About the Looking for and the Finding of Love

No no, I am not here to preach about love. Maybe someday I shall when I am better positioned to do so but not now. This is about a German film titled Vom Suchen und Finden der Liebe that I just saw. There are some spoliers, and if that bothers you, move on.

My exposure to non-British western European cinema is limited and so I found this be a very different kind of genre. It is what I would call as serious comedy that is entwined with fantasy. The comedy films that we are exposed to is usually full of slapstick humour. The emotions are subdued and mostly certainly there is no laughter track.

At the outset, it tries to address the notion of captivating love wherein people go through cycles of not being able to bear each other and wanting to breakup except that it is so uncomfortable that something pulls them back together and the cycle repeats. The usage of fantasy and afterlife is more of an artistic expression rather than plain entertainment. However, throughout the story, humour is used in small ways all along and that humour is something that comes through even though you might be limited with subtitles. I guess the reason is that the humour does not have to do with clever sentence construction but rather to do with just the way the turn of events unfolds.

There were a couple of philosophical dialogues that sort of got my attention and I wanted to remember but sleep is getting the better of me. I'd conclude by saying that if you have a couple of hours to spare and you want to watch what would be an unconventional but interesting movie (at least for the average Indian viewer like me), then do try this film.
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Leaping bus

This is post is a part of a new blogging series dedicated to the various people who've tried teaching me stuff at some point in the past. More specifically, it touches upon those people and those teaching that I did not grok back then but makes some sense now.

This thought comes from MD, one of the many physics professors I had in my PUC days. MD was a very young, jovial & sauve character. One day, he talked of the hit Hollywood (hit back in the days in India) flick: Speed. The movie tried gathering audience by showing scenes of the bus leaping over a large missing section of the bridge.

MD's insight was about everything that happened from the start of bus hijacking to this scene. His idea was that there are times in life where you get into a tough spot. And in those circumstances, you can get other people to help you. Going back to the movie, while the initial few minutes of the driving the bus was harrowing, eventually there was a lot of support, the roads got cleared, there was an escort patrol and what not. But when it was time to take the leap of faith and jump across the missing segment of the freeway, no one could help.

His point was that while you can have all the help and support from the world, ultimately it is you who has to undertake overcoming the really tough problems and that is something that you have to do it by yourself. He went through the pain of preaching all of this to say that no matter what anyone teaches us, what we learn is upto us. Looking back, I believe that as a person, he must've meant this in a much a more philosophical sense but most of us 16 year olds would not even have appreciated what he said in the context.

Over the years, a few wise men have made a similar remark in a different context. They've independently said that even in the most awesome marriage, you are still alone when it comes to cracking such problem. Again, I fail to appreciate the significance of their words at this point. Maybe I shall write about them should I ever reach that stage in life :-)

Regrettable inactions

We have be brought up in an safe environment where risk taking is considered cool. By safe, I mean a world free of wars, a country if not world with far lesser hunger than our previous generations, a place where tens of millions of people have a "hotline" facility to a bunch of people they wish to be touch with. As in such a day and age, Mark Twain's quote Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things you didn't do than by the ones you did has naturally gained quite some popularity.

As I look back at the last ten years of my life, I can think of not just things I should have done but at the possibly different persons I could have been. And along with that would come a very different set of experiences that I could have had. This notorious what if situation is quite an emotional killer. When I initially had the urge to write about this topic, I searched online for that exact quite by Twain and discovered a more fuller version which goes as follows Life is short, break the rules, forgive quickly, kiss slowly, love truly, laugh uncontrollably, and never regret anything that made you smile. Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things you didn't do than by the ones you did. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover. That gave it a whole different meaning.

I've always maintained the view that life is actually long and not short. It is because life is long that we get to reflect back and ponder over how different it could have been. The trick is that though life may be long, I believe there is such a thing as the best phase to do certain things, and that is the root cause of regrettable inactions. It is not that I cannot now do what I think I should have done 10 years ago. It is that even though I may do it now, I believe it won't be a tenth as good had I done it back then.

The severely understated part of the whole idea however is never regret anything that made you smile. As the fabled Albus Dumbledore says The choices we make create the lives we lead. By not choosing to take the myriad different paths and not doing the limitless number of things we could have done, we would have actually done something and taken a certain path. And if that path made us smile in those moments, then we should probably let them be; for what our emotions fail to do is to illustrate what we now take for granted would not have been available to us in that fantasied alternate universe that we so lament not being in.
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In the end, good prevails. Or does it?

