Wednesday, November 25, 2009
Nonetheless, I shall get back to my condition.
I imagine, if my condition is as serious as I think it is, requiring immediate focus on possible methods of rehabilitation and so on and so forth, a physician would write the following in his notes.
In December 2009, patient JS presented with an increasingly common condition that I shall henceforth refer to as date blindness. Patient JS was instrumental in my finally being able to obtain a comprehensive view of this condition. It is through my encounters with JS, with her co-operation, her high IQ, and her interest in cognition that I feel that we are finally at the point where we can formulate sound rehabilitation strategies.
Before proceeding to discuss JS's condition, it may be worthwhile to lay out the typical characteristics of this syndrome. Therefore, I shall first attempt to describe the range of the syndrome. In discussing JS's specific condition, I will also discuss possible causes of the syndrome which will provide us with insight into possible methods of rehabilitation.
Date-blindness is characterized by an inability of a subject to identify the day of the month when presented with a typical 8 number date notation. They are very accurate in identifying the day of the week. They are aware of the order of months and the number of days each month has. Their knowledge of month order, day order is intact and accessible. Their knowledge of historic events is intact. They accurately remember their birthday. They will most always remember dates that are autobiographical in nature. Their IQ is normal. So is their appetite and interest in gossip. They are sociable and independent. Many complain that they are single. Owing to their deficit, they are often unpunctual. It is the reason this field has progressed slowly; subjects will often not turn up at their scheduled appointments, despite reminders from my receptionist. The similarity in their dating experiences is striking as well. Most subjects will relate incidents about their date not showing up. It is likely, that it is the subject that showed up for the date on the wrong day of the wrong month. Often it is this realization that causes them to consult with a clinician. They can, however, point to appropriate dates in a calendar. It seems that the deficit lies solely in their ability to transform numbers in the 8 numbered format into the appropriate date. This deficit is bidirectional. They cannot read a given date; nor can they write the appropriate date when told "June, 7th 2009". I will re-iterate that this deficit is for the dates and months only and not for the year.
In the most extreme form of the syndrome, patients cannot identify date and month. Such inability is often accompanied with hysteric outbursts. A striking feature of these hysteric episodes is the tendency of the patient to complain about their immigrant status. Often they will refuse to even attempt to do the task and will proceed to blame the health-care system in this country. In the mildest form they will juxtapose the day and the month. When presented with 06/07/2009, they are apt to say July 6th, June 6th, June 7th, July 7th. These answers are often provided with equal frequencies.
I will now turn to the specifics of JS's condition. JS is a student of neuroscience who arrived in Pittsburgh in September 2008. She made a curious request to my secretary when she scheduled the appointment. She insisted that she be given reminders in a name of the month/date format instead of number of month/date within a month format. It is therefore not a coincidence that she made it to the appointment in time. On entering my office she quickly declared that she didn't understand why she was able to switch from left-hand-drive in her home country to right-hand-drive in USA but she was not able to make the switch from a dd/mm/yyyy system to a mm/dd/yyyy system just as easily. It is with this insigthful statement of hers, that I was finally able to understand the condition I have called date-blindness. Date-blindness seems to be a prolonged, temporary transitional state as subjects learn to accept and identify dates referred in the middle-endian format if they were previously used to referring to them in the small-endian format and vice versa.
Years of conditioning in a dd/mm/yyyy makes a transition to the other system hard on many immigrants. Since it is not as life threatening as driving on the wrong side of the road, the teaching signal reaching cortex that drives changes in synaptic weights in order to effect such a transition is weaker and necessarily takes more time. It is in consultation with JS that I have begun to ponder about possible rehabilitative strategies. An effective method would be to increase the survival valence of indentifying the date correctly. More simply put, indentifying a date wrongly must greatly endanger the life of a subject. JS, with a keen grasp of the condition, pointed out that many subjects came into my clinic because they were missing out on good dates. She further pointed out that many celebrities are eager to contribute to noble causes. She suggested that celebrities be willing to devote some of their time to go on a date with one of the subjects. It is likely, then, that subject will persevere at grasping the mm/dd/yyyy system. Since no one can pass a chance to dine with nicole kidman or tom cruise.
JS herself would prefer Richard Gere.
Thursday, November 12, 2009
The sky's message, he whispers to the leaves
Those words so dear
That I barely hear
Those frivolous plans of the starry seas
How much for a month's calm breeze
For the waves to flutter above my knees
The dolphins must come and dance
The shark be dismissed with glance
And unto eternity, all the dark forces must freeze
How much for a year's lease on peace
And for a quick dose of reality
(Adapted from pat-a-cake; pat-a-cake)
Online buying for dummies
Package it Package it
Mail me a packet
As fast as you can
Mix it and bill it
and mark me a fee
And there will be plenty
for bankers, NOT me
And here's the original .....
Bake us a cake
As fast as you can,
Mix it and prick it
And mark it with B,
And there will be plenty
For baby and me.
Thursday, September 10, 2009
It will forever be beyond me why a certain republican congressman felt so compelled to call president Obama a liar. This is not because I adore president Obama. I am as yet undecided about him. And this is mostly because I am new to understanding how large nations work, be it India, where I come from, and where it is equally outrageous but not necessarily unlikely to call the prime minister a liar on live TV or be it the US, where, I have been raise to believe, that it is pretty unlikely for anyone to behave like such a brute.
At this point I see nothing that can be called civilized. I do not see how a set of people so divided, so unwilling to talk, so doggedly blind to reason can hope to govern a nation or can believe that they have earned the right to tell other nations what to do. Unless of course, the entire human population, through mutual consensus decide to behave like another species. Apparently, that if anything, can get an easy "bipartisan" support.
I know for a fact, due to the nature of my work, that loud monkeys will climb up the social hierarchy pretty quickly and establish their dominance. Sitting on that clumsily obtained , lofty perch, they will proceed for the rest of their lives, to earn the respect of many, many monkeys. They of course, do not have a well developed brain. But we do. Of course, we have inherited from them the need to climb ladders of hierarchy. And because of the strange way we think and perceive, we have very complex ladders of hierarchy. Indeed, life, at times feels as though it's an escher painting, where every attempt to go upwards only makes us one step closer to going downwards. And perhaps that is true. In trying to move away from barbarian tendencies, we have deftly achieved an uncanny simian similarity.
Tuesday, August 11, 2009
Tuesday, August 04, 2009
And then you realize.
This is all imagination.
And then your smile vanishes. The stars are just burning hydrogen. The moon's just reflecting light. The wind's just blowing and the trees and the water are just acted upon by mere forces.
There used to be a time when I didn't feel the need to sort every one of my thoughts neatly into organized piles, one labeled reality and the other labeled imagination.
I didn't have to tell myself when my eyes were closed and when they were open. And then there were the times when knowing the difference didn't matter. I was just easily thrilled about knowing "why" while imagining "why not".
Believing that raindrops were tiny wishlets that angels sprinkled on earth and all you had to do to catch them was drench yourself in the rain existed right next to condensation cycles and water cycles. I could be the consummate juggler, holding the truth ball one minute and the dream ball the next. I could amuse myself by flipping them over and over and over again. And if you didn't think about it, you couldn't tell the difference between one ball and the other.
At some point I got lazy. I decided to hold the reality ball and drop the other.Now I find myself groping in the past for the other ball. Often, it will occur to that the solution is simple. All I need to do is drench myself the next time it rains. Somewhere in that small wonder, my juggling ball is hiding. And in making that wonder last, perhaps I will have found my juggling act again.
Friday, July 31, 2009
Did you ever see one of those offbeat movies that are supposedly about the human experience in the modern world ? No ? Well, then, come take a look at my life this past week. It all started when I decided that I was going to get the very best laptop I could afford with the 2000 dollars enrichment allowance that my university offered me. They naively assumed that having a laptop at home would allow me to do more productive work. And I naively, for my part, thought that I could fool them and pretty much do my own thing with my laptop. And so I wisely brought the latest operating system - windows vista home premium ( I request that you wait for my cue to groan. This is not the time to groan). And I decided I was going to get the longest warranty I could afford.
