May 18, 2015

San Diego Zoo and the suffocation of choice a.k.a the buffet problem

Visited San Diego Zoo, considered by many to be among the best zoos in the world. There's always something conflicting about zoos: on one hand, however gilded the cage, the animals are in captivity, but on the other, we get to be so close to them and feel why its worth conserving as many of them as possible (which this zoo is also famous for).

Saw my first ever gorilla, toucan, and polar bear (partial list here). It's also one of the most accessible outdoor spaces I've ever seen, with even an escalator segment that helps you navigate some of the steeper parts of the zoo.

We must have seen about 40-50% of the zoo, given the size of the campus. That's pretty much the most you can do in 4-6 hours, especially with children in tow. Which means you have to choose. With a dazzling array of choices, this act is very difficult. You have this problem at large buffets and bookstores (ok, *I* have this anxiety at bookstores).

People have been studying the problems of abundance - when we can't have it all, it makes us uneasy, for making a choice implies saying no to something else, and thus a potential loss - what if you made the wrong choice?

Sheena Iyengar's book Buy The Art Of Choosing sums this up nicely.

Apr 9, 2015

The usefulness of naivete

Just completed an exercise of collating all the questions we did for Doolally's weekly pub quiz in 2014. Realised how much our thinking has changed, evolved, even transmogrified since Jan 2014.

And how naive, new, and noble we once were! But it's good to know that state of mind, which accompanies anything that you begin from zero, can be rediscovered. Gives you a chance to refresh and scrape off cynicism accumulated in other aspects of life.

Passive Aggressive

The great thing about passive voice in bureaucratic writing is how it allows for the person doing the writing to not attribute any responsibility to any persons(s).

"It has been decided to remove access to xyz"

Not "I have decided" or "we have decided", but "it has been". Borderline euphemistic, don't-come-complaining-to-me. Blame the ether.

Sep 2, 2014

Richard Attenborough

Sir Richard Attenborough passed away in Aug 2014. Until my early twenties, I only knew of him as the man who directed 'Gandhi' (I hadn't even seen Jurassic Park.) Then, I happened to read a book about him, which opened up his acting life and shone light on his other films which had been out-dazzled by 'Gandhi'.

In 2002, for my Mastermind India final, I was fast running out of ideas for a topic in the specialised round (there were just 3 weeks between the semi-final and the final, and it would have been premature to think of the final before). I eventually ended up opting for "The Films of Richard Attenborough". It could have been a disaster, considering that these were the days before movies, especially less popular ones, were easily available all around you as is the case today. I was banking on that book from the library and IMDB to get me through.


It didn't happen - I got a call from the producers asking me if I would mind switching to another topic ('The Tommy and Tuppence Stories of Agatha Christie'). I didn't know why that happened, but I had no hesitation in accepting - it was an easier topic to prepare for and I just needed to ensure I had all the books of the series (I had 3 of them already). Incidentally, there is a tiny connection between T&T and Sir RA: his wife of many years Sheila Sim and he had portrayed the detective duo (on stage, I think).

Later, I watched a little more of his work and would have no hesitation recommending the following for your viewing pleasure:
1. 10 Rillington Place - he acts as your uncle next door who is also into serial killing.
2. Chaplin - directed by R.A, features Robert Downey Jr. in a well-acted biopic on the famous Charlie
3. Shatranj Ke Khiladi - as General Outram, the no-nonsense imperialist
4. The Great Escape - leading the secret escape committee in a PoW camp

I have yet to watch Brighton Rock, his big breakthrough performance.

I got somewhat tired of watching the slightly too-positive 'Gandhi' over the years, but it's a tremendous piece of cinematic work - kind of like watching a long, carefully constructed Test match innings by the likes of Dravid or Gavaskar. And like their notable performances, there are a lot of great behind-the-scenes stories of how he went about putting it together.

Now that would make a great movie.

Aug 25, 2014

My Mint Lounge articles and the benefits of an editor

In the past, I've occasionally contributed travel-related articles to some in-flight magazines and wrote some short stories for some publications and contests. This year, thanks to a personal resolution to begin writing with more purpose once again and thanks to the fact that I know the Travel editor for Mint Lounge (Shamanth Rao), I pitched and published two articles for Mint Lounge.

The articles are:

1. about the 'Waadaas' (traditional residences) of Pune

2. about the Computer History Museum in California

Unlike in my earlier submissions, this went through a slightly more intense editing process. Mint Lounge has a very clearly stated set of guidelines on what the article's typical 'voice' should be like: it should read like a personal narrative, not like a travel guide's summary or neither an extremely autobiographical piece. The first version of my first article fell through so many of these guidelines that I think we had to send out a rescue mission and some oxygen. Based on the editor's pointed inputs, I reworked the entire structure almost inside-out. What you see in the article above is largely that structure (and if it works, I can't take much of the credit for it).

The second time, I had a fair idea of what worked, so the process was easier and shorter. This time, most of the follow-up work was spent on fleshing out details: 'it's still not vivid enough', 'describe that object in greater detail', 'who was around and what were they doing' and so on.

Having someone skilled looking at your work really helps: it's a mix of an outside-in view, detachment, the ability to see what works and what doesn't, what can be emphasized and what can be thrown out without remorse, and most importantly, in my case - someone that I, by pitching and researching and writing, had made a personal committment to in terms of seeing this through to the end.

Aug 22, 2014

I was one of the earliest bloggers in India. That was a decade and more ago. About 7-or so years ago, I joined Facebook & then Twitter. The last time I blogged - seriously that is - was in Sept 2013. I made over 300 posts in 2003 and just 9 in 2013 (2014 - has just one before this - that too for some contest).

I think I'm coming back here now. One is that it doesn't get too many hits now, which is good. Plus, I won't be suckered into hankering for likes and RTs (which I anyway don't manage to pull). There is just so much volume (and hence noise) on every other media (social, news, etc.) that I think this is like a slow-food version that I like.

Plus I think I'm ready to write a little more. Let's see - 90% of my projects fizzle out soon, so let's give this another shot.