Saturday, August 06, 2022

On private University Admissions

 The way private universities approach you for admissions once you have submitted an enquiry at even one site.. reminds one of the mini bus conductors of Delhi in the 1980s... Aa jao Law vaale, aa jao engineering vaale, Aa jao BBA, BBA, BBA..

Image from the internet


Wednesday, August 03, 2022

On the account of love

 मेरी माँ 

हर माँ जैसी थीं 

प्रेम देने में उत्तम 

पाने में अक्षम 


मेरे पिता 

हर पिता जैसे थे 

प्रेम पाने में उत्तम 

देने में 

अक्षम 


उनकी जोड़ी 

परफेक्ट थी। 

Lets talk about the exchange of affection. 

All relationships are based on an exchange of energy. 

In a family, that exchange is love and affection. 

Yet, in families, we pay so little attention to how much we are giving, and how much we are getting. 

Love is not a current account. It does not need to be balanced on a day to day basis. 

But it needs to be balanced. 

In most couples, I find that one partner considers it their entitlement to be loved and fussed over, while the emotional needs of another partner are ignored as a matter of course. It is considered weird to even focus on the mental health of the giving partner, while the emotional (and other needs) of the earning partner are paramount. 

This imbalance in energy exchange is not sustainable, but it can only be addressed if we talk about this silent emotional starvation of one partner and the entitlement of the other partner. 


कतरनें/ Katranein

You are a complex person. 

From the inside, all the pieces of the Rubik's cube are the same colour. So its very simple. People make it complex by pasting those stickers on top. 

Seeing people without stickers is very easy. What is tough is the willingness to see a person as they are. Remember that the cube never pastes any stickers. The users do. 

My mother paints me white, so I may always be calm. 

Love paints me red, so the passion never runs out. 

The children paint green, because in my shade they breathe. 

Friends paint me yellow, for the laughter and the joys. 

Colleagues paint blue, so everything is professional and straightjacketed. 

It is always the user who pastes the stickers, never the cube. Remove the stickers, and there is no puzzle, no complexity, no challenge. 


The irreverent child takes the pieces apart, discards the pieces, and realises that there aren't 6 sides, only one core. The small pieces are all pasted on. 


Tuesday, August 02, 2022

Book Review: The Magicians of Mazda

 


Just my luck that I had to review this book right after reading about the mysterious deaths of India's nuclear scientists. 

For starters, this is not an easy book to read. If you are sensitive (like I am), you will have to put the book down multiple times to stop reading about the atrocities faced by the Zoroastrian people. While I studied at Parsi High School and lived close to the Parsi Compound, had excellent Parsi teachers, and we knew a little bit about their having fled Iran because of religious persecution, the extent of that persecution was not known to us at all. 

We always knew the Parsis to be a lovely, jovial, happy people, welcoming in their homes but not in their fire temples or their religion. That their history is streaked in red, we had no idea. 

This book is a mini encyclopedia of  2 separate topics, but one is more important than the other - Parsi history (and I mean, H-I-S-T-O-R-Y going as far back as the origin of the religion, and even before that), and the modern geopolitical situation in India-Pak-Afghan-Iran lands. 

The 2 stories come together rather effortlessly, and end with a rather shocking hypothesis, which slowly becomes more and more credible. (Won't spoil it for you) 

If you are looking for a book that is a mental gym, intellectually engaging and challenging, opening the mind to something totally unprecedented with a rather loud "Pop" sound, this book is totally for you. 

If history is not your thing, please avoid. This is really a mini-encyclopedia that covers such interesting ground. 


Short Story: The Reel

“Amma… what are you doing later today?”

“The same thing that I do everyday my sweets.. sitting and waiting for you guys.”

“I am bored. Let’s do something. Should I clean the storeroom?”

Amma rolled her eyes. “You want to clean the storeroom because you are bored?”

“Aunu (yes). Summer breaks are only fun for kids. How long can you and I sit and gossip? Come na, lets either go somewhere or do something!” Pema pleaded.

“Pema, who will look after the kids if both of us go out? And they don’t want to go anywhere. Come, let’s watch some movie on Disney na. My knees don’t let me do much cleaning work now.”