A Dell Inspiron 1525
Windows Vista Premium
huge ram, lots of hard disc, a supposedly kick-ass intel processor and so on and so-fatefully-forth
The farmer in the dell
The farmer in the dell
Hi-ho, the derry-o
The farmer in the dell
After all, I had heard horror stories about how the US sorely lacked computer service centers down the road that could solve your problems for pittance by fixing you up with pirated parts. If I ever get to be St Peter even for a day, I'd pave a gilded road from those computer service centers to heaven.And I got myself a big laptop screen. No tablet PC's for me. I foresaw that a good chunk of my day would be spent toiling away in front of the laptop, working steadily to rid myself of any natural experience (it's all digital) and so I figured I'd get the best. And then of course, when I got here, I had to get wireless internet. It wouldn't do for me to sit glued in one place in my apartment. I needed the flexibility of sometimes sitting on the chair, and sometimes sitting on my bed, sometimes near the dresser, sometimes in the kitchen, where I slaved to heat up ready-made rotis. I needed the mobility. At that time it felt like it was going to be my only luxury. And so we had a netgear router hooked up, and I christened the network rather geekily as "dendro" (dendrites for neurons and me being neuroscientist, and dendrites being latin for branches and trees, although ever come across a tree trying to get nutrition from the earth without physically spreading their roots ? you see humans are by far the dumbest of evolution's products, it follows from their dumbness that they think they're the smartest).
The farmer takes a wife
The farmer takes a wife
Hi-ho, the derry-o
The farmer takes a wife
And then I started going to the lab in my spare time and earning some "chillar". Here's where I started getting used to the next luxury. We have 2 screens in each of our labs. Its convenient if you want to read a paper on one screen and have the figures on another screen. It's convenient when you have your program on one screen and are debugging on the other screen. It's convenient when you want to monitor your experiments on one screen while you're lazily surfing the net on the other screen. I can find new uses for my 2 screen system pretty much everyday and its no surprise that I wanted to mirror this set-up at home. I convinced myself of course, that it would in fact allow me to do more work at home. What I really wanted was to watch netflix movies on a larger screen. My devious mind decided that I could watch a movie on the big screen and use the laptop screen to make data presentations and perform data analysis (when the situation demanded it). And I decided that in order to fulfill my dream of a fuller, richer more enriching life, I needed a bigger screen.
Enter the samsung syncmaster 20 inch uber (un)necessity.
The wife takes a child
The wife takes a child
Hi-ho, the derry-o
The wife takes a child
< I've never been a parent myself. Now I am an adult. And I am filled with the realization and amazement that my parents have consistently been able to find a sense of optimism, a bright cheery spirit that made it possible for them to more than just put up with me- to actually love me. Otherwise, their fate, like mine and my syncmaster, would've been all downhill from there>
And to make space for this fairly large screen, I had to rearrange a lot of things on my tiny ikea desk (this is a relic from the time I believed I could live within reasonable means). I am now looking for a larger desk that will accomodate my screen, my laptop, my second hand, dented, but decent sounding (well decent enough for youtube) altec lansing speakers, and extra space for odd things such as empty coffee cups, plates, spoons and other assorted items.A table large enough so you can see everything without having to stumble over everything and risk breaking something expensive. For now, since its summer, my heater doubles up as a makeshift table. It has a daily planner that I never use, a CD from the library on which I am running late fees and kleenex tissues (just coz.).
The child takes a nurse
The child takes a nurse
Hi-ho, the derry-o
The child takes a nurse
At this point, it isn't enough for me to watch a movie from pretty much any site. It's gotta be HD. Because bad resolution looks really bad on my syncmaster. I needed to milk the internet and the screen for all their worth.
The nurse takes a cow
The nurse takes a cow
Hi-ho, the derry-o
The nurse takes a cow
And it is at this point I start noticing that I have never really had great internet speed. And while I've been demystifying many people from back home in India that internet out here isn't all that is cracked up to be, I couldnt kid myself no more. And I decided I needed to fix this. My friend asked me one fine day why netflix was buffering. What did he mean, why was netflix buffering. Netflix always buffers. He says no. I say no ?. He says no! never. I say not ever?. He says never ever. He quickly introduces me to one of those speedometer sites where you can see your speed and I found out to my chagrin that I was getting prehistoric speeds. And I started watching that meter as if my life depended on it. Waiting. Waiting and panting. Waiting and panting and hoping to see that arrow move to the 1 MB zone.
The cow takes a dog
The cow takes a dog
Hi-ho, the derry-o
The cow takes a dog
I call Dell. They tell me, in retrospect, almost mockingly that my warranty is valid till 2011. And they put me to a special department dedicated to solving wireless connectivity issues. It's never a good thing to know they have a whole department for your problem. On the one hand it means they have expertise on the issue at hand. On the other hand its clear they haven't gotten around to solving the problem, otherwise, in these trying, cost cutting days, those departments would've vanished, those jobs would've gone and would be doing their due part in adding to the unemployment rate. See what I mean about being optimistic about your kid ? The kind lady at Dell immediately starts sharing my screen and messing around with the settings and disables something and enables something else (hey, I wasn't passively watching, I took an active role in solving the problem as will become apparent in a bit). And bam, the arrow goes to the right and shows me more than 2 MBps. Am I happy with her service ? Hell Yeah. And 2 days later, the speed drops again. Now I am not just annoyed and vexated, I am incredibly curious about what's going on.
The dog takes a cat
The dog takes a cat
Hi-ho, the derry-o
The dog takes a cat
And I call Dell again. She updates something else. Changes something else. Meanwhile, I am honing my googling skills about what this problem can be. It could be with the router apparently. So I reset the router.Is my router at eye level or on the floor ? Is it far away. How many computers use this network. Have you rounded pi to a gazillion decimal points or a gazillionplex decimal points. And I start doing what every true scientist does. Change one variable, keep other variables constant. Test. Change one variable, keep other variables constant. Test. In order to keep living, I added a fine point to this schematic. Change one variable, keep other variables constant. Test. Breathe! Change one variable. Keep other variables constant. Test. Breeaaaaaaaaathe!
The cat takes a rat
The cat takes a rat
Hi-ho, the derry-o
The cat takes a rat
And so through sheer paranoia, I narrowed it down to this.
If I connect my laptop to the external monitor, my speed drops.
My googling shows that it tends to happen when you use DVI cables. But I use VGA cables. The problem seems to have disappeared for them if they changed the router channel. Changing router channel has no effect on my internet speeds.
Yay! Source of problem detected!!!!
The rat takes the cheese
The rat takes the cheese
Hi-ho, the derry-o
The rat takes the cheese
And so, quite sadly, I had to decide to send away my big screen. What would really work for me is a nice, big, optiplex desktop monitor, with a huge box sized CPU and an ethernet port. And if I want mobility, I'll just a really long extension box. I'll get one a mile long. And I wheel my ikea desk wherever I want to go. It's nice, dependant, and wonderfully elegant.
The rat takes the cheese
The rat takes the cheese
Hi-ho, the derry-o
The rat takes the cheese
I recently found that if I keep the router on the ground, if I plug my laptop to the external monitor without shutting the lid of my laptop, my internet speeds go back to normal. I don't understand it.
