November 19, 2008

Its been over a year, and seeing that I have way too much free time on my hands, it’s time I made some use of it.

I have been struck by the blogging bug again, and hopefully this time it lasts. Maybe this time the posts will be wiser, more sensible, and more fulfilling than the claptrap that preceeded it.

One can hope…

Two paise’s worth….

June 18, 2007

The Prime Minister’s speech at the CII meet oh-so-many-moons ago threw up a number of valid points which have been debated to death and beyond in the mainstream media. The very fact that these issues have found some space in public discourse is a welcome thing, and for that the PM’s speech scores high in my book.

(For a cooler and way more incisive speech regarding these issues, click on the blue words.)

Seeing that the dust has settled on these issues, my two paise’s worth might be coming a little late, but better late than never, I always say. It’s a motto that I adopt with unfailing regularity during exam-times. A couple of points have emerged tallest amidst the din and have claimed central space. The idea that the government should set its own house in order before lecturing is something I may comment on later, seeing as how the following two ideas need to be dissected and placed in their proper context. One is the idea that economics merely consists of ratcheting up the growth rate and any idea of distribution is merely a matter of ‘political’ or ‘socio-economic’ concerns. The other is that the PM’s speech has let in ‘ideology’ by the back door, and any discussions which are coloured by ideological considerations threaten to derail the Great Indian Juggernaut.The first consideration was given shape in an editorial in the Times of India some time back by Arun Maira, head of Boston Consulting Group. The article does make all the right noises about the catchword du jour ‘inclusive growth’, but the article begins with the premise that :

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Strays

June 11, 2007

1. Cyber centres across Pune and Mubai have been shut down because certain despicable elements on the social networking site Orkut had the gall to criticize Fearless Leader Bal Thackeray. The very same crusaders for truth and justice had earlier demanded that the restaurant ‘Bombay Blue’ repent for its mistake of being so woefully and criminally behind the times by changing its name to ‘Mumbai Blue’.

How do you spell intellectual bankruptcy and goonda activism? S-H-I-V space S-E-N-A

2. You’ve all seen VH1, right? And it’s inundated with hip-hop and the like, right? While a few years back our international music channels were filled to bursting with fresh faced teenagers crooning packaged pop for the suckers audience’s pleasure, it’s now hip-hop’s turn. This is not a post on the relative (de)merits of hip-hop vis-a-vis other music forms. Though that’s an idea.

On nearly every video aired these days that I’ve seen, they seem to follow the same formula. Pack the screen with incredibly beautiful women dressed in clothes that leave precious little to even the most prosaic of imaginations and…. well that’s about it really. It may be just me, but I don’t think I can distill an ounce of genuine creativity in the half a million music videos I have seen.

The sheer display of riches and gratuitous ostentaiousness on display in most music videos nowadays serve to hide a basic fact, that the easiest way nowdays to sell a song or an artist is by grabbing eyeballs, and by grabbing male eyeballs in the easiest way possible. With a half naked female body.

Let’s not just blame hip-hop and phoren videos. Let’s accept the fact that its the same here as well. When we start using sex to sell as innocuous a product as ice-cream, there is something wrong with us.

But I digress. The point of this stray thought is not to bemoan the death of creativity (though to me, that is a worrying enough development) but to point out the fact that the male gaze and the male eye has completely coloured society’s way of looking at the world.

I elaborate. Its bad enough that women are used as little more than background props in most videos, but what’s really insiduous is the fact that most female artists I see on television seem to think that its an acceptable and necessary way to promote one’s self in the music business today and in society at large. I cringe when I see the latest starlet haughtily stating that she will expose ‘only if the role demands it’. When women themselves perpetuate the myth of reed thin bodies being the new idea of beauty, the male victory is complete and total. (This last point is based on second hand information, but its a second hand that I trust. A friend of mine brought up this point after watching Channel V’s Get Gorgeous programme where even though the jury members are female, they seem to advance traditional ideas of beauty deemed acceptable by the mainstream media).

Empowerment is not about deciding when one will expose or not. The very fact that exposure seems to be a pre-requisite for success shows that it is not empowerement one is enjoying, but an utter and complete slavery of sorts, where one’s mindset has been completely turned around to the ideas of the dominant class. Here, men. Because let’s face it. Its men who stand most to gain when women decide to expose ‘because the script demands it.’

Can I be faulted because I speak as a man and not as a woman? Are my ideas here misguided because my reality is quite different from that of a woman? Maybe, and if they are, please do let me know. Maybe its a good thing that women now do have greater control over their bodies. But the very fact that those bodies are still put out on display in all channels of the mainstream media does not seem like much of a victory to me.