“Amma, amma, it will be fun. Let me do it. You just sit there and give instructions, ok? Rangamma will help me clean. You just instruct, ok?”

Amma agreed. The storeroom, which is hardly found in houses these days (the servant room, on the other hand, is ubiquitous), was such a dear part of her house. She had no idea how this generation lived without a courtyard or a backyard or a storeroom. She and her husband had sacrificed one extra room so that they could have a backyard for the kids to play.

“But..” she thought to herself with a sigh, “Why should I judge the kids? Even our house was not made in the traditional Andhra style, no? Girish and I designed the house in a way that was modern for our times. Let the kids live their lives.”

“Great!” Pema jumped for joy and Amma returned to the present. It was rare to see the kids this happy now. Mostly, they just frowned.

Pema (not Prema) and Varun were the two kids of amma. Pema lived in Bengaluru and came to spend summers with her mother in Hyderabad. Varun lived in Hyderabad, but in the hi-tec city, the new part of town.

Summers was when the kids of both families spent a month together in amma’s house. Varun and his wife visited over the weekend, while Pema lived with her mom.

Both Varun and Pema had two children each, and the four cousins had a ball every summer.

************

Rangamma helped with the cleaning of the storeroom. After the top dusting of all the items had been done and the baskets taken out with enough giggles and memories, they reached the biggest part of the storeroom – the large trunk with the mattresses and quilts. In all old houses, this aluminum trunk was so vital that it was given as part of dowry. On top of the big trunk was another trunk – aluminum, but black, like the fauji trunks. No name though.

“Dad got that once and kept his secrets in it. I peeked, of course, from time to time. After he left, I didn’t have the heart to even open the trunk, let alone peek.” Amma sighed.

“So, should we leave it alone?” Pema wasn’t sure.

Rangamma piped in, “No, no, open no. If not now, when? Who knows what we will find inside? What if anna had a diamond stashed away for the rainy day and then we can all be rich?”

In spite of themselves, they all laughed. Pema’s dad had passed away in an accident many years ago. Amma had had to raise the kids alone, of course. But in his lifetime, he had made this huge house where Amma could host paying guests and tenants and make money while taking care of the children.

The black trunk was duly opened.

***********

Inside the trunk were the usual things that men used to cherish before man caves became a thing. Poetry that they wrote and never showed to anyone, random things bought at various times, the first paycheck, KG report cards of the children, the first bottle of perfume that amma bought for him, empty but not discarded, a small handkerchief with his initials hand embroidered by god knows who, a small copper pot that used to belong to appa’s mother, and a pair of glasses that used to belong to appa’s appa. Some other assorted stuff.

Ma touched each item with so much love. “He was such a loving man! Always, such a loving man! How he preserved his amma and appa even after they passed away. Never used to talk about them.. but here they are!”

Under all of this, bottom right side, emerged a small …roll of film! Was it new? Was it half done? Full and ready to be given to the photo studio? Why was it in his treasure chest?

“Only one way to find out!” Amma’s eyes gleamed.

“Easier said than done Amma. Where are the photo studios now? Everyone is digital.”

“Raja Deen Dayal and Sons, SP Road.” Amma said with a tone of finality.

*****

And so it was, that Pema found herself at Raja Deen Dayal and sons. A classic store tucked away from the main road such that if you didn’t know it, you would never find out.

An old man came out to meet her. “You want this reel to be developed? I am sorry beta, we don’t have machines for this anymore. We will have to send it to someone who does this by hand. Will that be ok? It will take 3-4 days.”

Pema sighed. Once upon a time, there used to be QSS – Quick Service. Those white machines converting reels to photographs in 3-4 hours, and there was this. Back to the future, as they say. To the gentleman, she simply said, “Sure, uncle. Please do that.”

****************

Four days later, Pema stepped in to collect her pictures. At home, the storeroom had been cleaned. The quilts in the big trunk had been aired and put back. The stuff from appa’s trunk had vanished somewhere in amma’s room, and she wouldn’t tell them where. Varun was due to come that evening, so Pema thought it would make for a nice viewing – appa’s last known reel and all of them together.

She picked up the packet. The uncle at the store had packed her envelope in waterproof plastic. She could not believe his kindness. Touched, she thanked him, paid, and left. She was so excited!

