Tuesday, January 29, 2008

children ... childhood memories and miscellaneous balderdash

Yesterday, I saw a kid standing under a street light with a place mat on his head, engrossed in playing with his own shadow. When kids don't have too many toys to play with, the only thing they are left with is their own imagination.

I wonder whether parents stifle the imagination of their kids these days by pampering them with too many toys ... or whether having the toys just helps them imagine bigger and better things - I doubt if this is the case though.

I had toys as a kid but never too many. My brother and I preferred to make our toys. We'd design vehicles using discarded medicine boxes with bottle caps for wheels and aluminium wires for axles. We'd spend a lot of time in the undergrowth on the border of the forest, playing vague games and generally hacking through with machetes fashioned out of bamboo. These were made by the local people that worked for my dad and were pretty effective and sharp.

At other times, we'd play in the garden. I remember digging a small circle in order to create an island. We would then fill the "moat" with water and spend the rest of the day collecting ants of different types and putting them there to see whether they would fight!

Chasing dragonflies and butterflies was another option ... and you could always eat sweet peas while at eat .. picking the pods straight off the vines.

When it was too hot or cold to be outside, we'd find things to do inside the house ... we'd make boats out of paper ... and sometimes more complicated constructs that we'd call "steamers". We'd then collect water in a sink and float them around.

At times, things got a tad more dangerous - though we didn't realize it then. Dad was posted in a border area that had seen some fighting during the war with China. So, it was quite easy to find spent ammunition in the garden as we pottered about. Brother and I were extremely interested in the darker stuff that we could see within the casing. We assumed it was not gunpowder since the bullet had already been shot ... so we collected a bunch of them, put them into a tin pencil box and shoved it into the fireplace (yup we had a fireplace in the kitchen in those days) early in the morning ... while parents were still asleep.

So there we were, crouched next to the fire place ... luckily for us, nothing exploded. We retrieved the box from the fire after a while and realized that the dark stuff had melted out and solidified again in weird designs ... it was lead I suppose.

That was when dad barged into the kitchen ... and the rest as they say is history :)

I feel sorry for the kids I see around me these days. Cramped within their houses, boxed in tiny vans to school, confined into classrooms with a bunch of disgruntled teachers to teach them ... boxed into a van back home ... and boxed into the home again ... with a maid perhaps instead of a parent or grandparent to take care of them ...

Guess it is no wonder that they behave the way they do ... our generation is so busy earning money that they probably wont realize till much later what a dysfunctional bunch of people they are helping create.

I hope they will realize what went wrong with them as kids and they shall take pains to give their children a better childhood ... and life shall have come back full circle.

Monday, January 28, 2008

who is god?

Continuing with this Nibiru thing ...

Was wondering the other day - as far as most religions are concerned, God is defined as the bloke that created us. So now, if He was some alien geek in whatever constitutes a lab coat on their planet, would our religions then settle for calling him God?

I personally wouldn't. Nothing short of the creator of the universe itself would do for me I realized.

As a Hindu, I was introduced to a plethora of Gods early in life. I once asked mom ... how is it that our gods seem to have all the human failings? They get angry, they can be flattered, they get seduced ... you name it ... they have it ... all the failings. I can't quite remember what she answered then ... but at some later point I remember dwelling on the thought that any God with emotions would be a lesser God.

The "One" I reasoned should be unbiased. Good and Evil are what we see when we look at the small picture. From up there, He should be able to see the whole ... and the balance therein. For example, if you break up an atom you see electrons and protons and neutrons ... so electrons are negative (evil) ... protons are positive (good) and neutrons are neutral (wise ones) ... let us assume.

The atom as a whole is balanced and it would come apart or change into something fundamentally different if we were to take out any of the components. So, while I may perceive all these differences while I am inside the atom, once I come out of it, I see it as a stable whole. The universe should be similar for Mr. God is what I think.

Another way of looking at it is that the true God (if he is a unity and not a duality or a trinity etc.) would need to be neither good nor evil. So he cannot be pro-good. Everything in the universe needs to be in some sort of cosmic balance. If God is good, then who is bad? If God decides to be good, then by being good, he creates evil. If God is an Unity (something I have begun to doubt as I write this post) then he can neither be good nor evil. Any God that is good is therefore a lesser God again.

Which brings us to the point ... would religion be so enticing without the carrot of salvation and the stick of damnation? Would we really pray and stuff if we realized that God does not give a damn what we do. It does not matter to him any way. And, if someone ever appears and says it matters, this must be a lesser God. Powerful perhaps ... but not Him.

We are really free to do whatever we want to do. Any laws that the God does not want us to break, we can't. Just because you don't believe in gravity, you can't levitate. It takes a little more than that as you may have noticed. If there is something that you can do, it must be because He doesn't care whether you choose to do it or not.

And morality? Some time ago, it was quite alright and highly noble to burn women at the stake or dunk them into a river ... just label them as witches and this was all in a perfectly good day of work. If you want a more famous example there is always Joan of Arc ... but there a thousands of others that are not even named in history.

