Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Animal Farm - George Orwell

Five years ago, I was in Chennai on deputation from CTS Bangalore (Cognizant Technology Solutions) between Feb 14th and July 15th 2003. I was invited to join Orkut by a colleague. Those days, Orkut was still in its nascent stage and I joined with some interest. Little did I know then, that I was to realize, very soon, that the whole thing was an exercise in futility. But I must admit that I did meet a few genuinely nice people through this network.
One was Aravind. I agreed to meet him because of two reasons. He was a product of IIT (I was impressed!) and the few emails that he sent to me did not have glaring grammatical mistakes (I was obsessed!).
I don’t remember much of that meeting and I would have forgotten him altogether were it not for a little book he presented to me.
I have been in possession of this book for more than 5 years now. But I happened to read it only last month! Thank you Aravind for this book. :-) It was nice meeting you!

George Orwell whose real name was Eric Blair was born in India in 1903 and was educated at Eton. He achieved worldwide fame with this book published in 1945.

The author calls it a fairy story, for that’s what it is.
The critics call it a political satire, for that’s what it is.

I must confess that this is one of the best books I have read so far.
It’s just 120 pages. The style is simple and the narration is superb.
The story unfolds in a manner that is most enjoyable and that makes the book unputdownable.

There is an animal farm. The farm is initially managed by a Mr. Jones. Horses, cows, hens, dogs, pigs, rats, goats, sheep, raven, cat and donkey are all characters of this story.
The animals lament about the misery that they are made to go through and conspire to throw him (Mr. Jones) out. They succeed in their plan and take on the responsibility of managing themselves. The story is all about how the animals manage the farm and themselves, all that transpires within the farm as the years pass and their eventuality.

It’s amazing how anyone could write such a political satire through a simple story of animals.
This story is the simplest possible illustration of how systems and societies degenerate when selflessness of leaders (and people) is replaced by vested interests and when dictatorship takes the place of democracy.
Every animal stands for a distinct type of character or patron in a nation and seeks to depict how each subject reacts differently to the same ruler.

This story is virtually the story of every kingdom, every empire, every civilization and every nation.

The degeneration depicted in the story of the animal farm is very gradual and subtle just like the degeneration of our own societies which is never ‘felt’ by people as they go through it but realized only when they look back in retrospection at a period of several years.
As we read history we clearly see the turn of events and their impact on a race without realizing that our own lives will make interesting reading of history for future generations.

The story is fast paced.
Although it’s a story of hens, cows, horses and pigs, it becomes real as you read. It comes alive from the pages of the book and commands your serious attention.

There is much left to the reader’s imagination. The book says so much without saying a word explicitly.

The author has made a mockery of almost every possible situation in the political arena of nations.
Thoughtless mindless modernization, overthrowing somebody from a position of power, fooling the ignorant masses, the shrewd and cunning enjoying while not doing much work even as the labourers slog, compromising of a value for which the very battle was fought, enemies turning friends during times of prosperity, politicians taking back their words or changing their interpretation as it suits them, blaming someone for what went wrong, how the masses believe in whatever picture they are shown, misery of living when the air is filled with mistrust and fear, economy dictating friendships, projecting of numbers and figures to show the progress of a nation even as people struggle to subsist……… and other situations that your imagination may permit you to conjecture.

A line I loved : The only good human being is a dead one.

The conclusion was apt : They all looked from pig to man and from man to pig and from pig to man again; but it was impossible to say which was which. :-)


Sunday, October 26, 2008

McLeod Ganj

I woke up at 5 in the morning. Mark, Jim, Ranj and yours truly crossed the Ram Jhula and reached the other side where we waited for a taxi that would take us to Himacahal Pradesh.
I beheld the Ganges as if to snatch a few precious last moments with her before parting.
I regret not having spent some more time in Rishikesh. I left Uttaranchal with a rather heavy heart.

After a long journey, we reached McLeod Ganj, 7 kilometers from Dharamshala. McLeod Ganj is the abode of the Dalai Lama. It’s a small town atop a hill with narrow winding roads.

