Monday, December 17, 2007

The Prisoner of Dilemma?

Fig.: Payoff Table for the Mugging Game

To anyone who has been through the Relative Grading system (referred to rather fondly, one would think, as RG), the resonance with Prisoner's Dilemma is unavoidable. Therefore, one becomes a Prisoner of Dilemma and starts mugging.

Of course, an important condition here is that the reward (which I have rather "nicely" depicted in that wad of notes picture) must be something that both the players treasure a lot. If the reward is not so compelling, then people would just give up. Let me refine that. If the players don't see a direct connection between the reward and effort, then they would give up easily.

Of course, the pundits are most probably going to tut-tut this and point out in a shocked whisper, the cavalier manner in which I am generalizing a two player game to multi player situations. I frankly have no idea about the results in the multi player case. But still, I think it touches a chord and I shall leave it!

And this blog was meant as a continuation of the crib about mugging in my previous blog. For all this high falutin stuff, the end result is that reality has not changed one bit. Understanding it, somehow, somehow, makes me feel good, though for what end, I know not.

(PS1: Credit to Anuj Pradhan who talked about this after the Economics Exam)
(PS2: "Prisoner of Dilemma" is such a nice title for a prospective song/poem. Cool! I now have a kickass title, about the poem...)

Saturday, December 08, 2007

Random Thoughts

----> Mostly Boring <-----

Yep, the title says it all. I have to be preparing for some test of some x weightage of some y component for some z subject. Feeling very very "been there, done that." But that tiny voice of reason in my head sayeth, "Hark, you young fool! All this bluster serves no end. Study, my child. One day, one day, you will realize the fruits of all this. " Ah, don't I just love Reason!


:::::: Shaving Myths::::::

Let me tell you a story. Long long ago, a man named T- got pained with having to shave. He just didn't see the point. As was the norm in those days, he went into a long long penance to take this grievance to God, the Big G, the Maker... you get the picture.

After looooong years of penance, a floating figure comes in front of T- and says:

Floating Figure: Excoos me! I believe you have long been in penance. I am God...

T-: (In orgasmic bliss) Ooooooh God! How happy I am that you have decided to hear the pleadings of a most humble...

God's PR Manager: Stop talking rot. I am God's PR Manager.

T-: (Perplexed) Why hasn't He come?

GPR: You have been in penance for far too long. The good old days of meeting God by penance is gone. Now you have to forward stuff through me. He has to be in many charity dinners at the same time. Anyway... you cut to the chase, I am on call holding.

T-: But isn't He omnipresent, omnipotent, omniscient etc etc?

GPR: (grinning) Umm... No. Neat marketing trick actually...

T-: Anyway, my request is... I want Him to grant me the boon of not having to shave... EVER

GPR: (Short Pause) No.. can't do.

T-: No? What kind of an answer is that? In all the myths, He always accepts even if it is the darndest stupidest suggestion in the world!

GPR: That is why they are called myths. Besides, I receive huge donations from the shaving lobby.

T-: But why does He need money?

GPR: Oh... how do you think we get all the gas to make the clouds in heaven? Plus inter-dimensional transport costs quite a bit... throw in all those gold ornaments everyone in heaven wears... it is quite costly you know.

T-: So... my effort was in vain! Cannot be...

GPR: Okay okay... You could turn into a PR disaster. How about... (idea) you start a shaving salon? The business opportunity is this: there will be others like you who do not want to shave. You shave them for a charge. It is a neat business if you think about it. The only business immune to Fed interest rate changes. I mean... irrespective of economic condition, hair will grow!

T-: Yes! I see the light!

GPR: Phew! That is one more loony satisfied!

Thus was born the first shaving salon!



Yesterday (Friday) was one of those days when I regretted getting out of bed. No point getting into details, suffice to say that it was like those "My Unlucky Day" level essays one writes in school where everything goes wrong. Today, in contrast, was awesome. Nice bright sunny day with just that right nip in the air. Finished all my errands and went to the library to read the paper. Chanced upon the Harvard Business Review and sat down to read it. Quite engrossing and more importantly for a publication of such repute, the language is refreshingly… simple and straightforward. However, after reading a few articles I was left with the following question. How much of Management is really science and can be captured in "scientific terms"? The frameworks that abound in HBR are derived from contextual phenomena and I guess they make sense till the contextual assumptions hold. After a point however, the frameworks get intellectually tedious and I am quite skeptical of their usefulness as predictive tools. Of course, maybe frameworks are rarely meant to be predictive tools.

I personally believe that the key is to first define or understand the objective. The world is quite complex, meaning there are too many stochastic variables to deal with and defining an objective in a way simplifies the problem. Maximizing profit or Maximizing shareholder value are simplifications for example. But I feel these are fairly outdated objectives. A more contemporary objective may be something like maximizing profit as well as employee fun. Or something like Maximizing Profit through Innovation. The problem is that these expressions cannot be modeled in mathematical terms. My point is... who needs mathematics here.

Then am I implying that formal management education is pointless? Not one bit. I am sure it serves its purpose as a record of past business experience. It is just that when people start deriving "formulae" and start making "scientific predictions" based on non-scientific methods, then I get skeptical.


Tuesday, October 09, 2007

Big Man, Mad Dog and Velachery Vimala

(Mandatory Warning: Not suitable at the work place. Not suitable for kids. Lots of expletives. Read at your own peril.)

A young man stood on the edge of the Napier Bridge looking at the indifferent Cooum river flowing below. His life was worthless. The one woman he had loved passionately had dumped him. He re-read the letter that she had written to him as if reading it another time would change the words. In that letter she informed him about how they had been immature; how they had wrongly misunderstood their love to be pure and eternal. “When the body itself was transient how then could love be eternal?”, she had skilfully reasoned. But his heart did not allow that. There was such a thing as true love. And in fact, he was going to prove it. He would die and haunt her memories. She, unable to take the pain would die too and they would re-unite in heaven. However, looking at the Cooum below, the reasoning did not seem so compelling, suddenly.

“Sir, love failure?”, a voice called out, causing the young man to jump a bit, but not enough to die. There was an elderly, kindly looking old man smiling at him.

“Why don’t you step down? If the police sees you like this, they will first fine you and then never allow you to die. Then you will just be in a lose-lose situation”, the old man said and started guffawing at his own "joke".

The young man was drunk with love yes, but not drunk, so he saw the sense in the old man’s advise and he stepped down.

“Your true love has left you eh? Sorry let me qualify that. Your one, true love has left you huh?”, the old man asked. The young man nodded listlessly.

“Well dying or not dying is your choice and I am not anyone to preach. But I am reminded of a story. Why don’t you postpone your decision until then?”

The young man again nodded listlessly. He reasoned that listening to the old man, any old man, would itself take him closer to death and if anything just help him in his cause.

The old man began:

Owner Manickam grimaced, looking at the four people sitting in the “special table” at the Mahalakshmi Wines (With Bar Attached). It was nearing midnight and the boys had long shooed away the usual hangers-on, the type who clung to the bar like barnacles to a ship, in the hope that some generous benefactor bestows a free “quarter”. Usually the threat of police scared away those types, but the problem with the people remaining that day was that the police would never do anything to them; in fact, they set the rules for the latter.

