Friday, August 26, 2022

त्रिवेणी /Triveni

कुछ किताबें खरीदी ही जाती हैं 

अलमारी में सजा कर, सबको दिखाने भर के लिए 


Trophy वाइफ, IAS पति

************* 

Some books are bought to be displayed 

and never read. 


Trophy wife. Millionaire husband. 

*********** 

ਕੂਜ ਕਿਤਾਬਾਂ ਬੰਦਾ ਲੈਂਦਾ ਹੀ ਇਹ ਸੋਚ ਕੇ ਹੈ 

ਕੇ ਅਲਮਾਰੀ ਵਿੱਚ ਡਾਡੀ ਸੋਹਣੀ ਲਗੂਗੀ 


ਗੋਰੀ ਚਿਟੱਟੀ  ਵੋਹਤੀ, ਨਮਬਰਦਾਰ ਖਸਮ 

Kujj kitabaan bandaa lainda hee eh soch ke hai 

Ke almari vich DaaDi sohni lagugi... 


Gori Chitti Vohti, Numberdaar Khasam 

   *********** 


Wednesday, August 24, 2022

This day in history

This day in history 

someone got married

Someone lost a loved one

Someone got through school 

and Someone graduated. 

The collective weight

of human hopes,

lay as heavily on this day 

as the day before

and the day after. 


Peel the greasepaint of  headlines, darling

and then show me

what happened this day 

in history. 


Sunday, August 21, 2022

Movie Review: Rakshabandhan

The Post Review: That must come first 

7 hours after watching this film, I am still thinking of it, and just realised two very important things: 

A. In the time I was watching the film, at least 2 women died - like, really died, for the same issue that the movie was trying to educate me on. 

B. If I wasn't professionally qualified, my parents would have paid dowry for me. Its personal. I could have been the sister who died, or one of the 10 women who file a complaint of domestic violence or dowry for the 1 who dies, or the 100 who "adjust" and don't file a complaint. Instead, they raise kids who grow up watching father being abusive to mother, dadi comparing gifts from the two daughters in law. All of that. That "happily married mother" could have been me. 

The Pre-Review: Why I went at all 

Logically speaking, I went for Anand L Rai and Akshay Kumar - professionals whose earlier work I have liked. 

But the honest truth is that since watching the trailer, I knew I was going to watch this movie - reasons unknown. It was just one of those things that would happen. That happens to me very rarely, but when it does, there is no point resisting the mandate. One just does what one is told to do. 

Given that everything today gets political, didn't even bother checking with friends before booking the ticket. Chose a small theater with limited seating and just booked. 

********** 

This movie was a huge revelation for me. I have always believed that Akshay Kumar has a certain honesty in his heart that shines through his work - irrespective of the character he is playing. 

You know those nagging questions in your head that are neither important nor urgent but gnaw at you nonetheless? This was one of those. One usually likes an actor for his own work, but in this case, I knew there was something more, and couldn't place it. Watching Akshay Kumar on screen filled a huge hole in my heart, but I didn't know what that hole was called. 

Within the first three minutes of the movie, I knew why i was mandated to come watch this film. Here is the answer: 








Akshay Kumar fills a Balraj Sahni shaped hole on the screen (and in the heart.) 

Those who know me will now that I have missed Balraj Sahni's presence on screen very, very much.

Akshay Kumar brings the same honesty, the same integrity, and the same magic to his screen presence.
While writing this review, I saw the first few minutes of Waqt once again, and almost cried for joy. 

On to the review  

The most downloaded image from my blog is this: 

This is a graph that shows the number of dowry deaths reported in India - every year from 2011-2016. 
This graph tells you that India loses one young woman to dowry every hour, and has consistently done so for over 2 decades at least. And these are just the reported numbers. The dotted line is the trend line. 

You will read the same statistic in a post script at the end of the movie - I am just putting it out there so you don't miss the post script. This post script is the most important part of the film. Just in case you watch the movie and go, "Are, aisa thodi hota hai?" Exactly aisa hi hota hai. Exactly. Aisa. Hi. 

And now we come to the less important parts of the film. 

There is only one Punjabi dialogue in the film - "Ai enni jehi gall hai?" And THAT is how Punjabi should be spoken.  Had he messed up that dialogue's delivery, I likely would not have forgiven the lapse. That is one of the most important dialogues in the film. After this dialogue, he goes on to provide a guidebook style warning to the majnus of the area. Through that and another sequence, we see a character that does not fight a system because part of him believes in it, even if the only role he gets to play in that play is the rock under the elephant's foot. 

