In Pursuit of a Perfect God

I am an almost atheist. I really find it difficult to believe in God, and I find it even more difficult to believe in a God according to a specific religious belief. Yet, when it comes to the inexplicable and unexplainable, I am one of those who would like to take refuge in a Superior Force. My atheist friends brand me a coward for this reason.

I grew up under the influence of my grandmothers who were fairly religious. My paternal grandmother who passed away about seven months back at the  ripe old age of 96 years was a great influence when I was a kid, and used to tell me stories from the Ramayana and the Mahabharata. In fact by the age of four, I just about knew all stories from both the books. In fact getting me to tell a religious tale was a favorite past-time to some of the older folks at home during those days. My maternal grandmother was a huge Sai Baba devotee and used to have poojas and bhajans regularly at home. My father, at least during his younger years, never cared much for religion or God, but turned around by the time he reached 60. My mother is very spiritual and spends hours, even today, praying; and is a follower of Sri Paramahamsa, Vivekananda, and the Brahma Kumaris.

I was also fairly religious till I was around 13 or 14. I remember, after spending a very spiritual summer vacation at my maternal grandmother’s house listening to talks from preachers and thought leaders, I decided to give up on meat, and even cried when I saw it being cooked at home. Around the time I turned 14, I suddenly gave up on God. Looking back, I cannot pin-point a single reason for such a reaction, but there were many. One of the reasons, I decided to give up on the Hindu Gods, were because they were too many. I was scared to align with one.

I also could not understand why Christians prayed in a Church, and Muslims in a Mosque, while I had to visit various temples.
I grew up with friends from all beliefs. I studied in a Catholic school, and my classmates were from various Christian communities, which Kerala is famous for. One of my best friends was a Muslim, and he used to share  his lunch box generously with me. My father’s best friend was a Jew, and we were always invited to his home during their festivals. I started questioning. “Why aren’t my friends Joseph or Tareeq not scared of our Hindu Gods, and why am I not scared of their Christian and Islamic Gods?”

Another issue which I had was the depiction of God by all religions, and the morality associated with the phrase, ‘God Fearing’.

All religions advocated a God who became angry when human beings goofed up and I was advised to be Godfearing, and never invite the wrath of God. When a plane crashed, when floods or famine occurred, or even when someone young died, they held God responsible. God was angry because he has not been appeased properly. Hence slowly in my mind, God became a tough school master, the kind of teachers in our Catholic Boys High School, who used to use the severest form of corporal punishment on young boys. I was very uncomfortable with that image of God. My age of innocence died, and I started indulging in practices that were deemed to be a sin during my wonder years. Then again, I was reminded. God does not like bad boys. You must listen to your parents and teachers. You must focus on your studies. God does not like children who lie, who do mischief. The image of God being a task master who keeps snooping around you like a Big Brother was very uncomfortable. And if God does not punish you in the form of an angry parent and teacher, you are going to get punished on Judgment Day. The concept of Hell and Heaven exists in all religions, and I found that amusing. I don’t know of any major religion that does not have the concept of rewards and punishment once you die. The sinners go to Hell, while the pious souls are rewarded with a heavenly abode.

Also God is supposed to be so powerful, that he can control human beings, human feelings, and human nature. When a classmate fell into a pond, then God sent a passer-by as a savior who jumped in and saved him. When the snake was about to bite, God appeared in the form of a mongoose, and fought with the snake.

Again I had questions. “Thousands die of snake bites every year, and a similar number drown to death. Why doesn’t God send someone or appear in another form?” Elders who  were probably tired of my questions said, “God helps only the innocent souls, people who have done good things in life, and always punishes the sinners.”
“But then several children die young; they are innocent,” I argued.
“No. In their previous birth, they certainly have done something wrong,” came the reply.

I read the Bible when I was in the 9th standard. It was gifted to me by a Christian friend, who wanted me to accept his belief. I read it almost like a Charles Dickens novel, getting very confused between the two testaments. Now God became not just a tough school master, but also a judge, who knew your case too well. A close Christian friend used to regularly go in for confession, and confess his sins, and then come back and commit them all over again, and then repeat the process over. He reasoned. “Confession absolves me of all crime, and I am pure again so I can sin again.” I found that hilarious.

We were told to pray to God, and strike deals with him for special reasons. Doing well in an exam was the most important reason. And if I did not do well, praying to God so that my father takes my results lightly was an automatic step. I found this was almost like bribing. Can God be bribed?

Then the wiser lot told me that there’s just one God, and he’s everywhere, and even inside you. I was comfortable with that idea, and I stopped visiting temples, and even stopped the little prayer I performed before I left for school everyday. By the time I turned 15, I started reading more serious stuff, and over the next three years, I had read enough to denounce God and religion. I gave up on God while still being a teenager.

I spent the next two decades in a more or less godless world using my own moral compass for directions. However suddenly, I have started questioning myself. I have started to miss my God! Well, I don’t know where he is, and what he is like. I don’t know whether he really exists. I know I need to restart the pursuit again.

