Sunday, May 30, 2010

Everest, here I come.

Every now and then one gets to read about someone having climbed Mt Everest. As climbing the mountain, by itself, is no longer newsworthy, some other unique achievement needs to be tagged. This takes the form of “ first to climb from the Southern side”, "first Indian woman to climb Mt Everest”, “youngest Indian to climb Mt Everest”, “first from Tamilnadu to climb Mt Everest”, “ youngest woman from UP to climb Mt Everest”, “first to climb with a Supersuit on”, etc.

Without doubt, climbing the tallest peak in the world is a formidable task and a test of endurance. The achievement cannot be belittled. But, why the hell do these people do it? What are they trying to prove? What purpose does it serve? The novelty value is long gone and the story barely gets into the newspapers ( or even Reader's Digest). Is it to prove to oneself that he/she is capable of doing it? Why risk one's life to do it?

George Mallory is supposed to have replied “ Because it is there”, when asked why he wanted to climb Mt Everest. If a thousand people after him give the same reply, it can get a bit tiring. ( As an aside, when a writer, I don’t remember who, was asked why he kept writing, he replied, “ because it isn’t there”.)

Soon, to paraphrase Yogi Berra, nobody will go to Mt Everest any more. It will be too crowded.

Update 29/06/10 : An article in The Telegraph explains the attraction of Mt Everest:

"Dr Tim Woodman, co-director of the Institute for Psychology of Elite Performance at Bangor University who has studied what motivates mountaineers, believes many climbers do it to fulfil a basic human need.

“A lot of people who climb mountains like Everest struggle to explain why they do it,” he says. “Mountaineers tend to be people who don’t feel in control of emotion in their everyday lives. Emotions are a basic human requirement, and mountaineering allows them to feel fear, a very strong emotion, and be responsible for controlling that emotion.”

This might explain why Everest still has such appeal. As the world’s highest mountain, it represents the ultimate challenge and battle against nature’s forces. "

Joined the twitteratti

I have been trying my hand at Twitter for the last few days and have found the experience fascinating.

If blogging is akin to an ODI game in cricket, and anything longer than a blog post comparable to Test cricket, Twitter is the T20 equivalent of writing. As in cricket, switching from one format to another requires a complete change of mindset. Not all can manage this transition well.

A blogger whose posts I used to like quite a bit, proved to be a crashing bore when he took to writing columns. He simply struggled to expand on his ideas and tended to ramble. When he became more ambitious and wrote a novel, I couldn’t get past the first few pages. He is now into Twitter too, but mercifully uses it only to provide links to his columns which I don’t read anyway. Clearly ODI is his forte and he should stick to it. Not for him the T20 game or Test cricket.

Even among famous authors, very few have excelled in both formats- the novel and the short story. I have found Somerset Maugham very good in both. P.G.Wodehouse was another. Arthur C Clarke, Roald Dahl, Ray Bradbury were brilliant with their short stories, but their longer ones or full-length novels failed to grip me.

At Landmark, the other day, I came across this book called Twitterature in which several classic stories have been retold in a series of Twitter-style messages ( about 20-30 of them per story). I believe that there’s also a book written solely in text-message format. Tailor-made for the limited-attention-span generation of today.

Tuesday, May 04, 2010

Vacuous and Verbose-18

In a statement , soon after the conviction of gunman Ajmal Amir Kasab and others, including Pakistan-based LeT masterminds Hafiz Saeed and Zaki-ur-Rehman Lakhvi, in the 26/11 case, Mr P.Chidambaram said:

“The verdict (against) was a clear message to Pakistan. “If they do (export terrorism) and we apprehend the terrorists, then we will bring them to justice.”

I would have slotted it at the top of the list of stupid statements of the year. Then I decided that this was more pathetic than stupid. The Home Minister is seriously under the delusion that terrorists who come here on suicide missions ( probability of death = >90%) would be deterred by the thought that they might get caught, tried, convicted and hanged to death ( assuming charitably that each step has a probability of 80%, the overall likelihood becomes 41%). And that people who send the terrorists across on suicide missions will also realize the folly of their ways and abort future missions.

But , as it is the stated policy of Plus Ultra to proffer solutions and to not merely criticize, let me make a suggestion that will guarantee success. Every terrorist who is caught should be subjected to regular, long sermons by the likes of P.Chidambaram, Abdul Kalam, etc. Now, if word gets around to other budding terrorists across the border that this is the terrible third-degree torture that awaits them if they are caught, it might make them give up their plans completely. (True, this might also induce them to put in extra effort not to get caught, but we’ll take that chance)

Saturday, May 01, 2010

Woods number

That Tiger Woods had confessed to having 121 affairs is old hat. His wife, hereinafter referred to as Tigress Woods, had still let him off with a warning.

Recently, she seems to have learnt that Tiger Woods had not revealed details of his 122nd affair with their neighbour’s 22-year old daughter. This seems to have upset Tigress a good deal. (source).

At the time I am posting this, it is not clear what exactly has upset her. Is it the fact that Tiger had an affair with their neighbour’s 22-year old daughter? Or that he had had an affair with their neighbour’s 22-year old daughter? Or that he had had an affair with their neighbour’s 22-year old daughter?

What exactly are her objections is not material to this case. Or germane to the larger issue I am going to discuss. Suffice to note at this stage that the 122nd affair was the proverbial straw that broke the proverbial camel’s proverbial back.

For centuries, the male of the human species has been testing the marital waters, wondering what the threshold limit is when it comes to the number of extra-marital affairs one can get away with. Thanks to Tiger Woods, it is now known that the threshold is 121. Upto this magical number, the wife is tolerant ( “boys will be boys after all”). Beyond 121, she blows a fuse.

I propose that we refer to this number, henceforth, as the Woods number. It would be a fitting tribute to the man. Those of you who want to start a wiki entry on the subject may provide the definition that Woods number (121) is the number of affairs a man can safely have before his wife says ‘enough is enough’.

But wait. Just as Dunbar number ( 150 for human beings) can vary with species, can Woods number vary with race, religion and nationality? Is the number 121 valid only in the USA? What about India?

To establish the results following rigorous scientific methods, I invite male, married bloggers from India to participate in an experiment to determine the Woods number for this part of the world. Carefully document the affairs that you are having and allot serial numbers. When your wife files a petition for divorce, let me know the serial number of the affair that made that happen. I will add my own inputs and share the findings with the rest of you.