Thursday, December 17, 2015

What I Learned During Chennai Floods

The Chennai Floods have been so devastating. It affected everybody in a geographical expanse regardless of who one was. Money was rendered useless, communication channels were snapped. Here are some of the lessons I learned.

#1 Being Calm

It is extremely difficult to be calm in a hostile situation. We were surrounded by 5 feet of water with no power or cell-phone coverage. We had no idea what was happening in the outside world because we threw out the old-fashioned radios a very long time ago. While the day light gave some hope, nightfall was eerie. With the streets dark as far as you can see, with water sloshing around the lift as though it was a scene from Titanic, my family which was after all on the fourth floor, was pretty unnerved. At that moment, it was essential to be calm and think about your options logically. We eventually decided to stay put and we were stuck at home for four consecutive days in this condition.

#2  Humanity

In a time of crisis, people I barely knew came to help us. We divided our resources. Everyone on the street, from the person who ironed our clothes at the corner of the street to the actress who lived across, offered to share what little they had stored with them. We had to disconnect car batteries, disconnect power supply as the panels went underwater and share drinking water among us.

#3 Disaster Management is a Joke!

So many phone numbers were shared on social platforms, none of which were accessible at a moment of crisis. People could not expect such a disaster, that's true. The few people we reached out to, were afraid that they would be affected. There were a few helicopter rounds. We thought they would provide food, but they did not.For my particular case, that was fine because we were well-stocked. The official teams did not reach us. However, I heard that the youth of Chennai jumped into relief work immediately but I knew all that good work around 5 days later when both power and internet was restored.

#4 People care about you!

I am an introverted person. I was so surprised at the number of people who enquired in to my well-being once my phone sprung to life.

#5 Humans are massive consumers!

The floods made us realize how much power, water, internet and food we consume. We had to ration our food and more importantly adjust our recipes so that they don't involve grinding or too many dishes as we tried to curtail how much we had to wash. Plus, we cooked 'on-demand' as the refrigerator was no longer operational for storage. We had run out of greens by the end of two days, again adjusted recipes that depend on onions and potatoes that could be stored for long. By the fourth day, the water tanks were drying out and massive storage of water began.

#6 Economic Advantage for very very few

There were two people on my street who enjoyed massive profits. One - a milkman who came by boat and sold milk at three times the regular price. Another, was a boatman who offered to ferry us for a fortune but we declined when he asked us to swim towards him.

#7 I am not an owl!

I used to think I'm a night owl, I usually sleep at 1pm, etc. No! When there is no power and no internet, I slept at 9 pm sharp. I felt really concerned whether I'm abusing my body. Those three days, my habits were so regular. I woke up at the crack of dawn and slept within half an hour after dinner.

#8 Music saves us all

Every night, my sister played her veena. The tunes that wafted from it soothed our weary minds. It was a really beautiful experience, candlelit rooms with melodious notes.

#9 One for All and All for One

Our family spent most of the time together, in one room. All of us are so busy, chasing after our dreams, that we barely speak to each other together. The love that emanated from us kept us warm in the dread of gloom and uncertainty.

#10 Necessity is the mother of invention

At one point we run out of candles. My mom suddenly remembered that we could use oil lamps that we had just placed back in the shelves after Karthikai Deepam. It was a tiny idea but such innovations kept us going.

The Chennai floods showed us what nature can unleash. Most of us feel the effects would not have been so devastating if it had been managed in a better manner. Who knows? All I know is it was a lifetime experience, something that I will be quoting to everyone. If you're from Chennai, I hope you and your family have recovered from this ordeal.

Sunday, November 29, 2015

An Ode to Prakash

Today one of my classmates left the mortal realm to merge with the cosmos. It seems cruel that a man in the prime of his youth and in the pink of his health had to meet this fate.

When such things happen, every memory become crystal clear and prick us like shards of ice. I am no exception. Even though, we were not very close, all my memories are gathering momentum and I felt there is no better way to release them, than to write.

