Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Wish Lists

The year 2009 is drawing to a close. It is time to draw up lists. Here is my wish list for English books I would love to read in 2010.

1. Curfewed Night by Basharat Peer. I have read so many reviews praising this book that I am itching to get my hands on it.

2. The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson. This first book in his Millenium trilogy has been lavished encomiums and I hope I would get to read this Swedish crime thriller.

3. In other Rooms, Other Wonders by Daniyal Mueenuddin. Review in New York Times: "Reading Daniyal Mueenuddin’s mesmerizing first collection, “In Other Rooms, Other Wonders,” is like watching a game of blackjack, the shrewd players calculating their way beyond their dealt cards in an attempt to beat the dealer. Some bust, others surrender. But in Mueenuddin’s world, no one wins." Hoping to savor this book.

4. Jejuri by Arun Kolatkar.
Pankaj Mishra : "Arun Kolatkar was the greatest Indian poet of his generation, and Jejuri, with its linguistic inventiveness and intellectual daring, was his masterwork." Need I say more ?

5. Collapse by Jared Diamond. I am fascinated by Jared Diamond's Guns, Germs and Steel and The Third Chimpanzee: The Evolution and Future of the Human Animal.

The wonder that is Rajarajesvaram

Read this in The Hindu editorial two days back:

Only a few monuments of global importance have received the kind of attention the Brihadisvara temple at Thanjavur has from historians, archaeologists, artists, dancers, and epigraphists alike. The grandest of South Indian temples, an architectural masterpiece, enters its millennium year in 2010 — an occasion to celebrate its importance and contribution to world heritage. The monumental scale, clarity in design, and structural innovations set it apart from all other temples. When Rajaraja I, the illustrious Chola emperor (985-1014 CE), completed the building of the temple in 1010, it far exceeded anything that was built before. The high point of design is the vimana (tower over sanctum). This unusually tall vimana was a structural innovation of the first rank. Designing a 60-metre-tall tower was a great challenge that was ingeniously resolved. For the first time in temple history, a double-walled sanctum that coalesces at the third tier to support the tower was built. On top of good design, the choice of granite contributed to its endurance. About 50,000 cubic metres of granite were utilised to build this complex. This was a stupendous effort considering that there was no granite quarry in the surrounding region.

For full article, go to http://www.hindu.com/2009/12/28/stories/2009122856030800.htm

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Nuggets 2

"Live a good life. If there are gods and they are just, they will not care how devout you have been, but will welcome you based on the virtues you have lived by. If there are gods, but unjust, then you should not want to worship them. If there are no gods, then you will be gone, but will have lived a noble life that will live on in the memories of your loved ones"
- Marcus Aurelius, philosopher and writer (121-180)

Friday, December 11, 2009

Nuggets 1

Introduction to Poetry
Billy Collins

I ask them to take a poem
and hold it up to the light
like a color slide

or press an ear against its hive.

I say drop a mouse into a poem
and watch him probe his way out,

or walk inside the poem's room
and feel the walls for a light switch.

I want them to waterski
across the surface of a poem
waving at the author's name on the shore.

But all they want to do
is tie the poem to a chair with rope
and torture a confession out of it.

They begin beating it with a hose
to find out what it really means.

from The Apple that Astonished Paris, 1996

More on Krishnadeva Raya

From the article in The Hindu:

With the interest in the reign of Vijayanagara emperor Krishnadeva Raya reviving in the context of 2009 being the 500th year of his coronation, a small, beautiful portrait sculpture of Krishnadeva Raya (1509-1529) has come to light in the Varadaraja Swamy temple at Kancheepuram.

Read on at http://www.hindu.com/2009/12/11/stories/2009121155291800.htm

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Rhopalic Verses

This is from wonderful blog of Anu Garg http://wordsmith.org/words

A rhopalic verse or sentence is one that balloons -- where each word is a letter or a syllable longer. The word is also used as a noun. Here's a terrific example of a rhopalic by Dmitri Borgmann:
"I do not know where family doctors acquired illegibly perplexing handwriting; nevertheless, extraordinary pharmaceutical intellectuality, counterbalancing indecipherability, transcendentalises intercommunications' incomprehensibleness."

Here is another example:
'I am the only dummy player, perhaps, planning maneuvers calculated brilliantly, nevertheless outstandingly pachydermatous, notwithstanding unconstitutional unprofessionalism.'"

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Don’t Surrender Your Loneliness…

I love this poem.

Don’t surrender your loneliness so quickly.
let it cut more deep.
Let it ferment and season you
as few human or even divine ingredients can.
Something missing in my heart tonight
has made my eyes so soft
my voice so tender
my need of god
absolutely clear.
–Hafiz

Krishnadeva Raya

“A perfect king...a great ruler and a man of much justice,” recorded Domingos Paes, a Portuguese traveller of the 16th century. The king was Krishnadeva Raya, who ascended the Vijayanagara throne in 1509 and died, of unknown natural causes, in his forties. But it is for very good reason that these encomiums were showered on him, and his coronation is being celebrated half a millennium after the event. He was a great warrior but also an able administrator, a tolerant statesman, and a learned patron of the arts. In a relatively short reign of 20 years, Krishnadeva Raya expanded the Vijayanagara kingdom into a vast empire.

Read on at http://www.hindu.com/2009/12/05/stories/2009120556060800.htm

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Vegnation

I recently visited Vegnation - Palimar Restaurant's new avtar at Gemini Parsn Manere, Chennai. I found the fare quite good and quite easy on the wallet too. CavinKare has taken over its management. It is open from 11 AM.

To know more, read about it in The Hindu Metroplus at http://www.thehindu.com/mp/2009/11/26/stories/2009112650610700.htm

Quote

Don't surrender your loneliness / So quickly. / Let it cut more deeply. / Let it ferment and season you / As few human / Or even divine ingredients can. -Hafez, poet (1315-1390)

Cotton and Rice

Sir Arthur Cotton and Benjamin Rice were two great British officials who did yeoman service in India. Recently their great-grandsons visited India and The Hindu group covered them.

Read on http://www.thehindubusinessline.com/2009/11/27/stories/2009112751741700.htm


http://www.hindu.com/2009/11/28/stories/2009112855601200.htm

China




I finished readily recently Tamil translation of Pallavi Aiyar's Smoke and Mirrors: An Experience of China. It was a very readable translation by Raman Raja. Kizhakku Pathippagam has published this book. One gets a feeling of reading the book in original, kudos to the translator for lucidity and free flowing character of the book.

A little backgrounder about the author. Delhi-born Pallavi Aiyar was the first Chinese-speaking Indian journalist based in Beijing. After studies in Britain and the United States, she arrived in Beijing to teach English and went on to become the China correspondent for The Hindu.

The book is at once an autobiographical narrative as well as sociological snapshot of China.

The author encounters yoga practitioners, hotel workers, lives in Hutongs (n Beijing, hutongs are alleys formed by lines of siheyuan, traditional courtyard residences), businessmen, Tibetans and paints an engaging portrait of China - booming economy, McDonaldization of China.

I found fascinating the chapter on her travel on The Qinghai-Tibet train. "The Qinghai-Tibet railway has unlocked the gate to the roof of the world and unleashed with it a torrent of admiration and criticism. It is the world's longest and highest highland railway, an engineering marvel that the Chinese government says will bring about an economic renaissance in a region that has thus far remained poor and underdeveloped. Critics have, however, raised the alarm regarding the destructive potential of the railway for Tibet's pristine environment and unique culture."

She never fails to bring Indian perspective into play throughout the book. Where has India failed where China has succeeded enormously ? Is democracy proving a hurdle to progress in India ? Dragon versus elephant debate has always been interesting. One can on reading this book appreciate Chinese ways to tackling their contentious issues, how they are succeeding in propelling their economy at a dizzying pace. She also has pointers on China's future. Will China's run continue or will it collapse ?
She says Chinese Communist party is playing its cards well and is working towards its goal of staying in power and at the same time carry their people with them.

I heartily recommend this book to anyone interested in China.

You can buy this book online at http://nhm.in/shop/978-81-8493-164-8.html

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Pranav Mistry

Here is a write-up on him in The Hindu few days back:

The Indian genius researcher from MIT, who unveiled his futuristic ‘Sixth Sense’ project earlier this year, made a significant announcement at the first-ever TED (Technology, Entertainment and Development) conference in India.

Pranav Mistry told his spellbound audience that he would open-source his project (make the code freely available) in less than a month.

