Friday, June 29, 2007

Rise, salaried class

This rant on how the salaried class is taxed at source and bled dry reminded me of the angry reaction of a tax payer in the famous short story, “The Negotiable Cow” by A.P.Herbert in his book, “Uncommon Law”.

If you haven’t read the story, here’s the outline. The protagonist, Mr Haddock, after a long battle with the Collector of Taxes, was still asked to remit an amount of fifty-seven pounds. One fine morning, soon after, Mr. Haddock appeared at the Collector’s office and delivered a cow of mean looks, with these words stenciled in red on its body:

To the London and Literary Bank, Limited
Pay the Collector of Taxes, who is no gentleman, or Order, the sum of fifty seven pounds (and may he rot!) L 57/10/0

Haddock argued that the British law did not state that a cheque had to be made out only on paper and therefore any medium could be used. The cow was as good a negotiable instrument as any. The Court ruled in his favour.

So, here’s my proposal. If a million Indians wrote out ‘pay orders’ on a million cows for the tax amount that each of them owed the Govt. and sent these bovine cheques to the IT Dept, very soon they will be forced to abolish income tax. The plan sounds almost Gandhian in its simplicity.

So, rise ye salaried class. Don't be cowed down any longer

Thursday, June 28, 2007

The Gillettine

The first few years after I started shaving, I used the most basic of implements. A safety razor made of gleaming metal and a clean sharp blade. The razor was meant to last for ever. It had doors on the top and a knob below that needed to be rotated gently to open the doors on the top. The all-metal, double-edged blade needed to be changed once a week. The whole operation was so low-tech and the replacement cost of the blade was probably less than two rupees.

Then Gillette entered my life with its Sensor spring-loaded blades that claimed to retract if the blade came into contact with the facial skin rather than the hair. This was a quantum jump in comfort as well as price. I think the blades cost Rs 15 each and I used to feel so guilty at this extravagance.

A few years passed and, sure enough, Gillette introduced the Sensor Excel, which had two blades. More comfort, more money, more guilt. Possibly Rs 30 a blade.

Then the Mach 3 exploded on the scene. It was the first 3-blade razor and was the ultimate in shaving comfort. It required fewer strokes as it gently caressed the face. I tried to resist the temptation to buy one, but succumbed to the marketing blitzkrieg of Gillette. Once you used a Mach 3, there was no going back to cheaper stuff. You stayed wedded for life. I suspect that Gillette designed it in such a way that the blade would change the contour of the beard to make it cuttable only at a certain angle that the Mach 3 traversed. These blades cost more than Rs 100/- apiece and I have squirmed in remorse everytime I bought them. But, not once in the last 4 years, have I been disloyal to Mach 3 and I thought that I had found my life partner.

Famous last words they turned out to be as Gillette, the serpent, is dangling the apple in the garden again. The new Gillette Fusion has- hold your breath- 5 blades. Gillette says that 'the combination of adding more blades and narrowing the inter-blade span creates a “Shaving Surface” that distributes the shaving force across the blades, resulting in significantly less irritation and more comfort'. Hell, they even have a battery-powered model which has a vibrating head that will make the hair stand up and be slaughtered. And the price, a whopping Rs 300/- for a blade.

I have been eyeing this beauty at the departmental stores for quite some time. I know that sooner or later I am going to buckle under the strain and buy one, I can see it standing there, staring at me, egging me to give it a try, daring me to move on……….

In a few years, I am afraid, Gillette will introduce the ultimate version of the shaving razor. A model with thousands of micromotion blades that will be guided by laser. Each micro-blade will seek out individual facial hair and destroy it without a trace. It will have a micro-chip loaded with a thousand mp3 files and will sense the mood of the face’s owner and play the appropriate music. It will sprinkle after-shave lotion on its reverse stroke. And, all these features will come at a price of Rs 10,000 a blade. I will spend 10 minutes every day shaving my face with this masterpiece of a razor and the remaining 23 hours 50 minutes, slogging my butt out to earn the money to pay for the blades, in a deadly vicious spiral that will last for eternity………

( Disclosure: Picture of guillotine taken from Google Images)

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Superstar's Secret.