Prakash was one of the most decent men I've ever met. He was the first follower of this blog, that too when it had only indecipherable poems. He liked playing age of empires too. That's how we first became friends. He read each and every blogpost of mine. In class, he was helpful and sincere. He was empathetic. I don't think he ever teased or annoyed anybody. We've had few long conversations, after Tribute in bus, the bus accident that both he and my best friend shared, the projects his company and my college shared, planning the birthday surprise of our mutual friend, discussing after our second symposium how he wanted to be president, discussing the programs I gave him, the first tour, wishing each other happy birthday. There are other thousand conversations that beg for attention but the emotional toll is draining me. If a mere classmate can have so many positive memories, I can only extrapolate what his close friends must feel like and I cannot imagine the trauma his twin brother is facing.

As a person, he lived life to the fullest. He travelled the world, he had the latest gadgets, he was well dressed, celebrated himself, participated with his family.

It is ironic that the man who didn't break any heart had a massive heart attack. He was a man who was better than most of us. I am confident he is resting in peace. But the world will sorely miss a gem of a character.

Sunday, November 15, 2015

How I Write Poems

I've always thought creativity and poetry are quite spontaneous and that there is no fixed 'methodology' that you can prescribe to it. However, in recent times, I've been thinking we all have a set of algorithms embedded deep within us that brings out our signature style. Even though, technically, how I write poetry is I meditate on an emotion, make it expand intensely and let it engulf me whole and let the words flow, I realize I do have a set pattern.

#1 Fixing the rhyme scheme

Call me old school. I just don't like poems that don't rhyme. It seems as if it is too easy. I generally go for an AABB rhyme scheme, just rhyming consecutive lines and being happy. If am adventurous, I may try ABAB.

#2 Fixing the meter

I usually go for a pentameter, 10 syllables per line. Sometimes I do seven syllables per line. That's about it.

#3 Throw in a LOT of alliteration

I love alliteration. I like phrases like 'tree trembles', 'wind whispers'. They almost sound musical to me.

#4 The cheats I use
Sometime, I google rhyming words :P Sometime if am too lazy, I'll end with the same word in two lines.

#5 Poetic license
I try not to abuse my poetic license much. I like a good structured poem. One prominent example where I used it is when once I said, "when blows the breeze" instead of "when the breeze blows".

So all this talking led me to try writing a poem. I'm going to try this algorithm in four lines on a very easy topic, the current incessant rains.

Dear droplets of Hydrogen Dioxide,
You batter everyone that's outside.
However, you brought well needed respite,
from both, the heat and the power bill's bite!

Hmm, maybe one day I'll make a natural language generator out of this!

Thursday, October 15, 2015

The Non Essay on Education in India

I saw an announcement for an essay competition and I became extremely happy and started collecting facts. After structuring my thought for two hours, I saw I was not eligible for that competition :P

So without further ado, I have converted it into a blog post.

We had a lot of themes and we had to use it to solve a grand India-centric problem. I thought of Indian education with the theme of computers. The research (Wikipedia) I did yesterday was eye-opening!

Initially, I had this grand scheme of how I would use technology to bring education to every single person, then some digging led to the following abysmal facts.


#1 The Sheer Number

India has the largest number of illiterates in the world. And that is highly ironic considering we introduced the concept of zero to the world. The number Googol would not be 10^100, it would be
MMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMM.. (33 times roughly) :P My favourite number 279 would be CCLXXIX.

It is an absolute shame that we have 287 million illiterate people. So I set my sights lower, to literacy. Forget education. So many people do not know how to read and write one language.

#2 Electricity

For my grand vision of bringing technology to the fore, the basic minimal requirement is electricity!! Only 67% of India has electricity. What on Earth is happening? Forget and its claim to net neutrality. I can't charge your free smartphone!

#3 Mobile Network Coverage

For technology to truly seep through the country, mobility is essential. Here is where the statistics are fishy. We have 930 million subscribers. But only roughly 60% of India is covered by the towers. That is because of people like me who have three SIMs. One from UG, one for hostel coverage, one for mess coverage :P

#4 Importance

As a country, we spend 4.3% of our GDP on education and they are concentrated on higher education. Even though we pay 2% of our taxes for education, that is all we spend. Basic literacy is not getting the vital amount of effort required to propel people to benefit from the importance given to higher education.

How can you integrate when you can't add?