Yes, the pursuit of a Perfect God.

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New Year Resolutions

I stopped making new year resolutions, by the time I turned 14.

I realised by then that I am a weak mortal, with weaker will power, and concluded that since I am anyway going to break them, why generate another laundry list.

But here goes for 2012, which according to Mayans is End-of-World.

  1. Get back to shape, and hit the treadmill or hit the road regularly. At least 3-4 times a week.Buy that cycle, and start cycling. Allah give me some more money.
  2. Be punctual as far as possible. Don’t over-commit….
  3. Start reading the books that are piling up.
  4. Be less philosophical and more pragmatic.
  5. Eat more vegetables. Reduce carbs. Avoid colas, sweets and other rubbish food.
  6. Write this blog regularly. 21 posts in 4 months I guess was fantastic, but I am getting lazy.
  7. Clean-up more code, and release more to Open Source world.
  8. Write sensibly.
  9. Sleep on time & wake upon time.
  10. Be more social.
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Why supporting Anna still makes sense

The name Hazare till a year back meant Vijay Samuel Hazare, the elegant batsman who was also India’s captain in its first Test victory.

However these days, Hazare is symbolic with Anna Hazare, a former army man, socialist, Gandhian and professional protester par excellence.

My acquaintances and friends often ask me questions such as what I think about Anna, whether I support him and so on. Well, my opinion should hardly matter to anyone, and I have so far shied away from being opinionated on the Anna brigade and their actions.

Some of my friends on Facebook and other social sites have  suddenly started projecting themselves as anti-Anna, while others who form the vast majority are pro Anna. It’s  soon going to be fashionable to go anti-Anna.

Media is divided, while most of them did their bit in building Anna into a super hero, almost comparable to Rajni Saar, some of them  have slyly started taking digs at Anna. Team Anna has been criticized, and there are several conspiracy theories around some of the members.

Many reputed citizens have started criticizing Anna and his team too.

Frankly, I did not quite understand the nuances of the proposed Lokpal bill, and I realize it does not really matter. You do not need to know anything about Lokpal to support Anna.

That’s because I am sure that Lokpal bill will not end corruption, and I am willing to bet on this. This is no silver bullet to problems of corruption. In fact, the change that people are expecting is Utopian and is never going to happen.

Yet I guess we need to continue to rally behind Anna and his proposed Lokpal bill. First of all, it’s the right step or at least it’s a step against corruption.

Today corruption is so rampant, and the cuts which the corruption racket take are humongous. It’s no more a mere 10%; in some cases it’s 100%. Yes, there are many bills which are passed when no work has been done, no materials supplied, and no progress made in many government projects.

A strong body, at least on paper, which is expected to be vigilant and may not be toothless, after all, will make a corrupt officer think.  He will be cautious, and will be more careful.

You need to remember that a corrupt man is not brave, and hence he will take lesser risks and chances. Today 80% of government officials accept bribes, because they know they are not going to get caught, and even if they do, they can get away by paying up. This confidence is something that needs to be shattered.

When a corrupt government official or a politician considers the risks because of a stronger layer, of a potentially vigilant body, then the cuts they take would also automatically become smaller. They would take lesser risks.

Even if we can cut down corruption by 5%, and that funds get utilized in meaningful projects or two,  it’s a great start. It’s a great result too.

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Bloopers from Holmes

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle was a writer who took a lot of care to get his plots correct. One of the reasons, was that he borrowed heavily from the news of those times. However he had his fair share of bloopers even in the Holmes series. Here are a few bloopers that’s difficult to reason logically.

The biggest I can think of is the one surrounding the book The Valley of Fear and the story The Final Problem.

Here’s a passage from the book the Valley of Fear.

“Porlock, Watson, is a nom-de-plume, a mere identification mark; but behind it lies a shifty and evasive personality. In a former letter he frankly informed me that the name was not his own, and defied me ever to trace him among the teeming millions of this great city. Porlock is important, not for himself, but for the great man with whom he is in touch. Picture to yourself the pilot fish with the shark, the jackal with the lion — anything that is insignificant in companionship with what is formidable: not only formidable, Watson, but sinister — in the highest degree sinister. That is where he comes within my purview. You have heard me speak of Professor Moriarty?”

“The famous scientific criminal, as famous among crooks as — ”

“My blushes, Watson!” Holmes murmured in a deprecating voice.

“I was about to say, as he is unknown to the public.”

Here is a passage from the Final Problem.

“You have probably never heard of Professor Moriarty?” said he.
“Never.”
“Aye, there’s the genius and the wonder of the thing!” he cried.

The problem is that in no way the Final Problem can precede The Valley of Fear. This is because within a week of the above dialogue between Holmes and Watson, Moriarty meets his end in a wrestling bout with Holmes, where thanks to his Baritsu skills, Holmes kills Moriarty.

Defense statement: Dr Watson suffered from short term memory loss. Much like Ghajini.