"Verinaay” (Mad Dog) Vinayagam roared (with what seemed to Manickam) an evil laugh, for the umpteenth time in the evening. He continued regaling his over-eager cohorts on some exploits or the other. If it wasn’t some daredevil act of his right under the police’s nose, it was about the various dalliances with the leading whores of the city. Beads of perspiration glistened on Manickam’s balding head.

Behind Manickam’s perennially ingratiating smile and the over exaggerated shows of servility, lay an extremely sharp mind. In fact, he went to great extents to disguise his ambitious nature and instead don the role of the “jolly good fellow”. He planned some of his by now famous witticisms, to the last second. Unlike a lot of others, he really never wanted to be in this business. He genuinely believed liquor spoilt lives and was himself a staunch teetotaler. But his shrewd mind told him this was a fantastic business to get him rich. It was, when he had got into the business. His shop was the preferred shop for treats, any big occasions and so on. In fact, he ran such a good place that buying stuff from his store itself seemed to bestow legitimacy to the alcohol. He had a good control over his unit and unlike most places kept his place very clean. He was a terror for his helper boys, whom he would whip if he caught them with the liquor. In fact, such was the image of his shop that parents did not mind their boys working there for a quick extra buck. But now with more stores nearby and more goons to grease he saw his pie shrinking. It was getting a thankless business. However, Manickam had a shrewd nose for real estate and had invested early, with much of his land worth more than twenty times what he bought it at. In fact, he expected the IT corridor to increase the value even more and was planning to sell once it reached twenty five times the value.

That particular day began badly for him. One of the newer thugs demanded a piece of land owned by Manickam at much less than what it could be sold for. However, the said thug was well connected and Manickam had no choice and he had as usual, meekly acquiesced. The jolly eyes wore a melancholic look throughout the day. Then Mad Dog came. Just studying his body language, Manickam knew there was going to be trouble.

Vinayagam had always been a never-do-good. It was therefore not surprising when he took to the murkier side of the law. His ferocity was legendary, the reputation being mostly engineered, with shreds of truth here and there. Vinayagam had always been admiring and respectful of Manickam as a wise man and sough counsel. For the past few days, Manickam saw a change in Vinayagam’s body language. He no longer asked anything, just ordered for it. Many amateurs had fallen for this way at the peak of their success. Mad Dog was gaining a reputation as a fantastic shooter. But what Manickam always feared was that this man, Mad Dog, had a definitely evil streak. Nothing in the world could constrain an atheist, incapable of feeling love.

When he was feeling down, Manickam liked to take a walk to look at what he had created. And he had indeed created something. It was his way of re-assuring himself that despite the odds he had built this shop and he would continue to beat the odds. The shop and the bar were in a house given to him by the Big Man, the guardian of the area. Big Man had ruled the roost for the past thirty years and it was generally understood his able son would succeed him when the old man got tired. The house had been a four room house with a small garden by the side. The walls had been demolished save for one room that served as the store. The “Bar Attached” was simply the leftover area with an asbestos covering.

Manickam now went to the four who were quite drunk by now. One guy was slumped over his chair just laughing continuously as if he were afraid that if he stopped laughing Mad Dog would do something to him.

“What Mad Dog, no work and all tomorrow eh?”, Manickam said with a mock laugh.

“Yes old man, we are young, rich and have no permanent whores to keep pestering us all the time. I tell you, if I were you, I would never have got married…”, Vinayagam slurred.

“It is said that even the stray buffaloes want to settle sometime. Did you know the story of the buffalo that went and put it in the wrong hole and…”

“Eh old man, that is why they have vayagra nowadays. How will you understand or afford all this? How will I explain it to someone of your generation. Hmm... see, imagine an old moped. Old mopeds don't start quickly. They have a starting problem. Then what do we do? We kick start it with greater force. Vayagra will kick start yours like that. Here take some money and buy yourself some”, saying this, he threw some money and the cohorts fell of the chair laughing. One of them repeatedly slapped the ground in mirth before puking and collapsing on that.

Manickam was really trying to hold his anger now. However, he simply retorted, “Unlike some people, we do not have the luxury of setting our times. I have to be awake by 6 tomorrow. Why don’t you guys go home? I will send some stuff with you.”

“Free?”, Mad Dog smirked.

“Yes, free. If it is not for the rising sun, who else will I give?”, he said sarcastically.

Manickam heaved a sigh of relief as Mad Dog stumbled up, threw seven crisp thousand rupee notes and told the others to get up. Just then, he heard the sound of a car, a Sumo he reckoned and his heart started beating crazily. Could it be the Big Man himself?

It was the Big Man accompanied only by his Secretary. (And this not being a Bond film or porn film, the "secretary" was a burly mottai boss/bald "Bhim boy" type of character) The Big Man stepped out in an agitated manner.

“Mad Dog, what have you been upto today?”, he asked with ice in his voice. A knot gripped Manickam’s stomach and he felt a buzz in his head. There was going to be blood today!

“Eh? Son of a hair counter... who is that? Just because someone comes up and asks me what I have been upto, I need not answer. The whole city shakes to the name of Mad Dog…”

“Bastard, son of a whore, Mad Dog it seems. Castrated dickless dog. What did I tell you to do?”

“Oh it is you. Sorry Big Man, sometimes even God's bulb switches off. Then we need spotlight. Manickam show some light so that we can see our God in his Vishwaroopam”, Mad Dog said flippantly.

“Shut up you ungrateful turd...” Manickam rushed forward as if to slap him.

“You do not get into this, it is between us”, Big Man ventured forth. He looked at Mad Dog squarely in the eye and said, “I told you to go to Villiwakkam”

“I went there…” Mad Dog stammered

“I told you to arrange a matter…”

“I arranged it for that party…”

“Then you were supposed to meet me in the camp…”

“I was heading in that direction…”

“Yes, motherfucker, you were heading in the direction, then why didn’t you reach me at 7 in the evening. Did you lose your microscopic dick on the way?”

No answer.

“You were in Velachery. What the fuck were you doing there? Counting the hair on your nether parts…”

Still, no answer.

The Big Man took out a gun and thrust it into his mouth. The fear of God flashed in Mad Dog’s eyes. He flushed. It was as if all the alcohol drained out of his mouth in an instance.

“Why did you go to that house? What the fuck made you think you can get away with that?”

“Sir, sir you are too big for all this. Let your smaller men take care of him. Just beat him up to show your power, guns are excessive. The bastard just needs to be put in place”, Manickam pleaded.

The Big Man ignored him and looked Mad Dog straight in the eye. Mad Dog motioned as if he wanted to speak. He had actually got over the shock of the gun now and his mind was racing.

“Manickam get out of the place! Now!” roared the Big Man

Manickam scurried out, sobbing.

“Now… Mad Dog I have been watching you. You think I don’t know that you have been sending out signals to my rivals. But in our line of that is all common, and in fact, it is a status symbol for me. I myself was going to reward you in due course. But how dare you try to lay your hands on…”

Suddenly, Mad Dog heard the sound of steel. One of his cohorts had hit Big Man on the head and Big Man fell down. Big Man’s secretary shot Mad Dog’s cohort and he died immediately. Mad Dog had by then reached for his revolver tucked under his lungi and shot Big Man’s secretary who too died immediately, blood spouting a red parabola from his heart.

