Sunday, December 31, 2006

The Chola bronze

In an article in The Guardian (and reproduced in The Hindu today). William Darlymple writes admiringly of Chola bronze statues:

“Exquisitely poised and supple, these bronze deities stand silent on their plinths, yet with their hands they speak gently to their devotees through the noiseless lingua franca of the gestures (or mudras) of south Indian dance: their hands are raised in blessing and reassurance, promising boons and protection,and, above all, marriage, fertility and fecundity, in return for the veneration that is so clearly their divine right.

In western art, few sculptors - except perhaps Donatello or Rodin - have achieved the pure essence of sensuality so spectacularly evoked by the Chola sculptors; or achieved such a sense of celebration of the divine beauty of the human body. There is a startling clarity and purity about the way the near-naked bodies of the gods and
the saints are displayed. Yet by the simplest and most modest of devices,their spirit and powers, joys and pleasures, and above all their enjoyment of each other's beauty and their overwhelming sexuality, is highlighted

But, to ask a basic question. Why do humans even bother to create or view art? Some years back, Dr. Vilayanur Ramachandran, a renowned neuroscientist, pondered over this question and tried to provide an explanation for the human appreciation of art, in terms of the neural process that goes on in the brain. He wondered if there were any universal laws that transcended cultural barriers or layers, in the appreciation of art. And, for his study, he took up the case of the Chola bronze statues that Darlymple has now written glowingly about.

In his paper, “The Artful Brain”, Dr Ramachandran says that bronze sculptures from the Chola period in India a thousand years ago are revered because they express the epitome of feminine poise and grace, charm and sensuality. But the Victorian art historians of the 19th century judged the statues appalling because they were not realistic: the waists were too narrow, the breasts too big, the posture provocative. But art has nothing to do with realism; it is about producing pleasing effects in the brain

Yet an artist cannot simply randomly distort a human figure and expect to generate a pleasing result. There appear to be some principles that cut across cultural boundaries.

One of these principles, Dr. Ramachandran suggested, is that exaggerated forms invoke a greater response than the natural form. This phenomenon may be explained by studying animal behavior. If a rat learns that a rectangular shape connotes that he will soon be fed, he is likely to prefer shapes that are even more rectangular, longer, and skinnier. This "peak shift" is used in art to create caricatures. Take Nixon's craggy brow and big nose, amplify them, and the result looks more like Nixon than he does! Similarly, the Chola artists of India simply took the average female form and subtracted the average male form- leaving big breasts, big hips and narrow waist- and amplified the difference. The result was one very anatomically incorrect, but a very sexy goddess,

So, coming back to the basic question. Why do humans even bother creating or viewing art? Dr.Ramachandran’s conjecture is that Art may have evolved as a virtual simulation reality. When you imagine something –as when rehearsing a bison hunt or an amorous encounter- many of the same brain circuits are activated as when you are really doing something. This allows you to practice scenarios in an internal simulation without incurring the energy, cost or risk of a real rehearsal.

So, whether it is a Picasso, Van Gogh or a Chola bronze, you willingly allow that piece of art to deceive your brain.

Saturday, December 30, 2006

Et tu, Santa?

I have heard it said that 'Valentine’s Day', 'Friends Day', 'Bosses’ Day', 'Doctor’s Day', and other assorted days were invented by the ‘greeting card’ companies to promote the sale of their products.

Via Frontal Cortex, I learn now that even the modern image of Santa Claus, was a creation of the advertising executives of the Coco Cola Company. They had introduced Santa Claus, in an ad campaign in 1931’ as a chubby, jolly, old man dressed in a red suit and that distinctive cap. That image has stayed.

This is what Coke’s official website claims :

“Starting in 1931, magazine ads for Coca-Cola featured St. Nick as a kind, jolly man in a red suit. Because magazines were so widely viewed, and because this image of Santa appeared for more than three decades, the image of Santa most people have today is largely based on our advertising.

Before the 1931 introduction of the Coca-Cola Santa Claus created by artist Haddon Sundblom, the image of Santa ranged from big to small and fat to tall. Santa even appeared as an elf and looked a bit spooky.”

