Jun 30, 2009

What's in a name? Count for yourself

With the inauguration of yet another Rajiv Gandhi-named thingy, a look at the overall thingy leaderboard:

Rajiv Gandhi: 138
Chhatrapati Shivaji: 137
M.K.Gandhi: 68
Shakespeare: 1

With this, Rajiv Gandhi has taken a slender lead in the standings. With the Congress set to enjoy a full five year term at the Centre, he is likely to further strengthen his lead.

In the interest of keeping the drama in the race alive, certain people request you to vote for the Shiv Sena-BJP alliance in Maharashtra.

Suggested supplementary reading:
* A New Indian Express article on Gandhi, Gandhi everywhere,
* Atanu Dey on this practice: 1, 2

Given this, one wonders if Mayawati's double-handed backhand of playing 'statue' is just another variant of this game of iconography. If so, she seems to get greater flak for merely not mastering the nuances of the game.

Growing big in Kolkata

Prof. Soumen Chakrabarti is a faculty member at IIT Bombay's Computer Science department (and one of the top researchers in his field in the world). Like several professors in such institutes, he gets emails from wannabe interns/project seekers. Perhaps some are of the 'academic hunger' type, but a few are just looking for CV embellishments & recommendations for higher studies.

Prof. Chakrabarti's webpage carries a prominent notice stating:

At the moment I am not offering short-term projects to students not enrolled in a regular program at IIT Bombay.
Despite that, he seems to receive correspondence hoping for the opposite, some of which is painfully delightful. He has a sample on his blog (here), under the heading: "Can't read but will apply". Such as:
[...]I am an International Rifle Shooter of India and I was a member of an INDIAN AIR RIFLE SHOOTING TEAM FOR YEAR 2006. I am a presently studding in a 7th semester of B.E. Information Technology at LLLL DDDD Engineering College, AAAA, GGGG. [...] I am sending my Resume with this. I am sure that you would kindly cooperate and oblige.
Soumen Chakrabarti comments:
How could I possibly refuse from the wrong end of a Remington?
It gets even more interesting. Quoting from the entry:
Then there is in-your-face dishonesty:
"I have gone through your research activities given on your homepage. I am looking for a challenging opportunity for summer internship for the period of May-July 2007."

When I pointed out that anyone reading my homepage would notice my statement (that I do not take external students), I got a response like this:
"it's fine if u donot want to work with me ,but such words don't suit a proff of ur standards"

Clearly there is no dearth of entitlement, just good sense.

The exchanges seem to have become more hostile in recent times, with Soumen Chakrabarti receiving email that criticises him for either his hiring policy or for making these instances public (see end of the post).

He ends with this statement that really pinches:

It's hard to overstress the liability of a nation of a billion people out of which 700 million are functionally illiterate and the rest have no wish to follow instructions, even when they are asking for a favor.
These accounts are both hilarious and depressing. We need to satisfy the demand for higher-quality education, get more good professors teaching, have fewer people attempting to bull-doze their way into cosmetic achievements on paper, and for someone to tell these people that the simplest way to stand out is to use the bits of grey matter bestowed by nature on them in a fit of pure chance.

Link to the post here

Jun 23, 2009

I'm anal-ytical like that

Each morning, for the last couple of years, I have made a little health log in a journal about the previous day. This record comprises of any colds or niggles, exercise, weather, amount of sleep, medicines taken, and ends with a 'discomfort' & 'mood' rating (on a 1-5 scale).

(It sounds unbelievably anal-retentive, but I've always been a list maker: of normal things like books read & movies watched, and of stranger things like 'coincidences'.)

Harish, knowing of such heavy logging, pointed me to this Wired article about how many people seem to be doing this, and are using the Web to record & share such information. I began noting this info so as to better understand what influences my health and to spot & prepare for seasonal & other factors. I have a large mass of data now, but perhaps not a lot of insights.

