Friday, November 17, 2006
Puskas is one of the best strikers ever in my book, even better than his compariot, Alfredo de Stefano, who played alongside him at Real Madrid. While I have not had the pleasure of ever watching a game of his, his exploits present a vivid story of a remarkable footballer. He had an astonishing goal scoring record for both club and country, scoring 84 goals in 85 appearances for Hungary, and 324 goals in 372 appearances for Real Madrid! The highlight of his career is undoubtably the European Cup final of 1960 against Eintracht Frankfurt at Glasgow, where he scored four goals in a 7-3 win (de Stefano scored the other three)! He had also made it a habit of scoring hat-tricks for Real Madrid in big games, including one in the European Cup final of 1962 against Benfica, and yet ended up on the losing side on that occasion!
Predictably, he was very popular in Hungary. When he returned to Hungary in 1981 to play a game, the demand for tickets was five times the stadium capacity; this for a game whose only publicity was by word-of-mouth!
I doff my cap off to one of the most brilliant footballers of all times!
Monday, October 23, 2006
(Those of you not familiar with the concept of an electrical signal might not get this!)
The topic of the day was propogation delay of gates. The lecture had just finished and I couldn't wait to get away from the class and go to watch the world cup game between USA and Czech Republic, when this guy comes up with a doubt. Those who know me will know this was the worst time to catch me, football (soccer) games are after all no ordinary matters! I tried to be quick about the whole thing.
He had some trouble understanding how the signal propogated through a particular circuit, where the input was connected to a NOT gate. The input switched from zero to one. I thought the analysis was fairly straight-forward, but no, he didn't get it.
"This input," he began, "it changes from zero to one, right?"
"Yes." I replied.
"So, the output of the NOT gate goes from one to zero?"
"So why doesn't this output go back to one??"
It certainly would be interesting if NOT gates began to do such things to the output, but on balance, not such a good thing because the job of a TA would then become infinitely more difficult!
"Theres no reason why it should go back to one!"
"I see. How about the input?"
I blinked. Atleast this one was a straight-forward question. "Well, what about the input? It changes from zero to one."
"Yes, it does, but shouldn't it go back to zero?"
I really had no idea what he was upto by this point. Maybe he just wanted to irritate me with such inane questions, something that others had experienced at different points in their teaching assignments. Maybe he wanted to talk about the inherent randomness of the universe. Or maybe...
"If the external circuit driving this one has its conditions changed, then maybe that can get reflected as a switch back to zero, but otherwise, the input will not change to zero all on its own."
The look of bemusement on his face suggested he really did not get it. By this time, he had started using his hands as an aid to speech, treating the signal as if it were some emotion gushing forth from the heart.
"The thing I do not get is," he continued, with his hands moving away from his chest in the manner they sometimes do when one is professing one's love to a lover, "after the input has finished giving the 'one' to the NOT gate, shouldn't it get extinguished and go back to zero?"
Four and a half vodkas (neat) wouldn't have done half as much damage to me!
Sunday, August 20, 2006
I did have a jhalak of sorts when I went to watch Barcelona play the NY/NJ Red Bulls at the Giants Stadium. Watching a game in the stadium is a whole lot better than watching it on TV. The excitement doesnt quite get translated on TV (the crowd was suprisingly vocal), and you enjoy the luxury of watching the entire field, knowing where each of the 22 players are! Of course, it helped that Barcelona put on a show, almost toying with the home side. Ronaldinho, in particular, was near his best, and deservedly received a standing ovation when he was taken off. But the biggest cheers actually went out to Messi, who showed that when he is at his best, he often overshadows Ronaldinho himself!
The premiership got underway yesterday, and it was immediate delight for me, as both Arsenal and Liverpool only managed draws in their opening fixtures. Chelsea did win today, but it would have been too much to expect a hat-trick of opposition fixtures going your way! But the biggest source of cheer was Manchester United's splendid performance today against Fulham. In fact, twenty minutes was all it took to blow the opposition away! Rooney and Ronaldo, in particular were excellent, and it looks as if they have resolved their world cup dispute once and for all! Saha was a constant menace all throughout with his pace, and for once, even Patrice Evra had a decent game!
It was probably just the start needed for Manchester United. They might not be favourites this time around, but they are going to be no roll-overs either. The midfield is still cause for some concern, but the squad does look to be the most balanced of the past three years! And if Hargreaves does come to Old Trafford, anything will be possible!
Heres to the new season, and heres to hope - that Manchester United will win back the premiership (if not the Champions League)!
Wednesday, August 16, 2006
A man knocked on the God's door. "Who's is there?" asked God from within. "It's me," said the man. "Go away then. There is no room for two," said God. The man departed and wandered in the arid desert until he realized his error. Returning to the door, he knocked once again. "Who's is there?" asked God as before. "You," answered the man. "Then come in," God replied.(Quote from here.)
Wednesday, August 09, 2006
The method of teaching at the workshop was very simple. Instead of starting off with grammatical rules and vibhaktis that sees the student lose interest very quickly, the focus was on teaching to speak basic Sanskrit, to be able to alteast start a conversation in Sanskrit. Mr. Rajesh Rachabattuni, who was in charge of the workshop, is a really good teacher. He tried to use as few English words as possible, yet the concepts were understood by everyone.
A lot of words and usages were taught in the workshop, but I probably retained only about half of that. Which is expected considering this was my first exposure to Sanskrit outside of mantras, and a whirlwind one at that too! But for those who had prior experience of such workshops, this would have served as an excellent review session. Either ways, the workshop was beneficial to everyone in attendance.
