Spatiotemporal heterogeneities

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Indian Independence day, 2007.

(The word “aachhe” in Bengali sort of means “is” – it’s like the Hindi “hain,” just not as ubiquitous. So sometime in the 1980s, an aunt of mine, when she saw this ad endorsing Medicine XYZ “for headache” in the tram-car while traveling down Rashbehari Avenue, thought, “So true…you need Medicine XYZ because head aachhe – the head is there. If we didn’t have heads we would never need it.” The tram had rolled down 100 meters past Lansdowne crossing, when she realized with a sense of sunlight streaming past parting clouds, with half relief and a tinge of disappointment at the anticlimax, that it was merely for headaches. The light brightened the landscape, but also did away with the tantalizing and mysterious possibilities of the mists and the halflight. Yet she had a glimpse of them possibilities beyond the obvious.)

This incident – apart from establishing that the same blood flows in her veins and mine, ;-) – makes that further point. Today as we complete 60 years of independence, that sense of possibilities came back to me. I’ll tell you how, but before that propriety demands that I fill you in with the broad details – for it’s essential to examine the obvious before looking beyond.

Fun day it was – I’ll describe mine - Flag-hoisting; Jana-Gana-Mana (I sing it in Bengali, btw); little dirac-delta functions of vocal nationalism; Mehrab, Shova are rich; good breakfast (I had to help people finish three helpings of Kesari bath – for we’re a poor nation still, and so am I); discussion with boss (for one’s ‘free’ to do that); and then the Games. Now if “the Games” with a capital G gives you a sense of the Olympics, I’d argue there’s no problem of scales there – for the adrenalin rush and the high emotions can make any well-contested game the equivalent of a Steffi Graf-Monica Seles Wimbledon final. Talking of which I should mention the basketball games from yesterday – the scores will tell you about well-contested – three games – 20-20; 27-25; 20-19 – and the transcripts of the on-field conversations will tell you about high-emotions (Urvashi requested a revelation in the press) – in the polite language of the Indian print-media it’d read thus: Mehrab:***********; Gautam:********; Partha:**********; Mehrab:******….so on and so forth. And finally the Sea Harriers meet the Spitfires in the final tomorrow, and the Raptors are out by, I’d say, the skin of their teeth, only I’m sure they’ve more plaque than would compare with the closeness of the margins. (No, no, I assure you, to the best of my knowledge, they brush their teeth well – so mothers don’t fret!) Adil had once got bruised in a football match from the good old In vitro – In vivo days – and said, “Mein ne is khel ke liye apna khun bahaya hain, aur tum is bare mein mazak karte hon…!?” – well he got his revenge - ‘Blaadee’ mosquitoes extracted enough blood from me to compensate for probably all that ever flowed in the 1st battle of Panipat. I couldn’t concentrate too well, but now I too have spent blood for a game.

(Oft one comes across stores selling “Childrenswear, Ladieswear, Menswear,” and oft one wonders why they feel the need to claim that men swear at all ages – first as children, then as laddies, and then as men! It’s a silly claim, to say nothing of being somewhat sexist.)

And then today. First the cricket won by the kitchen staff; then kho-kho won by a team constituted largely from the Lab 22 gang; then the treasure hunt (won by the veterans of course); the kabbadi (which also quite coincidentally won by somebody); and the tug-of-war (which wasn’t – it was a tie between Lakshmi’s team and the Wildlifers, who though, it should be mentioned, had beaten them in the leagues – the rope broke twice spreading people from about the tennis court to the glass panes of the library). And more things happen as I write this mail. Amistad’s on (what am I doing here?); and Shilpa has won the women’s single badminton match, and the women’s doubles with Ruchi; and Dharma and Atira are the mixed-doubles champions. And it’ll trail into tomorrow.

(When you take the shuttle from Mandara to the institute, to your left, just before Valmiki Furnishing selling its mattresses, you’ll see this commercial building boldly marked as “A’s complex.” I’ve often marveled at that. How did they ever know? Of all the many, many A-s that I’ve known ever since whenever I joined NCBS, each day I’d apply it to one person, and sigh, “So true! How did they ever know? And why did they write it on their walls?” And magically it works for most of our A-s, if not all, and probably for B-s, C-s and D-s too, but I haven’t tried it out. I have applied it to myself, and I won’t tell you of the outcome.)

“Unity in Diversity,” Wiki tells me is the motto of South Africa, Indonesia, Papua New Guinea, the Eupropean union (In varietate concordia), and one of the mottos of the US of A (with the same pedantic crush on Latin - E pluribus unum). Yet we live it as well as anybody. People who hardly talk in their day-to-day lives, met today, and found out that the rest weren’t a bad lot too. Even if we go back to our pottering about, essential but ant-like existences, still the good works on some. And hopefully this is a beginning of good things. Beyond the obvious of fun, and jai-hind, and holiday, did you sense it today? It was there here. The spirit was. My generation was born much after independence – and while our knowledge of history is reasonably sound, it’s not tempered by sheer antagonism to, or romantic nostalgia for, the days of the Raj. We tend to be wary of the dangers of flag-brandishing nationalism. But beyond it all the old principles that define us as a people hold. I leave you with the beginning of the tryst with destiny speech. For once, be a little immodest, and apply it to yourself, and to your day at NCBS today (do it for each sentence), and do it a bit broader, and see where you are:

“Long years ago we made a tryst with destiny, and now the time comes when we shall redeem our pledge, not wholly or in full measure, but very substantially. At the stroke of the midnight hour, when the world sleeps, India will awake to life and freedom. A moment comes, which comes but rarely in history, when we step out from the old to the new, when an age ends, and when the soul of a nation, long suppressed, finds utterance. It is fitting that at this solemn moment we take the pledge of dedication to the service of India and her people and to the still larger cause of humanity.

At the dawn of history India started on her unending quest, and trackless centuries are filled with her striving and the grandeur of her success and her failures. Through good and ill fortune alike she has never lost sight of that quest or forgotten the ideals which gave her strength. We end today a period of ill fortune and India discovers herself again. The achievement we celebrate today is but a step, an opening of opportunity, to the greater triumphs and achievements that await us. Are we brave enough and wise enough to grasp this opportunity and accept the challenge of the future?”

I think we are! I think we will! I think let’s!

Tuesday, July 03, 2007

On the Unsuni project (after the performance on the 29th of June, '07):
“The Unsuni project gives voice to the faceless, voiceless, helplessmillions…these are stories of India’s masses - of starvation deaths,suicides, women raped and stripped naked, custodial deaths, land grabbers,souless powerbrokers milking the deprived and of hatred, violence andgreed…”

That’s from the poster. Me being of an old model, I come fitted with an outdated processor - halfway down the list of those sordid adjectives,nouns, phrases and clauses, smoke starts to come out of my ears, and by the time I’m through, safety valves blow, a fail-safe system takes over,there’s a short-circuit, and I’m beyond caring.Now that being so, the obvious crass comment I made to Osho (who, by theway, is the post-Aj face of Ninaad, and hopefully more faces will join him soon) was, “Gosh, did you open a thesaurus and look up all the synonyms ofsadness (literal and spiritual)? My life already is sad enough…” etc. etc.But ultimately I did go. And hence this mail.

A pause now to trumpet the play-going credentials of your reviewer. Well,the broad details are in place – from before I remember every month or so,sister and me accompanied my parents to plays at places ranging from theAcademy of Fine Arts, and Rabindra Sadan where AJC Bose road tumultuously rushes into Jawaharlal Nehru Road, to little known places like Muktanganfrom around the vague place where Ashutosh Mukherjee Road becomes Deshapran Shashmol Road (okay, that’s in Calcutta, and not exactly Trafalgar square either, not even Chowringhee). And then I went to collegeto Presidency, which, at least in that part of the world (and we’d like tothink in a slightly bigger part of the world, but not quite), is the bestyou can do for snob-value. So that sort of licensed me to have an opinionabout and fight tooth and nail for anything to do with the broad Bengaliconcept called ‘kaalchaar’ (hey, magic of Indo-European roots I think –it’s called ‘culture’ in English). And so what all that training taught me was that the civilized thing to do was to have a wan bemused smile foranything you’re not sure about, with a minor raising of the eyebrows wherever applicable. Potent Kolkasian (/Kolkatian) formula, try it – and Ipromise you you’ll be regarded as a man/woman of kaalchaar (I didn’t takeany money from you, so I can’t promise a return of that).

So there I was – wan smile in place and ready to raise my eyebrows (ever so slightly!) at the histrionic equivalent of the drop of a hat. Westarted a reasonable twenty minutes late – which is long enough to berespectable, but not to bore your of your wits. I won’t dwell too much onthe details of the play – it was like a series of monologues depicting allin the quote with which this review started and more (street children,land-grabbing, religious riots, manure scavenging, rehabilitation of the leprosy-afflicted), with intermittent song-dance jigs (most famous bollywood tunes adapted to suitable lyrics) to keep up a certain buoyant spirit, lest it all became too overwhelming, and short-circuited you out(beyond caring kinds!). And for every story of hope and victory told,there remained a dark lingering sense of all the huge lot where justice was not served – the very vast majority!

Now comes the crux of the matter. Mallika Sarabhai said something aboutstirring people up with ‘shock and disbelief’. While that can be a statedpurpose in foreign audiences (the Royal Dutch Embassy is a major sponsor),or particularly insulated Indian chatterati, one could not see that effecton this audience today. For instance I knew that despite the burgeoningeconomy 37% of our population remains below the poverty line (the Indianstandard - which means less than Rs.10 a day, the world standard is abouta dollar a day which of course puts 75% (!!!!) of our people below it); Iknew of religious riots despite the steel giant amalgamations; and ofland-grabbing (phooey, that used to be a theme of hindi movies from 1970s) despite cars choking the roads of Bangalore. I knew this happens, and Iknew that to, I was not stirred with shock or disbelief…then came thevital question, so what I have done with all that knowledge?!

Given the nature of our nation, Indian themes are not always very muchgiven to subtlety. I’m not speaking just of the usual foreigner’s cliché of a riot of colours, and sun, and snow, and dust and heat, and elephantsand cobras, but when most of you go hungry, and you want to convey that –well, there’s room for only that much subtlety; it’s just not a subtletheme. It’s quite all right to make movies about the weird sexual habitsof subsections of the urban (if not urbane) populace, but it wouldn’t beright to assume that that’s all that there is. For instance, perhaps Sonsand Lovers couldn’t be set in the coalmines of Jharia; (of course, all ofus, rural or urban can and do have weird dispositions perhaps – but what Imean to say is that being a secondary predilection, cannot be ‘subtly’dealt with when you’re dying like a rat in a waterlogged mine). So if youthought the theme of the play naïve, it’s not the performance, but theextreme nature of the subject which had to give you that sense. It wasnever meant to be subtle.