In the Sherlock Holmes short story “The adventure of the Priory School“, while investigating the countryside in an abduction case, Holmes and Watson come across a bicycle track, Watson enquires on the direction the bicycle was travelling in, Holmes replies that the direction can be ascertained by the impressions made by the tracks made by the cycle.

“The more deeply sunk impression is, of course, the hind wheel, upon which the weight rests. You perceive several places where it has passed across and obliterated the more shallow mark of the front one. It was undoubtedly heading away from the school.”

There’s a flaw in this explanation. Since the rear wheel follows the front, it will always cross over the front wheel unless the cyclist circles around and crosses his own path.

Defense: None

In the classic story the Adventure of Speckled Band, Dr. Grimesby Roylott whistles to a deadly snake, called swamp adder of Indian origins. Snakes are deaf. AC Doyle was a man of medicine and it’s surprising that he never knew about this basic fact.

Defense:None

In the Study in Scarlet, Dr John H Watson by his own admission had a wound on his shoulder, apparently by a Jezzail bullet from the famous battle of Maiwand. In later stories he complains of war wounds on his leg.

Defense: It’s probable that Watson fell of his horse and broke his leg too.

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Good Bye Dev Saab

Death is something you never associated with Dev Saab. If my memory serves right in he died exactly two times in his movies. Once in Guide, and then in his last commission-earner Lashkar in 1989.

He was eternally ever green, someone whom you’ll associate with life and the extreme highs of life. You would never have read that he was not well. If you have been lucky enough to read his autobiography Romancing with Life, you’d realize that he was human too, but was incredibly in love with his own evergreen image, that he very tactfully managed to keep everything regarding his health or lack of it away from the public life.

It feels almost surreal, as I write these words. The feeling has not sunk in. It feels that anything can happen, but Dev Anand cannot die. Everyone will die, but Dev Anand will never.

But that’s not the case, the legend indeed has bid adieu to legions of his fans, well wishers, and lovers of good old cinema. Reports say that he died  around 10 PM GMT, following a massive cardiac arrest.

As I write these words, I also read that his family has taken a call to cremate in London itself, which I believe is the best that they could do to keep his image alive.

While the media has been frantically covering the news, a public display of his mortal body, and a cremation that would be covered by half of the electronic channels and print media is not something that Dev Saab would have liked. As a true fan, I would like to remember him being alive, than conform to the reality of his death.

I remember when Raaj “Jaani” Kumar passed away in 1996, not a single soul came to know outside his family. His sons cremated him, and the only interview which the electronic media managed was that of a watchman at the crematorium. Hence Kumar being frail, weak, and unhealthy never stayed in memories of people.

Everyone will remember Raaj Kumar as being the badass hero who unflinchingly uttered the most nonsense of dialogues with the conviction of an experienced preacher.

They were true stars of the celluloid. Dev Saab or Raaj Kumar never endorsed products, or even if they supported a cause commercial or charitable, they never took a rupee. To them film making was all
Their private lives were enigmatic. And their stardom was real.

I have idolized Dev Saab for much of my life. I still remember watching Jewel Thief as a 12 year old on Television and the incredible joy that some of his lesser known films like Solwa Saal (1958), Asli Naqli (1962), or even Patita (1953) gave me.

Critics have always panned him as all style and no substance. These days people prefer to point to his Box Office duds since the late seventies. It’s unfortunate that they do that rather than look at the immense joy that he has provided over time. There are few who can boast of his body of work. I am not going into that. You can read it all over the net.

I have met Dev Saab thrice. Twice in Mumbai, and once in Bangalore. He in fact recollected meeting me, when I last met him during the launch of his autobiography.

I could write pages on him, having watched his movies multiple times, and devoured much of the literature on him.

I would write couple more posts later. Let me leave you with a song from his hit Tere Ghar Ke Saamne. If there were a breezy romantic musical this was it. And has romance been expressed better than this duet…

Categories: Reels of Magic | Tags: , | Leave a comment

Oppose FDI in Retail

What I dreaded since a long time is happening. And I am stunned to see that several of my esteemed peers and colleagues, especially from the Fourth Estate, celebrating the Government’s call to allow FDI in Retail.

I am worried because this would change the landscape of the country, kill dreams of millions of small entrepreneurs, and would be the beginning of the real MNC Raj.

The real economic backbone of India over the past two decades, has been the small businesses owned by the middle class that spans the length and breadth of the country. These are the small mom and pop shops in your neighborhood, often called kirana stores. These are the small retailer of garments in the next street. These are the grocery stores that sells everything from vegetables to vinegar. These are the friendly computer dealers next door.

The FDI in Retail will crush this backbone.

Government is selling the pros very aggressively which can be summed up as follows.

  1. FDI in retail would benefit the consumer. You won’t be fleeced by the next door shop owner, and will avail the best at the lowest price, in increased competition among the large retailers.
  2. Farmers will benefit as they can sell their goods directly to the LFR, and avoid the middleman completely.
  3. The unorganized sector does not pay any taxes. Even if they are organized, they avoid paying taxes. There is a lot of black money in this sector.