************

In the evening, the entire family gathered around the pictures.

One by one, they were taken out and passed around. They were all pictures of amma. Only amma. Unguarded moments. She did not know she was being clicked. And she looked so beautiful in each of them.

Amma saw each one and tried to remember where and when that had been taken. Sometimes she succeeded. Mostly, it turned into a guessing game for the family.

“Nanju’s wedding”

“No, no that one’s half sari celebration. Padma’s I think.”

“Aiyyo, no papa, that other housewarming it was.”

“This was the picnic at Gandipet.”

“No, no, clearly the holiday at Ooty. You are blind or what?”

 

The last image, however, was not a picture of amma. Or anything. It was a picture of a handwritten letter. In appa’s handwriting.

“If you are seeing this, my dear, you are either spying on me, or I am dead.

If you are spying on me, this is proof that there is only you. Don’t worry, and don’t listen to your stupid friends.

If I am dead, it means I never got a chance to see these pictures.

As you can see, they were taken when you were not looking. You do not know this, but you look loveliest when you don’t pose.

This is my personal reel of you. I won’t even share it with you. One day, when you grow old, maybe 75 or 80, I will give you this album as a surprise gift. Can’t wait to see your face that day! But it will be worth it!

Love

Your Giri”

*****************

As this last picture got passed around, the chatter turned to stunned silence. Within 2 minutes, there was pindrop silence in the room.

Amma had just celebrated her 75th birthday. Last week.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sunday, July 31, 2022

Book Review: Bhaas ke Natak

 Just finished reading this. #bookreview

My first issue with the book is that it is not presented in the natak format of dialogues and structure etc. Instead, a synopsis of the story is given.
The stories are mostly from the classics - Ramayana and Mahabharata, and Vasavadutta is included.
But, maybe it was for the best.
For reasons one cannot explain, the book was gripping. The Vasavadutta story had some dialogues that made one crack up and I realised that perhaps the format of "Naatak" or "Manchan" has remained unchanged in India over centuries - some wit, some humour, a lot of fast-paced story telling.
The other thought while reading this book was - these plays must have been fantastic to watch. They must necessarily have gorgeous sets, great witty dialogues, and a long-ish run time. I missed something, not having watched them. And am grateful for the traditional theater performances that we still get to watch in India. Maybe will try to watch them even more now.
The book is a short read - about 6 hours in total even if u read slowly. The plays are not too long (perhaps this is the reason why they were presented as stories and not in the play format - to keep them brief) and the narrative is definitely gripping.
I would recommend this book for sure.


Saturday, July 30, 2022

Review of Rocketry and the dead nuclear scientists of India

 

Rehna Hai Tere Dil Mein made Madhavan my favourite actor. Rocketry made him my hero. 

Unlike most people who are watching the movie (and Kashmir Files before this), I was not completely unaware of the injustice meted out to Dr. Nambi. I was also aware of the tragic and sudden deaths of more than 12 nuclear scientists of India, and had read the paper that explained the American connection behind these deaths. Nor was I unmindful of the question that Nambi sir asked at the end - If I am innocent, someone is guilty. Who is that? 

But about Dr. Nambi, did not have the details presented in the film. 

Like with all biographical films, the viewing of the movie was followed by a rigorous fact check. (Wikipedia is not opened during that fact check). It is sad that very little of Dr. Nambi's achievements and academic background is available in the public domain. 

Most institutions have a link to the resumes of all its scientists. I could not find such a link on the ISRO website. 

But I was surprised to find that the story, as told, is largely authentic - no embellishment, no exaggeration, no 'creative freedom'. 

The job of a story teller is to tell a story so no one wants to get up. 

With Rocketry, that is exactly what Madhavan has done. He could have made it a biography story - starting at the beginning and going towards the end. But he chose to start with the climax, and weave the past and the future around that. What is extremely interesting is the format - an interview with the scientist, conducted by an actor, playing himself. 

The story of his life and family integrates into the story of his professional success as it can only for an Indian. Watching this movie helped me realise a beautiful aspect of Indian society yet again - the work is not separate from the individual. Our entire Varna system is based on the chosen profession. Our social identity is based on our profession. Unlike the choice that Dr. Crocco had to make, in India, the interdependence of the workplace and the family is implicit. 

