I did not understand why the rule was applicable only to bachelors and not to married people. Maybe the accident gods don’t favour the married. Anyway, holding against will is not the way to tackle road accidents. We do not stop walking for the fear of falling. We just walk safely. The purpose of the law in a civilised society should ‘not [be] to abolish or restrain but to preserve and enlarge freedom.’1
The recent restriction of text messages reminds me of this township rule. To tackle unsolicited commercial SMSs, the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) imposed a restriction on customers that they can send only one hundred SMS per connection per day, certain customers exempt. They say it all began when Pranab Mukherjee was interrupted by a telemarketer in Parliament. And they come up with a fancy law. Why was he using a mobile phone in the first place, in between the most important meeting of the country?
Well, spamming was not invented through SMS. It was around for quite a long time even when we relied on postal services. Imagine a restriction by postal department where one can send only 100 letters a day because a cabinet minister received a spam mail in his office. Then the invitations for our typical weddings would have to be posted by different people on different days.
After the SMS restriction, I don’t know how would one inform all their friends and relatives that he or she is ‘blessed with a baby girl’? They would have to wait for the next day to send to your hundred and first friend. Or how would you tell everyone that you just passed an important examination?
The interesting fact is that the consumers exempt are social networking sites, e-ticketing services etc., not the common man. The only chance for a common man to send more than 100 SMS a day are on festival days or blackout days. And who decides what my festivals are? Will a Tamilian living in Orissa get a blackout offer on Pongal? Will a Marathi living in Kerala get a blackout offer for Gudi Padwa? If it was not a regional public holiday, one can take leave from work and celebrate. But TRAI leaves us with no such possibilities. You are forced to celebrate the festivals what the TRAI or your mobile operator asks you to.
If TRAI was to deal with spamming, they should have found a more democratic way to do that like a forum for reporting spam and maybe even rewards for reporting, than to deal with it in a school teacher attitude as they did in my township.
Before joining with my new job, I had a wonderful time at home. After several years, I attended the famous Thrissur Pooram – the baap of all festivals. I had a great time with all my friends and comrades.
Meanwhile my packages arrived in Thrissur and I was sad to see my Bullet not the way I packed it. From personal experience I share, even private couriers aren’t good in terms of quality service.
I got engaged peacefully and uneventfully the next week.
A couple of days after that, I joined Honeywell. The buildings in my campus are named after planets. The funny part is that the largest building in the campus is Pluto and one of the smallest ones is Jupiter. After a week’s induction, I joined my team (Profit Suite validation) and am getting introduced to works and procedures. My honeymoon with Honeywell is going on well…
I checked into a pigeon hole near office. Bought a TV and cable connection the first week to get rid of the boredom. In the following weeks I bought a cooking stove, fridge and cooking utensils to creatively kill time.
Bangalore is a strange city. I see people wearing sweaters in May (yes, it is cold). I see people riding Harley-Davidson wearing shorts and sandals. It is a city where English is the preferred second language - auto drivers, bus conductors, shopkeepers prefer to speak in English when they see the tag of an corporate ID card around your neck. And the best part is that even Reliance Mart sells liquor, fish and meat. Rest is same as any other metros with high rents, traffic jams, crowded buses, cacophonic honking etc.
On the brighter side, I saw Hangover Part II and X-Men First Class in the releasing week, had a tasty beef steak from TGIF, and visited a few jolly good friends and relatives.
In a place where rumours spread like wildfire, most of you might have already heard that I have resigned from Essar and will be joining Honeywell Technology Solutions Lab, Bangalore later this month.
In what seems to be a farewell note, let me begin with mentioning that there are a few things and a few people whom I really wish to forget, here or anywhere. :-) But no worries, if you were one of ’em you probably wouldn’t be reading this. Apart from a few of those unpleasant occurrences, the four years I spent here was delightful and will be cherished as the best of my times, as the age of wisdom, as the epoch of belief, as the season of Light, as the spring of hope… [Darles Chickens]
If any of you are under an impression that I am fleeing from your companionship, let me assure you, it is not so.
Amid the rain shadow of the Western Ghats and the beaches of the Arabian sea, in a humid, wet land, there is a place I still call home, the proximity of which was an irrefutable bargain. I will be going home first in the hot brooding month of May, when the days are long and humid, the river shrinks and black crows gorge on bright mangoes in still, dustgreen trees. Red bananas ripen. Jackfruits burst. Dissolute bluebottles hum vacuously in the fruity air. Then they stun themselves against clear windowpanes and die, fatly baffled by the sun. The nights are clear, but suffuse with sloth and sullen expectation. (Don’t worry, I too didn’t understand much of this.)
Anyways, as the Godfather would have put it, what I have is, “An offer I couldn’t refuse.”
I am sorry to have hurried through the relieving process and not giving personal attention to everyone it terms of ‘treats’. To be frank, it doesn’t feel so good to miss you all; parting is such sweet sorrow.
The reason for the hurry for those who are not aware, is that I am getting engaged to a charming (at least to me) woman on this nineteenth; Remya Sreedevi, now doing her internship for the completion of degree in ayurvedic medicine, also a professional dancer, an amateur singer and a fantastic human being. This also means, practically I will be jobless during my engagement. Bless her guts, for she doesn’t know what she is doing.