The farmer in the dell
The farmer in the dell
Hi-ho, the derry-o
The farmer in the dell
Friday, July 24, 2009
Back in kindergarten and primary school, we always used to use pencils. Nice sharpened natraj pencils that your mom would sharpen religiously for you every night before packing up your bag. I cannot remember if I appreciated then, the almost-ballerina like twirling of the shavings coming out of the sharpener. I hope I did, because these days, with the high-tech BiC pencils, the magic has vanished. The closest I get to the swan-lakissmo shavings performance is when I sharpen my eye liner pencil. And that is nowhere near a lead-led elegance. And everyday after school, I'd come back home not just with blunt pencils (as one would expect according to the law of conservation of mass - since lead transferred to paper does not beget more lead on the pencil tip) but I'd come back home with missing pencils. Clearly, that is a violation of the law of conservation of mass. My pencils didn't disappear. They were lost. Misplaced. Left somewhere in school. Now why I never managed to lose erasers or sharpeners or rulers I do not understand. It was always the pencils that I lost. And this is not just a condition I found myself in. All my classmates frequently lost pencils. Of course, the story didn't stop when all of us progressed from boring led and wood pencils to fancy pen-pencils. The kind with thin leads that never needed sharpening. The kind you could click at the back and have a rather endless supply of a writing tip. And of course we lost those too. Which is why we always carried a spare in our pencil box. And then we graduated to pens. Because it has been eternally and silly-ly believed that we were of the age where we could completely form a coherent thought in our head and commit it to paper without needing to erase till the paper tore. And that's when our grades started dropping. Oh not because we entered adolescence and were preoccupied with fancying our classmates or spiting our rivals or feuding our parents. Because we couldn't make reversible mistakes anymore. Nonetheless, enter ink pins, ball point pens, parker pens, imitation parker pens, pens that our cricket stars use to sign autographs, pens that our film stars use to sign autographs, pens that would last till the end of our exams, pens that wouldn't blotch our lakme-winter-care-lotion-moisturized arms, pens with fragrance in them, pens that had 2 colour refills in them, pens with caps, pens with retractable tips, see-through pens, solid pens, really bad pens that are kept next to the telephone in case someone important should call and leave a message (so you could then proceed not to take the message because the pen wouldn't work), pens that you take to class with you, pens that you could gift your father (who will not use it because he too loses his pens all the time and will therefore only use the cheap stuff)and the flood of pens goes on. My point again is every single one of them gets lost.
When I really need a pen, I pretty much never find one. I can vividly remember seeing many, many pens and pencils in my bag. But when I do need one and reach out for them, they're never there, or they have strangely ceased working. It feels as if the world's scattered with pens everywhere, yet when I want them they're hardly ever there. Each time I clean my room, I can find pens under my bed, my desk, hiding in my closet, lying on the dressing table, and I faithfully put them in a pen holder, vowing to myself that I will never ever lose them again. And then something happens. When I'm on a call, and someone asks me to note something down, I can only obtain pens that don't work or pencils with no lead. And this has happened enough number of times that I am going to vehemently reject the theory that theyt just happen to be one of those things with a tendency to get misplaced.
I think they are one of those things with a tendency to scheme and plot against humanity and go into hiding. I now come back to what I will redefine as a pen's life. The longer it can keep its ink, the more successful a being it is. And the one that has the least ink is therefore the most expendable. So when a few pens congregate with each other, they single out the fella with the least ink in him and use him as a decoy. Which is why when you reach into your bag, the few cases where you do find a pen, it turns out that it won't write. You see, the pens have figured out that we ain't so dumb after all. And so they thought to themselves " if we make it look like we're always around, then the humans won't doubt us". And so they have their already wounded and battered soldiers (aka pens that have clearly used up their life supply of ink) to stand around in the world, offering themselves up for sacrifice so that the younger, more vital ones can survive. It is so brilliant a ploy that I am forced to believe that they live and breathe (or do the pen equivalent of breathe) and think and drink and make merry.
One of these days, these guys are going to figure out how to reproduce.
Don't you dare scoff at me. One of these days, these chaps will rewrite history ( all pen intended!)
Monday, June 15, 2009
If once, she can make it be,
That time rolls back his tapestry
So I might change a memory.
I couldn’t tell then, what I can tell now with age
My tears had barely smudged the page,
My words were so red, so full of rage.
If not a rainbow, could I colour life beige ?
And so, I waited for the sun to saunter in the west,
For fish to enjoy land and rest,
But time went about his cunning jest ,
Since then, I began making each tomorrow my best.
Saturday, May 30, 2009
I've often wondered what my grandparents would be like. I have two grandmothers but no grandfathers and while they say you cannot miss what you never knew, I think I miss them. My grandmoms are strong, independent women and they've each lived an epic lifetime, one that ended up ensuring that when I was born, I'd be able to take a certain constancy for granted. Yet I've wondered what they would be like if my grandads were alive. Of all the mushy love stories I've come across, the ones among old couples leave me with the warmest, the fuzziest the most "awww" feeling. So many of these are uncles and aunts of my parents and I've heard them comment on how much each of them has changed over half a decade of being together. It takes a lifetime to achieve that balanced symphony- to be able to match each other in beat, rhythm, tune and harmony and I am amazed at the patience it must have taken, at the willingness not just to forgive and forget but often to simply ignore and discard. And while it may be true that they had no choice in the matter ever, that perhaps every one of these couples is an example of stockholm syndrome, I'm too much of a romantic to entirely believe that they felt imprisoned forever. I'm too much of a romantic to chop it down into neat tiny factors and write away that warmth. Of course, I'd like flaring passion. Who wouldn't. But I'd also like lasting compassion.
I see a tender care when each of them, slowly reaching senility takes great pains to remember not just their medication but also the other's. It's nice to watch them walk in a park, with their canes, sometimes holding each other, ever so fraily, after all those little frissures of excitement have gone and what remains is good old solid support.
Autumn spring( a foreign language film) portrays a playful old man, fond of scheming all sorts of plots to make a lot of money only to see them all fail yet going to great pains to give away what little money he has generously; and his wife who is concerned only about saving enough money for their funerals which she feels certain is near. And in that old age, their differences mar and she cannot put up with him any longer and files for divorce only to realize that regardless of how exasperating he has made life for her, she cannot imagine a life without him and takes back the divorce application. The old man, never having questioned his own love for his wife, feels compelled to change into a new leaf and spends all day at home helping his wife save money. And again his wife is angry because now her husband is a boring man. Where is all the excitement, and the anger and the hormones. Eventually, after each trying to do exactly as the other pleases, they're finally able to come to a gradual compromise- with the lady allowing the man some of his grand schemes and the man allowing the women to keep some of her hard earned savings. And their funeral is not far, but by that time, they'd have lived a life together not just by being together but by also learning to be with each other and for each other.
I live during times where I have the freedom to find and nest with someone I choose (and by definition reciprocates) and yet I wonder all the time, blessed as I might be, will I also be lucky and brave enough to slowly, calmly, gracefully fall in love eventually and then simply fade into an eternal blissful sleep.
Sunday, May 24, 2009
This turn of events is making me nostalgic about the days of peeing in the bushes and how truly liberating it felt. Again, those who've been there, done that, know what I'm talking about, even if it doesn't behoove you to publicly admit it.
It feels as if this, if anything, is an assault to my civil liberties. Whatever it is, the voiding of the urinary bladder is an essential bodily function and cannot be held to ransom. And I wonder if the ACLU, who is now so preoccupied with making sure Bush and colleagues are charged for their "enhanced interrogation techniques", will consider my plea of taking civilian aviation companies to task as well. First they subject us to an extremely agonizing procedure of screening us, making us reveal our smelly feet and socks to them, and making us remove those belts that so many of us need in order not to make a disgrace of ourselves. Interestingly, "enhanced interrogation techniques" is one way of making sure, that those responsible for enhanced security screening measures are brought to book, so that the rest of us can board flights in peace. But that is a matter of debate and I will blog about it later. (I don't wanna be pissing the ACLU off because I kinda need their support for matters just described). But to continue my tirade, I do feel assaulted when I go through security check, and when I find that I have to pay to check in baggages (if I didn't, I might have to walk around town either smelling with old clothes, or stark naked. - another of those protracted civil liberties issue). It deprives me of a right around my extra personal space- aka baggage. But depriving me of the right to pee is just one step short of "umm... you will now have to pay for oxygenating cabin air". What will they do next- have us put a quarter into a slot so that those yellow masks will fall out of their place during times of decreased cabin pressure. "And please make sure you put a quarter for yourself first before you insert quarters for those around you". And "only exact change accepted". I guess it's time for adult- diaper making companies to make a killing though.
Sometimes I see no point to us calling ourselves an intelligent race. No point at all. We seem to revel in finding new reasons to dig holes to fall into and new reasons to pay to dig holes to fall into them.