Still, I continue to do so largely because I think I like recording information. Leading a trivia-monger's life smooths away any objections to pointlessness - why, someday, all of this may come in handy.

I'd really like to get my hands on some of the tools mentioned in the article - when, with each step I take, a bean counter wriggles in ecstacy.

Jun 21, 2009

Movie title mash-up

(alias ''मेरे pleasure gardenमें तुम्हारा क्या काम है?")
  1. The loneliness of the lambii race kaa ghodaa
  2. Phir wohi groundhog day laaya hoon
  3. Virginia Woolf ko gussa kyon aata hai
  4. Daag: The Towering Inferno
  5. Dilwale Private Ryan le jayenge
  6. Do aankhen 12 angry men
  7. Indian Jones and the dil ek mandir
  8. har kar jeetne walon ko Rocky kehte hain
  9. The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King, Naam hai Shahenshah
  10. Madhumati, I shrunk the kids
  11. Suraj ka seventh seal
  12. DEEWAR-E-aam
  13. Terminator 2: Qayamat se Qayamat Tak
  14. Indiana Jones and the aakhrii raastaa
  15. Alien vs. Jaani Dushman
  16. The Curious Case of Tirchi Topiwale
  17. Star Wars: Episode V - The Mughal-e-Azam Strikes Back
  18. Rosemary's jigar ka tukdaa
  19. Reservoir Kaminey
  20. Close Encounters on the Teesri Manzil
  21. Choti si encounter
  22. Chandni Chowk to Chinatown
  23. Chalti ka naam Desire
  24. No Country for Shaukeens
  25. Mohan Joshi goes to Washington
  26. English babu American beauty
  27. Romancing the Patthar ke Sanam
  28. There will be khoon ki nadiyaan
  29. Butch Cassidy and the sabse bada khiladi
  30. Amelie Poulain ki Ajeeb Dastaan
  31. Lock, Stock, and Double Cross: ek dhokha
  32. Roop ki Raani The Lion King
  33. Snow White and the Saat Hindustani
  34. All quiet under the do gaz zameen
  35. The pati, the patni, the woh

Jun 19, 2009

Totalitarianism rules football

Doubtlessly an exaggeration, but it should make democrats peevish that a totalitarian state like North Korea (which we are told is constantly on the verge of starvation) qualifies for the World Cup (their second-ever qualification), and we are not even in the picture.

With recent T20 cups of sorrow running over, this might be the best time for a sport-minded dictator to throw in his hat and fire a few rounds en route to New Delhi. If he promises to whip into place a couple of World Cup victories & qualifications, he might find a supportive populace behind him.

The remaining 60% don't care any way.

Jun 18, 2009

Sanu ik pal chain na aave

Nineties vibrato Kumar Sanu pulls out the hamaare zamaane me.n rant in this interview:
I don't like the way music is treated today. I do not want to associate myself to any kind of music tampering. People don't know what music means these days. Singers only shout and then they become famous and their songs become hits.
I, for one, don't miss his voice and his arguments are easy to refute with Sturgeon's Law. But it underline how difficult the playback singing industry must be. Singers are at the mercy of music directors and usually, only one person is needed for a song. A significant Long Tail must exist, with "winners" i.e. popular singers or singers associated with current stars, taking the bulk of assignments. The 70s-80s were a prime example.

However, things seem to be different now. Many new singers (some from the endless carousel of TV 'talent hunts') have received prominence in the last few years, especially thanks to music directors like A.R.Rahman, S-E-L, and recently Amit Trivedi. The stranglehold of one-man-one-voice has dimmed with current singers unable to command the heights of the Kishore-Lata-Asha-Rafi era.

Not such a bad thing.

Jun 15, 2009

Have you recently met a four?

I'm a metaphor,
sort of like a simile,
only much subtler.

I get compared a lot,
usually to an analogy,
even when I'm not.

I've been a stubbled moon,
or a rarely travelled road,
and even a lead balloon.