They will start my court-marshal shortly, starting with my identity card, CUG and network ID, and you won’t be listening to any Bob Dylan anymore. I will not be using a mobile phone for a while to enjoy the pleasures of an untraceable life in an age where even the moral giants compromise on privacy.
However, I will definitely intimate you my new number as soon as I feel lonely. Again, if it is an emergency you should still call 100. However, I will be checking in to my email frequently (firstname.lastname@example.org). Please direct all your replies there. And I think I will update you all on my happenings on my blog (http://vengallur.blogspot.com/) if anyone ever had the patience to read it. You can also see what my friends are doing on Facebook (www.facebook.com/vengallur); I don’t use that frequently.
I wish our relations go beyond the green-belt of this refinery and wish our paths meet in the future.
With lotsa love, lotsa wishes…
Navaneeth “Peter” V. K.
“Parting is such sweet sorrow,
That I say good night till it be morrow.”
- William Shakespeare, Romeo and Juliet
Without any knowledge of the finer aspects of a cover-drive or a square-cut, I am making an amateur attempt to dissect this national sensation from a purely socio-political angle.
To many, cricket is the medium to portray their Indian-ness. It has grown out from a sport to a national emblem. (How about changing the Asoka Chakra to a cricket ball?) What's so Indian about it, anyway? Cricket, like football (and even the language in which I write) is a colonial dump. Why did cricket evolve as a more popular sport in India than football? Probably because it was the gentleman's game. It was a Maharaja’s game. Playing cricket (as opposed to playing the common man's game) elevated you to the status of an English gentleman who by the time had been successful their white-supremacy (and aristocracy) propaganda. Even after the British left, the Brahmins continued the legacy with 4% of the country’s Brahmins getting 70% representation in the national team - always. Perhaps that could be the reason why football in more popular in states with less domination of the upper caste.
Another reason for the popularity could be because of its focus on individuality. Though it is played as a team, there is a heavy focus on individuals who bats and bowls. They decide the course of the game. It perfectly suits the lifestyle of the Brahmin leisure-class who refuses to become a part of a team chasing a ball sharing an equal opportunity with others. In a country where lead actors are referred to as 'heroes', and where adding human gods to an existing cosmic array is commonplace, acceptance of this individualism follows. The ideas of team work and community efforts still confine to the educators of the corporate world. This could be the reason why a billion people couldn't manage to produce a 'team' for the Football World Cup.
The BCCI (and the government) has been successful in marketing its one-day variant in the country. Sadly, the sport did not have one-tenth of its popularity when India won the world cup in 1983. After economic liberalisation, this task has been taken up by private sponsors trimming it from a five-day test to a 12-hour one-day then to the recent Twenty20. But what they are unaware is that among a culture that watches highlights of the highlights, they will get viewers even for a ten-day match and can still make it profitable.
Post-independence, as a nation still struggling for an international recognition, cricket became a benchmark to compare themselves with the world. Defeating Australia gave a pride of defeating a white-man's nation. It gives a pride that India is performing well in at least one 'world sport' - a world sport played hardly in ten nations, of which an overwhelming majority are South-Asians settled in South-Asia or elsewhere. Winning this world cup will be some sort of a consolation for the billion-strong nation which came back with a couple of bronze medals from Beijing Olympics.
Playing against Pakistan is like a war. It becomes more of politics than sport. I don't understand why this much fury against Pakistan? After all, in 1947, we retained the name India though it is derived from a river which flows predominantly in Pakistan. The shameful mentality is to support our oppressors for centuries, England over our neighbouring, closely-related, culturally-similar Pakistan in an England-Pakistan match. This isn't patriotism; this is sheer ethnic abhorrence - a hate-crime.
For the urban elite, who pride itself with the deserted streets on a match day, watching cricket is cool. Same as watching movies and listening to music is. It is what everyone else does. Follow the crowd or become a national joke. “I am an Indian and a patriot. I would like India to win the match. Sachin Tendulkar scored this much in that match… The percentage of Indians below poverty-line is... er... eh..." Sorry, talking of defeating other nations in Human Development Index is so uncool.
There are genuine lovers and human players of cricket. I wish them all the best amidst this divinity. I still would continue to admire cricket as a sport, not as an expression of national spirit though. For an average Indian, watching cricket has, at one and the same time, the expression of the defeats in all other sports, protests against the defeats in all other sports. It has become the sigh of an ordinary citizen, the sport of a sport-less country, the pastime of a hobby-less nation, the consolation of a defeated crowd. It has become the opium of an oppressed nation.
In what seemed to be a just another normal day, as I walked into my office, a few fair-skinned, cute-faced fresh graduated colleagues stood at the entrance of my office armed with flowers handing them over to every female they met. A little further, a flex with pictures of famous women personalities (Aishwarya Rai-Bachhan on the top) reminded me that it was March 8th. Like many organisations around the world, the company I work with too celebrated Women's Day on March 8th. I walked further with my female colleagues, feeling jealous of why isn’t there a 'Men's Day'.
As I routinely checked my emails, there was a circular from a shopping portal (with which my company has a tie-up) offering special discounts for women's products on Women's Day. It included cosmetic items and kitchen accessories. A little later another email circular appeared inviting the residents of our township to appreciate the winners of best recipe competition held as a part of the Women's Day.
