May 30, 2010

Three men of the stage from B.J.Medical College

Until I saw an interview of his today, I didn't know Dr. Shreeram Lagoo was an alumnus of B.J.Medical College, Pune. This means that the college has produced three of the most renowned Marathi names of the stage - Shreeram Lagoo, Jabbar Patel, and Mohan Agashe (who also taught at the same institution).

Given this, one wonders what the college did (or does) to provide an ecosystem for such people to emerge. The Pune college circuit for plays is rich and well-established with theatre groups and competitions such as Purushottam Karandak and Firodiya. COEP too had a couple of students who later turned pro - Ravindra Mankani and Girish Joshi, for instance, but no one of the heights of the BJ trio.

May 29, 2010

Why Zen monks don't use Twitter

There are no Zen monks on Twitter - have you noticed that? You would have thought it was the ideal place for them - literally minimalistic, encouraging of pithiness, and an inbuilt set of organic metaphors about birds and cetaceans. Despite that, there aren't any twittering Zen-izens.

It isn't difficult to see why. In the wired world, a zen monk can orally issue a koan or two without worrying about how many times he gets re-koaned. His followers have come from far and wide, casting away their social nets to listen to a wise man who often doesn't make any sense. His followers repeat what he says without prefacing it with snide comments. The Zen Master never has to block anyone even when they are caught asking each other 'youprefer padme hum or padme lakshme?'.

On Twitter, alas, many a distraction exists. Thanks to incessant tweets, it is difficult to devote yourself fully to the construction of mindful, yet funny, sutras in response to a hashtag (despite its fundamentally ephemeral nature). During meditation time, an itinerant bee in the form of that perfect rejoinder to @buddydharma's latest pun buzzes in the otherwise silent garden of the mind.

Some practitioners have argued that since Twitter's stream of thought is paradoxical to the 'live in the moment' philosophy, it is in fact the perfect spiritual vehicle for the practice of localised mindfulness. Attention hops-skips-jumps the waves of onrushing tweets, without leaving any kind of neurological imprint. If there is no trace of tweetrivia, argued the pro-twitter camp, could we even say there was any tweetrivia to begin with? Unfortunately, this was whispered deep within the Lotus Forest, where no one heard it, thus rendering the point unsaid.

The Zendarmerie of the Shaolin Temples must have forbidden monks from onefortying, fearing failure on an epic scale. They have observed the corruption among secular members of society, who prefer to talk of facing their palms and not their books. They silently wonder why people talk so much, where they invent the time to be addicted thus, and why it takes 140 when it could take just 40.

On these, the masters contemplate, which often keeps them from paying their broadband bills on time.

May 18, 2010

फूल खिले थे गुलशन गुलशन

Why do florists love this blog? I ask this question each time I get comments from some of my most loyal readers. These are people like "Rony M", "Raya Manna", "Tanmoy Sarkar", "Soni', and "Poulami". Sometimes, like 'expressflowersmumbai', they are just too shy to reveal their real name.

They usually tell me that they liked reading the content of this website, that it was very informative, and now would I like to show my kindness and appreciation for my special ones in places ranging from Antananarivo to Znamensky by sending them stuff? The interesting thing is that they are usually florists. They also have cakes and other gifts, but they always begin with flowers.

I am not really in a position to really take advantage of their services, which makes me feel bad. So I have tried telling Google & Blogger several times not to let them waste their time telling me how much they love my blog. But Google doesn't seem to be sympathetic to their plight. Therefore, I'm writing to "Rony M", "Raya Manna", "Tanmoy Sarkar", "Soni', and "Poulami" via this blog (which they so obviously relish and hopefully will read) to visit other meadows where other drones may be more sympathetic, unlike me.

Also that, in an attempt to (for want of a better term) 'de-flower' my blog, I've enabled comment moderation. So from now on, your paeans to me will remain strictly private. Wink, wink.

May 17, 2010

"Half Ticket": My FlyLite article on Children's Films in India

Last November, FlyLite, JetLite's in-flight magazine, brought out a "Children's special" issue commemorating Children's Day. For this, I wrote an article on Indian films made for or featuring children. You can read a scanned version here on Google Docs (it's a .pdf file, ~1.2 MB).

It is by no means a comprehensive history of the topic :-), so if you see any notable omissions, do tell!

(The magazine is produced by Spenta Multimedia)

May 16, 2010

Prelims questions of the Pune Brand Equity Quiz 2010

Questions (highly 'data compressed'!) from the prelims to the Pune Brand Equity Quiz (Answers will be posted in a comment below.)