Saturday, April 18, 2009
We simply were resigned to be lower than those glorious foreign lands. And this we took to be our burden, our albatross around neck, for sins that we hadn't ever committed. And somehow we all got old enough to vote and hardened enough not to bother. I've wanted to vote. But I've been appalled by who my choices were. Furthermore, I was appalled by how streets and roads of houses would go missing from the electoral list and how the few times I had a choice to make (SM Krishna for CM was something I felt strongly about, although they've packaged him off and sent him to Maharashtra while Deve Gowda and his rowdy lot seem to be either to sleepy to speak or to incoherent to be understood) my name was never there. And I too wondered why we could never manage to pull it together. Progress, consistently seemed to be happening, but it seemed like it was because the higer-ups were too dumb to stop it, instead of smart enough to initiate it. While a party needed to rein in a whole theme called Hindutva will forever be beyond me. And why scores of educated people supported them will continue to stupefy me. Perhaps because the only other option at that time, the Congress was getting too bulky and corrupt and complascent. Perhaps too, that we wanted something else to bind us all together apart from, "tonight we make a tryst with destiny". It seemed like it was a destiny with a twist instead. I took politician and crook to be synonymous. And government and incompetency to be synonymous.
And then, I guess my prefrontal cortex grew. The prefrontal cortex in the brain is the region of executive control, of judgement, and its evolution is one of the many things that mark humans as cultured and other apes and monkeys as uncultured. And we aren't born with a large prefrontal cortex. It grows through our lives, till about the age of 20. Until which time all of us show amazingly poor lack of judgment. The glorious years of teenage are stamps of poor judgment and many mistakes. And so today, with, what I hope is a fully developed prefrontal cortex, I see things in a better light.
I see, that democracy is not easy with a billion people. The one thing Indians seem to be able to take for granted is that we're a democratic country. And I remember once again, when my civics professor, thundered at us, apparently possessed with the words of the preamble to the Indian constitution. SOVEREIGN, SOCIALIST, SECULAR, DEMOCRATIC, REPUBLIC. Now, the world(and by that I mean the who's who of the world) wants to bully us into give up our sovereignity, and many of our own threaten our secularity, and we seem cursed with the Congress's need to forever have a Gandhi at its helm ( though the Gandhis seem to have a more slowly grown prefrontal cortex- they do seem to make it up by occasionally listening to non Gandhians), we're not republic either, and socialism is always going to be a distant ideal. But democratic, we surely and truly are. And I begin to see that now and I am beginning to well up inside when I reflect that it couldn't have been easy.
We've been given our democracy. Along with that, we take up very seriously, the art of yelling, screaming, rioting and wearing our heart on our sleeves. It must be something about the tropical sun and the crowds and the dusty humidity but we're forever walking around with blood that's about to explode. And I mean it. And there are times when we need a collective, tight slap. Every one of us. And we seem bent on understanding democracy, the right to have a say, as really the right to veto. And yet we've come along haven't we ? Through fits and starts and apparently calculated risks. And the country I know today is vastly different from the country during the time of my civics classes. There's hope again, and that powerful feeling that perhaps, just perhaps, we might just make it to the top. And we're not going to give all that credit to those bumbling politicians, but we will continue to give them a chance. Elections happen systematically. And many of us seem to take it seriously. And we won't stand if we have no choice to make, even if the choices aren't all that appealing. Pranay Rai has made a living out of analyzing election news to death. And it must be because we take our chance to have a say seriously enough, to have that say counted and analyzed and leads to results which if disappointing, we quickly are ready to change our say the next time around. Poor voting records, notwithstanding, there are several that turn up and vote. Enough for the ticker tape to buzz, to buy pranay rai is ammonia free hair dye and for us to listen. Politicians come out on the roads with the loudest of speakerphones telling us what their garlanded leaders are going to do for us. And while some of us believe, the rest pooh pooh, but we're all affected by it, no matter how distant we want to be.
And this time we've manage to dispatch our cricket to south africa (not cancel it mind you), do our elections in tiny phases(not suspend it mind you )because we're all afraid of terrorism, but it only gives us reason to get stronger and fuller with our democracy. And its in our blood. In every household there's going to be the confusion about what to watch- cricket or the election. Both equally important. Both equally elements of self expression. And some households will consider buying a second TV to sort out this mess. This for me is progress, that we're finally able to have the cake and eat it too, love our cricket and get mad at our politicians too - because after over a half century of independence, now we can, and yes we can !!!
Saturday, April 11, 2009
But Bangalore used to be rife with powercuts. Sometimes there would be a loud burst of a tranformer, sometimes terrible rain that cut off some cord somewhere, sometimes there would be nothing to tell you why it happened. I never used to bother. It used to be a good excuse to make a call to a friend anyway. Those were the days when there was just one phone, one corded phone attached to the wall, often sitting atop the telephone dictionaries. The ones that had holes into which you had to insert your stubby fingers and dial 7 whole digits. Those were the days of 7 digit phone. The was no such thing as a redial button. There was no caller ID. You simply had to dial again. and again and again until you got through. And I remember vividly how I had this one popular friend. Everyone would call her the moment the power went off (me included), and of course if you didn't get to your telephone quickly enough you'd be greeted with a "ee phone number samayadalli nirikshisavaagidhe, swalpa samayadanantara prayathnisi; this phone number is busy, please try after sometime, (oh and something in Hindi that I cannot seem to recollect). " The length of my "sometime" was as long as it took for me to put the phone back on the hook and get my finger back on to dialing. My fingers have ached and blistered, but I showed impressive will power. A will power that wasn't quite upto the mark when it came to finishing homework in the candle light. I channeled my parents' chiding of "Janani, don't read in such dim light, have the tubelight face your book, don't let the shadow of your head fall on it, you'll ruin your eyes". I channeled it into meaning that doing homework in dim candlelight would mean blinding myself and suddenly I valued my eyes a lot. And thus I would wait till the power came back on, throw a quick tantrum about needing to do my homework, postpone everyone's dinner until I was done (because I used to do the homework on the dining table and there'd be no place for food and utensils until I cleared up) and then and only then would there be any semblance of peace at home.
As I grew older, phones got fancier. Soon cordless telephones (imported of course) were making their way into everyone's homes. I might add that I am referring to middle class bangalore. I have no rosy eyed picture of India that as cordless phones were making their foray people were getting lifted above the poverty line. Nonetheless no one can disagree that our country has made a lot of progress over the years. Such progress of course didn't necessarily include continuous power supply. Mr erratic transformer was forever conspicuous only by his absence. Cordless phones may be cool enough, but every house would still have at least phone that didn't need a power supply and could get connected directly to the phone unit. Indeed, to the best of my knowledge bsnl continues to supply only that variety of phone when it grants a new phone connection. We got mildly fancier though. Our corded phone units now had buttons instead of "dial-me-ups". And so I continued to have phone calls with the same girl (her popularity never faded- ever, not until today when all of us have sprouted wings and are making some awkward attempts at flying independently) in the middle of the hall, loudly talking about some other girl who did something foolish.
It was sometime at this point that I was reaching adolescence, when my first pimples were erupting and my first sense of privacy was making its presence. It was downright ridiculous to hold a phone conversation in front of your parents. The moment the phone got handed to you (that thankful cordless device), you had to shut yourself behind the door and speak for the longest time. Thankfully it was around the sametime that KEB (karnataka electricity board) woke up to the idea of scheduled powercuts, which to me meant, I could schedule these private conversations. No more having to cut conversations when the power went off because the only place to you could talk was in the hall where everyone would be listening. Neither my mom or my dad are eavesdroppers or the type that insist on tracking their daughter's every movement. Having lived with powercuts long enough, all of us had a routine about what to do when the power went off. Some would nap. My mom managed to continue doing something in the kitched. If my aunt and uncle were around everyone would sit about and talk. I don't think the important happenings in my life such as "why x made a face when y mentioned z in class" mattered to them. Yet of course, I had to pretend that way for the sake of my ego. Just to underscore my dumbness, I used to have huge arguments with my dad about how stupid KEB was to schedule a powercut when everyone needed the power the most. Why not do it between noon and 2 pm I would argue. No one needed it then and it wouldn't be such a hassle (and I would still be at school) too. Of course my dad would say "they're trying to save the power that would get spent, there's no saving of power when you're not gonna spend it in the first place". I scoffed at that logic and went powering through with my idiocies.