Like (former) bloggers the world over, twitter has certainly caused serious damage to some serious writing being produced. It is so much more convenient to not have to articulate or substantiate one's ideas. To someone like me who always struggled to find a nice ending, it is a total bliss. This post is not about micro-blogging v/s full blown blogging but more about the cyclical nature of things.

For the longest duration, preachers of good moral values cite an idea that good always prevails over evil. This idea used for anything from a morale booster for the oppressed and depressed to justifying which path has greater longevity and hence a wiser long term choice.

Time & time again, we see good things except of course that it doesn't last forever. Both the philosopher and the physicist will tell you that the problem is with the notion of what "end" is. There used to be a time a when where the end came after a person's end. We live in a decade where I doubt if either an Eric Clapton or a Kishore Kumar has been produced. We live in an age where a 10 year age difference warrants being labelled as a generation gap.

What all of this makes apparent is that there never was an end and moreover, good is not perpetual. Else by now, we should hardly be left with any bad. This is not meant to be sad story on why good is not forever. We all know what makes good so valuable is the lack of its universal presence. Just trying to call bluff on a fairy tale.

Personally, I am not satisfied with this post but the only way to get back in the groove is by actually resuming the habit of writing.

Change or awareness?

The world as we know of today seems to be an anomaly. Yes, I am using the word that I so sparingly use to describe things. A lot of power structures are being challenged by the increased flow of information. And my increased flow, I mean everything from people's mobility, hundreds of TV channels, the internet and everything else.

A direct consequence of this is that a lot of power structures are being challenged. First off there are the obvious ones like religion finding it hard to inculcate morality & say governments finding it hard to shield people from alternate versions of "reality". Then there are more intricate ones like farmers in the hinterland having access to retail prices of their crop, patients having quick access to side effects of a new drug to following the daily life of someone far away.

Now this obviously upsets a whole bunch of people who enjoy a "position of power" which keeps getting challenged ever so often. The news these days seems to have higher incidence of such conflicts such as establishments frowning upon "inappropriate attire" for "working women" in so called developed worlds and democracies, governments refusing to permit movement of communications they are unable to inspect effortlessly, friendly neighbourhood upholders of moral values (in many countries) forbidding various forms of marriages for reasons ranging from same sex to same gothra, organic food v/s genetically modified crop, etc. etc.

What is not obvious is if we were going through a period of wanton randomness and there is an increased attempt to curb it or if it is just access to all the more information that is increasing our awareness of such conflict. Thoughts?

The education revolution

I am a firm believer in higher education reforms. And when I say reforms, I mean sweeping reforms, not minor tinkering. Much of the aspiring social reformers spend time in making primary education accessible. Yet, as a country, India has way too many people holding college degrees for what they do. The reason why I find the degrees meaningless is twofold: first off, we are obsessed with possessing a degree as an end and secondly, the mode of higher education is ineffective.

For the longest time, I've wanted to fix this mess. My idea of fixing never was do anything radical during my phase of life as a college student. I didn't even have any intent to change it. Trouble started when I started to act. I've attempted a couple of stints as a guest lecturer but it was not sustained. More importantly, it lacked a larger direction. While my intent was appreciated, I myself knew that it was not producing the results.s

Providence had it that I revisit this whole thing since last weekend. I decided to go on a reconnaissance mission to my college. The biggest difference I felt was that both I and the HoD of my branch seemed to have a much clearer idea of what each one of us wanted to do. I knew what message I wanted to deliver to the student community and my HoD was clear on how she wanted to deliver more than course related training. While I was (and still am) contemplating on how to move forward, the one move I wanted to do and managed to pull off is to get a bunch undergrad students to intern at my workplace. It is meant to be an exploratory move for me to discover where things stand in colleges these days. Of course, back at office, folks are more than happy to have bright and optimistic people join them for a few months.

In doing so, I've stumbled upon three areas where I see a huge directional change:

Infrastructure: An area that we think colleges and Indian universities in general lag behind has made progress. I saw every lecture hall equipped with projectors and recording equipment to ensure that the sessions are available for the next one year. A command centre like layout of programming labs so that everyone is facing in one direction and follow the presenter. The usage of linux and gcc right from day one and opposed to our beloved Turbo C++. Auditoriums to ensure large number of people can participate in a presentation. Industrial grade wi-fi repeaters everywhere. While there surely must be far more elaborate campuses with far more esoteric gimzos, this for me is advanced enough.