Amazing, the kind of influence these ads and films have on our lives and how they shape our thinking. To the millions of people of the previous generation in Andhra Pradesh and Tamilnadu, who were brought up on a fare of countless mythological movies starring N.T.Rama Rao, the images of Lord Rama and Krishna that appear in their minds even today, would bear the chubby, effeminate face of N.T.Rama Rao. If the real Rama or Krishna were to materialise today, they would be viewed as imposters and handed over to the police.

Conversation with daughter-8

This conservation doesn’t involve me or my daughter, but I enjoyed it so much that I thought I should include it in my “conversation with daughter’ series.

This is from the archives of the Scientific Creative Quarterly. The author is Stephen McNeil, an Assistant Professor of Chemistry at University of British Columbia Okanagan in Kelowna, British Columbia.


SARAH: Daddy, were you in the shower?

DAD: Yes, I was in the shower.


DAD: I was dirty. The shower gets me clean.


DAD: Why does the shower get me clean?


DAD: Because the water washes the dirt away when I use soap.


DAD: Why do I use soap?


DAD: Because the soap grabs the dirt and lets the water wash it off.


DAD: Why does the soap grab the dirt?


DAD: Because soap is a surfactant.


DAD: Why is soap a surfactant?


DAD: That is an EXCELLENT question. Soap is a surfactant because it forms water-soluble micelles that trap the otherwise insoluble dirt and oil particles.


DAD: Why does soap form micelles?


DAD: Soap molecules are long chains with a polar, hydrophilic head and a non-polar, hydrophobic tail. Can you say ‘hydrophilic’?

SARAH: Aidrofawwic

DAD: And can you say ‘hydrophobic’?

SARAH: Aidrofawwic

DAD: Excellent! The word ‘hydrophobic’ means that it avoids water.


DAD: Why does it mean that?


DAD: It’s Greek! ‘Hydro’ means water and ‘phobic’ means ‘fear of’. ‘Phobos’ is fear. So ‘hydrophobic’ means ‘afraid of water’.

SARAH: Like a monster?

DAD: You mean, like being afraid of a monster?


DAD: A scary monster, sure. If you were afraid of a monster, a Greek person would say you were gorgophobic.


SARAH: (rolls her eyes) I thought we were talking about soap.

DAD: We are talking about soap.

(longish pause)


DAD: Why do the molecules have a hydrophilic head and a hydrophobic tail?


DAD: Because the C-O bonds in the head are highly polar, and the C-H bonds in the tail are effectively non-polar.


DAD: Because while carbon and hydrogen have almost the same electronegativity, oxygen is far more electronegative, thereby polarizing the C-O bonds.


DAD: Why is oxygen more electronegative than carbon and hydrogen?


DAD: That’s complicated. There are different answers to that question, depending on whether you’re talking about the Pauling or Mulliken electronegativity scales. The Pauling scale is based on homo- versus heteronuclear bond strength differences, while the Mulliken scale is based on the atomic properties of electron affinity and ionization energy. But it really all comes down to effective nuclear charge. The valence electrons in an oxygen atom have a lower energy than those of a carbon atom, and electrons shared between them are held more tightly to the oxygen, because electrons in an oxygen atom experience a greater nuclear charge and therefore a stronger attraction to the atomic nucleus! Cool, huh?
SARAH: I don’t get it.

DAD: That’s OK. Neither do most of my students.

Thursday, December 28, 2006

Oh, God!

A colleague and his wife were involved in a fire accident, but after many days of hospitalization, skin grafting, etc recovered slowly and returned to their normal routine.

I called him up the day he reported back for work and asked how he was. He replied, “By God’s grace, I managed to pull through”.

What amazed me about that reply- and I told him so- was that he was thanking God profusely for saving his life, when he would have been within reason to hold the same God responsible for the nasty accident that almost killed him.

Faith can move mountains, faith is what will sustain you in life, faith in a higher Being will pull you out of a crisis – such beliefs are hardwired into many of our brains. Some others would view such blind faith as misplaced. “Faith is the great cop-out, the great excuse to evade the need to think and evaluate evidence. Faith is belief in spite of, even perhaps because of, the lack of evidence” felt Richard Dawkins.

But the point is this. This colleague had as much right to subscribe to his belief as I had in questioning it, so long as each showed genuine tolerance and respected the fact that the other person was entitled to his viewpoint.

