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The Muse

July 30, 2004

Circle of Friendship

Well, friendship day [or friendship week or friendship month] is around the corner...and we have all started receiving the forwards and poems and senti stuff [like this], so I thought I would give in my two cents worth- talk about what my friends mean to me and how I look at them.

The true test of a friendship is definitely not in the frequency of emails, calls or visits that you share with one another. For me, its the simple confidence that you have to call someone up after six months of no contact and carry on as if you were never out of touch. That's all there is to it. It very rarely happens, but once you have it - its magic. And when you try and look back, you will never be able to pinpoint when those people became so important to you. It just happens.

From my experience, you actually start to form lasting friendships only when you are in high school - say the IX or X th grade onwards. Till then, having a friend is primarily having somebody to eat lunch with and sit next to. Its from this stage onwards that you really connect to people in a much more serious way. Once you finish school of course, distance plays a vital part in how much you are able to sustain it. And when you move into college, you tend to meet and relate with another separate circle of people. The friendships formed here, especially in this age of emails and accessibility, are likely to last a lifetime.

Then you move on to your workplace, but then you find that you can't make friends like you did earlier! What happened? Its almost like you have seven or eight years to sort out yourself and that's it. After that stage, you will like, and probably keep in touch, with a lot of people - but you cannot actually classify them as friends, can you?

It has been my experience that although I have been blessed to have so many friends [of both sexes], I have many circles of friends. It's like a set of concentric circles, and the size of people that are close to my center, progressively decrease - and I have a small coterie with whom I am perfectly in sync with. They know it, I know it and I would bet that this is the case with many of us. Surprisingly enough, people whom I have studied with but just about managed to say hello/bye to, have suddenly become good friends after school and college - sometimes, distance is a significant factor is bringing people together.

And all this talk about friends always being behind you is nonsense. Sure, you need a degree of trust but you should also have the strength to give and accept criticism. People who are always ya yaying what you say are not exactly friends - there are other numerous terms that refer to such people! I have known people who did not have the will to say a simple sorry, and hence have lost opportunities to make many a beautiful relationship. I'm sure that we all have regrets too.

One of the most important things about friends is that they are your confidant's. Sure we will have our parents, husbands,wives, some of you might even have girl/boy/friends - but talking to a close friend is something else entirely. There is almost something religious in the way you can open your mind and yourself to him/her, and be secure in the knowledge that you will have their support.

The most precious gift you can give someone is your time. As regards celebrating friendship day/week/month - its a wonderful idea to actually take the time to appreciate the people whom you count on for so much in your life. But sending out mass mailings to everyone in my addressbook is not going to make one feel warm and fuzzy, right? Where's the effort in that? So I thought I would send out a personal mail to everyone [like those mass cover letters we used to send out to companies!].

Then I read this quote:

Silence makes the real conversation between friends.
Not the saying, but the never needing to say it, is what counts.

So I am going to shut up and be quiet...

July 26, 2004

Vanished friend

[Sent by Dheeraj]

Around the corner I have a friend,
In this great city that has no end,
Yet the days go by and weeks rush on,

And before I know it, a year is gone.
And I never see my old friends face,
For life is a swift and terrible race,

He knows I like him just as well,
As in the days when I rang his bell.
And he rang mine if, we were younger then,
And now we are busy, tired men.

Tired of playing a foolish game,
Tired of trying to make a name.

"Tomorrow" I say! "I will call on Jim"
"Just to show that I'm thinking of him."
But tomorrow comes and tomorrow goes,
And distance between us grows and grows.

Around the corner! yet miles away,
"Here's a telegram sir" "Jim died today."
And that's what we get and deserve in the end.

Around the corner, a vanished friend.

July 21, 2004

Raksha Bandhan

Guys, are you prepared for next month? One of the most important and landmark festivals of India is around the corner. What----no, no not Independence Day, and no I'm not talking about Janmashtami or Nag Panchami or Ganesh Chaturthi -

I'm referring to the day when we celebrate the joy of having sisters - when we hail the "pavitra" bandhan of Raksha Bandhan.

There are numerous references to this festival and a lot of stories that trace the origin of this festival.