A satanic look crept into Mad Dog’s eyes. He took aim at Big Man’s foot and shot. The big toe of the Big Man sundered and popped out and hit Mad Dog in his eyes. After the first shot had been fired, the whole neighbourhood woke up. Everyone peered out frightened from the window. Maniackam knew it was from his wine shop. He ran back hoping that he could counsel peace one last time…

At the moment Manickam entered the gate, he realized in a split second what happened and he screamed “Vinayagam…” at that very instant the sundered toe hit Mad Dog’s eyes. In an impulse of self defense Mad Dog, who was blinded in one eye and writhing in pain kept shooting in all directions and in the process two bullets pierced Manickam’s throat. For a few seconds Manickam’s body lurched in mid air as if unsure in which direction to fall, then it fell, face forward on the ground. At least he died on the very land that had kept him alive so long.

One of Mad Dog’s random bullets hit Big Man just as the latter was lurching for his gun. They both fired at each other simultaneously, both sundering each other’s arms below the elbow in the hand they held the gun. Suddenly, flashes of light invaded the compound. Cars of men stepped out and even the most hardened amongst them almost fainted at the gory. Amidst all the shock a female shriek rented the air. Despite the men restraining her Velachery Vimala, the bewitching and most captivating whore of city came running forward. The term “whore” would be most unsuitable for her. Descendant of a royal courtesan, a beauty uncommon to those of her condition shone on her face. She had always been the prize of the biggest don and Mad Dog had misbehaved to her in the afternoon that day.

Big Man had come to teach a lesson.

Vimala composed herself. She told the men she just wanted to kill that rascal, that bastard, that despicably low, mean, evil piece of excretion, thrown on earth that had killed the bravest man she knew and one whom she had truly loved. Big Man was a hero in many ways and few knew it as best as Vimala. She lifted the gun. Pointed the gun at Mad Dog and in a swift move, turned the gun and killed herself.

The men looked stunned. The son decided that this matter had to end. The man who did all this had to suffer. But before he could do anything, Mad Dog reached for his knife, staggered up and said, “Look, you mangy dogs, before you advance let me make it known that I want to die not because of cowardice that you, you, will kill me. But I wish to die because my intemperate actions killed a pure love that is worth than more the lives of bastards who will whore for every paisa thrown on them. Maybe if I had known Vimala I would have known what it is being a human…” He speared himself.

The Old man stopped and paused.

“What is the moral?”, he asked.

The young man remained silent.

“You guys know jackshit about true love. Your sacrifice is absolutely useless if the other person is not going to respond with that intensity. Tell me, has your significant other ever shown such passion. Life is too precious for even a girl. There are many fish in the sea…”

“But this is not just any fish. I saw her in a restaurant first. Her name was Latha…”

Saturday, September 22, 2007

Strictly PG-18

An "enlightened" thought struck me in the Economics exam today.

q. What is common between a pornstar and competitive markets?
a. Both have no barriers to entries and exit

q. How many Economists does it take to screw a light bulb?
a. None. They are still debating if it is Pareto Efficient.

Okay okay, before you spit on your screen, you have to hand it to me for making education fun and all that jazz!

Monday, August 20, 2007

The Treachery of Historical Analysis

(An excerpt from Monty Python’s Holy Grail)

Arthur: The Lady of the Lake-- her arm clad in the purest shimmering samite,
held aloft Excalibur from the bosom of the water, signifying by
divine providence that I, Arthur, was to carry Excalibur. THAT is why
I am your king!

Man: (laughingly) Listen: Strange women lying in ponds distributing swords
is no basis for a system of government! Supreme executive power
derives from a mandate from the masses, not from some... farcical
aquatic ceremony!

This small piece nicely illustrates the absurdities and contradictions that arise when one tries to interpret history in a modern context. More specifically, I have always suspected that analysing history in a “mathematical”, strictly logical manner is most often useless, perhaps even dangerous.

I had written a bit about this in one of my older blogs. This blog is meant to elaborate that idea. (For those who have read it already my apologies. Skip the part that is given in quotes and continue reading from thereon.)

“It is very interesting to speculate on the evolution of the University system since many of the rituals (if you can call it that) in a typical ceremony like the Convocation where degrees are awarded, do not fit into an Indian context at all. The use of Latin, the robes themselves and the whole atmosphere all seem to be vestiges of practises dating to perhaps, the monasteries of the Renaissance period.

Wait, did I say monasteries? Clearly, such a modern custom intended to venerate the sciences could not have its origins in a religious institution! The maximum extent of Science that would one would have expected in a monastery may have been the pursuit of alchemy. Why does this seem strange in the first place? It seems so because we have been trained to think that religion and science are polar opposites. But during the Renaissance, some of the biggest advances in intellectual thought were made by monks. Gregor Mendel of the Theory of Heredity is perhaps the most famous monk-scientist. Another one I recently came across was a Francisan Friar named Luca Pacioli, referred to as the Father of Accounting, for inventing the double entry book keeping system. Bayes’ Theorem is named after a Reverend Thomas Bayes.

I remember reading numerous other names which keep cropping up, especially in achievements related to mathematics. A possible reason could be that before the invention of printing, it was the job of monasteries to make copies of the ancient tomes of Egypt, Greece and Rome. Therefore, monks had an almost exclusive access to these works of great intellectual achievement. Therefore, monasteries may have played more important roles as centres of education.

Then why this divorce between Science and Religion and when did it occur? One can speculate that the separation of Science from Religion had to do something with the notion of separating Church from State which in turn traces its origins to the French Revolution. An interesting question arises: Were the persecution stories of Galileo and Copernicus played up by ideological forces interested in the separation of state and church?”

This is one intellectual tangle. Consider another case of historical analysis – the Aryan Migration Theory.

The logic of the Aryan Theory proceeds thus. It was postulated that one of the earliest settlements in human history was based near the Caspian Sea. Due to some reasons, the people there had to migrate. This settlement broke into three groups. One migrated to what is today India, one to Europe, occupying areas corresponding to modern day Germany and the third migrated to modern day Iran. The theory primarily arose from an observation that there were many similarities in languages between Sanskrit and Latin. Therefore, the people speaking these languages must have had some sort of common lineage. This is the genesis of the Indo-Aryan Language group. One of the leading names associated with this theory was Max Mueller though I do not know the precise nature of his contributions.

After this theory was propounded numerous re-interpretations of the Indian classics were attempted. Ramayana was portrayed as an epic struggle between the Aryan Rama and the Dravidian Ravana. Further supporting evidence was cited from the Epics and the Puranas. There is a story in the Ramayana where Rama and Lakshmana leave with Vishwamithra to get their education under him. As they go into the forest, Rakshasas attack them and those rakshasas are slain by the brave brothers. One interpretation of this goes as follows: It is possible that the migrating Aryans had first settled down in the fertile Ganges Valley in their migration to India. It is now known that King Dasharatha’s capital, Ayodhya is situated in modern day Uttar Pradesh. In their journey with Vishwamithra they may have forayed into areas previously occupied by tribal peoples. The dark skinned tribal people would have looked devilish to the fair Caspian Sea Aryans. This led to their classification as Rakshasas or as evil forces. Therefore, when Rama was vanquishing Raskshasas, for protection, we can also conclude equally well that he was conquering non-Aryans!