Today we look at it differently though. For all you know in another couple of centuries, it may be ok to do this to men - because they did it to women earlier ... burn them as warlocks perhaps ... if you don't believe this can happen you can read up on the reservation policy in India.

So ... there is no such thing as a moral absolute. The only way you can take a moral stance over the ages ... and be agnostic to the changing values is if you evaluate an action based on why it was done. The reason that guided the action ... was that good or was that bad? Even this does get a little dicey since good and bad changes with time. Today, if I may consider that anything done for the good of the society is good. A thousand years later, that may be considered to be sacrilege when people automate the basics and live more individualistic life styles requiring little or no interaction.

Then, the only way to evaluate an action is to ask "Why was this done? What were they trying to accomplish by doing this?" and then, once that question is answered, ask "was this purpose considered to be good or evil at the time when the deed was done?". Simple enough. That is what the Gita tells us.

Think about it... I wouldn't be surprised if you have a different answer. Even what we generally think about is based on the vocabulary we have. Very few people go through the process of creating new words to describe new concepts that we have no words for in the current language. Even our thoughts are therefore bound by the limitations of the language that we think in -unless we consciously break away from it....

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Apocalypse ... now?

I guess we are all resigned to the fact that Earth cannot and shall not last forever. While saddening, the thought isn't really unsettling because we believe that it will not happen in our lifetime. Nor will it happen in the life time of our kids ... or their kids ... so, there isn't much to lose. And there is always the hope that given the ages to come, we as a race shall be advanced enough by then to escape the calamity even if we are unable to avert it.

It would, on the other hand, be extremely unsettling if we were to believe that the earth would be destroyed in our life time. Over the last couple of days, I have discovered that a numerous number of people are actually living everyday of their lives under this terrible shadow - the "knowledge" that the earth shall be destroyed in their life times. What a terrible burden to carry. I can only admire them for the determination with which they carry on with their mundane existence despite the knowledge of what is to come.

I read through some of the literature that is available on the web, with an open mind ... or so I believe. A lot of the doomsday stuff is really crappy and I doubt I can open my mind enough to accept it ... without having my brain fall splat on the ground.

However, I was somewhat impressed by Sitchin and what he has to say about Nibiru. Though a lot of it sounds rather far fetched, the basic premise that there is another massive body in or near the solar system which we have not found so far sounds plausible.

There are some anomalies that we don't really have good enough explanations for ... like what is effecting the orbits of some of the outer planets ... and I guess scientists should keep an open mind too.

If most solar systems have planets in weird orbits, and we have found that Sedna in our own solar system has such an orbit, how can we confidently state that there is no other body that we have missed ...

We simply don't know enough yet ... and so, we cannot definitely say that Nibiru does not exist.
But ... what if it does?