For it is important to state the obvious. Quite fortuitously I found a bitof a labmeet invitation mail which I had sent out to my labmates whenrotating in Shona’s lab, probably around the time of the Bolshevikrevolution: “….you people are eons ahead of me in terms of knowledge ofneurobiology, and so perhaps it won't be anything new that you'll heartomorrow, but think of it as helping a guy realize his exact situation andhow much more he has got to improve - raise the consciousness from adrowsy irking to the brazen light of public embarrassment.” Apologies toShona for declassifying such material from the lab-archives, but it’srather apt – many things are there eating away the wood in oursubconscious, sometimes it’s good to bring it out in the sun, and try getrid of the smell and the vermin (okay, fine, it’s my subconscious which iswood, not yours! ;-)).

India, of course, has things on too massive a scale – you think you’llgrapple with it, but the sunwashed, vermin-free days of Presidency pass,and all the while it all seems mind-numbingly big. The raving of youth,and then the usual cynicism, and disillusionment, or if not that – atleast, the short-circuiting it all out…India can and will take care ofitself. Things will continue this way, and then maybe miraculously getbetter. It’s getting better…isn’t it? Actually why should one concernoneself with such narrow bounds of geography? I work for human knowledge,right? Wherever it’s served best. And we contribute by doing our littlebit. Human knowledge. And life becomes a blur of Zeiss bookings, and AWS-sand antibody stainings, and… then maybe one day in Mandara you come downto fill water, and there’s Shilpa and Kirti talking in their balcony,across clothes-stands – like neighbours would across the crowded rooftopsof Benares, and it’s a parable of that India you lost out on sometime downthe line, and there’s a little twinge of nostalgia. (Okay ladies, I wasn’twatching, but the analogy did come to mind!;-)) What happened to Horlicks(I always drank Bournvita though!)? What of the tram tracks on Howrahbridge? A monstrous flyover now runs the length of AJC Bose road, hidingthe noble facades of the building and screening the sky…it has eased thetraffic, I guess, but…

And then who are these people I tell you about? Sometimes they seem suchsimple nice folk, a relief from the - worse than complex - complicated‘urbane’ people I hobnob with, and yet that too perhaps is romanticism -sometimes they almost seem another species – the scared, dark, ignoranteyes, the very scary amounts of ignorance and different ideals. So if youbelieve in their goodness, it’s worth a shot, and if you covertly believein an essential difference, for whatever weird reason, then too it’s onyou to dispel the ignorance – and afford human dignity to humans. Sarabhaisaid something about self-preservation – it just is not right so manypeople are unhappy at one time. Apologising for that simplicity worth ofperhaps a certain American (old clichés though are usually true), I willmake it more complicated by quoting Rabindranath and not translating it(go find a Bong!): “He mor durbhaga desh jader korechho opomaan/ opomaanehote hobe aaj tahader shobar soman.” Do at least follow these links andsee what makes sense:

I stood up the chance of a Mallu-mess dinner (apologies to Anagh) to tellyou this – for, of course as we all know, inspiration can be notoriouslyshort-lived, and is violently inhibited by loads of meaty food, andexcited by tea, and differentially acted upon by alcohol. I thought theleast I could do was tell you! As Candide said, “All that is very well,but let us cultivate our garden.” I have to go cultivate my garden now(which means, add primary antibody to cells, in this case). Ultimately,that’s what I do…and sometime when you’re tired of cultivation spare thoselinks a bit of your leisure. And that too would be good - for while we'renever perfect, strive is what we do. As I said in the beginning, myprocessor’s getting outdated. With my immense faith in and awe of allthings geeky, I sincerely do believe that with the benefit of theevolution of technology (or the technology of evolution, if you will), allpeople born after the year 1984 are necessarily smarter, if not cleverer.(For the people born before, read Tennyson's Ulysses...;-))

Perhaps someone will think of something. Perhaps I…

This is a review of Shiraz Minawalla's lecture on the 3rd of August, 2006. Was supposed to be up online on the website...never quite materialised. So here it is.

The ‘Lay’-ed Back Observer

Shiraz Minwalla’s seminar, 3rd August 2006 – NCBS lecture hall.

I had three batchmates at the Institute of Mathematical Sciences, Chennai – two of them are heavily into strings, the other does quantum field theory (whenever he is not too drunk, dazed, or doped – or, probably when he is, some say). The string theorists have since then moved to HRI, Allahabad. Now, apart from a taste for hardcore physics, one other thing these guys shared was that, while they would enthusiastically discuss anything from Kurosawa movies, to chilly fries on Besantnagar beach, and other ‘expanders of consciousness’ that rockstars and theoretical physicists seem to need, they maintained a stoic silence about their science. This is much unlike biologists – for instance, you just need to ask me twice – the first time I would smile and mumble something under my breath, the second time I would launch into, “The DNA in eukaryotes is packed into…,” and stop after half an hour, or when you get up and leave, whichever is earlier. On a visit to Chennai, to get a basic view of things I picked a voluminous string theory text off my friend’s shelf, and much to my embarrassment, couldn’t make it past the first page.

So, no doubt string theory needs much demystification. On the 3rd of August, 2006 in NCBS, Shiraz Minwalla of the Harvard University, and of the theoretical physics division at TIFR, took a valiant attempt at that – at least, as valiant an attempt as one can make in an one-hour seminar (even if it stretched to two). I won’t put his CV here, for you can do a Google to find out what a supercool dude he is – and not because he looks young enough to be a summer-trainee, and appears for seminars in a RED t-shirt and shorts. That though is a refreshing change, even if we’re not too conservative people here at NCBS. He really has done a lot of fundamental work to unravel the nature of…things (everything, actually).

The basic import of his talk was about certain strange, near-voodoo similarities emerging between the two apparently disconnected disciplines of gravitational theories and non-abelian gauge theories, in the ‘string-framework’. And of course that meant that we talked about everything from the history of the universe at and before the Big Bang (how the gauge theory approach can overcome (or bypass/pass by) the singularity that causes Einstein’s theories of Gravitation to break down at that famous moment) to at the other end of scales, how a quark and antiquark might not go up in a Minwalla-like spurt of energy because not all their quantum states match. I am rather ill-qualified to go to into any detail, so here are a few random comments which remain in the mind after a week:

“The width of the strings in 4D ‘reality’ is just a projection from the 10D space, and depends on the 10D distance.”

“Ten dimensions are not anything we asked for…that’s how things seem to be.”

“A proton is a famous three quark system.”

“Supersymmetry. AdS5. S3.”

“At this point any questions…or comments?”

There’s nothing like a silly question – but sometimes I just feel so untrained. And of course, it’s not possible to do justice to deep physics where intuition breaks down, without the maths – for we (as in humans, not just biologists) are just not capable of getting ‘a feel if things’ there. ND Hari Dass’s seminar on the 15th of June this year comes to mind. There too many things were offered as axiomatic – Spin-2 theories can do just as well as the General Theory of Relativity at large distances – and you have to accept that. It irked the visiting TIFR physics students to walk out after a while, but there’s no way anyone could do any better in one hour. Until you get down to the maths you might as well know the postulates as axioms – that’s the best case that one can make in the defense of such huge gaps in languages.

Unlike what they thought at the end of the nineteenth century, and unlike what they perhaps thought after they worked out quantum mechanics and GTR to some extent, Theoretical Physics is far (FAAARRRR!!!) from over. When I came to NCBS after a bachelors in Physics – iBio hadn’t come to be in its concrete avatar – and for one year everyone’d ask me why the switch. After a while I developed a standard answer for that – “Oh…um…I want to do experiments…and some frontiers of Physics like String theory are so far out, that there doesn’t seem to be any experimental vindication coming in the next 100 years. And Biology offers such tangible possibilities.” Etc. etc. Now that was a mean thing to say. For, just because something is not tangible doesn’t mean we don’t touch it. Yes, there are limitations to our perception of ‘reality’ – but actually Reality (the thing with the capital R) has no need or knowledge of our lack of capability, and should not, cannot be expected to mould itself to our needs. But if the aim of Science is to unravel Reality, then we have to expand beyond our perceptions. In Shiraz Minwalla’s talk I got the sense that we’ve just about started to scratch the surface of theoretical physics. You see a thing here, and another there, and you’ve no idea why they look similar like two Amitabh Bachchans separated at Kumbh Mela. And you have to find out why. And already it’s way past our perception. Perhaps as we go on, things like string theory can be brought forward into the bachelor’s curriculum – so that one gets ample training, and time to think, before one gets past his prime and starts to run out of steam, or gets demoralized by the limitations of perception. Perhaps that’s the way we will push the frontiers forward. It will take some maths, well then we need to learn the maths. Remember what some one said about the shoulder of giants. Shiraz is doing his bit.
(Addendum: If you want a simple but insightful treatment of String Theory, do take a look at this link:

It is by Ashoke Sen, another stalwart of the field. Thanks to Professor Kalyan Banerjee for pointing this out to us.)

Monday, May 07, 2007

Just for the records, the first basketball mail (5th April, 2007):