I could only pity the ignorance of these celebrators. How many of them (including women) really understands what exactly Women's Day is celebrated for? There was a play by V. T. Bhattathirippad, Adukkalayil Ninnum Arangathekku (From the Kitchen to the Forefront) that had played a pivotal role in the awakening of the Malayali population from Swami Vivekananda's 'lunatic asylum'. After I read those emails, I felt like rephrasing the title of the play to Arangathu Ninnum Adukkalayilekku (From the Forefront, Back to the Kitchen). Never did I imagine that after the 100th year of Women's Day celebrations, we would have to start again from one.
I forwarded the township's recipe mail to a few selected colleagues with the above observations. One of them replied with a statement: "Whatever it is, they [women] should never forget their traditional trade." I was flabbergasted! Since when is kitchen work the trade of women? Women were confined to the kitchen only since humans started agriculture and settled down from a hunter-gatherer. The stove was invented only in 200 B.C., for crying out loud. That is, out of the million years of human existence, kitchens existed only for a few thousand years. But that was the convention then. When men worked out in fields, women managed the kitchen. Why should the same convention be applied in a world where agriculture is not the sole occupation?
Women's Day celebrations historically originated from a series of demonstrations in continental Europe by women demanding right to vote and hold a public office. Russian women's celebrations of women's day in 1917 initiated the February revolution which shaped the history of the twentieth century.
My first encounter with the denial of equal rights for women was in my childhood, when our house went for a renovation, building an extra floor. I don't remember the exact incident, but I do remember my dad mentioning that the women workers were paid a little less than their male counterparts. He merely pointed out the inequality in wages but it took me years to really understand the underlying concept of oppression and inequality.
Sadly, the Women’s Day has lost its political flavour and is been viewed more as an greeting card marketing and shopping festival. There is nothing wrong in celebrating womanhood but it shouldn’t be at the cost of forgetting their roles in nation building. In a country that is still clinging on to its feudal roots, gender equality has to be addressed first before celebrating womanhood.
It has been a season of revelations. All those who wished me greetings of the season, did it so benevolently that it turned out to be indeed enlightening.
Studies on atheism and materialism had exposed me to the dimensions and dexterity of the phenomenon called Wikipedia. I have been using Wikipedia so long and so often that I couldn't ignore the banner at the top requesting for donations. But when I followed the link, I found that they don't accept donations in Indian Rupees. I even mailed the volunteers to find out whether there is some way to contribute to the cause. I was disappointed again to learn that none of my financial instruments were accepted by the donation team.
Meanwhile, during one of those Wikipedia expeditions, I stumbled upon pages related to a medieval era Indian mathematician, Sangamagrama Madhava. My dad, when I was in school, used to discuss about the sine tables Madhava had compiled. I did not understand much about it then, so I kept on reading about it. I also remember my dad mentioning a system called Katapayadi System which was used by medieval age Indians to convert numbers to words for easy remembrance. I searched for it on Wikipedia. But I found that the only reference to the usage of the system was for the naming of Melakarta Ragas of Carnatic music. Seventy two Melakarta Ragas obtained by various permutations of the seven basic swaras (Sa, Ri, Ga, Ma, Pa, Dha, Ni) are named in such a way that the combination of the swaras of a particular raga can be determined by the first two consonants of the Raga's name, using the Katapayadi system. However, I was disheartened that there are no references to the wider applications of the use of Katapayadi which were primarily in mathematics and astronomy. In the backdrop of the disappointment of not being able to donate to Wikipedia, a thought flashed in my mind. What better way to contribute to Wikipedia than to contribute to its content? So, I decided to write it. To write about Katapayadi. To collect all information available, sort it and present in the manner of an encyclopaedia for a global audience.
Research on the topic was not at all a pain. Middle aged researchers, who are accustomed to the conventional sources of library books, journals etc. might be astonished to see the easiness and power of internet research. Living in a desert, 20 kilometres away from the nearest urban area, with no access to technical books or journals, I could gather all information right in my room through internet. You just need to learn the knack of internet searching with wild-cards. Internet , along with dad (a walking dictionary of mathematics) just a phone call away, research was a cakewalk. I collected all information I could get online.
Then, I had to learn the mark-up language used in Wikipedia. I used to stay away from editing pages in Wikipedia, even though their policy states to be bold in editing pages, thinking that the markup language will be difficult. But that too, like research, turned out to be easy. Easier than HTML. Especially the prototypes used specifically for an encyclopaedia like those for reference sections and hyperlinks.
And, thus, one fine morning after a night-shift's work, I wrote it. I wrote about the Katapayadi. After writing it, I too was astonished to see the spectrum of the usage of Katapaydi. It was used by mathematicians, astronomers, musicians and also in popular literature of the medieval age.
First of the revelations I had was the wonder of community effort. Using technology, millions around the world gather and religiously work towards a passion. Of organising the world's knowledge and present it. When I told dad that I finally wrote the article, he said, "Good, now don't be disappointed that someone edits it, for, that exactly is the spirit of Wikipedia." For me, it was also a forum to present my research to an audience. There are people who say that the content of Wikipedia cannot be relied because anyone can edit. It might be true to an extent for articles in its nascent stage. But well developed articles it presents the reliable facts in neutral point of view. And if you feel it isn't, feel free to go ahead and change it.