Also the gesture of going back to hit boys who do eve teasing. You will find it hard to believe, but once upon a time, that was the truth of Delhi. If you tried to whistle at a girl in public, you would be physically beaten - first by the girl (hence the Punjabi phrase - Kadaan sandal?), and then by bystanders. You could not do it. Period. 

This movie teaches you the importance of a leading cast and how they can literally carry a film on their shoulders alone. This leading cast has done that, though the ensemble cast is made up of good actors too. 

What comes up short is the development of the characters of the ensemble cast - all the 3 sisters appear as guest appearances only. We can describe them in 1-2 words, instead of the complex characters that each of them is likely to be. And for that, the credit must go squarely to the writer - Himanshu Sharma, and the director, Anand L Rai - their previous work also has not capitalised on the layering provided by ensemble cast in story telling. 

What shines through is the honesty in story telling. What you think is extreme becomes even more sad as you realise that not only is this not extreme, but that, in many, many families, and not necessarily in Chandni Chowk, this is de rigueur, this is matter of course.  

The end might appear hurried to some reviewers, but to me, I think, it was just rightly paced - The sisters finding their place under the sun. 

I wish I could change just one thing in the story - if Sapna and Kedar had married earlier in the film, it would have given us richer story telling, as Sapna's character would have navigated the challenges of the story alongside Kedar, and not from the sidelines. And, I would have liked to see the rubbishing of a promise that itself is steeped in regression. A promise like that deserves to be broken. Especially after his realisation. 

On the technical side, the film does well on sound, background score, lighting, costumes, editing, and art direction. It could have done better on screenplay. 
The camera work was adequate, but given that the movie had a playground like Chandni Chowk, am not sure it did the best it could. 

Special thanks to the makers for not subjecting us to dream sequence song and dance routines, cliched meet-cutes for each of the 3 sisters, random festival songs just because it's Chandni Chowk, useless subplots with miniscule politically correct messages, and other predictable stuff that routinely finds its way into films and every single time insults the intelligence of the audience and wastes their time. 

In the OST (Original Sound Track, for those born after the 1990s): Tere Saath Hoon Main and Bidaai stand out. There are no hummable songs, but that, methinks, is the general trend with movies these days. (Coincidentally, no one plays Antakshari any more, everyone only goes to India's Super Singer or some such, so there is no need for hummable songs either, no?) 

Endnote

I am glad I went. Will gladly go again. 













Saturday, August 20, 2022

Sab Dhyaan Hai

बहुधा भारतीय दर्शनशास्त्र में माया को मोह का, दुख का आधार बताया जाता है। उसे मोक्ष के पथ में अवरोध के रूप में दर्शाया जाता है। किन्तु यदि वह इतनी ही अवांछनीय है, तो इतनी सर्वव्यापी क्यूँ है? यदि सर्वव्यापी है, तो उसका कोई उद्देश्य भी होगा? उद्देश्य है, तो उसे मनुष्य की आध्यात्मिक यात्रा में अपना स्थान आदरसहित मिलना चाहिए! 

यह कविता आज की meditation के बाद स्वत: ही प्रकट हो गई। बहुत समय से इच्छा थी, कि भारत की प्रसिद्ध प्रश्नोत्तर शैली में कुछ लिख पाऊँ। आज वह इच्छा कुछ कुछ पूरी हुई। आभार। 

(संस्कृत काव्य में प्रश्नोत्तर विधा का प्राय: उपयोग किया जाता था। वहीं से इच्छा जागृत हुई।) 



 "तेरी माया अपरंपार है, 

सब ध्यान है, सब ध्यान है 

माया ठगे बन मोहिनी 

नवरस दिखाए सोहिनी 

किन्तु ये सब व्यापार है 

सब ध्यान है, सब ध्यान है" 


ऐसा थे कहते संत जी 

जिनकी थी धूम मस्त जी 

"सब ध्यान है, सब ध्यान है!" 


टकरा उन्हें एक मसखरा 

बिना माथा टेके खड़ा मिला 

भक्तों की बढ़ती भीड़ ने 

डांटा, पर वह भी ना टला 

गुरु जी ने दी उसे दीक्षा, 

"सब ध्यान है, सब ध्यान है" 


"सब ध्यान है तो हे प्रभु 

जग पालते क्यूँ विष्णु? 

क्यूँ माया मन को मोहती? 

किस प्रारब्ध को जोहती?

ये किस विधि का विधान है, 

कि माया अपरंपार है? "


"माया तो बच्चा मार्ग है 

मोक्ष की जड़ त्याग है"


"क्यूँ मोक्ष पाने को जुटा, 

संसार सारा ही कुटा? 