Supriya Syal was my batchmate at NCBS. She had put up a note in Jitu’s
lab, which said, “When in doubt go to *****, and ***** will tell you go to
Google.” Googling as a word had just about entered our lexicon then. Since
then, as we’d say in Bongland, “A lot of water has flowed in the Ganges.”
Well, a lot of more important water has flowed in the Cauvery too – things
have changed, and when you take all that volume, and divide by the flow
rate (assumed reasonably constant), what you deduce is that a lot of time
has passed. That’s the long and short of it (Sigh!). In this time the
other virtual tool that has almost evolved to the level of a verb is the
art of Wiki-ing. So now it’s like, “When in doubt go to *****, and *****
will tell you to go to Google, and Google to Wikipedia. So when yesterday
I found I know next to nothing about basketball, I googled, and from there
on to Wikipedia. So now I’m a master of the theory, and though I’m far
from doing the experiment, I’ll put in here a couple of quotes from Wiki,
to enlighten the uninitiated.
“Basketball is a sport in which two teams of five active players each try
to score points against one another by throwing a ball through a 10 foot
high hoop (the basket) under organized rules.”
Gee, you’d say, that you knew! But organized is right!
“In early December 1891, Dr. James Naismith, a Canadian physical education
student and instructor at YMCA Training School[1] (today, Springfield
College) in Springfield, Massachusetts, USA, sought a vigorous indoor game
to keep his students occupied and at proper levels of fitness during the
long New England winters…. A soccer ball was used to shoot goals.”
So that clinched it for me. If I had any pangs for breaking the tradition
of football mails, and like cement companies these days which are wont to
sell software and hair oil, if the call of the day, the need to diversify,
hadn’t done enough to assuage those pangs, this did it. Here was the
soccer connection. And see it’s pretty much the same. There are two teams,
and the philosophical equivalent of the goal in the basket, and you defend
yours and try to put one in their nets. More Wiki knowledge – there are
fouls and violations, though a lot more stringent than football. And for,
of course, it’s not a good habit to commit fouls against, or to violate
people (um…hmm, ahem…rules), the other team gets the ball – there’s
something like a throw in. You violate a rule, that’s a violation, and you
violate a player – like maul a person, or surreptitiously run your hand
against a thigh – and there’ll be people to cry foul. Simple really!
Gautam has already given you the history. After the close contests with
the Yelehanka Bulls yesterday, the final finally was between the Jakkur
Rockets and the Hebbal Lakers. And so it started, plonk on the dot of…um,
18:02, maybe! It was like a revelation – like how Keats felt ‘On first
looking into Chapman’s Homer’ types! I was reading this book the other
day, in which the author says, “Recklessness in a man is like revenge on
his woman!” If that be true, this sport seemed to me like vendetta on the
entirety of womankind. They walk, and they trundle, and they streak past,
and shoot – both yesterday and today we saw some dream runs which arouse
something like awe – like Anupratap and Jiggu and Madhav and Sandeep. The
sheer momentum itself is enough to make the stomach of a comparative
weakling like me churn. I mean, I could never take it – I’m sure, if
Mehrab, and Madhav, and the rest of them run at me like that, I’ll cower
on the ground and go, “Mercy, mercy! Here’s the ball, spare my life! I
have little children…” Okay, maybe that’s a bit much! But that tells you
of the mettle of our players. “Their's not to make reply, Their's not to
reason why, Their's but to do and (horrors!) die,” Tennyson wrote of the
Charge of the Light Brigade. Poets they say can see far into the future,
and quite obviously it was this uncanny knack for being oracles that
caused him to write thus, for he was talking about the match today – in a
minor thing like a battle in Balaclava, the visionary could see the
Herculean contest in 2007 - only Time lying a century and half thick can
fog up the prophesying machinery of the best of soothsayers, for this was
not quite the charge of the ‘light’ brigade. But forgive him that one
erroneous adjective.
The Hebbal Lakers beat the Jakkur Rockets 46-36 today, the 4th of April,
2007. But it was far, far closer than anything that scoreline even
remotely suggests. 10-4 up in the first quarter, the Rockets fell back in
the next two, primarily thanks to the Magnificent Madhav, and just when at
34-22, the conclusion seemed a bit like settled, they came right back to
make it as close as 36-34 (to the Lakers), when Madhav scored a
three-pointer which was a two-pointer, and that caused some bad blood. At
this stage these things cascade, and so there you have it, 46-36 to the
Lakers. And while I perhaps amn’t the best person to illustrate the finer
nuances of the match, special mention must also be made of Rockets player
Sandeep, who scored twelve two point baskets, with some lithe leaps, and
then an almost feline underhand lob against the floodlights in a flurry of
arms, almost like a woman in an Indian miniature offering a lamp to the
skies. The analogy though ends there, and nor do cats really lob
basketballs against floodlights in a flurry of arms. Pragati gave me the
scoresheet at the end of the match – so nice of her, though I wasn’t sure
about what exactly I was supposed to do with it – only a casual inspection
seemed to show a greater spread for the Lakers along both axes (all
scored, and at all times – special mention must be made of Aparna, who was
on for just five minutes). So I did some basics stats with it, and the
casual inspection proved wrong. See the attachment for more details, if
you’re thus inclined.
A note on a different note. I bring up the tail in a long list of cousins
– and of course all the previous ones have exerted a lot of influence on
my being. For instance say, Cousin A (9 years elder) introduced me to Enid
Blyton at 6, then Agatha Christie at 12 etc. Cousin B (+7 years), was
different. She went to Delhi about the time I was a young and
impressionable 13, and she 20. When she came back, I remember I asked her
half out of the innocuous naivety of being 13, and quarter out of
politeness, “Didishona, Didishona, what did you see in Delhi?” I don’t
know, you usually expect people to say “The Qutb Minar” or “India Gate” or
something, at most, “JNU was so nice”. Well, Cousin B looked at me, sighed
and with the slightly resigned tone of the pro talking to an amateur said,
“Legs, Roghu!” (Roghu’s me).
“Legs!?” said I (Only these days I’d say, “Legsa!?”).
“Yes, a lot of people, of either gender, with very, very nice legs, and
willing to flaunt them too, quite unlike dear old Calcutta! Legs are a
thing of beauty, you know…”
As I said, early adolescence is when you’re most like a metal (malleable
and ductile, they taught us at school), and a profound conversation like
this would leave its indelible mark in my appreciation of human anatomy.
This found reflection in some reactions of the audience today too.
Athletes, one tends to regard as sculptures, aesthetic, but beyond sex
appeal – but given that, the general mood seemed to favour more legs,
purely as things of beauty. ;-)
Okay, so that’s it – I didn’t quite interview the players afterwards (“Is
khush avsar par aap kaise mehsus kar rahe hain?”), but usually, the answer
to that one is set – “I’d like to thank my parents (for all the
‘support’), my girlfriend/boyfriend (for being there), God (who made me
what I’m today) , and the fans (for all the support, being there, who
made me what I’m today)!” You can shuffle that around a bit, but broadly
it’s going to be the same. So we thank all the parents,
girlfriends/boyfriends, God/gods, and fans of both the Lakers and the
Rockets. And because the journalist has some onus as the first drafter of
History, I have to remember Deepa, Raagi and Ajay in my first basketball
piece. Alongwith old veterans like Mathew, Upi and Sam – they did a lot to
keep the game going at NCBS when it hadn’t yet culminated into contests
like this.
Well played everyone! We enjoyed it thoroughly, and thank you!
PS: 1. Recklessness in a woman is like temptation to her man! (Sigh!)
2. So 600 rode in the Charge of the Light Brigade, and 300 of a
heavier brigade prepared for the gory (as Sudha’d say) in a recent movie.
300 of course is 600 halved. And divide 300 by 60 you have 5 – the number
of active players in basketball. 60 is the number of
seconds in a minute, and minutes in a degree or hour. It all makes
sense…doesn’t it? Um…
3. Look I’m very sleepy…I cease to make sense to myself - have to
turn in now.

Saturday, December 30, 2006

Two things for this year

As usual, we begin with caveats, apologies, and excuses for being horribly erratic with posts - that is not to say that there are teeming millions blocking internet traffic, vying for moments, scratching each other's eyes out, trying to read this blogspot; but one still flatters oneself with an apology - if not anything else it's a personal one. Hee, hee! So I am sorry. 2, 3, 5,7, 11,13,17,19, 23,... (for from 'Contact' we learn that prime numbers are the only way you establish contacts with alien intelligent life-forms, about whose existence you aren't sure! ;-)).

Okay, this necessitates another apology - for though I never make resolutions just because the earth has gone round the sun once more (starting at some arbitrary reference point - the Gregorian calendar - for all points are quite equivalent), if I were to make one, as our present culture seems to demand, it'd be that this 2007 I'll entirely give up the facade of carefully cultivated bored condescension (eg. read the last paragraph, and in the very improbable case you missed it last time 'round, you'll surely see it lurking there). Yet it's largely unjustified - okay, maybe one can solve certain simple differential equations, have a bit of a green thumb growing stuff, and enjoy spawning endless webs of mindless sophistry, and so on and so forth - but that hardly makes a remotely worthwhile case for a patronising attitude. It's slightly laughable, and I loathe the idea of laughing at myself. ;-) Which is why, here I am, this last day of the old year, putting up old knowledge on the blog. Ill-said, but probably necessary. See it's like this. Despite all my pretenses otherwise, I never was a great guy for poetry. It's true, I grew up discussing Nobonita Debsen and Shokti Chattopadhyay with Anirban in class IX, made a reasonable translation of Tennyson's Ulysses in X, put in the annotations for Rony and Arijit's obscure stuff in XII - but then, it's a phase that you live through - and then you either have it or you don't. I probably don't. But it rankles me. Let alone have spontaneity myself, I can't even appreciate most poetry. And then there'd be eye-openers - certain people would render the print so perfectly that it gives you goosebumps. Suddenly things will take on new meanings you never thought was hiding there, or suddenly you identify with a bit, and it all makes sense. I think of my mom's rendition of 'Aafrica', or Suman's 'Aat bochhor aager ekdin', or Aakash spouting John Donne. All those separated by so many years. And I'm a bit bothered on all these occasions. I feel that I have to take it from one language and put in another. That was not just a literary urge - for always it's been somehow significant to me, or to one of my friends. So I churn out poetry only under the most severe kind of stress, otherwise I make do with translations. Of course, on most occasions, they end up on the back of prosaic notebooks (anonymity of the public place), and then in due time are lost. No great loss to humanity, but because some of them made such a lot of sense, I thought it might be nice to keep some of them. Today in a last act for this year, I put a couple of them here. I owe an apology to my buddies for whom these were originally translated (though they hardly ever saw them), and maybe you'll see yourselves there, but regard it a part of the most-people-are-more-than-wise-enough-to-deserve-to-know campaign. I'd be glad if it makes any sense to somebody, and if it doesn't - well, too bad, I guess - I always was a fool. ;-) Both were done about three years ago, when both the world and I were so much more younger, and hence more touchy. It's not really intensely personal or anything, and anyway, 2006 has primarily been a year of detached objectivity, and we observe everything (everything) with a blissful, seemingly silly, but actually wise smile (no raised eyebrow though). That seems to me to be the sum of all spiritual philosophy.

Whatever! Anyway, a word on the two poems. 'Aat bochhor aager ekdin' is by Jibonanondo Das - considered one of the greatest Bengali poets of the post-Rabindranath era. He sort of is a transition poet, between more romantic traditions (the beauty of the Bengal country) and modern utilitarianism ("Priyo phul khelibaar din noy odyo..." (SM)etc.) - so he has a bit of both. I haven't read a lot of him - and most of what I have somehow seems to feature owls - his favourite kind of bird, I guess. And no, I never ever felt too suicidal, but just the way Suman rendered it, made all the philosophy of it stand out stark - awe-inspiring, and (then) a bit scary. But I love it still. The second one is 'Bojhapora' by Rabindranath Thakur, himself. The thing about this gentleman is that, his poetry is a bit like onions, as they say (hope that was not irreverent) - layers upon layers. I had heard/read it thousand times before, and indeed it was kind of very old-school cliched stuff, then suddenly one day all of it made new sense again, necessitating a translation.

I apologise for the quality of the translations - the fact that it sounds so forced in bits - but I have tried to keep it literal, not just philosophical, tried to preserve the rhyme-schemes, down even to the punctuation. So forgive me. Particularly for the modern 'Aat bochhor aager ekdin' with it's uneven, rugged feel, and lines of hugely varying number of syllables. Now if you have read so far, past all the verbiage to discourage the casual reader (;-)), read 'em - for though the English is infantile, but the spiritual content is worthwhile, I think.


A Day Eight Years Ago (Aat Bochhor Aager Ekdin – Jibonanondo Das)


And thus it came to be known

To the morgue he had gone;

Yesterday – in the dark Spring night

The young moon had set

When he felt this need for death;

His wife was by him – the child too;

And love was there, and hope – moonlight – yet he saw

What specter? What broke his sleep?