So my bags were packed and I was ready to leave, I heard my bus a-comin’ and a day later, I was walking in Bangalore in my blue suede sandals.

While hunting for an auto after getting off the bus, with my bags weighing me down, I happened to come across the crew of a nearby fire station readying themselves for the day ahead. Morning drill, I said to myself. Synchronized marching, I said. A group of men whose individualism has been supressed to the extent that they think act march like a perfect machine, minds and reflexes acting in superior synchronicity.

There are times, it is said, when the illusion is much more preferable to the truth. This was one of those times.

I should have known something was wrong when they began to assemble themselves into lines for a morning marchpast. It took a whole five minutes before the concept of ‘one-arm’s distance’ begin to filter down to them. Gradually, at the blinding speed of evolution, a parade (of sorts) began to coalesce and take form. For the most part, it remained but the idea of a parade rather than its physical representation.

Once the dust had settld and order (of sorts) came to reign, the drill sargeant (of sorts) barked out his ‘right turn!’ that carried to me over the din of the traffic. As a whole, the group turned to their right. Save for one solitary dissenter, who suddenly found himself staring face to face with his comrades having executed a smart left-turn. And was rewarded for it by a sharp smack across the head.

“About turn!” A voice loud enough to rise above the cacophony of bus horns and coughing birds. And once again, the unit turns as whole (of sorts). But for our solitary dissenter, who once again chose to turn the other cheek. He must have listened to CSNY. Or he must have been a Gandhian.

One more slap across the head.

I shall not write about the actual marching. Instead, I suggest you watch a recording of the Russian army marching. Or even the North Koreans, both of whom execute their tasks with bloody-minded determination and terrifying synchronization. This occupies one end of the spectrum. I was witnessing the other end. The end that lies so far away you’d think it was unexplored.

What upset me throughout this whole display was that the drill sargeant was unperturbed during the entire display. Yes, he shouted. Yes, he screamed. Yes, he heaped abuse on his charges’ mothers. But beyond that, he didn’t seem to want to do anything about the situation.  I had just witnessed the first step in the decline of civilization. When the powers that be decide to just let it be.

And then they dispersed. And a couple of them began to chase each oher around the premises. Please keep in mind that these are not young straplings tasting their first taste of manhood. These are men who have drunk deep from the cup of life. A little too deep though, as was evident.

It was like being back in school. The same discordant symphony of co-operation. The same dissenters who know not that they are dissenting. The same general feeling of carefree bonhomie that exists beneath the skin of all involved.

It made me feel nostalgic for a second. And that’s not a good thing.

Next time there’s a fire at my house, I’m calling my friends over to put it out. At least they march better together.

Scene : Young, idealistic student (henceforth known as TC) calls up a contact at CRISIL, Pune, to enquire about internship opportunities at said institution, and is put through to speak with grizzled, tough-as-nails old army veteran (henceforth known as Jack). And so it goes:

(Note : All names have been changed to protect identities)

(Further note : That some poetic licence has been taken)

(One more note : Jack is a bastard)

TC : Hello, may i speak to Mr Jack, please?

Operator : Please hold on.

5 second silence

Jack : Hello

TC : Hi, I’m calling from (censored) Institute of (censored)…

Jack : Good morning

TC : Hi, I just wanted to know if you got my e-mail?

Jack : I wished you good morning, you wished me Hi.

TC : Eh?

Jack : There is a certain etiquette to be followed in these procedures.

TC : I’m very sorry sir.

Jack : I have served in the Indian army for over twenty years. I am your senior, and there should be some etiquette followed in these matters.

TC : I’m very sorry sir.

Silence.

TC : Sir, did you get my mail?

Jack : I did.

TC : So you will let me know as soon as possible when you have shortlisted the candidates?

Jack : I will.

TC : Thank you sir.

Click.

Poor boy. He couldn’t handle the truth.

If only real life were like the army. Where there’s always someone to command and someone to kill.

Left of the muddled

May 9, 2007

Truly, the only other woman besides Whoopi Goldberg that can make me laugh as hard is the Indian Express’ very own Tavleen Singh. If you’re feeling down on a sunday morning and need a bit of humour to spicen up your day, nothing can be more entertaining than this bit of delightful columnspace.

Tavleen Singh’s object of a freewheeling rant this time, like most other times, is the greatest evil to visit India since muslims on an amsterdam flight, i.e the Left front and others of its ilk. This article really has to be read to be believed. If the Indian Express wants to position itself as a right-of-centre newspaper, why hire a rabid foaming ideologue like her?