इतने विविध संसार में 

क्या एक गंतव्य मात्र है?

सब ध्यान है, सब ध्यान है?" 


सब शांत हैं, सब मौन हैं 

जग का प्रयोजन गौण है? 

क्यूँ मोक्ष मात्र लक्ष्य बना? 

क्यूँ पथ भी न उत्तम लगा? 


पथ की प्रतिष्ठा है बड़ी 

यश उसका भी गाए कोई 

माया न केवल मोहिनी 

उसका भी अपना स्थान है 

कुछ भोग है, कुछ ध्यान है। 


This piece came on its own after my meditation today 

Rough translation 

Dhyaan means Meditation. 


"Meditation is all, Meditation is all, 

Thus spake the Great Saint. 

The world calls to us 

in a thousand siren songs 

But we must not deviate 

From the path of the Eternal. 

Meditation is all, meditation is all" 


One day, a vagabond

found his way to the Agent of God 

The surging crowds bid him to bow

But budging he was not now. 


"If all is dhyaan, O Great One, 

Why does the Great Vishnnu 

sustain the world, and 

everything in it?"


"The world and 

all things in it

are but routes to the 

Eternal Truth 

Meditation is the only way 

To meet The Eternal God.

Meditation is all. Meditation is all." 


"How, dear Great One 

Can a world so vivid and varied

Have a single destination 

for every soul? 

If Maya (the world) is our path 

Why should we belittle the path? 

The path has its own importance 

And to some, 

the milestones of the path 

are destinations too. 

Let us celebrate the path 

As we celebrate the Destination." 

Saturday, August 13, 2022

Short Story : The Roomba

 “Will he be here today?”

“Yes, he is arriving by the afternoon flight. Be ready.”

Inspector Sharma blew on his cigarette, then let out a deep sigh and a ring of smoke. ‘Smoking is so uncool and unhealthy’, he thought, then took another puff, ‘But it’s the best at-work de-stressor.’

Sharma was the king of Saam-Daam-Dand-Bhed – any means to get one’s work done. He also specialized in bringing big criminals down. He was summoned by the CBI whenever they needed help.

In his home jurisdiction, of course, the criminals had a brahmastra (superpower) that he could not counter – money and its power over his superiors. Therefore, out of respect to the Hindi proverb – in a flowing river, all must wash their hands, he used to help himself to his fair share of the proceeds. Even though it was his hard work that gave his superiors the power to command a higher price from their asamis (parties), he would get only the fair share according to his rank. And, to ensure that he does not step on their toes, he was also rewarded with an oral warning from time to time.

But in the CBI office, he was a completely different man. Agile, alert, and observant, he paid attention to every piece of paper, every photograph, every text message. Like a hawk, he watched the suspects and the surveillance videos. He read the autopsy reports like a vulture – getting every ounce of detection that he could out of it. Here, if anywhere, was his genius put to any good use.

But today, even in the CBI office, he was stressed. Amit was due to arrive by the afternoon flight.

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

The story started two weeks ago. Inspector Sudhakar Sharma was travelling his regular route – Delhi to Bareilly. The passenger in the next seat was an interesting man. Sharma had an instinct about these things. He started a conversation and found soon enough that as usual, he had been right. The man on his left was a cyber sleuth – someone who uses internet technology to catch thieves and other general range criminals. He worked with private corporate clients and occasionally with the cyber police.

Sometime during the short flight, Sharma said, “I am sure you can catch your cyber criminals using technology and hacking easily. But in my field, it is different. We have to use on ground methods to nab our on-ground criminals. These guys kill for money, they do drugs business, hawala, arrange high end bribes and kidnappings.. it’s a messy, bloody business.”

Amit, the cyber sleuth, was silent for a bit. “What if we place a bet? My techniques do not just help with cybercrime. They can help you nab your criminals too.”

“But Amit sahab, we know our criminals. We send our juniors to be deployed as security guards in their palatial houses. We just don’t know the details of their work.”

Amit was silent for a while.

“I have a plan. I have been playing with it for a while. Maybe it is time for us to work together.”

“How so?”

“I think technology can be used to do old fashioned sleuthing.”

“Oh God, Amit ji, you think we have not tried to put mics and cameras in their houses? Of course we have! It doesn’t work! They get to see the camera and the mic. So much we have been beaten over that method that we don’t even want to try it anymore.”

“But you see, sir, that is the difference. This time, they will be the ones putting the cameras and the microphones. They will make the cameras and the microphones follow them everywhere. We just have to be present at the collection point.”