Consumer is the King, is a myth.
I’ve been consulting for various businesses for the past decade or so, and I know that no business is a charity. All of them want to sell a perception – they offer the best in terms of value. In reality, all of them just want to make more.

All Large Format Retailers (LFR) have offers that look great on paper, and would be cheaper compared to a kinara store next door. Cheaper by how much? By a few bucks only. Like on Atta or Rice, it would be two to five Rupees per kilogram. They want you to abandon the next door shop, and drive all the way to the LFR for a few bucks less.

In reality, you get this discount because you end up buying a lot. All LFR stores take advantage of the fact that consumers value their time, energy, and the distance they have travelled to reach their mall. Most consumers are not comfortable unless they end up spending a few thousands on a visit to the mall. You end up spending that kind of money, not just because you can afford to, but also because it’s seen as a return of investment for the time, energy and the distance you have travelled to reach the mall.

You end up spending thousands so you can get back your return of investment. When you buy more, you end up getting bigger discounts, chances to take part in schemes that you have a million in one chance of winning. You return home with a feeling that you have saved big money.

You also end up buying several goods that you may not have purchased in the first place, had the shopping experience not prompted you to purchase it.

I did a dipstick survey with my friends and relatives about large purchases. This is what I figured:

  1. They end up spending more than they planned to, and purchased more.
  2. They all feel they saved money
  3. They all agree that some of the stuff they bought may not be used immediately; some may not be used at all.

This implies that at least 10 percent of what you buy on average from an LFR is either a waste or a not-at-all necessary buy. I have quoted a conservative figure here.

You don’t spend similar amounts with the nearby kirana shop, where you buy for the day or the week. Of course, you defend the decision by saying that you don’t get similar discounts.

Some time back, I checked with Metro, touted as the biggest discount wholesaler in Bangalore and also compared to prices that my local store was willing to provide, after a round of bargaining and for volume purchase. I was surprised that in almost all items which I needed, the local store was more than willing to match.

You can bargain with the local store, and not feel ashamed in doing so!

Farmers in this country have never got a good bargain, thanks to the middlemen. When you buy a coconut for Rs. 10 or a kilo of onion for Rs. 18, you need to know that the farmer who has grown the crop, gets just 20 per cent of what you pay. The middlemen or the wholesaler gets a large cut. But the middleman is not a single entity, there are multiple hands, and then they also face the issue of perishable nature of agricultural products, and the cost of transporting them into the cities and towns.

While there would be a temporary benefit for farmers if they sell directly to an MNC retailer initially, I doubt it will last long. Knowing how an MNC works, it would be just a matter of time before they formed a cartel and squeezed the farmers.

Finally the question about unorganized sector not paying taxes. Agricultural produce in this country is generally not taxed, or is taxed very low. The rest of the products sold at a local store are branded, and they all are taxed at multiple levels; the manufacturer pays an excise duty as well as sales tax. The distributor pays sales tax too. A retailer who is the last link in the chain, and other traders, apart from the provisional stores, also pay their taxes. They employ very ordinary people who all earn less than 10,000 on an average. Where’s the question of  income tax for people working in unorganized sector, when 99.99% will not fall under any taxable bracket.

In India, the opposition does not need any reason to oppose. This naturally means that states manned by BJP and its allies will oppose the bill. However, it’s just a question of time for these states to bend. The Communist states like Kerala and West Bengal will not allow, unless the MNC retailer is a Chinese.

The Finance Minister of the country says that if the bill is not passed, the stock market would crash by 400 points. When masters of this economy are enslaved to the stock market phenomenon, then there’s little hope in our leadership.

If the FDI in Retail happens, many of the shop keepers will be forced to shut down. Many of them are fairly old, they are not even employable. No doubt, the LFRs would employ many youngsters. Yes, a number of urban MBAs will get jobs. But at what cost? At least a hundred million will be rendered jobless.

It’s the duty of every citizen to protect and promote his neighborhood, and ensure that local businesses flourish.

Further Reading

  1. This paper, prepared by Stephan Goetz and Hema Swaminathan of the Department of Agricultural Economics and Rural Sociology of Pennsylvania State University, describes what effect the opening of a Wal-Mart can have on a whole community. 
  2. Impact of Malls on Small Shops and Shoppers, a research paper presented in the Economic and Policy Weekly, June 2, 2007, describes the results of a survey of small shops who have been affected by the growth of malls in and around Mumbai.

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Handling Aggressive Adams

The Judge: What happened?
Girl: I was mauled by a pack of street dogs.
Judge: Where did this happen?
Girl: I was walking on the lonely street.
Judge: But why did you go to the lonely street in the first place? You have no business there! Don’t you know that the lonely street is like a jungle, a dangerous place?
Girl: How was I to know that the dogs would be so wild? Dogs are supposed to be friendly!
Judge: Wild dogs aren’t! And the street is not a safe place, especially for a fragile one like you. Remember, dogs do not attack unless their territory is encroached. You must have done something to torment or irritate them, you stupid girl!
Girl: I didn’t! (starts sobbing)

Does the story sound familiar?