Another revelation was the achievements of medieval age Indian mathematicians. The school textbooks on Indian history mentions only about early age mathematicians Aryabhatta, Bhaskara etc. They don't mention anything about the medieval age mathematicians. Partly this might be due to the ignorance of the relevance of their contributions and partly, may be, due to the uneasiness to glorify anything from down south. The continuation of the achievements of Aryabhatta and and Bhaskara were mainly in Kerala. Madhava of Sangamagrama founded a school, now known as the Kerala School of Astronomy and Mathematics and several mathematicians have been a part of it. They were in fact the first to work on power series etc. The main contribution I'd like to mention here is the table of values of sines of various angles compiled by Madhava. The methods used to find these values are the basics of calculus. I have read of the arguments between English and continental European mathematicians on who discovered Calculus first. Was it Newton or Leibniz? They have argued for decades to an extent that both sided denied to study the others' mathematics. But after reading about Madhava, I sit back with a smile, and know that it was neither Newton in England of Leibniz in Germany. The foundations of calculus were first discovered by Sangamagrama Madhava who lived in Sangamagrama (present day Irinjalakkuda), just 30 kilometres away from my home, whose genius, considering the time he lived in, is sure to surpass that of even the much celebrated Ramanujan; and Madhava did it centuries before both Newton and Leibniz were even born, when the whole of the Western world were in the dark age.
However, there has been a discontinuity in these tradition. Perhaps due to the influences of British colonisation. Discontinuity led to the lack of its recognition, even in homeland. And later in the era of social improvements from what Vivekananda called a lunatic asylum, people might have got busy with Marxism, existentialism, materialism and whatnot. Pure science, sadly, is still is an undermined field in my homeland. The Kerala Shastra Sahitya Parishad too has deviated both from Shastra and Sahitya and is focussing on politics. As a result of this revelation, I have gone to an extent of sending a request letter to the Kerala government, to consider honouring these contributions in some way like naming a department after these giants, or including it in the school curriculum.
PS: The Wikipedia page on Katapayadi System can be found here.
The Wikipedia page on Kerala School of Astronomy and Mathematics can be found here.
Valve operation. Those two words are reverberating in my ears for quite sometime. It consumes a major part of the vocabulary of the people around me. Partly because, valves are an inevitable entity in any process industry, which controls the flow of fluids. But it is mainly because of the frustration of the blue-collared valve-operating engineers working in shifts, in extreme climates, wearing grease and oil coated clothes and operating valves.
Some chemical engineers feel it a bit derogatory to operate valves in a plant. Just as one need not be a mechanical engineer to drive a car or to repair it, one need not be a chemical engineer to run a plant or to repair it. On the other hand, just as a blockhead can break a car down with his driving or trying a hand at the repair, an improper valve operation can blow up a plant.
The show begins when a valve needs to be operated. Operation means it needs to be either opened or closed, either completely or partially in both cases, just as you open and close a household tap. A friend of mine explained like this to his mom: 'You know the tap on our wash basin? A valve is the same thing, only it is bigger, dirtier and more harder to turn.' A valve could be a manually operated valve or it could be a control valve. A control valve is not generally operated by humans. You have pressurised air, pressurised water or electricity to do that job. Blessed are those who invented the control valve for they have saved countless hours of manual labour. If it is a control valve, the worry is less because it can be operated either by a mouse click or a keyboard stroke from the control room. But if it is a manual valve, the fun begins. The instruction to operate a valve comes from the plant control room as the field operators generally don't take the initiative to avoid inviting comments of being over-smart. When the control room instruction is from a reasonably behaved person, you usually go and do the job. But if the instruction is from a dumb-witted moron who gives it to emphasise their authority or to create a havoc by their consistent barks, you just wait. And reply, 'I'll do it' or 'I'm doing it' or the more popular 'I'm on my way' when you actually relax and wait for the requirement of valve operation to subside. But finally when the control room operator screams on the walkie-talkie, 'C'mon, move your ass. Open the bloody valve.' you get up from your field cabin and move towards to valve. Every step seems so long as you approach the valve. You drag your feet, jump over pipes, climb the monkey ladder and reach the valve. Just when you start opening the valve you realise that the valve wheel is covered with grease and dirt. Then you think of using a cotton hand gloves, which should have been resting in your pocket. But when in need it, it is always back in your cabin. Then you descent all the way down through the monkey ladder, to fetch a pair of gloves.
When you start opening the valve with gloves, you realise that your muscle power is insufficient to open a the valve. Thus starts a hunt - the hunt for the most valued tool in field known as the valve-key. A valve-key is to a valve just as a spanner is to a nut. The valve-key helps you extend the diameter, giving the mechanical advantage, so that with less torque you can open a valve. Valve-keys are generally kept on a valve-key stand at a known place. But as it usually happens, the valve-key will never be there. You start searching for the valve-keys in the field. It is usually during this time, the scream comes from the control room, 'What the eff are you doing? Why the hell are you not opening the valve?' Then, for the first time, you reply the truth, 'Gimme a sec, I'm searching for valve-keys.' Surfing in the field, you find a valve-key lying as an orphan below some pump, smiling at your misfortune. You fetch the valve-key, wear you gloves and climb the monkey-ladder to try again. But as you already guessed, it so happens that the size of valve key never fits the valve. Now you are frustrated to the core that you won't feel like going back and searching the right size. So you invent methods of locking the wrong-sized valve-key to the wheel and open it. And if it so happened that you found a proper sized valve key, the curved portion should be pointing upwards while opening, and pointing downwards while closing. Even though you have done it a thousand times, the first time attempt you always lock it wrong.