Amit had Sharma’s attention.

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

A plan was hatched and Sharma spoke to his seniors at CBI. They could not believe what they were hearing. “This is not possible.”

“I think it’s worth a shot, sir. At least one city. But no local police involvement. If we can help even one innocent victim, it will be worth it.”

The matter had reached the CBI Director, no less. He sat on the proposal for two days. Then, he called Sharma and his CBI sponsor, Nandu, directly.

“Nandu, tell everyone that the proposal has been rejected. After that, I never want to hear it mentioned. I am making a special team of exactly three people – you, Sharma, and this guy Amit. You will work out of Amit’s office. No government building.

Your on-ground action force will be a 15-member special commando team. They will work in civvies. We are not an action team. We are an investigative agency. I am taking the funds out of my discretionary account. We won’t pay Amit anything and you, Sharma, will be on deputation without deputation fee. Is that ok for you? You will survive on your base salary only. Nandu, you will have to multitask AND hide the existence of this task force from your colleagues, team members, and family.

I am giving you six months. Prevent two financial frauds, save six lives, or get evidence for 2-3 things which the CBI is not able to otherwise prosecute. Do anything. I don’t care. Get me results.

And then, we will see.”

Never had two men walked out of the CBI Director’s office with grins wider than these two men that day.

Amit was called. He was equally thrilled.

The team moved quickly. The on-ground force was trained at a private location, donated generously by one of Amit’s corporate clients who owed Amit some hefty consulting fee and was happy to get away with the use of the facility instead.

The equipment was procured. The plan was set in motion.

Four months later, the CBI Director went for an evening walk and strolled into Amit’s office.

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

 

A week later, the CBI interrogation room:

A bewildered man sat in a chair in a room that had three cushioned chairs, one table, an earthen pot full of drinking water, a steel tumbler, and nothing else.

 

The room had a window that looked out into the garden.

Nandu played the audio recording from his phone. The CBI Director was in the adjoining room, watching and listening through the monitor.

The other man heard, incredulous. His eyes growing wider with each word.

“You cannot use that in court.”

“There won’t be a court because there won’t be a kidnapping, my dear sir. If you think we will know this and let you get away with it, you are sadly mistaken. We know we cannot prosecute, but we can prevent. We are convincing you to do that. You could, of course, decline. But, the child is already in a safe location. You, on the other hand, will have to suffer unnecessary loss if you even try.”

“But… how did you get this recording? It is illegal. If I find one illegal mic embedded in my house, you will have hell to pay.”

“Be our guest.”

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

And that, was the first of about 10 meetings that Nandu had in the next 3 months. 

At the end of the 7th month, the CBI Director, Amit, Nandu, and Sharma were in Amit’s office. Ostensibly, this was a performance review. But everyone knew the secret program had passed with flying colours.

“Amit, Sharma, Nandu – in the last 3 months, you guys have saved 15 businessmen and children from being kidnapped. You have averted 2 bomb blasts and saved 20 potential murder victims. I am astounded.

You have to tell me how this works.”

Amit spoke.

“Sir, first, let me tell you that I am very grateful to you for giving us this chance. Using technology to prevent crime rather than detect it, has been on my mind for a long time. You, Sharma ji, Nandu ji, you trusted my idea and gave a chance. So, Thank you.

Secondly, this program, successful as it has been, possibly cannot be replicated nationwide or even put into an institution. But I think it can be used in a limited way under exceptional circumstances.

I will now tell you what we have done. Let’s start from there. I don’t know the legal process, Nandu and Sharma are the experts on that. I only know how to use tech to pre-empt crime. I had been working on that theory for almost a year when Inspector Sharma and I met on that flight.

There is one company that readily enters your house, knows what you watch on TV, what you buy, where you live, what your house looks like, and everything that you say. All of this information rests with one company. Fortunately for us, that one company also has one of the world’s largest cloud storage solutions, where this data is stored, and the security of that cloud storage solution is weak enough for many of its clients to lose their data stored on its servers.

This company also employs humans to listen in to conversations that its clients have in their homes. Presumably, the objective is to understand whether its home assistant is saying anything offensive, and to improve the response of the AI led home assistant. All you need to do, is to create a backdoor entry so that the audio recordings of this device ID reach you. Then, we change the device settings to record all audio in the ambient conditions. Most people will put this AI home manager in all their rooms. So, it doesn’t matter where they are discussing the plan or even if they walk while discussing the plan. The audio recording device is everywhere.

