Friday, September 26, 2014

All that twinkles is not a star

I am not sure where it all started. Or if it was anything unique about me. Every child loves to look up at the night skies with a dream to reach the stars I guess. I was no different. I just put that in words, as my first career objective.

It was a weekend outing with family and friends, at a beautiful little bungalow named 'Saavli' (Shadow) in Nagaon, a couple of hours drive to the north of Mumbai. Some of the elders were having a round of drinks at night, and we kids were called up as part of the introductory games planned for the evening.
"What do you want to be when you grow up, son?", asked one.
"Astrophysicist... mala chand taare pahayla avadtat (I like to watch the moon and stars)", I replied.
"Viju, tujha porga tula divsa chaand taare dakhavnar ahe... (Viju, your kid is going to show you moon and the stars in the day..)". The pun was intended and laughter ensued.

Astrophysicist. Not even an astronaut. I was that clear about what I wanted from life. I wish I had that clarity now. The seed may have been put in my mind by a book gifted to me by uncle Mohan. 'Broca's Brain: Reflections on the Romance of Science' written by the much-celebrated scientist Carl Sagan, had fabulous short stories based on a plethora of scientific wonders with one chapter named 'Can we know the Universe? Reflections from a grain of salt'.

My parents seemed to take my vocation seriously and encouraged my half-formed ideas. They bought me a star-chart which you hold up against the night sky, spot the North Star from the small hole in the center and align the direction of the sheet. This was a time when the concept of personal computers was just setting in, and they were more about the Prince of Persia and Lion King than to be seen as aids to education. One Christmas, I asked "Santa" for a rocket filled with Gems (shabbily sketched on a greeting card) and the wish was magically granted. The next year, I grew more ambitious and demanded a book on Astronomy, and poof, there it was, neatly placed under my pillow the next morning! Santa must have had vested interests in gifting kids who wanted to hone their navigational skills by reading the night sky.

In school, we designed a magazine (kind of a little encyclopedia with paintings and written material) every year and the topic we went for in 9th standard was Space Exploration. I still remember the beautiful cover drawing of a Space Shuttle by my classmate Manali, and my feeble attempts at drawing something similar. All those colorful A4 pages, distributed to our writer team and our "committee meetings" to avoid attending some lectures. The jokes we cracked, the fights we had about someone stepping on others' talents. A microcosm of future corporate lifestyle.

It wasn't only about books. I participated in a Mars Rover contest at school and got to play around with the controls of a simulated rover vehicle. In summer holidays, I was enrolled in a 10-day astronomy workshop at Nehru Planetarium. It was a long drive from home with a couple of school friends Aneesh and Makrand, but I enjoyed every aspect of it. The thorough polishing of glass with sandpaper to design a lens for a cardboard telescope, the paper sundial I designed which may have been my first watch; and my personal sky-chart. In our free time, we were left spellbound with the informative shows about the universe and our place in it. Then there was always the Science Center nearby which had countless activities to engage the young minds in.

Finally the day arrived when life stopped handing out lemons and gave me a college form instead. I attended some seminars for a degree of Bachelor of Sciences, majoring in Physics. Apparently, it wasn't the coolest (read: lucrative) career goal for kids with better-than-average grades in Math-Physics. So taking cue from the not-so-subtle hints given by my elders, I forayed into engineering.

It feels like ages since I made that decision, but my first love never waned. I signed up my name to be sent to Mars etched on a microchip inside the 'Curiosity Rover' prowling on Mars as of now. My heart went out to all those seven astronauts aboard the ill-fated Challenger. How giddy I was with excitement while visiting the Johnson Space Center in NASA at Houston, Texas! That moonless starlit long drive along California's famed Route 1 alongside the Pacific, those camping trips in Adirondacks or simple quiet walks under the dark skies in tiny villages and national parks. Every time I begin narrating my treatise on how to find the North Star using the Great Bear or Cassiopeia constellations to whoever listens, my friends roll their eyes and quip, "Here he goes again...".

I write about all these today, as I rejoice with billions of other Indians congratulating the team at ISRO who successfully completed the MOM (Mars Orbiter Mission). Along with the spew of positive social media updates about the low cost of the mission, there have also been snarky articles from the naysayers who believe the 450 crores would have been better spent on tackling poverty. As a child who developed a love for the Sciences for reasons quite akin to inspirational missions like these, I have to say, I disagree.