You open the valve with the wrong-sized valve-key in a locking position you just invented. Just when you begin to wonder whether the effect of valve opening has started to show, there shouts the control room, 'What the heck? Do it slowly! Don't you know what will happen?' Then you steer a bit left left, steer a bit right, to finally arrive at the required flow rate.
This evolved valve standard operating happenings happens all the time. It sometimes has some deviations. Sometimes one of your irritating supervisors pass by, sees you opening the valve and comments, 'Your experience can be judged by the way open a valve.' boasting his experience. Or when you reach the valve in the first step, you see the valve has no hand wheel. Or the gearbox has been removed. Then instead of the hunt for the valve-key, it is for the variable wrench. In yet another instant, for a not-particularly-beautiful, not-so-coloured, beautifully-named, butterfly valve, you discover a missing 'quarter-pin'. If it was broken, chances are that it was broken before and you can find those pieces lying around. And if those lying around pins do not fit, you finally insert a welding rod and operate the valve
The worst part is the malfunctioning of the boon called control valve. Sometimes, it just gets bored of being remotely controlled and thus one fine shift, stops working. Poor thing. How long can it be a puppet with some guy pulling the strings. It stops working calling for some personal attention. To operate a control valve manually, which is accustomed to remote operations, is bit of a job. Find the lever that changes the mode from automatic to manual, try turning with hand wheel, or extra efforts with valve-keys, spanners and variable wrenches. Whatever you do, whichever be the type, in the first attempt it never opens.
Valve operation is thus an art in itself. One of my ex-bosses once commented on the dilemma of chemical engineers becoming a glorified plumber, "You are not paid for the valve you operate. You are paid for the responsibility you undertake. You are paid for the knowledge of knowing which valve to operate and how to do it." Merely looking at the manual labour, one shouldn't dishearten. Valve operation needs meticulous planning, adroitness and a bit of killer instinct. To identify the type of valve, tools to open it, ways to approach it, applying the right torque and so on to get the precise flow rate with the least amount of effort. May be you don't need to be a chemical engineer to operate a valve. But the planning, precision and the foresight of the effects with which a chemical engineer operates it, is unparalleled. Amen.
'Oh, so you are an atheist?'
'Tum nastik ho?'
'You don't believe in god?'
These are some common responses I get when I generally express my opinion on religion, god, pujas, prayer etc. to which I usually smile off preferring not to initiate a debate. Yet sometimes, when I encounter an ultraconservative-feudalistic-arrogant-fanatic whose mere presence causes utmost irritation, I go a step further saying 'I believe in human capabilities, not divine intervention.' There are only a few instances when I actually got into a debate on atheism. Most of it were during my college days. One memorable one was with an intelligent classmate of mine. We debated for hours in a long, empty corridor of my college. To most of my fundamental 'why?' questions, her only reply was, 'because it is written in the Bible'. Now what shall I say to that if she isn't ready to reconsider light as in 'let there be light' as an electromagnetic radiation? Another debate which I remember was with a classmate who had a bit more reason than 'it is written'. He tried to provide a scientific touch to the age old Indian customs and traditions citing concepts like the chronology of the avatars of Vishnu are similar to those of the evolution of species, beginning with the sea life (matsyam) going through amphibians (kurmam), half humans (narasimham) and pygmies (vaman) and evolving to human beings (Krishna). But then again, when asked, he failed to provide one scientific equation to prove how planetary positions at the time of birth affect the fate of a human being as told in jyothisham. Or, mathematically how does the body alignment while sleeping gets affected by magnetic field of earth? (Traditionally, in India, there are directions in which one should lie down to sleep). He believes the answer to that is somewhere hidden in the Vedas and Upanishads, products of the intellectual triumphs of our nomadic iron age forefathers, which are still incomprehensible to the information age civilised humans. To him it wasn't written, it was 'hidden'. So, I have found such debates lead nowhere and thus chose not to indulge in one, particularly if the opponent lacks some basic reason. I had thus, tried to concentrate my debates more on the evils of organised religion than on the fundamental question of belief as such.
In the past few days, I was talking with a few friends of mine, whose unpretentious company I miss very much, to check what they are up to. Apart from watching a wide spectrum of quixotic world movies, Rajan said he was becoming 'increasingly atheistic' after his fresh studies on the theory of evolution and natural selection. Whereas, Nirmal, probably due to interactions with Rajan and his desperation in the mountains of Guwahati, did talk a bit of atheism but finally said that it is not whether theism or atheism, but it is that 'I don't care'. He also mistook my horns in my edited chat picture, to be satanic. I had to correct it to those of a Gnu (of the GNU/Linux fame). When I mentioned the the topic to Geo, he said, 'What is so much to discuss about it? Its a worthless debate.'
I didn't want to be so equivocal towards both theism and atheism, so I decided to do a study myself as I had nothing particular to engage myself after the hairstyle experiment.
