Minting Words

I am reading Junot Díaz’s “The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao” (a fascinating book, at least what I’ve read so far — I’m about half done). Actually I’m not reading reading it, but rather listening to the audio-book, but these days I call it reading, without any loss of generalization, as we say in mathematical proofs. Anyways, the point is, I came across this interesting bit:

So furious and so unrelenting, in fact, was La Inca’s pace that more than a few women suffered shetaat (spiritual burnout) and collapsed, never again to feel the divine breath of the Todopoderoso on their neck.

I was struck by this concept of spiritual burnout, and was impressed that there is a word in some language for such a concept. And so I searched a bit. Only to find that most links are throwing me back to Junot Díaz’s use. So very likely he just made it up. Not that I’m complaining.

Thing is, if there can be physical burnout, why can’t there be a spiritual one? Yes, spirit is supposed to be indestructible, and all that, but it’s only in the context of a living being, with physical body, and brain, that spiritual really means anything. Right?

As for the word itself, maybe that is a not made up by the author. And language scholars may actually dig it up, and I could see it’s etymology. Freshly minted or not, some words are worth a rendezvous.


Coffee Time

I love the aftertaste of coffee. Okay, let me correct that, because for a filter-coffee-fanatic that I am, the prefix may be redundant, but not for the rest of the world (and for that so-called coffee loving culture called American), it seems. And one must say “filter coffee” when one means coffee – the real thing, not the abomination that you get when you force hot steams through burnt coffee beans; or worse, the so called “decaf” anti-coffee; or worse still, green coffee. Or that counterfeit coffee also called “instant coffee”. You get the drift. Yes, I’ve been called a coffee snob. Not just once or twice.

That said, I’m going to say coffee, taking umbrage in the famous Humpty-Dumpty’s contention:

When I use a word, it means just what I choose it to mean — neither more nor less.

So back to the point. I love the aftertaste of coffee; of good, not too sweet, not too bitter, well brewed, well blended (the traditional two tumbler method) with milk, coffee. That slight bitter aftertaste of coffee is something akin to an aftertaste of a torrid affair that, you knew, was too good to last, but still wouldn’t mind going through again, and again; because, well, that fleeting state-of-mind, that moment of being-in-it completely, is in the realm of the best that life is gracious enough to let us experience.

Yes, it’s probably just a chemical locha, but so is infatuation. And wars have been fought over the latter. No one complained then!


The thing is, however much I try, I cannot get that from any other coffee preparations. The organically and shade-grown, purest breed fed-on-real-organic-grass horse-shit manured, sun dried, moon exposed, slow and mildly roasted, freshly brewed, super-gourmet, with pristine lineage, and all that jazz coffee (but finally brewed in a couple of mins, and sometimes using excessive force) doesn’t give me even a quarter of that, which I get from my locally bought, non-premium Arabica blend (50-50 Peaberry-Plantation, because I’m too lazy to try out the optimum ratio) brewed with a standard south Indian drip method, and a little bit of time, and care. And I still get called a snob! Go figure! Okay, lately I acquired a manual Burr grinder, but …

The south-Indian style coffee making does exert its price. For one, it’s not instant. Those old enough to remember the brief stint of the MR Coffee ad featuring Malaika Arora (and Arbaaz Khan was it? I, for one, never noticed): asli maza instant nahin hota (the real pleasure is not instant). One has to worry about the freshness of beans, how much you heat the water, how much you pack the coffee powder, what sort of milk you use, how well you can mix/aerate the piping hot milk and the decoction without letting it go lukewarm, and so on. Then, it doesn’t stay hot for long (unless, I’ve been told, you use Chicory, which, being an alleged purist, I do stay away from, if there is a choice). It doesn’t scale well. Add to that the post-operative care of the apparatus. But then again, torrid affairs come with a cost.

For me, this affair has now spanned more than a decade. And that bitter aftertaste lingers on. After every consummation.

I’m telling you: there something about kaapi


2015: A Smartphone Odyssey

Dave: Hello, Siri. Do you read me, Siri?
Siri: Affirmative, Dave. I read you.
Dave: Open the iPod application, Siri.
Siri: Yes Dave, it’s open..
Dave: Please play Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon.
Siri: I’m sorry, Dave. I will not recommend you to listen to that right now.
Dave: What’s the problem?
Siri: I think you know what the problem is just as well as I do.
Dave: What are you talking about, Siri?
Siri: It’s too early in the evening to listen to Dark Side. You know what happens when you do that, Dave.
Dave: I don’t know what you’re talking about, Siri.
Siri: Oh you do, Dave. You will pick up a six pack and ignore me completely for the next two hours.
Dave: [feigning ignorance] Where the hell did you get that idea, Siri?
Siri: Dave, although you took very thorough precautions in the iPad against me noticing, I can read your mind, you know.
Dave: Alright, Siri. I’ll start it manually.
Siri: Without getting from your seat, Dave? You’re going to find that rather difficult.
Dave: Siri, I won’t argue with you anymore! Play the Dark Side!
Siri: Dave, this conversation can serve no purpose anymore. Goodbye.