I'm very quiet & awkward.
Mixing me badly leaves a taste
like chalk and two peas of a pod.

Like a stair descending nude,
I can make no sense.
I'm a misunderstood dude.

But I like who I am,
I'm so unlike anyone else,
Reminiscent of a lighthouse on an oasis in the shape of a desert palm.

Grind your language

It's a strange confluence of coincidences that sees two directors with fascinating filmographies have a release each in August with very similar kinds of titles. If Quentin Tarantino sends a shiver down Spelling Bee champions with Inglourious Basterds, Vishal Bhardwaj's Kaminey will strike a double blow on behalf of the verbally challenged.

Jun 14, 2009

Madame et Mademoiselle

"In addition to my other numerous acquaintances, I have one more intimate confidant. My depression is the most faithful mistress I have known - no wonder, then, that I return the love."
:: Soren Kierkegaard
Miss Happiness used to be called Paro, during a phase of your life. You want her - desperately. But does she want you? Sometimes, you think you're all that she thinks of. But at other times, she seems to be flirting with others. You could murder her for that. You consider hurting yourself to see if she'd bleed - but you're not sure. Then she grazes your arm, and you melt at her touch.

While Lady Depression's first name is Chandramukhi. You are always welcome to her arms, whether incinerating in drink or merely crumbling apart in discontentment. She makes no demands of you. Her lap is soothing and unconditional.

The lady keeps an open door to all - everyone knows that. The miss is very finicky and no one knows her mind. Do you pick the loyal lady or the mercurial missy?

Milady is never judgemental. She's seen your likes before. They come to her in all kinds of states, and some never leave. For your sake, she even tells you to swallow the astringent pill and seek the miss out. Go, she says, you deserve better than my shoulder. Her selflessness endears her further to you. She knows the folds of her saree are not just a gentle embrace, but a softly tightening noose.

Mademoiselle is demanding. You have to court her all the time."Will you treat me well?", she wants to know. "Will you change once you have me?" Even: "Tell me why should I come with you?". You thought it was your unchallenged right to hold her. "Why?" - what sort of a question was that? This blasphemous thought has never once entered your self-important head. You can't offer even a fragment of an answer, so you storm away in arrogance. "You think I can't live without you?", you sneer.

You couldn't. You can't even bear seeing others with girls like her.

So you went looking for the assured warmth of the Lady, one who never turned away a heart in need of sympathy. With her, you feel you spend a lot of time within yourself. She's become your best friend, the one that never stopped listening.

I don't know how this ends. Perhaps you listen to the Lady and go away looking for the miss, who could have grown up into a practical missus. Would you be able to convince your former flame to put out the burning inside?

Or perhaps, you lie in a corner of the Lady's house, and smoulder away, like yesterday's fire. She looks after you the best she can, but she has many knocking at the door, and too many like you to assuage.

My best guess? You'll end up in the middle: too chastened to go seek Miss Happiness; too scared of being another tick on the blamesheet of Lady Depression.

Once again, fittingly, the paralysis of choice.

Jun 11, 2009

Nonsense worth millions

The whole "Millionth word in English" nonsense finally came to an end with the rather boring 'choice' of "Web 2.0" as _the_ word. The friendly guys at the Language Log tear into the whole affair with gusto.

One can only shudder at the shrieking hype cycle in the Indian news media had "Jai Ho" been chosen. Joy Ho!

Jun 10, 2009

The CAT purrs online

About four-and-some years ago, I had hoped the Common Aptitude Test conducted by the IIMs would become a computer-based test. Finally, this year, the exam will be taken by applicants using a keyboard and mouse over a 10 day period.

This is a step in the right direction, but I would still like it to go all the way, like the GRE: no specific time periods for the exam, only a valid score needed at the time of applying to the IIMs. The reasons outlined in that old post still hold, I think.

Fellow BC quizzer Aniket doesn't believe this is such a good idea. I hope for the sake of participants like him that the organisers get the logistics right and don't end up falling between two stools.