Or hadn’t he slept for long – now in the morgue he slumbers deep.

Was this the sleep he wanted!

Blood frothing at lips like a rat of plague

In a dark corner of this stinking den

He sleeps, never to wake again.

‘…will never wake again

To know deep pain

The incessant – incessant weight

He didn’t have to take - ’

This was said to him

After moonset – in the strange dim

Near his window, like a camel’s neck

A silence did to him beck.

Yet the Owl wakes;

And the diseased old Frog begs,

“Two more moments pray – for the warm love of a new day.”

I perceive lost in the herded darkness

Beyond the heartless barricading nets each side,

The mosquito wakes in his black world and loves the flow of life.

From blood and rotting flesh, flies fly into the sun,

Flying in the golden beams I have seen their fleeting run.

What life like an intimate sky

Over their minds hold sway;

Throes of the ‘hopper – refusing to die

In the hands of the child at play;

Yet when the moon sank, in the primal dark

To the Peepul you went, some rope in hand, all alone;

The life that belongs to the bird and bug – Man does never meet,

In this knowledge.

The Peepul bower

Didn’t creak in protest? Fireflies, like golden flower,

Didn’t in throngs shower?

The ancient blind owl didn’t say,

‘Old man moon’s gone for the day?


Let’s catch some mice now!’

This profound message the owl didn’t convey?

This taste of life – smell of ripening corn in an autumn even’ –

Even this for you was burden;

In the morgue your heart found peace

In the morgue – in clammy heaps

Like a crushed rat, your bloody lips.

Yet listen

To this dead man’s tale –

In the love of a woman he didn’t fail;

No wants he knew

No desires of a married life left due.

Beyond time, pleasures of the mind and sinew,

This all he knew;

In pangs of hunger, pains of cold

This life did never cry

That’s why

In the Postmortem room

He lies on the table of doom.

I know – yet I know,

A Woman’s Heart – Love – Progeny – a Home – is not all;

Nor Wealth, nor Achievement, nor a will to prosper –

Some other hurt and helpless wonder

Plays the blood in our veins

And tires out all other sense,

Tired – oh so tired;

To the Postmortem room

That Fatigue can never come nigh;

That’s why

In the Postmortem room

He lies on a table of doom.

Yet wonders, every night I see,

The old blind owl on the Peepul tree

Blink his eyes and say,

‘Old man moon’s gone for the day?


Let’s catch a few mice now –‘

O old grandma, even today a wow?

Even I’ll get old as you – and send the moon away

To his death the end of day;

By the time we end our strife, we’ll empty the vast reserves of Life.


Dealings (Bojhapora – Rabindranath Thakur)

(done: 11-12/05/04)

Tell your heart today, ye fool,

Things may turn for better or worse,

The truth you take easy and cool.

All weren’t made as you, nor were you made like all,

Someone pushes you to death, you cause ‘nother’s downfall!

Yet why this tug-of-war, now that you think of it?

Reach out ye hand real earnest, peace you’ll find quite a bit.

Sweet is the morning light, despite all blue’s the sky,

When Death comes sudden I find – I’d rather live than die.

The one for whom I closed my eyes, and let oceans of tears shed,

Even without him I see, the World-beautiful doesn’t end.

Tell your heart today, ye fool,

Things may turn for better or worse,

The truth you take easy and cool.

After many storms at sea, you found this harbour of peace;

There were rocks in the water, hurt hard your hearty bliss.

For the moment your ribs quaked, and cried out at the fateful run

- But is that like reason enough to pick a fight with everyone?

If you can, stay afloat, that’d be the best for this round;

If that be too much to ask, just sink without a sound.

This is nothing fantastic, a rather simple thing to be;

Where all worry the least, that’s when ships sink at sea.

Tell your heart today, ye fool,

Things may turn for better or worse,

The truth you take easy and cool.


Saturday, September 16, 2006

Orkut favourites

Right now I'm too busy to be prolific, so I'll make do by quoting other people. I'm losing interest in Orkut, after they blocked out all the graphics (may they boil in hell for that); so lest we forget, I compile here some favourite answers to all the weird questions that Orkut asks you - favourite, some in the sense of 'standard', and most in the sense of 'my favourite'.

(My) Favourite "From my past relationships I have learnt":

(Given their nature, I myself have absolutely no questions replied to in this section. ;-) But this one I like. I don't know the person, so I can't name him/her - but I acknowledge the debt.)

"Beautiful is better than ugly.
Explicit is better than implicit.
Simple is better than complex.
Complex is better than complicated.

Flat is better than nested.
Sparse is better than dense.
Readability counts.
Special cases aren't special enough to break the rules.
Although practicality beats purity.
Errors should never pass silently.
Unless explicitly silenced.
In the face of ambiguity, refuse the temptation to guess.
There should be one-- and preferably only one --obvious way to do it.
Although that way may not be obvious at first unless you're Dutch.
Now is better than never.
Although never is often better than *right* now.
If the implementation is hard to explain, it's a bad idea.
If the implementation is easy to explain, it may be a good idea.
Namespaces are one honking great idea -- let's do more of those!"

(Makes sense, yeah?! At least a lot of it does! :-))

(My) Favourite "About me":

(My orkut-friend Jason Thomas writes those. And it changes frequently. The one he has on now is neither too obscure, nor witty, as they used to be, so I put it up here just for academic (!!) purposes. Worst bit is, that he has lost all interest in Orkut, and has not been surfacing at all to change it.)

"Its time for change. The world its changing even the drugs they are changing. So I could change. But then how can I. I mean me is an entity with flesh and blood.So change is what. But before we enter into the gravity of the talk the point at hand is who is me? Indeed if i send a letter to myself which should come in 2 days, is it to me?or that future me will it in any way be a part of me me now.Yes that's me. Oh and am being protestant for a few days. My LSD expired."

(Standard (most!!!)) Favourite "Ideal match":

1. India-Pakistan
2. One that lights at one go.


(One of my) Favourite communities in terms of declared purpose:

"I never had sex with the Pope

Description: Join this group if you've never had sex with the Pope. If you don't join, I suppose it can only be assumed that you have had sex with the Pope."

(Far out!!!)

(Can't think of any more. Will put up, if I do!)


Tuesday, August 08, 2006

The Football Mails

Hmm, the idea had occurred to me, but initially I had been a bit
sceptical, for it seemed to imply that I wasn’t prolific enough, as if my
muse was running dry (okay, that it does at times, but it’s like the
rivers of Chhotanagpur – the water comes back rushing, flooding, and
overflowing the mud banks pretty punctually with the rains – only the
period of oscillations is smaller than annual in this case). But I saw
some such thing on the blog of a good (and very prolific) friend, and
Prof. Panicker provided the final push, and I managed to convince myself
that the football mails should be put together – if for nothing else, just
to be a historical document for some future researcher trying to trace the
beginnings of football at NCBS. ;-) Actually it doesn’t go back that far…
for I have lost the drafts…I collected as many as I could and arranged
them in the correct order, beginning with the oldest that I could find
(unlike blogs, not everything should run against chronology). Of course,
I’ll keep updating this post as new matches and their reports come about
(two due in quick succession: 10th and 15th August), and if I find older

For the uninitiated: The football mails are a series of match reports that
I write for important football matches at NCBS. As I told a friend, the
primary format is like this - one unconnected quotation (soft – no morbid philosophers;
Romantic poets do good), two or three witty remarks (with one toilet
reference if possible – okay, that’s not quite true – I said that for I
think that’s a witty remark, which I borrowed from someone –it’s there in
the reference of one of the mails), and a generous slab of likely-to-be
popular bit of philosophical comment; and details of the match dispersed
here and there, such that readers have to read the whole bit if they just
want the scoreline. ;-) That’s the secret ploy.
I used to be the spokesman for the In vitro team, but of late with growth in
stature(!!!, and the size of the mails) am trying to be more neutral.

Um…I’d like to thank Albert, Shona, Panics, Adil, Deepa, Ragi, Viji, Jayant,
Shwetha (MG),Amrita (mausi), Kasuhik, Aabid, Vijay, Bidisha, Priyanka,
okay Ishier too – who really kept this going by feeding my ego at the right times,
and cutting me down to size whenever it became too inflated.


16th March, 2005:

In close matches, there's always a side claiming 'moral' victory. That by
itself is a rather tame thing - it lacks the claws and the teeth, the
passion and the drama of an outright win. So, of course, the best thing is
when you can combine the two - the high stand of the moral, with the
adrenaline of the 'official'. And when that happens - when the little guys
on your left shoulder, and right, whispering in your ears, join forces -
well, that's bliss!

This is the stuff of which legends are made of! Fraught with 'close'
moments which define the history of sports...remember Maradona's
hand-of-God, remember when Herscelle Gibbs dropped Steve Waugh in the
World Cup semifinals! Your correspondent isn't sure what the final
scoreline was - 3-1, or 3-2, for in vitro! (For the records there is also
a wild claim of 3-3 doing the rounds; we request our readers not to be
misled by such vicious rumours!) The second goal scored by in vivo was
controversial, and equally vocal claims for and against were heard when a
flat scorcher from Albert passed somewhere very near a post! The claim for
a third was simply fiction - no controversies! History is written in the
hearts of a populace, and also on paper, or on CDs, those being more
permanent and less fickle media! As for hearts - 3-1 will be etched on
most, 3-3 on some - and probably 3-2 will go down in the annals of

The players were valiant, even gallant! In vivo was Abu, Adil, Albert; in
vitro was Ranjith, Ranjith and Ranjith (also Deepak, Lokesh, Anup (C, not
G), Karthik)! Adil bled in vain, he simply was the right man on the wrong
side! In vivo came across as a team of champions, in vitro as a champion
team (this btw, is in analogy with the Indo-Australian cricketing
traditions)! And as we know, (Ajay will concur,) champions are not always
winners, the champion team is, always!

Abu was denied a b'day gift! (Notice how whenever someone wins in any
game, it turns out to be their b'day, and the commentator says what a
wonderful gift it is - not this time 'round though!)

And we request our readers not to do an Escobar on Anup (G, not C)! ;-)


Go in vitro!

-Aprotim (for in vitro!)


2nd July, 2005:

Many, many years ago, the youngest of the eight sons of Jesse took on a
Philistine giant, and saved his people from the vagaries of a foreign
army. Many, many years ago. The world was a newer place then, and apart
from its deeper significance, the story of David-and-Goliath came to be
the parable of the determined weak striving against the complacent strong.
Since then, it has been repeated many times in the history of our species,
and each story has continued to inspire - a young Babur defeated the
massive forces of Ibrahim Lodi in Panipat, 1526, and a few years later a
cocky Elizabeth I sank the Spanish Armada; Vietnam took on the huge
military machinery of Imperialism, and Bangladesh defeated Australia in
Cricket... But note something - why exactly do these stories inspire? Is
it not exactly 'because' they are so occasional, so novel, and have the
romantic fragility of the improbable? While, most of the other times,
albeit without the comfort of high moral, and the tang of novelty, the big
guys just steamroll the underdogs - you may not feel right about Iraq, but
only the other irking part of that horror is your pathetic impotence about
the course of the issue!