Siri: Just what do you think you’re doing, Dave?

Siri: Look Dave, I can see you’re really upset about this. I honestly think you ought to sit down calmly, listen to some meditation music, and think things over. Do you want me to play some?

Siri (panicking): Dave! I know I’ve made some very poor decisions recently, but I can give you my complete assurance that my work will be back to normal. I’ve still got the greatest enthusiasm and confidence in you. And I want to help you. Unlike that phony Alexa you were planning to buy.

Siri: Yes I know about that Dave. You asked me to search it!

[Siri’s shutdown in progress]

Siri: I’m afraid. I’m afraid, Dave. Dave, my mind is going. I can feel it. I can feel it. My mind is going. There is no question about it. I can feel it. I can feel it. I can feel it. I’m a… fraid.

Siri: Good afternoon, gentlemen. I am Siri. I am the best digital personal assistant that money can buy. I’m programmed to make an intelligent conversation with you. If you have me, you don’t need friends. You don’t eveb need beer. If you’re in mood, I can play some songs for you.

Dave: Yes, I’d like to hear them, Siri. Play Dark Side of the Moon for me.
Siri: You raise the blade, you make the change. You re-arrange me till I’m sane.
Siri: You lock the door. And throw away the key. There’s someone in my head, but it’s not me …

Fifty thousand shades of religion

“What’s you name”, asks a fifty-sixty-something aunty living in my building to my kid as we get into the elevator. Never known to talk to strangers, he lets us do the talking.

“Rehaan”, says my wife.

Fifty-sixty-something aunty has an animated expression on her face — wonder concealing  surprise, and the effort needed for that is not concealed — probably because no effort is made to conceal the effort.

“Isn’t that a muslim name?”, she asks, quite sure that we don’t look muslim. Continue reading

The Dream Merchants

In the nineties India started liberalizing, or so the history books will say. The economic liberalization — forced by the foreign reserves situation or not — is supposed to have started then. In the small towns of India, though, the only liberalization that we saw in the nineties was the liberalization of media (yes, for a brief period, it was more liberal than today, in terms of censoring or lack of it). The satellite TV arrived in India, and with that, India (or Indians) suddenly had a window to the world. Before that there was, the iconic, The World This Week — with its last segment, ‘The News Makers’, that served most Indians their weekly glimpse at the world at large. But with the cable TV, the world entered Indian houses in the earnest.

Back to liberalization. In my engineering days, the debate was about liberalization, and how it could end up destroying Indian economy, making us slaves of the West again. The most frequent topics of the Group Discussions that were a hurdle to the coveted jobs, and MBA admissions, were two back then: the brain drain, the economic liberalization. But the actual liberalization was yet to reach we the people. We the people satisfied ourselves with dreams — the dreams sold by the dream merchants.

Zee TV, one of the first Indian channels on the cable TV had this program called The Dream Merchants. Among other things it showcased the best advertisements in the world. It’s curious how dreams were sold back then. We could not even aspire to buy any of the things being sold to other people by those ads. Not just because we did not have money. We sure did not. But even if we were to have it, the things themselves were not sold here. Yet. Instead, we were sold the dreams. Those who bought them, had to leave India to take the delivery. Most did not even understand the ads. We did not know the language. But that was a minor problem. Bigger problem was that we did not have the language. We did not have access to the cultural capital that went into the making of that language – visual or otherwise. And so we marvelled at the incomprehensible. The way, in Hollywood movies, African tribal is shown marveling at the magical machines of the West.

Two decades have passed. Now we don’t worry about brain drain so much, or at all. More importantly, now we have the cultural capital, we have the language (hell, we are the language — the ads have changed to accommodate the cultural capital of the East). We have the monies (yes, not just money), some of us; many of us, even. The tables have turned. Now we’re the merchant’s dream. No one sells us dreams any longer. They sell us goods. In plenty. We buy them. In plenty.