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Thursday, April 17, 2014

Bollywood Figures of Speech

"Beedi jalaile jigar se piya, jigar ma badhi aag hai..."

"Tune maari entriyaan re dil mei baji ghantiyaan re, tang tang tang tang..."

"Chand ne cheater hoke cheat kiya toh saare taare bole gili gili akka..."

"Balam pichkari jo tune mujhe maari toh seedhi saadhi kudi sharabi ho gayi..."

"Chandu ke chacha ne chanduki chachiko chandike chamchese chutney chatayi..."

"Ashiquon mei jiska title Titanic, muah kinara dikha kar ke dooba de gaya..."

"Kisi aur ki mujhko jaroorat kya mai toh khud se pyar jataaun..."

"Ghode jaisi chaal, haathi jaisi doom, oh sawan raja kahan se aaye tum?"

"I swear choti dress mein bomb lagdi mainu..."

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Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Justice delayed... justice denied?

It was a chilly summer evening. He was all alone, jogging back home from campus in the twilight. The road passed alongside an ecological preserve and a dilapidated warehouse. He was on the last dredges of his willpower to cover the remaining distance.
Few cars whizzed past at that hour with no cause for concern. But then, there came along a rickety rusty car that went by playing loud hip-hop. "Kids.", he sighed. But the car slowed down, and finally stopped a few yards from him. Mild curiosity soon led to a bit of fear, as there seemed to be no apparent reason for the stopover. Action scenes from Hollywood replayed in his mind where a car door suddenly opens to hit the unsuspecting victim, leading to confrontation. Instinctively, he crossed the road and kept running on the other side with furtive glances towards the car.
As he passed along, he saw the occupants staring at him. As he moved on, the car started out slowly. His mind went into overdrive about how he could dash into the forest if the assailants come; and how it would be unwise to run into the isolated building nearby. But what if they have guns? Should he tackle them? Or empty his pockets? Time stood still.
And suddenly, there was a loud whirr and the car sped onwards into oblivion.

He was me, about two years ago. And I am thinking of him today, as I think of the teenager who died in Florida for no fault of his own. This is not as much about racism, as it is about self-preservation. It is about that sense of foreboding, that creeping irrational fear and the split-moment decision you make at such times. How do you think rationally when you are gripped with fear for your life? Would you stand your ground and fight; or shit your pants and run? And which one is the right approach? If George got a beating, he had brought it upon himself by continuing to stalk his suspect. He had no business taking law in his own hands. Self-defense could have been the primary argument on Trayvon's side, but not his.

This is not about black or white.
This is not about who had a more checkered past.
This is not about the victim or the perpetrator being an adult or minor.

This is about a common man choosing to kill another man with a lethal weapon in a public place on a mere hunch. The jury did sympathize with Trayvon, but did they empathize with him?

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Thursday, February 14, 2013

[JOB POSTING] I Inc. looking to hire fake girlfriend

Requisition #: V696969                   Location: Bymyside

Job Title: Fake Girlfriend                 Region: Tristate Area

Area of Interest: Me                        Level of Experience: 2+

Flexible Work Option: Yes

Job Description: I Inc. is looking for a bright, energetic fake girlfriend to help stem the peer pressure of marriage and relationships in social media. The current platform of singledom needs an architectural shift to regulate the trending public opinion about single men in their late twenties and shield it from haphazard judgements and condescension.

Responsibilities include:

  • Develop cute tweets and facebook status messages regarding your deep love for I Inc. and update from both accounts
  • Demonstrate gorgeous semblance in all of your pictures with I, clicked by photographers wielding SLRs in choreographed postures
  • Devise timelines for anniversaries and minor events like first piss together, first time you ate a stallion's bleeding heart with I Inc. etc.
  • Deliver seamless performance on consumer-driven love-days like Valentine's, buy gifts of no practical use for I Inc. and publicize every single detail on social media
  • Troubleshoot negative/sarcastic comments by removing them and the commentor from friend list
  • Design innovative strategies for garnering maximum likes and comments

Required Experience and Skills:

  • Extensive experience with social media trends and pop-culture
  • Excellent verbal skills that keep I interested in long duration phone calls, all days of the week
  • Excellent written skills demonstrated by sending I love-related text messages every hour of the day
  • Strong background in Mind Games Technology and PDA*
  • MS** in Social Engineering with 1-2+ years of experience in a virtual character development position