While I probably might not be able to speak fluently (thats asking for too much after just two days), I can certainly manage broken Sanskrit (the grimace on the face of Rajeshji notwithstanding). The biggest plus, though, is that I can now read Sanskrit to a moderate degree. I just logged onto the samskritam yahoogroup, and I could almost completely understand the latest message in Sanskrit. For this, I must thank Rajeshji, Arun, Avinash and everyone else at the workshop who helped clear various doubts at different times!
The next step now is to organize a similar workshop at Rutgers. The group at UMD has already promised help. I really hope the aim of Samskrita Bharati is fulfilled in the future.
Tuesday, August 01, 2006
In rememberence, I initially decided to list my ten most favourite songs of Rafi, but it was a damned difficult choice even with separate listings for solo and non-solo songs. Hence I have taken the easy way out and simply listed only those songs where Rafi sings for Madan Mohan! (Why Madan Mohan? Because he was the most brilliant of all music directors.)
1) Aakhri geet mohabbat ka suna loon toh chaloon
2) Aapke pehloo mein aakar ro diye
3) Baad muddat ki yeh ghadi aayi (with Suman Kalyanpur)
4) Main nigaahen tere chehre se hataaon kaise
5) Main yeh sochkar uske dar se uthaa tha
6) Meri duniya mein tum aaye (with Lata Mangeshkar)
7) Rang aur noor ki baarat kise pesh karu
8) Tu mere saamne hai
9) Tujhe kya sunaaon main dilruba
10) Tum jo mil gaye ho
Saturday, July 22, 2006
Much has been made about how India should respond to the terror attacks. A few people have called for us to attack Pakistan to show we mean business. Others, including me, have criticized the pseudo-resilience of the Mumbaikars, which is more akin to helplessness rather a show of strength.
As for our response itself, the Prime Minister delivered an insipid speech that would have done wonders to the confidence of the terrorists! There seems to be no move to improve our preparedness either. So much for a kick up our backsides! BongoP'o'ndit has a summary of the Indian response so far.
Our long term response to the terror attacks is not as simple as it sounds. It is not simply about improving our preparedness in case of future attacks, or simply about boosting our intelligence network, or about holding Pakistan accountable for the attacks. It is, of course, all of these, but also more.
While Pakistan does deserve a response, that is not the end of it all. India must stop playing the blame game. It merely shifts the focus to Pakistan, while ensuring that India does nothing about its own position as far as the attacks are concerned. The evidence is mounting that the actual attacks were carried out by Indian muslims, and this is cause for real concern. This means there is something fundamentally wrong in the state of the country. A highly cathartic self-introspection is needed as to why things are going wrong. This is a time when the country must stay united and not split into several distinct communities each pointing the finger at each other.
First and foremost, we have to accept the bombings as a jihadi attack (, , ). In fact, Maloy Krishna Dhar, has likened the terror attacks to an all out invasion of India. This is a very serious statement, and it deserves our full attention. The notion of misguided youths does not hold water any longer. Misguided or not, they are causing serious damage to the nation and we must spare no efforts in stopping it. For this, our intelligence network needs a massive and urgent upgrade. Our response system needs to be revamped to standards that the western nations follow. And importantly, the government needs to stop playing its minority politics, which while alienating the minorities from the mainstreem, also drives through the right-wing ideology that creates anti-minority policies. Again, the country desperately needs to stay united.
Secondly, India has to stop expecting the western powers to do something about this. This is our own problem, no matter how intricately it is tied in with the global jihad, and we must learn to solve our own problems. If for no other reason except that the US cannot be trusted to do anything (and by extension, the western world). The ToI claims that India does have proof that Pakistan was behind the terror attacks. India must now show some spine in its diplomacy with Pakistan. Peace process be damned; when Pakistan is not at all serious about the peace process, India is living in an illusion if it expects anything positive out of it.
India must take up a strict stance wrt to the terror camps operating in Pakistan. It does, after all, have every right to expect Pakistan to do something about them, failing which, to take matters into its own hands. While operations mounted at the terror camps would be welcome, attacking Pakistan itself is not a good idea. The moment India attacks Pakistan, the entire middle-east will be against us. Expect bombings all over the country on a daily basis. Coupled with the war itself, India's already thin emergency resources will be highly stretched. Even if the military manages to gobble up Pakistan, it will not be the end of it all. Expect the war to escalate to global proportions. Not a situation anyone except the arms companies will be pleased with.
Finally, India must ensure that through all this, the civil rights of its citizens are not violated. While this seems like a trivial point, any small attempt at restricting the liberties of the citizens does nothing except divert the focus away towards less important events. Which is in fact what is happening right now! Amidst all the hullabaloo about the banning of blogs, let us not forget that eight bombs exploded in Mumbai on the 11th of July, 2006. Let us not allow the government to snooze back on its job.
(Cross-posted on www.desicritics.org)
Wednesday, July 12, 2006
Granted that it is not at all an easy task trying to prevent terrorism of this sort. It might even be impossible to eliminate it in its present form. But that doesnt let the state and national machinery off the hook. The fact is that even the simple, day to day, routine measures that are being adopted at other cities such as NYC or London to try and prevent future attempts are simply not present in Mumbai. That the government will not do anything on its own is a given. But part of the problem is the city itself.
Now do not take me wrong, for the resilience of the city is a very good thing. It allows us to show the proverbial finger to the terrorists; they cannot disrupt our life for long. But on the other hand, if the aftermath had lingered on for a while, public resentment does not die a natural death. It builds up with every passing day where the routine is not followed. And this resentment can prove to be a very powerful thing.