#5 Existing Infrastructure

I had to write an exam in a government school once. It was one of the most nightmarish experiences I've ever had. No electricity, no water and sand flying from the grounds nearby. I used to have asthma then and just kept coughing. And this was happening in Chennai. I must be happy I had benches and an invigilator. Facilities across India are so terrible and teachers barely qualified and sanitation barely there, resulting in most girls dropping out in their teens. Yes and I have statistics for all of this, but this is a non-essay ;)

Some Observations

#1 High Correlation in Statistics

Electricity, sanitation, mobile coverage and literacy of all the states are highly correlated with each other along with one thing that is of paramount importance.

Per Capita Income

You cannot expect a hungry person to want to enlighten his mind and soul. The body has to be taken care of first. Wherever poverty and hunger are high, all these statistics drop.

#2 Our Legal Hierarchy

If you remember any civics lesson, you may be familiar that there are three lists - union list, concurrent list and state list. Each list says who is responsible for making legislations. All of these, except sanitation, are on the concurrent list. So the centre makes laws and the states fine tune them.

Though in practise, this sounds right, the statistics clearly show that this framework has not resulted in better literacy rates.

#3 A Wonderful Economy is our Greatest Asset

With the liberalisation in 1991, our economy is one which enjoys the best of both worlds - private expertise and government control. It has been steady for years. China, which has 95% literacy and a bigger population, is grappling with a major economic crisis. We need to protect and hone our economy.

 My Thoughts Ahead

#1 Distribute Wealth

Locally, some states have had tremendous success in education. For example, the midday meal scheme introduced in Tamil Nadu led to a huge surge in school registration. This was later adopted all over India. However, recently corruption has gnawed at its core.

It is not fair for me to gloat about my state's achievements. The reason why it is unfair is that many states do not have the wherewithal and income to grow. The resources and industries define a state's success and nobody should be poor because of bad geography. Literacy and education will lead to more jobs but that would become a cycle. We need to grapple with this. I am sure tax payers would be more than happy for a central scheme to get electricity, sanitation, mobile coverage and well-equipped schools for the country rather than a centralised metro rail scheme.

That is a lot of work! We can't sit and hatch eggs till then.

#2 Reduce Urban Illiteracy

By urban, I include towns and cities where India's population is concentrated. 14% of India's urban population is illiterate and that is a substantial number. Adult literacy programs need to be increased. Here is where the infrastructure is already in place and we need to step up.

  • Machine Translation - could be useful for travellers lost in another state as well ;)
  • NPTEL for school syllabus - Our school students deserve good quality videos for free on a subject much like NPTEL for college
  • Awareness - Awareness through social media messaging like WhatsApp

#3 Reduce Corruption on Infrastructure through Computers

Over - reporting on infrastructure is a major problem. Using satellite images, it can be literally verified how electrified India is, whether a school has been built or not.

So yes, I don't know how fruitful you may think these are. I definitely have no experience regarding these things. I believe we as citizens have a lot of potential to grow bigger, smarter and sharper. And it irked me, that we were just going along with things as they are. Maybe the first step is to get a little bit angry about why the world's largest democracy needs symbols for voting.

Saturday, August 15, 2015

The Story behind August 15

We've all read the long drawn struggle for independence. Today I wanted to share a little story on the date 'August 15'.

Lord Mountbatten, the last Viceroy of British India was given the rather distasteful task of ensuring India got its independence. Politically, he was all for independence. But the aristocrat in him, as a member of the royal family and his romance with India made his heart heavy at the upcoming task. In fact, he met his wife in India!

He had been informed to announce the date of independence somewhere in the end of June 1948. However, as soon as Mountbatten took charge, it became apparent that the people's sentiment was extremely anti-British. He had been charged to come out of India with as much respect he could muster for the British. At a press meet, without any discussion, being a decorated officer from World War II decided that the date on which India should be born should be the date Japan surrendered and declared India will be freed on August 15 1947.

While this was amazing news for all Indians, there was one sect of Indians who were aghast. They were India's astrologers. They claimed it would be better to tolerate the British one more day than on Aug 15. Perplexed, Mountbatten came up with the solution that India would be granted freedom at midnight!

We know of the arduous struggle for independence. But even after independence was within our fingertips, there were so many problems. Princely states which refused to become democratic, poor Radcliffe tasked with splitting India with no time to see where his line would cross in reality. The Radcliffe Line sometimes went through houses, one half in Pakistan and the other in India. Our struggles for independence was consistent, even days after our nation was born, the new government had to grapple with the horrors of Partition,

Our ancestors fought so much for our freedom that had cost us dearly, let us take the responsibility to make India the beautiful country it deserves to be.