And then there was the advent of the emergency light. These emergency lights were a miracle. Initially they too were "imported"; from "abroad" and from "foreign". Either US, or Dubai, or Singapore or one of those grand places. Every house would now have one of these. Every household identified a strategic location in the house such that most places got a hint of illumination. Some emergencies would even be tilted by cleverly placed piled up books so that the light would fall at the right angle. Once such strategic placement was found, they wouldn't be altered. These things also came with half-on buttons ; they would be off when connected to power supply. The moment the power went off, they'd come on. What magic! (It need be mentioned that there was a marked decrease in the swearing component at my house). And then these things got bulkier and all bling. The latest ones used to come with the standard 2 emergency lamps, a headlight, a siren, a radio and a clock. I never understood why anyone needed a siren. And the radio was pretty useless because we were still a few years away from privatizing FM radio. You couldn't read the clock unless you shone a candle on it (getting away from the candles were what we were trying to achieve with the emergency light!) And we were still a few years away from admitting that India was slightly shining. To not listen to AIR class India's way of civil disobedience. And then as we became more comfortable in our luxuries many households opted for two emergency lights. One that would stay in that carefully callibrated strategic position. One that could move around. And in all this we muddled through.
And then we had the UPS. Uninterrupted power supplies. That was when PC's started appearing in every home. Sales people quickly realized that no one would by them because they were worried such an expensive device would get ruined due to unexpected power cuts. Soon there were offers with PC's sold with free UPS with 2 hour backup. The 2 hour backup was a farce. Unless you weren't using the computer or doing these funny DOS operations (DOS was what computer class summer schools would teach scores of aspiring children; more correctly, the kids of scores of aspiring parents) such as chdir or mkdir it wouldn't last 2 hours. I used to play three games on the computer tetris and minesweeper on a windows 3.1 (oh what pixellated grayscale heaven that used to be) and prince and pacman on DOS mode. I know that I could never play too long with the UPS. And of course right after the power cut, the UPS would blare the loudest, most horrendous beep that almost made the siren from the good friend- the emergency light such a lovely melody. Soon enough UPS's were getting grander. There were those that would support a computer one lightbulb and one fan. And as we got better and better at our IT skills and got better and better at buying cars and scooters and complaining about roads and infrastructure and marking our movements with huge potholes behind us (a sort of Bangalore walk of fame like the one imitating the Hollywood walk of fame at LA for instance), huge UPs's would come and power up the entire home. It was now left to the poor lightposts to tell people that the area had a powercut.
And so we've emerged from darkness. Powercuts too have gotten rarer. I wonder if emergency light makers have shut shop because one no longer sees hordes of them making their way into homes. And I wonder what happened to those hideous kerosene driven generators that would stink up the whole of jayanagar's 4th block complexes. And I wonder what happened to those tiny burners at the vegetable shops inside the complex. No activity would stop in Bangalore when there was a powercut. Life simply went on as though nothing had happened. And I remember the one year I was in Singapore. An eventless year with uninterrupted power and no excitement. I'd write to my friends back in India that life is very boring if things always went like clockwork. Perhaps being enamored by power cuts is a distant relative of the Stockholm syndrome. Perhaps its what makes life colourful. I've forever been preoccupied with wondering what stories to tell my grandchildren. And surely, I'll tell them about all my antics during a power cut. But I wonder now whether my grandchildren will have interesting stories to tell their grandchildren. AndI think fondly of my grandmom's stories about the cinema guy that would come into the village and screen movies on white linen and wonder how boring a life she must think I lead. And I guess, grandmoms will always have stories to tell their grandchildren. And for that, I am thankful.
Monday, March 09, 2009
This is a typical conversation with a "genuine" stranger with a "borderline and passing" interest in what you are doing.
So you're doing biotechnology is it ?
So you're going to become like Kiran Majumdar of Biocon ?
I don't think so. No.
It's extremely risky to say you don't want to be someone revered by everyone. They immediately assume that you are an unmotivated, uninterested person that does not even have the courage to dream, let alone the empowerment to achieve it. It was at this point I figured out a loophole. In retrospect it was more the truth than a way out through the loophole.
So here's version 1.2
So you're going to become like Kiran Majumdar of Biocon ?
No. Actually, I'm planning to study further.
I truly thought that would get me somewhere. Doing higher studies is not disrespectful to Mrs Majumdar Shaw, it portrays me as a motivated person. I was convinced that the strangers would cross me off their list of "to-be-watched" and mark me as "one of those people that is not going to ruin the glorious heritage our ancestors have left us". Obviously I was engaging in an extreme version of delusion. The conversation which should have a smile on their face and botox-insulting disappearence of my frown lines turned out to be this...
Oh you're going to cure cancer? Very good. Very good.
( In other versions, cancer can be replaced with AIDS. Conscientious news readers wondered if I was interested in stem cell research. But the gist is they all thought that I was very keen on making the world a better place.)
No. Actually I am not.
What was I thinking. I was now the unmotivated, uninterested person that was going to do no good to the world since I had the least interest in cancer.What sorta person was I if I couldn't be bothered to cure a disease. What sort of twisted, devious mind must I have if I did not only care, but could also unabashedly declare that.
Somehow when I decided to do cognitive neuroscience, I lamely assumed that the curse had been lifted. No more cancer, no more stem cell research, no more AIDS. Pure studies of the mind. Motivated by my sole interest to know how it all works. It had nothing to do with solving anything. It had everything to do with unraveling a puzzle that had already been solved.
And so on to version 2.1
So. What do you do ?
Oh. I am graduate student of neuroscience.
I see. So you're going to solve Alzheimer's ?
C'mon now. All of you saw that coming didn't you. I didn't. I don't know what I expected in reply, but it wasn't Alzheimer's. I see very clearly these days that someone who believes and wants to know somehow who can solve alzheimer's, parkinson's isn't going to be extremely pleased when I tell them that I study vision circuits in monkeys. All the excitement about working with big animals, and interesting anecdotes about dealing with monkeys notwithstanding, I still stand as a person that is doing no good to humankind what's so ever.
Maybe they even thought "wait a minute. I'm growing older. I might even be predispositioned to get alzheimer's. I must make sure every minute of my sane life talks. And here I am. Talking to someone that is not helping now, is clear that she ain't going to be help me ever. Gah. What a waste of 2 precious minutes"
And hey. That kinda logic doesn't get any better.
And so I've decided, in a bid to do some good to people who are going to die of all sorts of diseases that I am never going to be competent enough to do anything about, to tell them rightaway.
So. What do you do.
I do not solve Alzheimer's.
I'm gonna start with that.
Cut right to the chase.
Pull off the bandage with one nice quick rip.
Apparently that's the only thing that will work.
And if you're quasi interested in a tiny tiny zone in the brain that I study every single day, let me know and I can tell you more. I promise it will make an interesting story. Does it improve your quality of life ? I can't assure that. But it certainly does improve mine.
No offence intended to those that do study cancer, AIDS, stem cells, and Alzheimer's.It is a crazy world of molecules gone wrong out there. And I have the utmost respect for those that still manage to tease them apart. I just am not one of them.
Friday, February 27, 2009
Anyway... so quiznos is this sub place that is located very strategically in my life. It's on the way from my lab to the bus stop. It's also right across the indian grocery store that one has to frequent several times a month to buy all kinds of frozen rotis and parathas and shredded coconut and masalas and atta noodles. At my place, we're always stocking up everything as though a storm were brewing. And still, if a storm comes, we wouldn't last an hour. I'm pretty sure of that.
In any case, after a tired day, when you're on your way home, it's nice to stop by quiznos to buy a quick sammy (it's a 2 dollar mini something. It's not a sub. It's a clumsy sandwich that I haven't gotten around to eating gracefully yet). When one is hungry, it is exactly the right size for you to quickly gulp it before walking across the road to the indian store (this manoevre probably explains the complete lack of sub-eating-grace), where trust me, carrying dozens of frozen rotis and all sorts of things that you think you're going to need, or reminds you of home, or reminds you that you never used to like it much back in india, but things have changed a lot since coming to a country that sells subs instead of paneer cheese sandwiches... basically, the load gets pretty heavy and you've to ingest some carbs before embarking on such an endeavour.
That's how quiznos is making a lot of money off me. Whenever I forget to get lunch or get up too late or cannot be bothered or am not in the mood to have roti and something from 4 days ago yet another time, it's quiznos to the rescue again.
