Wednesday, July 20, 2011


Caught in the humdrum of life, we dismiss many things as ‘routine’ or ‘mundane’. Because of this tendency to trivialize, many important things pass us by, unnoticed.

Take the simple matter of sneezing. Do you remember when you sneezed last? Why? Where? What was the intensity? How many sneezes at a time?

Shame on you, if you can’t recall.

A blogger has shown us the way. Starting from June 2007, he has sneezed 2590 times and he has recorded details of each one of them in a separate post. Where was he when the sneeze happened? Was it a weak one, moderate or strong? What activity was he engaged in at that precise moment? For example, his entry # 2588 reads “Kitchen; Strong; Transferring falafel(s) into a Tupperware”.

He follows precise rules. All sneezes are timed and dated. All times are GMT. Avoids confusion when he has to record a sneeze that has happened when he is abroad. Also, he might sneeze on one side of the International Date Line, then cross the International Date Line, and then sneeze again. Using local time, the second sneeze would have occurred the day before the first sneeze, generating confusing and nonsensical data.

The strength of the sneeze is recorded as “Mild, Moderate, Moderate to strong, Strong, Very strong or Very mild”. However, he cautions scientists that these are completely subjective impressions, and almost certainly not consistent, or independently verifiable. And Seismologists to please note that this scale is non-exponential.

Why does he document his sneezes? He explains,

I started counting my sneezes on 12 July 2007. What started out as a little conceptual art joke, a playful satire of the “blogosphere”, and a mock scream against the futility and emptiness of modern life, turned into something more intriguing.

Counting my sneezes, and documenting the time and place of each sneeze, has revealed curious regularities in the way I live my life. For example, it has revealed how much time I spend in the ‘Office/spare bedroom”, in front of a computer. It is interesting to note how much time I spend in this place, and compare it with how little I manage to get done.

Although sneezes are sufficiently unpredictable and involuntary, the act of counting them offers an interesting new take on the old theoretical physics line about events being affected by the process of observation. Sneezecount makes each sneeze matter. It is no longer possible just to blow one out and forget about it . Now that sneezes had a name, an identity.

I am very impressed. I am thinking of doing something on these lines, to bring a sense of purpose to my life.

Saturday, July 09, 2011

Vacuous and Verbose-28

Would you buy the book based on this review?

The Vice President of India Shri M. Hamid Ansari released a book entitled “Man’s fate & God’s choice” written by Shri Bhimeswara Challa at a function here today. Addressing on the occasion, Shri Ansari said that the book is an intellectual journey in a classical sense. Congratulating the author for such a valuable book he said that yhe book addresses a perennial theme- the man, his environment and his creature.

The book posits that any betterment in human behaviour needs a cathartic change at the deepest levels. That requires diluting the dominance of the mind and reawakening the long-dormant intelligence of the human heart. To meet that challenge, we need minimum numbers, a 'critical mass' to create self-sustained momentum for transformation through consciousness change. And every single human of this generation should behave in such a way that he or she is that single person whose transformation could make the decisive species-scale difference. The book offers a menu of ideas and an agenda of action.

Tuesday, July 05, 2011

The Tirunelveli Brahmin.

A Christian Missionary touring South India, in the year 1842, provides this description of the Tirunelveli Brahmin, which I found quite amusing. ( source) (page 46)

The Bramins here… assume a haughtiness of air, which is rarely seen in the neighbourhood of Madras.

They consider themselves exalted so far above other human beings, as to lose sight of all distinctions of rank in those below them; and they hold all, including Europeans, in equal contempt. If you meet a Bramin in the road, and ask the way to any place, he will very seldom condescend to speak, and yet, with true native courtesy, he will never rudely pass you by; he will stop and point with his finger to the right direction. If you further inquire of him the distance, he will hold up his fingers, according to the number of miles, and if you still ask if the road is straight or winding, will draw his finger through the air to mark the various turnings; and when he has satisfied all your inquiries, will again move on in perfect silence.

Indian architecture, circa 1850

The Journal of the Society of Arts, Britain, 1870, reproduces a speech delivered by Lord Napier on the subject of ‘aesthetics’ in design of buildings. He deplores the tendency of ‘natives’ to copy European design using material not compatible with Indian conditions. He urges the use of indigenous material that are available in abundance and that are perfectly suitable. He advises the local people not to be enamoured of the modern architect and to follow the instinct of the maistry form the mofussil area who has preserved the traditions of the forefathers. An extract. ( read full speech here)

If the rules concerning material which are here enunciated are correct, I need scarcely say that they are in every respect so violated in India as to rouse the regret and condemnation of' all reasonable critic. Madras is the epitome of every error that an architect can commit with reference to material.

Look at the railway station, the High Court, the Custom-house, the sea front of the fort buildings, all discovering the same shameful condition of chronic disfigurement and decay; all blistered, discoloured, and crumbling, the victims of an unequal strife between the element and stucco. Yet at no great distance, there are inexhaustible supplies, the finest stone, and the very soil beneath our feet teems with clay, which only requires the skilful exercise of a familiar art to yield qualities of brick and terracotta, competent to resist the attacks of the blast and the spray forever.

The Presidency College and the Sailors' House are the first attempts to build in an honest manner with undisguised materials, but the act of preparing them is not attained in a day, and I fear that we can scarcely regard these buildings otherwise than as the forerunners of a better era.