For months now, technology enthusiasts have been fascinated with his invention. His revolutionary project prototype promises to take computing to the next level, standing at the threshold of Web 3.0. Videos of Mr. Mistry clicking snaps with his bare hands, checking email on his palm or flipping through multimedia reviews while rummaging through a library shelf have been doing the rounds. Yet when this shy researcher took the stage and showed how his pendant contraption lets him use natural hand gestures to perform computing tasks that require hardware interfaces, the audience went berserk. In Mr. Mistry’s augmented world, any surface doubles up as a multi-touch screen and the world is his computer.

But why go open-source with it now, much before a product release or even spinning a revenue model around this out-of-the-world concept? “There have been many offers, but money means little to me. If this product could be taken forward and fuel greater innovation, that would be my reward,” he says in an interview to The Hindu. Swamped with corporate offers, he says he would be “most excited” if the Indian government was to approach him. “What could be a better way for me to take this technology to the masses!”

So is the product as simple as it appears? The apparatus comprises a small contraption that can be worn like a pendant around your neck, connected wirelessly to a simple smartphone in your pocket. This apparatus helps you carry the digital world with you, wherever you go, as Mr. Mistry says. The pendant holds a camera, mirror and powerful projector. The camera captures the physical gestures (users can customise it to understand different commands), sends the information to the mobile computing device for processing, and the output is projected. The downward-facing projector projects the output image on to the mirror, which reflects it on to the desired surface. Thus, digital information is freed from its confines and placed in the physical world.

In its current form, the project costs less than $350. A large part of this is the projector cost, and that is set to decline soon. However, cost is not the only issue. Before this dream-like product can be brought to India, there are hurdles to cross: the most important one is wireless connectivity is not a given factor in India, and smart phones are expensive.

Mr. Mistry, who studied at a Gujarati-medium school in Palanpur, Gujarat, attributes his innovative spirit to his architect father who built him his first video game. “Unlike other children, I did not get a branded video game. Mine was an open circuit that even buzzed.”

Friday, November 13, 2009

Claude Levi-Strauss is no more

Here are the two links:

http://www.hinduonnet.com/2009/11/05/stories/2009110554840900.htm

http://www.telegraphindia.com/1091110/jsp/opinion/story_11708122.jsp

‘I only want to enjoy my childhood, ma’

This article by Inumella Sesikala appeared in The Hindu on Nov 8, 2009. Go ahead and read it for yourself:

Dear co-parents, some of us might hear a small, fading voice making yet another attempt to reach us)

Amma, I don’t want to go to school.

I am just a child, Ma. I want someone to tell me stories and teach me. I want to watch tadpoles and butterflies and know what they eat, where they sleep. I want to climb a hill and catch a cloud to see what it is made of.

I want to wait with my hands in the stream and feel the fish swimming.

I want to run with the puppies, sing with the birds, and play with paper-boats in the rain.

I want to lie down on the soft green grass and hear the wind whisper.

Only then I want to learn more about them from the printed word.

Only after my imagination is fired, my thirst to know more has begun, a seed of ‘Why?’ is planted in my brain.

Amma, I feel trapped in the prison-like classroom. I feel my spirit slowly weakening with the monotonous teaching. Often, when I ask a basic question our teachers say, “No time for all that. Let us finish the syllabus.”

I get tired of studying just for marks without pausing to truly understand.

I want to go to the museum with my classmates and hear my teacher explain the stories of the artefacts.

I want plenty of nature trips where real Biology classes would be held.

I want to see colourful videos of volcanic eruptions and deep-sea dwellings.

I want our whole school to visit together the historic and cultural places in my city.

I want to learn astronomy after looking through a telescope once.

I don’t want to just read them in my textbooks; I want to see, hear, touch, smell and taste whatever I can. I want to experience.

Why can’t the school make at least one such trip every year?

And, I cannot stoop down anymore to carry my school sack. My back is ready to break. Why should I carry all the books everyday? Why can’t we have only two subjects per day? Or, why don’t we have lockers like in the Western schools? And, why should I squeeze in that over-crowded auto?

But, Amma, growing up no longer seems to be fun. I see only more of homework, winter projects, summer classes, weekly tests, monthly tests, quarterly, half-yearly and annual exams, external competitive exams, more tests, more competitions, more pressure, more stress…

When can I sing, paint, dance, swim, or cycle?

When I can just play cricket or even hide-and-seek?

What happened to that minimum sleep that you always say a child needs?

Why should I always study, study?

Amma, I am scared of increasing atrocities by untrustworthy teachers, ragging-raving seniors, acid-loving nuts, perverted adults…

Ma, right now, I don’t want to be a doctor, engineer or anything else.

I just want to feel safe and secure, play and learn without any stress before I become an adult like you.

I only want to enjoy my childhood, Ma.

Saturday, October 31, 2009

Flowchart for choosing your religion

Found this in Amit's Indiauncut blog, pretty hilarious.

Flowcharts are a great way to make sense out of confusing scenarios, and there's no scenario that's more confusing than trying to figure out what religion you should follow. That's why we've created this helpful flowchart to guide you through the process:

Thursday, October 15, 2009

William Dalrymple on India

I found quite a few of Dalrymple's observations while talking about his new book, “Nine Lives: In Search of the Sacred in Modern India” worth quoting. A sample:

"This is what I like about this country. As I travelled and met the characters for my book. I found it is not possible to compartmentalise life anymore. There are so many ways of being a Hindu, so many ways of being a Muslim or a Christian here. India continues to surprise me. The day India ceases to surprise me I might get bored. But I love the India that is changing from the time I first came 25 years ago. Besides economic development, new traditions are developing. They are not static.”

Here is the link
http://beta.thehindu.com/arts/books/article33787.ece

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Man Booker 2009

Excerpts from an article in FT by Peter Aspden

Hilary Mantel is the winner of this year’s Man Booker prize for fiction for Wolf Hall, her historical novel about the politics of Tudor England.

Wolf Hall, her 11th novel, is set in the Tudor court of the 1520s. It focuses on the role of Thomas Cromwell during the years that Henry VIII was married to Catherine of Aragon.

Reviewing the book in the Financial Times, novelist Julie Myerson described it as “fantastically well-wrought, detailed and convincing”.

“Despite being a complex examination of the all-too-familiar shenanigans of power, of favour and of treachery in the Tudor court, still the rhythms at its wrist-aching, 650-page heart are universal: men, women and children, birth and death.”

This year’s shortlist was widely regarded as one of the most readable, a fact that has been reflected in book sales. Wolf Hall has already sold nearly 50,000 copies and can expect a massive boost after winning the £50,000 prize.

Last year’s winner, Aravind Adiga’s The White Tiger, has sold more than 500,000 copies and rights have been sold to 39 countries.

Giant Ring around Saturn

Today's newspapers carried exciting find of a mega ring around Saturn. Read on:

Scientists have discovered a giant ring around Saturn, the biggest yet discovered in the solar system.

The “supersized ring”, as it being called by the scientists from the University of Virginia who discovered it, is so big it would span the width of two full moons worth of sky if you could see it from Saturn.

Saturn’s rings were first discovered almost exactly 400 years ago by Galileo Galilei and are visible with even the smallest telescopes, but this ring is only visible in the infra-red light and was first spotted by Nasa’s Spitzer Space Telescope.

It is about 10 times the diameter of Saturn and orbits at a distance of eight million kilometres from the planet.

It covers a volume of space which would contain a billion Earths though it is made of an extremely tenuous film of dust from Phoebe, one of Saturn’s outer moons.

Irish-born scientist Prof Carl Murray said the discovery did not come as a surprise as it had been speculated about in a little known scientific paper delivered 30 years ago.

Prof Murray, who is one of the chief scientists on the Cassini spacecraft mission which has been photographing Saturn and its ring systems for years, said it solved a mystery as to why one of Saturn’s moons, Iapetus, is heavily marked on one side and completely smooth on another.

“When I heard about it, I just nodded and said ‘yes that’s almost what we suspected’,” he said.

Prof Murray will give a lecture at the Dundalk Institute of Technology tonight at 8pm and at Trinity College tomorrow hosted by Astronomy Ireland, where he will discuss the new discovery.

“Phoebe is the source of the ring material. We had a 300-year problem observed by the original (Giovanni) Cassini who discovered Iapetus and who saw that it appeared to have a dark and a bright hemisphere.”

Like our moon, Iapetus is tidally locked with the planet so the side facing Phoebe would be one that would be impacted from debris coming from that moon.

“We had some indication about this from the Voyager spacecraft (which photographed Saturn and its moons in the early 1980s), but we finally saw with the Cassini images that Iapetus had a coating.

“It was theorised that if Phoebe was impacted and ejecta came off it would spiral in towards Saturn and the first moon it would come to is Iapetus. It all seems to make sense,” the professor explained.

“We suspected there must be a ring. It was like a smoking gun and we now have the evidence.”