The same company also owns the company that makes connected AI robotic vacuum cleaners. This was the best part of our strategy, to get visuals by hacking the connection of the robotic vacuum cleaners to the servers of the company. The customer gives consent to the company to store information about their house on their servers so that their robotic vacuum cleaner can learn from this data and clean the house more efficiently. The device can be controlled through an app. Now, the app can be on any device, including ours. So, we use that.

The third element is to understand the daily routine of the family members we are interested in. We then had to set our activities to do targeted listening. As a resource crunched team, we trained our program to listen in and tell us the highest volume time of day. We even trained it to listen for some key words that are related to the trade. At that time, we acted as the human listeners and also programmed the vacuum cleaner to be present in the room. The vacuum cleaner is so silent you wont even notice it. But it can get us visuals of who all was in the room. It has a fantastic HD camera and sensor to help it clean better. It avoids obstacles and uses the roof for its orientation.

We did not do any snooping. Nor did we install any snooping devices or mics in the houses. That is why they could not find anything. We just added one more collection pipe for the data already being collected.

With this, the special team trained by Sharma sir and Nandu sir was able to take pre-emptive action to take these citizens to safety before the event could take place. In some cases, we were also able to install a decoy and catch the field workers while they were attempting the murder. But those are small fry field workers. The biggest satisfaction is that we were able to prevent crime, and the gangsters have no idea how.”

“How did you put the devices in their houses? Was it spray and pray?”

“Yes sir, in part, and in part, surgical strike. We specifically targeted the young users of these families and then used the network effect as their social circle installed the devices one by one. That is why the first four months were so slow. We got about 70% conversion, which was brilliant. We would have been lucky with 50-55%.”

“But we cannot institutionalize it, can we? It’s a privacy nightmare.” The CBI Director intoned.

“Yes sir. Unfortunately, when you try to use this information to prevent crime, it’s a privacy nightmare. Our citizens will willingly give their data to a large company, but if we even create a conduit to get a part of that data for an automated crime prevention program, with less human listeners than the private company, they will not allow it.

Further, if we, as private citizens can do it, criminals can also do it to do the exact opposite thing. Imagine having this information about a victim you want to kidnap or kill.” Amit resigned.

“But, sir, there must be SOMETHING we can do with this brilliant process! We can infiltrate the entire crime network using the infrastructure put in place by a global company!” Sharma interjected.

The CBI Director was quiet for a very long time. Finally, he spoke, “No, we cannot do it. The privacy angle is a valid concern.

Sharma, Amit, I understand your anguish at having something so brilliant but not being able to use it. But remember, our people are people first. We cannot take their privacy away in the name of protection. That is what a police state does. We are not a police state.

Amit, I am also mindful of the other thing you said – if we, as private citizens could do this so easily, the criminals will be two steps ahead of us. We must take steps to ensure that our state secret data does not travel through the same conduit. That is the second important takeaway for me. Not just what we can do to others, but also what criminals can do to us.  

We can keep the team in place. You three will remain in touch. We will have to disband the commandoes. But when the air in a particular city gets warm, I will call upon you guys to help us prevent mass human incidents. I know your incubation time is 4 months. Try and see if you can shorten it. I am approving one more pilot. This is the name of the city. Give me two months of incubation.”

Then, he stepped out. At the door, he turned and said, “Congratulations, guys! There are people out there who owe their lives to you today. And they will never know it. Amit, proud of you! Sharma, Thank you! Nandu, well done!”

With that, the CBI director went home.

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

Next week, there was a meeting in the Home Ministry.

At 5 pm, the Home Ministry released a directive for all ministers, members of parliament, judiciary, Central Government employees, personnel and key vendors of the Indian Armed Forces, paramilitary forces, and all personnel and ranks.

The Directive forbade the use of the connected AI devices in the homes and offices of the personnel. Violation at home was to be punished with internal disciplinary action and violation in office was to be punished with strict criminal charges:

Everyone was flabbergasted.

News channels scrambled to get “experts” to talk on the Draconian measures being put in place by the fascist government. Anyone who was anyone was on a TV channel, talking about personal rights in the house and how the government will no longer be an employer for choice, as it already is not. Reservations in govt jobs were brought up, bureaucracy was cursed, ministers were cursed. The technophobia of the cowherd politicians received special attention too. “What about employee privacy?” was the overarching theme of the TV debates.

 

The morning papers screamed: “Technophobic Government bans modern technology”

 

In his house, Amit smiled gently, folded the paper, and gently placed his coffee cup on the tray.