As we are starting to celebrate Lovers Day, Friendship Day, Girlfriend Day, Ex-girlfriend Day, Neighbors Day, Animals Day, Hand Day, Hair Day, Bad Hair Day etc, we have slowly started to let these phirang foreign customs affect our traditional festivals too.So let us talk about the modern version of Raksha Bandhan that is celebrated in schools, colleges, among neighbors, friends etc.

All over the country, girls who are being "sighted" by guys who they don't like at all wait with bated breath. Boys who are "patoed" by girls who they don't like also wait anxiously [well, that doesn't happen that much, but anyways].

Finally, when the day arrives - it is mayhem, almost akin to the situation when one of Vijaykanths movies release all over the world. The girls chase the boys and the boys chase the girls. And you cannot be absent - that is a sign of weakness. The true stud is one who goes to school or college and returns without a rakhi.

Raksha Bandhan is perhaps the only day when you will be able to see beautiful girls chasing ordinary guys [like you] all around school and college campuses...sometimes they might twirl rakhi's and charge after you like a farmer after his buffalo.

And what is more, you are supposed to give money. I remember, one year, my friend could not lift his hand as it was full of rakhi's from his middle finger right to his collar bone. And he has to cash two hundred rupees into ten's to provide for all his sisters.

Where is the justice I ask you?

Seriously, I detest such behavior. Having a sister is one of the most beautiful things in life, and to just go tie rakhi's left, right and center is disgusting. I strongly suggest that the government declare a national holiday or people use one of the remaining 24 unused days of the year, and create a I-don't-like-you-get-off-my-back day.

And the person tying it should give the money - makes more sense. 

July 16, 2004

I D Scam

I was taking the bus to work the other day, and was just thinking about how I used to take the bus to school when I was in Delhi. School bus was for girls, or if you had a girlfriend who took the school bus(*wink*).

In those days, we had the Green Line[DTC], Blue Line[BL] and Red Line[RL].

A DTC monthly pass used to cost around INR 30, which we never bought. The system was that college students get to go for free,you needed to show some college id and that was it. Since we were in X, and that meant we were pretty much going to go to college, we figured we should get the same benefits.So we used our library card,school card, greeting card etc, basically anything with a photograph.

Besides, DTC was not our preferred method of travel, as they were very infrequent and slow. Our vehicle of choice was the RL. The trick was, you needed practice to get on to the bus. The driver had been specially trained to never completely stop at Bus stops. It would come in slowly, moving all the time, and would quickly accelerate away, so you had to have razor sharp instincts to jump on and jump off. If you jumped a second late or early, you would more often than not land on your ass.Those were the days...

We had a Khalsa college on my street, so there was never a dull moment. I remember once, when a rookie RL conductor asked a "continuing student" to buy a ticket. Jai Khalsa !! Of course, the driver had to run away, leaving the bus at the street corner and the conductor escaped with minor injuries.

During month ends our local traffic wallahs would suddenly get a conscience and try to make the road safer. This would occur with amazing frequency on the 28th of every month [except in February] and end on the 4th. If they saw anyone hanging from the footsteps, they would stop the bus and fine the driver.Fine justice that.

My friend Sanjay, Ramalingam and I had mixed luck with the id scam. As we were only getting started in developing the finely toned body and muscles that are our characteristics today, we could not convince the conductors always. We tried flashing the id FBI ishtyle, and had limited success till the smart conductors figured it out. Then we thought we would try to look menacing like the Khalsa guys, but could not as we did not have the beards or the swords. However, we always had success when accompanied by Vinod Dhawal. Maybe it helped that he was around 6 feet and two hundred pounds of muscle.

And a final note regarding time of travel, a seven minute journey from my home to school took less than five. Talk about service! If you were late for school or work, just tell your friendly neighborhood driver and he would take care of it.

July 14, 2004

Heroes of a different kind

In these days, where corporate CEO's and movie stars are being seen as "role models", here are some people who are every bit, if not more, deserving.
Source: www.rainwaterharvesting.org

Mahesh Kant and Sarita of the Institute of Research and Action (IRA), a Patna based NGO, have changed the way of life in Shabdo village in Fatehpur block in Gaya district of Bihar. They revived an age-old water harvesting system – ahar and pyne.