I was reflecting on this incident, when I heard about the controversy surrounding the installation of a statue of E.V.Ramaswamy Naicker, a sworn atheist, near the Srirangam temple. While the choice of venue was clearly made by the Dravida Kazhagam (DK) with the idea of provoking the believers, the latter fell for the bait and reacted predictably, in anger. The whole atmosphere became charged because of this mutual intolerance. What the believers should have done was to ignore the statue completely and instead score a point by turning out in large numbers on the same day, to offer prayers at the temple.

True rationalists like Richard Dawkins shun the word “atheist”, because it has a negative spin and pre-supposes that the positive or the default setting was to be a believer or theist. Self-styled atheists such as the DK, on the other hand, will not have any stand-alone purpose for their existence, without the framework of temples and believers to pick on.

I was intrigued by a recent news item that reported on a function organized by the DK to mark the 33rd death anniversary of EVR. The speakers thanked the DMK Govt for the order that allows members of any caste to officiate as priests in temples, but demanded that the rule must be further extended to permit women to become priests as well. I am all for equal opportunity and such noble ideas, but what I found amusing was that a party which has campaigned violently for demolition of temples and which has consistently denounced believers as barbarians, should exhibit so much concern for the caste and gender of the priests indulging in ‘barbaric acts of performing puja’ inside temples that, in its considered opinion, had no right to exist in the first place. It seems to me that the party has as much locus standi to comment on who should act as priests inside temples, as the devotees of the Lord have in expressing an opinion on who should be the General Secretary of the DK party.

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Save this planet.

I learnt an important lesson in life, as a boy of 12. I had carelessly discarded a tube of toothpaste, believing that it was empty. An aged relative who was passing by – or rather was keeping vigil- pulled out the tube from the dustbin, rolled it tightly, squeezed it professionally with both his hands, managed to salvage another week’s supply of toothpaste and then delivered a long lecture to me on the importance of getting the maximum bang for the buck. Of course, he didn’t resort to such Americanisms, as he didn’t even suspect that such a place as America existed, but you get the point.

Another aged relative got on to a bus, traveled a mile beyond the point where she actually needed to go and walked her way back, so that she would get maximum value for the 10 paise that was charged as minimum fare those days.

Frugality was strictly practiced by members of these yester-generations and implemented mercilessly. Everything had to be re-used, recycled or handed down. Nothing was to be wasted. When purchasing something- if at all- durability was the only criterion to go by.

Watches served several generations. My first watch was my grandfather’s and if I hadn’t lost it during a cricket match, I would perhaps have passed it on to my grandson. Pens were for keeps and one went through the entire education process from kindergarten to post-graduation using the same pen. Well, not exactly. Till the 4th or 5th standard, you got along with the pencil passed down by your elder sibling.

Food had to be consumed and could never be wasted, even if one was choking inside and sambar was oozing out of the ears and the nostrils.

If you bought a pair of slippers, you not only had to choose the sturdiest and rugged pair in the locality, you also had to walk down to the cobbler across the road to get an attachment (made from old tyres) stitched on, so that the wear-out period would be longer. It was forbidden to buy the next pair, unless the existing one had worn out completely and the soles had disappeared completely.

Such habits don’t die. They stay with you forever. I can never get myself to throw out anything, if it still has got some life in it. I can’t keep water running in the wash basin, a second more than necessary. My wife refuses to buy footwear from Bata because the damn things last forever and never get worn out and she can’t bear to throw them away even after they’ve gone completely out of fashion.

Do all you kids out there realize that you are depleting the earth’s resources so rapidly with your extravagant lifestyles and with all your disposable stuff ? Does it even occur to you, misguided souls, that the environment doesn’t belong to you and we ,of the earlier generation have just given it to you for safe custody till the time it is passed on to your children? Must you cut all the trees, burn all the coal, combust all the oil, ignite all the gas and release all the CO2 in one lifetime? Can’t you show some restraint?

There. It’s finally done. That outburst certainly made me feel a lot better and morally superior. I had my chance to get even. I could take it off on someone.

Tuesday, December 26, 2006

R.I.P, Art Buchwald; hey he's escaped.