After a round of Googling and Wikipediaing, I got some ideas on how generally theism and atheism is perceived and treated. I knew that atheism is a very confused field in India. Religion and culture are so interlinked that a very thin line separated both. Celebrating Diwali shouldn't make you a Hindu or celebrating Christmas shouldn't make you a Christian. A few months back, at home, I visited the Guruvayoor temple. My parents and relatives were surprised to learn that I visited a temple without compulsion. They thought that I have started to embrace the spiritual path. But, apart from the undisclosed party at comrade Madhavan's place nearby, there was something about the visit. It was not spiritual. I have so many childhood memories of the temple. The bananas and sugar prasadam, the manchadi seeds, the Jnanappana and so on. It needn't be always faith, it could be anything else. Madhavan too, who haven't went inside the famous temple even after living next door for almost an year, mistook my visit and asked, 'Since when did you become so religious?'
Another concept I'd like to discuss is Indian classical music. I used to reject Carnatic music labelling it as feudal. But lately, I have found it to be very interesting. After all its just a form of art. Still, I believe Carnatic music and other classical Indian art forms should get out of the mythology. Carnatic compositions have to get out of simple god-praise. Why don't they sing of socially relevant topics?
My research revealed that the so-called spiritual and conservative India too has a history of atheism. Refer this page on Wikipedia for details. Buddhism doesn't acknowledge any kind of deity. Buddhism is a struggle not against sins or adharma, it is a struggle against atrocities and sufferings. Jawaharlal Nehru, Vinayak Savarkar, Periyar E. V. Ramasamy, Bhagat Singh, Amartya Sen, Javed Akhtar are famous Indian atheists in the modern times.
Anyhow now I know, religion in India, stripped off the belief part, is pure fun. With the food, feast, dance, crackers, colours, flowers, songs, dresses and liquor.
Also, I found that atheism had more dimensions than I thought. Nevertheless, the main aspect I was uncomfortable was the word atheism itself. Though a wide variety of atheisms exist, it failed to convey the real concept it should represent. Atheism, historically is the denial of the existence of any deity and hence a derogatory term. This was obviously because majority of the people in all parts of the world believed in some sort of a deity and the minority who went against were considered rebellious. However, one can be an atheist and yet not rebellious. Atheism isn't even a choice, for that matter. Atheism is the very natural trait one is born with. The concepts of god and religion are introduced only later during the growth. Belief is a choice, whereas atheism, the natural state. This congenital quality fails to be captured in the negative connotation known as atheism. So, I started searching for an alternative term. Even after one week of searching, I did not find a suitable word.
So one fine day, I called up Pramod, who said was unhappily working on some recent revelations he got on male chauvinism. I know, while working on such a topic, he might facing the same moral dilemma which Albert Einstein had while recommending the research on the development of atomic bomb. Chauvinism apart, I asked his opinion on atheism. He replied with his famous sense of humour, 'It is like asking what your opinion on gravity is. Isn't it as real?' I was dumb stuck. He left me at a point where I couldn't ask anything further. Then I had to explain the background of such a question. After a round of discussion, we stopped temporarily. Then, in the evening he gave me an alternative idea. He suggested to use the term 'materialism' instead. His reasoning was that every sort of belief in a deity will spring from the belief of the existence of a spirit i.e. spiritualism. Materialism is everything on the contrary to that, founded on the existence and interactions of matter with no room for a spirit. This seemed to be a profound idea. Yet it is a very challenging topic to deal with, because in spiritualism, every unknown can be left to the spirit, but materialists have to find an answer or at least a reasoning. Yet without getting into the technicalities and details of materialism, I can just borrow the concept to represent my natural stand.
So, now I have my answer ready to all those who ask a question, 'Oh, so you are an atheist?'. My answer would be 'No, I am not an atheist..., I am a materialist.' But sometimes, if materialism is too complicated a concept to be comprehensible to someone, or I meet some aforesaid feudal-fundamentalist-arrogant-fanatic, I might deliberately use the term atheist, just to make things simple or to amuse myself with the trembling face of the fanatic as the bull sees the red cape.
Sometimes in life, you feel 'this isn't enough'. Such was one fine evening, when I woke up after a night-shift's carried over sleep. While your mind transfuses back into reality, you get some serious insights. Those which are unadulterated by the compulsive forgetfulness of the rational mind.
I sat drowsily on the sofa with eyes half open, I felt the warmth of my stomach under the t-shirt, I scratched my head. I contemplated. This has become a humdrum. I could just predict what is going to happen with me this evening, tomorrow, the next two weeks and may be even more. Too monotonous. Something needs to change. What will I tell my grandchildren? Wouldn't they be too unhappy to learn that I don't have any interesting stories to tell. Am I not existing in this world living someone else's life? But how to glorify it was still a harder question.
Last night-shift was quiet. So, I had researched on process control, Indian history and hairstyles. Hairstyle... thunderbolt! Yes, a hairstyle!
I decided to wear a fauxhawk hairstyle!
'A... what?' 'A fauxhawk hairstyle. ' 'And what on earth is that?' 'Its an altered Mohican hairstyle. You have long hair at the centre of your head. You then gel it and comb it inwards from the sides spiking in the centre like a palm leaf.' 'So?' 'So, nothing; I just want to have a fauxhawk haircut.' 'That's it? Is that all what you could come up with? Just a haircut? Some stupid punk hairstyle? Is this the serious insight you had, dangling on to your sub-conscious? Is this how you are going to brighten up your mundane life? A haircut, for heaven's sake? Why don't you murder some corrupt politician? Or go scuba diving or paragliding? Why don't you write a novel? A haircut to improve life! Gawk!'
