Sunday, December 5, 2010

testing posting from mobile

i suppose this may not permit posting in rich text. no, found out otherwise

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Encounters with Art of Living

With all the controversies surrounding Sri Sri Ravishankar's 'attempt on life' I am reminded of the few encounters with his Art of Living classes and its evangelists.

The first and most interesting incident occurred while I was traveling with my friend Murali from Thiruvananthapuram to Bangalore in the slow moving 'express train' - Island Express. The journey is pretty boring and long. After some time, we started chatting with the fellow travelers in the adjoining set of next 8 seats.

We were in our 2nd year of engineering, and a young man working in the then dream field of IT held our attention. After chatting on general topics, he slowly moved on to religion and spirituality. Then he began his sales pitch by saying 'Life is an art, you must master the art to have a proper life'. Then he said that the only way to master the art of life is to join the preliminary course at Sri Sri Ravi Shankar's Art of Living course. With his skills, he had almost convinced the other 4-5 people sitting there to join the course at 1500 rupees. Seeing the crass commercialization of Hinduism, we got piqued and started picking on his statements and presenting counter statements.

During this, he made a mistake of saying 'Why are you folks thinking like this - if a girl tells you I love you, you believe it, whereas if someone tells you he hates you, you don't believe it'. We picked on this and said, no, its the other way round - if a girl tells I love you, she may be saying it with ulterior motives, whereas if someone says I hate you, it is more likely to be straight from the heart and hence more trustworthy. Others who had earlier agreed to join the preliminary course agreed with this point of view. We then went on to say that everything is a part of living, and even art of living is a part of living, playing on silly rhymes.

By this time everyone dropped their plans to join the Art of Living course much to the irritation of our evangelist friend. He more or less threw us out from there but that didn't give him any brownie points with those who had dropped the plans to join the course. At Coimbatore station when we stepped out to have tea, this dude ran away from us when he found we were headed to the same tea shop on the platform.

My second encounter with an Art of Living evangelist was when this distant relative of mine, himself an instructor of the preliminary course, took 'pity' on my living conditions (!) and took me to a higher level instructor. To solve my 'problems' (all in the imagination of my relative) he needed a picture of Sri Sri to be gifted to me. The simplest way to escape was to accept the pic, which I did, and later in turn gave it away to another Sri Sri fan in my extended family.

I do not know Sri Sri personally, nor have listened to his discourses. Whatever may be his real knowledge/powers, his followers are definitely taking religious commercialism to new lows

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Travelogue - Sri Lanka

Been on a rather unplanned trip to Sri Lanka and back - these are my observations: -

(warning: long post)

This was my first opportunity to use my rusty old passport. The emigration folks at Chennai airport put their seal on the 3rd or 4th page, very randomly covering more than one box, and the ink getting smudged. The Sri Lankan immigration authorities did a neat job sealing on the first blank box and doing it very neatly.

Traveling to Colombo from Chennai/Trivandrum is much cheaper than traveling to most other places in India, with the airfare being under 3000 rupees. Duration of flight is also under 90 minutes.

Looks wise, from the air, Sri Lanka looks very much like Kerala, my home state - in fact greener (this is a rare case of me accepting any other place as greener than Kerala). Climate wise, too it is theoretically very similar to Kerala, only that in recent times Kerala has been getting lesser and lesser rates.

When I landed in Colombo (airport being 35km away from the city) it was raining heavily, and the route to the city was flooded due to incessant rains. There were no options other than to take a bus to the city, which wikitravel had warned to be messy. (Since I didnt convert rupees to dollars, and since banks at the colombo airport refused to buy INR, my industry - ATMs - came to my rescue to get Sri Lankan rupees.) Communicating was tough, as very few in the bus spoke English.

The bus journey was not as uncomfortable as wikitravel made it sound like (maybe experience in MTC buses helped), though it took close to two hours to reach my hotel.