Wednesday, August 10, 2022

Bachche

उस दिन तुमने ला कर दी थी, मुझको धूप जो थोड़ी सी, 

उसको बोया, फसल उगी है, क्यारी क्यारी धूप सजी है 


अब झाड़फानूस बनने का समय आएगा।  

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

The little drop of sunshine 

you got for me that day 

I sowed it, it has blossomed 

Now, light dances on every flower bed 


Now, the plants will be converted to chandeliers. 

************** 


Triveni

एक कहानी सुना कर हमको सुलाया था 

मीठी लोरी गा कर वरगलाया था 


75 साल हुए, आँख खुलती ही नहीं। 

त्रिवेणी Triveni

आकर मिलना, मिल कर जाना, 
जाता नहीं, जाकर आता.. 

ये कहने वाले कहाँ रहे, 
अब अपने छोटे शहरों में? 

On boycotting a film

It is very easy to say that a boycott is hurting a movie. But Bollywood has given 3 hits in 2 years. Were all those films affected by trolls? Is any amount of introspection in order? As many people have said, trolls cannot keep a good film down. So, maybe, instead of blaming everyone else, people could pay attention to the quality of their work? Has even a single Bollywood person come out and said, "Audience have been rejecting us for 2 years. Maybe we should sit and think about what we are doing wrong in our story telling, our execution?"

Very easy to sit and blame the audience for "not appreciating how much hard work goes into making a film."

Salman Khan answered that beautifully once. His quote - "Director ne bola public ko picture samajh hi nahi aayi. Arre tumko public nahi samajh aayi."

The last movie I saw in theater was Samrat Prithviraj. The storytelling was very different from what I expected from that director. But when the film bombed, at least he said, "If you do not like my version of the story, discuss with me, tell me what your view is. I want to listen." Contrast that with "People don't understand the hard work." 

We are not supposed to understand your hard work and pay you for that. We are supposed to get entertained and pay you for that. Where is the confusion? 

There are 2 movies being released now. Only Aamir Khan has gone to town like a cry baby. Akshay Kumar (Rakshabandhan) has put his head down and let his work do the talking. This might be that actor's third flop within the last 6 months, but he has not become a drama king even once. His promotion of the films has been dignified, and focused on the work.

For Bollywood, the tide will turn once they start making good cinema. And, after we have given justice to Sushant Singh Rajput. And, PVR stops charging the rate of gold for pop corn. 

Until then, cry on! No one is coming to the theaters. 

Tuesday, August 09, 2022

Short Story: The Roomba

 

“Will he be here today?”

“Yes, he is arriving by the afternoon flight. Be ready.”

Inspector Sharma blew on his cigarette, then let out a deep sigh and a ring of smoke. ‘Smoking is so uncool and unhealthy’, he thought, then took another puff, ‘But it’s the best at-work de-stressor.’

Sharma was the king of Saam-Daam-Dand-Bhed – any means to get one’s work done. He also specialized in bringing big criminals down. He was summoned by the CBI whenever they needed help.

In his home jurisdiction, of course, the criminals had a brahmastra (superpower) that he could not counter – money and its power over his superiors. Therefore, out of respect to the Hindi proverb – in a flowing river, all must wash their hands, he used to help himself to his fair share of the proceeds. Even though it was his hard work that gave his superiors the power to command a higher price from their asamis (parties), he would get only the fair share according to his rank. And, to ensure that he does not step on their toes, he was also rewarded with an oral warning from time to time.

But in the CBI office, he was a completely different man. Agile, alert, and observant, he paid attention to every piece of paper, every photograph, every text message. Like a hawk, he watched the suspects and the surveillance videos. He read the autopsy reports like a vulture – getting every ounce of detection that he could out of it. Here, if anywhere, was his genius put to any good use.

But today, even in the CBI office, he was stressed. Amit was due to arrive by the afternoon flight.

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

The story started two weeks ago. Inspector Sudhakar Sharma was travelling his regular route – Delhi to Bareilly. The passenger in the next seat was an interesting man. Sharma had an instinct about these things. He started a conversation and found soon enough that as usual, he had been right. The man on his left was a cyber sleuth – someone who uses internet technology to catch thieves and other general range criminals. He worked with private corporate clients and occasionally with the cyber police.

Sometime during the short flight, Sharma said, “I am sure you can catch your cyber criminals using technology and hacking easily. But in my field, it is different. We have to use on ground methods to nab our on-ground criminals. These guys kill for money, they do drugs business, hawala, arrange high end bribes and kidnappings.. it’s a messy, bloody business.”

Amit, the cyber sleuth, was silent for a bit. “What if we place a bet? My techniques do not just help with cybercrime. They can help you nab your criminals too.”