Friday, January 11, 2008


Yesterday Tata motors showed the "nano" to the public for the first time.
Why is it such a big deal?
Because, it is the cheapest car anywhere in the world at 1,00,000 INR.
As Mr. Ratan Tata put it, making a car this cheap wasn't easy. But then he had promised the people of India a car for the common man ... and a promise is a promise.
It was interesting to hear the spokesman for Volkswagen - the original people's car - make vehement excuses as to why they could not even conceive of such a car ... far less produce it.
A promise is a promise all right. And I hung my head in shame as one of my childhood idols made a complete ass of herself on one of the TV channels. Medha Patkar it seems also believes that a promise is a promise ... and in her conviction, she went ahead to protest against the nano irrespective of whatever it may be.
As Billy Joel sang, as we grow older, instead of seeing black and white, we often see shades of grey. And just like everything else, the nano has its shades of grey. However, all that our NGOs can see is black and white ... and more black than white apparently.
What irked me no end was that none of these people were even waiting to see what the nano had to offer before condemning it.
Most of their concerns were vague at best ... a famous slogan "roti kapda makaan" ... food, clothing and shelter ... was mentioned a zillion times ... but exactly how that had anything to do with a technologically advanced small car wasn't quite apparent to me.
One concern they had was the fact that if more people bought cars, there would be more pollution.
My answer to that is ... don't bikes pollute?
Is a euro 4 compliant small car worse than a bike?
Who is losing if a family of 4 that travels on a 2 wheeler, upgrades to a 4 wheeler that is safer?
Apparently the NGOs are.
After all, they are not the ones that need to fear for the lives of their kids. Just like Maneka Gandhi can scream about cruelty against stray dogs, sitting in her ivory tower, while children on the street get brutally attacked and killed by them.
Some claim that the roads shall be more congested.
One of the contributing factors to traffic congestion here in India is the fact that the variety of traffic on our roads. We have everything from bullock carts to sleeping cows to rickshaws, autos, trucks, bikes, cycles, cars, hand carts, the odd elephant or 2 and god only knows what else on our roads. The 2 wheelers get from one place to another faster only because the riders are willing to flout every rule. You will see them weaving in and out among the stopped cars at the traffic signals, you will see them go over the pavement, getting pushed in the wrong direction along one way streets ... if these people upgrade to a car, I am sure that the traffic situation can only get better ... there will be less people flagrantly violating rules ...
One thing about the nano that is indeed black is the manner in which the land for the factory is being acquired for it in West Bengal. But frankly, it is very difficult to understand what the ground reality really is. There is way too much politics involved. While it is quite believable that the communist party in power there may be responsible for all the things that it has been accused off, it is equally likely that the opposition parties there are just inciting the trouble to help there cause ... after all, Mamta Bannerjee is another lady who could have really done a lot for the country but finally turned out to be just another politician ...
Moving away from what other people think of the nano and what I think of them, personally, I believe that the nano is a landmark.
I think it is a brave thing to attempt. I don't think that car this cheap can be produced simply by cutting corners and reducing safety measures and such. It requires engineering and a paradigm shift at some very basic levels. Of course it remains to be seen whether this has really happened or whether this is really just about cutting corners.
Ratan Tata said that the car would have a mileage of about 20 kilometers to the litre and would follow euro IV emission norms. Exemplary if true - and so far, there is no reason to believe otherwise.
Had the same car been produced in Japan and imported into India - say by Suzuki under the Maruti banner - I am quite certain that the NGOs and environmentalists would have been absolutely delighted and would have welcomed it with open arms, not once doubting its claims. These people who are protesting against the nano lack the belief that we as Indians can create something better than what the rest of the world has already created. That makes this another landmark. The fact that it has been made in India.
There is a lot about India that isn't right ... but there is a lot that is right too. We cannot throw the baby out with the bath water. And we need to realize that necessity really is the mother of invention. No other country really needs a car this cheap ... in initial cost or in running costs. India needs such a car. It is no great shakes really that such a car should be born here.
I am not an optimist in general. However, this is something that I feel optimistic about. I think it is time that we as a country learnt to appreciate ourselves. Let us not wait for some European car award for the nano before embracing it. Let us not wait for an American car magazine to write a rave review before acknowledging the effort that takes in breaking a mindset. Let us not wait for Japanese approval before approving the car. Let us for once not be like a basket full of crabs pulling each other down to make sure that no one ever makes it out of the basket.
Let us give the nano time to prove itself before we sit in judgement. To even contemplate something like this is a huge step. If at the end of the time we realize that the nano leaves something to be desired, instead of deriding it, let us see how we can make it better. Let us figure out what works best for us as a country rather than following blindly in the wake of other countries.
Dunno whether these environmentalists and the likes pray ... if they do, maybe they should ask God to grant them the patience to wait and see whether a thing is good before raising hell ... the strength to raise hell when it is really required ... and the good sense to know when to be patient and when to raise hell.

Wednesday, January 09, 2008

Happy Old Year?

New Year was good ... and it is good to be back.

It is colder these days - especially towards the morning.

The guy that cleans the car hasn't come back to work for over a week now - talk about an extended New Year celebration - and the dew running off the car in the mornings leaves rather interesting patterns in the dust that has gathered.

What are the chances that he'll make an appearance the day after I clean the car myself? I am assuming rather high - which is why, in the meanwhile, I am rather content to be seen driving around in a car with sand colored leopard like spots on the roof and the bonnet and sand colored zebra like stripes on the sides.

The color is the car is about the same as Superman's tights ... so you can visualize just how amazing it looks :)

Been thinking some ... maybe I don't know about it ... but we don't have a festival/holiday when we look back or introspect. All the celebrations in popular culture ... the ones that have cut across religious boundaries for the most part such as New Year and birthday parties have people wishing us for our future. Shouldn't we have a day in the year when we look back at the year that has gone by and celebrate the things that we have done well, and learn from the things that we haven't been that good at?

I was just thinking whether it would make me a queer old timer if, when I have kids of my own, as a family we celebrate the New Year on 2 days. On the 30th perhaps, we can have a quiet family day when we spend time together and everyone is given time to actually look at the year that has passed by and take what they want from it ... and leave whatever they don't. Then New Year eve can be celebrated the way they want to celebrate ... at home ... or with friends ... sober ... or high... waking up to a fresh new morning ... or hungover staring around bleary eyed and trying hard to recollect what the name of the person lying next to them is ...

Yeah ... maybe I'll try that ... though I can already imagine myself sitting in a corner of my room on a wooden rocking chair ... in a huff ... with a cloud of smoke hovering over my head ... trying hard to retrospect ... but only managing to wonder why no one is willing to follow the head of the family ... while she potters about the house with a knowing smile and rakes up dish that she thinks will get me back on track ...

Surprising as it may seem, despite having thought quite a bit about this, and despite having spent the time to actually type it out in this post, I am yet to go over my last year ...

This weekend perhaps ... or next New Year maybe ... who knows?