Temperament of the establishment: A few years ago, certain colleges were granted autonomy under the university. This makes way for two things. Firstly, it is orders of magnitude more easier to not just change the curriculum but also the overall format of the entire course. Secondly, preparing for exams no longer needs to happen to maximize for "this is the safe answer for the exams since you never know which clueless person from which college will be correcting". What this permits is for institutions to progress much faster than the rest if they choose to make changes in the right direction. As I mentioned earlier, I also sensed a desire to make it more holistic and orienting people to deal with the larger challenges in life than just applying technical skills.

Temperament of the students: Enough people know to say "segmentation fault" as opposed to "program will crash". I met someone who knew the basics of text searching like stop words and stemming. Someone was trying to cope up with HTTP chunked coding. Another person had written a scheduled RSS feed processor that plotted graphs. A few people had mucked around with php & python. Someone knew exactly what HTTP status code 301 meant. All of this, and they still had a year to go before graduation. What is evident is that a bunch of folks seem to have a head start. And enough of them also seem to have a momentum. Should they maintain the momentum (and I really hope they do), I can see them say You are obsolete much like Xan Kriegor in a few years from now.

Overall, I see a concerted change like I've never seen before. If the government and administration does not do anything stupid, I think we are at the dawn of a new area. What I think is needed for us to see how we can foster this environment. If you feel this is not important enough, try spending some time reading this:

Disclaimer: All of this writing is based on my experiences of being associated with my college and specifically my department over the years. While it is misleading to interpret the changes in one place as a widespread phenomenon, I think it is a good enough indicator of what is to come for other places will eventually catch up to keep up with the vanguards.

2 states: After thoughts

On the face of it, 2 states promises to be a fairly commonplace Bollywood movie story line with a predictable ending. The one thing that the storyline makes patently obvious the unrelenting endurance of two people who really want believe in each other have. While at it, the plot also seems to address two admirable thoughts. The first and obvious one from the title is one of breaking down mental barriers around regionalism. Given that hormones inherently assist in making one (or to be precise two people) make the leap over the artificial chasm that we've built in this world, it isn't a hard thought to live up to.

Anyone who has closely witnessed what gets touted as inter-caste marriage, knows how excruciating the whole act can be. As the back cover of the book reads, in our country our idea of a happy marriage is everybody likes or at least accepts everybody else i.e. boy likes girl, girl likes boy, girl's parents like boy, boy's parents like girl, the girl's parents like boy's parents, boy's parents like the girl's parents, boy likes girl's parents, girl likes boy's parents. That is a lot of "likes"! Hitting even a 50% acceptance rate would qualify as a Herculean task. Very rarely does such a high level (of 50%) ever get met. For as long as the 2 core liking loving is strong enough, things happen. This was what movies from times before I went to school were made of.

Sincerely as the two may try, getting to even the 70% mark, let alone 100% is practically improbable. And yet, the female protagonist is dreamy enough to insist that nothing short of 100% will be deemed acceptable and how eloping is not the way to go. Therein lies a thought that I find admirable for it is incredibly burdensome. One can choose inertia and do everything as has be done for centuries or one can abandon it all with a highly individualistic attitude and in this context, deem everyone expect the two people as outsiders and disregard it's opinion on the private affairs of the 2 souls. The story of course, goes on where the whole thing is pulled off (hence the predictable ending).

In trying to make two worlds blend lies a non obligatory sensitivity that only the obsessed can achieve and therein lies something that I genuinely admire.

Book reload

For lack of better things to do (and an inability to walk too much), I ended up picking a few books yesterday. They are very different from the earlier one in that none of them are true English books. Here is the list:

Dox Quixote: 17th century, Spanish
Also sprach Zarathustra: 19th century, German
Dance dance dance: 20th century, Japanese
2 states: 21st century, mélange of Indian languages

Pretty much every book in the list has deep cultural references of things and the time of their writing.

I've started with reading the last from the list for the obvious reason that I can mentally "reverse translate" enough of the content into the original languages, relate to the places and also to the cultural idiosyncrasies that it tries to highlight. I wonder what is going to happen when I get started with the rest.
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Trading up

8 days ago, I picked up a 530 page book titled Trading up and managed to finish reading it yesterday. That is quite an achievement by my standards and is indicative of my opinion on the book.