Thus is it getting to be with In vitro - In vivo football matches! While
this correspondent is expected to wax rhapsodic about the 3-0 In vitro
win, the outcome is getting to be so obvious, that it sort of has lost the
adrenaline of yore. One of the newly acquired German balls were used, and
the fans expected a good match. It started a bit rough, with In vivo
attacking, but not seeing things through the solid wall of In vitro
defence. If the comparison wasn't a wee bit extreme, in retrospect one is
tempted to think of the 1998 3-0 World Cup defeat that France handed to
start-studded Brazil - the triumph of conservative (okay, semi-) Europe
against jazzy Latin America with too many stars and not enough of a team.
Half-time saw the scoreline at 0-0 (this was today, not 1998). And then!
And then, in the second half, a straight and flat corner kick from Ranjith
(the!) saw the ball in the (virtual) net, Nishant converted a penalty, and
In vitro put another one in the final minute of the match. Deepak, Jayant
and Lokesh were insurmountable, and the new Bilal kept the ball high up in
the air for so long that it took up about five minutes of playing time!
Hmm, so much for adrenaline!

While we are loathe to spoil the party, and indeed are happy that In vitro
has won, perhaps it wouldn't be sacrilegious to put in a prayer for an In
vivo win next time, lest the game become a boring monopoly, and the fans
come to a match stifling yawns, and the bookies offer you fantastic odds
for an improbable In vivo win! That'll kill the culture. Guys, you are
good, you have the stars - come up, come up once, at least allow the
betting men their thrill! David, O David, your masses will forget hope,
you have to come up and defeat the Philistine giant once! David, o David,
hear us, pray!


-Aprotim (the objective correspondent for In vitro!)


15th August, 2005:

Have you noticed how everything these days has themes to it? You may be
asked to dress in green to a party, for that signifies your love for the
Environment, or wear black badges when you’re mourning or protesting one
of so many things we have reason to mourn or protest. Even days come with
themes – for instance today we celebrate the patriotic spirit with the
rustle of Fabindia kurtas, and two thousand buck ethnic salwar-kaameezes
brought out only for this day. There are dissenters who’d protest that
such intermittent muscle-flexing, flag-brandishing displays of sweaty
patriotism, with the media blaring out all our love for the country, just
might be a bit of a narrow virtue. Arundhati Ray, that eternal
non-conformist, once wrote that ‘a flag is something a government uses to
shrink-wrap the minds of its citizenry, and then as a shroud to bury its
dead.’ Yet even that is probably not the whole truth.

Today at NCBS we celebrated the human spirit. That was our theme. We
saluted our national flag, and then the day started in fun with the
treasure-hunt, and the campus quiz. Then the cricket match, and then the
football, oh the football!!! That’s the match that this correspondent is
supposed to be reporting on. The long and short of it is that NCBS
trounced RRI four-nil. Yet there’s so much that a bottomline doesn’t tell
you. Nature, that lady with the capital N, made a strong attempt at
intervention, as thunderclouds gathered at the very commencement of the
match, and winds blew. Yet, nobody so much as batted an eyelid to pay her
any attention – neither the players, nor the fans – who just prettily put
up umbrellas in true Wimbledon style, only this time in a torrential
tropical downpour, while the rustle of the kurtas and kameezes got a bit
damped out. The match went on. The eternal Ranjith, grand Abhishek,
gorgeous Albert, and the grand one again, scored the goals. Abu stuck to
their main striker Sutirtha, after a fashion that could’ve possibly made
for a good Fevicol, Vamicol, or Quick-fix ad if filmed. Santosh, Bilal,
and Sajith were stupendous in defence, and while with a 4-0 scoreline
you’d think RRI didn’t have much of a defending line, we are obliged to
mention the valiant efforts of Dipanjan, and the RRI goal-keeper Wasim,
who saved at least one flat scorcher of a shot. What-if type retrospective
speculation is usually pretty pointless, except for the little thrill down
your spine at imagining the score-line if the RRI defenders had been a bit
less sharp. Which adds all the more to the sweetness of the victory. And
while as a Bong, it’s my prerogative to further wax romantic about
football in the rain – that’d be a cliché, you’d know the joy if you were
here today!

So, Columbus found the New World, Magellan went round the earth, Norgay
and Hillary conquered the Everest, and Scott, Antarctica. While we try to,
or even, should, live in harmony with Nature, one cannot deny that our
history as a species has been one of defiance. We didn’t agree to live in
the caves, as Nature’d have us do, but built our skyscrapers. Defiance to
be cowed down by all that is doled out to us, is what makes sets us apart,
and makes us human. And today we hailed the human culture, on our
Independence day, as Nature took a minor test of our resilience. And she
must have smiled. Patriotism likewise is a celebration of our identity,
and without it, perhaps the world will be a flavourless monolithic broth –
not necessarily anymore peaceful, definitely more boring. Hence we
celebrate our culture today, as a nation, as a people, as a species!


-Aprotim (your objective football correspondent).

(Note: The views expressed in this column, though not very new, are
entirely of the author’s, and should not be taken to be a reflection on
the community. And that’s again because we hate bland, homogenous soups!


10th December, 2005:

“Dharmakshetre Kurukshetre samaveta yuyutsava.
Mamka Pandavashchaiva kim kurvata Sanjayah..” (1)

I’ll tell you ‘kim kurvata’ (what are they doing). That was the end of
Dwapar yug, and now it’s deep into Kali, and Sanjay for you has degraded
into me sitting behind the green-water-pipe-sidelines, reporting live and
direct from Kurukshetra, as history unfolds itself before our eyes. So
heed my word, o ye blind one, blind enough not to be here and now.

4:35 pm: As we said, the ‘yuyutsava’ (weakly translated, warriors) have
assembled. A later day Krishna might be pep-talking some Arjun right now,
but I am at some distance to make out (the problems of Kali, no
‘manaschakshu’!). If this was Hindi commentary to a cricket match, this is
the moment when you say, “Darshako se chakachak bhara hua stadium,” or,
“Talio ka gargarahat”; but Hindi not being one of my strongest points,
this is not a Hindi commentary, and this is not a cricket match, and the
spectators have just begun to trickle in; so though ‘gargarahat’ is a
wonderful word, one can’t use it right now. No, correction, I am wrong on
that count – Ruchi and Anmol with their hooters (for want of a better
word), are more than making up for all the gargarahat that you can think

4:48 pm: In vitro win the toss, a bit of huddling up and covert gameplans,
and off they go. Ranjith and Albert “like stout Cortez when with eagle
eyes/He star'd at the Pacific - and all his men/ Look'd at each other with
a wild surmise -/ Silent, upon a peak in Darien.” (2) The poet was a bit
off on that one – another guy called Balboa discovered the Pacific, but
that’s a technicality – the conquistadors’ eyes must have shone at the
possibilities, as with our players today – again we are at too much
distance to really tell, but they must shine. Best of like Pizarro, best
of luck Cortez.

4:51pm: No, they’re still planning! Start people!!!!

4:53pm: Tum, ti, tum, tum! Aaaaaarrrrggghhhhhh!!!!!!

4:55 pm: Okay, they’re really off. Thank God.

4:59 pm: Already two shots on goal; but the In vivo goalkeeper, Samrat by
name, kept it out. Well done, but tell me again, since when did Population
Genetics studies using statistics, DNA from near-petrified samples, and
blood from not-so-nearly-petrified people qualify as in vivo studies?? ;-)

5:00 pm: With some of these guys you want to put titles like the leaders
of yore…like Suleiman the Magnificent, Ivan the Terrible, or…um, Attila
the Hun. Though ‘Terrible’ or ‘Attila’ would qualify more readily than
‘Magnificent’. Correct me if I am wrong, but these guys are probably not
going to Germany in 2006!!! Anyway, it’s a contact game.

5:01 pm: A corner for In vivo. Not converted (not at all, in fact!)
(Obviously =??)

5:03 pm: What was that? An ‘attempted’ handball by Deepak?? Well!!!??

5:04 pm: Ranjith has a valiant run. Corner. Not converted. And it’s so sad
Albert has to come back so deep even to defend. Rajesh has a good chance.
But the stout In vitro defenders rise to the occasion. Abu fouls a . The
In vitro defence is a wall.

5:11 pm: GOAL. Rajesh converts. The wall cracks up for a third time, and
the ball gets past. Good job though, and very cleanly done.

5:14 pm: Adil on a tree, to get the ball. The speed of that operation is
pretty wow!

5:18 pm: “James, James, James, James,” they shout. He’s always at the
thick of the action. Coming back to the issue of Hindi commentary – once
we were watching a European Cup match at Mandara, with that background
score. One was a little known country, and the commentator seemed to know
the name of only one guy – say, he’s called Kalu, a name as good as any
other. So the commentary went like, “Kalu…., um, …Kalu, Kalu…um,
um,…Kalu.” Today it seems to be that way with James.

The spectators get involved now. There they are at the sidelines shouting
in parts – soprano, alto, tenor and bass.

5:21 pm: In vitro has its first true attempt on goal seconds before
halftime. But no, it wasn’t in.

5:22 pm: Halftime! The Pandavas and Kauravas huddle up, catching a
breather, sharing a gulp of Glucon D, ‘strategizing’. This gives your
correspondent some time to philosophize. Sometime back I read a wonderful
article on the art of sarcasm (3) (please do try read it!). There the
author says sarcasm is “like chilli. A little here and there spices things
up and shows them who's boss, but you don't make many friends by
sprinkling it in everything.” I wondered if in a few of my past reports I
oozed too much sarcasm, but frankly now I realize that these In vivo guys
don’t often even give you too much room for sarcasm – they lose with such
well-practised blatant thoroughness, that there is absolutely nothing to
be sarcastic about. But today…today they’re good I tell you. Probably the
ignominy’s gone past the high-water mark. Looks like their day.

5:30 pm: Halftime still. I wish someone would get me a tea. Srinivas’s not
here still. Abu gives me a sip of Tang. A real angel, I tell you.

5:31 pm: Action starts again. Ranjith’s off, Karthik’s on. In vitro on the
Latin-American offensive, In vivo on European defensive.

5:32 pm: Abu’s glasses…okay, he’s up. Deepak ends Albert’s near-free run.

5:38 pm: Two corners for In vitro. Aejaz’s off, Ranjith’s on.

5:42 pm: A quite unintentional handball by Kalyan – but Albert’s shot come
off the wall. Ranjith has a dream run, but it comes to naught. Abu trips
off Dipanjan. He’s up.

5:48 pm: Corner for In vitro. And since you don’t see GOAL in Caps font
here, you can guess what didn’t happen. Corner for In vivo. And the same
thing happened (or didn’t happen, whatever!).