In India, everyday hundreds and thousands of women get groped and molested. And a few hundreds get raped. Daily.

Our patriarchal, male chauvinistic and hypocritical society is, more often than not, unwilling to project the woman as a sole victim. Instead it imposes some or all the blame on the abused. The story, very often, is that the rapist, molester, or eve-teaser was actually provoked, seduced, or enticed to do the act!

Recently, a High Court judge in Kerala, Justice Sridevi made remarks which appeared across several sections in the media about the need for women to be careful. She advocated that women should not travel alone. She also opined in a much televised show that the biggest cause of eve-teasing and molestation is the fact that women dress provocatively and indecently. There are several, ostensibly serious members of the moral police who adhere to the same philosophy. They believe that sluts (Read women who dress ‘provocatively’) deserve to get teased, groped, and raped.

The honourable judge has been very careless with her statements. More so because she heads the Women’s Commission in the state. After all, the commission is responsible for safeguarding women’s dignity and rights.

More than 20 years back, I was nearly thrown out of a fast-moving train from Kollam (Quilon, a district in Southern Kerala) to Ernakulam, when I objected to a lady friend of mine being eve-teased by her seniors from college in the name of ragging. Luckily, there were people in the train who were sensible and brave enough to intervene. Their intervention saved the day.

Eve-teasers are like common, street dogs. They rarely react if they are on their own. When cornered they are docile, harmless, and often retreat without a fight. They are like any other dog, quite mild. Sometimes even cute. But as a pack, they are boorish, boisterous, and often dangerous.

An eve-teaser is a brother, boyfriend, husband, father, uncle, and son. He feels very righteously indignant when his own kin become the victim of eve-teasing. But when he is with his gang of friends, he will not think twice about passing a lewd comment, touching, or even groping another man’s sister or girlfriend.

But why do eve-teasers behave the way they do?

They do so because they know they will get away with it. Most girls don’t complain, or even react. The eve-teaser concludes that the women actually enjoy being touched and groped. Some of them believe that they are God’s gift to womankind, giving girls much needed enjoyment and relief. They also subscribe to the view that every woman on the street except for their own mom, sister, or girl friend is a very horny woman, who loves to be touched.

Very few women react because they think it’s a no-win situation. To translate a Malayalam idiom, “whether the leaf falls on the thorn, or the thorn falls on the leaf; it’s the leaf that gets spoiled.” As long as majority of the women decide to silently suffer, men will continue to think erroneously that they managed to satisfy the sexual urges of a horny woman.

The brave women who have reacted have been subjected more to ridicule than appreciation by our society. The onlookers very often watch the fun, pass more comments, and walk away.

There has been a lot of media focus on the Slut Walk across Indian cities. Besides the media attention there’s little that’s really helping. If anything, this movement is further reinforcing the philosophy right wing groups subscribe to – women provoke men to behave the way they do.

The blame lies with the media, film industry, and fiction writers.

Unfortunately our movies, pulp fiction, media, and other forms of entertainment depict any woman who is scantily clad as a slut who is easy, and often open to casual sex. She also smokes like a chimney and drinks like a fish. This stereotype is so strong that the average man assumes that a woman showing cleavage, wearing clothes that are suggestive or reveal more than they conceal, or one who smokes a cigarette, or enjoys her drink, must necessarily be a slut. The tragedy is that even a female judge of the High Court subscribes to this stereotype.

Why can’t we have movies where pativratas dress provocatively and the white saree clad women are depicted as sluts?

There’s only one solution to the problem – a very strong legal system, which this country cannot really hope for. There are very few rapes or even cases of eve-teasing reported in Saudi Arabia or the countries where Sharia law is practiced. While following draconian laws is not pragmatic in a democratic country like India, it is necessary that we do something about eve-teasing.

Women need to react, and react strongly. They need to cry out, scream, punch, bite, and/or slap those who try to tease them. Men must learn to be chivalrous and side with women who raise a voice against eve-teasing.

Women need to remember that the eve-teaser is a coward. He is the harmless dog on the street, who will come barking at you when in a pack but who runs away the moment you pick up a stone.

Ladies, if you don’t have the guts to react strongly, then you must seriously consider Madam Sridevi’s recommendations. And be happy with it. Because street dogs don’t run away if you act meek.

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The Art of Sledging

While loitering around M G Road a few months back, I chanced upon a secondhand book shop, where I picked up a copy of The Art of Sledging by J Harold. This 120 page book is a delightful read, and takes you around an hour at the maximum to finish. It’s full of piquant anecdotes surrounding verbal sportsmanship in the Gentleman’s game.

Though a pacifist by nature, I have seen no harm in some friendly or unfriendly banter, in professional sports. I have seen some senior cricketers, notably Sunil Gavaskar who have been very vocal against sledging. I believe that’s being a bit sissy, and unless the verbal banter crosses certain limits, I see no harm in a bit of over-indulgence.