Why quiznos needed to give away a gazillion free subs, I don't know. But they did. And my friend called me and sent me a coupon and told me to print it and claim what is rightfully mine ( all free things are rightfully mine. All things that cost are also rightfully mine, and they're all going to hell some day to avenge for their sins!!!). And of course, any self-respecting and starved grad student is in the mood for all things free and bountiful. I print my coupon and head to quiznos proudly knowing that I am very much going to like this freebie. Hold on... I printed my coupon.... but I did not take it with me. And I've worked up this appetitie and am standing in the line with a million others nursing their hunger and waiting for their small sub when I realize that I dont' have the coupon. I figured... eh... what the heck... I might as well buy the small sub anyway and come claim the freebie tomorrow. And there's lovely toasted bread smell wafting in the air. And melted cheese aroma. And the greenery of fresh lettuce. And the gorgeous looking black olives and mushrooms. And I stand in that hazy place for 15 minutes before I get to place my order.
And this is where I prove to the world that Quiznos is not only a great sub place but is also good at marketing its subs. Because I ordered a 9 dollar large veggie sub. A large veggie sub is humongous. It's large enough for US to come at you, insist that you are a country by yourself, then prove to the UN (which is synonymous for US) that you're building a nuclear arsenal, and then come at you and insist that you sign the non proliferation treaty. That really is how large, the large sub is. And that's how big my appetitite had gotten in 15 minutes of wait time.
And if tomorrow they publish a report in the pittsburgh-post0gazette about the healthy local economy and the encouraging increase in the consumer spending and the small ray of hope that the worst is behind us, we'll all know exactly what's behind this strange trend won't we ?
Go Gastric Juices!!!
What happened to the missing coupon ? I don't know. I can't seem to find it.
I wanted to glitter up my post with my newly acquired knowledge of nucleii in the human brain. There's this one nucleus to which input from both the gut and the tongue go to. Which is important... coz salivation and intestinal juice activity is intricately connected. But this newly acquired knowledge has long since abandoned me and I don't know the name of that nucleus. And there can be nothing geekier on a "thank god it's friday" than to peruse through the brain atlas to spot this nucleus. Which I cannot be bothered to do.
Monday, February 23, 2009
Pretty soon they were making things that were swimming, and walking and creeping and crawling and flying. And there were new colours everywhere.
And then were born people who were odd mixtures of their parents and found it hard to find any sense of self because sometimes these parental mixtures don't exactly complement each other. One such example is me. And of course "I" am the point of this long story. So I find in myself, half of my mom and half of my dad and am often confused with what I'm supposed to do with my mind, body and spirit. The mind pretty much does what it wants, the body has never really listened to me, but oh my spirit!
Oh my cunning, conniving spirit that won't ever let go of me!
My dad- he's the practical sensible guy. He thinks and believes and for the most part practices sitting down, thinking things through and choosing the best alternatives.It's smart, it works and he claims to be at peace with himself. My mom- she's the emotional gal. She feels. Period. All her actions are extensions of what she feels. And there's no predicting what she feels. That works too and according to her, she too is quite at peace at herself.
And there is me. I see two contradicting ways of living lives. And I see that they both work. And with all my scientific knowledge, I know too, that I am not the exact replica of them. I must figure out my own way of finding peace. Except... perhaps my genetic composition is tearing me poles apart. Alright. Chuck nature for a bit.
Let's look at this other gal called "nurture". Who this nurture is, no one really knows. She seems to crop up every now and then. If ever there is a mess lying around and one cannot blame it on the infamous trio - "nature, meiosis and evolution", we blame it on this poor girl called "nurture". And sometimes, she will say- look, blame nature. I'm sort of a distant cousin. I may be responsible for this, but let me also tell you this. If nature didn't do her bit, then I wouldn't be able to do my bit. You know the story of the last straw on the camel's back. This poor guy kept piling on straw after straw on the camel. And at one point the camel couldn't bear the burden anymore. And he was almost about to fall. Then came the final straw. And this did it. The camel fell and could never get up again. Who does one blame ? The final straw or all the straws that came before that. I am nurture. I am the final straw. You seriously cannot blame me", she yelled. And to this date the argument continues, who created the mess- is it nature or is it nurture. Of course, the irony is, we can never really stop either of them. But perhaps knowing who did what will make us feel somewhat better. But for now... on to nurture.
And in their special styles my parents take their turns doing their parental duties. They advise me, guide me, and thankfully let me make all the mistakes I want in the world before I have to consult them on how to sort it out. And of course, my mom will tell me to choose one of them and never sulk about it and never regret it. That's it. If you're going to regret it, don't do it. My dad will tell me to do the thing that makes the most sense. But whatever you do,be comfortable with it he says.In life there are only two kinds of decisions- ones that you're comfortable with, and ones that you're not comfortable with. But then he will lay out neatly, all the pros and cons and let me know all the factors I should be thinking about. And my mom will let me know all the things I might end up feeling.
And I have ended up becoming a strange, strange person. I am a mix of the rarest emotions and the most practical of thoughts. I try making sense of everything I feel, and try feeling everything I think. And that concoction makes for this entity they chose to christen Janani. Read that sentence again and mull over it. It is a strange strange sentence. It's like asking someone to count the texture or touch a colour. It is synaesthesia. Those three friends nature, evolution and meiosis, and that fourth idiot called nurture have made me who I am. For that matter, all of this world.
On the flipside, I have come to realize that life simply happens to me. And so far, its been mostly good things- if you discount my clumsiness and my klutziness. And in this world view, I can never blame myself for anything going wrong, and that's a huge load off my shoulders. My great aunt would always bless everyone "may you have peace of mind". She wouldn;t say "may you become a doctor" or "may you have 16 wonderful kids" or "may you get married to someone with a steady income and with a certain pension". She'd say "may you have peace of mind". By realizing that there is a very very small bit of my life that I can control. Much of it has been decided by my past, and much of it is being decided by an indecipherable present. Together, they're willing me into an unpredictable future. And that makes for an adventure. Boring adventure perhaps. But adventure nonetheless.
If wishes are ever heard, and upon being heard, if they are ever granted, my only wish is for a peaceful adventure.
I know i know. Let's not go into how i've strayed far, far, far away from the definitions of nature, nurture, evolution and meiosis. If it makes it believable to think that I was under the influence of LSD whilst writing this, I will not be offended.
Sunday, January 25, 2009
Then people asked me to get a credit card. "You need a credit card for everything. You need it if you want to buy a car, if you want a loan, if you want this, if you want that" and I ask "it isn't enough if I have the bank balance to buy these things ?" and they go "oh honey, if you have a good credit rating, you can pay all these loans little by little. If you show them you're responsible with your money by paying off your bills like a good girl, then they know you're going to be responsible with your money, and then they'll give you a loan, so you can buy things that you don't have money to buy right now but you know you're going to get later. Welcome to capitalism. There are always ways to make money". Oh nice. Nice. That sounds, fair and simple, say I, and off I went to get my credit card. Essentially I was going to try and get a good credit rating by buying lots of starbucks coffee. There wasn't much I wanted you see ? But as luck would have it, my credit card application co-incided with mr lehman falling down like a brick of blocks (oh not my term. Some paper said that. I figured out by this time that mr lehman kinda didn't wanna fall, but the higher ups decided not to help him. Sort it out yourselves you lil children, said they), and AIG (that name stuck because of those TATA AIG ads from back home) was getting bailed out (because the children were truly in a terrible mess) and merill lynch was getting taken over. Essentially, lots of stuff was falling apart. And the country was trying to elect its first black president, end a coupla wars, maybe start a few other wars, spread peace, stop lending money to bad bad people, and figure out a way to decide who good people were, who bad people were, try and reiterate that they really were the global leader ( we will be with you in sickness or in wealth)... and amidst all this my credit card application got rejected. So I call the credit card company to be politely informed that I have no credit card history. "Yes ma'am. That's exactly what I'm trying to do. Have a little faith in me. I am a good girl". But well, no one trusts anyone these days. So that's that.
By this time of course sub prime crisis was a very powerful world. On the way to dinner at udupi cafe, a friend's uncle explained how people got loans even when they didn't actually prove they could repay it, but of course things were going to get better and everyone believed it. All I could think was "and they let these people buy houses but they didn't give me my credit card ? C'mon brother".