How do you explain the iconic status of Rajnikanth? Why do people idolize him so? What accounts for his electrifying screen presence?

These are questions that all of you have been asking repeatedly and haven’t found the answers for. The questions are even more relevant these days, when the only topic of conversation is the movie, “Sivaji”.

I set out to find the answers, to get to the bottom of the mystery and put an end to your collective agony.

My first theory was, “Can the popularity be due to his charisma alone?”. I flew down to Mumbai and posed this question to some Bollywood stars. One of them, an ex-star known as Randhir Kapoor, told me with a sad look on his face, “Alas, this is not true. Though I would have liked her to, my daughter Charisma was not involved with Rajni, romantically or otherwise. Given his fabulous wealth, Charisma Ka-poor would have become Charisma Ka-rich by now. Sigh!.”

That ruled out Charisma. So, did the debonair Rajni acquire his stardom by accident? Or was he a natural phenomenon blessed by Providence? To probe deeper into this question, I contacted Mr. South Kurien, Chairman of the Inter-Galactic Malayalee Diaspora, at his home located in Planet Zzzbaum. He checked up and reported back that while their universal data base contained millions of Nairs and Menons, there was nobody enrolled by the name of Debo Nair or Pheno Menon.

So, are fans simply getting enthralled over and mesmerized by his antics, stunts and stylish mannerisms. To test this hypothesis, a controlled experiment was conducted in T.Nagar in Chennai. When a videotape of Rajni movie was shown to fans, there was absolutely no response and they continued to spin in that measured, philosophical manner typical of ceiling fans. Thanks are due to Ratna Fan House who sponsored this study.

So, it was not charisma, or Providence or antics and style. So, what was it then?

Finally, the puzzle was cracked by Prof. Bijlee Kumar, Head of the Dept of Electrical Engineering at IIT-Madras. After a thorough research on the subject, during which he dug deep into Rajni’s past, the learned Professor published his findings which stated that Rajni, prior to joining the film world, had started his career in a public transport corporation and had acquitted himself creditably as a bus conductor. As we all know, a good conductor allows current to flow freely and this is what Rajni seems to have done admirably. This is what accounts for his electrifying presence.

The mystery of the magnetic megastar is thus resolved. The secret of the shining superstar is out.

Saturday, June 23, 2007

Hero or Zero?

Scenario A: It is Diwali day. You are standing on your terrace, happily gorging on sweets and dry fruits, peacefully watching (and hearing) the fireworks outside your house. You notice that some of the kids are quite reckless and courting danger. In a few minutes, sure enough, one of the kids gets hit by a cracker and is rolling on the floor in pain. In a flash, you rush to the spot, grab the injured child, put him in your car, drive to the nearest hospital and get him attended to, by the medical staff. You return home and the child’s mother thanks you profusely. You are a hero.

Scenario B: It is Diwali day. You are standing on your terrace, happily gorging on sweets and dry fruits, and peacefully watching (and hearing) the fireworks outside your house. You notice that some of the kids are quite reckless and courting danger. You rush down and caution the children that they ought to be more careful and must not take such liberties with fire. The children scatter; cursing the grouchy, preachy uncle. Next time you cross their house, the mother gives you a look that says. “Keep off my child, you foul-mouthed old man”. You are a zero.

In the introduction to his book, The Black Swan, Nassim Nicholas Taleb, writes:

It is quite saddening to think of those people who have been mistreated by history… the category of those who we do not know were heroes, who saved our lives, who helped us avoid disasters. They left no traces and did not even know that they were making a contribution. We remember the martyrs who died for a cause that we knew about, never those no less effective in their contribution but whose cause we were never aware of- precisely because they were successful.

Taleb then illustrates his point with a thought experiment :

Assume that a legislator with courage, influence, intellect, vision and perseverance manages to enact a law that goes into universal effect on Sep 10, 2001; it imposes the continuously locked bulletproof doors in every cockpit (at high cost to the struggling airlines)- just in case terrorists decide to use planes to attack the World Trade Centre. Not a popular measure, but it would have prevented 9/11.