The renowned American humourist, Art Buchwald, when told in January this year that his kidneys had suffered irreversible damage, declined dialysis and checked into a hospice, to spend what he thought were his last days. But things didn’t go as expected and months later he was still alive. And on July 1st, he walked out of the hospice, defying all odds.

While at the hospice, he decided to share his extraordinary experience with his readers and published a book titled, “Too soon to say goodbye” in which he jokes about things that one normally refrains from discussing, plans his funeral, gets his friends to send in eulogies as they would write after his death, so that he could get to read them, talks about wills and the pleasures of disinheriting people and notes with immense satisfaction that, “'the beauty of not dying but expecting to, is that it gives you a chance to say goodbye to everybody”.

Amazing stuff written in a remarkably cheerful tone, despite the specter of death looming large and demonstrating that you can find humour in any situation, if you are so disposed.

He almost made it to my RIP series, but much to my delight, managed to pull out in time !
Update 21/01/07 : Art Buchwald passed on last week. The New York Times posted a video on their website, with Art announcing, " I am Art Buchwald. I have just died."

Saturday, December 23, 2006


A film I love to watch on the National Geographic Channel is the one on the Alaskan brown bears and the salmon. By some mysterious homing mechanism, salmon return from the northern Pacific where they have spent two or three years and enter the exact headwater gravel beds of their birth. Here the hungry big brown bear ( HB3) patiently waits for the salmon meal.

Not just the brown bears, but there are other stories of salmon grabbing. Model-actress Padma Lakshmi, for example, managed to grab a Salman, Rushdie. Not surprising, because Padma Lakshmi’s ancestors were also bears. Forebears, they were called.

Another person to grab a Salman is Katrina Kaif. This Salman, Khan is quite a character. When not mowing down pavement dwellers with his jeep, he is hunting down deer in a Rajasthan forest. He has been sentenced to a term in jail, but he may take refuge under the provisions of the Wildlife Protection Act. His lawyers have enough material to show that his life is wild and that he needs protection.

Similar was the case with the other famous Khan, Mansur Ali Pataudi. Was caught red-handed with the corpse of a black buck, again belonging to an endangered species. So, is he in jail? No way. As Groucho Marx said, behind every successful man is a woman. And immediately behind her is his wife. So, his wife Sharmila Tagore got him out of trouble by presenting a powerful case in Court that Tiger was an endangered species as well and that he shouldn’t be caged.

Tiger Pataudi, as some of you belonging to my generation would know, was a famous cricketer in the ‘60s and ‘70’s. This was despite an accident that he was involved in, early in his career. Prior to that, he used to spell his name as Pataudii, but as he lost an eye in the accident, was forced to change it to Pataudi. Now, of course, he has retired from the game. So, while his actress wife Sharmila goes for her shooting at the RK Studios, he goes for his shooting in the jungles of Haryana, looking for a fast buck.

Another Bengali actress making her mark now is Konkona Sen. Her performance in the film, Mr and Mrs Iyer, as you know, won her accolades. Now, she has taken on a challenging role in a film called Traffic Signal, directed by Madhur Bhandarkar. Sen’s sensitive portrayal, in the movie, of the life of a sex worker in Mumbai, has pushed up the Sensex by 200 points already.

This Sensex. Either being pushed up by the Bulls .Or, worse, being pulled down by the Bears, like the salmon in Alaska.

Thursday, December 21, 2006

What's the metaphor?

William L Hosch of the Britannica Blog writes :

“,,, different ages develop different metaphors (or memes) to describe man, the universe, and God. In the 17th century, Isaac Newton and his contemporaries developed what came to be called a mechanical, or clockwork, model of reality. For them the universe was built up like the intricate interlocking wheels of an automaton, such that once wound up by the Creator, the universe and everything in it inexorably followed Newton’s laws.

…Since the mid 20th century, the concept of the computer has been one of the most prevalent memes for describing reality… and in the 1960s Konrad Zuse, who built the first program-controlled computer in 1941, asserted that the universe is a computer. More recently, Stephen Wolfram has also claimed that life can be explained as a cellular automaton, and that… the universe is a giant computer program that is continually calculating the unfolding of events.”

So, what is the metaphor of our times and how do we explain the Universe to reflect today’s reality ? As one gigantic iPod player with a huge memory and where each one of us is an MP3 file, with an invisible Hand controlling the central scroll key? The Indian view, perhaps, would be that the Universe is just a Bollywood film being reeled out eternally with each one of us playing bit roles ?