To unite the villagers from different castes and community, in this naxalite dominated region and then imparting the lessons on water conservation was never an easy task for Mahesh and Sarita. Few months back, Mahesh shared his experiences, “In the beginning we were considered as state government’s spy and were not readily accepted by villagers”. But they did not give up.

They educated the villagers on the relevance of ahar and pyne in the socio-economic well being of the local community. This traditional water harvesting technique comprised of a channel (locally named as pyne) diverts water from rivers to a tank (ahar) from where it is distributed to the fields. The system went into disuse because of siltation as well as encroachment by the influential lot, adversely affecting the livelihood security of the local population.

Persistent efforts started yielding its results after almost three years. 30,000 villagers from forty villages (including Shabdo) came together forgetting the caste differences to revive Hadadwa pyne—45 kilometre long water harvesting system. There was very little external assistance for this initiative—most of the work came in as shramdaan (voluntary labour). The villagers have also devised a management system in the form of sinchai samiti --the irrigation committees --who operate and maintain the ahar and pyne. The impacts are visible—two crops in a year (quite unusual few years back) resulting in additional revenue. Most of the tubewells have water today, thanks to the groundwater recharge facilitated by the ahar.

Another outstanding initiative was the introduction of community farming in Shabdo—first of its kind in the region. Today, management of 175 acres of agricultural land belonging to forty families (individual share being 2-3 acres) is looked after by the Sinchai Samiti. Daily meetings are organized to finalise the day’s plan of action. Instead of every one working in the field, the work is delegated to individual farmers (as decided in the meeting) in rotation. The benefits are also shared in accordance to the landholdings.

IRA has also promoted diversification in income generation activities as well. For the first time in 2003, fishing was done in the ahar spending Rs 8, 000. The return was three folds. Interestingly the return is again channelized back into this activity.

For their efforts, Mahesh and Sarita, the young activists will be always remembered forever for their contribution to the society.

At the same time it is a challenge for the villagers to keep the momentum going…why? The region’s land mafia consistently opposed IRA’s work in the region. On January 24, 2004, Mahesh Kant and Sarita were shot dead...

Related links:
PBS - Rainwaterharvesting
India - Rainwaterharvesting

July 12, 2004

Gajendra vs. Spiderman

Spider-Man 2 just made around $250 million at the box office...in two weeks. TWO WEEKS? Don't people here have to go to work or something? Anyways,then I read somewhere that with the success of Van Helsing [Kallarai Manithan] and Hellboy [Naraga Manithan], bollywood honchos were thinking on who would be a better Superman [Gujals Manithan?], Shah Rukh or Hrithik.

Hmm, so I got to wondering about down south, why are those powerhouse cinema states not keen on making superhero fiction?. Surely,they have the money and also the market.Then I got it - we already have superheroes.Its just that they don't wear crazy colored costumes.

The latest and most popular superhero is, without a doubt, puratchi thalaivar Vijaykanth. There is no question about it. I saw the trailers being aired on Sun TV and I am positive that his latest and highly aniticipated release - GAJENDRA - is the only serious global contender to Spiderman-2.

Gajendra has everything going for it - superb special effects, fights, stunts, mean villains,fights, two heroines,fights,unique music, fights, punchlines, lots of punches....

Also, did I mention the action? - Puratchi Thalaivar has done an action sequence hanging upside down [I'm sure our script writers have come up with a perfectly logical reason for having everyone hanging upside down in the first place]. Seems they shot for eight days [not continuously, even Gajendra has his limitations], and all the time he had to be on a liquid diet. Talk about commitment!!! The loss in weight shows in the few clips I have seen, he looks like a lean, mean fighting machine. And the realism is much more obvious. I mean, come on, can you really relate to a guy wearing red and blue with sticky stuff coming out of his hands, flying through New York? Now, Gajendra is different. You can imagine and definitely relate to Vijaykanth hanging upside down, kicking three people with his two legs, and taking care of another two with his one hand.Also, you hardly imagine Spiderman dealing with more than two people at the same time..but Gajendra - well, he has an assortment of weapons, all retooled on the lines of instruments of ancient warfare. And let me tell you something mister, if you see somebody who looks like Vijaykanth, carrying something like this -

I'm confident that when this film when hits the theatres, it will reaffirm superhero status to Thalaivar. If you follow Vijaykanth's recent films closely [like I do], you can see that this was his long time strategy. He has dropped hints at various films - we still talk with awe and reverence about his movie called Vanjinathan, where he fights in a supermarket, he slides on a trolley - one legged - superb act of olympian quality gymnastics - and kicks ass.Oooh, I feel an adrenaline rush when I just think of it...