If riots can get the officials to really take notice, so can open and prolonged resentment against the state machinery for not doing its job. The longer it lasts, the more likely it is to spread to other cities; after all they may be next on the terrorists hit-list. A mass movement like this cannot simply be ignored by the government. The fall-out of such a movement would have its own benefits, with increased security measures.
Call me an idealist if you must. But when people continue on with their lives as if the blasts were nothing but a small blip, the motivation to force the authorities to do something dies down soon enough for the officials to go back to sleep. People must stop behaving as if nothing has happened. They must raise a huge hue and cry about this issue, throw a tantrum, whatever. It is for their own good.
Monday, July 10, 2006
My contention is that penalty shoot-outs are not a fair way to decide a football contest. It favours the team that is generally good at taking penalties, while ignoring everything that has gone on for the past 120 or so minutes. The game really must be decided based on general play, rather than a lottery of penalties.
The unfairness of penalties is best exemplified by the FA Cup final between Manchester United and Arsenal in 2005, a game which Manchester United dominated (Arsenal did not have a single shot on goal till the penalties!), but lost on penalties. Some people argue that Manchester United did not deserve to win because they could not score in 90 minutes, but the same people have no explanation for why Arsenal deserved to win the game when they couldnt muster a single shot on goal!
So, here are a couple of suggestions for doing away with penalties.
1) Continue playing extra time (with a break every 15 minutes) till you get a result.
Generally teams tend to play defensive in extra time. Which means that more often than not, they are looking to hold on till the penalties. But now since there are no penalties, someone must score. To score, you have to play attacking football. Teams also know that they cannot afford to keep playing indefinitely. The fatigue factor will come in sooner or later, and as the game keeps getting prolonged, both teams will be pretty desperate to score. And score they will. And you will very rarely see games being played beyond the 3rd or (at the very most) 4th over time. An extra 15 or 30 minutes in favour of penalties seems worth it.
2) Modify the penalty system to make it fairer.
Basically, this means setting up an attack against defense kind of play, with 4 attackers, 3 defenders and a goalkeeper (the numbers can be different). The play continues till the ball goes out of play. The half-way line is also considered to be a boundary. At 5 plays per team, the team that scores more goals wins.
So there it is, my bit towards making knock-out games in football fairer to the teams that play well and deserve victory.
Friday, July 07, 2006
I got a personal email today from Mr. Orkut today and he has mentioned that all the people who have been sending hoax (and irritating) emails about Orkut profile closures are about to have their profiles cancelled.
It has come to their notice that sending some crappy "do this ya Gabbar aa jayega" emails have been spiking up email traffic and hence the threat.
The wise can take a hint.
The irony of the message was apparently lost on him!
Thursday, July 06, 2006
Which I find highly ironic! On one hand, Sanatana Dharma means eternal righteousness (a crude translation), which is irrespective of time, place and person, and on the other hand, we have a term called "non-Hindu"! In fact, the true notion of Christianity preaches unqualified love for others and for God, and to devote one's life in service to God. (The naive notion of exclusivity was a later addition, meant for political purposes and has nothing to do with spirituality!) Leaving out the differences in the philosophy of existence (which does not really affect the common man in any case), I see Christianity as no different from the Bhakti tradition within Hinduism.
So how does someone justify this principle of exclusivity? The justification for this that I know of is that at a time when there was no such restriction, christian missionaries used to conduct their proselytizing activities within the temple premises! Yes, this is a valid concern, and such activities must simply not be encouraged. But then, the temple authorities could easily have someone on the vigil, looking out for such unscupulous activities. Atleast, no genuine worshipper will be denied admission because of his/her faith.
Drisyadrisya and Rambler have come up with a petition protesting against this unfair treatment. I strongly encourage you to sign the petition.
On a final note, while I do agree with the need for universal entry, it would be counter-productive if one were to be too critical of the temple authorities. After all, there is a very thin line between breaking tradition just for the sake of it, and calling for genuine reform.
Monday, July 03, 2006
Confused and Patrix come up with a comprehensive response (two responses, really), blowing to bits almost every statement of the clueless moron. There is nothing left for me to say.
Sunday, July 02, 2006
The main question to ponder here, is whether this practice needs reform, whether entry into the temple should be thrown open to all. The main point is that of impurity. Mentruating women are considered impure. If this is indeed the case, then there is a very strong argument for maintaining the status quo. Even apart from menstruating women, not everyone is allowed into the temple. Before a person can enter into the temple, he or she must follow a vrath (or vow) for a period of 40 days. Following this vow strictly is no easy task, and the one who maintains this vow for 40 days is considered to have purified himself sufficiently to seek the grace of God. This is, of course, no idle set of regulations, but has sufficient philosophical validity without ascribing to dogma. The topic of impurity itself can be the basis for a series of articles, so for the purpose of this discussion, I will just accept the need for self-purification as prescribed.
The main point of contention here is whether or not menstruating women are impure. Since neither am I a religious scholar, nor am I a seer, I do not know what the answer is. But if I were to hazard an answer, I would say that menstruating women are not impure. Philosophically, Shiva and Shakti (male and female) are always potrayed together, one does not exist without the other. The female aspect of divinity is considered just as important as the male aspect. In ancient times, India had many women seers, some of whom have even composed a part of the Vedas! In recent times, we have Mata Amritanandamayi, who is considered to be a saint. Would such enlightened beings, who have already seen God, be denied admission to a temple? Even if they are menstruating? I think not! Ergo, why should an ordinary women be denied admission? After all divinity is supposed to permeate all of the material universe, including menstruating women.
Just my 2 cents on this issue, but whether or not any reform will happen is anybody's guess.
Wednesday, June 28, 2006
Friday, June 23, 2006
The most comprehensive symbolism of this story was found here, and I shall unabashedly use its contents in this post.