Meanwhile, scientists will tomorrow target our own Moon to find out if there are large quantities of water hidden in craters which never see sunlight.

At exactly 12.31pm Irish time, the Lunar Crater Observation and Sensing Satellite (LCross) will send a rocket into the lunar surface near the Moon’s South Pole.

The impact of the explosion will throw up 350 tonnes of lunar dust, which will be analysed by LCross before it too crashes into the surface.

Coincidentally, last month the Indian satellite Chandrayaan 1 discovered traces of water across the Moon and particularly in the polar areas, a discovery which would have seemed wholly improbable a couple of decades ago.

If the scientific hunch is correct and there are billions of gallons of water frozen near the Lunar poles, it could prove to be critical in establishing a permanent manned base on the Moon.
- Ronan McGreevy in The Irish Times

Friday, October 2, 2009

Dino Nest Find in Tamil Nadu

"A team of geologists from Periyar University, Salem, has discovered nesting sites of dinosaurs near Ariyalur. Preliminary reports suggest that this could be the largest dinosaur nesting site ever know in India, going by the 2 sq km extent of area covered."
Read further at http://www.deccanchronicle.com/chennai/largest-dino-site-ariyalur-321

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Umberto Eco on handwriting

Let me confess beforehand, I have very bad handwriting.

Umberto Eco: The lost art of handwriting

Recently, two Italian journalists wrote a three-page newspaper article (in print, alas) about the decline of handwriting. By now it's well-known: most kids – what with computers (when they use them) and text messages – can no longer write by hand, except in laboured capital letters.

In an interview, a teacher said that students also make lots of spelling mistakes, which strikes me as a separate problem: doctors know how to spell and yet they write poorly; and you can be an expert calligrapher and still write "guage" or "gage" instead of "gauge".

I know children whose handwriting is fairly good. But the article talks of 50% of Italian kids – and so I suppose it is thanks to an indulgent destiny that I frequent the other 50% (something that happens to me in the political arena, too).

The tragedy began long before the computer and the cellphone.

My parents' handwriting was slightly slanted because they held the sheet at an angle, and their letters were, at least by today's standards, minor works of art. At the time, some – probably those with poor hand- writing – said that fine writing was the art of fools. It's obvious that fine handwriting does not necessarily mean fine intelligence. But it was pleasing to read notes or documents written as they should be.

My generation was schooled in good handwriting, and we spent the first months of elementary school learning to make the strokes of letters. The exercise was later held to be obtuse and repressive but it taught us to keep our wrists steady as we used our pens to form letters rounded and plump on one side and finely drawn on the other. Well, not always – because the inkwells, with which we soiled our desks, notebooks, fingers and clothing, would often produce a foul sludge that stuck to the pen and took 10 minutes of mucky contortions to clean.

The crisis began with the advent of the ballpoint pen. Early ballpoints were also very messy and if, immediately after writing, you ran your finger over the last few words, a smudge inevitably appeared. And people no longer felt much interest in writing well, since handwriting, when produced with a ballpoint, even a clean one, no longer had soul, style or personality.

Why should we regret the passing of good handwriting? The capacity to write well and quickly on a keyboard encourages rapid thought, and often (not always) the spell-checker will underline a misspelling.

Although the cellphone has taught the younger generation to write "Where R U?" instead of "Where are you?", let us not forget that our forefathers would have been shocked to see that we write "show" instead of "shew" or "enough" instead of "enow". Medieval theologians wrote "respondeo dicendum quod", which would have made Cicero recoil in horror.

The art of handwriting teaches us to control our hands and encourages hand-eye coordination.

The three-page article pointed out that writing by hand obliges us to compose the phrase mentally before writing it down. Thanks to the resistance of pen and paper, it does make one slow down and think. Many writers, though accustomed to writing on the computer, would sometimes prefer even to impress letters on a clay tablet, just so they could think with greater calm.

It's true that kids will write more and more on computers and cellphones. Nonetheless, humanity has learned to rediscover as sports and aesthetic pleasures many things that civilisation had eliminated as unnecessary.

People no longer travel on horseback but some go to a riding school; motor yachts exist but many people are as devoted to true sailing as the Phoenicians of 3,000 years ago; there are tunnels and railroads but many still enjoy walking or climbing Alpine passes; people collect stamps even in the age of email; and armies go to war with Kalashnikovs but we also hold peaceful fencing tournaments.

It would be a good thing if parents sent kids off to handwriting schools so they could take part in competitions and tournaments – not only to acquire grounding in what is beautiful, but also for psychomotor wellbeing. Such schools already exist; just search for "calligraphy school" on the internet. And perhaps for those with a steady hand but without a steady job, teaching this art could become a good business.

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Safire Quotes

Never assume the obvious is true.

Never use a long word when a diminutive one will do.

After eating, an epicure gives a thin smile of satisfaction; a gastronome, burping into his napkin, praises the food in a magazine; a gourmet, repressing his burp, criticizes the food in the same magazine; a gourmand belches happily and tells everybody where he ate; a glutton embraces the white porcelain altar, or, more plainly, he barfs.

Last, but not least, avoid cliches like the plague.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Friday, September 25, 2009

Chandrababu

I have always admired Chandrababu's dance skills and comedy. It was delightful to read Randor Guy's essay on him in The Hindu. Here is the link http://www.hindu.com/fr/2009/09/25/stories/2009092550660400.htm

Sometime back, eminent Tamil writer S. Ramakrishnan had posted an article on the actor on his website. Here is the link http://www.sramakrishnan.com/deep_story.asp?id=156&page=

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

“Humour is dead. Long live humour!”

"Humourlessness is a sort of cultural swine flu. Given the epidemic proportion it has now reached, humour needs to be put on a high premium nationally. The gain thereby is sure to be, in the long run, far greater than the loss or harm that could eventuate from it. And that will be the case, even for the aam aadmi".

Read the entire article at http://www.hindu.com/2009/09/22/stories/2009092255370900.htm

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Dolmens

Interesting archeological find in Tamil Nadu.
Check out this link
http://beta.thehindu.com/news/national/article22589.ece

Quirky English Language

This news item caught my fancy:

Deipnosophists, stridewallops and shot-clogs - wondering what these words mean? Well, these are some of the lost words in English language assembled by Adam Jacot de Boinod.

Shot clog is an Elizabethan word for a drinking companion who is only tolerated because he pays, while stridewallop is a Yorkshire term for a tall and awkward woman.

Deipnosophist is a Jacobean word for a skillful dinner conversationalist.

All these quirky words had been lost over a period of time, the Telegraph reports.

However, Boinod has included them in his new book 'The Wonder of Whiffling'.

He writes in the introduction of the book: "As a self-confessed bowerbird (one who collects an astonishing array of sometimes useless objects), I've greatly enjoyed putting together this collection.

"I sincerely hope that you enjoy reading it, and that it saves you both from mulligrubs, depression of spirits, and onomatomania, vexation in having difficulty finding the right word."

Some other extraordinary words include crambazzled, which is used to refer to someone who is prematurely aged through drink and a dissolute life.

Word from overseas like 'twack' have also been incorporated.

Saturday, September 5, 2009

Teacher' s Day

On this occasion of Teacher's Day cannot help but reproduce this heartwarming news item.

In a unique gesture of gratitude and love for their guru, over 4,000 students who had learnt Tamil from octogenarian S.C. Venkatraman over the last 30 years at a school in Namakkal and are now living in different parts of the country, have come together to collect a million rupees to build him a house.

The teacher will shift from his rented thatched hut into this new home that his students have aptly named as Guru Nivas on Teachers’ Day on September 5.

Eighty-five-year-old Venkatraman retired in 1985 after teaching Tamil for three decades at the Senguntha Mahajana higher secondary school at Gurusamipalayam in Namakkal district.

He used to be an iconic figure for the students due to the concern he showed not only towards their studies but also their general well being.

Two years ago, a group of students of the 1957 batch held a ‘reunion’ at the school and amid all the joy and back-slapping, discovered to their shock that their favourite guru, Venkatraman was living in a little hut sans electricity.

A ‘student committee’ was instantly formed and a project announced to build a house for the vaathiyaar. “He was reluctant, even embarrassed when we told him about the planned gift.”

“When we announced the house project, contributions from his students poured in from all over. We even received cheques from former classmates now settled abroad,” he told this newspaper.

“This house does not merely reflect our gratitude; it shall remain as a reminder for the future generations about our beautiful tradition of guru-sishya paaramparyam,” she said.

Due to his advanced age, Venkatraman has confined himself to his house but continues to see students dropping by to clear doubts and share happy stories.