A mini Tibet of sorts. Every street is flanked with Tibetan shops, Tibetan restaurants and shops selling Tibetan shawls, clothes, statues and other artifacts. You can spend the whole day just walking the colourful streets of McLeod Ganj. There are on display beautiful stoles made of intricate and colourful designs in almost every shop. I bought two of them. There are weird smelling Tibetan restaurants lining the streets. But let not their appearance or smell disconcert you. Take a look at the menu and you will find exotic dishes of many kinds. The desserts are awesome. I have never heard of some of them before. Do try Banofee Pie – it’s a combination of banana and toffee. It tastes different in different restaurants.
Keep trying until you think its awesome. If I ever go this place again, it will be for the food.
There are Tibetan people and many many foreigners everywhere dressed in freaky garments.

The only detestable thing is the traffic. Speeding bikes and huge cars on narrow winding lanes. Oh! Fie upon man!

There is a monastery and close to it is the residence of Dalai Lama.

Everywhere you will see posters of the Panchen Lama, the successor Dalai Lama, who has been abducted by the Chinese long ago. The Tibetans are hopeful that they will find him one day. I hope and pray they do.

There is a museum full of artifacts, depictions of stories, messages from the Lamas and pictures that seek to tell the tragic tale of Tibet and the cruelty of China. My heart goes out to them.

Close by are a few places for sight seeing but when you get there, you know its just hype.

Dal lake is nothing more than a small dirty pond where you find those swan shaped boats that people go boating in. The Devdar trees that skirt the pond were the only ones I cared for.

And then there is Naddi, a few kilometers from McLeod Ganj. It is a sunset point on a hilltop. Dal lake is on the way to Naddi.

This is a view from Naddi.

Sunset. It was a cloudy evening and my efforts to get here proved fruitless.

The next day, we went to Bhagsunag waterfall. It should be renamed disillusionment waterfall. It was nothing more than a narrow stream of water trickling down a mountain.

If you ever go to McLeod Ganj, take my advice, spend all your time there and do not waste time over the much hyped places around it.

Thursday, October 23, 2008


I composed this in just 20 minutes... So inspiring was my Himalaya experience.

A long adventurous journey
Not really premeditated
But definitely preordained

An encounter with infinity
Attainment of fulfillment
Seeing the incredible

Tore away those layers of protection
Shielding me from Nature
And became one with the elements

A lot of exertion
Blazing sun and brutal cold
But a small price for a reward so priceless

Drank to my heart’s content
From the elixir of life
Brought home a little in a small can

Filled my pockets with pine cones
Some aromatic basil and peels of silver birch
That still rest between the leaves of my notebook

Wish I could also bring back
Some fragrance of wild roses, roar of the waterfall
And a room of silence from the mountains

Pristine air filled my lungs
But the picture before me
Took my breath away!

Captured some beauty
With an equipment quite powerless
Opened my eyes wide, captured more and then shut them tight

I wake up in the morning these days
Relishing a dream I saw last night
Of an odyssey that will for sure, happen again. And again.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Square Root And Cube Root

I scored 81 out of 100 in the first Sanskrit exam that was called ‘Pravesha’.

On the 31st of August, I wrote my second Sanskrit exam. This exam was called “Parichaya”.
I insist on grammatical correctness in every language that I know. I don’t find grammar burdensome at all unlike most other people. I find it simple because it’s scientific.
But this time, I did not study grammar at all.

Although I studied only for 3 days, it was such a pleasure. The syllabus included stories from Kalidasa’s ‘Raghuvamsha’. Also there were riddles and puzzles, humourous couplets called ‘Chatu shlokas’ which happened to be in the lighter vein. And then there were Subhashitas. I will some of them with you.

For now, I have something that may take you by surprise.

The above is a verse by the Indian mathematician Aryabhatta and it was employed to find the square root and cube root of numbers.

This method was not known to the Europeans until 1613 A. D. Unfortunately the world does not acknowledge that the credit goes to Indians.

Ratio and inverse ratio rules were in ancient India. Many scholars believe that these principles went outside India to the West as a consequence of their widespread popularity.