The story states that to obtain the Amrita, the ocean of milk has to be churned. Three symbolisms already in the first line. Amrita, the nectar of immortality, is the final enlightenment achieved by a practising student. It is the true self. The ocean of milk is the pure (white as milk) consciousness that is present within us, which is the complete truth, and is not contaminated by any other. The true self thus resides in the ocean of pure consciousness (#). And the act of churning is the churning that goes on within our minds as we come to terms with the reality. Since the true notion of reality is a huge change of paradigm from the world we think is real, the mind cannot come to terms with it immediately, and the process of this acceptance is the churning. It is unavoidable and necessary. The process of churning itself has a simpler meaning. The story states it as a pull between the Devas and asuras alternately, while it really does mean the pull of the good and the bad which keeps alternating, which is really what leads to the confusion. But like I said, its necessary to achieve progress, it makes you step back and analyze the situation more calmly.
According to the yogic school of thought, the kundalini energy flows up the spinal column, and one must learn to harness this energy for spiritual progress. The Mandara mountain represents the spinal column, and Vasuki, the king of serpants, represents the kundalini, or serpant like energy. As for the first act of asking the Devas to hold the tail of Vasuki, we saw how it was actually a blessing in disguise. The symbolism here is that at times we must be humble enough to perform tasks that seem to be beneath our dignity. It may not be attractive, but it certainly is more beneficial than doing the likeable thing over the long run. Long term benefits over short term gains.
As soon as the churning begins, the mountain sinks beneath the water surface, which is indicative of how any attempt at spiritual progress will falter without a firm foundation. Vishnu incarnating as a tortoise represents the vital breath that provides the foundation for spiritual progress. The Halahala poison that first emerges from the sea is the pain of the paradigm shift, the pain of severe self-introspection. The student certainly is not mature enough to deal with it. Shiva, the greatest yogi known to mankind, is the guru who helps the student in such matters. His swallowing of the poison is indicative of the guru's efforts at placating the student by making the emotional disturbances go away, not permanantly, but atleast upto a point where the student matures enough to handle them. This is why the poison is stuck in Shiva's throat, the part of the body where speech emanates from.
After Halahala, the Goddess of intoxication comes out. This is the intoxication of passing through the first step. If you cannot control yourself, you yield yourself forever to this intoxication and never go further. Similarly, the other gifts are symbolic of the various siddhis attained by the seeker. If the seeker gets attached to such gifts and begins revelling in them, he will never get the ultimate prize.
Lakshmi, the Goddess of fortune chooses Vishnu (symbolic of the pure self) to be her own. The set of poisons that have to be endured before this happens, however, is equivalent to another stage of paradigm shift, though not as disturbing as the first one, since most of the work has already been done in this regard. But this shift has to be completed nevertheless. It is another stage of self-introspection, which is still somewhat difficult to deal with, but if the seeker comes out of it alright, fortune is on his side.
Dhanvantari, the physician (to be) of the Devas is the permanant good health (of the soul, not the body) attained after the final enlightenent. Fittingly, she carries the Amrita with her. Even at this stage, the bad can overcome the good and the entire journey would have been fruitless. This is shown by the asuras running off with the Amrita. How many times have we seen a great feat almost completed, but was not because the protoganists choked at the end? The presence of Mohini is the final distraction in this great feat. She can single-handedly trip you down if you have negative tendencies. The asuras cannot look at reason when they are infatuated, and are never able to get out of the grip of Mohini's charm. The Devas, in contrast, trust the Lord, and get the Amrita at the end. If you let the dark side become the dominant side, you end up much like the asuras did, deprived of the nectar. If you maintain control of your self like the Devas did, you are rewarded with immortality, and you can easily supress the negative tendancies that are present within you.
The final bit about Rahu attempting to get some of the Amrita is the statement that a wee bit of the negative tendencies lingers on. It is very easily controlled, and any attempt by it to enforce its superiority will soon fade out. From this new viewpoint, the story of the Coorma avatar is not just a story of the universe with a battle between the Devas and asuras, but a story about the self, about the process of enlightenment, about the pull of the good and bad sides. The moral is that letting the good flow throughout has its own rewards, and in fact, it brings about the ultimate reward - immortality.
# A digression:
The fact that our true self resides in pure consciousness is also represented in the depiction of Vishnu. Vishnu is always shown residing in the ocean of milk, resting on Anantha Sesha. Vishnu is the true self, residing in the ocean of pure consciousness, and his resting on Anantha Sesha is representative of the fact that you know your true self by gaining mastery over the kundalini energy.
Jaya and Vijaya are the gatekeepers of Vaikunta, Vishnu's abode, and due to a curse, they incarnated thrice each as evil beings - Hiranyakashipu and Hiranyaksha, Ravana and Kumbhakarna, and finally as Shishupala and Dantavakra. Their presence as the gatekeepers of Vaikunta is again symbolic of the fact that to get to the pure, calm self, you have to pass through chaos. Sort of like a highly compressed version of the Coorma avatar, but with the same essence.
Sunday, June 18, 2006
The mightly mountain Mandara was enlisted as the churning rod, while Vasuki, the king of serpants, agreed to become the rope. Vishnu, being the only God who could match the asuras cunning, asked the asuras to hold the hood of Vasuki while churning, so that it would befit their stature. The asuras gleefully agreed. But this was sheer trickery, since Vasuki frequently let out fumes that weakened the asuras. The Devas were left to hold the tail end of Vasuki, and the churning duly began. But since Mandara did not have any support, it started sinking into the ocean. Realizing the problem, Vishnu quickly incarnated as a tortoise - the Coorma avatar - and supported the Mandara mountain on His back. With the support provided, the churning was resumed.