“I am proud of my students. Though many have settled abroad in countries like England, America and France, they call me up every year on the Teacher’s day. I can’t explain to you my feelings seeing this luxurious two-storied house,” said the guru, his voice cracking with emotion at his students’ gesture.

Another ex-student Ms M. Alamelu, who retired as a teacher and is living at KK Nagar in Chennai, said, “Venkatraman sir inspired me to take up teaching as my profession. He used to explain our lessons through stories from the epics and hardly used the blackboard. Apart from lessons, he taught us to keep time and be sincere at work.”
“This house does not merely reflect our gratitude; it shall remain as a reminder for the future generations about our beautiful tradition of guru-sishya paaramparyam,” she said.
Due to his advanced age, Venkatraman has confined himself to his house but continues to see students dropping by to clear doubts and share happy stories. “I am proud of my students. Though many have settled abroad in countries like England, America and France, they call me up every year on the Teacher’s day. I can’t explain to you my feelings seeing this luxurious two-storied house,” said the guru, his voice cracking with emotion.

Monday, August 31, 2009

Coutrallam falls - Pics




Was in Coutrallam last weekend. Water was gushing forth and I had a nice bath at both Five Falls and Main Falls.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Madras Week

As fortnight-long Madras Week is underway to celebrate the founding day of the city (August 22, 1639), let me enumerate some Madras firsts. These were gathered from an article in The Hindu few years back on eminent historian of Madras, S. Muthiah.

* The oldest Corporation outside Europe is the Madras Corporation.

* The Guindy Engineering College is the oldest engineering institution outside Europe.

* The first modern library was started in Fort St. George. (now known as the Connemera Library)

* The St. George School and Orphanage was the first Western education institution in the country.

* The oldest regiment in the Indian Army is the Madras Regiment.

* The Justice Party, the first non-Congress party to rule, has its origins in Madras.

* The Ophthalmic Institute is the oldest in Asia (founded in 1819).

* The first hospital was established in Fort St. George in 1664, the first in India.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

We Are All Hindus Now

This is the first para from the article in the Newsweek:

America is not a Christian nation. We are, it is true, a nation founded by Christians, and according to a 2008 survey, 76 percent of us continue to identify as Christian (still, that's the lowest percentage in American history). Of course, we are not a Hindu—or Muslim, or Jewish, or Wiccan—nation, either. A million-plus Hindus live in the United States, a fraction of the billion who live on Earth. But recent poll data show that conceptually, at least, we are slowly becoming more like Hindus and less like traditional Christians in the ways we think about God, our selves, each other, and eternity.

For full article, read http://www.newsweek.com/id/212155

Thursday, August 13, 2009

International Lefthander's Day

"Can openers, scissors and spiral-bound notebooks discriminate against lefties. Despite such challenges, 10 to 12 percent of the human population has historically preferred the left hand."

Today, August 13, is International Lefthander's Day. Thought I am not a lefty myself, let me wish all my lefthanded blogger compatriots happy lefthander's day.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Hiroshima bomb anniversary

"Sixty four years ago on this fateful day, on August 6, 1945 at 8-15 a.m., Brigadier Paul Tibbetz of the U.S. Air Force flew over in a B-29, named Enola Gay after his mother, and dropped a 16-kiloton uranium fission bomb on an unsuspecting Japanese city of Hiroshima. A parachute opened, a flash of light and blasts followed, and suddenly all hell broke loose. The eyes of young girls watching the parachute melted and their faces became bloated blisters. Ferocious fires raged through the city and temperatures rose to 4000 degrees, melting iron and vaporising human bodies. Skin dangled from the fingernails of extended hands seeking help. Houses were reduced to rubble by the enormous blast and people trapped inside were burned alive. Within seconds, thousands perished. The toll rose to 140,000 within a year. Three days later another bomb, named ‘Fat Man,’ was dropped on Nagasaki, which suffered a similar fate."

"On this day of Hiroshima’s devastation, humankind needs to heed what an aging hibakusha (survivors) had to say: “There is only one way to end this threat and that is to abolish these weapons. Either nuclear weapons must be eliminated or human beings face the threat of extinction by weapons of their own creation.”

For the full article go to http://www.hindu.com/2009/08/06/stories/2009080651710900.htm

Politics of Statues

"Statues make powerful statements about their time and context. They can be abiding symbols of civic pride or relics of a long-ago past .The toppling of statues is the Kodak moment for historical change. The Karnataka-Tamil Nadu statue saga though is something else altogether. It is a monument to intransigent identity politics, the squabbles that can erupt out of apparent nothings and feed into a vast and pointless animus."

Read the full article at http://www.indianexpress.com/news/casting-the-first-stone/498171/0

Monday, August 3, 2009

A Plum for a Peach

I read this wonderful article by Usha Jesudasan in The Hindu. I am reproducing it verbatim here.

Mozi, a Chinese scholar who lived in 470- 390 BC was a thorn in the flesh to the Chinese leaders of the time and a strong opponent of violence. Unlike Confucius, who spread the idea of love which embraced only the family and close relatives, Mozi spr ead the message of love and kindness to everyone regardless of who they were. I particularly like his concept of chien ai — “he throws at me a peach, I give him a plum.” The peach has a big, hard stone that can hurt easily. A plum has a soft tiny stone. Meaning, he throws a large, hard object at me to hurt me, I give him something sweet and pleasing to him in return — thus the desire for tit for tat violence is evaporated even before it has a chance to form. Chien ai does not deal with the inner emotions of forgiveness. It just insists on doing the “good thing” automatically. I like this idea very much. How can one possibly be mean and nasty to anyone who gives you a deliciously sweet, juicy plum?

Mozi’s philosophy reminded me of a neighbour I once had who used to go out of his way to be helpful and caring and “sweet” to his adversaries. At the time, I could not understand this attitude. But to my neighbour, his way of life was more than just “doing good to those who hurt you”, it was “making their life ‘sweet’ in some way”. Now, many years later, when I think about this, it makes perfect sense. Giving a plum — that is making your opponent’s life better/ sweeter, takes away the poison and anger from your own heart. From being the trodden-upon victim, one can rise to be the giver of good things and restorer of broken relationships. From being powerless, to being powerful.

Can this idea of giving a plum work in today’s climate of prejudice, suspicion, hate and violence? When injured by someone’s arrogance, ignorance and thoughtlessness, can we set aside our hurt and do something to make his/ her life good and sweet? Our initial reaction is to throw something harder than the one thrown at us, or to stay away from them I use the word “sweet” deliberately, as it conveys more than just a superficial good deed which can be shrugged off later.

To make someone’s life sweet or sweeter, we have to raise them from the pit of ugliness where they dwell now…that is the abyss of violence and ugliness that caused them to hurt you in some way. Pulling them out of this deep horrible place and giving them something beautiful and life-giving can be a huge challenge.

Devi was a housemaid who worked for a tyrannical woman who ran a travel agency. Although she worked to the best of her ability, her mistress was bitingly harsh with her words, and scolded Devi with hurtful words often. At the end of a particularly bad day, she offered to massage her mistress’s feet. On another day it was to massage her head, and run her a hot bath. Devi found that she could do many little things to bring her mistress out of the pit of ugliness, into a better place. Over a period of time, she noticed that the relationship between them had changed. She was no longer just the maid, to be scolded and hurt, she was becoming a friend. Devi came home one day after Deepavali and showed me the beautiful silk sari her mistress had given her. Folds of mango yellow silk shimmered in her hands. She held it against her dusky skin and beamed and twirled in front of my mirror. This is when she told me her story. And in return, I shared with her the peach and plum attitude and how an ancient Chinese scholar coined this phrase. Ever the philosopher, she shook her head and said, “It just seems the right thing to do for me.”

A young teacher who had been particularly snappy and mean to one child in her class told me how one day, she was surprised to get a painted picture from this child. It said, “Have a nice day ma’am. I love you.” She said, “In an instant, my mood which had been miserable for a few weeks changed. I realised I had been lashing out at my students and this child’s sweetness changed it.”

Devi is just a village woman who in her everyday life has worked out for herself the need for making a difference in a hostile world by giving a plum when thrown a hard peach. This little child too had learnt how to deal with someone’s meanness. So, if an illiterate woman, and a child, can make this concept work, then it should give us the inspiration and hope that we too in our families and work places can do the same thing.

In the course of a day, many hard peaches are thrown at us from every direction. We would like to throw some too. But before you do so, I suggest you buy a basket of nice, sweet plums and keep them beside you just to practise this ancient way of ahimsa living. As they say, practice makes perfect.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

"Devil's Dung" !

Thanks to D. Balasubramanian's article in today's The Hindu, I read this article on asafoetida by Dr. Chip Rossetti. Please click this link to read the entire article. http://www.saudiaramcoworld.com/issue/200904/devil.s.dung-the.world.s.smelliest.spice.htm

Brinjal Matters !