The concept of gothram is cited another evidence to this theory. The term gothras implies a set of people who are bound together as a tribe. The “go” in the gothras perhaps refers to the importance the set of people ascribed to cows. Therefore, the Aryans migrated from the Caspian in groups, in search of better sites for pasture. Migrating southward one group found India. In this migration, at times due to the lack of food, these people had to resort to eating cattle meat, which is why the Vedas records instances of sages eating beef. Once they came to a fertile place, like the Gangetic Plain, they settled down and the communities started venerating cows again as they were instrumental for the ploughing of land. This explains why some sects of Hinduism are vegetarians or at any rate, they oppose cow slaughter.

The Aryan Migration Theory propounded this way has had a deep effect on Indian history and world history. The Theory provided much ammunition to the anti-brahminical stance of the Periyar Movement as well as ideological inspiration for many a Hindu bigot. Hitler also conveniently embraced the Aryan theory to portray the German people as having a deeper heritage and culture than they had previously imagined. He then extended the theory to imply the racial purity of the now “Aryan” Germans.

The reason the theory caught on was because of its explanatory appeal. A lot of myths were supposedly “rationally” explained, rationality defined in the context of modern human thought. When I first heard the "Rakshasa angle" presented this way, I found it extremely convincing. Even today, there are many elites who subscribe to this theory, consciously or unconsciously.

However there is only one hitch. Linguistic evidence is not strong enough grounds for formulating such a theory. Linguistic similarities may have arisen due to commerce, trade or cultural interaction. We can find the word bazaar in Indian usage and English usage. Does that imply racial similarities? By no means. Consider this example.

Imagine the following scenario. Some catastrophe happens that destroys pretty much most of modern civilisation. One small, isolated settlement somewhere in Thailand or India, survived, spawned a new civilisation which gets sufficiently advanced that they get interested in archeology. An enthusiastic archaeologist discovers two DVDs while excavating. The new civilisation somehow cracks the technology of DVD and expectantly pops in these two DVDs. One DVD shows a black rapper talking while the other shows a white Eminem rapping away. If this civilisation does not know English, the two will appear to be extremely different but for the linguistic similarities! Therefore, they postulate that once upon a time, there was one set of people who came in two varieties black and white, but they were essentially the same. Then someone will point out that in the modern civilisation there was a disproportionately larger number of brown people seeming to imply that the present civilisation was purely derived from the intermingling of the two races. Such a theory will sell like hotcakes because it is almost impossible to prove or to disprove that black people and white people need not give birth to disproportionately large number of brown people. Why do I say that? Even if this modern civilisation knew genetics it may not be able to find sufficient evidence to do the test.

At this stage most people fall victim to what is called a “confirmation bias”. The test of a theory is how it stands up in the face of attempts to disprove it. The logic is that just because you have some cases for which the theory works, that still does not "prove" it. The theory is still vulnerable in the sense that someone may come up with one counterexample and the theory is declared invalid. However on the top of the head, most of us regardless of our levels of education will try to prove our theory by giving supporting evidence. It is important to note that predictive power of a theory is an important test no doubt, but the falsification test is a stronger condition. That is why despite the predictability power of the Aryan theory; it still fails because it fails on the falsification test.

Therefore, in all possibilities, the theory of “one people in two colours” or the bi-colour people theory will be embraced by the new civilisation to explain its origins!

Consider another common analytical mistake. How many times have you heard someone say “If only I had done this!” The cliche that the saddest words to say are “If only...” is not only tiring, it is also logically wrong as my friend Srivats once pointed out. Imagine if one says, “If I had studied for three more hours I would have cracked the exam!” This is wrong for two reasons. One, you did not know what would have come in the exam. Someone could have studied just as much as you had, but scored better because (s)he covered different topics. But that is secondary. More importantly, people know an outcome, trace the cause and change one variable and expect that everything else would have worked out just as it did. When you go back in time and change an instance, you are in essence stepping into a different universe, the outcomes of which you, or for that matter, any human being cannot comprehend because the evolution of the infinite variable cannot be understood.

Let me extend this idea. Routinely people say, “If India had embraced Gandhism we would be better off” or “if Sardar Patel had been Prime Minister instead of Nehru, the Kashmir problem would have been avoided”. You cannot, I repeat, cannot, know what would have happened. Things would have been different in both the cases, yes, but you cannot use qualifiers like better or worse!If Gandhism had been embraced maybe some problems would have been avoided, but some other problems would have arisen. Police action if initiated on Kashmir just after independence may have worked. But some other related territorial problems may have come up. The point is that such arguments are mischievous and misleading. However, even the most elite succumb to it.

But the ones I have pointed out till now are mistakes made by human beings. There is a deeper fundamental problem with historical analysis. Mathematics is “easier” in this respect. The source of mathematical study is the axioms that are defined. We define what is a point, what is a line, what is 1,2,3... Then we build the structure and work within the framework. That gives us a great degree of control. Why do most buildings have geometrical shapes, predominantly right angles and some circular arcs? The mathematical understanding of these shapes is easier. Why? The way we have defined our framework allows us to understand these things better. In a world where people are taught non-Euclidean geometries, we may expect to see other shapes instead of circles or lines.

In history, the source of knowledge or the starting point is itself biased by the author of that information. Therefore, in a lot of situations given evidence for one point of view from an authentic source, I can almost always find evidence to contradict that from an equally authentic source.

Then what is the way out? Should we just abandon studying history then? No, not at all. We can understand the mistakes of the past or the successes of the past, but we must be extremely careful when deriving conclusions from it and more importantly, the conclusions have to be rigorously tested for falsifiability.

How is all this important? Is all this theoretical stuff? Not at all. In the future, most of you will be required to buy into various ideas and philosophies. If you find these ideas and philosophies rooted in a historical basis, check it and double check it. That is my message.

Sunday, August 19, 2007

A perverted desire?

I have always wanted to do something like this. But a real opportunity presented itself recently.

In one of my Mid Term exams, I started writing the last question, came to the end of the first Answer Booklet and then realized I would need to borrow a four-page-foolscap-paper supplement sheet just for writing 2-3 lines and a small diagram. However, the diagram was quite necessary. I usually try to plan my last answer such that this kind of a thing does not happen. This time I forgot that I was writing the last question.

I was then seized by a very very strong urge to scribble in the margin: "I have a truly complete solution to this but the margin is too small to hold it" and walk out of the room! Man, the sheer pseud value!

But of course I didn't do it. Now it is one more thing in my "To-Do" list. (sigh!)

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

A small piece

(A small piece of 600 words I wrote for a competition here. Slightly average piece of writing, but this was meant for the preliminary round of a speaking competition, so I tried something like this. I still felt it was good for a quick read, so I have put it up.

The topic was "Premier B schools: Places of Learning or Placement Agencies?")

We don’t Need No Education, Show Us the Money?

I was exposed to the species called MBA (PGDBA to be precise, but then again technicalities... tut tut) quite early on in life. My father is an MBA and we used to go along for the family “get-togethers” for the alumni. Stereotypically, the conversations consisted mostly of tracking the career paths of classmates. Interestingly also, frequent references were made to concepts taught in class by such and such faculty, which the alumni of not-so-premier B schools did not have access to. Stories were recounted of how the Premier B school alumni were heads and shoulders above the rest because of this.

This raises the chicken-and-egg question: Did the alumni do well because of the knowledge or because of the competitive pressures they felt? Does the brand value arise because of the student or the learning?

While preparing for the CAT, I read interviews of successful alumni who said that while most of the academic stuff they had studied became obsolete after a point, the greatest takeaway was the alumnus network and the confidence of having made it into an IIM.