Monday, July 27, 2015

Dr APJ Abdul Kalam

It was a name we often heard with awe,
Dr. A P J Abdul Kalam.
My teacher nudged me to read all his books,
And threatened to question me from the nooks
and crannies. Thus, I ventured to open 'Ignited
Minds'. Lo and Behold! That was such a sight.
A glimpse of his soul shone brightly from it.
Knowledge, truth and a plan for betterment
of India, our unique home. You advised
us children like nobody ever did,
full of life, full of hope and full of smiles.

You taught us to dream and believe our dreams.
Your life was to me, one of the best themes
for motivation. Born in such humble
conditions, you chose a task most would fumble.
With the vision to lead, you steered us all
to greater heights. India was in the thrall
of the duality of your greatness and you humility.

You knew the solution to every plague.
And it was never ever very vague.
Your Vision 2020 was proof
of your intelligence beyond reproof.
You taught us how rich India is and how
we can be indigenous and yet succeed now.

Your genius transcended all boundaries.
You amazed people of arts and sciences.
Your joy and love for children is legend.
Today one of them is deeply saddened.

I renewed my promise to chase my dreams today.
India will rise from the depths of history once again.

Saturday, July 11, 2015

Book Sherlock vs. the Series Sherlock

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle would be have thoroughly enjoyed the hugely popular TV adaptation. I wrongly assumed the series would be totally unlike the original. The juxtaposition of the quaint 1800's where "cabbie" referred to horse drawn carriages to taxis was quite unnerving to say the least. At the same time, it made the genius of Sherlock to the general public.

To give you a perspective on how mind-boggling it is for a Sherlock Holmes fan to follow the series, I'm going to cut/copy/paste something from Wikipedia about the third episode in Season 3, "The Great Game".

  • Sherlock's surprising ignorance, discussed on John's blog, about several commonplace subjects including astronomy, comes from A Study in Scarlet.
  • Holmes' annoyance, about ordinary people filling their minds with useless subjects and unable to use their brains in the right errand, also comes from A Study in Scarlet.
  • Andrew West, the name of the MI6 clerk, comes from "The Adventure of the Bruce-Partington Plans", in which the victim is called Arthur Cadogan West; the idea of the culprit being the brother of the victim's fiancée appears in "The Adventure of the Naval Treaty". The Bruce-Partington Plans are also referenced in Sherlock's final blogpost before meeting Moriarty at the pool.
  • When Sherlock asks Watson what he thought about the trainers, that is clear reference to a scene early in The Adventure of the Blue Carbuncle where Holmes asks Watson to deduce what he can about Mr Henry Baker's hat in the original story.
  • The pink mobile phone receives messages with Greenwich Pips, with their numbers decreasing with each message, pointing towards "The Five Orange Pips".
  • The investigation of the death of Connie Prince resembles "The Adventure of the Retired Colourman", especially Watson's idea about masking tetanus with calcium hypochlorite on the cat's paws and Holmes reading internet forums to gather information about the TV star's relatives.
  • The conversation between Holmes and Moriarty in the final scene mirrors and quotes the confrontation in Holmes' study in "The Adventure of the Final Problem".
  • The "thick Bohemian paper" comes from "A Scandal in Bohemia", as does the scene where Sherlock notes Molly's weight gain.
  • Sherlock's statement "I'd be lost without my blogger" echoes his "I am lost without my Boswell" from "A Scandal in Bohemia".
  • Holmes' network of homeless persons who help him locate the Golem are referred to as his "eyes and ears all over the city", similar to the Baker Street Irregulars who appear in many of the Sherlock Holmes stories.
  • Sherlock firing a gun at a smiley face spray-painted on the wall at the start of the episode and the holes left in the wall is a reference to "The Adventure of the Musgrave Ritual", in which "Holmes, in one of his queer humours, would sit in an armchair... and proceed to adorn the opposite wall with a patriotic V. R. done in bullet-pocks".
  • The scene where Watson examines the shoes resembles a scene in "A Case of Identity" where he tries to deduce information about Miss Mary Sutherland. Sherlock's remark that Watson "missed everything of importance, but...hit upon the method" is also from the same story.
  • The conversation between Holmes and Watson after investigating the house of Connie Prince, where the former says, "We have to do some burglary", is from "The Adventure of Charles Augustus Milverton".
Clearly, the author of the series is one of the biggest fans of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. To weave together so many dialogues and characteristics from the 200 odd stories is definitely the work of an obsessed genius.