“But Amit sahab, we know our criminals. We send our juniors to be deployed as security guards in their palatial houses. We just don’t know the details of their work.”

Amit was silent for a while.

“I have a plan. I have been playing with it for a while. Maybe it is time for us to work together.”

“How so?”

“I think technology can be used to do old fashioned sleuthing.”

“Oh God, Amit ji, you think we have not tried to put mics and cameras in their houses? Of course we have! It doesn’t work! They get to see the camera and the mic. So much we have been beaten over that method that we don’t even want to try it anymore.”

“But you see, sir, that is the difference. This time, they will be the ones putting the cameras and the microphones. They will make the cameras and the microphones follow them everywhere. We just have to be present at the collection point.”

Amit had Sharma’s attention.

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

A plan was hatched and Sharma spoke to his seniors at CBI. They could not believe what they were hearing. “This is not possible.”

“I think it’s worth a shot, sir. At least one city. But no local police involvement. If we can help even one innocent victim, it will be worth it.”

The matter had reached the CBI Director, no less. He sat on the proposal for two days. Then, he called Sharma and his CBI sponsor, Nandu, directly.

“Nandu, tell everyone that the proposal has been rejected. After that, I never want to hear it mentioned. I am making a special team of exactly three people – you, Sharma, and this guy Amit. You will work out of Amit’s office. No government building.

Your on-ground action force will be a 15-member special commando team. They will work in civvies. We are not an action team. We are an investigative agency. I am taking the funds out of my discretionary account. We won’t pay Amit anything and you, Sharma, will be on deputation without deputation fee. Is that ok for you? You will survive on your base salary only. Nandu, you will have to multitask AND hide the existence of this task force from your colleagues, team members, and family.

I am giving you six months. Prevent two financial frauds, save six lives, or get evidence for 2-3 things which the CBI is not able to otherwise prosecute. Do anything. I don’t care. Get me results.

And then, we will see.”

Never had two men walked out of the CBI Director’s office with grins wider than these two men that day.

Amit was called. He was equally thrilled.

The team moved quickly. The on-ground force was trained at a private location, donated generously by one of Amit’s corporate clients who owed Amit some hefty consulting fee and was happy to get away with the use of the facility instead.

The equipment was procured. The plan was set in motion.

Four months later, the CBI Director went for an evening walk and strolled into Amit’s office.

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

 

A week later, the CBI interrogation room:

A bewildered man sat in a chair in a room that had three cushioned chairs, one table, an earthen pot full of drinking water, a steel tumbler, and nothing else.

 

The room had a window that looked out into the garden.

Nandu played the audio recording from his phone. The CBI Director was in the adjoining room, watching and listening through the monitor.

The other man heard, incredulous. His eyes growing wider with each word.

“You cannot use that in court.”

“There won’t be a court because there won’t be a kidnapping, my dear sir. If you think we will know this and let you get away with it, you are sadly mistaken. We know we cannot prosecute, but we can prevent. We are convincing you to do that. You could, of course, decline. But, the child is already in a safe location. You, on the other hand, will have to suffer unnecessary loss if you even try.”

“But… how did you get this recording? It is illegal. If I find one illegal mic embedded in my house, you will have hell to pay.”

“Be our guest.”

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

And that, was the first of about 10 meetings that Nandu had in the next 3 months. 

At the end of the 7th month, the CBI Director, Amit, Nandu, and Sharma were in Amit’s office. Ostensibly, this was a performance review. But everyone knew the secret program had passed with flying colours.

“Amit, Sharma, Nandu – in the last 3 months, you guys have saved 15 businessmen and children from being kidnapped. You have averted 2 bomb blasts and saved 20 potential murder victims. I am astounded.

You have to tell me how this works.”

Amit spoke.

“Sir, first, let me tell you that I am very grateful to you for giving us this chance. Using technology to prevent crime rather than detect it, has been on my mind for a long time. You, Sharma ji, Nandu ji, you trusted my idea and gave a chance. So, Thank you.

Secondly, this program, successful as it has been, possibly cannot be replicated nationwide or even put into an institution. But I think it can be used in a limited way under exceptional circumstances.

 

I will now tell you what we have done. Let’s start from there. I don’t know the legal process, Nandu and Sharma are the experts on that. I only know how to use tech to pre-empt crime. I had been working on that theory for almost a year when Inspector Sharma and I met on that flight.

There is one company that readily enters your house, knows what you watch on TV, what you buy, where you live, what your house looks like, and everything that you say. All of this information rests with one company. Fortunately for us, that one company also has one of the world’s largest cloud storage solutions, where this data is stored, and the security of that cloud storage solution is weak enough for many of its clients to lose their data stored on its servers.