Also, don’t students come to the IIMs for the huge packages that graduates get? How much of the classroom learning is relevant for the jobs that pay these high packages?

Finally and most importantly, the actual placement situation works something like a feedback mechanism. Individuals who demonstrate above average levels of drive or talent are selected into these institutions. Since a filter has been applied, companies find it easier to recruit from here.

Therefore, premier B schools derive their importance from functioning as effective placement agencies. Right? Wrong!

Let us take a step backward. When caught with basic questions it is always best to resort to first principles. How did it all begin? Much of management education has its philosophical roots in Frank Taylor’s Scientific Management where he demonstrated that the use of logical, mathematical methods in daily life could bring about great changes in productivity. It got a further boost when Dantzig demonstrated the immeasurable benefits that Operations Research could bring to war efforts and later to corporate profits as well.

In both cases, fundamental principles from essentially “pure” subjects like mathematics, psychology, and economics were integrated to obtain insights that could be converted into mindblowing commercial benefit. Management degree programs arose to satisfy corporations’ demands for people who could think like this. Therein lies the solution! Further consider two more arguments.

IIM Bangalore’s brand value is well established now. To those who say that B schools are placement agencies, I pose a question. Let us replace existing faculty, keeping the admission process intact. By their argument, placements should not be affected appreciably in the long run as the filter has not been affected. Even the most misinformed person will point out the absurdity of the argument.

Also, despite the ups and downs in the Indian Economy or the Global Economy, the demand for MBAs from students has not diminished appreciably. If the students come solely for the placement, then the IIMs would have seen times when they were not in demand. However, there is abundant anecdotal evidence that indicates that the IIMs were always in heavy demand, even during the “Hindu Rate of Growth” years.

To sum up, the placement is a manifestation of the relevance of the learning and quality of the students. There can be no doubt whatsoever that alumni and students of premier B schools obtain their value primarily from the learning experience and it would require exceptional naivete to think otherwise!

Thursday, August 09, 2007


I hate goodbyes. In my ideal world, people would meet with a hoop and a hurrah but when it comes to farewells, they would just mumble it, or better, just nod! “I grunt my farewell” is my motto. But if there is a meeting there has to be a departure (duality you see) and my reaction to this necessary evil is to put on a blasé expression and spout pithy words like “Life is too short for goodbyes” or a re-assuring “It is a small world...” or a Mafiosi-like “We will meet again”. But the truth is I hate goodbyes. The reason is mostly selfish. “Goodbyes” indicate a transition, moving to new environs, change and most worryingly, new people. What if you never really meet people whose wavelength doesn’t match with yours?

And so, I reasoned, why dwell on things that remind you of the change? Therefore, once my viva got over I hurriedly packed my luggage and headed home. (Okay, I admit, I stayed for one more day after the viva. May I rot in CCW hell!)

When I saw the mail asking us to confirm our participation in the convocation, I was torn. My fear of goodbyes still persisted but then again, it is a Convocation! As a wag once remarked, “Sometimes marriages may occur twice, but a Convocation occurs only once!” Suitably convinced by such bad logic, I booked a ticket on the Airavatha service of KSRTC and waited in anticipation for the day.

Like all best laid plans, this one had its potential of going gang-aft agley. You see I was doing the first term of my post graduation and like most first terms there was quite some work to be done and the Damocles sword of “surprise quizzes” hanging over my head. An obscure psychological study once found that a statistically significant proportion of those who hated surprises generally had once been subjected to surprises quizzes. There is of course the case of the lady-from-a-reputed- business- school who broke off her engagement and ran to the library when her fiancé shouted “surprise” on Valentine’s Day!

Anyway, the plunge was taken with a brave heart and it was sure worth it! The convocation is a ceremony basically, but like all ceremonies the rituals and the solemnity of the occasion ordain a certain halo to it. I eagerly went to collect my gown and I was a tad bit disappointed to discover that undergraduates do not get tassels.

The Convocation started off with the dignitaries walking in to the tune of what was called a Police Band. As the Chief Guest Dr.R. Chidamabaram, the Director, Deans and HoDs walked on to the stage, in their wizard like flowing gowns, for a brief moment, one got a sense of history and the import of the ceremony itself.

A digression now. It is very interesting to speculate on the evolution of the University system since many of the rituals (if you can call it that) in the Convocation do not fit into an Indian context at all. The use of Latin, the robes themselves and the whole atmosphere all seem to be vestiges of practises dating to perhaps, the Renaissance.
And therein lays an interesting paradox. Modern thought and education often portray religious education and scientific education as opposites. The argument is often reduced to one of Rational Vs. Irrational. But during the Renaissance, some of the biggest advances in intellectual thought were made by monks. Gregor Mendel of the Theory of Heredity is perhaps the most famous monk-scientist. Another one I recently came across was a Francisan Friar named Luca Pacioli, referred to as the Father of Accounting, for inventing the double entry book keeping system. Bayes’ Theorem is named after a Reverend Thomas Bayes.

I remember reading numerous other names which keep cropping up, especially in achievements related to mathematics. A possible reason could be that before the invention of printing, it was the job of monasteries to make copies of the ancient tomes of Egypt, Greece and Rome. Therefore, monks had an almost exclusive access to these works of great intellectual achievement. Therefore, monasteries may have played more important roles as centres of education.

Then why this divorce between Science and Religion and when did it occur? One can speculate that the separation of Science from Religion had to do something with the notion of separating Church from State which in turn traces its origins to the French Revolution. An interesting question arises: Were the persecution stories of Galileo and Copernicus played up by ideological forces interested in the separation of state and church?

Aah... history is never simple. I think we are too conditioned by the concept of a mathematical proof and therefore, when we look for “proof” in other subjects we tend to define it in mathematical terms. However, such a proof requires an absolute, independent framework to start with. With history, we just do not have that! Biases are built into the very structure of historical study. As a consequence, a logically rigorous approach to history, while intellectually stimulating, is prone to be futile!

Anyway, as I was saying before, any sense of history was only momentary. In the bare and functional architecture of SAC, it is really difficult to feel anything more than the urge to play badminton! The function began and most of us were reeling from the heat and suffocation and looking frequently at the program to see when we could get our degrees, the coveted IIT chaapa!

One of the expected highlights from a Convocation is the speech from the Chief Guest and I felt that as speeches go, the one by Dr.R.Chidamabaram was a tad bit disappointing. Please do not get me wrong. I am in no way competent to comment nonchalantly of a person with quite an impressive list of achievements and that too, a physicist. (I have always held the view that Physics is the only subject worth studying at school level) But I have always felt that once these big scientists reach a certain level, the intellectual sharpness and ruthlessness seem to reduce and is replaced by an ambiguity in approach that would give a complex to MBAs! But then again my dissatisfaction with the speech could be a reflection of my own biases.

I think there are three formulaic approaches which would definitely work for Convocation Speeches. One approach is to convey a gung-ho “Go get ‘em tiger, but watch out for a couple of things” kind of speech. I am reminded of one by Azim Premji at a Convocation at IIMA. The other one is take a reflective, nostalgia tinged approach. A good example would be Steve Jobs’ “Connecting the Dots” speech. Baz Luhrman’s “Everybody is free to wear sunscreen” is the absolute gem in this department and few can better this! The approach I prefer is to be provocative. Raise an issue, ruffle a couple of feathers, never hurts as long as you are perfectly rational in the process. There was an internet hoax which alleged that Larry Ellison of Oracle got on to podium at Harvard and said that the top 10 richest people in the Forbes’ list were dropouts! While the speech was definitely not true and I am not too sure about the factoid, just imagine the effect it would have had!