I read quite an interesting article on brinjal in the latest issue of Outlook. Here is the link http://www.outlookindia.com/article.aspx?260065. It is nice to learn that brinjal is indigenous Indian vegetable unlike potato, tomato. There is even a 4th century BC recipe for brinjal quoted in Ettuthogai, Tamil epic !

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Kudos

I read this news item just a day or two back.
The BSNL Sports Quiz aired by Doordarshan Podhigai has won a mention in the Limca Book of National Records as the longest running weekly quiz show on television in India, it was announced at a press-meet here on Tuesday.

The show, hosted by Sumanth C. Raman, was started in June 2002 with the FIFA World Cup in mind and has since gone on to complete 373 episodes as on July 18.

The popular show, over its seven-year course, has received calls from over 30,000 participants, around 4.5 lakh SMSs and also 2000 e-mails per show on an average. Apart from Indian cities, viewers from as far as Oman, Dubai, Saudi Arabia, China, Latvia and Estonia have participated in the programme.

Kudos to Sumanth and Chennai Doordarshan.

More on Sumanth.

Sumanth C Raman started off as a medical practitioner but is a popular face on Doordarshan's sports programmes today and is also quite a sought after compere who is often sighted on the dais at several Government functions.
You can read more on him at http://www.hindu.com/mp/2004/01/05/stories/2004010501860400.htm

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Words

This is by Ed Pilkington in The Guardian reproduced in The Hindu few days back.

The irresistible power of the digital revolution to transform everything in its path has been confirmed, lest anyone still doubts it, by one of the arbiters of the English language itself.

Merriam-Webster, the revered publishing house known for its texts on American English, released on Thursday a sample of more than 100 new words it has granted entry into its Collegiate dictionary this year. Fully a fifth of them relate to technological innovation.

“Vlog” makes its debut, defined as a blog containing video material, as does “webisode,” that is a TV show that can be viewed through a website.

Some old expressions have finally made it into Webster years after they were coined, courtesy of renewed digital interest. So “fan fiction” is traceable back to 1944 but the writing of stories by fans involving popular fictional characters has boomed through posts on the web.

Likewise, the use of “sock puppet” to describe a false identity used for deceptive purposes originated in 1959, but its proliferation on the internet has given it new life. “Flash mobs” (1987) — crowds that descend on a designated location to perform an event — have become so common, thanks to email and text messages, that the phrase has now earned its place in the dictionary.

The green revolution also makes a strong showing, with “locavore” for a person who eats only locally grown food, and “green-collar,” referring to jobs designed to help the environment.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Sen and Brown

I am eagerly awaiting the arrival on the bookshelves of two books very soon. One is The Idea of Justice by Amartya Sen and the other is The Lost Symbol by Dan Brown.

Few days back Hasan Suroor in The Hindu discussed about The Idea of Justice. I am reproducing an interesting passage verbatim:

For those who might like to test their sense of justice, here’s a little quiz that Amartya Sen tried on his audience at the London Literature Festival the other day and had them struggling until he came to their rescue with, well, a sort of an answer. He used it to illustrate his alternative approach to mainstream theories of justice that he challenges in his new book The Idea of Justice published this month.

Three children — Anne, Bob and Carla — are quarrelling over a flute: Anne claims the flute on the ground that she is the only one of the three who knows how to play it; Bob demands it on the basis that he is so poor that — unlike others — he has no other toys to play with and it would therefore mean a lot to him if the flute were given to him; and Carla says that it belongs to her because she has made it with her own labour.

The important thing to note here is that none of the claimants questions their rival’s argument but claims that his or hers is the most persuasive. So, who deserves the flute?

Should it go to the child for whom it represents the only source of entertainment as he has no other toys to play with? Or to the one who can actually make practical use of it; or to the child to whom it must belong by virtue of her ``right” to the fruits of her labour?

The answer, according to Prof. Sen, is that there is actually no one “right” answer. In his scheme of things that he elaborates persuasively over more than 400 pages in his book, it is not possible in any situation to have an “impartial” agreement as to what offers a “perfect” resolution to a problem — and that applies to the dilemma posed by the children’s competing claims.

Nor, indeed, is there one perfect process to arrive at a conclusion that would be acceptable to all. The question as to who really deserves the flute can be decided in many ways — through a process of ideological reasoning ; on compassionate grounds such as charity (for example the poorest of the three children should get it); by majority opinion; and even by an arbitrary method like tossing the coin.

Prof. Sen argued that the story of “Three Children and a Flute,” which also features in his book, showed that there was no such thing as “perfect” justice; that justice was relative to a given situation; and that rather than searching for “ideal” justice the stress should be on removing the more manifest forms of injustice.

“The idea of justice demands comparisons of actual lives that people can lead rather than a remote search for ideal institutions. That is what makes the idea of justice relevant as well as exciting in practical reasoning,” Prof. Sen said.

Turning to Dan Brown, his The Lost Symbol is a sequel to The Da Vinci Code, unfolds over 12 hours and again features the Harvard symbologist Robert Langdon. It has taken Brown five years to write but only in the past few days has he settled on a title bland or enigmatic enough to give away none of his new subject matter. The book will have an initial print run of 5 million copies !

Monday, July 20, 2009

Guntur and Helium !

Total solar eclipse is occurring on August 23, 2009. Not many know that the observation of the total solar eclipse in Guntur, Andhra Pradesh 133 years ago by a British astronomer had led to the discovery of a new element and the unravelling of secrets of nuclear fusion in the sun. Let me paraphrase a news item from The Hindu few years back : "Helium was first discovered on the soil of Guntur on August 18 in 1868. Two teams -- the British team led by Colonel Tennant and the French team led by Jannsen -- observed the total solar eclipse on August 18, 1868, from Guntur.When the solar corona flashed into view as the moon completely blocked the photosphere of the sun, the light was spectroscopically analysed by subjecting it to pass through a prism. The spectral lines produced an extra yellow line which was not known before and did not tally with any known elements before, he pointed out. The British scientist, Sir Norman Lockyer, suggested that this extra line would be the signature of a new and unknown element in the sun which he called `helium', from the word `Helios,' which meant sun in Greek".

Thursday, July 9, 2009

History calling



I came across this article in The Hindu dated July 8th, 2009. I am reproducing it in toto.

CHENNAI: The grave of Robert Bruce Foote, an influential figure in the history of Indian archaeology and geology, has been discovered at Yercaud. Foote (1834-1912) was a man of varied interests — he was a geologist, archaeologist, ethnographer, palaeontologist, museologist and landscape painter. His discovery of a stone-tool on May 30, 1863 at Pallavaram, near Chennai, pushed back the antiquity of humankind in the Indian subcontinent and placed India in the world map of pre-history. It was a remarkable find because the stone tool, used by hunter-gatherers, was more than 500,000 years old.

Archaeolgists Shanti Pappu and Kumar Akhilesh, and Dr. Shanti’s father, V.R. Pappu, discovered it in the graveyard of the Holy Trinity church at Yercaud, the hill station in Tamil Nadu, in June.

The team also discovered the grave of Foote’s father-in-law Reverend Peter Percival there. Percival (1803-1882) too was multi-faceted. He was a scholar in Tamil and Telugu. He published the first Tamil translation of the Bible. He authored Land of the Veda: India Briefly Described in some of its Aspects, Physical, Social, Intellectual and Moral. Percival translated hundreds of Tamil proverbs into English and wrote a book on Tamil proverbs. He translated into English the aphorisms of Tamil poetess Avvaiyar. He authored Anglo-Tamil and Anglo-Telugu dictionaries, and published the journal Dinavartamani in Telugu and Tamil. He was a Registrar of Madras University and Professor of Vernacular Literature in Presidency College, Chennai. Percival and Foote were friends. Both were from Britain.
For Dr. Pappu, the discovery was the culmination of years of work to locate them. The founder of Sharma Centre for Heritage Education, Chennai and Pune, she said she developed an interest in the life and work of Foote after she began investigating the pre-historic archaeology of Tamil Nadu at Attirampakkam, 60 km from Chennai, in 1991.

She, Dr. Akhilesh and other scientists chose the particular site because Foote, besides discovering the stone-tool at Pallavaram in 1863, found stone-tools several lakh years old at Attirampakkam the same year. Later he proceeded to discover, document, interpret and write about more than 400 prehistoric sites in southern and western India.

Dr. Pappu, who is writing a book on him, said: “One of my major efforts in this study was to locate Foote’s grave and pay tribute to his remarkable personality.” She added: “His prolific publications comprising reports, memoirs, short notes and catalogues of antiquities, his lectures and dialogues with interested individuals, geologists and other scholars place him amongst the foremost intellectuals of the late-19th century.”