This company also employs humans to listen in to conversations that its clients have in their homes. Presumably, the objective is to understand whether its home assistant is saying anything offensive, and to improve the response of the AI led home assistant. All you need to do, is to create a backdoor entry so that the audio recordings of this device ID reach you. Then, we change the device settings to record all audio in the ambient conditions. Most people will put this AI home manager in all their rooms. So, it doesn’t matter where they are discussing the plan or even if they walk while discussing the plan. The audio recording device is everywhere.

The same company also owns the company that makes connected AI robotic vacuum cleaners. This was the best part of our strategy, to get visuals by hacking the connection of the robotic vacuum cleaners to the servers of the company. The customer gives consent to the company to store information about their house on their servers so that their robotic vacuum cleaner can learn from this data and clean the house more efficiently. The device can be controlled through an app. Now, the app can be on any device, including ours. So, we use that.

The third element is to understand the daily routine of the family members we are interested in. We then had to set our activities to do targeted listening. As a resource crunched team, we trained our program to listen in and tell us the highest volume time of day. We even trained it to listen for some key words that are related to the trade. At that time, we acted as the human listeners and also programmed the vacuum cleaner to be present in the room. The vacuum cleaner is so silent you wont even notice it. But it can get us visuals of who all was in the room. It has a fantastic HD camera and sensor to help it clean better. It avoids obstacles and uses the roof for its orientation.

We did not do any snooping. Nor did we install any snooping devices or mics in the houses. That is why they could not find anything. We just added one more collection pipe for the data already being collected.

With this, the special team trained by Sharma sir and Nandu sir was able to take pre-emptive action to take these citizens to safety before the event could take place. In some cases, we were also able to install a decoy and catch the field workers while they were attempting the murder. But those are small fry field workers. The biggest satisfaction is that we were able to prevent crime, and the gangsters have no idea how.”

“How did you put the devices in their houses? Was it spray and pray?”

“Yes sir, in part, and in part, surgical strike. We specifically targeted the young users of these families and then used the network effect as their social circle installed the devices one by one. That is why the first four months were so slow. We got about 70% conversion, which was brilliant. We would have been lucky with 60%.”

“But we cannot institutionalize it, can we? It’s a privacy nightmare.” The CBI Director intoned.

“Yes sir. Unfortunately, when you try to use this information to prevent crime, it’s a privacy nightmare. Further, if we, as private citizens can do it, criminals can also do it to do the exact opposite thing. Imagine having this information about a victim you want to kidnap or kill.” Amit resigned.

“But, sir, there must be SOMETHING we can do with this brilliant process! We can infiltrate the entire crime network using the infrastructure put in place by a global company!”

The CBI Director was quiet for a very long time. Finally, he spoke, “No, we cannot do it. We can keep the team in place. You three will remain in touch. We will have to disband the commandoes. But when the air in a particular city gets warm, I will call upon you guys to help us prevent mass human incidents. I know your incubation time is 4 months. Try and see if you can shorten it. I am approving one more pilot. This is the name of the city. Give me two months of incubation.”

Then, he stepped out. At the door, he turned and said, “Congratulations, guys! There are people out there who owe their lives to you today. And they will never know it. Amit, proud of you! Sharma, Thank you! Nandu, well done!”

With that, the CBI director went home.

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

Next week, there was a meeting in the Home Ministry.

At 5 pm, the Home Ministry released a directive for all ministers, members of parliament, judiciary, Central Government employees, personnel and key vendors of the Indian Armed Forces, paramilitary forces, and all personnel and ranks.

The Directive forbade the use of the connected AI devices in the homes and offices of the personnel. Violation at home was to be punished with internal disciplinary action and violation in office was to be punished with strict criminal charges:

Everyone was flabbergasted.

News channels scrambled to get “experts” to talk on the Draconian measures being put in place by the fascist government. Anyone who was anyone was on a TV channel, talking about personal rights in the house and how the government will no longer be an employer for choice, as it already is not. Reservations in govt jobs were brought up, bureaucracy was cursed, ministers were cursed. The technophobia of the cowherd politicians received special attention too.

 

The morning papers screamed: “Government bans modern technology”

 

In his house, Amit smiled gently, folded the paper, and gently placed his coffee cup on the tray.

Links for posterity

 Facebook DID prioritise engagement over positivity 

Facebook whistleblower says Zuckerberg put viral posts over safety — and may have given bonuses for it | Mashable

https://mashable.com/article/mark-zuckerberg-facebook-whistleblower-msi-bonuses

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.