Tuesday, December 19, 2006


A kind reader, Prabhu, knowing that I am a struggling, aspiring comedian on the look-out for role models, has drawn my attention to the fact that the pantheon of humourists has recently admitted another illustrious member in its ranks - Dr Abdul Kalam.

At a meeting in Coimbatore, the vegetarian, septuagenarian Sagittarian ( actually he is a Libran, but Sagittarian sounds better in this sentence) arrived two hours late, but made up for it by sprinting the last few steps leading to the podium at a pace that would have fetched him the gold medal in an Olympic event. The crowd, in its wisdom, seemed to conclude that this entertainment was compensation enough for the two hour wait and gave him a thunderous applause that would have lasted for ever, had not Dr Kalam interrupted them with his singing.

Yes, he started singing on the stage and the audience ( obviously there were at least two people; 'audience' is plural, if singular it would have been 'audien') found themselves transported into a state of ecstatic rapture over Cloud Nine and into Seventh Heaven and special planes had to be dispatched to fetch them back to earth.

Wait, that’s not all. Displaying his abundant sense of humour, he announced "The earth has been revolving non-stop around the sun for millions of years. Our pursuit of excellence should also be like it," he stressed. "I am on my 76th revolution around the sun," he said and paused dramatically for the audience's reaction.

The audience waited with bated breath and keen anticipation. They were aware of the significance of the moment passing into history and that they were the only ones in the entire Universe privileged to listen in live to the punch line that was going to be delivered.

"This only means that I am 75 years old," Dr Kalam completed.

The audience went into a collective paroxysm of belly-aching, side-splitting, jaw-breaking, laughter which continues unabated till the time this post made it to the blogosphere. As a popular blogger would put it, immense joy exploded and much mirth materialized.

Saturday, December 16, 2006

India- the global leader

“History loves a paradox, and there can be none greater than a ‘taste of spices’ being responsible for the exploration of our planet. Sovereigns pledged their prestige, and navigators risked their lives, not in the quest of gold or the thirst of power but to redirect the distribution of a few inessential and today almost irrelevant vegetable products. Whether eastward-bound like Vasco da Gama or westward like Christopher Columbus and Ferdinand Magellan, the great renaissance pioneers invariably sailed in search of spices, The discovery of the Americas, of a sea-route round Africa and of that missing link in the world’s circumference that was the Pacific were all incidental to this quest for pungency and flavour. So, by extension were the developments in shipbuilding, navigational science and ballistics that eventually gave the maritime powers of western Europe superiority over other nations and led on to dominion and power.

Ages before da Gama weighed anchor in India, a whiff of spices enticed into unknown waters Pharaonic and Phoenician sea farers, Greco-Roman traders, Indo-Arab merchants, Muslim scholars, Venetian fortune seekers, African adventurers and Chinese emissaries. Just about every maritime pioneer from before the age of Alexander to that of Napoleon had a nose for pungent substances. Thanks to the challenge of sourcing and redirecting these exotic commodities, mankind learned to overcome the fear of the world’s briny wastes.

In the Isthmian age, spices from Indonesia and Malaysia used to land in the tip of the Indian peninsula. Instead of being carried round Cape Comorin or Sri Lanka, they were landed on India’s east (Coromandel) coast and then transported overland to ports on its west (Malabar) coast.

A trail of Roman coin-finds across the peninsula between Madras and Calicut attests the early popularity of this overland short-cut and textual sources appear to confirm it. In the first century BC, Strabo, the greatest of classical geographers, was able to demonstrate some knowledge of India – ‘a nation greater than and more flourishing than any other’ and he knew of Egypt’s trade with the Malabar ports.

In the first century BC, Roman knowledge extended little beyond India’s west coast because that was as far as those who traded under Rome’s auspices ventured. Spices from further afield, like the cloves and nutmegs of the Moluccas or the sandalwood of Timor and camphor of Sumatra, entered the purview of the Roman world only through India’s west coast ports. Yet, the attraction of these ports for the Roman Empire, as for all later visitors from the west, lay not merely in their role as entrepots for the exotic produce of Indonesia, but as producer outlets for the better-known spices of Southern India itself. These included ginger, cardamom, turmeric and above all, black pepper, the mainstay of the spice trade and its only bulk community,

Harvested in the hill forests of south India, loose pepper was shipped from adjacent Malabar ports in such vast quantities, to both west and east. In fact, if Marco Polo may be believed, in the thirteenth century, for every vessel dispatched with pepper to the European market, ten sailed laden for China.