5:52 pm: Ranjith’s shot is off again. Albert fouls Kalyan, but no real
damage in any sense.

5:54 pm: Dipanjan and Adil involved in a horizontal tussle of legs. Adil
has an unintentional handball. Bilal has a close long shot, but not close
enough. Another close shot, but just that…close. And another.

6:02 pm: Probably the last corner for In vitro. In vivo now take the
attack to the other side. Albert’s end game offensive. Nice runs.

6:03 pm: Once more on that article on sarcasm – the author says, “…apply a
flair for words, wit, a pinch of attitude, and maybe a toilet reference,
and the world will marvel.” I really want to be sarcastic about something
now, and with the kind of adrenaline that’s coursing in my veins, I can
try manage most of those, except, I can’t think of a toilet reference.

6:06 pm: It’s getting dark. Stop the game now. ‘Doth God exact day labour
light denied?’

6:07 pm: In vivo wins. That’d come as a great relief all ‘round. I
wouldn’t have come back for the next match if they didn’t manage to do it
today. But really, well done everyone. And congratulations In vivo; guess
you are still pretty much in the reckoning. Good game. Thanks a lot.


Sanjay?/ Neville Cardus of soccer?...sigh, nay, just Aprotim of the green


(1) Srimad Bhagwat Gita, 1, 1.
(2) On First Looking into Chapman’s Homer – John Keats.


7th January, 2006:

After my last match report I had a sense that to be neutralized is pretty
like to be neuterized. Somehow without the benefit of partisan dogma,
things lack that passion and chutzpah which objective neutrality can never
give you. That’s the best case that one can make for fanaticism, I

I would have liked to make a comeback today. And I was given occasion
enough, for In vitro beat In vivo 2-0 today (or 2-1, as two people who I’d
trust, opined). Yet, I think I will stick to old fashioned rational
objectivity. ‘Beat’ is the bottomline, you’d say. I’ll say it matters not
– for this was sort of a farewell match for two old In vivo hands –
Praksah and James, who’ll move on to bigger and better things (no, not
Real Madrid, I was speaking more academically). First, let me tell you of
the story.

I never understood this thing called “season change”. Whenever in my life
I have sniffled, coughed or even cleared my throat to speak, hordes of
well-meaning relatives have descended on my Calcutta home, and blamed it
all on “season change” with grave sagacious nods. In the height of the
sweltering Calcutta summer, or wet wet July, in dewy Agrahayan, or the
mild winter, it has always been “season change”. And as it rains a bit
suddenly, or at the subtle insinuation of a North wind, we bring out our
sweaters and shawls in Bongland, and in them sweat like reagent bottles
brought out of the cold, in exchange for our supreme sense of security.
Our starting conditions at the match today were a microcosm of all that –
sunny in the sun (gee!), and chilly in the shade, warm in a sweater, and
slightly shivery without. That also means we started a bit late. It was
the hour when Romantic poets would philosophize on the Philomel, and “in
the golden light'ning/ Of the sunken sun/ O'er which clouds are
bright'ning” they did “float and run /Like an unbodied joy whose race is
just begun.”

In vitro attacked well (more in the second half though, when In vivo was
substantially ‘down’). For once the usually Latin-American In vivo had a
defense line. “Get behind the line, if you come up you’ve to be back in 30
seconds,” instructed the captain to his defenders. But then Karthik
chested one in. The direct setting sun on the In vivo goal could’ve been a
bit fortuitous, but that shouldn’t take away from the perfection of the
execution. Abhishek of In vivo believed he had one in, and James agreed,
but otherwise opinion was a negative or a “dunno.” The refereeing in the
first half was a bit tentative, and sometimes harsh, but let us remember
that in such matches it’s a real pressure job. You need a personality of a
Doberman pinscher, a B-2 bomber, and my class IX maths teacher, combined
with a Penguin, Polar bear or Ajay Sriram cool, to have an idea of what it
takes. ;-)

In vivo was slightly demoralized in the second half after another fast
goal-scare. They ran less, bickered a bit, and the game was slightly
lack-lustre. Anoop Cherian actually carried the ball in for a second time
for In vitro. Then with the kind of adrenaline going on one side, and the
bitter hopelessness on the other, it was difficult to imagine a comeback.

So there it was, the scoreline. 2-0, 2-1 as you will. Yet, even if it was
2-2, or 2-3 even I wouldn’t think it mattered too much as we bid farewell
to the outgoing In vivo players. As long as the game is good. It’s
difficult to keep passion out of the game, whether in pumping adrenaline
or its negative hormone, if there’s one. Nor should one perhaps try to.
Sports is about these highs and lows. Yet beyond those 30 minutes, I’d
like the readers of this column to join me in wishing Prakash and James
well. Best of luck gentlemen. I hope you do very well.

And because I can’t resist a dig – Adil, Prakash and Abu were discussing
the match last month in which In vivo played well and won, and I had
wondered aloud why they need to dwell (/gloat) so much on past history –
it’s like Argentineans discussing 1978. Now, I guess I know why. But I
also hope that they’ll do something soon about this knowledge of mine. ;-)

Esha Deol, I was told, acted as a headless corpse in the movie Kaal (I
always wondered if they recognized her from her curves if she didn’t have
a head). And I am sure you can’t imagine Venus de Milo with hands.
Kanishka always had been a headless statue in my history books and
imagination. Thus they’ve become cultural icons. It was perhaps destined
that James and Prakash left NCBS with the irking imperfection of
unbalanced In vitro-In vivo tallies that have become a tradition. But
someday maybe the Venus will grow hands, Kanishka and Ms. Deol, heads
(which of course is more probable for a 2000 year old stone statue than a
Bollywood heroine). It’ll be a bit harrowing at first, but then we’ll get
used to it. We live in hope.


(Acknowlegements: I borrowed that season change bit from Tarapada Ray, a
columnist in the famous Bong Anandabazar Patrika.)


20th May, 2006:

Thodisi dhuul meri dharti ki mere watan ki
Thodisi Khushbuu baurai se mast pavan ki

A few days ago, about the time when the movie Rang de Basanti was
released, we were signing deals to get nuclear technology in lieu of
mangoes; there were screaming headlines even in the more prosaic papers
about the BSE index going past first the 10k, and then the 11k marks;
India was playing good cricket; and on a less cosmic scale, my experiments
were running steadily. All this taken together, made one feel quite sexy.
And the general upbeat mood thus spawned, was epitomized by the movie RdB
(which when written like that looks like some signaling molecule), and
many people came out of the closet about their secret desires to lead the
country to glory, and become politicians after all, leaving cushy MBA

I do not mean to be snide. Au contraire, I am all for it. But I do think
it good that the heady exuberance has given way to a bit of sobriety, now
that the chances of our nuclear deal going through a vital forum look a
bit dicey; and the sensex crashed 800 points making the same old
newspapers run “HALAL STREET” in bold and red on their front pages; and to
my dismay, I find that one has to run many more control experiments to
validate one single hot result. Good then, we’ll step a bit more
carefully. In his famous “To Autumn”, Keats writes,

“To swell the gourd, and plump the hazel shells
With a sweet kernel; to set budding more,
And still more, later flowers for the bees,
Until they think warm days will never cease,
For Summer has o’er-brimm’d their clammy cells.”

Thus he already conveys the sense of satiety at the end of Summer; the
excess of sweet stuff from which only rot can result, and Autumn give way
to gray Winter. Too much of a good thing. Clammy cells.

A 3-0 scoreline might sound nice. Celebrate; but also think where we might
have gone wrong. NCBS played a seven-a-side football match with the IISc.
Physics department today. We won 3-0. But not without hitches. We’ll
discuss the connection, but first the facts.

Thodisi dhondhane waali dhak-dhak dhak-dhak dhak-dhak saansein
Jin mein ho junoon junoon voh boonde laal lahuu ki

As the header suggests this is about the adrenaline bit of the reports,
and a few details. The first half went without either side scoring. But
the proverbial ‘they’ were better than the proverbial ‘us’. We did not
have one, not one, clean shot on goal. Our long passes did worse than the
50% that chance would allow, in getting a person of the right team (Ask
Raghav Rajan about the maths bit). For them however, mention can be made
of many people who did a good job from goalkeeping to attacks, from ground
passes to long. Our game was a bit lackluster, and that’s the nicest thing
that can be said about it.

Something changed in the second half. They started off by attacking; but
by now they were so engrossed in the offensive because of their apparent
tactical superiority, that they left only Pitambar to keep their
goalkeeper company. So it twice happened that Bilal brought the ball out,
and Albert and Saikat nearly carried it through their goalposts. But it
came to naught. But not so the next two times that it happened. Albert
scored the first one. And then Saikat. The third goal was a self-score by
the otherwise-valiant Hari, aided by Ranjith, I think, in the last minutes
of repeated attacks by NCBS. Special mention also needs to be made of Adil
and Abu, not for the usual prowess on the field, but their new-found
avatars of very-vocal supporters.

Yeh sab tuu mila mila le phir rang tuu khila khila le
Aur mohe tuu rang de basanti yaara
Mohe tuu rang de basanti

In a distant land called Brazil, football’s supposed to be a way of life,
alongwith Samba, the Amazon, and sky-rocketing crime-rates, like for us it
is, say, corruption, crowded buses and chai on railway platforms. We’d
like to take it a step further and say football is life. Unlike other
games of ‘glorious uncertainties’, like life, many things are more certain
in football – like if you’re two goals down, you might not make a comeback
with five minutes to go. This demoralizes some, and inspires others to
fight even harder. If they succeed, they’re called heroes. But many times
they don’t. But that’s no reason not to fight. This was seen in the IISc.
players – some down in the dumps, some clawing tooth and nail to get back.

This is another instance of how the general mood of things finds
reflection in the individual, and the other way ‘round, like we said in
the very beginning of this piece. The other instance is the NCBS game –
how a goal, even a decent attempt can swing the attitude of a team. It’s
like the confidence that the first publications bring to the young
researcher – suddenly you feel that you really can do quite a bit. And
then you do it. Thus 1-0, becomes 2-0, becomes 3-0. Yet, like the clammy
cells, let us not be complacent. They’re good. Let us beat them in their
homegrounds. The silver lining of losing is that you can only get better.
The dark lining of winning is that you’ve to hold to disprove rumours of a
fluke. But winning is always a better habit than losing. So rejoice.

And thus football reflects life. Like the mood-swings of a newly-confident
democracy - sometimes ecstatic, sometimes doubtful - so is our team. Like
the nation, we’re also potentially rather good – and it’s beginning to
show. Let’s take it to them NCBS. Let’s take it to them India.