The person who imposed locks on cockpit doors will get no statues in public squares, not so much as a quick mention of his contribution in his obituary. “Joe Smith, who helped avoid disaster of 9/11, died of complications of liver disease”. Seeing how superfluous his measure was, and how it squandered resources, he might be booted out of office. He will die with the impression of having done nothing useful.

Now, consider again the events of 9/11 that really happened. In their aftermath, who gets the recognition? Those you saw in the media, on television performing heroic acts, and those whom you saw trying to give you the impression that they were performing heroic acts .The latter category includes someone like the New York Stock Exchange chairman, Richard Grasso, who ‘saved the stock exchange’ and received a huge bonus. All he had to do was be there to ring the opening bell.
Yes, I see the point that Taleb is trying to make. We tend to be blind and unfair.

Just think. Who gets more accolades, the Prime Minister who uses diplomacy and tact to avoid a war, or a President who initiates a war and emerges triumphant? Who gets more column space in the news, the tennis player who plays a clinical, error-free game and wins 6-2, 6-2, 6-2 or the player who fumbles in the first two sets, but ‘fights back magnificently’ to win 0-6, 0-6, 7-6, 6-4, 6-4? The latter, in both examples.

Why are Republic Day Awards for bravery given only to those who responded well to a crisis, and not to those who by some quiet action had prevented a crisis? For very heroic person who jumped into a well to save a drowning child, there were five silent heroes who stopped five children from going near the well in the first place.

How come a cardio-surgeon who does a bypass procedure is paid lakhs of rupees and is treated like a hero, while a dietician who quietly counsels people to follow a healthy diet and helps prevent coronary disease not treated like one?

So, sing a silent ode to all these unsung and unheralded heroes of the world. Also, bear in mind, that this Diwali, if you find yourself in a situation I described in the beginning of this post, avoid the sermonising. Let the damn child get hurt and create conditions conducive for your heroic exploits.

Is your parent aound?

My blog has been given a rating of R . Those of you under 17 years of age ( and I suspect most of you are) need a parent or guardian around, while reading my posts. And, those over 17, need to be a parent or guardian.

The rating is based on the presence of these damaging words: death (4 times), dangerous (twice) and missionary (once).

( via)

Thursday, June 21, 2007

Alliterative Alligator Attacks Again

Prospective President Prathibha Patil’s Pointless Purdah Prattle Perplexes Public.

If only I had known.....

Stephen Leacock wrote in one of his essays, “You know, many a man realizes late in life that if when he was a boy he had known what he knows now, instead of being what he is he might be what he won't; but how few boys stop to think that if they knew what they don't know instead of being what they will be, they wouldn't be? These are awful thoughts.”

I too have realized late in life that if when I was a boy I had known what I don’t know even now, I might not have been what I am now. If it had so happened that I had not grown up to be what I am now, I would have felt terrible and would have thought that if only I had known as a boy what I had come to realize as a man, I wouldn’t be wasting my time reflecting on what I should have known as a boy………………..These are awful thoughts………..

Monday, June 18, 2007

The wisdom of a billion.

In his essay, "Trial By Jury", Richard Dawkins writes :

Turning to courts of law, why are twelve jurors preferred to a single judge? Not because they are wiser, more knowledgeable or more practised in the art of reasoning. Certainly not. Twelve jurors are preferred only because they are more numerous. Twelve heads are better than one, because they represent twelve assessments of the evidence.

But, for this argument, the twelve assessments really have to be independent. And, of course, they are not. Twelve men and women locked up in a jury room are like a clutch of twelve gull chicks. Whether they actually imitate each other like chicks, they might. That is enough to invalidate the principle by which a jury might be preferred over a single judge.

Oddly enough the bizarre American system of televising trials opens up a real possibility of improvising the jury system, By the end of trials such as those of O.J.Simpson, literally thousands of people around the country would have attended to the evidence as assiduously as the official jury. A mass phone-in might produce a fairer verdict than a jury.