I have been sledged more often than not on the cricket field, at work, while tackling traffic on Bangalore streets, online, and just about everywhere. Over the years, my own vocabulary has improved. So much so that now I know precisely how to give back, if needed.

Sledging is an art that indeed needs to be mastered. Practitioners of the art have managed to irritate, distract, and enrage their opponents to the point of giving up positions of advantage like lose their wickets in a cricket match.

I must confess that I have used the art of sledging for my own profit while playing Yahoo! Chess, occasionally to drive an opponent or two mad. Yes, it works!

Let me leave you with one of the best anecdotes from the book, which I recommend, especially if you are a connoisseur of cricket, or just want to be humoured. This one is on the late Fed Trueman, the legendary English fast bowler.

No one was safe from Freddie’s sardonic wit – not even his team mates. A beautiful delivery from Trueman caught the outside edge of an opponent’s bat and flew directly to Raman Subba Row fielding at slip. As Trueman watched, the ball went right through the fielder’s legs and to the boundary at third man. Fred didn’t say a word.

At the end of the over, Subba Row apologised meekly:
‘Sorry Fred, I should’ve kept my legs together.
Trueman replied in characteristic fashion:
‘Not you, son. Your mother should’ve!’ 

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I got my Bible back

I got another copy of my bible. Well, I grew older on October 24, and a good friend gifted me with yet another copy of the Canon.

There’s perhaps no work of literature that has entertained, excited, and enthralled me like the 56 short stories and 4 novels, together described as the Canon written by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. Doyle died 81 years ago, but his works continue to inspire generations of readers.

To me, the pleasure of reading Sherlock Holmes has remained the same for the past 25 years. I read Holmes for the first time in my early teens. A sense of nostalgia fills me every time I read a page from the Canon. For connoisseurs of Victorian literature, the prose by Doyle is certainly supreme.

I am not exaggerating when I say that I use the Canon like a Christian preacher would use the Bible. Whenever I get worried, tense, or simply concerned, I turn to the Canon for an answer.

I can fill pages with personal anecdotes on how the Canon has helped me. Here are some of my personal favourite passages and quotes:

“You see,” he explained, “I consider that a man’s brain originally is like a little empty attic, and you have to stock it with such furniture as you choose. A fool takes in all the lumber of every sort that he comes across, so that the knowledge which might be useful to him gets crowded out, or at best is jumbled up with a lot of other things so that he has a difficulty in laying his hands upon it. Now the skilful workman is very careful indeed as to what he takes into his brain-attic. He will have nothing but the tools which may help him in doing his work, but of these he has a large assortment, and all in the most perfect order. It is a mistake to think that that little room has elastic walls and can distend to any extent. Depend upon it there comes a time when for every addition of knowledge you forget something that you knew before. It is of the highest importance, therefore, not to have useless facts elbowing out the useful ones.”
Sherlock Holmes, in “A Study in Scarlet”

“From a drop of water,” said the writer, “a logician could infer the possibility of an Atlantic or a Niagara without having seen or heard of one or the other. So all life is a great chain, the nature of which is known whenever we are shown a single link of it. Like all other arts, the Science of Deduction and Analysis is one which can only be acquired by long and patient study nor is life long enough to allow any mortal to attain the highest possible perfection in it. Before turning to those moral and mental aspects of the matter which present the greatest difficulties, let the enquirer begin by mastering more elementary problems. Let him, on meeting a fellow-mortal, learn at a glance to distinguish the history of the man, and the trade or profession to which he belongs. Puerile as such an exercise may seem, it sharpens the faculties of observation, and teaches one where to look and what to look for. By a man’s finger nails, by his coat-sleeve, by his boot, by his trouser knees, by the callosities of his forefinger and thumb, by his expression, by his shirt cuffs — by each of these things a man’s calling is plainly revealed. That all united should fail to enlighten the competent enquirer in any case is almost inconceivable.
From “The Book of Life”, an article by Holmes quoted in “A Study in Scarlet”

“In solving a problem of this sort, the grand thing is to be able to reason backwards. That is a very useful accomplishment, and a very easy one, but people do not practise it much. In the every-day affairs of life it is more useful to reason forwards, and so the other comes to be neglected. There are fifty who can reason synthetically for one who can reason analytically.”
Sherlock Holmes, in “A Study in Scarlet”

“Detection is, or ought to be, an exact science, and should be treated in the same cold and unemotional manner. You have attempted to tinge it with romanticism, which produces much the same effect as if you worked a love-story or an elopement into the fifth proposition of Euclid.”
Sherlock Holmes, in “The Sign of the Four”

“He has considerable gifts himself. He possesses two out of the three qualities necessary for the ideal detective. He has the power of observation and that of deduction. He is only wanting in knowledge; and that may come in time.”
Sherlock Holmes, in “The Sign of the Four”