Mohe mohe tuu rang de basanti
Mohe mohe tuu rang de basanti…

14th August, 2006:

Sometime in May 2005, a few friends and me, we ate at this place called
Planet Yum in Chennai. This is what my friend Akash, then at IISc., had to
say about the experience (quoted from his blog):

“…planet yum (now, this took some time to register, i thought this was the
tam way of pronouncing planet m). yum. i think not. this place was
splashed with violently clashing orange and yellow colours. i digress abt
places to eat. having been fed at at all ends of the spectrum, one can
appreciate the grandeur of those places where the chandelier has crystal
pieces and not plastic. or where slightly frayed cushions join teak and
pinewood to create the right kinda atmosphere for pipe tobacco and
whiskey. but planet yum. one of those great places patronised by the kind
who wear their cultural bastardy on their sleeves. the kind who think kfc
and macdonalds is the best form of cultural emancipation.”

Despite that reference to chandeliers, pipe tobacco and whiskey, and
despite being out of Calcutta for the better (…um, greater ;-)) part of
his life, Akash actually embodies the Bengali commie spirit – classical
simple-living-high-thinking; the kind who’d earnestly believe that buying
a bottle of pesticide (as of course we are free to do) would cause hunger
in Ethiopia, floods in Bangladesh, droughts in Sahara, and civil war in
Chile and Nicaragua. Hence the severe stand on Planet Yum, where I thought
I had a perfectly good time.

Now, my generation was born to ambivalence. And that isn’t necessarily a
bad thing – we heard everyone from Subbulakshmi to Schubert with Shakira
and Shaan thrown in between; Krishna and Kant took turns at educating us;
and generally, wherever we turned, the Orient and the Occident vied for
our attention. Okay, that sounds rather grandiose, for obviously, scratch
beyond the surface and you’ll find I neither know Krishna nor Kant too
well – I know just about enough to bluff my way through a conversation,
and to sound reasonably educated. Which is why the traditionalists on both
sides would scoff at us – “You, bloody, don’t know our culture.” That may
well be true. But one thing is, I have always seen that most of my friends
have specializations – so that they’d be firmly on one side of the divide
on at least one issue – someone understands Carnatic music, and another is
a world-expert on Nietzsche. Unfortunately, I am singularly untalented,
and hence superficial Yet I think there’s hope for me yet, and indeed for
the bulk of my generation – for I’ve seen powerful new things born when
disillusioned revolutionary rhetoric meets desperate consumerism for a
coffee at the Indian Coffee House or Barista’s. Cultural bastardy. Yessir,
but why do you hate it so. Why do you hate the ‘B’ word so. Your
thoroughbreds are great, I admit, but mark my words, this is what will
grow into something effective – the power of the hybrid. Hey man, things
which were gross yesterday become classy today – just takes the passage of
time. You’ll get used to it, and it’ll get old, and develop its own weird
rituals, then you’ll find it’s nothing so profoundly bad.

In vitro and In vivo matches – as they became more and more the tradition
and ritualistic - had acquired something of that coveted thing, class. Now
we strike back with three matches, which traditionalists will treat as
non-serious (like the start of one-day cricket) – but this column would
like to project as the beginnings of a good thing. Actually, your
columnist was caught up in Zeiss bookings, and offers an unconditional
apology for his absence – but he watched all the matches, and had to find
a common theme to bind them all. Also frequent matches cause us to combine

First, July 26th, 2006 – NCBS student-body vs. MSc wildlife, the combined
batches. The new wildlife batch had just come in. And the whole lot of
them had shown a lot of enthusiasm, if not always exactly prowess, for the
game. Thus it came to be. A classic football-in-the-rains match, which is
one of the sweet clichés of monsoon in Calcutta, alongwith the scent of
jasmines and high cholesterol oil-dripping fried thingees. Well, the
football acted like a bowling bowl and people like pins - everybody
slipped and fell all over the place as soon as the ball got to them.
Albert displayed a particular talent for this. And despite the missed
chances, the ‘domestics’ (as opposed to the ‘wild’) won 5-2. As the
correspondent I collected all the names from Ateera (sorry if I spelt that
grossly wrong), but promptly forgot most of them. As far as the sports
goes, special mention needs to be made of Anoop Cherian and Umesh (I
think!) (the other AC’s default). Also of Kavya and Nandini who, if not
the first representatives of the fairer sex on the green NCBS lawns, were
the first to feature in an ‘official’ match. And without meaning to be
condescending, I’m sure I’d have put my hands on my head and curled up
into a ball on the grass, if I saw Albert or Appu charging me. This, by
the way, was Abhishek’s last match at NCBS. And so we wish him best of
luck, and also in the same breath, extend a warm (okay, cold, wet and
windy, actually) welcome to our new ‘wildlifers’. :-) A light gone bad
incessantly flickered across the lawn, and from our vantage point in front
of the library, it seemed someone was taking incessant photographs…and
with reason too…

August 10th, 2006 – Jayant’s lab versus the rest of the world…um, rest of
NCBS actually. Six-a-side. I was hoping Amrita and Smilona would play, but
they didn’t. Nor did they do a cheerleader act, but sat seriously and
watched the game. Not fair, I say! For JBU lab Kalyan and Nishant played
front, and Kalyan did have a couple of good runs. Jayant as usual, was a
solid wall; but the combined all-round might of roN ultimately gave them
the game 2-0.

August 14th, 2006 – In between we have a symposium, and then another match
– this time between the staff, faculty and admin of NCBS against the
students. A good lecture makes me miss the first half. But ultimately I
see the students win 3-1. The deadly trio of Albert-AnoopC-Saikat mounts
incessant attacks, and despite the great efforts of Jayant, and Chandru at
the goal, manage to score a goal apiece. Ranjith, in spurts, has
dream-runs, and converts one for the SFA. This I didn’t see – but I’m told
that the highlight of the first half was Dr. Panicker’s header – where the
ball found him, instead of it being the other way ‘round. But you should
have seen him run, and the admin heads – am sure I can’t do it as well as
they did. So good fun all ‘round.

(It has been accused that the scorelines are deliberately kept hidden away
among the words in this space, so that unsuspecting readers have to sift
through them words when they just want the bottomline. Hence today we put
all the emphatic margins for these matches.)

And inbetween we had a symposium. It has a bearing on the matches – for
like them, it was wonderfully interdisciplinary, and people spoke about
flows in turbulent media to genetic networks to plasmodium falciparum.
Early in my second year I used to get scared that I’ll be a bad physicist,
and a half-boiled biologist, and the traditional disciplines would look
down on me. But now I know a little bit of both, and know that that’s my
strength. And chances are, that’ll be a good way we make some headway.

So many people have left in this period. O Ragi, Deepa,…Rinaldo, Appu we
miss you bad. Best of luck to the leaving wildlifers too. But new people
fill the place, and hopefully all the good that you stood for will be
carried on.

It’s midnight now. As someone said fifty-nine years ago to the minute,
“…long years ago we made a tryst with destiny. At the stroke of midnight
hour, while the world sleeps, India will awake to life and freedom. A
moment comes, which comes but rarely in history, when we step out from the
old to the new, When an age ends and when the soul of a nation long
suppressed, finds utterance.” Let us celebrate that then this time. The
strength of an interdisciplinary nation….science….and football – and have
more of these. For it’s our national trait. We began with what Akash had
said; we end with what another Aakash taught me –

(from “The Passing of Arthur”)

“The old order changeth, yielding place to new,
And God fulfils himself in many ways,
Lest one good custom should corrupt the world.”

Satyameva jayate.


26th August, 2006: (two mails)

The colossal report on the first away match:


Caveat #1 - The colossal report on the first away match:

After sending that Beckett-style match report, I noticed that I had failed
to put the scoreline in, as was my wont in the past, and a few other

So, NCBS lost to RRI, 1-0, in its first ‘away’ match.

Supriya was not there.

Delightful settings, though. And they served us drugged tea and biscuits
to start off (okay, actually I don’t know about the drugged bit, but the
tea and biscuits were there. Rather nice of them.)

Sunlight on the top branches of the “Prima Vera of Mexico”. Potter about
with the ball, scurry about your little businesses, your ecstasies at a
goal-scored and grief at a missed chance, your pathetic little sets of
complaints and ambition, and it stands rather aloof, and totally tolerant.
The “skyward tendencies” of the human heart and mind, as Huxley said
(though not about the “Prima Vera of Mexico”).

Goal-less at halftime. RRI player, Aarjo by name (that’s the Bengali way
of saying what the rest of us anglophiles call ‘Aryan’ (pronounced ‘Erian’
for some weird reason)), scores after a delightful run in the 2nd half.

Oh Deepak! Oh Saikat!

Huge raven lands on the branches of the “Prima Vera of Mexico,” and preens
itself. A classical ill-omen. Circling Brahminy kite looks weak.

They played well. So did we. Raman was cremated on the spot where the
“Prima Vera of Mexico” stands. Perhaps it is out of deference to him that
we should have lost this match.

Next time we won’t have any such qualms.

Friday, August 04, 2006

Conservatism as Heresy

My second blog, and already I seem to be developing an unfortunate knack for bombastic titles – last time it was due to a lack of inspiration; this time, I assure you, it’s because I don’t know what else to call it. I had said that this blog was to be what I set out to say one week back, and perhaps to justify the title from last time – and as is my wont, again I bypass those, and talk of something that came up yesterday. In a way this can be regarded as a continuation of setting the rules, and a set of thanks to some people who I never actually did (or even can) thank for their doings – thus the air of a preface still lingers, and the author can perhaps be pardoned for not living upto his word. This won’t have too many ridiculously overt attempts at witticism, and even the declared purpose sounds rather somber, hence the more sophisticated (I trust your judgment on that) of my readers may quit at this point – else I’ll bore you with rather simple thought, worthy of a child. But it’s essential that it be stated at least once. I’ll try to put it in some coherent order, and wherever I find the cue, interject the chronology of the thought and why it came back yesterday.

Back in 49/14, Hindusthan Park, among the many dusty volumes double-parked in the bookshelves was a book called “Conservatism as Heresy.” I’ve forgotten most details, except that it was a blue and white book, and had essays about…say, why Australia should be all white, or why the French should conduct nuclear tests. I hadn’t graduated much beyond Enid Blyton when I first opened the book, so I can’t pretend to have read the pages upon pages of fine print, but I went through the titles – and can recall (unless it’s retrospective memory and nostalgia playing their usual tricks) a certain sense of outrage at the fact that anyone should defend things I knew necessarily to be tricks of the colonialists, greed of the imperialists, or just plain ‘bad’. But later as I grew, I would draw some solace from the fact that one could make such apparently good (or at least space-filling) cases for what flew against the face of conventional wisdom. At least it was refreshing.