What a weird weird world this was getting to be. People were living in gingerbread houses. When it rains, we'll stay inside the house and we'll keep ourselves dry. In the summer, we shall eat our gingerbread. By next monsoon, gingerbread is going to get cheaper and we'll repair the house with this cheaper gingerbread. And when it rains we'll go back into this house and keep dry. We're eating and living at no cost. Wow. What cunning ways to do stuff. What, ultimate belief in the happenings of gingerbread. Did we learn nothing from hansel and gretel ? Nothing at all ?
How people make money out of lending circularly is something I will never understand. I know it falls from interesting math equations. That's very nice. Please feel free to bandy unintelligible equations at me. But I think using common sense is more appealing. Especially if you want me to start being responsible for my actions, then I need to make sense of my actions. If I lend you a banana, and you lend the next person a banana and that person lends me a banana, we still have only one banana. How silly is it to think we have three bananas. Ask my monkeys ( those organisms that are way below the evolutionary ladder, with a less developed brain). They know it. That's why they never share their bananas. They chatter away and do silly things and do not engage in speculation and would rather eat one banana today instead of waiting on the three quarter chance that they'll get three bananas tomorrow. And we say that it is because monkeys have limited ability to be able to factor time into their decisions- well thank god for that. Because we humans do such a neat job of it don't we ? I may not know a lot of economics ( oh heck. I know none), but I could've toldja that its a waste building a lot of houses, that people who spend more than they have are always gonna spend more than they have, but honey, there's got to be money somewhere, and you cant keep circulating it, because well... you're all going have to pay up someday.
A so called investment advisor advised my friend "don't pay off your balance every month. Keep some of it and pay it off next month. Pay the interest and your credit rating will improve because it shows you can carry credit wisely" Of course you're going to improve my credit rating. You're interested in the interest aren't you ? But watch out. You're tempting me to never pay back. That's what the sub-primes did didn't they ? The joke's on you bozo. No wait, the joke's on them. No wait... umm... oh shit... its not a joke anymore is it ?
And then today, I try finally to apply for a credit card again. And I get a huge spiel about my interest, how it was between 3 and 9 percent plus prime rate as defined as the highest number in the wall st journal in the last 90 days and that right now it was at 4.5 % bringing the apr to between 8 and 13 %. And I wondered... who really understood all this ? Everyone just saw that as a rule interests were getting lower, and it happened like that for a while now, and maybe the engine's stopped whirring crankily and was finally coming to a standstill. Oh ... the engine was just about gathering steam.
The story goes....
"The people decided their city should have a tower so immense that it would have "its top in the heavens."(וְרֹאשׁוֹ בַשָּׁמַיִם) However, the Tower of Babel was not built for the worship and praise of God, but was dedicated to the glory of man, with a motive of making a 'name' for the builders: "Then they said, 'Come, let us build ourselves a city, and a tower with its top in the heavens, and let us make a name for ourselves; otherwise we shall be scattered abroad upon the face of the whole earth.'" (Genesis 11:4). God, seeing what the people were doing, confounded their languages and scattered the people throughout the earth."
Did we want to reach for the heavens ?
Guilty as charged.
Did we want a glorious name.
Guilty as charged.
Were we greedy ?
Guilty as charged.
Were we disrespectful to the age old supply-demand spiel ?
*ahem.... there's always going to be supply, we're always going to demand no *
oh... we dont understand, is it ok? will you let me off the hook ?
Ignorantia juris non excusat. You aren't excused from not knowing the law.
But no one explained to us.
And that's our collective problem innit.
As the story of Babel goes... we now have our languages and our equations and our crazy models reduced to a bunch of terminologies that no one understands.
We believed that someone understood. That if it should all collapse, that someone would have the key to putting it all together. And in all possibility it would never collapse, so really we were only just panicking. And so we decided to go high up into the heavens, when we really ought to have simply sat around and built houses with roofs just high enough to keep us warm and dry for a reasonable period of time... until we find ourselves in a better position to live in a slightly better house. There's that age old story about the hare and the fox. There are lessons to be learnt in such stories. It never does anyone any good to try act too smart for one's own ignorance.
Now, the tower stands unbuilt.
And we dont understand.
No one speaks the same language anymore.
No one understands anything anymore.
And while we can blame those silly tower builders forever, we encouraged them too.
And now we don't know how to fix it.
And that's the story of the housing babel.
- In idiotically simple terms
Saturday, January 24, 2009
Thankfully, slumdog understood it. The movie used english- true. But it used it smartly. The characters evolved to be english speaking characters, either by eking out a living by posing to be tourist guides at the Taj Mahal that abounds with foreign tourists, by working in call centre agencies that teach you to speak good up being able to speak pretty decent english. It was gratifying to me that it wasn't an indian movie simply translated into english- but a movie in which the chosen language of choice continued to matter and thoroughly a product of circumstance.
When I realized it was a movie made by non-indians I became wary of characters saying extremely poignant things. It is true that as a culture we grow up with tolerance to a lot of bullshit. It is both the boon and bane of the society. It is a boon because we manage not to crumble and fall, but a bane in that we never find sufficient drive to build something sturdy out of ourselves. But I can vouch that most indians aren't philosophical. We say our prayers and pray to our gods in blind faith. We do not have time to analyze our lot in life and to develop philosophical views that make our lives easier. When a beggar says he feels full in his heart and cannot care about his stomach, he is saying it because of lack of choice, not because he truly believes it. He would still devour any decent meal and perhaps even sell his heart. Enough poor Indians sell their organs at measly prices. I couldn't digest Shantaram precisely because the characters were too articulate, too profound. Everyone was breaking into unnecessarily poignant speeches. Indians tolerate. But they do not necessarily adore their tolerance. We tolerate simply by compulsion.
Again,slumdog did not make this galling blunder.Slumdog has a very bollywoody script. The fact that the movie ends with the hero and heroine dancing to a filmi number is attestation to it. The less said about a.r rahman's music, the better. It is ill-fit.Slumdog tells the story of a man trying to unite himself with his childhood lover from the slums. In their years they've met, parted and met again, always believing that it is their destiny to be together.They have some sense of right and wrong. There are no black and white. Not all stealing is bad. Not all honesty is good. Destiny, a powerful theme in indian movies, is easy to identify with here. What is interesting of course is the way this simply theme is portrayed. By showing the entire story as flashbacks of how the man accidentally happens to know the answers to the questions of the show "who wants to be a millionaire", it makes for watching an entirely different kind of movie. Money and women, the policeman intelligently notes, are the reasons we make most of the mistakes in our lives. As the inspector tries to find out how the man knows all the questions for the answers and how disgraceful it is to want so much money, we realize how much the man has been risking his life to be united with his true love. In true bollywood style, we expect that he will. But slumdog could have well been a story based on a true life incident. It needn't be bollywoody at all, for none of the characters or events were exaggerated. And that I thought makes slumdog a cut above the rest.
Finally, I loved Salim's character with all his dilemmas. Who does he truly love ? Himself ? Money ? Latika ? Jamal ? Power ? His vacillating tendencies set the movie forward at every step. Jamal and Latika's destiny are actually written by Salim, who at every juncture chose to take the situation in his own hands while Latika and Jamal were mere puppets to what Salim decided he wanted most on a particular day. As a kid he chooses his brother but lets go of Latika. Later, almost jealous of his brother's longing for her, he claims Latika as his. Later still, he lets go of her in hunger for power. And finally he tragically lets go of himself. Were it not for his erratic decisions,slumdog would never have become a millionaire. And we see that Jamal and Latika are confused between self-preservation and their love for the other. They want each other, but not at the cost of their lives. It is this that brings the movie from filmi pedestals to reality. And they aren't sure how they can be together, alive, whole and happy. And each time they aren't brave enough to re-write destiny. And simply because its a bollywoody movie, or perhaps there is enough luck to go around in the real world, they do unite at long last. Salim, though had the courage to write his own story, yet not enough luck to live long enough. As the movie will repeatedly remind you, some things are written and some aren't.
In the end Slumdog isn't necessarily a meditation on Indian diaspora. But it definitely is a beautiful painting, that allows you to get a sense of what it is to be in india; to have faith and dreams and to gamble with them. And as with any beautiful painting, necessary artistic licenses must be taken, or otherwise it would just be a boring photograph in a auto-point-and-shoot-full-flash-mood that is simply all detail and no story.