1. An industrial township completing 100 years this year
2. Chairman of Afras Ventures in 2007
3. Saris that take their patterns from the Ajanta caves
4. Biggest charitable donations in history
5. Howard Shultz worked as a Xerox salesman, later moved to another company, which he ended up buying after 4 years. Which co?
6. What did Chef Caesar Cardini create
7. Brothers in Arms in 1985 - first album of which group
8. Properties for the 1st UK edition of this was decided by the MD who sent his secretary on a tour of London in a bus. What?
9. Nokia's Hindi SMS version is called: Saral message ___
10. Hierarchy of what has things such as underboss, soldiers, capodecima, associates
11. Andras Graf better known as?
12. Two pronouns in the Rasna ad campaign tagline from the 80s
13. Fellini's La Dolce Vita gave which term
14. In Firozabad, what do Gulliwalas & Belanwalas make
15. NY Governor David Paterson proposed a tax on downloaded music, calling it an __ tax.
16. Products made in Ulhasnagar have what tagline
17. Warren Buffet said the secret to good investing is: a. Luck b. Temperament c. Intellect
18. V. Anand sports whose logo on his shirt
19. "Tired of Politics" Party created by
20. First rupee introduced in 1540-1605 by
21. visual (ad with the word 'mammogram')
22. Indian one Rupee from the 80s - signature of Fin Min Secretary:
23. visual of a crop
24. Automobile logo
25. A seafood dish
26. what term originated after a spontaneous parade in NY City to welcome the Statue of Liberty?
27. what word originates from oikonomia (household management)
28. Biblical apple is from which garden?
29. In Apr, India Post recently introduced a stamp series on a. months b. Tagore c. Astro signs
30. 1st postal mail from St. Louis to Chicago

Answers will be posted in a comment below.

May 14, 2010


From The Language Log and The Guardian, a magnificent specimen of a 2008 'journal paper' about the sound that is "Om". Titled Time-Frequency Analysis of Chanting Sanskrit Divine Sound "OM" Mantra , the paper 'proves' that the mind is calm and peace to the human subject and its principal conclusion is that steadiness in the mind is achieved by chanting OM.

You will find a rousing (and ROTFL-ing) discussion of the paper's scientific content (or lack thereof) at The Language Log, which writes:

"The first step seems fair enough: ommmmmm chants are analyzed using standard transform techniques, that represent signals as superpositions of wavelet forms. The second step is… well, there is no second step."

"Perhaps the pictures mean more to the enlightened than they do to me. The article is so bad that I can't see it as anything other than a spoof. And the premise is amusing enough. But I don't know enough about the IJCSNS article genre to really get the joke. If there is one."

Given the details in the paper, I fear it isn't a parody. The original Guardian article (written by one of the organisers of the Ig Nobel prize) says:
"The important technical fact is that no matter what form of Om one chants at whatever speed, there is always a basic Omness to it."

"No one has explained the biophysical processes that underlie this fetching of calm and taking away of thoughts. Gurjar and Ladhake's time-frequency analysis is a tiny step along that hitherto little-taken branch of the path of enlightenment.

(I have no stand on the significance or lack thereof of "Om". But I do stand laughing at 'science' so bad that it seems to have emerged of Rajkumar Kohli's 'consciousness'.)

Scientific pot-shots apart, there are several linguistic gems (or maNiis, in keeping with the theme). Such as this runaway adverb-adjective train:

"Highly sensitive expressive experienced people are more probable to be satisfied and efficient in their life in recent days."
Or you could wonder at this buffet of a scripting language, a proposal, and a quest:
People have been heading for their gawk inwards in propose to attain peace of mind, since they are not capable to locate steadiness in the external world.
And finally, eventually, at-the-endly:
As a final point, we have confirmed scientifically the accomplishments of OM chanting in reducing the stress from the human mind.
Or not.
(image courtesy Philip Lutgendorf)

May 13, 2010

General Synod's Life of Christ

"Not the Nine O'Clock News" was an early 80s BBC satire about news and tv programmes in Britain, featuring among others, the talents of Rowan Atkinson, David Renwick, Howard Goodall, and Richard Curtis. Many of the sketches are still funny to watch.

My favourite of the lot is "General Synod's Life of Christ", a debate on 'a controversial and scurrilous film' that seems to mirror the 'Pythonist religion' and has far too many parallels with 'The Comic Messiah'. Monty Python fans should find this quite brilliant:

While you are there, also look at Gerald the Gorilla:

May 12, 2010

Pop goes NYT

If you visit any article page on the New York Times recently, you would have noticed a relatively new navigation 'pop out'. Let's say you were reading this news article. As you get towards the end, this is what you are probably seeing at the bottom of the page: Now, when you get to the end of the article text, a box springs out from the right (quite disconcertingly, I found, since the appearance is quite swift and abrupt). The box points to another related article in the same site category: From a web design point of view, this is interesting - a tiny addition that tries to keep the reader on the site. It attempts to catch your attention by appearing out of nowhere. But it can give you a surprise (a slight spike on the fright-o-meter), which is perhaps why I wonder if they would have been better off with something that fades-in instead of the horizontal jack-in-the-box. Incidentally, Forbes India's site also has the very same navigation pop out, albeit one that grows diagonally. However, the site gets it very wrong on paginated articles (see this article for example). Even if you are coming to the end of page 1 of an article (and not the end of the article itself), you still get a link suggestion box. Surely they don't want me to leave this article by the wayside? NYT doesn't make this elementary error.

May 5, 2010

India's Got Tortured Genius?