Black pepper had also been the principal Oriental import of the Roman Empire. So many ships sailed from the Red Sea to the Malabar every summer for pepper that it soon ceased to be a luxury and by the 4th century AD, may have been a staple of Roman life. Spices were landed on the African coast of Somalia and then conveyed by camels to the Upper Nile and then by boat down-river to the Mediterranean and Alexandria. From here, the spices were sent to Italy, reshipped to Narbonne to the south of France, repacked for river and road carriage o Flanders, Britain or the Baltic. In its heyday, Rome was the biggest beneficiary of this lucrative trade, but as of about the tenth century, Venice would grow rich and powerful on the proceeds of the spice trade.

It was the dominance of Venice and the stranglehold that they and the Arabs held over the spice movement that originated in India that prompted the Portuguese to seek alternative routes to reach India. The circumnavigation of Africa by Bartholomew Dias in 1480 AD, and the knowledge obtained from Arab sailors that the south-west monsoon winds would propel the sail ships towards India in summer and, the North-East monsoon would provide the return winds, emboldened Vasco da Gama to undertake an expedition to India in 1492 AD, that would eventually bring the country under European rule.”

Much of the text above is extracted from the book, “Spice Route” by John Keay who in the process of tracking the movement of different spices over a period of three millennia has provided a fascinating glimpse into the glorious past of India.

We are used to being told that India began liberalizing and globalizing in 1991, thanks to the far-sightedness of people like P.V.Narasimha Rao and Manmohan Singh. A look into our history tells us how absurd that statement is. Globalisation is not new to India. For much of its history, India has been the undisputed epicenter of the global spice trade, as a major producer and a major entrepot port for spices from Indonesia and beyond. We have had extensive links with China, Indonesia, Arabia and the Romans and have carried on a peaceful, but flourishing trade with both the east and the west, for several centuries.

But, as the mutual funds like to say, past performance is not a guarantee of future results. So, we have had to begin all over again in 1991 to make a mark in the global market. What a shame.

Thursday, December 14, 2006

R.I.P Series- 10

James Bond, agent, Her Majesty’s Secret Service and a legendary lover, made out at different times with Ann, an Irish beauty; Anne, a French damsel and Anna, the Russian model, but breathed his last when Ana, the Brazilian female gave him an affectionate hug, in an Amazonian resort. We fondly record here his final conversation:

He : My name is Bond. James Bond
She : My name is Conda. Ana Conda

Best read before 48 hours from date of posting..

Jet Airways has just served me a welcome drink of fresh lime. The little sticker on the bottle bearing letters of font size 6, says that the content is 'best for use before two days from date of bottling". Turning the bottle upside down (and spilling some of the juice on my shirt), I find the bottling date and am relieved to note that the juice is just a day old and therefore still in its state of bestness.

The fresh juice stimulates my brain and some important questions keep popping up. How can you call fresh lime fresh when it is two days old? How does one count the two days? Does the day of bottling get counted? What happens after two days? If the juice is not 'best' then, at least, it must be 'very good' or 'good"? After how many days, will the juice degenerate to a state of being unfit for human consumption? Why can't these juice bottlers be more specific and define a clear cut-off date? Are they talking about the shelf life which is a measure of the quality or the expiry date which is an indicator of the safety?

The medicine manufacturers are more specific. They have a clear date of expiry mentioned on the tablet strip or the bottle, though the nagging doubt remains whether the date of expiry pertains to the date the medicine would lose its therapeutic efficacy or the date on which the patient consuming the medicine would expire.

The carton of Tropicana in my refrigerator carries the instructions that immediately after opening it must be refrigerated and the fruit juice consumed within 5 days. It adds that the consumer must shake it well before use and must throw away the carton if found puffed. Pretty grim, it sounds to me. Caveat Emptor and all that. It makes you feel like Socrates gulping down hemlock.