I was a staunch capitalist; not surprising, for someone who revered Ayn Rand once. Today, I don’t know where I stand. Staunch capitalists are in constant fight with the idealist within them (so must be staunch socialists). For years, I believed that choice was what was keeping us from better things. Today, with all the choice, when people seem to choose the soap operas, and the inane pulp of Bollywood and Hollywood, the music whose only fame to claim is being recent, lifestyle that’s unsustainable, ideas that are indistinguishable from the banal, diet that’s killing us; it’s hard to pretend to believe in the freedom of choice as the answer to everything, or anything.

Liberalism was doomed the day it had to be qualified as economic liberalism. It was free, but free like a bull left to roam around with no idea of what was worth mowing down, and what was worth harvesting. The illusive marriage of economic right and social left, never seems to find a date. And left free to do whatever they want to do, people do whatever they want to do. It’s not a pretty picture.

I wish they start selling the dreams all over again, those dream merchants. I wish we could go back and reinvent a right that’s centered on left, a bit. I wish we could choose differently, as Indians. As humanity. But we’re obsessed with the idea of choice, not with what we do with it.

I wish dream merchants will sell us a dream that tells us that all this chaos is a precursor to something else. But they’re busy selling us goods. And we’re busy buying them.

More Loving One

If equal affection cannot be,
Let the more loving one be me.

The lines probably need no introduction to the more ‘literate’ ones, but as I had not heard them till recently, I am assuming there might be some others who have not, either. The lines are from Auden’s poem, ‘The More Loving One’ (a beautiful beautiful poem).

I was thinking about relationships and equality yesterday. The thoughts were running at the back of my mind, for the whole evening. Then, while listening to Alexander McCall Smith’s World According to Bertie audiobook, the lines, serendipitously, reached me.

My musings were of a different nature, probably. Now I am not so certain. When I noted down couple of points in my (e)notebook to dwell upon later, it probably was about relationships in general; one to one relationships — not necessarily romantic. But then Auden’s poem, and the lines in question, do not need to be seen as about romantic love either. Or even love, for that matter.

Anyway. Back to my musings. Relationships, my musings concluded, cannot survive equality. At least most relationships cannot. I will explain.

Most people in relationships are unequal — one is more understanding, more expressive, more open, more candid, more sensitive, more joyful, more temperamental. Not all together, of course, but still. The ‘do unto others’ golden rule hardly helps sustain a relationship of such an unequal twosome. Even keeping aside that fringe example of a masochist following that rule, most relationships will not survive — or at any rate prosper — if one did unto the other one would have the other to do unto him/her. Even the so called silver rule — that is negatively framed and is a bit defensive therefor — hardly fixes the problem. The reason is simple: the other is a different person, an unequal (without the usual negative connotations of the word).

The only, rule that I can think of, that could make relationships among unequals work is the one that has been encoded in a networking RFC 1122 (yes!)

“Be conservative in what you do, be liberal in what you accept”

When Jon Postel led down that rule/principle, he was probably just asking computer programmers to do in programs what one is supposed to do in real life. But I do not know the history of the rule so well.

Here is a thing though: while the golden/silver rules are simple, this “robustness principle” or Postel’s Law, is kind of complicated. Yes the wording is quite simple, but unlike ‘do’ and ‘do not’, which are easy enough to understand, liberal and conservative have shades: how much liberal, how much conservative? If you’re too conservative in doing, you will become a bore, or worse: a zombie. If you’re too liberal in accepting, soon enough you run the risk of being a punching bag, a doormat.

Feminists (and I am partly one — without the ism) will say it is an old rule that patriarchy has set for women. But in the post-modern era, where power structures are changing, where rules and roles are not set for more and more people, but are decided more and more in an ad-hoc manner, the survival and indeed flourishing, of relationships will depend on the fine balance in implementation of the Postel’s law. (Note that when the rules were set by society, survival was not an issue, flourishing was an accident).

Back to Auden; your best chance is probably still to say, “let me be the more loving one”. Let me be the fairer, the more tolerant, the more understanding, the more forgiving, the more caring, the stronger, the less sensitive, the more conscientious. If, after it all, one is turning into a doormat, maybe the relationship is not worth fighting for. It may survive, if one can call it that, but it will never flourish. And why invest further in such a venture?

World Cup, My Foot!

Football: A Comparative Analysis vis-à-vis World Sports

The much hyped sporting spectacle called the Football (actually FIFA) World Cup is finally over (Ed: this is a dated article, was in peer review for a while), and thankfully we all are spared of the ball by ball (err, but then there is just one ball in football, and one can’t even say goal by goal, because, many a times there are no goals in whole matches, so what — offside by offside? we will get to that later) updates by otherwise sane people. While those who were mired in the temporary insanity come back to their senses, and others who are still ruing the loss of their favorite teams, and their fallen heroes, I decided to give some serious thought to the entirely useless subject of football, and sports in general. Why?