Sherlock Holmes

The book Sherlock Holmes is a bit more dignified, just ever so slightly. However, the arrogance and the "Science of Deduction" has been portrayed most brilliantly. I loved the screenplay where they flashback and show his thought process. Some of the thought processes were a bit expected for me, but most were improvised and fantastic. 

Mycroft Holmes

I was a bit disappointed that Mycroft was introduced in the very first episode. There is a certain thrill when Watson discovers a man infinitely smarter than Sherlock but lacks the dexterity Sherlock possesses. I felt the genius of Sherlock had not been established well enough to ready the audience for Mycroft.

Similarly, Moriarty's involvement with Sherlock comes much later. Moriarty is a bit of an enigma in the books, with his physical features being described almost after a dozen stories that mention him. So, it was definitely a weird experience to see Moriarty in the flesh.

Dr. John Watson
I believe this was the character that was depicted most accurately. An intensely loyal worshipper of Sherlock and his methods, A brilliant man himself but not quite in the league of Sherlock. He published books/blogs on the science of deduction used by Sherlock. 

Ah, the bumbling inspector Lestrade. Who cannot sympathise with him? From the book, I imagined him to a young energetic man, but that was obviously an error considering he is the head of Scotland Yard!

In all, the series Sherlock Holmes is a must watch for any fan. Though it may make you cringe at some points, they are remarkably less than the avid book fan would criticize a screen adaptation. 

Get Deducing!

Sunday, May 3, 2015

Ashwin Sanghi : Double Book Review

In April, I bought two books - Ashwin Sanghi's best-sellers - the Krishna Key and Chanakya's Chant.

I read Chanakya's Chant first. A mind-boggling thriller about two extremely shrewd and successful political operations - one in India years ago and the other in an India that has just won it's independence. The story oscillates between these two stories providing a well-written glimpse into the political acumen of both the protagonists - Chanakya and Gangasagar. Both of them designed a ruler to hold India together - Chandragupta Maurya and Chandini. This story is not for the faint-hearted. As the story proceeds, it keeps you on the edge. The historical facts intertwined with fiction is quite beautiful. I knew Chandragupta Maurya had female body guards. Hats off to the author for converting that one-line fact into an interesting story about Vishakanyas, maidens who could tolerate poison and whose bite would kill. Even though the narrative kept shifting between the plots, it was very enjoyable. In the end, the reader also savours the success of the protagonists.

Krishna's Key is about the tenth avatar of Vishnu, Kalki. While Chanakya's Chant drove mostly from history, this is from mythology. The story of Krishna and present-day murders intertwine. As I read the story, I could not help getting strongly reminded of Angels and Demons. 4 people died with a mark triggered that feeling. This is also a very well-researched novel. However personally, I did not find the magic of the previous book. However, it was kind of like an Indian Indiana Jones adventure. The climax was profoundly philosophical but left the adventurer in me feeling - four murders for this?

In all, the books are gripping and thrilling. Personally, I liked Chanakya's Chant better. Ashwin Sanghi has amazing talent and his writing is engaging.

Friday, April 17, 2015

Coming to Terms with being perceived Average Looking

There are lot of fancy terms for such things, how to deal with "negative body image" and how to promote "healthy real role models". All these are polite terms that basically say how to deal with being told you look average.

Personally, I thought outer beauty would never bother me. I had ranted about the utter waste of the cosmetic industry when I was 19. When I left school, I was a supremely confident girl, bordering on arrogance.

However, college truly tested me in this regard. While for most of my part, I was not bothered and was concentrating on maintaining my academic rank, there were some statements that would prick me. Guys rating girls on a numerical scale would leave me repugnant. A part of my soul rankled as to how can some people who would themselves score poorly if they were assessed in a similar manner, judge others.

It took me some time to realise while this an issue that seems more relevant to women, is actually gender-neutral. The stigma of being dark, fat and other perceived unattractiveness is prevalent in both and is swept under the rug by both.