Monday, December 11, 2006

R.I.P Series-9

Sharanjit Gill, 29, died of a heart attack, in Kartarpur, Punjab.

Update : Oops, big mistake. Turns out that Sharanjit Gill is alive. In other words, stories of his death are highly exaggerated. He and his wife Geta Gill, based in London, had hatched an elaborate plan to claim 600,000 pound sterling from insurance companies, lying that he had died. They were caught, tried in court and sentenced to rest in peace in jail for two years.

Thursday, December 07, 2006

R.I.P Series-8

Walking back home, after the ceremony in which he was honoured with the “Best Conductor of the Year’ title by Brihanmumbai Electric Supply and Transport Undertaking (BEST), Prakash Vidyuthkar was caught in a thunderstorm and demonstrated how much he deserved the award by acting as a human conduit for a bolt of lightning to the insides of the earth.

Nobody told me...

What with all this travelling and the blogging, I seem to have lost track of the latest developments in Bollywood. About what’s happening between who and who, how and when. I hope that some reader will be able to bring me up-to-date on the Bachchan story, for instance . Here’s how much I know about it.

A month back, I heard this juicy bit of news that Abhishek Bachchan had secretly exchanged garlands with Aishwarya Rai at a temple in Madurai, when they had gone there to shoot for Mani Ratnam’s film, “Guru”.

Then, last week, I read this news item that claimed that Amitabh and Jaya had gone to Varanasi along with their son Abhishekh. Aishwarya Rai was also there. The rumour was that they had all gone to the Kasi Vishwanath temple, after a breakfast of Masal Dosa, for a special puja to dispel the Manglik Dosha that Aishwarya was supposed to be afflicted with.

Here is where I lose track and need some help and updating by my readers. I am aware that Amitabh Bachchan and Jaya Bhaduri were courting each other, acting together and singing duets in Abhimaan and other films. But, when did they get married and why didn’t anybody inform me?

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

R.I.P.Series- 7

Dr. Mer Curie, 35, daring toxicologist, reputed for his path breaking report titled, "On hazards and risk mitigation in the handling of poisonous gases such as boron trichloride, hydrogen sulphide, methyl isocyonate", and who established that the threshold overdose of dihydro monoxide (H20) in one's lungs was precisely 297 ml, while carrying out the experiment in controlled conditions inside his swimming pool at home.

Fantasy or Inspiration?

Flying back from Delhi this morning, I chanced upon this report in the in-flight magazine, “ Jetwings”. As usual, I am not quoting verbatim, but am taking the liberty of providing a broad idea of what it sought to convey.

On the occasion of Children’s Day on November 14th, 2006, Jet Airways had organised ‘joy rides’ for two groups of underprivileged children. A very good and thoughtful gesture, I felt.

Group A took off from the Chhatrapati Shivaji International Airport, Mumbai on a 45-minute, “Flight of Fantasy”. When they returned to the same airport, they were greeted by Bollywood star, Vidya Balan, who joined them in the celebrations that included a magic show, jugglery and mimicry.

Group B took off from Bangalore for Delhi on a ‘Flight of Inspiration’. From the Delhi airport, they were taken to the Rashtrapati Bhavan, where no less a personality than the President Dr Abdul Kalam was waiting to receive them, finger pressed on the pg dn key of his laptop, ready to commence his 254-slide presentation on Vision 2025- Part 1 of 5.

Same occasion, but two different types of treatment were meted out to the two groups of children.

The thought did cross my mind that, hypothetically, if I had been one of the children and asked to choose between the “Flight of Fantasy” and the “Flight of Inspiration”- or, more precisely, between Vidya Balan and Abdul Kalam, what would have been my response?

No, I am not going to reveal what would have been my choice. That shall remain a mystery. I leave the issue open for each reader to ponder over and make his or her own judgement.

For some reason, I really don’t know why, this reminds me of the short story of Frank Stockton, that I had referred to in this post.

Saturday, December 02, 2006

R.I.P Series- 6

Under this stone is laid to rest, Veer Singhji, brilliant cricketer and daring fielder, responsible for an incredible run-out of a batsman. Standing at forward- short-leg position, without a helmet on, he took a full-blooded shot straight on his head. The ball ricocheted and hit the stumps, before the batsman could regain his crease. As the bails came down in 0.88 seconds after the ball hit Veer Singhji’s head, the third umpire declared this as the first recorded instance of a run-out caused posthumously.