Finally, after the Madam Registrar proposed that “...One Thousand three hundred and ten degrees be given out in person or in absentia”, the Director started awarding the degrees. The IITM degree certificate is extremely well done and one spends the initial moment literally basking in the reflected glory. After marvelling at one’s photo, a curious feeling of having “done something” sets in. I say curious because one hasn’t really done anything solid, if you think about it. This is just the first step to making things or doing things or blazing trails. But a sweet, pleasant feeling permeates the body and a genuine feeling of triumph is felt.

However, I must admit one thing now. I felt pangs of jealousy during the part where they gave out the medals for various achievements. While I have the highest regards for all the winners and as usual the awards reflected the best of the student community, the negative feelings were a reminder of how screwed up my priorities had been. So why don’t we do things in reverse and make the incoming batch sit for the convocation? This way they can get a feel of what they are going to get at the end of the process! But jokes apart, the convocation was an awesome experience and it was really satisfying just being there.

Saturday, May 26, 2007

Part I : Love Blooms Yet Again?

(First part of a two part love story. I have deliberately used Tamil slang at places where I feel it helps the narration. To the readers not conversant with the language, you really are not missing anything, it is mostly swear words anyway!)

, Ranga, Mukund and Shekhar, short respectively for Ravichandran, Ranganathan, Mukundan and Shekhar were sitting at Main Street, the restaurant at the Ground Floor of Residency Towers. Main Street offered one of the better buffet spreads in Chennai but that was not the reason the four bosom friends were meeting up there. The bill was placed on the table. Mukund took it and meticulously scanned it, and then nodded his head to indicate that they had been billed correctly. The four of them paid up their respective charges and then Ravi declared abruptly, “I won’t tip!”.

“Why won’t you tip? These people make very less money you know.”

“Then tell them not to take up this job. Tell them to learn a computer language. As far as I am concerned the job scene is so damn good, if they came here they were getting into it knowingly. Heck, tell them to start a small scale industry for all I care, the government doles out loans. But I am not going to tip.” Ravi said defiantly.

“You don’t tip at all?!”

“I do if they are special. But this waiter wasn’t special. He refilled our beer pitcher only twice. When I am here I want my pitcher refilled four times.”

“Arsehole Ravi, you didn’t ask him to refill the pitcher. And trust me, the last thing you need is a refill of beer.”

“Hey hey, what I need is not the point here, rather what I want. He didn’t ask me if I wanted a refill.”

“But these guys make minimum pay and in India, you know how it is. The minimum pay doesn’t cut it!”

“It may be that waiters may be one of the groups the government fucks in the arse on a regular basis. Forward a petition, I will sign it. But one thing I won’t do is to play ball!”

At this point he looked at everyone triumphantly having delivered that rare, definitive statement which makes it clear to everyone who has won the argument.

Sadly, all this happened in Ravi’s dream. In reality, the other three looked at him incredulously.

“Who said anything about tipping? None of us ever tip! I hear these star hotels make huge margins anyway.” Ranga remarked.

Mukund guffawed. “Poor Ravi, ever since he saw Kill Bill I and Reservoir Dogs back to back in my house, he has been on a Tarantino fantasy trip!”

“Is he your latest crush, lover boy?” teased Ranga.

“Why don’t you guys play ball and indulge me. Once, just once for all that I have done for you”, he complained.

Shekhar, who until then had had a placid countenance, exploded.

“You want a fuckin’ Reservoir Dogs trip. Well, you don’t have the right to a Reservoir Dogs trip because you are a fuckin’ braindead, gay, blustering nincompoop! In fact, you are so stupid you could be a goddamn bastard son of Arjun Singh, for all I know! Didn’t you know you have to wear shoes to Bikes and Barrels? The ten year old kid next door knows that, but you, you don’t, you faggot!!! If you hadn’t forgotten to wear shoes, we will be in Bikes and they may have played Stairway to Heaven, a small chance but definitely not a zero chance. Instead of that, because of you and your Nike Floaters, I have Maamis to the left of me, Paattis to my right and I am stuck in the middle with you!”

Mukund and Ranga were laughing like hyenas.

“Dude, how was I to know that Bikes would have a raid yesterday and therefore, become very strict today! I have got in before with these!” Ravi protested.

Shekhar wasn’t in a mood to let bygones be bygones. “Maiyiru, The raid was for 21 and above. That manager gave a bloody cock and bull story about why shoes were necessary when glasses broke. I have been there six times and nothing has broken. It is just a blind custom dating to the Raj when the English would have used this as one more way to discriminate against Indians. Not only are you stupid, you are as gullible as a first time visitor to a brothel. You are a faggot!”

Shekhar unplugged was a treat. He didn’t speak so colourfully until recently. Till then he had been a quite person. However, his new job in an investment advisory firm brought him oodles of money and he all of a sudden seemed to have acquired a put on Wall Street air. Actually, it was a wannabe air he put on mainly by imitating characters from books like Liar’s Poker and watching movies like Wall Street. However, everyone seemed to love it and he had then gotten used to throwing in a F word every three words.

Anyway, the last comparison of Ravi to a first time brothel visitor and the comparison to Arjun Singh’s bastard son tickled the slightly inebriated Mukund so much that he fell off the chair laughing. The sight of the scholarly looking Mukund lying on the floor convulsed with laughter caused quite a stir. Waiters rushed to help him up and Ravi, looked at the spectacle with a chuckle. He turned around to be greeted by a sea of mildly surprised and disapproving looks. Amidst this sea of disapproval he caught a bewitching smile. A half smile actually, but no less bewitching. He winked hard as if that would help to reduce the intoxication and he turned in all directions. He was a normal man, in fact, below average in many respects but he had a gift. He could spot a babe. And that smile was not that of a babe’s but that of something more, a Goddess. An ethereal Goddess, he thought to himself.

Hard work can be a rather capricious master. Sometimes it pays, sometimes it doesn’t. Today Ravi was in luck, as he spotted his Goddess. And worth the effort she was. She still had a lingering smile on those full red lips. More strikingly her lustrous liquid eyes seemed to have lit up because of this commotion. She resembles Sreedevi at her peak, Ravi thought. Sreedevi, definitely, but Sreedevi with a perfect figure hugging black top with a plunging neckline that tantalizingly stopped plunging just before the cleavage. Beautiful and elegantly glamorous, our heroine was.

Ranga had not used the lover boy taunt earlier without a reason. Ravi fell in love, and out of it , frequently. His “crushes” in fact seemed to sustain him, so much so when he had run out of girls, he had had crushes on the teachers. Therefore, falling for a Sreedevi look alike was par for the course for Ravi. However, Ravi made a resolve that this was going to be his woman. Come what may! He had never resolved anything, but this one he was going to achieve.

While all this was going on Ravi’s head, Mukund had sheepishly paid the bill. He was back in Chennai on a break after his MS before heading back to US for obtaining his PhD. Actually, Mukund had changed from a prick at school, to the now super cool intellectual, Zen in the knowledge that coming second did not mean the end of the world.