Her opinions and objections to the left are, it has to be said, downright silly. Sample this :

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Cheaper by the dozen

April 24, 2007

Angry fix has already done it, and so have others more qualified than you and I. But its the season for Tharoor bashing, and I don’t want to be left behind. Wander your eyeballs, if you will, over the latest piece of Tharoorvianism to hit the mean streets.

Actually, I’m being uncharitable. I don’t have a problem with Tharoor as much as I have a problem with the sentiment he is espousing. In his latest column, he firmly takes up the cause of the call-centre crowd and tells the rest of the country to like, back off. Sample:

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All’s not lost!

April 11, 2007

See now, its a shame and all that our boys have been sent back with their tails between their legs from the West Indies. But all’s not lost! Being Indian, being us poor villagers from the third world slum of the subcontinent, there’s still plenty we can find that binds us with the teams left in the fray. I submit :

1) Pakistan: Ooh this is a toughie. I thought I’d grapple with the biggest bull of them all first.

I mean, its always hard to convince most people that there’s something to love about Pakistan. You’d get a grudging acceptance though if you bring in the fact that Pakistani women (the ones captured on screen, that is) are hot, but I don’t want to do a Shashi Tharoor, so i’ll leave this argument out of the way.

There has to be some sort of subcontinent bonding, shouldn’t there? We should be feeling proud about our brothers from the subcontinent, even though we might have had a couple of spats along the way from Independence to here, shouldn’t we? We shouldn’t be feeling so good because they’re out of the tournament because hey, it could have been ourcoach killed by fans/bookies! I mean, underneath it all, we’re really indistinguishable. We’re all called Pakis by everyone else! So we really should be getting behind them every match they play and cheer for them as loud as we can and….and…

Fuck it. Their women are hot. Period

2) Bangladesh : If its not subcontinent love, then the eternal fascination for the struggle of the underdog should prevail. These boys have proved that they can play with the big boys! Surely they deserve a little bit of support. I know, I know, they did send us home from the party early, but look at it this way : post 9/11, both Bangladeshis and Indians might have been shot by raving redneck lunatics. If nothing else, rascism should bring us together.

3)Sri Lanka : Yes, they spanked us nice and proper. But see, they’re from the subcontinent. That should be enough. If them palefaces claim they’re better than us, then why can’t we band together?

And I like Ravana. If the Ramayana can be read as an allegory of the upstart aryans from the North attacking them peace-loving innocent blameless Dravidians in the South, then being the loyal Southie that I am, I’ll stand with the ten-headed dude. Isn’t class affiliation a wonderful thing?

And if not for the above reasons, then do it for Lasith Malinga. The worst haircut this side of Carlos Valderamma. That surely deserves our support.

4)Bermuda : The love for the underdog can only go so far. The only thing that endears me to them is the fact that the entire team looks like a cross-section of the Indian police Force.

5)West Indies : I’m sure there’s a Mallu there. That’s enough for me.

6)South Africa : Refer above.

7)England : Let’s face it, there’s a little bit of a colonial hangover in all of us. Don’t deny it now. Why else would most of us support them when it comes to the footer World Cup? Eh?

And you have to admit, they did give us good governance. And the railways and electricity.

8)Australia : The wonderful thing about being an ex-colony of the British is the fact that iut offers you membership to the largest club of the world, that of the Stand Up if you’ve been Whipped by the Brits Before But Can now Do It With One Hand Tied Behind Your Backs (At Least on the Sporting Field) Club. Every member of this club deserves our support in any form of sport. And so we must support Australia. Exceptions to this rule are when we play Australia or when England play Australia. Colonial hangovers still rule, you’ve got to admit.

And considering that we’re a nation who love our convicts so much (they’ve all been elected), it’s hard not to feel a little love for a nation full of them.

9)Ireland : They hate the British. They’d spit on their football team. And Roy Keane is from Ireland. If I weren’t Mallu, I’d rather be Indian. If I weren’t Indian, I’d rather be Irish.

10)New Zealand : It’s as close to Middle-Earth as you’ll ever get in life, and that places them head and shoulders above any competetion (though Kurla station in the rains makes a better Mordor).

Moreover, if there wasn’t New Zealand, there wouldn’t be a Kaho Naa Pyar Hai. If there wasn’t Kaho Naa Pyar Hai, there wouldn’t be Hrithik Roshan. If there wasn’t Hrithik Roshan, there wouldn’t be a Dhoom-2. If there wasn’t a  Dhoom-2, there wouldn’t be peace on earth and goodwill to all.

So you see, there’s still fun left in the World Cup. Like I”ve shown above, there’s plenty more teams left to support. And they all deserve our support one way or the other.