Shunya the Sanskrit word got transformed into ‘Zero’ after it got into Arab vocabulary and later Latin vocabulary.

Shunyam (Sanskrit) -> Sifir (Arabic) -> Zifre/Ciffre (Latin) -> Zero/Cipher (English)

I will post more on Sanskrit later.

Friday, October 17, 2008

Skepticism! Not Any More

That’s why they say it’s a circle.

Believer, skeptic and a believer again.

When you come into this world, you are a believer.

You ask a thousand questions. The perplexed parents exercise their imaginative skills like never before to give you answers. But you believe them.

“What about the stars? “
“They are people. All people become stars after dying”.

The angels and fairies, mischievous elves, a crocodile that turned to a stone for being a bad boy, a frog that turned to a prince after the princess kissed him, Santa Claus who brings gifts for Christmas, Cinderella’s magic shoes and her carriage, Rapunzel’s long hair that she let down the tower for the handsome prince to climb up, the faraway magic tree, witches on broomsticks…
Everything is possible! Everything.

And as you grow up, you study numerous text books and amass a wealth of knowledge only to become a skeptic.

Everything suddenly seems to need a scientific reason or explanation. ‘Why’ and ‘How’ become the most important questions.

I questioned the superstitions and the traditions.
I questioned the very existence of God.
I questioned the conventions of the society.

I spared no opportunity to scoff at the blind believers.

Today as I write this, I am a believer again. A believer so complete, that what once was mythology is History to me today. Anything is possible. Everything is possible. Perhaps people do become stars after they die.

The only thing I am skeptical about today is science. Science and its custodians - confidently presenting a theory/discovery today (before a press conference) and admitting tomorrow that it was a mistake (without too much embarrassment and without the press conference either).

In Hindu legend there is a mention of a certain king who visited Brahmaloka for a day and returned to earth. When he returned he found that his kingdom was no longer there. He knew none of the people who inhabited the place at that time and he could not believe that so much had changed in just a day. He learnt later that one day in Brahmaloka was equivalent to several thousand years on earth. When the king returned after a one day visit to Brahmaloka, several years had passed and the face of earth had changed.

It was in my final year B.Sc. that I studied the Theory of Relativity. The subject of space and time was amazing and beyond perspective. A theory I recall as I write this is ‘The Twin Paradox’. If there be twins and one of the twins be sent on a space ship that travels at speed of light, when the twin returns to earth, he will actually be much younger than the one who stayed on earth. The reason is when objects travel at speed of light, time expands or passes slowly. Is this not exactly what is meant by “One day in Brahmaloka is equivalent to several thousand years on earth”?


I visited the Himalayas recently. 3 kilometers from Badrinath is the Saraswati River on which is the Bhim Pul. The Pul or bridge is a monolith, the size of a four story building. The guides there will show you “finger impressions” of Bhim on the walls of the monolith. These are multiple elongated concave surfaces on the monolith each 10 to 15 feet high. Trust me, they do look like finger impressions of a giant. I did not scoff.

In Mahabharat, Bhima, the second among the Pandava brothers is described to be a giant. There are mentions of several giants, some 10 feet tall, some 25 feet tall etc.

Now, gravity can be considered as one of the factors inhibiting our growth, specifically, our height. If there were “life” on another planet, it’s gravitational force being half as that of earth, the “beings” would be twice as tall. Right?

Eric Von Daniken, author of ‘Chariots of Gods’ argues that our ancestors did receive visits from extra terrestrials who copulated with beings on earth and bred with the species of earth. Consider, for the moment that a giant from a planet in the outer space were to breed with a homosapien on earth. In all probability the resultant progeny would inherit some of the extra terrestrial’s ‘giantness’ and grow up to be bigger than the ‘pure’ homosapiens. Right?


To the more observant among you, the notion that my ‘belief’ is reinforced by the support of a limited science (the very science about which I am skeptical), as in the examples above, may seem ironical. Actually it is not so.