Both Foote and Percival (who was the father of Foote’s first wife, who had passed away early) settled in Yercaud. Documents on Foote’s life indicated that he died at the Presidency Hospital, Calcutta on December 29, 1912 and that he was cremated there on January 3, 1913. So attempts to locate his grave were abandoned. In June 2009, a search-team decided to follow the leads on Foote’s retired life in Yercaud.

“To our joy and surprise, we located the grave of not only Foote but Percival in the well-kept graveyard” with the help of local citizens and the parish priest, said Dr. Pappu.

Church records said Foote worked for the Geological Survey of India. More significantly, they said that although his body was cremated in Calcutta, his ashes were buried in the Trinity Church cemetery. Possibly, in those days it was difficult to transport a body over a great distance.

Foote’s gravestone reads: “I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith.”

Nearby is the grave of Percival, who was also an architect, championed girls’ education in Jaffna and later lived at Little Bourne at Luz in Mylapore, Chennai.

© Copyright 2000 - 2009 The Hindu

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Tenth Standard Exams - To Scrap or Not To Scrap

Apropos the raging debate in the media and elsewhere on Mr. Kapil Sibal's suggestion of making the tenth standard exams optional to reduce the stress and burden on children, I cannot resist but quote in verbatim letter written by Mr. Rettavayal K.S. Krishnaswamy in The Hindu dated June 30th, 2009.

"Nowhere in the world do lakhs of students score 100 per cent in the examinations conducted by their boards. Only in our country, at least 90 per cent of students score centum in science practical examinations in schools where there are no labs. The rat race to score more has made the student a mark-scoring machine, a teacher a calculator, and the school an industry in India".

Aryankavu - Pics





During my trip in May, I along with my family worshipped at Aryankavu Ayyappa temple. We drove here from Tenkasi. The temple is locating in a scenic setting. Palaruvi , a waterfall, in the dense forest area about 2 km from the temple premises is a major attraction but we did not make it as folks informed us that there was no water there at that time.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Back from the Brink




Read this news item in The Hindu editorial few days back, reproducing extract:

One of the rare parrots of the world, Lear’s macaw has come back from the brink. The rise in the numbers of this intelligent, indigo-coloured, tool-using bird in northeastern Brazil is a fine example of what sustained conservation action can achieve: insulate rare species from chronic threats, and stave off extinction. The story of the twinkle-eyed macaw is uplifting. From fewer than 100 birds two decades ago, its population has risen to an estimated 960. The species had declined, like several other parrots, mainly because it was trapped in the wild to feed the illegal bird trade. Its favoured food, the fruit of the licuri palm, has disappeared in many places. Consequently, the beleaguered macaws are known to raid corn farms — an act that provokes farmers to shoot them. Concern for the bird’s future was so high that it was, until recently, classified as critically endangered by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), in its Red List. An improved population has lowered its threat status to ‘endangered.’ Like all good protection initiatives, the American Bird Conservancy and its Brazilian partner, Fundacao Biodiversitas, focussed on expanding habitat and keeping poachers away from nesting and roosting sites of the macaw, mainly in the Canudos reserve in Bahia.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Top 10 Misspelled Words

According to a new study, these are the top 10 most misspelled words in the English language.

1. Definitely (Definately)
2. Sacrilegious (Sacreligious)
3. Indict (Indite)
4. Manoeuvre (Maneouvre)
5. Bureaucracy (Beaurocracy)
6. Broccoli (Brocolli)
7. Phlegm (Phleghm)
8. Prejudice (Predjudice)
9. Consensus (Conscensus)
10.Unnecessary (Unecessary)

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Tirunelveli Pics






The first pic is of the Hotel Aryaas where we stayed. It is pretty comfy place with a good restaurant attached to it. Service is friendly but bit tardy.

Second and third pictures are of famed Nellaiappar temple, largest Shiva shrine in Tamil Nadu. This temple is bigger than Madurai's Meenakshi temple.

Fourth picture is of very very popular Iruttukadai whose halwa sells like hot cakes. The shop is pat opposite Nellaiappar temple.

Monday, June 8, 2009

Tiruparappu Waterfalls - Pics






This place is just few odd kilometers away from Padmanabhapuram palace. I guess it is 66 kilometers from the town of Kanyakumari. Water was gushing forth when we were there and we had a rollicking time bathing there. A must see place.

Some pics of Padmanabhapuram Palace.







I took these pictures while on a recent vacation to Tirunelveli. Padmanabhapuram palace is about 15 kms from Nagerkoil, which is about 1-1/2 hours drive from Tirunelveli. The palace is quite sprawling and needs couple to three hours to do justice to the place.
Check this link for more information http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Padmanabhapuram_Palace

Friday, June 5, 2009

Basavanna

This is an excerpt from A K Ramanujan's Speaking of Siva.

Consider the world of meaning within this one poem, one of the
vacanas of Basavanna:

The rich
will make temples for Siva.
What shall I,
a poor man,
do?

My legs are pillars,
the body the shrine,
the head a cupola
of gold.

Listen, O lord of the meeting rivers,
things standing shall fall,
but the moving
ever shall stay. [Basavanna poem 820]
[opening lines of intro; p.19]

In the first reading it appears to be primarily an analogy of the temple
with the body - legs as pillars and head a gold cupola; but it turns out
that this is a conventional metaphor:

The different parts of a temple are named after body parts. The two
sides are called the hands or wings, the hasta; a pillar is called a
foot, pAda. The top of the temple is the head, shikhara. The
shrine, the innermost and the darkest sanctum of the temple, is a
garbhagriha, the womb-house. The temple thus carries out in brick and
stone the primordial blueprint of the human body.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Time Out

I won't be posting till June 2nd or so, leaving for Tirunelveli today and will be back only on June 2nd.

Friday, May 22, 2009

Indian Elections

"No doubt Indian democracy is far from perfect. The ordinary citizen’s participation in governance is largely restricted to periodic elections of his representatives with little control over the latter’s performance. But Pakistanis will do well to appreciate a poor Indian’s feeling of fulfillment when he recalls that it was he who threw out prime ministers or reinstated the discarded ones, that he has been part of the process of change. It is this heady feeling that enables the ordinary Indian citizen to own the state and to be proud of it in spite of all his grievances about being neglected, abandoned and exploited."

For the full article in Pakistani newspaper The Dawn, please go to
http://www.dawn.com/wps/wcm/connect/dawn-content-library/dawn/the-newspaper/columnists/i-a-rehman-the-indian-election-159

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Data Data Everywhere

I came across this interesting news item recently:

The world's store of digital content is now the equivalent of one full top-of-the-range iPod for every two people on the planet, following the explosion of social networking sites, internet-enabled mobile phones and government surveillance.

At 487bn gigabytes (GB), if the world's rapidly expanding digital content were printed and bound into books it would form a stack that would stretch from Earth to Pluto 10 times. As more people join the digital tribe – increasingly through internet-enabled mobile phones – the world's digital output is increasing at such a rate that those stacks of books are rising quicker than Nasa's fastest space rocket.

The large files from digital cameras and the world's burgeoning army of surveillance cameras account for a significant proportion of the digital universe. The rapid increase in so-called machine to machine communications – such as when an Oyster card is touched on a reader or a satellite navigation system requests information about its location – has seen the number of individual digital creation events balloon, despite the economic recession.

The digital universe is expected to double in size over the next 18 months, according to the latest research from technology consultancy IDC and sponsored by IT firm EMC, fuelled by a rise in the number of mobile phones. At the time of their first Digital Universe report in 2007, the pair reckoned the world's total digital content was 161bn gigabytes.

About 70% of the information in the digital universe is created by individuals and includes phone calls, emails, photos, online banking transactions or postings on social networking sites, including Twitter. "Devices such as camera phones, and the web 2.0 services like social networking sites have created a nation of digital hoarders," according to Mike Altendorf, managing director of EMC Consulting.

But the responsibility for protecting – and hosting – the vast majority of this content lies with corporations and organisations. More than 30% of the information created today, from patient care records to personal financial information, already requires high standards of protection and IDC/EMC reckon that will grow to roughly 45% by 2012.

Companies are seeing digital storage needs increase as a result of tightening regulation following the financial meltdown last year. The amount of information that must be retained to comply with rules and regulations is expected to grow from 25% of the digital universe last year to 35% in 2012.

IDC/EMC estimate that the cost of the computers, networks and storage facilities that drive the digital universe is about $6tn. Add in medical equipment, entertainment and content creation and the figure is more than double that.