There were other interesting observations in Colombo city - though the city has a sizable number of vehicles, there were no traffic jams - unbelievably pleasant surprise was the fact that vehicles kept 3-4 feet distance from the vehicles in the front, stopped at pedestrian crossing, and no one honks irritably! Shops close early (most of them by 6-7pm) and they dont have any shutters - clear glass with lights inside to highlight their main products (I could never imagine such a situation in Kerala - it would have not have lasted 1 month, with either robber or hartal activists taking them down). Maybe the constant vigil of police/paramilitary on the roads help.

The beaches at Galle Face and along Galle Road are excellent. Food options are heavenly for non-vegetarians, and non veg fare starts right from the morning (very much like Kerala). For a keralite, food is pretty much the same - Appam (interesting Anglicized name - Hoppers), Idiyappam (String Hoppers), Paratha (similar to Kerala/Malabar Paratha, except, square in shape), Pittu (called Puttu in Kerala).

Also made a weekend trip to Kandy, but thats for another post.

Saturday, May 8, 2010

Review: Vinai Thaandi Varuvaaya

I would never have thought that I would see a 'Simbu movie' in theatre. I did, finally, with Gautam Menon's latest offering, Vinai Thaandi Varuvaaya. Within 5 minutes of start, the movie plunged in to romance and a song, which I thought was too fast. Simbu fitted the role pretty much, and did proper acting, except for his 'open arms dance step' he kept doing throughout the movie.

Trisha also has done well, with apt looks for the role. She has a well sketched role (not the typical heroine roles you find in Tamil Cinema). The story keeps shifting between realistic and unrealistic. As with all movies, love in this movie is all about love at first sight made to feel as love by perseverance (which could very well have been an infatuation) and based on mere looks and no knowledge of personality. The script has been very realistic from a man's point of view - when he decides to fight back her brother (later tells her not to expect him to get beaten just because the guy at the other end is her brother) and also when he tells her that they can't merely be "just friends" when he dreams of making love to her.

The dialogues have been written well, including the ones that are left unsaid (Eg - when Simbu drops Trisha on his bike and asks why she keeps a physical distance with him on the bike, when he has kissed her in the train - as if if he touches her then.... [leaves the remaining unsaid]). The role played by the cameraman, Ganesan adds light comic relief in sync with the movie (unlike having a separate comedy track like Vadivelu).

The locales are good, especially Alappuzha. The cinematographer has made the places look more beautiful than they really are.

Songs and background music by A R Rahman is excellent, only that there are far too many songs and the choreography repetitive. You could replace any song with any of the other songs and never feel a difference in the flow - all songs having similar dance steps and foreign locales.

Overall, the movie has a different feel compared to regular Tamil movies. Hats off to Gautam Menon in making Simbu act properly. I did feel that Simbu was imitating Kamal Hassan when he was acting emotional scenes - the tone of his voice and body language was very similar to Kamal's.

The twist at the climax has also been handled well, which makes this movie stand out from the rest.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Autorikshaw fares

Think Chennai, Autoriskhaw, and the words that would immediately come to your mind are of the type - exorbitant, fleece, rip-off, etc. On many occasions I have tried to understand the logic behind the fares but haven't got anywhere. I am trying to piece together my experiences with autowalahs in different cities.

This morning too, for my travel from Chennai Central railway station to my residence in K K Nagar which is about 15km away, all the way from the platform to the pre-paid auto counter, autowalahs were aggressively offering me a "very reasonable" fare of Rs 220. Some others pretend to claim that they are 'prepaid auto' in the vicinity of the prepaid counter with 'prepaid rates' of Rs 170-200. The actual prepaid rate is Rs 129. The prepaid driver does not mumble or crib about the fare and behaves well with you, not even once hating you for the potential "loss of extra revenue up to Rs 90".

If we analyze from a per-km perspective, this prepaid rate of Rs 130 for the 15 km works out to less than Rs 9/km which is cheaper than the auto fares in most towns. My best experience with autorikshaws have been in Trivandrum, Trichur, Kozhikode and Kannur (in Kerala) and Kolhapur, Mumbai. In most other places (all district headquarters in Kerala, 4-5 cities in TN, Bangalore, Hyderabad, Guwahati, Kolkata, Delhi, etc) the experience ranges from unpleasant to worse, the worst being in Delhi. Jaipur and Gandhinagar/Ahmedabad have been average.