I have only used the two examples to illustrate that what seemed impossible until recently seem somewhat possible today when subject to a scientific test. If we remind ourselves of the fact that science is still in it’s nascent stage, and incapable of explaining soooo many things in this world, then our belief will no longer be needy of scientific evidences.


Lastly I would say, “Only the fantastic has a chance of being real in the cosmos”.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Train To Pakistan - Khushwant Singh

This is the first of the works by Khushwant Singh that I happened to read. A great writer, I must say.

Train To Pakistan is a story set in the backdrop of the infamous partition of 1947. The village Mano Majra, which is the scene of the entire story, is a fictitious village by the river Sutlej, on the border of India – Pakistan.

As the writer begins the narrative with the geographical details around the village and then its weather, its inhabitants, their lives, their routine, their homes around a peepul tree, the green fields, the railway station and the waters of the Sutlej, the village comes alive before you.

Even as massacres go on in other parts of the country, the residents of Mano Majra, blissfully unaware of these, go on with their lives. Hindus, Muslims and Sikhs live like one family.
The sixteen year old Muslim girl Nooran who is having an affair with a Sikh Dacoit Jugga, the father of the girl, a partially blind elderly Imam, respected by all in the village, the educated stranger from UK whose religion is not known, who takes shelter in the Gurudwara and intends to educate the people so that the whole battle could be turned into a proletariat revolution, the Deputy commissioner visiting the village on duty who feels guilty about wanting to lay a young prostitute, his daughters age and others, go on with their lives as usual.

One day, when a train from Pakistan loaded with mutilated bodies of Hindus and Sikhs arrives at Mano Majra, the entire village watches in silent stupor.

And then arrive in Mano Majra, the instigators who carry out the acts of sedition even as the villagers show reluctance to be incited. Some of them, as expected conspire to retaliate and some villagers consent to join them. A train loaded with Muslims headed to Pakistan is expected to pass through Mano Majra. The conspirators plan to kill each one on that train, not deterred by the fact that all the Muslims of Mano Majra who were like their brothers until the previous day, are going to be on that train. The plan is sabotaged by Jugga whose love for his Nooran (who is on that train), gets the better of his loyalty towards his fellow villagers. The train moves on to Pakistan.

It’s just a story. But it is also a zoom in, onto the carnage during the partition, that makes the tragedy a personal experience to a reader and gives a general understanding of the various political, sociological and circumstantial factors that work together intricately to result in a communal strife among the most loving of people in a peaceful village that has never known violence.

The writing is characterized by excellent imagery. The author has an eye for detail and nuance. It’s the kind of detail that you want to have more of; the arrival of monsoon after a blazing summer, the joy of the people, the singing of the cuckoo, the swell of the river Sutlej, the dependency of people’s daily routine on the train schedules, the peaceful lull in a typical village, etc.
Although a few pages are filled with gory descriptions of death, blood, heads separated from bodies, intestines torn out of living people, the scene of hundreds of slaughtered bodies floating on river Sutlej etc., the reading is not painful as it is also embellished with imagery and poetic verses.

Not forever does the bulbul sing
In balmy shades of bowers,
Not forever lasts the spring
Nor ever blossom flowers,
Not forever reigneth joy,
Sets the sun on days of bliss,
Friendships not forever last,
They know not life, who know not this.

Ordinary mortal as I am, the conclusion left me with a sense of indignation I must admit (without pride), though only for a fleeting moment.

I am not sure whether the choice of conclusion by the author, of an unfulfilled retaliation is just an incidental one or a conscious choice meant to be symbolic of something.

Regardless of what the author had in mind, the story IS representative of reality. It is the summation of the war between the two communities.

The net result of the history of the Hindu Muslim communal strife is that the Hindus have taken 100 times more beatings than the Muslims. If you look at episodes of the recent past in isolation you may not get the right perspective. But if you look at the big picture, the balance sheet, the massacres by Taimur Lang, Nadir Shah, Ghazni, Aurangzeb and the savages from central Asia, then you will see that the Hindus have stretched their limits of tolerance and endurance beyond human capacity. They have never retaliated in equal measure of the atrocities that they were subjected to.
I am NOT suggesting that they should retaliate, but I am just observing that they have taken prolonged, repeated and more severe cruelty than they have perpetrated.
I am only proud that they have upheld the virtues of tolerance, forgiveness and compassion that their religion advocates. I am only sad that it always worked to their disadvantage.