James Surowiecki said the same thing in his book, The Wisdom of Crowds, where he presented evidence that a large group of people, under similar conditions, when presented with a situation that required judgement, had an uncanny ability to predict the right result or come as close as possible to the most appropriate consensus, than would have been possible by any single member of the group. The only condition is that there should be sufficient diversity of opinion to begin with.

Almost every news channel tries to tap into this ‘collective wisdom’, when they ask you to vote for the Indian idol or when they ask you to sms your views ( choice of a, b or c) on a specific question.

So, why not go a step further and use this method to decide on membership to the Lok Sabha or the state council? Simply ask the electorate to sit in the comfort of their drawing rooms on election day, listen to the presentations and sms their choice of candidate to represent their constituency? No more ballot boxes or even electronic machines. No more walking up to the booths and having to reckon with all those seedy characters who infest such places .No more instances of booth capture, proxy voting and spurious ballot paper.

Technology can safeguard us against malpractices and ensure confidentiality. E-identity cards with finger prints or passwords can be issued to each voter, and he or she will need to use this to cast his or her vote.

Post-elections, the same technique can be used to conduct referendums on all major policy decisions. The judgement of the crowd will prevail.

Obviously, this is too fanciful, simplistic and will have its own flaws, but I believe that any method will be an improvement over what we have today.

Update 19/06/07 : The presumption that every Indian voter will own a mobile phone and will have a TV set in his/her drawing room, betrays some insensitivity on my part and needs some moderation. Not every Indian will have a drawing room, but I am quite sure that every Indian will have a mobile phone and a TV set.

The Soap-Matrix

I just saw a trailer of what the Orwellian world of 1984 would have looked like and, for good measure, also had a foretaste of the simulated reality of The Matrix.

While on a walk this morning, I observed a woman a few paces ahead of me, shaking her hands wildly and talking loudly. My first guess was that she was on her mobile phone, in the hands-off mode, and in the midst of an animated conversation with someone at the other end.

It was only when I overtook her that I discovered that there was no mobile phone and that she was merely talking to herself. Feeling sorry for her, I moved on.

Two other walkers who were nearby heard what she was saying, and one of them later commented knowledgeably that she was reeling out some dialogues mouthed by a persecuted daughter-in-law in a popular TV serial.

With millions of people glued to the TV sets, evening after evening, watching and listening to the brain-numbing nonsense, getting themselves indoctrinated with the same soppy sentimentality, the countryside will soon be filled with such zombies staring dreamily into empty space, convinced that their’s the real world and uttering dialogues from soap operas.

If you and I don’t become part of the crowd, we will be viewed as idiots living in a make-believe world. So, better we join them, before we are whisked away to a lunatic asylum.

Saturday, June 16, 2007

The G8 summit

The G8 leaders :

and their partners :

Question : Would you rather be a leader or a spouse?

Friday, June 15, 2007

Conversation with daughters- 14

I have a couple of thieves in my house. I can’t even hand them over to the police, because I have fathered them. I am pretty helpless.

Till some time back, I used to sport a thick, black moustache, which required quite a bit of maintenance. Among the many tools and appurtenances that I kept in my ‘emergency care’ kit, was a pair of scissors to trim the moustache. Imagine my agony, when one fine morning, I found them missing, forcing me to go out into the world with an untrimmed moustache and injured Tamilian pride. I decided to nab the culprits. Quick enquiries led me to my daughter’s study and there, amidst the debris and ruin, was my favourite pair of scissors. Daughter had borrowed it. “To cut out a picture to make a birthday card for my dearest friend” she informed me.

One of my friends has two sons and wept inconsolably when I visited him many years back. He had hell at home, he told me, with the brats constantly absconding with his Yonex racquet, his white shorts or his wrist bands. I sympathized with him and left him. Later, I thanked my stars when I was blessed with two daughters. Alas, I found to my dismay, that flicking dad’s shorts and socks was not something that the male offspring alone indulged in. Both the X-X and the X-Y chromosome pairs carry this vital piece of genetic information. Thus, female off-springs are equally prone to and adept in purloining things that belong to male parent.

Envelopes, stapler, nail clippers, track pants, slippers, calculator, handkerchief, hair brush, pens – nothing is safe with these kleptomaniacs around, I have discovered.