Outer beauty is celebrated, what with best looking girl awards, likes on Facebook, what not. And I failed miserably in all these parameters. Being dark, oily skinned, curly haired isn't exactly the recipe for extravagant looks. When I started shopping for make up, I ended up choosing costly ones because the cheap ones don't even come in my skin tone. Those experiences made me feel like, even make up can't help me.

All this did not matter when I had high self esteem. But when a few setbacks lowered my self esteem, looking average hurt. This was something I cannot change no matter how hard I work or practise, I am born with this face and body and I am in love with it. At the core of my soul, I don't want to change it. Yet, to say that I did not wish for some recognition in this department would be a blatant lie. Sometimes I even wondered perhaps the reason I had not experienced a single case of harassment thank God, was not because I was lucky but perhaps because I am not worth looking.

I slowly built my confidence back again. Yes, I messed up the silk saree I wore for my symposium, but people didn't forget the voice when I compeered. Yes, I have got average likes for my profile photos when I was in college but nearly all of my friends liked the status where I described I am doing a PhD at IIT.

When I showed my mother my farewell photos, she was downright indignant I didn't get a prize for looks. And she went on to compare me with every single girl in my class and described in which exact feature I looked better. That was when I truly understood that beauty lies in the eye of the beholder. My mother's love for me made it impossible for her to see me as anything but beautiful. It also made me realize I should not need for somebody else to validate my looks, I only need to love myself and the person I see in the mirror will transform into someone beautiful. But to put this knowledge into practice, it nearly took me two years and even now I do succumb to the weakness of expecting praise. Today I get twice the number of likes I used to get, partly because statistically I have more friends and partly because I really feel beautiful on the inside and it shows :)

Part of this pressure to look stunning all the time is due to the media for unrealistic standards. I'd be happy to see a female actor who decides to be simple like Rajnikanth and decides to come to an award show sans make up. And my humble request, please don't openly talk of giving points for beauty like the infamous Kareena Kapoor in K3G. You have no idea how detrimental it may be for a person's confidence.

Lastly, if you have at any point delved into self-doubt about your looks, remember that every birth on this planet is for a reason. It really does not matter, find what makes you beautiful and strive towards that.

Because in the end, the 19 year old me had much better common sense. Girl, with your smile, you are beautiful.

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

The Tale of the Rhinoceros

Today morning I was disturbed by the news of the extinction of the West African Black Rhinoceros. Maybe it was because of Captain Planet, maybe it was just basic human decency but the way we abuse our Earth is something that has troubled me since I could comprehend it. I remember I made a huge speech on the possible extinction of the rhino when I was 9, that is in 2000. In 2011, one subspecies has disappeared from the face of the Earth for good.

Rhinoceroses are hunted for their horns. Their horn is made up of the exact same material as our nails. Even though their horns can be removed painlessly, it is far easier to kill the animal than persuade a one-tonne short sighted herbivore to give up it's horn. Besides, its slow speed and weight will make it vulnerable without its horn that it is as good as killing the rhino.

The demand is from Asian countries who believe powdered rhino horn have medicinal properties. The belief is so strong, that the material costs as much as gold supposedly. With both demand and big money, poachers are always increasing.

Back in our country, we have an indigenous species, the Indian Rhinoceros which is one-horned unlike the African counterpart. Fearing what its state of preservation is, I was searching for information on it. Luckily, it is not critically endangered due to the Kaziranga National park in Assam.

I was pleasantly surprised to know that this park was established by Mary Curzon, the wife of Lord Curzon. Lord Curzon was a champion of divide-and-conquer politics and split Bengal into religious halves - East and West Bengal. Which is why we will always have West Bengal to the East of our country. For once, I'm happy to see his name. Mary Curzon's initial effort no doubt helped make it an important site for government investment. She realized the declining numbers even when they were wildly roaming across Asia.

Though we can momentarily relax as far as the Indian rhinoceros is concerned, I wonder what will happen when the demand becomes too high. There are only two solutions that appeal to me - cut the demand and fund anti-poaching.

I do not know how to cut the demand, all I can conjecture is to spread awareness and hopefully it will finally reach the consumers. There are films being made I heard. I know this blog post is not going to be of any actual concrete use. But I wanted to rant about. People share their two cents on everything that disturbs them and we as a nation love registering when we are offended. I am offended by this senseless killing. I understand we are surviving because we are the fittest but that freedom should come with some responsibility. Species are inevitable going to disappear due to the expansion of human population and our consumerist tendencies that is trashing the planet. When we have destroyed so much, it really makes no sense to kill animals to extinction.