Do read this one.

Saturday, October 11, 2008


We returned to Uttarkashi from Dodital. I really needed some rest after the 54 kilometer trek in the past three days. A hot bath – with water heated using an immersion coil,… it was after years that I had even seen an immersion coil :-) – a great meal and a good night’s sleep – how well I slept! like a baby – it was time to leave. Desirous as I was for some more Buras juice, they bought me a bottle of it from a shop in the market. My bag became really heavy with all the liquid- one letre of gangajal and one liter of Buras juice….

Yogesh’s mother really liked the shawl I gave her. After hugs and promises to keep in touch, I left to Rishikesh in a jeep. Ah! I forgot my umbrealla in Yogesh’s bag! I hope it will be a kind of memoir… :-)

I reached Rishikesh in the evening. It was hot. And dusty. What a drastic weather change it was for me!

I left towards Ram Jhula. This is newly constructed.

Laxman Jhula was there years – decades before.

Thriambakeshwar Temple as seen from Laxman Jhula.

To all those who are naturally charmed by its solemn name and all that it stands for, visiting the place for the first time, hoping to see the land they have read about in scriptures, epics and other books, Rishikesh will only be a place of unending disillusionment. It will make you weep at the realization of what mankind has done to the place that had once seen sages, hermits, saints, meditation, penance, Yoga and epiphany on the banks of the Ganga.
I must mention (with a heavy heart) that Rishikesh is an overcrowded, dirty, polluted, hot unkempt city. It has the potential to turn even a philanthropist to a misanthropist. Will avoid the gory details here.
The only solace is the sight of the Ganges flowing in the valley, with a grave disposition. Conversely, it is worth going to the hot, filthy, crowded town of Rishikesh just to see the Ganges (even if it is just a glimpse) in her breadth, depth and calm.

One should see the Ganga at Gaumukh and then at Rishikesh to know what a difference tributaries make. At Gaumukh you can ford the river in 10 steps. She (the river) is a narrow stream and you can see the river bed. Her movement is ebullient and her music is lively and playful …just like a child after birth.
At Rishikesh, my God! Her effervescence is no more. Her music is a silent drone. Her mood is contemplative. The swell of the river frightens you. A hanging bridge has been built over her. She spans a width of 100 meters.

Crossing Ram Jhula the next mornig. 6:00 AM

I could not get enough of this sight that exudes so much peace and serenity.

Men may come and men may go but I go on forever.
She has been flowing since eternity. I sincerely hope to God that she will flow for an eternity to come.

For more pictures, see Rishikesh

Wednesday, October 08, 2008

Individualism And Non Responsibility

As I told you, reading “Small Is Beautiful” served to verify several preconceptions.

One observation of the author I immediately found to be “my own” was that “Market is the institutionalisation of individualism and non responsibility”. This simply means that the buyer is concerned about his individual profit or interest while buying goods in the market and does not assume any sort of responsibility towards the society or anyone else while buying. All he cares about is value for his money.

He does not make a distinction between a product that was made using renewable resource and another product of the same category made using non renewable resource.
He does not bother to ask “Were the working conditions for labourers in the factory (that produced this commodity) good or bad?”, “Was the technology employed environment friendly or not?” He will not care to buy an indigenous product – which is essential to encourage indigenous industries – if the same product can be imported for a cheaper price.

I see this attitude of individualism and non responsibility everyday, everywhere. One can exhibit this attitude not just while buying products but also when they pay for services.

The rickshaw drivers in the city use meters that are rigged. But most of the people show zero resistance and pay him whatever he demands. Who cares? Its just 20 rupees more. If most of the people stop having illusions about their “image in society” and refuse to pay, will not the drivers refrain from such daylight robbery?
Are the people not encouraging exploitation? Are they not fuelling dishonesty?