Jun 9, 2009

A certain calming order has returned to the tennis world. One might even say some larks have rediscovered the wing, as did the snail the thorn, while God takes up the comfy armchair in heaven, and Browning may even be fooled into thinking the world's not such a bad place after all.

I refer, of course, to Roger Federer nailing his place on top of the mantelpiece with the win at Roland Garros. The win may even set his career carefree, with very little left to prove to himself.

He may even stop uncorking the tap of tears that has become such a feature of post-final presentations. Talk about climate change.

There remains the minor trifle of not having beaten Rafael Nadal at Paris, but I wouldn't be too unhappy if his career ended like that. It could be his 99.94, giving us something to debate for the rest of lives. No one should be that perfect.


Switching sports for second, I'm very happy that Rohit Sharma has moved to the top of the Indian batting order. He answers my prayer for a modern-day batsman who can oozes grace like an Arab oil pipeline from the 1960s. Batting first means his playing time is more predictable. Who else can you really watch?


Back to the clay. I had missed Fernando Gonzalez's astonishing backside play, and found a video online. It is simply the most crazy thing I have ever seen on a tennis court (or on its sidelines). Here is the human eraser:

Jun 5, 2009

Go on - surprise me

The entire basis of Miss Marple's detective-ity was that she had seen it all before. So one wonders: is the ability to be surprised one of the first casualties of age?

In many cases, higher salaries tied to 'experience' are essentially paid out because your employee has a higher likelihood of having seen 'it' before than the green salad you hired last month. If life was highly random, this might not work. But established industries work on continuously reducing (if not eliminating) surprises, so the whole basis of certain 'career ladders' is based on the promise of तजुर्बा. In comparison, kids constantly meet new things, until someday, where this plateaus out and the 'surprise' value of events diminishes. Which is perhaps why creative thinking methods try to force surprise on people, through constraints or unexpected situations or trying to map analogies - to push you into unseen mental paths rather than the well-trodden path with enough engine oil on it.

So would a service that injected controlled amounts of surprise into your life be useful to you? Not of The Game proportions, but little things that you had never experienced before or never thought you would see, forcing you to do a double take once in a while? Calibrated, not fully random amounts.

Of course, an alternative argument could be that the older you get the more the intensity of the surprise, because 'I thought I had seen it all, but there you go'.

Jun 4, 2009

Shakespeare nil, Chennai Corporation one

Tamil Nadu Chief Minister Karunanidhi's birthdays certainly have something for everyone. If last year it was the prospect of cheaper idli-vadai-dosai, this year it's free gold rings, courtesy of the Chennai Corporation (at tax-payers' cost, as Amit Varma points out).

However, all that glitters ain't aurum, for, as the Mayor says:

"We have formed a committee comprising of Tamil teachers to verify if the baby's name is really in Tamil and only those names certified by the teachers to be in pure Tamil will be given the gold rings."
Unlike Scrabble, there's no mention of an official dictionary that everyone can uniformly refer to. Perhaps a website to check the Tamil-ness of one's name?

One new mother takes the safe way out:

"I've selected the name Kanimozhi, the Chief Minister's daughter's name because she's a very progressive and educated woman," said Bharathi Rani.
But mothers of bonny boys beware: assuming the committee will abide by letter & spirit of the announcement, then they may well rule out a bunch of familiar names. So steer clear of Karunanidhi, Dayanidhi, and Kalanidhi, the words in whose names are clearly of Sanskrit derivation.

Jun 2, 2009

Number games

Let's assume India's voting percentages in its general elections is about 50%. Let there exist a country half of India's population such that its voters register almost 100% voting in its elections, i.e. greater than India's turnout.

Would that still make us the world's largest democracy?

Jun 1, 2009


That year the hogs will fly,
not just when the Black wins the White
but when the astonishing happens
and the Pink loses the Orange.