The first thing to emerge from the churning was Halahala, or Kalakuta - the worst poison in the universe. This immediately created a panic among the Devas and asuras, and they began to choke on the poison. It required Shiva to intervene and swallow the poison. However, Parvati held his throat and stopped the poison from going into his body. This made Shiva blue from the throat up, and hence he has also been referred to as Neelakanta from then on.
As the churning continued, more celestial objects emerged from the ocean. Suri (the Goddess of wine and intoxication, who spread all over the world), Surabi (the celestial cow, which the sages took for their religious rites), Parijatha (the divine wish fulfilling tree that went to heaven), the Apsaras (celestial nymphs), Chandra (the Moon), Kaustubha (the precious gem), Ucchaishravas (the divine horse), Airavata (the four-tusked elephant), Panchajaya (the conch), Sharanga (the invincible bow).
After this, another set of poisons emerged, but none were of the same intensity as Halahala. The snakes took them for their own. And then suddenly, Lakshmi, the Goddess of Fortune, emerged on a lotus blossom, wearing a lotus garland and holding a lotus in her hand, and smiling radiantly. She immediately selected Vishnu and resided on His chest.
Finally, Dhanvantari, the physician of the Devas, emerged, holding the pot of Amrita in her hand. The asuras quickly snatched the nectar from her hand before the Devas could react and were rejoicing over their prize, when the Devas appealed to Vishnu to intervene. Vishnu assumed his dual form of Mohini, the female form of such immense beauty that could cause even Shiva to lose control of his senses. She offered to distribute the amrita evenly between the Devas and asuras.
Mohini, being none other than Vishnu, had the same cunning as Him, and served the Amrita to the Devas first, and served intoxicants to the asuras by a sleight of hand. But the asuras soon realized what had happened and quickly geared up for a fight. The Devas, however, were already immortal and easily vanquished the asuras. One of the asuras, Rahu, was smarter than the rest, and assumed the form of a serpent and began licking the last few drops of the Amrita. The Sun and Moon Gods saw this and informed Vishnu, who quickly cut off the head of Rahu before the nectar could pass through his throat. The head, however, remained immortal and Rahu periodically swallows the Sun and Moon in revenge, but since his throat is open-ended, they come out soon from the other end.
Well, so thats that for the story of the Coorma avatar. This is the story, as narrated with an eye only on the superficial details. This doesn't even begin to describe the underlined deeper meaning. Almost all Hindu texts are written in this manner - on the surface is a story that makes for nice reading, is often taken only literally, and occasionally as true. But every one of these stories has a deeper meaning that goes beyond the superficial nature of the story. Every tiny detail has been written not with an eye for aesthetic sense, but with deep wisdom. A study of this wisdom in the texts would probably take many lifetimes (given that the body of Hindu scriptures is really vast).
The symbolism of the Coorma avatar is the best example of symbolism that I have found in my limited reading (and probably the most significant), and this is described in the next post. I'll explain the symbolism as best as I know, and apologise for errors in advance.
Friday, June 16, 2006
I expected to be in the minority, here in the US, since no one really cares about soccer. Well, as it turned out, I was wrong, a lot more people are interested in (surprise) football than I thought would be. Suddenly, everyone here is a keen fan of football, and has been watching the premiership and champions league games for years! Well, I'll be ... I never knew!!
Life couldn't get any better - teach in the morning, catch the two later games of the day, and then go on to play cricket or football. As for the world cup itself, the games have been better than the last world cup. England have confirmed my evaluation of them - boring, uninspiring, and the complete anti-thesis of football. Even Germany, who I think play a mechanical brand of football have been more exciting to watch, their game against Poland being a point in case. Teams such as Holland and Portugal do not look like they will win the world cup. Though they have the talent, their play in the final third has not been good, their players take too much time on the ball, often losing the opportunity to pass to another player well placed to take a shot. It reeks of selfishness to a certain extent. Neither France nor Italy have shown any imagination in their approach. They will not win it either. The best team among the European nations has been the Czech Republic. They look like a team whose players understand each other, and they represent Europe's best chance of winning the world cup. I'm still doubtful of Spain's chances because of their reputation as perennial under achievers.
Argentina, on the other hand, has played some excellent football. They warmed up nicely against Ivory Coast with a 2-1 win, a game where they were just not stretched, and against Serbia and Montenegro, they cranked it up a notch to play some of the most exciting football I've seen so far. The players seemed to be playing on radar, instinctively knowing where the others are. Just watch the second goal to see what I mean. Six one touch passes polished off by Cambiasso! They were everything that England was not! I'm only fearful that they might become a bit complacent after such a performance. Of course, Argentina is the team I support, and I really do want them to win the world cup.
And finally, we have Brazil. No matter how awful their pre-world cup form, they have always been among the contenders. Their first game was very unlike the Brazil that we know, but I'm sure they'll come good as the tournament goes on. Brazil really are larger than life, with most fans readily supporting Brazil as long as they are not the opposition. I was watching the game wearing a Brazilian jersey, and as I was walking back home from the world cup, atleast four different people (all Americans) called out from their vehicles and their homes, yelling "Go Brazil!" I responded with the typical Brazilian way of acknowledgement - a thumbs up sign, followed by a wink! Most probably do not understand all the nuances of the game, but the fact that they all think Brazil is the best team in the world tells us something about their reputation. No fan of football can afford to not like Brazil. They really are larger than life.
The only grouse that I have is the commentary that is tailored to teach the Americans the basics of football, but it gets irritating for those who follow the game regularly. To make it worse, every five minutes, the commentators break into how USA faces a lot of expectations, and who their next opponents are, and how they should play, forgetting that there is another game going on at the moment! Its but a small price to pay for watching the entire world cup!