If I have to give full marks to one person, it is the locations and set director. The locations are so well chosen, particularly where the team is shown in France and Princeton. (except, perhaps, the scene where they strategise how to get into a department - in the middle of the street, that, if it really did happen that way, is illustration of truth is stranger than fiction). 

The art direction comes next. But every single technical department truly excels. Costumes, hair, cars, and the volume of traffic on the road - they got all of that right. In all the street scenes, I was only wondering with dropped jaw - How did you find so many working cars of these vintage models? How did you do this? 

Even sound deserves a mention - esp. in the shots related to rocket testing - the sound effects, subtle, but well designed, made the experience of watching the rocket testing that much real for us. 

The background music was subtle and hit all the right chords without intruding upon the storytelling process. 

To summarise: 

It is a well directed film. It has an excellent technical team, and a small, but good cast. 

The story is well told and well edited. 

An actor would have ended the film with the spotlight on himself. A director put the spotlight on the real hero - Dr. Nambi Narayanan. And that, is what makes Madhavan a star. I have never before seen a director do this - bring the real person to close the narrative in his own words. (Dr. Nambi is an articulate person. His interviews in the promotions of Rocketry are quite impressive). 

And, in case you are interested, here are the details of the Indian scientists who have died mysteriously, and whose stories still remain untold. If we look at this list, Dr. Narayanan must have been really special, to avoid this fate. 

BARC has reported 680 employee deaths during the last 15 years. \

92 persons employed with the Indira Gandhi Center for Atomic Research Kalapakkam have died. 

Within a 15 year period, 684 deaths have occured at ISRO. 


Here is a list: 

1. October 2013: K K Josh and Abhish Shivam

2. 1966 - Dr. Homi Jehangir Bhabha

3. 2009 - Lokanathan Mahalingam

4. 2011 - Dr Uma Rao

5. Feb 2010 - Mahadevan Padmanabhan Iyer

6. June 2009 - Umang Singh and Partha Pratim Bag

7. 2012 - Mohammad Mustafa

9. 1971 - Vikram Sarabhai 

And here are interesting takes on the NN case itself: 

https://www.business-standard.com/article/current-affairs/here-s-the-real-story-of-isro-spy-case-that-rocked-the-nation-in-1990s-118091600109_1.html

https://www.news18.com/news/opinion/hurdles-conspiracies-espionage-to-nambi-effect-the-story-behind-denial-of-cryogenic-engine-tech-to-india-5578081.html

Nambi Narayanan speaks on conspiracy against him & India over ISRO's cryogenic program (republicworld.com)


https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/city/ahmedabad/Mystery-behind-Vikram-Sarabhais-death/articleshow/3910516.cms

https://indiafacts.org/list-of-indian-nuclear-scientists-who-died-mysterious-deaths/

https://asiatimes.com/2019/07/indias-vanishing-nuclear-scientists/

http://www.sunday-guardian.com/news/pmo-unconcerned-about-scientist-deaths - This link has been removed. 

https://www.ndtv.com/india-news/11-indian-nuclear-scientists-died-unnatural-deaths-in-4-years-1229793

https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/india/11-nuclear-scientists-died-in-mysterious-circumstances-in-4-years/articleshow/49272275.cms

https://www.theweek.in/news/india/2021/01/06/from-the-archives-when-several-indian-nuclear-scientists-died-mysteriously.html

https://www.indiatimes.com/news/india/tapan-misra-is-not-alone-isro-scientists-have-died-mysterious-deaths-faced-espionage-charges-531398.html

And Indians are not alone: 

https://listverse.com/2016/08/09/10-leading-scientists-who-died-in-suspicious-circumstances/


Friday, July 29, 2022

Item Girl

हम, जो चीजें हैं 

हमें चीजें नहीं होना था। 

*********** 








Translation: 

We, the things 

Did not want to be things. 

*********** 

Context: Item songs are a special kind of Hindi film song. The idea is to create a "bold" dance sequence. The lead dancer to such a song (always a lady) is called an item girl. Item is also Mumbai slang for a good looking girl. 

PS: I am actually writing this definition of item songs in the hope that some day, there are no more item songs in films and children wonder what the words item girl or item song mean.