Saturday, May 16, 2009

NDTV Hindu - II

Today, The Hindu came out with a colorful pullout announcing the launch of its free-to-air TV channel in collaboration with NDTV. NDTV HINDU is to go on air from today (16th May, 2009).

“We firmly believe that the future of news is in going local. The Hindu Group, with its impeccable credentials, has been a household name for generations in Chennai, and this partnership will help NDTV HINDU capitalise on the brand strengths and journalistic values of both the media houses,” NDTV chairman Prannoy Roy said.

Hope the synergy of two dynamic organizations works out well.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

A Touch of Faith

A monk asked Tozan, "How can we escape the cold and heat?". Tozan replied, "Why not go where there is no cold and heat?". "Is there such a place?" the monk asked Tozan. Tozan commented, "When cold, be thoroughly cold, when hot, be hot through and through."

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

NDTV Hindu

A year or so back I had posted about the proposed launch of NDTV Hindu English news channel, which is Chennai city specific and yesterday when flipping channels, chanced upon this channel. I don't know when the channel was officially launched, I do not recollect reading anything on it in the The Hindu daily newspaper. All programs are in English and at the outset looked quite good.

Thursday, April 30, 2009

Free books for reviewing

Check out this link http://blogapenguinindiaclassic.blogspot.com/2009/03/launch-of-blog-penguin-india-classic.html for more information.

Quotes

Some quotes to share:

Pride, like laudanum and other poisonous medicines, is beneficial in small, though injurious in large quantities. No man who is not pleased with himself, even in a personal sense, can please others - Frederick Saunders

It is no measure of health to be well adjusted to a profoundly sick society -J. Krishnamurti

Our heads are round so that thoughts can change direction. -Francis Picabia, painter and poet (1879-1953)

The only real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes but in having new eyes. -Marcel Proust, novelist (1871-1922)

Monday, April 27, 2009

History Calling

I found this piece of news in New Indian Express interesting.

Velachery was a flourishing Vedic town

The 1,000-year-old inscriptions that were found during renovation work at Sri Yoga Narasimhar Temple in Velachery.

Just discovered inscriptions reveal that Velachery was a flourishing little town even a millennium ago and that it was a Brahmin settlement who specialized in Vedic education.

The 1,000-year-old inscriptions that offer a glimpse of the distant past were stumbled upon by temple officials while undertaking renovation work at Sri Yoga Narasimhar Temple in Velachery here a few days ago.

Officials of the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) are studying the inscriptions. Epigraphist, ASI, Dr S Rajavelu said the inscription revealed that the area was a Jina Chintamani chaturvedimangalam circa the 8th Century AD.

It was clear that the Brahmins who specialized in Vedic education lived here. The temple enjoyed the patronisation of Chola Kings Rajaraja I and Rajendra I. The area was referred as ‘’Velichcheri,’’ meaning an outskirt, in the inscriptions.

Interestingly, the adjacent locality of Taramani was a hamlet where agriculture was the main stay. Also, the new find corroborates the earlier evidence found in the Shiva and Chelliamman Temples in the same neighbourhood of Velachery.

A temple dedicated to Yoga Narasimha of the Pallava period is significant as there is no similar temple of the same period in the vicinity of Chennai city. Though Yoga Narasimha is represented in sculptures in a few temples, it is not the presiding deity anywhere except at the Velachery temple.

‘We are still studying the inscriptions as it is fragmented. More interesting facets of the ancient days could come out,’ Rajavelu said.

Former Director of Geological Survey of India, Dr. Badrinarayanan and Marine Archaeologist, Dr.Sasi Sekaran of National Institute of Ocean Technology who formed part of the experts team studying the inscriptions reiterated the views of the ASI official. The temple pillars were dismantled in an unprofessional manner leading to possible loss of archaeological evidence. Without realizing the importance of the old structures, paintings had been done in the past obscuring the archaeological value. ‘This should be avoided and temple officials must be sensitised on the issue.’

I live on the same road on which this hoary temple is located.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

World Book Day

Today is World Book Day.



Few quotes on books and reading

Books are the legacies that a great genius leaves to
mankind, which are delivered down from generation to
generation as presents to the posterity of those who are yet unborn,
~ Joseph Addison ~

Resolve to edge in a little reading every day,
if it is but a single sentence.
If you gain fifteen minutes a day,
it will make itself felt at the end of the year.
~ Horace Mann ~

To acquire the habit of reading is to construct for yourself
a refuge from almost all of the miseries of life.
~ W. Somerset Maugham ~

There is no Frigate like a Book
To take us Lands away,
Nor any Coursers like a Page
Of prancing Poetry.
~ Emily Dickinson ~

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Religion Versus Superstition

"The difference between superstitions and religion is not only the difference between meaning and randomness, and between faith and anxiety, but also the difference between belief in a personal, benevolent God and fear of a pitiless Mother Nature, waiting to be appeased -- or exploited -- by mumbo jumbo. "Superstition" by definition "stands beyond" us, whereas religion is part of the human experience and interacts with it.

Superstition offers the illusion of control by manipulating nature or revealing her occult intent. If the spells are recited properly, all should be well. It's a big "if," however. Religion gives the promise, rather than the illusion, of hope. God does not always respond as we would like; loved ones die, livelihoods are lost. Mystery is deepened and hopefully, with faith, leads to peace rather than disillusionment. Accidental similarities between religion and magic should not lead anyone to confuse the difference in their content."

For the full article google Is One Man's Faith Another's Superstition ? an article by David Gibson in WSJ.

Munnar trip Pics





Thursday, April 9, 2009

Time off

I am off to Munnar (hill station in Kerala) tonight with my wife and son and will be back in Chennai April 14th. Hope to recharge our jaded batteries in God's Own Country.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Secularism

Pratap Bhanu Mehta in The Indian Express:

“Secularism, like communalism, is no longer a first principles debate; it is a pretext for forcing issues where none exist. The only two interpretations of secularism that are current in India are deeply warped: secularism as erasure of identity, or secularism as communal parity. Neither interpretation has room for the core meaning: secularism is about the freedom of individuals to make of themselves what they will; it is about making “identity” irrelevant to politics, not about its enforced erasure.”

I feel the author has perfectly hit the nail on the head.

Monday, March 30, 2009

Professionals in Politics - Misfits ?

Yesterday, on NDTV We The People program, the topic discussed was Can Professionals Be Good Politicians ? Amongst the participants were two "star" independent candidates, Captain Gopinath (Deccan Airways) and Ms. Meera Sanyal (ABN-AMRO) contesting from prestigious Bangalore South and Mumbai South Lok Sabha constituencies. The limited influence of independent MPs was brought out by eminent lawyer Mr. Harish Salve. Of course, there were lot of people who vociferously supported these two and said it is time professionals enter politics and "clean up" the system. Though winnability of the independent candidates is doubtful, I feel it is a good sign that professionals are taking an interest in politics. One among the audience pointed out that Ajit Singh, who was earlier with IBM, did not do very well in politics. One swallow does not make a summer. Professionals can definitely make a mark. It is indeed a good sign that instead of shunning politics, some professionals are evincing interest and I am sure this will bring lot of people, who so far have avoided polling booths like plague, to come out and cast their ballots.

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Fancy Truck art

Here are few pictures of European trucks whose trailers are decorated to look like the sides are missing and the products they are hauling are painted on the sides and back.
The first is of Pepsi cases and they are all stacked on the ceiling, and the bottom of the trailer is empty



The second is of a canvas tote bag.





The third is of a bottle of beer and looks so real, like it is coming out the side of the trailer.


Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Thoughts

This one from Benjamin Franklin.

There are two ways of being happy: We may either diminish our wants or augment our means - either will do - the result in the same; and it is for each man to decide for himself, and do that which happens to be the easiest. If you are idle or sick or poor, however hard it may be to diminish your wants, it will be harder to augment your means. If you are active and prosperous or young and in good health, it may be easier for you to augment your means than to diminish your wants. But if you are wise, you will do both at the same time, young or old, rich or poor, sick or well; and if you are very wise you will do both in such a way as to augment the general happiness of society.

What say you ?

Monday, March 23, 2009

Switch oFF Lights

On March 28th, 2009, you can switch off all lights from 8:30 pm to 9:30 pm to observe Earth Hour. The lights will be switched off as an indication that you are committed to saving energy and is ready to take steps to save the world environment.

The lights out initiative, which began in Sydney in 2007 as a one-city environmental campaign, has evolved into a grassroots action that has captured the attention of the citizens of the world. In 2008, 371 cities across 35 countries turned their lights out in a united call for action on climate change.

Purely symbolic gesture, yes, but everything big has to start off with these kind of simple initiatives, right ?