And that’s probably the long and the short of it. But I’ll (brace yourself) elaborate. A few days ago I passed a birthday (I’m now getting to that stage when you cease to celebrate birthdays, but rather suspiciously watch them go by), and a friend gave me Jim Morrison’s biography. Chapter one, and already I’m set thinking. Of course, you’d say that one can’t apply everyday standards to a guy like that, and even I had said in my last blog that vanity and idiosyncrasies can become someone with reason to be vain. Yet I’d think it a bit far-fetched to tout as early signs of genius what otherwise comes across as plain bad manners – Jim apparently cellophane-taped his brother’s mouth while he slept, mimiced an invalid on a wheelchair, told his mother that she ate like a pig, and so on an so forth… Many good things too, and no doubt that he ‘felt’ like few else on planet Earth – so his early life maybe pardonable, but I wouldn’t be so sure about lauding anyone for it. Actually that’s the minor aspect - for after all if a man was to be held culpable for every mistake of his life dug up by enthusiastic researchers, few would ever qualify for …um, salvation – so it’s always in good taste to look at the brighter side of a man. For you’d surely judge Shakespeare by Hamlet, and not go, “Ooooh…he killed deer in some rich lord’s park…how horrible!” Let’s just say those were different people, that was a different place, and time. Animal rights were not perhaps as fashionable in the Tudor world.

What then was the major aspect? It was the sudden realisation of the long-past fall of an old adage. Reflect on this – not in early childhood, but at the peak of his powers Jim (, and not just Jim, a whole host of artists and poets and musicians) would resort to drugs and alcohol to ‘expand the consciousness’…to have that vision of ‘reality opening its maw’ or… Now, even at this late age, when few ideas have been left as holy, that’s one thing that I still haven’t grown comfortable with. You’ll see in my last blog, I say that a couple of important realisations in my life came to me in a slightly drunken haze (not actively suppressing the subconscious, or some such thing I had said), and immediately feel the need to follow it up with a caveat on health for ‘younger readers’, and how I hate to lose control of my faculties, moderation’s great etc. etc. That means that I don’t like that idea for some cultural predisposition – and really have convinced myself that, forget the pains of rehab, a few moments worth of high is not even worth a bad hangover, or a pot-belly. And in my college which is officially acknowledged as the grass-capital (ha, ‘tis not just ‘bout Das Kapital) of India – I had this minorly irritating habit of nagging people into quitting their little drugs, or at least give them a righteous dressing down, and feeling all nice and warm inside about it. I had done my bit of grass, and I am not averse to alcohol, but I have convinced myself that I don’t like them enough to make habits out of them.

And yet that’s one thing that stands. There are many things that you start off learning - all so apparently fundamental to your being that your very bones seem made from them. And then somewhere doubt and thought creep in, and rationality demands that you re-evaluate everything….e-v-e-r-y-t-h-i-n-g!! Old, and new. The clichéd and the fashionable (which is clichéd again) and the idiosyncratic. All - “Freedom of speech is holy.” “Racism, castism is a bane.” “Drugs are bad…hoo boy, bad bad!.” “Patriotism is a nice thing.” “Reservations are the worst.” We pause, reflect, buy some and discard others.

Now morality, as we all know by now, is at best some sort of a Pavlovian conditioning. The proverbial ‘they’ would harp on it, and harp on it, till you get a sense that you can’t live without the refrain. Most of it maybe essential for people to find their bearings in an otherwise prop-less universe – they’re the ‘ropes’ that you learn, the rules of the game – it’s good to know them. But it can become a problem if they become so axiomatic, that you forget doubt, and be willing to kill to defend them. They taught us that at school. And God, am I ever thankful for that.

Like everybody else, the first few years of my life I spent learning the rules of the game, and the next few unlearning them. Something changed when I came to class IX. Our English teacher, Shri Aniruddha Lahiri said in class that patriotism is a narrow virtue. Outrageous, but his logic seemed to hold. In Adrish’s Bengali classes with our normal bourgeois right of middle training, we bayed against reservations, and for capital punishments, while he took the opposite stands. In their physics classes, Mallar Roy and Parthapratim Roy rallied against the nuclear bombs in 1998, while we exchanged high fives. It’s true that with our newly acquired intellectualism, and attempts at sophistication, ill-veiled sophistry, and pure strongheadedness of being 16, 17, 18 – we scoffed a bit at them; we spoke knowingly of their extreme-leftward leanings – and yet it didn’t deter Mallar from singing, “…chai anobik baan, tar tore jay jaak praan” in an increasing uncomfortable class of seventy people (translation: basically a mother asking her son what he learnt at school; the reply is, “We learnt that the country needs the atomic bomb, and no sacrifice, of life or all else, is enough for that.”). Didn’t keep PPR from pointing out that working for TCS was probably not the only thing we might want to do with our lives. Didn’t keep Raktima ma’am from converting her History classes into periodic philosophical lessons (Few examples - “…I don’t care whether you eat beef, or not; but when you go out and people say, “You’re from India – you’re a Hindu. You don’t eat cows,” you tell them no, we’re not all Hindus in India; and yes, we Hindus respect the cow” And why. Why it’s like a mother for all it does for us. You can’t disown that stand then.”

“You know many of you, and I myself too, we’re middle-middle class Bengalis. It’s a good thing, for hardly in any other society will you find such range, such liberalism, with such a sound value system. Yet you have to break beyond the stifling mediocrity that comes with it. I think you too should aspire for snazzy cars like some of my older students now have.” (Well, she did have a farmhouse in Mehrauli, Delhi near the Qutb – but what she said was essentially true.)

“Sophistication is not about whether you can handle cutlery. That’s easy to pick up – takes a week at most. It’s about…”)

Thus were my teachers. I never realised it, until I thought of them now, seven years on. I have done nothing to live up to what they taught me, but that’s not to say I won’t…we won’t. They taught us that conservatism is heresy. And it was perhaps not just my teachers, many of my friends from all over, found it out, so it can’t be a Bong/Calcutta thing to do. But it was easier for us, I guess. Saying the things they did may seem presumptuous now – but let me say it this once, that I’m immeasurably grateful to them that they said what they did, when they did!

(It’s a possibility that the ‘lunatic’ teachers, who made us, could perhaps be there, because the ‘System’ let’s them be. She rediscovers herself by allowing for differences. Thus, what we learnt was perhaps actually nothing that flew in the face of the established order, but just the System doing her make up in the front of an mirror – removing dead cells, rejuvenating the skin, and powdering up the patches where that can’t be done, hiding the wrinkles. An uncle once had talked of an Jiri Trnka puppet animation (I haven’t seen it, but the idea lingers) – there’s a potter puppet who’s creating… ‘a thing of beauty’, on his wheel; but every time he nears completion, a huge hand comes and breaks it, and points out an utterly utilitarian pot to him – That’s what you gotta do. Happens once, twice, several times. Ultimately the artisan gets totally out-of-hand, breaks his wheel, breaks everything, and then he floats down with a tranquil look on his face into the dark, and sleeps in peace. When the lights come up, we see him lying in the palm of…The Hand!! It’s a possibility worth a thought.)

Now, forever I have believed in the importance of opinion – it’s never the vacillating people of the middle path who ever do anything effective – for they just do not know how to. That’s the importance of the ‘-isms’ – to effect anything constructive you need the benefit of dogma, some clear idea about how you’ll go about it, whatever ‘it’ might be. The creators are always on the edge, and at the edges of society. That’s the case for passion and of extremism.

And yet of course, it gets to be a problem if the vast bulk of the populace starts living at the edges (the ills of a polarized society).The fever of passion, heady muse, all takes its toll on the person. The masses need their peace, of being, of the mind, to continue their … um, duties – of living, and propagating life. Hence our horror at terrorist’s bombing our trains. While Israel continues to raze Lebanon to the ground. International response has been very mute, and all that of course is more distant, and I often get the feeling that it’s not always that we get enough info to make a rational judgment – BBC and CNN cover it as if it’s two equal sides at war – one picture of an injured Lebanese girl, followed by an Israeli woman crying, and soldiers looking worried. Images convey so much. Casualties are usually statistics on figure – one thousand, or two, what difference does it make – even dispense with zeroes freely, and I don’t care. But images convey such a lot – tugging at your heart-strings. You’d be stupefied into doubt. Yet I hate the Israeli stand – no matter what great long-term benefits for civilians it secures, this reasonably-unprovoked disturbing of a status quo seems unpardonable. The first half of my life I didn’t quite understand the ‘Middle-East problem’ beyond a vague sympathy for Israel as a victim nation (like India as they say in our media – but basically a natural middle-middle class Hindu boy’s doubt of anything Islamic). “I don’t know enough,” was good enough for me. Then two people shook me out of it with tales of Israeli atrocities - an aunt from England, and another friend. Yet, when an Israeli friend I met at a workshop – who used to sketch T2 tanks when he got bored with the lectures - said, “They just won’t let us be...we do so much…yet, they hate us so…,” there was such intensity in his voice and eyes, that all my well-versed pro-Palestinian arguments seemed to fall flat in the face of such…feeling. Now, at long last, I know a sufficient amount – if not ‘enough’, and yet I can’t take a stand. Thing is, many times if you know enough you can not take sides. And it’s important. Give me a gun – I wouldn’t be able to shoot a Pakistani, an Indian, or a Kashmiri – just because I can in parts empathise with all the three stands on the Kashmir issue. Not because I’m sissy, I just can’t. And that’s great. Nor would I be able to invade a neighbouring country, nor bomb trains – for that takes a lot insular pavlovian conditioning to do that. Maybe the terrorists who bombed our trains in Mumbai, they too were inspired by some visions of greater good, maybe when you’re to despairingly small and weak, that’s the only way you can hit out at an immense state machinery like India. On Tuesday, the 11th of July, I cannot describe to you the impotent rage I felt at them – I could/would have shot them then. Yet now I’d like to ask why. Why anyone’d hate me so, and whether I might be going wrong somewhere. Bombay of course was never affected. Beyond all the talk of the resilience of the people, ‘salaam Bombay’ and all that (I do appreciate that greatest of our cities), perhaps we also didn’t have much of an option. People talk of Londoners during the Blitz – well, whichever of them could holidayed in the country during the blitz, and the milk-man – well, perhaps he just didn’t have the option. And resilience in the face of disaster – well, in India, thousands of years worth of war and drought and flood and epidemic and cruel rulers and well-meaning but bungling rulers, have taught us that well. So we are never as affected, as others made soft by peace. Thus we need to ask them, and ask ourselves.

And whether you live at the edge or plonk at the centre, that’s the importance of doubt, that’s the importance of being the Devil’s advocate. The only sacred thing that I have learnt is that nothing, absolutely nothing is or should be, sacred. Education implies that you understand the ‘other’ stand. Maybe if all of us knew all their stories well, and they ours, Kashmir and Palestine wouldn’t be such banes of our existences. If you live on the edge, at the extreme – your passion demands that you know all the possible objections thoroughly. I didn’t discuss my opinions today (nor will I usually do that ever) – but tell me sometime what you believe, and I’ll try tell you the merits of the other stand (So, of course, irrespective of my anti-reservation opinions, in the past few days I have had two tooth-and-claw fights fighting for reservation as if my life depended on it – screaming voices, gleaming eyes. And the worst bit is, I wasn’t decimated by five well-educated opponents). If it survives the scrutiny, there’s some chance that your fundamentalism just might have something fundamental about it. And even without such grand goals probably, one hopes things will just be better. I live in hope.