He smiled gently. “It is of the first importance,” he said, “not to allow your judgment to be biased by personal qualities. A client is to me a mere unit, — a factor in a problem. The emotional qualities are antagonistic to clear reasoning. I assure you that the most winning woman I ever knew was hanged for poisoning three little children for their insurance-money, and the most repellant man of my acquaintance is a philanthropist who has spent nearly a quarter of a million upon the London poor.”
Sherlock Holmes, in “The Sign of the Four”

“I never make exceptions. An exception disproves the rule.”
Sherlock Holmes, in “The Sign of the Four”

“He makes one curious but profound remark. It is that the chief proof of man’s real greatness lies in his perception of his own smallness. It argues, you see, a power of comparison and of appreciation which is in itself a proof of nobility. There is much food for thought in Richter.”
Sherlock Holmes, in “The Sign of the Four”

“Winwood Reade is good upon the subject,” said Holmes. “He remarks that, while the individual man is an insoluble puzzle, in the aggregate he becomes a mathematical certainty. You can, for example, never foretell what any one man will do, but you can say with precision what an average number will be up to. Individuals vary, but percentages remain constant. So says the statistician.”
Sherlock Holmes, in “The Sign of the Four”

“I have no data yet. It is a capital mistake to theorize before one has data. Insensibly one begins to twist facts to suit theories, instead of theories to suit facts.”
Sherlock Holmes, in “A Scandal in Bohemia”

“Depend upon it, there is nothing so unnatural as the commonplace.Circumstantial evidence is a very tricky thing,” answered Holmes thoughtfully. “It may seem to point very straight to one thing, but if you shift your own point of view a little, you may find it pointing in an equally uncompromising manner to something entirely different.”
From “The Boscombe Valley Mystery”

“There is nothing more deceptive than an obvious fact,” he answered, laughing.”The ideal reasoner,” he remarked, “would, when he had once been shown a single fact in all its bearings, deduce from it not only all the chain of events which led up to it but also all the results which would follow from it. As Cuvier could correctly describe a whole animal by the contemplation of a single bone, so the observer who has thoroughly understood one link in a series of incidents should be able to accurately state all the other ones, both before and after. We have not yet grasped the results which the reason alone can attain to. Problems may be solved in the study which have baffled all those who have sought a solution by the aid of their senses. To carry the art, however, to its highest pitch, it is necessary that the reasoner should be able to utilize all the facts which have come to his knowledge; and this in itself implies, as you will readily see, a possession of all knowledge, which, even in these days of free education and encyclopaedias, is a somewhat rare accomplishment. It is not so impossible, however, that a man should possess all knowledge which is likely to be useful to him in his work, and this I have endeavored in my case to do.”
Sherlock Holmes, in “The Five Orange Pips”

“Experience,” said Holmes, laughing. “Indirectly it may be of value, you know; you have only to put it into words to gain the reputation of being excellent company for the remainder of your existence.”
From “The Adventure of the Engineer’s Thumb”

“It is one of those cases where the art of the reasoner should be used rather for the sifting of details than for the acquiring of fresh evidence.”
Sherlock Holmes, in “Silver Blaze”

“The tragedy has been so uncommon, so complete and of such personal importance to so many people, that we are suffering from a plethora of surmise, conjecture, and hypothesis. The difficulty is to detach the framework of fact — of absolute undeniable fact — from the embellishments of theorists and reporters.”
Sherlock Holmes, in “Silver Blaze”

“Is there any point to which you would wish to draw my attention?”
“To the curious incident of the dog in the night-time.”
“The dog did nothing in the night-time.”
“That was the curious incident,” remarked Sherlock Holmes.

Inspector Gregory and Holmes, in “Silver Blaze”

“You know my methods in such cases, Watson. I put myself in the man’s place and, having first gauged his intelligence, I try to imagine how I should myself have proceeded under the same circumstances. In this case the matter was simplified by Brunton’s intelligence being quite first-rate, so that it was unnecessary to make any allowance for the personal equation, as the astronomers have dubbed it.”
“I cannot agree with those who rank modesty among the virtues. To the logician all things should be seen exactly as they are, and to underestimate one’s self is as much a departure from truth as to exaggerate one’s own powers.”
Sherlock Holmes, in “The Adventure of the Greek Interpreter”

“There is nothing in which deduction is so necessary as in religion,” said he, leaning with his back against the shutters. “It can be built up as an exact science by the reasoner. Our highest assurance of the goodness of Providence seems to me to rest in the flowers. All other things, our powers, our desires, our food, are all really necessary for our existence in the first instance. But this rose is an extra. Its smell and its color are an embellishment of life, not a condition of it. It is only goodness which gives extras, and so I say again that we have much to hope from the flowers.”
Sherlock Holmes, in “The Adventure of the Naval Treaty”

“Education never ends, Watson. It is a series of lessons with the greatest for the last.”
Sherlock Holmes, in “The Adventure of the Red Circle”

And finally my favourite….

“Work is the best antidote of sorrow.” 

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Why Socialism and Communism are still relevant

My political views have almost always been left of centre. It has oscillated from being extremist to moderate over the years, but it was always left of centre.