In Bangalore, most of them do run on meters (which are a showpiece in Chennai autos). But then you run the risk of being taken for a city tour if you are not familiar with the locality, or being told absurd reasons like 'sunday, so more fare' or '

In Trivandrum/Trichur/Kozhikode/Kannur, you get very reasonable and affordable fares, which are at most meter plus 2-3 rupees within the city, well within 6-8 rupees per km. But the moment you step out of the corporation boundary, you are doomed. For example, in Trivandum, from the Central Railway Station to Peroorkada junction (city limit) would be less than 50 rupees for 7km approx, but add another 900 meters to NCC Nagar, they would ask for at least 100 rupees, just because this is technically outside of the corporation limits - taking the per km rate to more than 12.

In cities like Eranakulam, it is nightmarish - the rikshaws themselves have set a rate of Rs 12 per km, and worse, behave arrogantly (which sometimes makes me forgive the average fleecer chennai autowalah, for, though he is fleecing, he would treat you like a king).

One thought I have is that wherever the public transport system is good, the autorikshaws have less demand and more supply, hence try to increase the price. Chennai and Ernakulam have excellent public transport infrastructure and hence have high autorikshaw fares. Trivandrum has a pathetic and irregular public transport and autorikshaws are mostly greater in demand than supply, hence affordable fares.

Another argument I hear as the reason for Chennai fares is that they have to pay a daily rent of 150-200 rupees to the vehicle owner, as well as fend for the fuel expenses themselves, so they have no other option than to charge high. I am not very sure about this part - that most autorikshaws are in fact, owned by policemen in benaami, due to which the policemen also don't take any action to enforce govt approved rates (which are at an unbelievable Rs 6/km, fixed in 2007).

What are your thoughts?

Sunday, February 28, 2010

Madras Players' Witness for the Prosecution

Last evening was made wonderful by Madras Players' excellent play - Witness for the Prosecution, adapted from a story by Agatha Christie. 

Courtroom scenes have always captured my interest in movies, but to do such a riveting courtroom scene live on stage must require a lot of talent. And for the Madras Players, talent was in abundance - the protagonist's (played by Vivek) body language and expressions were a perfect fit for the role, and the actor who played the defence lawyer had an amazing screen presence. Other actors too excelled - ones who played the roles of the housekeeper (with very convincing Italian accented English) and that of the protagonist's wife (including a different get up in one scene and German accent).

I must have also benefited from not having read the original story/novel, because of the suspense, one would keep thinking that the protagonist's role was single dimensional till the very end. I had mostly felt that Agatha Christies writing was too detailed and dragging at times. Kudos to the entire team behind the show for converting that into a complete fast paced thriller (and for improvising on some very minor goof-ups).

I'm now a fan of the Madras Players and I have resolved to see their plays whenever possible :-)

Thursday, February 18, 2010

How Indian IT growth has affected Indian Science

It all started with a tweet I had retweeted a few days ago - "IT has destroyed Indian science as much as it has contributed to its economy" - Prof. C. N. R. Rao", to which my friend Nithya Babu responded by tweeting "Indian science? do we have such disciplines that have offered people jobs? In a country with no social security?? hmmm". The response to that could not be compressed into 140 characters, and hence this post.

I have nothing against Indian IT, and has been a beneficiary of its success until recently. And I fully agree with Nithya that any degree that does not create jobs other than teaching posts (mostly in the same university, for the same course) is of no use. But we humans have a tendency to look for immediate benefits (short term returns) and tend to move to fields that apparently give better salaries.

It is true that IT and ITES has given jobs to thousands of graduates in India in the last decade who otherwise would have not found any job, and in that way helped the economy a lot. But then it has also led to a large scale migration to the IT sector from sectors which do generate jobs, but are not as well paying as IT currently is. For example, most of engineering graduates, irrespective of their field of specialization in engineering, have joined IT. Even the IT companies were also happy to take up students who had spent the last 4 years learning to design homes into their fold to make them write code in COBOL for financial applications. It is not that studying civil engineering does not get them jobs - even the buildings that the IT companies operate out of need civil engineers and architects to build them.