If I had to opine on the contents of the book at face value, I'd say it is a very unflattering view of humanity; at least of the upscale Manhattan populace. It is one of those worlds where everything is a commodity that comes with a certain price. The protagonist is a character who at the outset appears to be a gold digger but is really a social climber. A variety of characters from one tends to find in the company of such people are sprinkled over the plot. The world views of each one of these characters make for an interesting read. While not much of it comes as a surprise, I liked the way it was all woven together to make it appear like one continuous tale.

As far as my personal beliefs are concerned, I think my prejudices about the rich and famous get reinforced from the story. My belief is that there is such a thing as sufficiently wealthy and anything beyond that is highly toxic. If I were to ask you to compare the wealth of Warren Buffet with say the annual salary of Jay Leno, you would say that there is a difference ($60 billion v/s $20 million). And then if I were to compare it with say with $600K, you would again say that there is a difference. The difference exists if you are trying to get yourself a Ferrari and then a house with big enough parking place for it in the right neighbourhood with the right kind of view. Or you would say that the Ferrari is an overkill and all that you aspire is for a Louis Vuitton handbag. Or maybe simpler, you just want to have a Dom Perignon to celebrate your birthday.

Once you start going down that route, one mostly ends up trading something for it. There are things in this world that are incommensurable with money. While one can buy more things with more money, what needs to be observed in what currency did you pay for to get that money. That currency can be things such as honesty, trust, goodwill and host of things that would make this post seem like a demi moral science class. While I would not dare being judgemental to the extent of calling something right v/s wrong, I would however insist that one makes these choices after consciously choosing to embrace a certain Weltanschauung.
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Crazy for food?

Historically, I come from a country that has faced food shortage at a "national level" multiple times even in the past 100 years. Even thought officially there is no food shortage most of the times, a large number of people still do not get to have the proverbial three square meals a day. I for one, have been fortunate enough to not have come even remotely close to a situation wherein I had worry about availability of a meal. Technically I did exactly once in my life when I was making my first international travel but that was more due me getting a bit disoriented and nothing more.

Put it another way, I am so privileged in life that I actually sometimes end up snickering when I see people clamouring for food without a real need to do so. Let me cite two highly anecdotal evidences.

There a new American eat-out joint whose franchise has recently found its way into my city. A well known phenomena in my country is that every time this happens in a city, there is a mad rush in the initial few months to get into such a place. Over time, the magnitude of craziness has been declining but it exists nonetheless. At least until this particular place opened up. There is apparently a line running into hundreds of people. One of the main causes of the problem supposedly is that the great American concept of unlimited refills is being offered in the said location; for Rs 30. Now you have to understand that in an average mall, one bottle/cup/can of an aerated drink (or cool drink as my fellow countrymen will call it) costs much more than this. So the situation that has developed seems to be one wherein people who find a table now don't budge under they have committed sufficient atrocities to their digestive and excretory systems by drinking on for hours until they realize they are one step short of needing an ambulance. If you were to step back and look at the situation, you realize that the kind of people who clamour to these joints are not the ones who have to worry about availability and affordability of food. They definitely are in no need to the extract the maximum juice (this is not a pun since aerated drinks have no real juice in them) out of the unlimited refills and yet instinctively they do it.

Another example is one I found at my workplace. At lunch, we used to have a system wherein the rotis were made during the lunch and people used to pick it up as part of the buffet. There were situations wherein, the production would fall behind for a couple of minutes and then things would come back to normal. During those blips, it was considered good manners to not go the full hog. By full hog, I mean if you intended to pick up 4 rotis, you would end up picking just one or two and come back later for a refill. The idea was to ease the pressure on the system. It is not hard to see how this self correcting system works well in a steady state. However, I have seen a couple of folks who would not leave without picking up as much as they want for the entire meal in one shot. Inadvertently, such a behaviour would result in a larger pileup of people waiting for their turn.

So what is the point I am trying to make you ask? The point is that people's insecurities about food sometimes ends up showing involuntarily in places where there is no need for it. The fortunate enough people like me sometimes snicker when we notice this happening. This is meant to be a reminder to all such people that you are fortunate that you lack an insecurity for food. While it is harmless fun to enjoy the moments I mentioned above, don't try and fix that situation. If you want to fix anything, go fix the real food shortage problem.
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