It is possible that I may be speaking in the presence of some native gentleman who has made a fortune by the exportation of cotton, and who is about to build a new house. The case is not common in Madras, but it is not incredible. If there be such a one here, I beseech him to pause before he sanctions the modern "Muster" which I mentally see before me. I say to him, 'Discharge your Madras architect, and take a maistry from some remote part of the Mofussil, where the traditions of the fathers are still preserved. Determine to have a national house, but such a house as an Indian gentleman should inhabit under an honest government, in an age of peace, justice, and learning, a house in which the light of heaven, and reason, and freedom can penetrate.

Adhere in general to the ancient plan, and especially to the court and colonnade; collect all the best models and patterns of native mouldings and sculpture; use brick of the finest quality from tho School of Arts for the exposed surfaces; employ timber for the pillars within, Cuddapah stone for the pillars without, glazed tiles for the floors; make a liberal use of ornamental stucco and painting where the rain cannot penetrate; fill the unglazed apertures with the beautiful tracery of which Indian art offers an unrivalled variety. For glazed windows, authentic models may be wanting; but they can be treated in the spirit of the style ; and the government architect can show you how.

Get all your carpets from Vellore, and your stuffs from Madura and Tanjore. Where the Hindoo patterns fail you, borrow from the Mussulmans. Make a sparing use of European furniture, and endeavour to harmonise it with the native forms. But in doing this, make everything lofty, light, bright, spacious, and accessible.

Theo task would not be easy, but it can be done; and every effort would be better than that which preceded it.

Endeavour to realise this, that the Indian arts which you are at this moment casting away here, are at this moment, in London and Paris, an object of inquiry and study to the most learned and cultivated minds. Do not imagine that you are required to do anything unprecedented. All I ask you is to do has been done in Europe itself. In Europe, the ancient national arts were, for a couple of centuries, as much forgotten and despised by us as the ancient national arts of India are now forgotten and despised by you. You have hitherto imitated our errors, I call upon you to imitate us in correcting them

Advice is relevent even today, don't you think?

The Durable Village

South Indian Sketches, written in 1842, is a compilation of letters from a Christian Missionary, S.Tucker, (who is touring India), to a young friend, Lucy based in England.

Here, Tucker gives a lovely description of a typical village in India and explains how it is vastly different from the villages of England.

If you, my dear Lucy, know as little of the internal state of India as I have done till lately, you will have the same confused and incorrect idea of an Indian village as I used to have, and will take it for granted that it is much like our own; with a population more or less fluctuating, and subject to no other authority than the general laws of the land, or the peculiar regulations of the district in which it is situated.

But the villages in India are very different in these respects from ours. They are all little separate "republics, having everything they can want within themselves, and almost independent of any foreign relation. They seem to last where nothing else lasts.

Dynasty after dynasty tumbles down; revolution succeeds to revolution; Hindoo, Patan, Mogul, Mahratta, Sik, English, are all masters in turn; but the village community remains the same. In times of trouble they arm and fortify themselves; a hostile army passes through the country; the village communities collect their cattle within their walls, and let the enemy pass unprovoked. If plunder and devastation be directed against themselves, and the force employed be irresistible, they flee to friendly villages at a distance; but when the storm has passed over, they return and resume their occupations. If a country remains for a series of years the scene of continued pillage and massacre, so that the villages cannot be inhabited, the scattered villagers, nevertheless, return when the power of peaceable possession revives.

A generation may pass away, but the succeeding generation will return. The sons will take the places of their fathers; the same site for the village, the same position for the houses, the same lands will be re-occupied by the descendants of those who were driven out when, the village was depopulated; and it is not a trifling matter that will drive them out, for they will often maintain their post through times of disturbance and convulsion, and acquire strength sufficient to resist pillage and oppression with success.

This union of the village communities, each one forming a separate little state in itself, has, I conceive, contributed more than any other cause to the preservation of the people of India, through all the revolutions and changes which they have suffered, and is in a high degree conducive to their happiness and to the enjoyment of a great portion of freedom and independence.

The boundaries of their lands are accurately defined and jealously guarded under the superintendence of the headman, who is the chief person in each village, and whose business it is to make arrangements with the government for the revenue—to apportion the payment of it among the villagers—to let such lands as have no fixed tenants—to settle disputes or refer them to higher authorities,—and, in short, to perform all the duties of a municipal governor.

The office is hereditary, and he is the representative of the head of the first family who settled in the village. Sometimes there are several headmen, arising probably from more than one family having originally settled in it. The headman is assisted by different officers—the accountant, the watchman, the money-changer, the priest, the astrologer (who is sometimes the schoolmaster), the smith, carpenter, barber,potter, minstrel, all of whom are part of the regular village establishment, and are supported by the community. They have existed (and apparently unaltered) since the time of Menu.

There is in all the public works and institutions of India, a character of largeness, whether in number, size, or durability, to which we have no parallel in our smaller and comparatively modern countries; and one might almost fancy that the height of the mountains, the vastness of the forests, and the grandeur of the general scenery had, in times past, communicated their influence to the native mind.

Every village has its tanks, smaller or larger according to circumstances, but always sufficient to contain an ample supply of water for general use; and you may judge of the scale on which these works are sometimes carried on, when I tell you that in the collectorate of South Arcot, a considerable extent of country is watered by the tank, or rather artificial lake of Veeranum, twenty-five miles in circumference, into which the waters of the Coleroon are conducted.