Such a skewed migration would hit the economy in a big way after some time, and I don't know how easily and soon this would get corrected by market forces. As a society, there is a real need for all types of work, and the society does not need everyone to be in IT. What is worse, the initial easy life of an IT engineer makes one too complacent to be good at anything else. Also, since a lot of business comes from the US, an ITian is more likely to know which coast of US California is, than knowing where Sikkim is on the Indian map (in some extreme cases, not even knowing that Sikkim is a part of India).

Somewhere we need to get out of the obsessive mentality (in boom times, no one gives you a damn if you are not in IT, in recession times no one gives you a damn if you are in IT). India as a nation and society as a whole needs civil engineers, mechanical engineers, nuclear physicists, doctors, astronomers, language teachers, accountants, - the list goes on.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Evam's Urban Turban

Last evening I watched Evam's play Urban Turban at Chennai Museum theatre at Egmore with Suraj. Going by the rush at their last play I attended, Five Point Someone (based on Chetan Bhagat's book) I hadn't really thought I would be able to get tickets on the spot - we were lucky this time, and there were lots of empty seats in the small theatre.

The audience profile was also a lot different from their other plays I have attended - this time we felt like odd people out in an all page 3 celebrity type audience.

I had gone there expecting yet another humourous play, but realized that this is a live stand-up-comedy type event. There were performances by three artists (if I could call them that!) T M Karthik, Shannon, and Karthik Kumar (co-founder). T M Karthik was excellent, with great accent and action mimicking skills, taking pot shots at his Iyengar community and polambifying about his desperately available eligible bachelor status. His performance set high standards and raised our expectations, much to the disadvantage of the later performers. Shannon is an expatriate from Canada who teaches at KFI school, and she shared some interesting anecdotes about the differences between the west and India. I am not sure if the high expectations set by T M Karthik was to blame, because I didn't enjoy this talk much, and I felt that she was simply stating the obvious many times and playing to stereotypes. For example, she mentioned about how extremely conscious about skin colour we Indians are (obvious), and how it is not so in the west (stereotype - the west is not without its own skin prejudices or racism, she probably hasn't analysed her own country as much as she has analyzed India). The last talk was by co-founder Karthik Kumar, who tried a mix of non veg humour with gyaan sessions. While the other Karthik's humour felt natural and free flowing, this Karthik's humour sounded forced and he had to resort to non-veg jokes to get the audience interested.

The play was conducted for benefit of the Blue Cross society. It was also ironical that after having criticized PFA/Blue cross for distributing pamphlets to save animals (and futility of pamphlets in having any impact or usefulness), karthik Kumar himself recommended Blue Cross's pamphlets (available at the stalls at the venue).

In related news, Evam's Five Point Someone is slotted for a nationwide tour in the next 2-3 months. My take on the marketing side of this tout is available on my professional blog.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Dakshina Chitra

This New Year I did something different - went with wife and a close friend to Dakshin Chitra, an art gallery on the East Coast Road, a few kilometres south of Chennai. I am not the usual 'arty' type, and had made the visit of the recommendation of the accompanying friend. Unfortunately we had gone to Mahabs first and dropped in at DC on our way back, reaching at around 4 pm.

There was a North Eastern dance festival going on, and the day featured a dance troupe from Manipur. A spring time dance by the young men with drums in their hands was a very amazing experience, even for me who doesn't have much sense for dance.

There is a lot to see at DC - they have showcased each of the four southern states' cultural heritage through real size exhibits - houses constructed in traditional style, including the interiors, for each region - for example, Chettinad, Trivandrum, Calicut, Ambur, etc.

The sections on Tamil Nadu and Kerala are complete, while the sections on Andhra and K'taka are being renovated.

We just had time to have a quick glance at TN and Kerala section before closing time. I have decided to make another visit, this time a full day trip, to this place, and I would recommend this to all my friends residing in or visiting Chennai.