A number of American corn stalls have opened in the recent times. A cup of corn that cost 20 rupees a week ago suddenly cost 30 rupees yesterday and 40 today. If people stopped eating corn for a while, will not their prices come down?

Real estate prices in the city are rising at the speed of light and for no ‘real’ reason. If people stopped buying flats and if those who already own a flat curbed the greed to buy another, would not the builders stop blood sucking?

Diamond District on Airport road, I am told has exactly one thousand cases against it for violating norms of construction, for not taking permission from several state departments etc. if people refused to buy such property because of the legal risks involved, would the builders get away with such audacity?

Nobody cares. People simply go on consuming whatever is available for the ‘best’ possible bargain. No social responsibility whatsoever.

The minority like me are an object of mockery – for threatening the rickshaw driver with a police complaint, for telling the shop owner on his face that his corn was stale and the cup too small for 30 rupees, for commuting by bus to help air pollution and for not owning a square inch of land even after 5 years of service in IT!!

Sunday, October 05, 2008

Blooming to Beauty

I read Times of India.

One of these days after reading all about serial blasts, terrorism, vote bank politics, nuke deal, a couple of suicides, death of drag racers and some bit about celebrities and all the useless things they do with their lives, I came across this really pleasant article on flowers that gave me another reason to feel proud of Karnataka.

‘From the cradle to the grave, human beings use flowers on all occasions – of celebration or mourning’.
And Namma Karnataka stands first in floriculture in India and accounts for 60-70% of India’s floriculture industry. The cool climate around Bangalore lends itself to floriculture. In Karnataka, there are 18000 hectares under floriculture cultivation. There is also a history of 300 years of floriculture in the state.

Even as I felt proud, for a minute, just for a minute I wondered if this was really needed. Would not people rather grow wheat or rice on the same soil when there is such a shortage of food, instead of growing flowers that will only serve to please the senses and then wither away into dust?

That’s how terrible human mentality is!
Harnessing every resource – from soil to water to cattle to plants to trees to everything – for the sole purpose of catering to man’s needs is an established correct. Using resources in any other way – that does not serve mankind – at once becomes wrongful and even cruel!

The word is utility. In course of time, utility has been associated with necessity, with purpose, usefulness, fruitfulness, worth and with value. Utility dictates what will live and what will perish on the surface of this earth.
Beauty? What is the use of beauty? (Once again the word ‘use’!) Clever men have even created phrases that have brainwashed an entire generation. ‘Beauty is only skin deep’. ‘Beauty is a quality of the exterior’. The meaning of beauty has been reduced to ornamentation that merely pleases the senses and has no greater significance in the affairs of the world.

Utility dictates man to interfere in the lives of all children of this universe. The story of cruelty, ravaging and destruction is known to everyone.
Even when he treats some beings with generosity it is not without an ulterior motive.
All the hens in a poultry farm perhaps pray day and night for the well being of man as they feed on grains to grow big and fat. Until they reach the clutches of the slaughterer.

Horses are fed, taken care of, pampered and spoilt. Until they reach old age. And then they are shot.

Certain weeds receive special attention and nourishing. They are granted accommodation on acres and acres of soil even when so many ‘children of men’ are homeless. These are tobacco and marijuana that are ‘cash’ crops.
As I read about men growing flowers, it’s nice to realize that for a change, man interferes with vegetation to create beauty though the motive still remains the same – profit.

Everything in this world need not justify its existence by proving its usefulness to mankind; whether a lump of soil, or a plant or an animal or an element.
A thing can simply be because it is a child of the universe and it has every right to be.

If you look around you, real beauty and harmony prevail because of those that exist simply for the sake of existing. Mountains, rivers, trees, cuckoos, butterflies, grass, sand and man himself!
All ugliness and violence against nature (of which man is a part) prevail because of all those things that exist solely because of their usefulness to mankind. Cluttered office buildings, air conditioners, lorries with their exhausts and plastic covers.

As Tagore said, ‘The fragmentariness of utility should never forget its subordinate position to the wholesomeness of beauty in the affairs of the world’. There could not be a truer statement in the whole world of metaphysics.