I went to the saloon in the township I live in. Well, I was unsure whether to have the fauxhawk haircut in a just-another-saloon. But I was quite sure that the hairdresser in township would have never heard of a fauxhawk, let alone the Mohican. So, I showed him a photo of David Beckham in a fauxhawk and asked him whether he could do that on me. He took my mobile, stared at the photo, then at my hair, then again stared at the photo... he continued his professional examination for a few minutes till he said, "Okay, I will do it." I was too happy that he didn't say, 'I will try' and thus, I sat on the revolving chair. He kept my mobile on the dressing table for quick reference and worked on my hair with an artistic devotion. Cuts and slices, cuts and slices. And there I am with a fauxhawk haircut.
My right side hair took a few days to get accustomed to the new combing direction. It protested by staying outward from the mainstream. After a few days it too got fine. While the hair on the right side was learning to stand in a new direction, I got my hair coloured. First, I tried highlighting it with golden but when it wasn't highlighting enough, I got the entire hair done with a boldface light brown.
My hairstyle received mixed reactions from friends and relatives. After listening to my lecture on Mohican and a fauxhawk, my uncle said, "Whatever it is, it looks... pretty awful." My aunt too didn't differ in opinion but it seemed that she was too polite to express it. My cousin, Malu, was the only one among my relatives who said that it looks good. But again, fact remains that she usually doesn't say anything bad about me about anything except for my futile attempts at singing. Manish, my colleague, called it lomdi mistaking the faux to be a fox (Lomdi is fox in Hindi). Mankeshwar, my colleague, notorious for expanding KRA (as in Key Result Areas) as Kyon Rakhe Aapko (why have you been kept), called it, and still calls it, a hoch poch. Narendran, my roommate, was uncomfortable with the colour. He believed that light hair colour will never match dark skinned people like me. Another colleague, Sourabh, said that initially I looked like a ch**u, (before my right side hair got accustomed); but now its fine. Subir was amazed that they do such fancy styles in the township saloon. Nitin laughed, laughed, again laughed and said, "Have you seen those guys in roadside who wear a pink t-shirt with cartoon pictures, a tight jeans with feminine embroidery and extravagant metal and plastic accessories all over the body? You look like one of them."
Meanwhile, I started growing a beard. I was so frustrated with my present job and was being constantly denied a job rotation, that I registered my protest symbolically by growing a beard and vowed not to shave it before a change in job. I was surprised to see the fresh areas where my beard has started growing unknown to me due to the rigorous self-imposed schedule of daily shaving. A popular belief is that one grows thicker and better beard if he shaves daily. I found that it is a myth. Daily shaving just leaves you ignorant of the new areas your beard-dom has explored.
Shortly after, when I went home for Onam, my mother was extremely annoyed to see my new look. "Last time I saw you in Delhi, you were so handsome. Now you look like a beast.", she said. When we went shopping, the next day, I could feel the comments and discussions around me in the store about my rather unconventional hairstyle and colour. Witnessing this, my mother persuaded me to change it to a normal style which I relentlessly refused but she literally pulled me to get the colour at least, changed back to black before visiting our relatives for Onam. Meanwhile, to tackle my mother's 'savage' remark, I incorporated a relaxation in my vow not to shave - I reduced it to a goatee.
While, I was getting dressed to visit my cousin Malu's potential fiancé and his family, my father caught hold of my chin with his left hand, took out a comb with his right and parted my hair from the left and said, "This is better. Don't dare to change it back." He declared it against the code of good conduct and reminded that I am approaching marriageable age. Mother said, "I heard Malu's potential in-laws do farming and needs people to work in their paddy fields. You suit good with your paala thoppi." (Fauxhawk roughly resembled a Kerala farmer's cap called a paala thoppi.) Out of my frustration I said, "I am ready. Ask them to pay me only half the money. At least its home. Moreover, work profile barely differs with my current one."
Such is the story of a special haircut. But as I look back, did I glorify anything? Did I change the course of the world? Or become a legend? Did I make any significant contribution to the history of the humankind? No. After all, all I did was to change my hairstyle. But it did create some waves, some happenings, some events, some memories, some stories for my grandchildren.
I am contended.
This is a moment of triumph. I publish this post from a computer with GNU/Linux as the only Operating System on it. And I it is connected to the internet through a Tata Indicom USB modem. I am falling short of ASCII codes to express my happiness.