To fund anti-poaching, visit here. There are similar sites in India as well but I have to verify the authenticity of the sites.

And if you really want to be consumerist about it, get a few save the rhino T-Shirts :P

Sunday, April 5, 2015


Yesterday I saw the blood red moon in a lunar eclipse. An eclipse is a phenomenon that puzzled people for centuries. From demons feasting on the moon to jaguars making it bleed, the stories across cultures are abundant. As a beautiful scientific phenomenon, today I decided to write about what causes a lunar eclipse.

Of course, you can just Google this :P

To fully understand how a lunar eclipse occurs, one needs to see how the phases of the moon are formed.

So if you see this image carefully, you'll notice that as the moon revolves around the Earth, one half is in light and the other half in darkness much like how we experience day and night. However, only a portion of the lit surface is visible to us and that portion is the particular phase. To emphasize, the phases of the moon are not caused by the Earth's shadow on the moon, they are simply the portion of a moon's side that is experiencing day.

Now coming to a lunar eclipse, which on the other hand is caused by the Earth's shadow. Hence, the only possible position where it can occur is on a full moon day. Instead of being completely lit and white, it is in the Earth's shadow. Hence, the sun, the Earth and the moon are in a straight line.

Why does the moon appear red?

Even though the moon is completely in the Earth's shadow, the Earth's atmosphere refracts light. While lower wavelengths get scattered and absorbed, red passes unencumbered onto the moon. I actually saw an orange moon. The conditions vary according to the present composition of dust and clouds and such.

Why isn't every full moon an eclipse?

The circular orbit of the moon around the Earth is only a convenient approximation. In reality, the plane of revolution is inclined at 5 degrees. Also, the Earth is revolving in an elliptical inclined plane to the sun. So, if there is a full moon at the place where these two planes meet, there will be a lunar eclipse.

It seems downright magical that huge bodies of matter are in constant motion driven by gravitational force with predictable precision. Our ancient calendars predicting eclipses were possible only because of the mathematical repeatability of patterns. To witness something different from the ordinary and just look at the stars, you'll forget your worries and dreams for a moment and become one with the cosmos. I hope I could inspire some of the wonder I have for the skies and stars beyond.

Sunday, January 25, 2015

Atheist who Prays

Today I felt very philosophical and thought this is the time to narrate my religious stance. This is not in any way an advocate of what is right or some nonsense like that. Religion or the lack thereof is a very personal choice. Why I'm writing is for my own record and I think it'll be an interesting read for people who like this kind of stuff. Plus, I really don't have the energy to hear debates on what I believe in.

So after all those disclaimers, let me begin :)

First, a little background about me. My mother is a religious person and my father is an atheist. When I was a child, I was brought up by religious rituals as well as the usual values of respect, honesty, service and discipline. I would not laugh at others for making a mistake. I would not hit people who hit me. On the downside, my childhood failings were anger and jealousy. By and large, anger is an emotion I've conquered but I'm not so good with jealousy yet.

I was a very religious person. If I stepped on a book, I'd think Saraswati would curse me and pray. If I was scared, I'd say 'Muruga' ten times until I calmed down. I went to the temple every Friday and prostrated before every idol. I prayed everyday with full zeal.

When I was about nine, I started having my first misgivings about prayer. My sister was thought to be deaf for a long time. My mother had tearfully prayed at every temple, promising all kinds of things, coconuts, flowers, a trip to Pazhani, what not. Finally, my sister started talking and listening and my mother packed us all off to Pazhani. A mix of bad planning and timing, that trip was one of the scariest memories of my short journey in life. I did not understand the concept, I did not see why we had to take so much trouble to fulfil what I could only see as a bribe. Isn't God supposed to be above all these emotions?

Amidst my turmoil and incessant questions, my father gently introduced his ideas. Now I know his leanings aren't entirely atheistic, as Dan Brown says, he has no problem with God, he has a problem with man's interpretation of God. He was extremely practical and reasonable, he classified the types of prayers and he went on to explain how each is a manifestation of an insecurity - fear, greed, guilt, injustice or ignorance. He also mentioned praying for everyone to be happy is also an acknowledgement of fear. I also explored my daily observances. A person's degree of belief in God was not directly proportional to their peace of mind.