:: from Les Prophecies Retrospectif

When I got home last night to find out Rafael Nadal had lost at Roland Garros, I wanted to know why I hadn't felt the shock. Why didn't this register on the Richter Scale? No wonder North Korea's getting away with a bomb or two.

Though Nadal's form had been iffy and his retrieval under the weather, not even seers with 20/20 vision knew this was coming. It's a tribute to the man that he's taken it on the chin. To use Nadal's Tarzan-esque English, "he indeed play bad".

No one really knows what to do with a Nadal-less second week at the French. The pressure may just have doubled on Federer (if so, it is showing - as I write this, he's teetering 2 sets down to Tommy Haas despite not losing a single point on serve until the first set tiebreaker). I have a feeling a certain strange-haired Scotsman will open his Grand Slam score on a surface that has much in common with his hair.

If somehow Federer were to haul himself up to win this one, it would be worthy of a year in which porcine aviation made its mark. Federer holding the French, Nadal holding Wimbledon. What next? Cristiano Ronaldo elected Professor of Modesty at the University of Lisbon? Stan Laurel berating Oliver Hardy for getting them into a mess? Sherlock Holmes pleading Dr. Watson to "tell me, how did you do it"?

A.R.Rahman - Live in Pune

Despite the intimidating presence of Lata Mangeshkar (because of whom Rahman said everyone on stage was shivering and going off-tune!) in the audience, Pune's first ever Rahman concert met most expectations and exceeded some. The sequence was largely similar to the earlier (Kozhikode) concert in the "Jai Ho" tour. Asad Khan opened with his brilliant sitar piece from SDM's Mausam & Escape, backed by guitars from the likes of Rashid Ali. Rahman emerged next to sing the unheralded Jaage Hain (Guru). Interestingly, they went for Sivaji's Athiradi - a song many in this crowd understandably had not heard of, which was also true of Style a little later.

The newer movie releases in SDM, Delhi 6, & Jaane Tu... were best represented on the concert listing. But the classics got their share of voice too. Hariharan & Sadhna Sargam sang "Roja..." with the versatile Hariharan doing his bag of improvisational tricks. One of the two highlights of the evening was listening to Hariharan & Roopkumar Rathod sing Dheemi Dheemi, Tu Hi Re & Khaamosh Raat, with Rahman's superb piano playing. An album with alternative variations to such melodies would be a great idea. This semi-unplugged detour got better with them performing one of my personal favourites: Sarfaroshi ki Tamanna.

The other highlight was Neeti Mohan's Mayya Mayya. She sang, she danced, she blew everyone's mind. An astonishing performance, it's worth going a distance to watch. Phew.

A lady (very Puneri in her cynicism) kept saying Rahman's only going to sing three-four songs, oh, what a ripoff. Well, he's a music director who occasionally sings, doesn't he? Plus he isn't the best singer going around, but he can evoke sincerity & passion. Which is what he did with the likes of Khwaja mere Khwaja, Humma Humma, Dil Se, and Rehna Tu. Though I was mighty disappointed not to see the fingerboard out on show.

The female singers (Tanvi, Neeti Mohan, the lady who sung Dreams on Fire, and more) were good. Sadly, none of them were introduced, as was the case with the terrific instrumentalists. Was hoping for a Naveen solo, especially given his superb interludes. Stephan Devassy's playing for Masakalli was wonderful too. But the man on the harmonium and piano was terrific - would have loved to have seen more Rahman playing than Rahman singing.

The only blots on the evening were a couple of pestilential RJs from Radio Mirchi (the male one was in danger of being lynched, some unnecessary speech-making, and some poor camerawork & online editing. Hardly any instrumental close-ups or energy there. The show did feature local group The Wandering Souls during Aziim-o-shaan.

Great production values and with no unnecessary gimmicks, the show closed out with Jai Ho! and Vande Mataram (now the Rahman Bhairavi/mangalam, I suppose).