Now a bigger challenge lied ahead - connect to the internet. While surfing popular internet providers, I stumbled upon a page in the TataIndicom website listing the support of Photon Whiz on Linux platforms. Also, I saw a pdf file describing how to configure Photon Whiz on a GNU/Linux. I took a printout of it and that evening went straight to a TataIndicom shop with Malu and told the charming young lady at the customer service desk that I need a connection that works on GNU/Linux. I told the lady that I need her show me a demo of the connection and only if it works I will buy. She was not confident at first. So I encouraged her to call their technical support and ask for help and even flattered her by saying that how would someone ever deny such a sweet request. Malu pinched me everytime I flirted with the lady. The technical support guy could not tell anything more than what was there in the print-out. So I decided it to try it out myself. The lady was so astonished to see a GNU/Linux powered laptop that she called all her colleagues and showed it to them. She was also surprised to see me typing commands on the terminal window referring the instructions. The way she was staring at me, for a moment I felt I was Richard Stallman himself coding the latest version of Emacs, though what I was doing is not even a thousandth of what he might be doing on an average day. I took the sample modem she gave and I followed the instructions in that print-out and guess what? It worked! Internet on GNU/Linux! Hallelujah! I opened the GNU website. It did work. I hope you read the mail I sent conveying my surprise and happiness right from the shop. Though a smaller and advanced version of the modem didn't work, I compromised for older one. Yet, it was a moment of triumph. It was finally done. That was step number two towards freedom.
A whole road of freedom lies ahead. Freedom from propietary software, freedom from pop ups, viruses, computer crash and hang and so many other irritants popularised as inevitable by Windows. Now, I also need a good office package, a music player, an image editor, so on and so forth. 'The woods are lovely, dark and deep... And miles to go before I sleep, And miles to go before I sleep.'
This exercise taught me sevaral valuable lessons. One can live without Windows. One needn't be a software engineer or a geek programmer to use GNU/Linux. You don't need to be in the Silicon valleys of Bengaluru or California to use it. GNU/Linux is not for people in the Artificial Intelligence lab of MIT. Even a common plant operator like me can install and use it. You can find it, install it and use it while being in place where paan and maawa sells more than books and pens. Dare is all it takes. One can use it even without professional obligations. One can use it purely for pleasure, or for the sake of just using it. One can use it for political reasons. One can use it as an anarchist or an anti-authoritarian propaganda. One can use it just to try something extra-ordinary. One can use it be in the one percent of the population. (Pardon me Pramod, for I am not the common man here.)
Finally, a privilege which I got in a town where GNU/Linux is generally unknown - one can use it to make advances: As I walked out of the Tata Indicom shop, I handed over my visiting card to the charming young lady and said, "Call me if you have any configuration trouble with GNU/Linux...", and I continued softly, "...you can call me even if you don't have any trouble." And believe me dad, she acknowledged by giving me her visiting card. Such is the power of GNU/Linux when it comes to networking.
Not everyday is a birthday. Others celebrate you on birthdays.
My childhood birthday celebrations were modest. Birthdays were one of those days of the year on which I had to visit a local temple to collect the payasam (kheer) delivered as the prasadam. The thought of visiting a temple makes me nervous because I was not familiar with the customs and rituals. My ignorance of the rituals once led me to do the pradakshinam (circumambulation) in a direction which I was not supposed to do. A local public figure shouted at me that it is an apradakshinam (anti-circumambulation). Fear of such embarrassing situations makes me nervous and reluctant to visit temples alone. But visting was compulsory on birthdays.
Then, there was the pirannal sadya (birthday feast) which was also special with opastharikkal, a ritual done with ghee and rice before meal. I don't know what it means but ghee mixed rice was always tasty. I eat my pirannal sadya prepared by mom, in the vazhayila (banana leaf) chopped and shaped by dad, in front of the nilavilakku (lamp). My brother sits on my right side for the meal. There is something about valathu bhaagathu irikkal (sitting on the right side). May it evolved as a custom to satisfy the jealousy of the non-birthday kids.
Then I wear the 'colour dress', the pirannal kodi (new dress for the birthday) to school, distribute a pack of chocolates to classmates, teachers and the principal. One good thing about birthdays is that you have certain privileges. The teachers don't scold you or hurt you for not doing homework or being naughty, your name gets announced on the stage during the morning assembly, you get to be in the principals office for a good cause, you get to hear good words from teachers.
Upon return from school, I distribute another pack of sweets for my neighbours.
Such were my childhood birthdays. There were celebrations. But there were no gifts, cakes, candles, bumps, songs or parties.
Then I grew up. During my third semester in college, I cut my first birthday cake inside a tourist bus on a trip to Kodaikkanal. The cake was a surprise. So were the gifts. I was gifted a hair band and a hair clip by the female crowd for my extra long hair.
Later in college, there weren't much of birthdays. I was too busy with politics, and birthdays seemed so bourgeois. Still it does.
Yesterday, I completed living quarter of a century on this planet. This too had its surprises. Again a cake. But with candles. And vodka. Yesterday, I blew out my first ever birthday candles. I made a wish, silently. As the clock struck midnight, I was flooded with greetings on my mobile. Not everyday is a birthday. You discover people still remember you. That you may not be the underling that you think to be. You become the centre of attraction for a change. You feel life is still worth living. Not everyday is a birthday. Certain flashes come to your mind. You remember payasams, parents and homework. Though the birthday reminds you of getting old, it emphasises that you are still alive.
They were playing Kuselan on TV. The climax when cinema actor delivers that touching speech about his childhood friend, the protagonist, coincided with the cake cutting. Catalysed by vodka, the feeling was beyond words.
I grieved. Not everyday is a birthday. Not every birthday has a surprise. Not every surprise gives you tears. And not every tear gives you happiness.
As I blew the candles out, I made a wish, a silent wish.
"Take away all I have. All that I earned and learned. It still keeps me hungry. Take away all the health and wealth. Its a burden. And give me a smile, a wholehearted one, for a minute of a day."