IPL versus Elections

It is amusing the way Lalit Modi and his ilk are conducting themselves. Personally I am not happy that they are shifting their venue from India to England or South Africa. Some amount of planning could have avoided the matches's timetable clashing with Lok Sabha elections.

GI Tag

Of late, GI tag has been doing the rounds in media with famed Tirupati laddu and Bydagi chili seeking to obtain the GI tag. It piqued my curiosity and I googled to find this: "A geographical indication (GI) is a name or sign used on certain products which corresponds to a specific geographical location or origin (eg. a town, region, or country). The use of a GI may act as a certification that the product possesses certain qualities, or enjoys a certain reputation, due to its geographical origin."
I gathered from The Hindu that the GI tag has been awarded to a number of products or goods, including the famous Darjeeling Tea, Madhubani Paintings, Kashmiri Sozani Craft and Thanjavur Paintings.

Friday, March 13, 2009

Stark Contrast

I read these two news items recently and cannot but wonder......

Female monkeys in Thailand have been observed showing their young how to floss their teeth - using human hair.

Researchers from Japan said they watched seven long-tailed macaques cleaning the spaces between their teeth in the same manner as humans.

They spent double the amount of time flossing when they were being watched by their infants, the team said.

This suggests the mothers were deliberately teaching their young how to floss, Professor Nobuo Masataka of Kyoto University's Primate Research Institute said.


WINNENDEN, Germany — A teenage gunman killed 15 people, most of them female, on Wednesday in a rampage that began at a school near Stuttgart in southern Germany and ended in a nearby town, where he then killed himself after the police wounded him.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Grist to the Mill !

Some people have a knack of getting caught in highly undesirable situations and escaping by the skin of their teeth but eventually making the most of it. Read on :

British author Frederick Forsyth has told the BBC how he was caught in the turmoil this week in the tiny West African state of Guinea-Bissau, rocked by the assassinations of its president and army chief.

The best-selling author of books including "The Day of the Jackal" recounted how President Joao Bernardo Vieira died a long and bloody death -- and said he might even use the experience in his next book.

"I can assure you I had nothing to do with the coup d'etat," said the writer, who has previously admitted to helping fund a 1973 coup attempt in nearby Equatorial Guinea, and whose 1974 book "The Dogs of War" recounted a failed plot to topple the government of a fictional African country.

Vieira was assassinated on Monday in apparent retaliation for a bomb blast Sunday night which killed the head of the armed forces, General Tagme Na Waie.

Forsyth -- in the country to research his latest thriller -- told how he was woken his his hotel bedroom by an explosion in the early hours of Monday, as soldiers launched an apparent revenge mission on the veteran president.

"They went to his villa, threw a bomb through the window which hurt him, but didn't kill him," Forsyth told the BBC late Tuesday. "The roof came down, that hurt him but didn't kill him either.

"He struggled out of the rubble and was promptly shot. This, however, still didn't kill him. They then took him to his mother-in-law's house and chopped him to bits with machetes," he added.

The author said he was temporarily stranded in Bissau, the country's capital. "I can't get out now. I was due to fly out tomorrow (Wednesday) afternoon, and I rather think that they're going to keep the airport closed, which is very inconvenient," he said.

But he was philosophical. "What I was researching had nothing to do with bumping off generals or bumping off presidents. But it's a little extra garnish on the cake, so I'll probably use it eventually in the book."

Cool, isn't it ?

Saturday, February 28, 2009

The Indian Railway King

Here is a link on rather longish piece on Shri Lalu Prasad Yadav http://www.american.com/archive/2009/the-indian-railway-king

Some extracts:

Under his leadership, Indian Railways has gone from bankruptcy to billions in just a few years. When Lalu presented his latest budget to Parliament on February 13, he bragged, "Hathi ko cheetah bana diya" ("I have turned an elephant into a cheetah").

Lalu mismanaged Patna terribly. So how has he managed a gargantuan state organ so well that students from Kellogg and Wharton are taking notice?

Part of the answer lies in India’s recent economic growth spurt: Lalu stood on the shoulders of an economy that never grew by less than 6 percent per year during his whole tenure as railways minister. (India’s economy has slowed considerably since the global downturn began.) With a boom like that to fuel demand, how could he fail? All he had to do was sit back and let the market propel him forward.

The other half of the explanation, though, seems to be a simple case of democracy and markets working.

Rangasamy Elango

I came across in media write-ups on this quite interesting personality recently and thought it fit to share it with you. Let me quote an article on him in Rediff:

When Rangasamy Elango speaks of his village, his pride is unmistakable. Kuthambakkam isn't your ordinary sort of Indian village, one that is quickly imagined in the urban mind as a combination of deprivation and squalor. The long lines that characterize Chennai's perennial water shortages are nearly unimaginable here, only 40 km away -- the water table in this village isn't much deeper than a dozen feet away under your feet. Evidence of planning and purpose abounds -- paved roads, integrated housing for dalits and non-dalits, even a largely self-sustaining village economy. In panchayat president Elango's efforts and continuing dreams for this hamlet, the India of Gandhi, Vinoba and Hazare is real.

"It is my hope", says Elango, "that Kuthambakkam will serve as a model, one whose social and economic achievements are so obvious that people will clamor to replicate it elsewhere in the nation too." In the many years since he abandoned his comfortable government-scientist position as a chemical engineer, Elango has overseen the growing prosperity and social stability of his little corner of the world. He speaks of his achievement now with a smile of satisfaction, and even a glint of amusement at the many hurdles he has passed along the way.

People like Elango ought to be lauded and supported in their endeavors.

This incidentally is my 100th post ! Thought I don't believe much in personal milestones, I think I ought to pat myself on my back for not giving up blogging midway. On this occasion I thank all my fellow bloggers who encouraged me. A big thanks to you all.

Hardwired God ???

I came across this interesting piece in New Scientist titled Born believers: How your brain creates God. I am posting some extracts.

WHILE many institutions collapsed during the Great Depression that began in 1929, one kind did rather well. During this leanest of times, the strictest, most authoritarian churches saw a surge in attendance.

This anomaly was documented in the early 1970s, but only now is science beginning to tell us why.
It turns out that human beings have a natural inclination for religious belief, especially during hard times. Our brains effortlessly conjure up an imaginary world of spirits, gods and monsters, and the more insecure we feel, the harder it is to resist the pull of this supernatural world. It seems that our minds are finely tuned to believe in gods.

Religious ideas are common to all cultures: like language and music, they seem to be part of what it is to be human. Until recently, science has largely shied away from asking why. "It's not that religion is not important," says Paul Bloom, a psychologist at Yale University, "it's that the taboo nature of the topic has meant there has been little progress."

The origin of religious belief is something of a mystery, but in recent years scientists have started to make suggestions.
One leading idea is that religion is an evolutionary adaptation that makes people more likely to survive and pass their genes onto the next generation. In this view, shared religious belief helped our ancestors form tightly knit groups that cooperated in hunting, foraging and childcare, enabling these groups to outcompete others. In this way, the theory goes, religion was selected for by evolution, and eventually permeated every human society


The religion-as-an-adaptation theory doesn't wash with everybody, however. As anthropologist Scott Atran of the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor points out, the benefits of holding such unfounded beliefs are questionable, in terms of evolutionary fitness. "I don't think the idea makes much sense, given the kinds of things you find in religion," he says. A belief in life after death, for example, is hardly compatible with surviving in the here-and-now and propagating your genes. Moreover, if there are adaptive advantages of religion, they do not explain its origin, but simply how it spread.

An alternative being put forward by Atran and others is that religion emerges as a natural by-product of the way the human mind works.


That's not to say that the human brain has a "god module" in the same way that it has a language module that evolved specifically for acquiring language. Rather, some of the unique cognitive capacities that have made us so successful as a species also work together to create a tendency for supernatural thinking. "There's now a lot of evidence that some of the foundations for our religious beliefs are hard-wired," says Bloom.

Much of that evidence comes from experiments carried out on children, who are seen as revealing a "default state" of the mind that persists, albeit in modified form, into adulthood. "Children the world over have a strong natural receptivity to believing in gods because of the way their minds work, and this early developing receptivity continues to anchor our intuitive thinking throughout life," says anthropologist Justin Barrett of the University of Oxford.

So how does the brain conjure up gods? One of the key factors, says Bloom, is the fact that our brains have separate cognitive systems for dealing with living things - things with minds, or at least volition - and inanimate objects.

This separation happens very early in life. Bloom and colleagues have shown that babies as young as five months make a distinction between inanimate objects and people. Shown a box moving in a stop-start way, babies show surprise. But a person moving in the same way elicits no surprise. To babies, objects ought to obey the laws of physics and move in a predictable way. People, on the other hand, have their own intentions and goals, and move however they choose.