Obviously, I won’t be able to lock up all these assorted things in my trusted Godrej almirah, away from the reach of this marauding pair. There are far too many miscellaneous items to collect and fit into one almirah.

Idea ! I will keep the thieves in safe custody inside the almirah. That’s a much simpler solution.

Update : Hardly had I pressed the "enter" button to post this blog, when I discovered that the elder of the two merciless marauders had coolly taken off today with a pair of Nike socks that belonged to me. Compounding the crime, she had taken a 'wrong' pair, one sock ( is that singular allowed?) with a blue band and the other with a red band. So, not only have I lost a pair today, I am stuck with another wrong pair, in my cupboard.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Frequently unasked questions.

I had planned to return home early and take my wife along to a wedding reception. Driving back from office, I bumped into a friend; we got chatting and catching up on old times and all that, and I reached home slightly - very slightly- later than I had promised. And what do you think wife asked me when I got in? “Why are you so late?”

As I settled down on the sofa to remove my shoes, I reminded myself to be careful. This was a situation that required delicate and adroit handling. On too many occasions, I had messed up the knot while untying the lace, and had to go through considerable agony the next morning while untangling it. The lace safely untied, I then pondered over the question that wife had asked me.

Life, I mused, was not about finding the right answers. It was all about asking the right questions. History is replete with stories of generals and philosophers who managed to have stunning insights merely by asking the right questions.

If Henry Ford had suffered from marketing myopia and had asked himself, “How can I make horse carriages run faster” we would still be going around in jutkas, and wading through tons of horse shit. Instead he asked, “How can I get people from Point A to Point B, faster and with more convenience?” and produced the motor car and we are breathing in tons of Nitrous oxide.

If Thomas Alva Edison had asked himself, “How can I make better candles?” instead of “How can I use electricity to produce light?” we would all be watching television in candlelight. Why, if Edison had asked the wrong question, the Ford Fiestas and Ford Ikons, would be fitted with head lamps made of candles (even if Henry Ford had asked the right question in the preceding para). Pretty messy it would have been.

And, believe me, if Gandhi had asked himself, “How can I make the British rule us better?” rather than “How do I make them get the hell out of India?” we would have had A.R.Rehman coming up with remix versions of “God save the Queen” instead of “Vande Matram”. The effect would have been completely different.

Abe Lincoln stressed the importance of the right question, when he said, “Don’t ask if God is on our side; instead ask if we are on God’s side”. Paraphrasing this a century later, John F Kennedy said, “Ask not what the country can do for you; ask what I can do with Marilyn Monroe?”

So, the whole thing is about asking the right question. Instead of the silly, inane question, ‘Why are you late?”, if wife had asked herself, “Now that my dear husband is home, what are the ways in which I can delight him?” she would have found some terrific answers. Much happiness would have resulted at home. The world would have been a much better place to inhabit.

Monday, June 11, 2007

The incredible surgical feat.

The child is on the operating table. An open-heart surgery is in progress and has reached a critical stage. The doctors are tense; so are the assistants. The mother of the child is pacing up and down the corridor outside, biting her lips and chewing her nails simultaneously. The anesthetist is counting the seconds. And, suddenly, the lights go out. All is dark.

“ Start the generator” says the chief surgeon. The assistant dials on the intercom. The watchman doesn’t answer the phone as he is sound asleep. “Where’s the emergency lamp?” screams the surgeon. “Sorry doc, it is not working” answers the assistant.

“Doc, only a minute left, for consciousness to come back.”warns the anesthetist .

Phew. What a situation to be in! What would you do if you were the surgeon?

Watch what Vijaykanth did in a similar situation. What presence of mind!

Fallen Heroes.

When I read a report that Tendulkar had injured his right ankle while negotiating a bouncer from S Sreesanth during practice at the conditioning camp for the Bangladesh-bound Indian team,I didn’t believe it one bit. Unless the injury happens in the full glare of a TV camera, I suspect that all such stories are fabricated. What must have happened was that he would have accidentally dropped a 2 litre Pepsi bottle on his foot that afternoon. Obviously, he can't be made to look so foolish in the public eye and so this elaborate yarn about bouncers, to make him suitably heroic.