Desired Experience and Skills:

  • Ability to gossip with other girls about your relationship with I Inc. and make them jealous with embellished achievements
  • Knowledge of the art of manipulating the moods of other single men and women by flaunting your happy relationship with I Inc. and pestering them about the reason for their singledom


*PDA: Public Display of Affection
*MS: Mistress of Stealth

I Inc. is a Reformative Action and Gender Specific Employer

I Inc. is a Who-Will-Verify employer

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Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Jeff Dunham and Ajmal, the Dead Terrorist

For those without context, check out ventriloquist Jeff Dunham's Achmed, the Dead Terrorist act. What follows is a similar satire on the execution of Ajmal Kasab for 26/11 terrorist attacks in Mumbai. Reader discretion advised.

(The following transcripts are taken from Jeff's private notes. The act was apparently rejected because it was not really funny.)

J - Good evening Ajmal
A - Goo *BURRPP**

J - It's not polite to burp a greeting Ajmal.
A - I know, I am sorry Jeff, it's just that the last biryani meal I had before I was hung didn't really agree with me.

J - (smiling) You mean, before you were "hanged".
A - hanged - hung - what's the difference?

J - Well, there's a joke going around that ... never mind. So you're a terrorist, eh?
A - No, I am not. I am a Jihadi.

J - Oh ok, jee-had-he.
A - No, no, no one "had" anyone. It's G - haaadh - E.

J - Okay, okay. So Ajmal, can you tell us how you became a Jihadi?
A - Oh, I used to love "The Kardashians" show, how those bitches threw tantrums and got whatever they wanted! I was really pissed when my dad didn't buy me clothes on Eid, in spite of me being a boy! So I ran away.

J - You're being sexist Ajmal.
A - I am Sexist and I know it! Wiggle wiggle wiggle...

J - Stop! Stop wiggling! So what happened after you ran away?
A - I borrowed some money from banks, vacant houses, random people at gunpoint and did other cool shit. One day, I was eating chana from a paper cone and I unrolled it to find a deal that would bring shame to your crap Thanksgiving offers!

J - Oh ya, what was it?
A - They were offering some advanced machine guns, commando-style training, swimming-sailing lessons and a truckload of virgins as a posthumous reward... ALL for killing some infidels!

J - Ah I see, you get to engage in sex and violence without any repercussions. Sounds like a plot line for Game of Thrones.
A - Hey, I'm a big fan of GoT! I used to watch it on the Plasma TV in my cell! I think they based the character of Joffrey on me!

J - Nice. So, we all know what happened next. You were the only one among your friends to get captured alive for the massacre in Mumbai.
A - Hey, they didn't "capture" me! I gave in because I had seen so many of those 'Incredible India' commercials with the punchline 'Atithi Devo Bhav', I wanted to try out Indian hospitality!

J - I doubt they did that.
A - No way! They loved me in India! A special high-security prison cell, the media discussed what food I ate, what fashion accessories I wore, what time I took a shit! They even had pages of me on Facebook to speed up the legal process and hand me over to Allah and the promised 72 virgins! I am scripting my role for Ram Gopal Varma's next film on my heroics. He promised me 28 more virgins to make it a neat 100!

J - Don't you ever feel bad for your deeds?
A - Now you sound like the Mullah who kept visiting me at odd times, especially when I was busy playing first-person shooter games on my XBox.

J - Hmm. What about your family?
A - The AQ paid them. I hope my dad doesn't throw a fit now about buying stuff for my siblings.

J - I've heard the AQ are promoting you as a martyr around your village?
A - Yup, they are gonna build my statue! I sure hope they show me hung *wink, wink*

J - Eh, do you know they are celebrating your death in India?
A - Hah, ya, all of them are a bit Jihadi themselves. The pleasure they derive out of getting a fellow human killed, in the name of justice! That's what I was taught - "Kill them because they killed your kin, that's how justice is served in Allah's darbar!"

J - To be fair, you were eating into a lot of resources as a high-profile prisoner. You were better off than a large chunk of the Indian population which is below the poverty line.
A - Mmm.. *munch, munch - SPIT!* Damn, that rope cut into my throat, I can't swallow this juicy bit of chicken tandoori now..