There's no formal classification of talent, but biographies often throw up phrases to describe their subjects. One of the most intriguing ones is the notion of the "tortured genius". A tortured genius is one whose talents are far beyond our understanding, of the sublime and the ridiculously easy, coupled with self-destructive tendencies that often derails said genius' own talents. Kind of like a woodcutter so talented that when he cuts down the branch on which he's perched, the resulting pattern causes crop circles below. (This didn't make sense? Ah, you mere mortal, you).

Despite its rarity, there are enough examples of tortured genius, the most visible being from sport or the arts. Vincent van Gogh was the epitome of the phrase. Diego Maradona or George Best of Paul Gascoigne. The bizarre Howard Hughes or the tortured souls housed in John Nash Jr. Ronnie O' Sullivan. (The British seem to produce an excess of sporting TGs - or perhaps they are just very good at spotting and anointing them as such.) Gregory House, of course. With genius, can drugs, sex, music, alcohol, and psychedelic teddy bears be far behind?

But the thing is - I can't really think of any TGs from India. Our sportsmen have been an endless series of nice boys or just muscled morons. Our filmstars just got old and fat, or began blogs. If only Salman Khan was a half-decent actor. After a lot of thinking, the only ones that come to mind are the likes of Mukul Shivputra or Ritwik Ghatak. But where're our pill-popping, fisticuff-flying, call-the-curfew-on-your-child's-senses assaulting genius who can do magical things during the day to have his every sin erased off the charts?

There's many a show with a genius for torturing the masochistic bunch of viewers that can't peel their eyes off them. But finding our own tortured genius? - now that ought to be a talent show waiting to happen.

May 4, 2010

By other means, minus the shooting

Do students of the Political Sciences study sports federations? They should. To my mind, these associations exhibit a purer form of politics than that seen in conventional politics of state governance.

Several limiting constraints are eliminated in such an arena. Chief among these is no longer having to adhere to a delineated ideology, which allows free rein to individual preferences. One is therefore not restricted in choosing partners just to remain on the right (or left) side of a House. There are no whip-py actions which ease the process of floor-crossing. There is no need to publish a manifesto with manifestly unattainable goals of progress. A "horses for courses" policy can be applied to trading of allegiances. In fact, you could think of it as a market free of any artificial friction.

This state of affairs is not restricted to India. For long, the conduct of FIFA's top echelon has come under fire, with the likes of Sepp Blatter having demonstrated a slipperiness and an appeasement policy of certain federations (in return for voting support) that mirrors some of our best coalition tactics.

I have long felt that the members of the BCCI are best equipped at the sport of sport administration, rather than the sport of cricket. Politicians of all hues mix there to form a kaleidoscope of changing alliances that are trickier to sort out than the holdings of an IPL team. Perhaps there could be an upper limit of say, 50, to be a BCCI office-bearer, and the gentlemen currently in charge could use the BCCI as a sort of a junior (under-19?) league to groom their 'scions'?

The Sports Minister1 has set about putting in barriers to people being BDPLs. (Ironically, the Minister is a man of a vintage higher than the retirement age he has proposed for heads of sports federations.) Not surprisingly, the various presidents have spoken in unison against the move, which restricted their tenure to twelve years. That's right, twelve years. That's Six Olympics, Three Football World Cups, Twelve IPLs, and at the current rate, 12 World T20s. Clearly, these guys are insatiable.

Expressing gratitude to the sporting gods (who have otherwise clearly abdicated all responsibilities and are partying in one of Allen Stanford's beach resorts) for the lack of a Quizzing Federation of India (no, this isn't the one) we end with a trivia question:

Which pair of brothers respectively head the Federations of the largely unrelated sports of Table Tennis and Boxing?

1: To his credit though, M.S.Gill has been a keen mountaineer and patronised that sport in India

May 3, 2010

Feelin' Frisky

Almost every large hotel or shopping complex in Pune has installed metal detectors at its entrance and has security personnel carry out body and baggage checks (usually very perfunctory and ineffective). This is yet another aspect to our outdoor lives that we have slowly come to accept. Despite the 'nobility' of the aim, this only causes minor annoyances to the 99.999% of the populace that seeks to demolish nothing but a three-course meal.

Last week, I was at the Landmark store in Pune. Visitors to the store will know the first display after the security checks and bag deposit is that of the latest music & movie releases. I was standing there, when a couple and their son, who must have been about five, walked in. I looked up because the son began to cry.

The father asked him what he wanted and the child pointed outside. It seemed as if he wanted to go elsewhere and not spend a morning in a big bookstore. The father didn't protest and took him towards the exit. Where he spoke to the guard there who smiled and bent down.

The guard then proceeded to give the kid a once-over with his metal detector, immediately at which the boy stopped sobbing as if obeying the PMC water supply regulations for the day.

One could wonder if the guard had been amiss earlier not treating a kid without the complete suspicion that should be his professional stock-in-trade, or to begin with, whether the trio had not been frisked properly because they were white foreigners (for that they were). Or just realise that there well could be two sides to each bomb detector experience.

May 1, 2010

Nut Rang

I cannot help but feel that these dry fruit makers missed out on the opportunity for a pun in their brand name.