July 10, 2004

Looking back...

The polarization of the world as we see it now, is indeed unfortunate. There are no neutral countries. You are either with the West, in their War on Terror or you are against it. The belief of the leadership in the world's most powerful country [ I know, I know - with people like you and me, India is all set to pose a threat to this status] is that the only way to fight terrorism is to eliminate its roots from the troubled Middle Eastern regions. And the chosen way to do it, is to sow and cultivate the seeds of democracy, hoping that with some careful and watchful nurture we see the fruits of world peace [I know that too - I sound like a gardner]

However, is this state of affairs the result of the attack on the World Trade Towers on September 11? Is that the day the "world changed"? As with many things, once you move out of the circle and get rid of some stubborn perceptions, a different perspective is very possible.

Let's look at a different opinion. The Center for Strategic and International Studies recently published a report. I've taken some information from the report that is relevant here:

1989: Fall of the Berlin Wall
1989-1991: Fall of Communist regimes in Eastern Europe
1990: Victory of the US led coalition in reversing Iraq's annexation of Kuwait
1991: Fall of the Soviet Union
1993: Israeli - Palestinian Peace Pact

These five major events were all in the interests of peace. The fall of Communism and the end of the Cold War meant a victory for Democracy. We could expect bigger and better things....

What unfolded is something as expected as the Indian Elections.

The collapse of the Soviet Union resulted in a vacuum that resulted in wars in Bosnia, Kosovo and Chechenya.
There were wars in Asia [the Tajik Civil War] and territorial disputes between Azerbaijan and Armenia.
Afghanistan went through a bloody civil war, and saw the Taliban take control [Osama bhai was in place].
The Prime Minister of Isreal - Yitzhak Rabin - was assasinated in 1994 and there was a renewal of tension between Arabs and Israeli's.

Notice the common thread from the above? All the above conflicts involved Muslim states. Maybe a unfortunate coincidence, but whatever the reason, the action or rather the inaction of the world's sole superpower and the international community in dealing with these situations resulted in deep resentment, and these places served as breeding grounds for terrorists, and radicals.

And so came September 11,2001...

For the full report: www.csis.org

July 07, 2004

Fact and Fiction

In one of Frederick Forsyth's novels - The Negotiator - there is a plot where US Oil Executives hatch a plan to overtake a middle eastern country as they are sure that world order can only be maintained if they control the oil prices, and thus they take on the burden of saving mankind. They use a premise to enter and take over Saudi Arabia. Good fiction, but these days reality is much more weird.

See this post for a study by Campbell - a renowned scientist and exploration geologist. In 1996 he states factors that will affect the global oil crisis. At the top of his list is "the pivotal role of Iraq". To quote " The net consequence, however [of the Gulf War] , has been the removal of 2- 3 Mb/d from the market under the embargo, which OPEC failed to achieve by its quota system. This has been sufficient to maintain oil prices at a moderate level, which in turn has contributed to the survival of the Saudi, Iranian and a few other regimes that depend heavily on oil revenues."

But these days, there is talk that the whole oil crisis is itself a work of fiction. There are studies that show that enough reserves exist for the near future, that technology and innovation will prolong the availability. We might not need oil that much after all...

Hmm...we can only watch and see.

July 04, 2004

Here come the Patent Busters!

One of the many offshoots of the arrival of the internet has been the enormous clientele that has become available to small businesses and self sustained ventures. Patents are now playing a significant role in curbing this growth. If everytime somebody uses your website to buy something, a part of it goes to these "creative geniuses", more often than not you will be left twiddling your thumbs. Of course, some really complex and smartass applications deserve to be patented. But, a patent for the hyperlink? For a pop-up? Seriously, the US has granted patents for these. The Electronic Frontier Foundation [EFF] has recently launched a project to confront these issues with the Federal Trade Commission and like minded organizations. Check it out here

July 02, 2004

Ever say thank you?