I know. I once played a gentle game of football with my kid nephew, in our drawing room of size 12’ x 10’. He was all of 9 years, while I was around 27. While I was negotiating the ball, nephew kicked me hard on the left foot, causing a ligament to tear. Foot had to be bandaged for 15 days. It wouldn’t have befitted my stature if I had admitted that my foot couldn’t take a friendly blow from a 9-year old kid. “I sustained injury while playing football”, I told everyone truthfully, leaving them quite impressed.

Or that time when I was walking along the Marina beach, looking longingly at the cut mangoes, when my foot got caught in a hole that had been dug by some rat or bandicoot. Ankle got twisted, and foot bandaged as before. Now, I would have invited ridicule if I publicized the fact of the rat hole; so I had to come up with an explanation, the full details of which I forget, but I do remember that it involved cross-country race, obstacles and wild dogs.

I recall how a friend came in to our club once, with a bandaged foot and explained that he had just returned from a trekking expedition in the Himalayas. “You know how the mountains are”, he remarked, with just that trace of mystery. Something about that explanation did not sound right. Maybe it was his tone or his shrunk eyes? Anyway, I called up his wife that evening and advised her against sending her husband out on such dangerous expeditions again at his age. “What expedition?” she asked me. “Idiot slipped and fell in the bathroom. It was an Indian water closet. He didn’t notice the water and his foot went gliding in”.

So, next time, someone paints himself in glorious colours to highlight his heroics or gallantry, be skeptical. Scratch the surface and you will unearth a story of clumsiness, deception and bungling.

Saturday, June 09, 2007

Twisted statistics.

That statistics can be presented or distorted in any convenient manner is a well-worn cliché.

Take this matter of CO2 emission that was discussed at the G8 meeting this week. The G8 countries present compelling evidence that India is already the fourth largest emitter of CO2 gas in the world and urges steps to control the trend. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, with that deadpan expression and that mono-toned voice of his, uses same piece of statistics to explain that India’s per capita emission of CO2 is one of the lowest in the world, and please, don’t ask us to reduce.

In a different context, Rajaji had quoted per-capita figures to explain a point. In an editorial in the Swarajya magazine of May, 1961, he criticized the then Finance Minister, Mr Morarji Desai, who had claimed that the proportion of taxation to national income in India was only 9 per cent compared to 28 per cent in U.K., 33 per cent in U.S.A., 27 per cent in Germany, and so on, to make out a case that there was scope for additional taxation in India. Rajaji responded by providing the per-capita national income figures of these countries as Rs 289, Rs 4561, Rs 10124 and Rs 3530 respectively and added :

"Take off even 50 per cent from the other figures, we have still round about Rs. 2,300, Rs. 5,000, and Rs. 1,800 But any experiment of that sort on Rs. 289 would leave a calamitous result. Reduce the courses in a Raj Bhavan dinner by half, the guests can still be content. But reduce Oliver Twist’s ration by a little, and you will starve him to death. There is nothing so fallacious as percentage fairness when we are dealing with vastly unequal quantities. Mathematics is good when it is fully understood, dangerous when knowledge is incomplete."

So, using similar logic, it is unreasonable to expect India to cut down on its CO2 emission any further, when its per capita emission is one-ninth that of USA's.

But, why should per-capita consumption or emission be the basis for evaluation? Who defines the yardstick? Suppose, the USA were to argue that Indians having bred like rabbits had three times the population of USA’s in only one-third the land area, and therefore a better yardstick would be to measure the CO2 emitted per sq.m of land per person. The figures for USA and India would be the same then.

Happy Endings

Which of these two stories will leave you more satisfied?

Story A: Early in his life, the hero is kidnapped from his father’s castle and abandoned in the forests. He is raised by wolves and later by gypsies. He does back-breaking work for 18 hours a day, barely manages to make ends meet and struggles through middle age. When he is 53 years old, he finds out that he was actually born to a king. Against incredible odds, he manages to claw his way back to the castle and regain the kingdom that was rightfully his. He rules for another 5 years and dies a happy, contended man.