The bane of travelling salespersons

You know what I dread the most when I travel? What I fervently pray will not be found anywhere in the vicinity of my seat or berth? Babies. Bawling, wailing, howling, babies (BWHB)

Now, I have nothing against babies. The world certainly needs them. In fact, some of my best friends are babies. I have been half-responsible for bringing a couple of babies into this world. But, when these BWHBs make me lose my much-needed sleep and I have to confront irate customers the next morning with a groggy face, I find myself gaining new respect for King Herod of Bethlehem as well as the Pied Piper of Hamelin.

When I was single and kidless myself, and was once kept awake the whole night by one of these BWHBs, when traveling in the upper berth of a II class compartment, I took a terrible vow that I would produce a dozen kids in the near future,, frequently carry them in trains and keep pinching them till they cried their throats hoarse. Not one person in the entire compartment would be allowed to sleep. That would be my revenge on society at large.

I did manage to take some babies along eventually, but, much to my disappointment, they turned out to well-behaved ones that found the rocking motion of the train so soothing and slept even better than normal. So, I have to find more devious methods now.

I remember reading a blog post (alas, I forget who the blogger was) which wondered whether this phenomenon was unique to babies born in India. I tend to agree. In the course of my travels in Europe or the USA, I don’t recall being troubled by BWHBs. Sorry, that previous statement is not entirely true. It did happen on one of the flights between Amsterdam and Madrid. But, it turned out to be an Indian BWHB!

Are Indian parents more indulgent that babies feel unrestrained? Do parents abroad use chloroform on their kids when they travel? Or, is it that there are so many babies being churned out every hour in India compared to the rest of the world that the probability of encountering BWHBs is higher when one travels here? Or, maybe what I have observed is not a representative sample? Or, Fate has singled me out for special treatment?

Update (3/12/06) : The mystery of the wailing babies is solved. shpriya in her comment has given a vital clue when she talks about RSMAW (rhythmically snoring men and women). Based on feedback from wife, I probably am an RSM, whose loud snoring terrifies normal babies in the railway compartment and makes them BWHBs. So, the problem is not so much on the pediatric side as it is on the geriatric side. Case closed.

Friday, December 01, 2006


An encyclopedia that I am browsing through informs that when the metric system of measurement was introduced, the French defined the ‘meter’ as one-millionth of the distance between the North Pole and the Equator.

I can imagine how they accomplished this. One guy, dressed in fur, monkey cap and thermal inners, held one end of a long rope at the tip of the North Pole, all the while alert to the possibility of a polar bear ramming him on the backside. Meanwhile another guy, in shorts and T-shirt, held the other end of the rope at the Equator, keeping his eyes and ears open for mad elephants and charging rhinoceroses ( or is the plural rhinocerii?) Then they roll the rope carefully and meet at some point, depending on how fast each of them walked. Then they cut the rope into a million equal little pieces. One such piece was then proclaimed as the ‘meter’. A needlessly complicated process, if you ask me. They could have used a simple wooden scale, measured 100 cm and then marked it as one meter.

And, a kilo-gram is equal to the weight of a chunk of stone preserved in a building near Paris. And everything else in the world is weighed against this stone. Pretty weird, the whole thing strikes me as. Letting a piece of stone near Paris to tell me how many kilograms I weigh.

Did you know that there is a unit of beauty called the milli-Helen? Helen of Troy had a face that reputedly launched a thousand ships. So, a milli-Helen of beauty is the amount of beauty required to launch one ship. Now, this has interesting possibilities. Lead a group of pretty women, one at a time, to the harbour, observe how many ships each one is able to launch and then report how beautiful they are, in so many milli-Helens.

Why should there be such subjectivity in the selection of Miss Universe and Miss World. All the judges asking them silly questions and all the participants giving a stock reply that they want to be re-born as Mother Theresa. Complete nonsense. Here’s a simpler and a far more objective way. Line them up on the harbour front and publish the results in milli-Helens.

Correction (06/12/06) : Akshay points out that I have made a technical error. We should count the ships coming into the harbour and not going out. For, Helens' face had launched a thousand ships from the opposite direction.