Update: The much talked about second goal of Argentina against Serbia and Montenegro (commentary in Spanish, with the typical South American style of going goooooooooooooooaaaaaaaaal after the goal)!
Tuesday, May 09, 2006
I could go on about Naushad's music, but rather than that, I will pick 10 songs composed by Naushad that are among my favourites, and showcase Naushad's capabilities. Not an easy task at all, considering that huge number of his songs were hits. Bear in mind this is not a top 10, just a set of 10 that I like most, in alphabetical order! (The columns are read as song, film, singer(s), raag)
1) Bekas pe karam kijiye sarkar-e-madina, Mughal-e-Azam, Lata Mangeshkar, Kedara
A wonderful tune that beautifully captures the feeling of Anarkali being imprisoned. Lata's voice is apt here.
2) Ek shahenshah ne banvake haseen Taj Mahal, Leader, Lata/Rafi, Lalit
The tune in this song brilliantly complements the poetic beauty of the Taj. If at all a tune can describe poetry by itself, this has to be it.
3) Guzren hain aaj ishq mein, Dil Diya Dard Liya, Mohd. Rafi, Darvari Kanada
This one ranks in my top three Naushad songs (and top ten of all time). The song is deceptively difficult to sing, mastering all the nuances takes quite some effort. I wonder if anyone other than Rafi could have done justice to this song.
4) Insaaf ka mandir hai yeh, Amar, Mohd. Rafi, Bhairavi
Another Rafi special (as most in this list are). A brilliant example of a Naushad composition, a tune that can appeal to the layman, yet Bhairavi through and through.
5) Madhuban mein radhika nache re, Kohinoor, Mohd. Rafi, Hamir
One of Naushad's most dificult compositions to sing. Yet Rafi manages this effortlessly, and the rest, as they say, is history. Notice how the lyrics mimic the beats of a tabla (or dhol). The best part is, of course, the sitar rendition at the end of the song.
6) Man tarpat hari darshan, Baiju Bawara, Mohd. Rafi, Malkauns
This is the movie that made Rafi a hit among masses. This song gives a clue why.
7) O duniya ke rakhwale, Baiju Bawara, Mohd. Rafi, Darvari Kanada
One of the more obvious compositions in Darvari Kanada, Rafi's entire range was called into play while rendering this song. He goes into a very high pitch at the end of each mukhda, and even higher at the end, making you wonder how he does it.
8) Saawan aaye ya na aaye, Dil Diya Dard Liya, Rafi/Asha, Saarang
Naushad made good use of the contrast between voices of Rafi and Asha in this song. Together they create magic.
9) Yaad mein teri jaag jaag ke hum, Mere Mehboob, Lata/Rafi, Darvari Kanada
Words cannot do justice to the feeling this song gives you. So none are given, just listen to it and you will know.
10) Zindaabaad zindaabad aye mohabbat zindaabaad, Mughal-e-Azam, Mohd. Rafi, Kirvani
One amazing song, as it required Rafi to stretch his vocal cords even more than he did for O duniya ke rakhwale. He starts off at a very high pitch, maintains it, and then goes even higher, so much so that even his voice begins to crack. Naushad probably used his full repertoire of musical tricks in composing this song. Sheer genius.The sheer beatuty of all these songs comes not only from Naushad's wonderful compositions, but also in the excellence of the singers, who make them seem ridiculously easy to sing. There are many other songs that deserve mention, but I'll stick to this list for now.
Monday, May 01, 2006
Thursday, April 06, 2006
P.S. If you want to participate in future session(s), drop me a line. (Yeah, this is an unofficial promotion!)
Sunday, March 26, 2006
Adharma is present in every single person, and in the world as a whole too. The issue of fighting adharma is, therefore, a pertinent one. Let me use the example of Vishnu as a pointer towards fighting adharma.
The various avatars of Vishnu have over time, used the same tactics as the adharmic forces to defeat them. Consider:
Parasurama killed the kshatriyas unabashedly in response to mass killings of Brahmins by the kshatriyas. Rama, in his war against Ravana, never deviated from the path of righteousness. He did so, because Ravana himself fought the war justly, following the rules of war as laid down by dharma. Krishna, on the other hand, justified the killings of Karna and Jayadratha (which involved trickery) citing the various actions of Kauravas (disrobing of Draupadi, cheating the Pandavas out of their kingdom, the killing of Abhimanyu) as examples of trickery by the opposition. Adi Shankaracharya, the brilliant philosopher, waged an intellectual war against the widespead prevalance of dogma and intolerance, by defeating representatives from all 72 religions in a debate. He managed to unify all religions under the single umbrella of advaita philosphy, and managed to resolve their differences.
I'm sure there would be many other examples available, but each of the above examples indicates that adharma is always fought using the same tactics of adharma. This is not an abdication of righteousness, but rather the performance of duty without any regard to personal benefit. I'm sure everyone will agree that it is morally incumbent upon us to fight adharma. Adharma must be fought at two levels - the personal level, and the global level, in that order. One cannot set the world on the path of righteousness without the person him(her)self following the same path.
In each case, one must identify the form of adharma, before taking any steps to eliminate it. At the personal level, the actions, as prescribed by Krishna, show us the best way to live. From the Bhagavad Gita (2:47)
which translates as
karmaņy evādhikāras te mā phaleşu kadāchana
mā karma-phala-hetur bhūr mā te sańgo 'stv akarmaņi
You certainly have the right for prescribed activities, but never at anytime in their results. You should never be motivated by the results of the actions, nor should there be any attachment in not doing your prescribed activities.As for the global level, let that be a topic for some other day, some other person.