But enough digressing, we are not interested in Mukund or Shekhar or Ranga. Our hero Ravi tottered out of the restaurant, the picture of the Goddess imprinted in his brain. The others were chattering on as they waited for the car to come, but Ravi seemed in a different world. He snapped back to attention when Shekhar said, “Hey Ravi! Enna aachu? You seem zoned out!” Ravi smiled and said, “Machaan, I think I have seen my Goddess! You wouldn’t believe it but there was this girl who looked just like actress Sreedevi…”

“Two tables to my left…” Mukund interrupted

“And that figure hugging black top.” Ranga completed.

Ada paavingala, why didn’t you tell me?” Ravi demanded.

Mukund looked about as if to see if anyone else would say what all the other three thought, but seeing that no one else was ready, he did it happily. He said, “You are a nice person and all that but when you see a hot girl, you completely lose it, my friend. You stare at her and open your mouth and close it like a fish gaping at something.” The others imitated him for effect and all four burst out laughing. Actually the description was quite true. The Goddess was used to people staring at her; in fact, she was used to admiring glances and people fawning over her ever since she was that high. But even she was taken aback by The Gaping Man.

As Mukund got into the driver’s seat and the others settled in, he remarked, “By the way, I have seen her at the place I take my French classes. I think your Sreedevi's name is Latha.”

Ravi almost jumped in the back seat.

Dei, intro podu da”, he begged.

“Hey, I just said I have seen her. I am taking a class in French, but she is just at the library for most of the morning. I am assuming she is an advanced student or is a researcher of some sort or maybe just an ardent lover of the French Language.”, Mukund said.

Ranga looked at Mukund. The prey was waiting to be killed. But before that it had to be fattened. Ranga said dismissively,”Hey you have had a crush on everyone. I am sure this is also one of those. Sleep over it.”

“No Ranga. This time I am determined. I have never set my eyes on anything before, now I have set my eyes on her and will achieve it!” Ravi said determinedly.

“Not true. Once you did set your eyes on beating me in Math in 10th Std. You failed quite miserably if my memory serves right!” Shekhar said and everyone burst out laughing.

“That was my immaturity. Now I will say only things that I will do and do things that I will say!” Ravi remarked in the manner of that famous Super Star of Tamil Nadu.

“Okay. Let us say you somehow get to her, then somehow make her notice you, then somehow make her fall out of love with whoever she may be in love with, then make her fall in love with you… assuming you could do all this, why would her parents agree to this? Maybe they could get a liquor baron’s son or an industrialists’ son, why you?” Mukund remarked, traces of the old prick resurfacing.

“Because she is in love and love is blind”, he declared.

“More like she is blind”, Ranga guffawed.

“But there is one line of attack. Her nose and chin seem to suggest that she is from Tanjore. I am from Tanjore. That is a link already!”, Ravi brightened.

“The way she bends her right hand seems to indicate her father is a highly protective IPS office!” Shekhar guffawed.

“And Murphy’s Law suggests that the she will be your gothram, so you will end up back at square one!” Ranga remarked and all including Ravi burst into laughter.There was a silence for sometime.

Then Ravi admitted,”Yeah, you are right. She must have some multi-millionaire boyfriend already. I am a sales person for an industrial refrigeration company. What are the chances?”

Shekhar cut in,”Hey we were just pulling your leg. Give an earnest effort. We never know how these things work out! And I completely support you on one count. You work hard, you study in a free merit seat and get a job and all that, and someone lazy fat ass comes on his father’s money and beats you to it! That is so fucking unfair. I have always held inheritance is the root of inequality. Fuck, I think the government must slap a 100% tax on inheritance.”

Mukund said, “A communist in capitalist garbs eh?! It is a complicated issue quite out of the bounds of slightly drunk, sexually frustrated young men. Speaking of inheritance reminds me of that incident at school. We had some old man talk to us on “Moral Issues in the Modern Age” and in a particular section he went on and on about how money does not matter and we will not take it with us when we die and so on. To this, Ram – I think he is going to complete his MBA - quipped, “Then write your wealth in my name when you die!” There was a minor commotion in the back benches due to this and he was hauled up by the teachers later on. How funny that was!!!”

The conversation meandered on. However, Ravi had left this conversation quite some time ago.

He was in a French town. His lady love had sent word through her trusted pigeon that her father was keeping her in the Castle as she was refusing to marry the Prince he had chosen. Knight Ravi des Tanjore quietly swam the crocodile infested moat at precisely midnight of a full moon day since he had seen on Animal Planet that crocodiles surely were fast asleep at that time of the night. Having crossed the moat successfully, he climbed across the daunting castle walls and skillfully scaled the walls of the fort using the dense ivy growth, to the room where the Princess, nay the Goddess, was waiting for him. After opening the window the conversation went as:

Goddess Latha: J'ai une brûlure à démanger dans mes régions basses!

Knight Ravi: Umm… oui oui!

Goddess Latha: M'embrasser passionément chevalier juste d'O et éteindre le feu de la passion!

Knight Ravi: Huh?

Seeing that he didn’t know any French, she grabbed him and their lips locked by the moonlight…

(End of Part I)

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

On Things Neither Here nor There

Have completed all the paperwork and course requirements and now am "vetti" (idle, to the uninitiated), in every sense of the term. Totally enjoy this feeling of time hanging on my hands. Went recently and bought some books to kill time.

My first stop was Higgin Bothams. One of the attractions of this place is the architecture which is quintessentially Mount Road. Or does Higgin Bothams define quintessential Mount Road? The high ceilings, those long fans hanging from those ceilings, the mosaic flooring always leads me on a nostalgic trip reminding me of the company quarters in Virudhunagar (that famous Chettiar stronghold) where I was born. Often, I step in just for the feel but end up buying something. This time around, bought a collection of Feluda stories by Satyajit Ray. Originally written in Bengali, I bought an admirably done translation by a Gopa Majumdar. I found it the perfect companion to spend these hot summer afternoons with. The author employs a by now familiar "Holmesian" approach to solving crimes. However, the charm lies in the fact that the story is told from the viewpoint of the teenaged Topshe (Felu's Watson). This technique of narration from a child's point of view is extremely powerful in terms of appeal, as it exploits a fundamental human yearning to regain lost innocence. In the pithy saying "Ignorance is bliss", I suspect that the word ignorance is used in the sense of innocence.

The same technique is used to brilliant effect in Bapsi Sidhwa's Ice Candy Man. Partition can be captured at many levels, but the story captures it from a child's perspective and the book takes the reader on an emotional roller coaster ride. Seeing the world through Lenny's "childish" perspective brings out the essence of the emotions and the absurdity of the much touted big picture vividly.

The point to be noted in the cases of successful "narratives-from-a-child's-point-of-view" works is that they do not dumb down the children. In fact, they are presented as highly observant individuals whose logical faculties are in the process of refinement. To me, this is the best way to represent younger characters in fiction. There is a personal undertone here as well. When I was younger, one of my constant gripes was how adults suddenly lowered their standards while talking to people of my age, when just some time earlier, we would have discussed something as intelligently as them if not more!

Then went to Landmark at Spencer's and picked up two works by Kafka for what I thought was a steal in Landmark! (280 each :)) Some more books and a couple of CDs. Now, a regular reader may blanch at the last sentence. Those movies are available in that great free repository that shall not be named, then isn't it not an indiscretion to buy them? Umm... I really love these two movies. Buying them - for some reason - gives a sense of ownership, a feeling of entitlement to enjoy them better. Or to put it another way, paying for it is my way of silent homage to the directors! I do it all the time for books. Ideally, would love to read all books in the second hand first and then buy the original. Most of the times it is not possible or I succumb to impulse purchases. But when it clicks, the process of book appreciation seems complete, holistic and I feel strangely better! My motivation for buying the rather expensive (I thought) collection of Feluda was based on two stories I read in the Library.