Um…

April 7, 2007

The  funny thing about modern economics is that most economists are in such an hurry to put things in a neat, observable, pretty little scienitfic format that they end up tripping over their own feet.

While reading thorugh a textbook on Law and Economics, I came across a discussion on why exactly people commit crimes when they are aware of the penalties it entails. An interesting question for sure, but the explanation of it was..well…just read on.

(A note for the non-economic readers…. the process of discounting involves converting a future value of some asset into its present value by means of an appropriate discount rate. If a sum of P rupees transalates into Rs 100 at the end of one year at an interest rate of say i, then since P + iP = 100, the present value of the asset is P = 100/(1+i) for a period of one year. The future value gets divided by a fraction (1+i) for one year, or (1+i) squared for two years and so on.

And now we return you back to our show.)

So what did the book have to say? That people generally choose a range of discounting rates when calculating the present value of some future punishment, the discount rates chosen conforming to a probablility distribution. Youngsters however, are more prone to being swayed by emotion and as such their emotions spread the probability distribution, leading to the choice of inappropriate discount rates.

So what you’re trying to say is that teens tend to commit more crimes because they’re by and large hot-headed? Well, fancy that.

While the scientific merit of the above can be debated, I doubt that the same can be said for the following example. The example below was advanced to caution against the process of redistribution of resources and to state that the transaction and bureaucratic costs involved leads to loss in the value of the resource. Read on…

Suppose there are two oases in the desert, one filled with ice cream and the other empty. Suppose the decision is taken to transfer ice-cream from one oasis to the other. The procedure involves choosing a youth who’d fill up ice-cream in a vessel and run to the other oasis to deposit the ice-cream. In the process, a good amount of ice-cream is lost. The appropriate procedure involves choosing the youth who can run the fastest, and even this does not guarantee that some ice-cream will not be lost.

Truly, I am flabberdegasted. Are you flabberdegasted?

Short post written in machine gun joycean rant format as I don’t have time and I have a microeconomics test tomorrow and I need to kickstart this blog again and thankfully this computer has decided to shrug off its perpetual PMS-mood to give me some love and actually work. This explains the oh-so-cliched title.

So we’re out of the world cup and our cricketers are fair game and let’s all burn their houses and rape their women because they dented our glorious national pride and its because of them we can’t get the SEZ’s implemented. Thank god that at least Pakistan didn’t make it and their coach died. (Its a pity he wasn’t Pakistani. I would have felt a lot better.)

Let’s not blame the media here for blowing things out of proportion and pouring on the hype-sauce. Let’s not even blame the cricketers themselves for allowing the hype to carry on and not cash in on it. Honestly, you’d be a complete loon to silence a screaming crowd who all think you’re the greatest thing to happen to them since chicken curry and led zeppelin (not necessarily in that order). And if people are willing to pay them potsandpots of money to grin like an idiot on television and prove that they really can’t dance (think dada in a motorbike ad), well what’s wrong with grinning like idiots and dancing like loons? They’re only making the most of an opportunity, and isn’t that the mantra these days? Greed is good, Mr Gecko.

The problem with cricket is not the BCCI or Sehwag’s mom or the corporate whores who control the game or wall-to-wall media coverage or even Mandira Bedi (though I might make an exception in case of Mandira). Its you, me and chaman charlie down the road. We’re a bunch of little children who don’t know when to adulate in moderation and express anger in moderation. If a defeat to Bangladesh provides suitable justification to tear down someone’s house, there’s something really wrong with us all. At least shave your heads like intelligent idiots and don’t cause damage to others.

Expressing disproportionate anger is not just confined to the lumpen lunatic fringe. Forwarding e-mails which have cricketer’s faces morphed onto tea-stall owner’s bodies to indcate suitable alternate careers is a waste of someone’s time and bandwidth. We’ve suddenly turned Gandhian after this debacle; have you received the sms which insists that all of us adopt the old boy’s Non Co-operation strategy with respect to the goods they endorse?

Cheer with them, criticize them, praise them, call them idiots, but stop at that. If you behave like kids and break your favaourite toy just because one day it refuses to work, then get ready to be treated like kids. The media feeds off the juvenility of its audience. Look at the lovely cricketers, children! Aren’t they super-duper! They’re the best in the world, let’s do some pujas for them, kids! Wait a minute, oh no! They’ve lost? Isn’t that horrible, my babies? Show them how angry you are, go on show them! Do you want to thorw something at them? Well, ok…just make sure no-one sees you doing it. And don’t tell anyone I said its ok.

Nationalistic pride is good, fanaticism and hysteria is not. Its a lesson I think we’ve forgotten.

Ok bye bye.