in one of these multiplexes, not only will they not isolate themselves from the problems existing outside, but that those problems might just disappear. Sure, even I liked to visit these malls. But after a very short spell of admiration, I forgot about them once I stepped out of them. I also could never actually think that these were aspects of our country's progress when I was in them. And this is not some fatalistic anti-capitalist thought that I have. I don't have any problems with malls and multiplexes. But I think that I and many others do have a problem with the false illusions they create. And an even greater problem with the fact that many from the generation before us are falling for these illusions. I feel a pang of regret even when I say 'the generation before us'. Because the young people I am talking about here are only three to four years younger to me, yet I can feel a world of difference between their perception and mine. I don't want to label 'them' as mindless comsumerist globalized zombies, because they are not. But the problem of perception facing them is much greater than ever, and they simply might not always be able to separate their thinking from their reality, in an act that is increasingly involving an almost schizophrenic attitude of compartmentalization.

At the same time, I don't feel entirely comfortable labeling a generation as not being my own. Because it were these very young people, even six or seven years younger to me, who made me feel like one of their own, when I visited Fergusson College to give a talk. At first, I did feel like a dinosaur. But then, as I joined them for cups of 'special' tea in chipped cups in the ramshackle IMDR and college canteens, I started joking with them about teachers who taught both them and us, about the ridiculous textbooks which almost thankfully have retained their low standards, and about the experiments from antiquity that still form a part of the cirriculum, I was transported back to my college days, and then there was no difference between me and them. The science has not changed and never will, and so won't the passions for it. It's the really small, basic things that count, which connect us to others.

And it's the really small, basic things, that can make or break a country's soul. And me and many of my friends and teachers see that they are breaking our country's soul. But then, these small, basic things...haven't they always been our biggest woes?