Thursday, January 22, 2009
Not a lot of things make me lose my sleep. If I’ve had a productive day, and I feel tired enough, a long uninterrupted slumber is inevitable. But there are those days when try as I might I cannot get myself to sleep.
I try and think of something that will hopefully engage me until sleep encompasses. Counting sheep never works. I have a very bad imagination when it comes to picturing sheep in my head. I can at the most picture one sheep. I am reasonable at counting numbers in order. It doesn’t take me long to get to one, and its never been enough to validate a speech bubble over a drooling face that says zzz zzz. I’ve always had a problem with my position. When I was a baby and used to be rocked to sleep in those cradles made out of a cotton sari, hanging from a hook in the ceiling, my mom used to shake the cradle wildly so that I’d be forced into a new hopefully sleep encouraging position. When I finally stopped sucking my thumb and got rid of my security blanket, the question of where to keep my hands became unanswerable.
There are about a trillion positions for my hands, each as uncomfortable as the next. There’s exactly one position that my hands will find acceptable. The odds of my finding that one position is distressingly low.My legs are fine. One knee over the pillow, the foot under it, the other leg pretty much anyway anywhere ( nope, its not a prosthetic limb, anywhere within the realm of being attached to my hip) and I’m set. My hands aren’t too easy to please. But I have gotten better at it over the years, and I’m making tremendous progress in hypnotizing them to do exactly what I want. Hypnotizing of course requires tremendous concentration. Just when I think that I’m there, that I’m finally going to be eased into a dreamland where nothing makes sense, there’s a phone call that requires my hand to be projected from its current very stable hypnotized position and phut, my hands go back to their tantrum throwing selves again.
Afternoon naps are another thing that I’m incapable of. When I was a toddler I’d spend afternoons wreaking havoc in the kitchen, breaking pots and pans, slipping in water and my parents would sleep blissfully through everything, only to find the kitchen in an utter mess. When there’s the odd free afternoon I can only manage a half hour, even that at the risk of unmanageable hands at night. I’m sensitive to a rustling leaf, a dog barking, and a phone ringing about three houses away, and those irritating tunes cars play while on reverse gear. Sometimes I hallucinate a noise and awaken. My family is blessed with people who can sleep anytime anywhere anyhow. It used to be one of the reasons that convinced me that I was adopted. I’m not apparently. The one time I truly slept in the afternoon was when I went on a self-designed diet. All I drank was water for one and a half days, and I ended up falling flat on the bad, completely oblivious to phone calls, doorbells ringing in which time my mom almost went to the police. She could see my footwear and bags inside the house through the window, but couldn’t get me to open the door. 2 hours after she came home and found that she couldn’t enter, I woke up and opened the door vaguely hearing banging. I opened the door with a knife behind my back, because I’ve never known my mom to bang, just as she had never known me to sleep through the sound of a doorbell.I use my sleeplessness as radars. Unlike those blessed people who can sleep regardless of what happened in the preceding day, my day affects my sleep to the extent of depriving me of it. When I find that my hands are behaving as though they belonged to someone else, its always one of two things. Either I’ve had an exceedingly unproductive day, a day during which I did nothing and spent most of it doing something very similar to staring aimlessly at a white unblemished wall. Or I’ve done something that I ought to feel guilty about, taken a decision that wasn’t completely thought through, rash, irrational, and in a wild passion to please/infuriate someone else. Somehow the signboard that says “exit to a good night’s sleep” always evades me and I end up taking a U turn a long time later. It may be staring at me right in the face, but what use is that to someone whose eyes are shut. More often than not, I end up reversing my stand the next morning, all red eyed and gloomy faced, causing a lot of people to believe that this new decision is even more hurried, anxiously taken and unreasonable than the first one. I’m asked various forms of the question “why”- from “how can you”, to saying my name repeatedly, to comical looks, to “huh”. Hell, I’ve just got to have a peaceful night’s sleep, because plainly put I cannot count sheep.
Tuesday, January 06, 2009
The overbearing, inviolably certain, strong headed and firm willed Sister Aloysius suspects father Flynn of inappropriate behavior with the only black student of the school who is also an altar boy. Her suspicions are aroused by the adorably naive sister james who expects life to be in black and white. Sister Aloysius is certain of father Flynn's activities despite her ability to prove anything and despite his insistence that he is innocent. In the end she manages to force him to leave the school as she vows that she will go as far as it takes to get him out. Sister James is always doubtful and unclear and is never sure what to conclude. In the end of the movie, we still do not know if father flynn is guilty or innocent.
In this playoff, the audience is forced to question its own prejudices. At the end of the movie, almost all of is will realize that the movie is structured to leave no clue of father flynn's innocence or guilt. Yet our biases will see us tending towards one side.
There will be those of us who believes in father flynn's statement of compassion, that he really had the boy's best interests at heart as all right-minded priests ought to have, and that his sweet nature was wrongfully exploited and abused by the towering sister aloysius. In sister aloysius hatred for frosty the snowman, or intolerant of even the tiniest of transgressions, we will find claustrophobia, and regression. In her certainty of action we will find vendetta. In her advice to sister james to hang a picture of the pope (any pope, even the older one) so that she may spy on the children as she is facing the board, we will find cunningness. They will find it endearing that the priest is willing to admit that he has made mistakes in the past and will conclude that they are not related to the accusation being made. And they will pity him for the fact that sister aloysius would've gone to any lengths to tarnish his reputation and will believe that father flynn had much integrity of character to refuse to reveal why he was taking such special interest in the black altar boy.
And then there will be those of us who will feel certain like sister aloysius. Experience, says sister aloysius, allows her to be good at judging character. We will feel the same way. A man that does not cut his nails, that is extremely lenient of misdoings among his students, who encourages students to fall in love and dance, must have the same unexacting standards of himself. In a brief conversation with his students, he tells the boys if all girls reject them, they should become a priest. We quietly wonder if as a priest, he is considering a third option- young boys. He too must be a loosely moraled disrespectful person, we will reason. In his refusal to defend himself, we will see inability of a defence. In his gift of a dancing girl to the black boy, we will find inappropriate attachments. And in all his sermons we will see a veil of self-protection.
And finally there will be those of us like sister james hoping fervently that some one would just prove something, for we cannot take the burden of inference. Sister james after all has joined the church because she loves the simplicity, the set of clear-cut rules, and the simple elegant hymps and songs. We will want to be fair, just and objective but will find it difficult not to find faults in both father flynn's behavior or sister aloysius's treatment of him. Why won't father flynn explain himself and clear his name. What can be important. Perhaps he is guilty. But perhaps he is protecting the boy. How honorable. Why wont sister aloysius let go. Why can't she be more willing to let her students have fun. Why is she so incapable of human feeling. But then we see her helping out and protecting a nun that is going blind and realize that she too is good at heart. And we will go round and round in circles never understanding what is going wrong, and eventually we will want so badly to make a decision, as ill-informed as it might be if only to be able to sleep better at night.
Doubt then is a journey of self-discovery for each member of the audience. Even as it is portraying the hierarchy of the church and the various reasons that people choose to join it- simplicity for sister james, compassion for father flynn, discipline and rigour for sister aloysius , it plays with the audience's own bias to either judge too quickly or tread too carefully. In this quest for truth, each character makes transgessions within the hierarchy of the church. Sister adams yells at sister aloysius, a senior. Father flynn talks to sister james without a third party present to witness any declaration he makes. And sister aloysius breaches hierarchy many times, by talking to the boy's mother, by disrespecting her senior father flynn. As the truth comes to the fore, god, the church and rules are swept behind. They want to know so that they can sleep at night.
Doubt is full of nuances and subtleties trying to win you over and convince you that the priest is guilty now, and innocent again and guilty again. We feel compelled to read into every dialogue, every little act so that we can understand the players, because it is only then can we convince ourselves who the villain is- proper sister aloysius who seems to have never made mistakes in her life or the loving priest who thinks life is about making mistakes, learning from them and growing above them.
In the end we will never know.
And that is the unsettling strength of doubt.
An operatic crescendo that reaches the climax and then never comes down to hit the root note.
And we are left on that crest, feeling helpless, knowing that there is no respite.