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Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Why Jack and Rose did not fit on the wooden plank

This image on 'imgur' has been doing the rounds of FB for a while, especially after the release of Titanic 3D. In spite of all the hoopla over why Jack couldn't be accommodated on the same wooden plank as Rose, I feel there are pressing reasons as to why it simply wasn't possible...

  1. Titanic was released in 2D. Jack and the plank occupied different planes.
  2. The plank was a chunk off the ship's elevator with a tag '1000 pounds weight limit'.
  3. Rose felt their relationship was going too fast. She needed some 'space'.
  4. Jack's elastic straps holding the pant up had broken and he was embarrassed to climb atop the plank in his briefs.
  5. Jack was Aquaman in disguise and decided to ditch Rose because she was high maintenance.
  6. The pool used to simulate the ocean was too small and salt-less to provide the required buoyancy to an overloaded plank.
  7. Jack and Rose were tributes in the Hunger Games from different districts.
  8. Jack was promised the title role in 'Pirates of the Caribbean', a sequel to Titanic. But only his first name made it.
  9. The plank was the door from a first class cabin and Jack was a third-class passenger.

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Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Musings on the Anna brigade

Adjective: corrupt
1. Lacking in integrity
2. Not straight; dishonest or immoral or evasive
Verb: corrupt
1. Degrade morally or by intemperance
2. Make illegal payments to, in exchange of favors or influence
3, Place under suspicion or cast doubt upon

I find it imperative to clarify the meaning of 'corrupt' before I proceed with my diatribe. Now raise your hand if you have not been 'corrupt', in the real sense of the term, at some point in your life. If not you, someone else close to you has been, and you did not make an effort to stop it. Be truthful, you owe it to yourself, once a while. Think about the time a cop caught you and your friends evading traffic laws, and you had to grease his palms or resolve. Or think about a time when you cheated on the exam, by carrying chits, hiding books or simply paying the supervisor to ignore your actions. Or when you took a little help from your influential uncles/aunts or parents to gain admission into a prestigious college, either monetary or by faking a caste certificate. I can go on, but I believe I have made my point.

Anna Hazare is a simple man. He believes his good work precedes his name, he wants to be instrumental in fighting the age-old corruption rampant in our society by proposing the ombudsman bill; but most of all, he believes in YOU. He wishes to enlist the support of the younger generation of India for his cause, assuming their hearts are pure and swords are clean. Everyone loves to rebel, it's the cool thing to do, look at the Arab nations! No one has time to read through the Jan Lokpal bill in this age of FB updates and tweets, so someone came up with his/her version of '10 things you need to know about Anna'. That soothes the conscience of thousand others who were being accused of not knowing what Anna's demands are. As we grew up, our elders talked about how corrupt politicians and bureaucrats are and how the country is going to dogs (whatever that means). And we subconsciously made peace with the "fact".

But where did these men in power come from? Were the 2G scam perpetrators tossed onto earth from Hell when no one was looking? Did the politicos materialize out of thin air like Terminator? No, they were born and bred as we were. They went to schools (okay, maybe not all) just like us and grew up facing similar trials in their life. And the process is ongoing. We, the young guns of India, are going to take their place. What do we have to offer in their stead? Who can meet Anna in the eye and say he/she has not been corrupt throughout their life? And if you can, how can one test you? What proof can you offer that you will continue to be the same way in future (except an oath in the Parliament)?

Being corrupt is a trait ingrained in all of us Indians, which we need to weed out. It is a slow gradual process, but one must be diligent. Most of our actions are fueled by our social structure, which as a whole tilts towards being dishonest. There can be no better time to bring about this revolution in our mindsets, considering India has a majority population in the young category. Additionally, we have active social networks which can be effective tools monitoring and rewarding honest behavior. Let us tweet about how we overcame the need to be corrupt. Let us berate those who take pride in pulling off a dishonest feat. Let us remember that the government is no foreign monster, it is made up of people just like us who are either too chicken or too abrasive to handle the current moral decline. There can be no guarantee about the honesty of the authority which the Lokpal bill proposes. Going gung ho about Anna's incarceration, 'liking' pages and sharing news can quell your ego for that instant, but to achieve a real positive change, we must be alert all our lives, not allowing a single weakness to dent our moral fabric. We must question our elders about any dishonest act, we must teach our children the value of morality and we must, against all odds, give ourselves a chance... for redemption.

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