Wednesday, March 08, 2006
First, a primer on consciousness. What makes the entire universe tick? We observe macroscopic phenomena such as the earth revolving around the sun, apples falling to the earth, people moving and interacting with each other, and in a subtle sense, individual atoms interacting with each other. What is the cause of all this? Some people say this is just random chance that the universe has panned out in this way, but quantum mechanics tells us that if this is so, then there are other possibilities, and hence other universes where these possibilities occur. The question still remains - what caused it in the first place?
The universe is commonly thought of as a machine, with individual components working as cogs, and consciousness was never really acknowledged. But scientists today are finding it more and more difficult to ignore consciousness as the reason for existence. Consider this: It is a commonly known phenomena that sub-atomic (and other) particles behave differently when observed as opposed to their behaviour when unobserved (e.g. light as both a wave and a particle). This projection of different behaviour is caused by human consciousness. In my previous post, I described how reality is closely associated with my senses. The existance of any object outside of my consciousness cannot be proved at all. Therefore consciousness is the direct cause of all reality, and as a corollory, consciousness is all that exists. This is the conclusion that scientists working on quantum mechanics are coming to, and this idea is gaining increasing credence.
The EPR paradox has instantaneous communication (read: greater than the speed of light) as its implication, also known as a non-local event. Looked at another way, it means that the separation between particles is an illusion.
As per the standard model of the atom, one of the fundamental particles is a quark. While admittedly, the standard model is not a complete theory (gravity is not explained, for example), it presents a very good picture of the atom. According to the standard model, quarks, while they possess mass, are only one-dimensional things. But three of them combine to form a three-dimensional proton or neutron. The problem is that quarks cannot really exist, because if they exist, they become three-dimensional things. The entire universe is, therefore, composed of particles which do not really exist. The universe, therefore, is only an illusion. Even if quantum theory is disproved for some reason in the future, the experimental evidence itself showing that the universe is an illusion is overwhelming.
It is also not necessary to take the aid of quantum mechanics to show that the universe is an illusion. Consider a beam of light travelling from point A (say, the sun) to point B (say, you, the observer). According to you, the light takes about eight minutes to get from A to B. But as far as the light itself is concerned, it reached point B in no time, since time stops at the speed of light. There is an equation (which is, incidentally, fundamental to quantum mechanics) that shows that time is zero, meaning, it does not exist. But you and me experience time. This is an apparent contradiction, but it really means that time is an illusion. If time is an illusion, then so is space, because we cannot experience space without time. And again, this leads to the fact that the universe is an illusion.
PS: That the universe is an illusion, and pure consciousness is all that exists, is also known as the Advaita philosophy.
PPS: Before you start jumping on me, this is not about trying to prove religion with the aid of science. These are conclusions drawn by scientists independent of religion.
Wednesday, March 01, 2006
Let us assume this universe is an illusion, and we somehow manage to pull the plug on the illusion. What guarantee do we have that the ensuing reality is not another layer of illusion? This can keep going on forever like the chicken or the egg question. The more you think about this, the more you realize that our senses are not as dependable as we thought when we seek the truth.
Take this a step further. I look down and see my fingers and toes. I can move and feel them. But since my senses cannot be depended upon, do my fingers and toes exist? Does my body exist? Do I exist outside of the mind? Does the mind itself exist?
There has to be something deeper, something more subtle than our gross senses and our mind. It is our Atman, loosely (and somewhat inaccurately) translated as soul. We have to transcend this material universe, which is nothing but an illusion to realise our true self. Our mind can only help us in going so far, but beyond a certain stage, we have to transcend the mind itself.
Saturday, February 25, 2006
Tuesday, February 14, 2006
This whole affair got me thinking (and this also follows from a discussion with my father). Millions of people in India have benefited health-wise from Guru Ramdev's yoga. Many people claim to have been cured of long standing illnesses, while many others have declared that they have felt no need for medicines because of their regular practice of yoga. So many people cannot be wrong about the health benefits of yoga, and it only serves to strengthen Guru Ramdev's claims.
Modern medicine has one problem. If the problem is diagnosed to be in A, modern medicine will treat part A, while the effect of the cure on other parts is not known. Conversely, if the problem lies in A, B and C, all in some proportion, modern medicine has not advanced enough to detect that (there may exist some specific instances which can be so diagnosed, but in a general sense, they cannot be). It only attempts to cure part A or B or C, which really is not enough, because all 3 parts must be cured simultaneously.
The solution is a holistic approach, that takes into account the natural tendencies of the human body, rather than trying to force a solution. Yoga is one such holistic technique. Other techniques are psychological influence (using a placebo instead of an actual medicine has provided the desired results in some cases), use of music (or sound frequencies) to effect a cure, etc. It is this holistic approach that Guru Ramdev is advocating. Yoga has another advantage - its legitimacy has been well documented over the ages. It is traditional wisdowm that is as of now beyond the reach of modern medicine (the irony!).
What would be a good idea (IMO) is to introduce yoga as a compulsary subject in schools across India. In the longer run, this would lead to an entire generation of Indians being familiar with yoga and its health benefits. And this regular practice of yoga would also render any sort of medication unnecessary, which would greatly reduce health-related costs. The value of this cannot be underestimated in a developing country such as India. This is somewhat similar to the Japanese initiative to help prevent malaria in Africa (with US funding) using low-cost techniques.
However, I have my doubts as to whether this idea can actually be implemented. Political motivations fueled by profits, gross ignorance, and maybe even religious opposition (Christians and Muslims see yoga as blasphemous) would mean that this idea will face stiff opposition.