Story B: The hero is born to rich parents. He has a terrific time right through his early years; he marries a beautiful girl; they have delightful kids; he builds on his father’s business that sees explosive growth over the next few decades. He is considered one of the most successful men of the era. Alas, when he is 78 years old, disruptive changes in the business environment take place, his enterprise collapses, his family deserts him and he dies bankrupt and a broken hearted man.

A survey published in The Guardian last year showed that an overwhelming majority of respondents preferred books with a happy ending. In fact, 12% of readers even wanted to reverse an unhappy event in a story as recent as Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince. (Via)

But, why is it important that the ‘ending’ must be happy, independent of how the rest of the life story has been?

Suppose we were to look instead at the percentage of time in one’s lifetime that one has been happy? Take the Ramayana. Why do we conclude that Rama was better off, because he triumphed over Ravana finally? If you consider the years of misery that Rama went through, his long stint in the forests in pathetic conditions, the agonizing search for Sita and the final showdown, it will be reasonable to conclude that 75% of his lifetime was a washout, and he was happy for only 25% of his lifetime – possibly his childhood years and later the post-war years. Whereas, Ravana had a whale of a time all through his life, till about two days before the final battle .The lucky devil spent 99.8% of his life in complete bliss and reckless revelry. His tragic ending and beheading be damned.

Coming back to the examples provided at the beginning of this post, more people are likely to vote for Story A, rather than Story B. But, why?

The hero in Story A was happy for 10% of his life, whereas the hero in Story B was happy almost right through, say 98% of his lifetime.

So, would you rather be Hero A or Hero B?

Thursday, June 07, 2007


The American humourist, Art Buchwald, once lamented that television channels were depriving him of an undisturbed enjoyment of the commercials, by frequently interrupting them with baseball matches, movies, sitcoms, etc. Just when he was warming to the theme of the advertisement, he protested, the channel would slip in a long scene from a movie or a match and spoil his fun.

Coming to think of it, when you are glued to the TV, where commercials are aired for half the time, don’t you get confused if your original intention was to watch the cricket match with commercial breaks in-between, or watch the commercials with cricket breaks in between?

The philosopher, Nick Bostrom, had come out with such an argument when discussing the subject of simulated reality. Bostrom postulated that with strides in technology, it was possible to simulate, on a computer, entire planets or even entire universes including all the people on them, with all the sensory experiences built in. In such a scenario, he explained, the simulated people would be fully conscious beings, as much as the ‘real’ people.

His argument was, “So, maybe this has already been done and you are all simulated human beings living in a simulated planet? Maybe the real people like Raj are watching you on a computer screen, with head phones and 3-D glasses on.”

Ha. All you simulated, unreal creatures out there. Don’t try to get out of your virtual world. I’ll simply press Ctrl+Alt+Del and knock you off the screen.

Wednesday, June 06, 2007

Conversation with daughter- 13

Why does my daughter insist on working on her maths homework, parked on the sofa, in the drawing room, in front of the TV, with assorted books and notebooks strewn all around her ? Why can’t she do it in the comfort of her study room, which I have done up at considerable expense, believing that she needs peace and quiet to be able to concentrate?

Fifty years back, Orson Welles had inserted these famous lines, in his screenplay of Graham Greene’s “Third Man”:

"In Italy, for thirty years under the Borgias, they had warfare, terror, murder,bloodshed, but they produced Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci and the Renaissance. In Switzerland, they had brotherly love; they had 500 years of democracy and peace -- and what did that produce? The cuckoo clock."

So, coming back to daughter, I have realized that disorderliness fosters creativity and provides the right kind of ambience to lick a few problems in calculus, whereas a sanitized environment seriously inhibits the functioning of her grey cells and results in zero output. Now, all I need to do is to figure out a way to introduce the right degree of messiness in the examination hall, when daughter is handed the question paper.

As I have said before, be messy, be happy.

Incidentally, some people confuse Graham Greene with Gunter Grass, arguing that Grass is Green. This is not correct; Grass is Grass whereas Greene is Greene.