But at the end of the day, I must admit that I exceeded my budget. However, I do not like going to Lily Pond because a) I don't the general din in the place, b) it would be unbearable in summer and c) the shops do not have a desirable range. Have these guys even heard of Blossoms at Bangalore! I have a strong suspicion that going to Blossoms and purchasing a similar collection would have been cheaper, Volvo fares included! But then again I was never one to plan these things optimally. Pleasure immediately obtained, (i.e when in the mood for that type of pleasure), is better than pleasure delayed is my credo!

Absolut ChemE

This is more for ChemE junta. A little amateur doodle that I did based on the famous Absolut ads. The Absolut bottle here is supposed to be a CSTR and all that. (The drawing indicates "raw" talent you see :P)

You can browse through a collection of Absolut ads here. If there was a timepass rating scale, this site would get 5 stars or 10/10.

Sunday, May 13, 2007

Because We Got High

A song written at the height of The Investigation into the incidents on the Night of April 9th, 2007. :P

Lyrics: Sanjay, Popa and Middle

Based on Afroman's 'Because I got High'. Please watch the song first if you haven't seen it before. (Sanjay did a good job of fitting in the lyrics so enhance your reading experience by listening to the original first.)

I was a muggu boy before I got high
I used to go to class before I got high
I've watched every movie on LAN, you know why
Because I got high (3X times)

I was gonna do my btp* but I got high,
I was gonna meet my prof but then I got high
Now I have an extension and I know why
Because I got high (3X times)

I was gonna buy the booze but I got high
I got bottles in my room, after I got high
Now I got a letter and I know why
Because I got high (3X times)

I was gonna meet the Bean until I got high
I coulda lied and gotten away but I got high
I am now doin’ service and you know why
Because I got high (3X times)

I couldn’t sit on the chair because I got high
But it was broken already someone was high
Gundu is with ol’ Bean now you know why
Because he got high (3X times)

It was 2 o clock in the nite when I got high
But the dance was still goin’ on, the DJ was high
Now I am at the D.I.S.C.O and you know why
Because I got high (3X times)

We tried to lie too much because we got high
But he knows everything that we were high
The Bean knows more than us and we know why
The Snake was high (3X times)

We went to other hostel nights and junta were high
But they weren’t confessing cause they were high
Now they are next on Bean’s list and you know why
Because they got high (3X times)

I hope to pass out now, cause I m not high
I hope to get my VISA, cause I m not high
I ve stopped touching alcohol, you know why
Because I can fly (3X times)

(The Single releasing to a website near you. Watch this space!)

Moral of the Story: Naanga Adangavey Maatom!

*btp = B.Tech Project (FYI)

Saturday, May 12, 2007

On the Use of Smileys in Prose [:P]

With the advent of online messaging, the use of smileys has become ubiquitous.

I wanted to write about smileys and this is the first sentence that came to my mind. I was shocked. I was rusty. This is how paragraphs start in essay writing books ‘colorfully’ named “101 Essays for All Occasions”, “278654 Essays for Competitive Exams” available at a railway station platform near you. You could go to a station with an unpronounceable name where you may not find drinking water in the station, but you will find these books. [:O, :D] The stilted usage of language reduces even the most interesting topic to a banal and mechanical piece of prose. (See!!)

Anyway coming back to the original train of thought, it struck me that I had become extremely comfortable with smileys and they had become an integral aspect of my thought process. Therefore, I present a ‘concept blog’ [:P], ‘examining’ the use of smileys in normal usage. (Blame it on the thesis writing!) [:))]

The rules of this game are:

A smiley can be used anywhere, but it must be indicated in parenthesis, bold. Any number of smileys can be used in a bracket, but each distinct one must be separated by a comma.

Most of the smileys I have used will be common knowledge to people who frequently chat. Anyway, I have used this site as a ‘reference’ or a ‘standard definition’ for smileys.

As a test passage, I take the following passage from the bad movie review section of this site. The review is for a movie called Class of 1999 (1990). View the IMDb entry here. Thought it would be fun 'punctuating' this review with smileys [:))]:

Ok, so it's the future (well, 1999 was the future when this movie was made [#-o]), and gang warfare has gotten so bad that kids rule many areas of major U.S. cities, most of which center on high schools. [:D, 8-|] They are called "Free Fire Zones," and the cops won't even enter them. So here is question number one: if the kids control the areas around the schools, and they've scared everyone to the point where even the cops won't come in, why do they still go to school? [:P, #-o] The armored school bus still lumbers through the streets every weekday, and even the hoods who are supposedly in control dutifully pile on. When they get to school, they have to go through metal detectors and give up all their weapons -- the movie shows school faculty putting confiscated firearms into ridiculously huge bins containing every type of gun you could imagine. So here is question number two: given the fact that, however inexplicably, these kids still go to school, [:O] why do they still bring their guns when they know they'll just have them confiscated? [:|] Are they passed back out at the end of the day? [:-/]Does this surprise them every time? "Aw, man, not again! That was my best Uzi!" [:P]

Well in the previous case, the passage lent itself to the use of smileys. It featured a typical sarcasm often used in chats and therefore, the use of the smileys is quite effective and natural. Let us take a more emotion filled paragraph then: [;)]

The sight of her standing in the wind swept bus stop filled him with a strange joy. [:)] Strange, because after the last meeting, that meeting, he had not wanted to see her ever again. Now looking at her, solitary in the bus stand, carelessly toying with her hair, he wanted nothing more than to go up to her and express his love and make up. But how would he begin? [:-/] This was not the time for words. It was the time for action. He strode forward, went in front of the surprised lady, and ignoring her protests went for the ultimate affectation of love. He kissed her passionately. [;), :*] As they separated, he looked at her for a sign of approval, for what he reckoned was a fine performance. Only, he was greeted with a flurry of slaps [X-(] and then it struck him, that it wasn’t her, but her almost-look-alike-but-slightly-hotter mother! [:D]

Fine, fine I couldn’t resist.[;))] But yes, we can use smileys for emotion filled situations as well. Now, imagine using smileys in the Board Exam!

Why was Akbar called ‘Akbar the Great’? (6 marks)

  • His empire stretched from parts of Afghanistan in the west to some parts of Southern India at its peak. [:O]
  • His court consisted of some of the greatest intellects, nine to be precise, called the Navratnas. This included Birbal, Tansen, Todar Mal etc. [:|]
  • He worked for Hindu-Muslim unity. He married a Rajput, Jodha Bai to further Hindu Muslim unity. [;)] He founded Din-i-Ilahi.
  • On and on

This answer is surely getting 6 marks!

However, reading the blog again, I feel smileys shouldn’t be made a part of formal usage. For one, their usage seems like canned laughter in the sense they prompt the reader to feel the emotions of the author instead of letting the reader interpret things for himself/herself.

Also, if the (ab)use of a few punctuation marks could create havoc, just imagine what this can do!

#-o d'oh, slap on the head
X-( angry
:* kiss
8-| rolling eyes
:-/ confused