Friday, February 03, 2006
Last year, a Danish newspaper published a caricature of Prophet Mohammad. Actually, it is a bunch of cartoons (12 in all), as satirical illustrations accompanying an article on self-sensorship and freedom of speech. One of the drawings depicts the Prophet with a bomb as his turban, and the comments accompanying the cartoons are not complimentary either. A Norwegien newspaper reproduced the cartoon, with various newspaper across Europe following suit.
Suffice it to say that these cartoons are in extremely bad taste. For one, Islam prohibits any image of the Prophet, even if it is in a positive manner, lest it amount to idolatory. Furthermore, these images are disparaging Islam in the crudest manner. While freedom of speech and expression is a noble ideal, it ends either when it infringes upon insensitivity to the feelings of a people, or if it is intentionally ridiculing a person or community.. The cartoons in question fail on both counts. While such analysis is obviously subjective, common sense dictates that these cartoons not be published.
Which brings me to the question, why were the cartoons published? The Danish newspaper, obviously from its perspective, sees nothing wrong in publishing the cartoons, and it might be justified in its stand. However, with the larger Muslim population likely to take offence at the cartoons in question, it would have been prudent to not publish the cartoons. The other reason would be purposeful incitement of the mass protests and violence that has arose over almost all of the Muslim world. Or it might just be that the newspaper simply did not have a sense of perspective when it published the cartoons.
The controversy rages on!
The Vedic Foundation and the Hindu Education Foundation have have petitioned the California Department of Education suggesting improvements in the school textbooks' treatment of Hinduism. The two Foundations suggested a total of 170 corrections. Nothing wrong with that, one would suppose. Except, Dr. Michael Witzel, among others, of Harvard University deems fit to oppose 58 of those corrections (the CDE calls them edits), especially those dealing with the Aryan Invasion Theory, which he terms as fact. The curriculum commision went through the 58 edits, and accepted about a dozen of them.
What I find perplexing, is why Dr. Witzel wants to dredge up the AIT, which has been proved comprehensively to be a myth. No neutral scholar accepts the AIT as anything more than a fanciful invention of the British East India Company to create an excuse for the colonization of India, and to convert the entire populace to Christianity. Dr. Witzel's petition was neither based on reason nor on any factual and scholarly information. As some observers have pointed out, it is indeed a sad day for Harvard University that one of its "esteemed" professors is involved with such unscholarly activities.
The main issue of contention here is that while Christianity, Islam and Jewism are all potrayed in a positive light with absolutely no mention of their negative connotations, the text on Hinduism focusses more on its negative aspects, while the aspects of Hinduism that matter most are hardly given a passing mention. Furthermore, while the texts relating to the other religions are written by a person of that religion, the text about Hinduism is written from a non-Hindu perspective. Neither does the section on Hinduism confirm to the Standards for Evaluating Instructional Materials for Social Content, as set by the CDE. All that the two foundations are asking for is a fair potrayal of Hinduism in Californian textbooks.
What is the reason for this unfair potrayal? This theory ascribes the controversy to political issues, while this website summarizes the entire controversy. Further links are found here and here. Thanks to this article, which itself is worth reading, for the links.
Whatever be the reason, I am in favour of asking Dr. Witzel to shove it and for the CDE to get on with the proposed corrections.
Sunday, January 22, 2006
Incident 1: I am on the escalator, going up. I am walking up the escalator to get to the top faster, and this security person stops me from doing that, saying its not allowed. Earlier, I noticed that when a bunch of people were coming down on the escalator, the people who wanted to go up were made to wait till all the people coming down had come down. Well, what exactly is the point in having 2 escalators if you are going to operate only one of them at a time?
Incident 2: I walk into the Adidas showroom when this chap asks me if I need some help. I tell him I'll let him know when I need his help and start looking around. The guy follows me everywhere. I don't say anything. After a while, I spot a pair of Levi's jeans that I like, and I check out its size. The guy again asks me if I need any help. He is still standing behind me as if I need some chaperoning. The following ensues.
Me: Dont you leave your customers to look around by themselves?
Him: We are required to assist the customers.
Me: But if someone wants to be left alone, why do you have to stick around making him uncomfortable?
Him: You touched the jeans like this (proceeds to touch the jeans) and this clearly shows that you need assistance.
(Einstein himself couldnt have come up with something better!)
Me: I was just checking out the size, I can do that myself and I do not need you to tell me the size.
Him: That is not the way to talk to a CSR.
At this point, I just walk out of the store.
In both incidents, the people working at this mall behave as if people visiting the mall are totally dumb and need to be told what to do. Like how to use the escalator, and how to check the size of a pair of jeans.
I tried to think of reasons for this behaviour. I remember reading a report about how a child's shoe got stuck at a Delhi mall and the child was crushed to death. Then there was this incident at Heathrow where a woman's sari got stuck in the escalator and the sari just came off! Its understandable if the people at the mall are worried about such incidents. But it still felt like an over the top reaction.
As for the second incident, there are no electronic checks to make sure people cannot simply walk away with stuff from stores without paying. But then the security guards are placed at the entrance precisely for this very reason. The other thing is that despite the prices and sizes being put in prominent labels, many people prefer to ask the employees the very same details. No kidding, I have seen that happen quite a few times. But the continuous monitoring from close quarters was still uncalled for.
Basically, I still have not understood what caused that behaviour. Is it simply a policy of not letting the customer be? I have heard from others about similar experiences, though none of them really minded it. Maybe I am just used to the chilled out behaviour at the US malls. But then again, such incidents did not occur at the other malls in Mumbai that I went to.