I was talking to my buddy Prakash [we go back all the way to school in DTEA, New Delhi] and he was asking me about the US, how opportunities are better here. The usual talk you know, people here want to go back, people there want to come here, if you are working you want to study, if you are studying you want to work - nothing makes you content.

But anyway, something I feel strongly about is acknowledging the benefits here. Whenever people here get together, there is some form of bashing going on - of course,these days its mainly about Bush bhai and his preoccupation, as Jay Leno remarked, with OIL ["Operation Iraqi Liberation"].

When was the last time you heard someone praise this place? Or even be remotely thankful?

But really, we owe this country some form of gratitude. Not that many areas in the world allow people to come and settle down, give them a decent shot at getting a better life and try to induct them into their society.

I look at all these Mexicans, somehow getting into this country, willingly and proudly doing menial jobs and being the butt of many jokes and ridicule - still they come here for a better life, so do we. Thats what its about, eventually. They are more mature then we are in some ways.Just because we fly into this country instead of swimming across, and just because we have better education - we rarely show gratitude.

We are better educated and speak English primarily because the British occupied our country and forced English into our schools. We should not mistake an accident as destiny. Sure, we Indians are rapidly moving towards center stage in world affairs and much of it is due to hard work and sacrifices, but it would be a mistake to just look ahead and ignore whatever is behind you.

Of course,there are, and will be problems.As I mentioned to Prakash, I don't feel completely comfortable here. Probably because this is not MY home. I might be rich and happy but never comfortable. You get used to a certain environment and can rarely feel at ease elsewhere - with all its diversity, India has a rhythm throughout, you can sense it. Even though you have access to cuisines from all corners of the world, you can never live without eating rice, or as some people refer to it - thayir saatham - can you? Maybe if you were born and lived here all your life, it would feel different. Its like listening to a Rehman song you know, you always treasure it in the language you hear it first.

Just wanted to mention something about the feedback...you guys have all been terrific, so many hits [of course, half of it was me checking and rechecking, but still :-)]

July 01, 2004

Thinking out of the box

We all have heard this advice to "think out of the box"...people are always telling you to think radically,creatively and be inspired.But is it that easy? All our lives we have been conditioned to act and react in certain ways, and this inherent tendency spills off into everything we do. I was reading this article from those Wharton guys, and here are some excerpts from their study:

The recent 9/11 report shows that passengers on the planes that hit the World Trade Center and Pentagon appeared to act based the experience of past hijackings. Passengers and crew knew from this experience that cooperating with the hijackers presented the best chances of survival. They viewed what was happening through the filter of this model.During the 9/11 attacks, the hijackers made announcements that reinforced this impression. But once the passengers of Flight 93, which crashed in Pennsylvania, received additional information via cell phones from friends and family watching news reports, they were quickly able to shift their thinking. They recognized these hijackers were operating from a different model. They were using the planes as missiles against targets. With this shift in thinking, a group of passengers on Flight 93 was apparently able to take heroic actions to stop these plans, and the plane crashed without reaching its target. Changing our thinking creates powerful opportunities for action. But to take those actions, the passengers first needed to change their hypothesis about what was going on.

Take the four-minute mile. Before 1954, it seemed to be a physical barrier that humans could not cross. It was impossible. Then Roger Bannister broke this barrier on a British track. Within three years, 16 other runners had also cracked the four-minute mile. Was there some breakthrough in human evolution? No. What had changed was their thinking. Bannister showed it was possible. We think the barriers are in the world, but often they are in our own minds.

It is amazing how malleable memory and perception can be – much more than we think. For example, in one research study subjects were standing at an airport ticket counter. The ticket agent pretended to drop something, ducked behind the counter and a different person finished the transaction. Many of the subjects didn’t even recognize the change had been made. We tune out big chunks of the environment.

In another study, subjects were asked to count the number of times players with white shirts passed a basketball in a video. Most of the subjects achieved a fairly accurate account of the passes, but only 42% saw something more important. A person in a black gorilla costume walks right into the center of the action, beats his chest and moves off. More than half the subjects were so engrossed in the task at hand that they couldn’t see the gorilla. An entire gorilla, right in front of their eyes! It is very sobering to think about. Our models and attention create blinders that limit what we see. What gorillas are moving through your field of vision right now that you fail to see?

Interested? http://www.impossiblethinking.com

Read the whole article here