So am I a Communist or a Socialist? Do I believe in leftist politics that’s considered not forward thinking by most? Do I sympathize with the Naxals, Maoists, and other revolutionary groups?

I have read considerable Communist and Socialist literature, listened to lectures from Marxist leaders and thinkers, had friends who were and are staunch Communists. Since most of these happened at a fairly impressionable age, I would consider myself to be a Communist and Socialist at heart.

However, I don’t want to identify myself with the leftist parties in India. Most of the popular political parties in the left front are no different from any other Indian political party– communal, corrupt and psuedo-secular. They are more loyal to the Chinese Communist party, which funds them, and fuels their ideologies than to the down-trodden masses which they are supposed to represent.

I completely sympathize with the “perceived reason” for which Naxals are fighting for, but I completely abhor their methods, and style of functioning. I don’t subscribe nor prescribe to any type of violence, especially when it’s violence which partly or fully, directly or indirectly is targeted at innocents. And innocents include poor constables who venture to take up a job to feed their families, who unwittingly become victims of violence by Maoists against the state.

Having read, listened, debated, and experienced I must confess that Communism and Socialism in its pure form, are very utopian. Communism at least is simply not pragmatic, and history has been witness to the way the  Soviet bloc disintegrated.

Does it mean that it’s irrelevant?

No. The core philosophy is more relevant today than it has ever been. I am convinced more than ever that Socialism and Communism will return, and hopefully during my life time. They may be perhaps re-branded and reformed, but they will return like old wine in a new bottle.

If you consider the very basic principle of Communism or Socialism, it’s all about creating a level playing field for just about everyone in the society, by attempting to create a classless society.

Today in India or in the US, the society consists of different classes depending on their social and financial status, clout, and asset acquisition powers. In India, you also have complexities involving religion, caste and sub-castes, while skin colour and ethnicity are often used to demarcate classes in the US.

Transforming  societies to a classless model, requires social engineering that’s never very practical, and both Communism and Socialism recommend different paths.

Communists would take the path of changing the state itself, with a new constitution, bringing the whole state under a single political party, abolishing every other political thought and voice, bringing dictatorship through a political leadership, taking away assets from the haves and distributing the same to the have-nots. History has shown that in most cases, such transformation has been mostly bloody, with gross atrocities committed against mankind. Millions died in both Russia and China, during the social experiments of Stalin and Mao, respectively.

Socialists do not recommend changing the state, and would prefer to implement or continue with democracy. They will introduce reforms within the democratic system by altering Governmental policies; introducing new laws, new ideas and nationalism as some of the core services.

However, both Communism and Socialism have failed across the world, except in China, because of three major facts.

  1. The people implementing the ideology were human beings, and are corrupt by nature, and especially when they are empowered. And power corrupts even the scrupulous.
  2. The other reason is a human tendency to resist change, without really understanding why someone wants change.
  3. Vested interests especially from the haves who will lose out as the transformation take place.

External forces have also played roles. The United States and its allies have always found the idea of socialism scary, and have used the CIA to fund anti-socialists and communist forces across the world to topple communist and left-leaning regimes.

In the next two decades we are going to see class divisions across the globe of gargantuan proportions. The digital divide is very real, and as a result we will see social-economic divisions that can be compared to Europe in the 18th century. The difference between haves and have-nots is very apparent. I see some new iteration or spin-off of Communism happening, very soon.

I live in an apartment complex consisting of 14 flats of different sizes in a Bangalore suburb. Majority of the flats have double income couples and I believe each family earns between Rs 50,000 and 2,50,000. I  believe that together we employ around 20 support staff that include maids, cooks, drivers, security guards and ayahs, and  their family income would be between Rs 6000 to 12,000. It ranges from  1:10 to 1:50.

We all reside in the same city, and perhaps in the same vicinity, but the income levels and acquisition powers are different. The standard of living and the quality of life is different. I have been told the ratio is  larger in the posher places in the city, and even larger in some parts of Delhi and Mumbai.

As globalisation becomes real, the divide gets wider and bigger. There would be a day, where every commodity supply and price would be controlled by a corporation governed by the mindless and merciless dynamics of the stock market. Even a government like what we have can only protect the interests of what they classify as the Below Poverty Line (BPL). At Rs. 32 as a cut-off, many of the have-nots (people whom you personally know and engage with) don’t get protection with any of the government policies.

IT industry and globalisation have merely created a new class, that’s large in number, a class of haves, who are as vulnerable as the monarchy and the aristocracy were during French revolution. They earn great salaries, perks, and are able to chase their dreams easily. By the time they reach 30, they would have acquired more than what their parents did during an entire lifetime.

It’s time this class realised the realities of what is being created around them. As they scamper for the gold rush, they should sit back and realise the divide will do more harm than good in the future.

During the Nehruvian times, we actually had a very socialist thinking governance. It’s impossible to rollback the economic reforms for many quasi-economic reasons for us .

However, I believe the young urban middle class can actually take some simple steps to ensure that the damage of the social-economic divide is reduced.

Or they can prepare themselves for being at the wrong end of the revolution.

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