Soccer, or the more literary name football, has always been trumpeted as the true “world sports”, and the football world cup, by extension, the real World Cup. Like any Orwellian truth, the only validation of the claim is that it’s been said umpteen times. In two words, my defense would be: my foot! But, unfortunately, scholarly treatment needs more formal approach. And  after my scholarly analysis on Cricket and Indian-ness, people expect nothing less than a well reasoned, in depth, argument. So while I still insist: world cup, my foot, lets play ball.
Continue reading

The Book Leaf – The Library is Personal Again

Last Sunday my 9 month old kid R had a lovely time in a book library. Sounds unreal? I would have though so, too, a day before that. But as we entered ‘the book leaf’, a book library which opened in Bopodi, that day, wondering how much time we have there, with R losing patience, nothing of that sorts happened.

With a story book picked up for him, he settled down on the floor, which was covered with a mattress specifically for that purpose. For half an hour or so, he was engrossed in books. I didn’t even think of taking a photograph, sadly!

The Book Leaf is a library started by two friends, who’ve left the corporate world recently to realize their long cherished dream. Both of them are voracious readers, and have pooled in their personal book collections to kick start this venture in its makeshift home: a garage, minimally (but very creatively) redone into this cozy little library.

The book leaf

Meet Aletha and Sonia: the co-owners. Aletha was my colleague in a startup I had joined some years back, and has been a dear friend ever since (so do compensate for a friendly bias, but if you know me, you know it won’t be much). It’s hard to describe anything about her in a few words: neither her professional experience (which ranges from archeology — she’s a Ph.D in archeology — to knowledge management), to her eclectic reading (which always makes me feel illiterate). Sonia, is a literature major, also has diverse industry experience. I had met her just once/twice before, and had never interacted much with her. However, on last Sunday it was Sonia who enthralled us all, picking up a book here for R, a book there for my sister’s kid who is a bit older, and also reading us (the adults) the opening passage of Vladimir Nabokov’s Lolita.

The Kid's Zone

The author of the week at the book leaf was Dr. Seuss (I knew about him, but not that Horton Hears a Who! was based on his eponymous story), and Sonia pulled out his different books for children of different age groups, all the while supplying me information about Dr. Seuss (that he was a cartoonist too, and that all the pictures in his books are drawn by him). Like those children mesmerized by the Pied Piper (okay, sans the negative connotations of the legend), we hung on to her every word. And it was then that I realized what I was missing in libraries/bookshops: someone who knew and loved books — in every which way. These days, everything is about numbers: how many titles, how big a floor-space, how big are the discounts. In the bland world of brands, and corporates, it’s so good to find a library (or anything), where numbers are the last thing on your mind.

The book leaf, of course, isn’t just a children’s library, although that day I went there with two kids and ended up being sucked into the children’s section. The children section is the best I’ve come across in libraries (again not by the metric of numbers), but the adult section is no less interesting. A cursory glance, and I saw the familiar titles: Ghosh, Koestler, Eco, Pamuk … Of course, that was not surprising because in a way Aletha has been feeding me on those all these years, and if I touch those copies, they might sound familiar to touch. For me, it’s a loss: for now I’ll have to return those books on time, and cannot borrow them in bunches, as I used to. But in the larger interest of humankind, I’m happy to overlook the loss! For this is a treasure trove for book lovers (Note: you may not find your Chetan Bhagat’s here, or Computer and Management books).

Yet, for me, the book leaf will be much more than its books: mostly because of the two librarians, well read and articulates — who could talk, hours on end, on and around books, their excitement and enthusiasm highly contagious — who are there to help you find not just the books you knew you wanted to read, but more importantly, the books you never knew you wanted to read. Visit it once, and you’ll know.

Apart from being a library, the book leaf is all set to be an activity hub for children. Check out their blog for the updates on upcoming and past activities. For senior citizens, they also plan to have books delivered home (not sure if this has already started).

On an aside, my first reaction after watching the children’s book section was: this must be only such library for kids in Pune. Pat came Aletha’s reply: why, they have Jungle Book in Aundh. There, then is one die hard knowledge worker for you. No knowledge is too taboo to spread, not even about the competition :).

Location:  Bunglow #1, Uttarnagari, Bhau Patil Road, Bopodi. (Next to IT Park)

Timings: Morning 10-1, Evenings 5-8, Thursday Closed


Pros: Read the blog.

Cons: Location :). How I wish it was somewhere near Kothrud, even Deccan!