Armed with my new found philosophy, I went around gloriously denouncing tradition and religiousness. At one point, my mother was moved to tears at my blasphemy. My father was utterly displeased with me. He told me all these ideas should not hurt others, love is really the only religion. He was also very convinced about Karma. I can recount several incidents where people who have hurt me unjustly have been punished in the exact same way, sometimes in much more measure than my suffering. Similarly, instances of my arrogance have got a sound beating.

I again straightened out my beliefs. But at this point, I lost my mind. I was by now thirteen and I realized one day I will die. I will cease to exist. It doesn't matter what I achieve, this is but a fleeting dream. I lost purpose in life. What is the point of anything?

So what did I do? I started praying.

I started praying everyday for me to live another day. I was very very sick as a child and I had no confidence in my body. My mind was restless once again. I started devouring religious books. Across religions, I've read quite a lot of stories, read about histories and observed similarities and dissimilarities. I also found religious texts overly prescriptive with no immediate logical explanation.

To me, the Advaita philosophy is very attractive. To my understanding, God exists in both the creator and the creation. Today my belief is centred on the power of life. To the people who believe God exists, God really exists because they are in some sense, a manifestation of God. To the people who do not believe in God, there is no God. The planet forms a delicate order from chaos where I simply do my duty regardless of the result. I'm no saint, sometimes I'm in body-ripping pain - physical and emotional because I cared too deeply about some result. And those times I pray fervently. I pray for peace of mind. Even though I don't believe mythological stories word for word, everyday I pray. Prayer is a way to surrender to my fate. Only my soul knows what hardships it has been through and what successes it has tasted. A prayer makes me independent. This new year, I resolve to reduce my complaints because I truly am blessed in many ways. Every instance of blinding agony has been followed by the sweetest agony.

I believe the science of prayer is such that I focus my mind away from the seemingly insurmountable insecurities that plague me. Praying gives me blind hope, blind faith and blind optimism. I also believe boundless hope has helped me develop an indomitable will. Or as some people say, a characteristic stubbornness. I still have a very long way to go. I am very sensitive but I strive to not let it show. I pray to someone who I do not believe in. I have my model of reality but I live on a fairy tale island where I can believe somebody else will take care of me. Also, I focus my energies into belief. I believe obstacles are removed by Ganesha. I believe it is my inherent belief that is responsible for me to believe in the seemingly impossible, perform in pain, work for something with no visible gain.

I believe in karma, and in some sense I pray to that. I believe every time I'm in pain, I wash away my own sins. I help others as much as possible, to the point of being taken for granted. I believe that's their karma. If someone has hurt me, I don't want to take revenge on them or celebrate their downfall. I observe. If I'm lucky and pure of heart, I do see karma work. My own weaknesses are jealousy and ruthless competition propelled by an underlying lack of confidence in myself. I pray, I have faith and I believe God has some grand design for me. Yes, the God who I don't believe in. I believe it's a psychological concept that gives me something to root for.

I am an atheist who prays everyday.

Thursday, January 15, 2015

How I Dance at Concerts

In the limited 2x2 space you get in the gallery of the concert you are standing, here are my tips to satisfy that inner desi dancer in you.

#1 Choose a suitable seat

This is very important. Among the various spots you want to choose one close to another danceaholic, because dancing solo is just too mainstream and a place far from the lights where we wouldn't want to feel shy suddenly and stop.

#2 Build up tempo

Allow the first two or three songs to set the resonant frequency of your heart to the beats coming from the amplifier. You need to allow the music to enter your soul and permeate to every nook and cranny of your body. So it's ok if you don't dance for the first few songs.

#3 Judge foot space

Very important to know just how much you can move your feet around. Mostly, it'll be enough for turning using the heel as the pivot without any translational movement. Especially accident prone me who would've toppled down all the steps of the gallery without this precaution.

#4 Start dancing

Now there is really nothing left to do than just start dancing! Trust yourself and just let your limbs go loose.

#5 Where to take a break

All those slow songs are cue for you to take rest and just give those aching limbs some rest.

Have fun!
After all, ain't nobody like a desi girl.