Jun 30, 2011

Gujarat running at full capacity

The stepney creates 2 extra seats!! Some things about India are the same wherever you live.

Jun 29, 2011

The Crocin Headache

Crocin is a very common medicine that would surely find a place in the medicine box and travel kits of most Indian middle+ class families. It is available in almost all medical shops and in many stationary stores even, without any physician's prescription. I had studied in my UG that it is the brand name for paracetomol, which is a common name for N-(4-hydroxyphenyl)ethanamide, or N-acetyl-4-aminophenol. The latter name is the reason why it is sold over-the-counter in US pharmacies under the name 'Tylenol'. I was under the impression that 'crocin' signifies nothing other than the above chemical.

Until today. I learnt that there is actually a chemical called 'crocin' and it is what gives the orange color to 'saffron' (குங்குமப்பூ or kungumappoo). Its wiki entry is here. It is a 'carotenoid', meaning it is structurally similar to the chemical that gives orange color to carrot, viz., beta-carotene. It also has some medicinal properties, which are very different to those of the paracetemol drug. The chemical structure of the two drugs are (left-paracetemol; right-crocin):

Usually there is a sense to the way drugs are named. But, IMHO, it is a blatant mistake to sell one chemical with the same name of another known chemical. Those who consume saffron regularly, try telling ur mom or someone who cares for you that you are nowadays taking crocin twice a week, without making them to freak out.

Jun 21, 2011

Taylor-made for a CEO

(Pic adapted from Cricinfo)

From the pose, the office with lappy attached to an external LED screen (and a cam), Ross looks more like the CEO of a company than the captain of a cricket team !! Strange is the way New Zealand cricket works.

Jun 20, 2011

Book reading 301

(Pic adapted from Cartoon Stock)

I feel that a great fiction must keep the reader so engrossed that one should get no clue about the ending of the book - both 'how' and 'when' it ends. As you are holding the book and reading it, you know that you are approaching the end, because on the right side of the book, the pages are going to exhaust. Imagine, on the other hand, the publisher keeps some unspecified number of dummy pages. Either you know about it, or you don't. That can work in 2 ways as one can see. Unless you are too curious like some people that you WANT to know how many pages are left, you will be kept in suspense as to where you are in the fiction - towards the end, or somewhere in the mdidle. I think that is the right way how a work of fiction should be.

The same thing can be applied for a movie too. It can be a 1 1/2 hr movie like most Hollywood products, or the 3 hour epics like the LOTR trilogy. Either way, not knowing the actual duration of the movie and not peeking into the watch, one can truly enjoy this other form of fiction, though the screenplay usually revs up quite a bit as moves towards climax.

Now, as I am talking abt movies in the context of books, let me also talk on the suspense in movies adapted from books. When Suhasini remarked in her movie review that it was so easy to guess who the culprit was in 'Angels & Demons', I was like 'Come on, you can't, unless you have read the book'. But, when I think about it, if you are reasonably good at movies, you can! When you see someone like Ewan McGregor in a role, you immediately sense that his role is damn important. And with Tom Hanks as the protagonist, it extrapolates itself to Ewan as the antagonist. Such a revelation could be averted by either making the entire cast from famous stars, or by giving that role to someone unknown. He could be a new, talented Hollywood actor (hard, as he c'd have made it big in some other media), or an established actor from European countries.

Such a revelation of importance can be camouflaged in books, as it provides the liberty of hiding the face and character while introducing the character. Still, usually the authors would give an elaborate physical description of that character, but as (and if) they do so to several other characters too, the importance of the suspense character isnt explicitly revealed.

Now, back to the length of the books in the e-format. There are a few ways to keep the reader from guessing where one is at the story: One, split the story into several chapters, and no info is given on the # of chapters. So, when you see the scroll bar, it is just for that chapter; Second, no scroll bar at all while reading it on the screen; third, like in print versions, have a number of dummy pages. No issues to the additional costs of dummy pages incurred in the printed version here.

Jun 16, 2011


நினைவுகளை அசைபோட
கண்ணை மூடி பின்னோக்கிப் பயணம்
மேகம் போல மனத்திரையில்
நின்று ருசிக்க முடியாமல்
தெளிவாய் ரசிக்க முடியாமல்
வெண்புகை போலே மறையும்

நினைவுகளை அசைபோட
கண்ணாடித் திரையில் பின்னோக்கிப் பயணம்
இணையத்தின் மேகங்கள் கண்ணெதிரில்
நின்று ஆற அமர ருசிக்க வைத்து
மறந்தவையும் மூலையில் தட்டி எழுப்பி
ஏக்கத்தை உண்டாக்கி மறைகிறதே

நானா இதெல்லாம் செய்தேன்
நீயா இதெல்லாம் சொன்னாய்
எங்கு சேர்த்தது காலம் நம்மை
அந்த நாட்கள் மீண்டும் வாராதா
நாம் கண்ட கனா இன்றே நனவாகாதா

ninaivugalai asaipOda
kaNNAI moodi pinnOkkip payaNam
megam pOla manaththiraiyil
ninRu rusikka mudiyaamal
thelivai rasikka mudiyaamal
veNpugai poley maraiyum


Ninaivugalai asaipOda
kaNNAdith thiraiyil pinnOkkip payaNam
iNaiyaththin megangal kaNNethiril
ninRu aara amara rusikka vaithu
maranthavaiyum moolaiyil thatti yezhuppi
Ekkathai uNdaakki maRakiRathE

NAna ithellaam seithEn
neeya ithellaam sonnAi
engu sErththadhu kaalam nammai
andha naatkaL meendum vArAthA
nAm kaNda kanA inRE nanavAkAthA

Jun 15, 2011

Incompetently Rude & Callously Terrible Corporation

Yes, that is IRCTC for u. Over the past few months I have been trying to book a lot of train tickets online. It mostly involves travel between Mumbai n Gujarat. Most often than not, it is impossible to tickets for the journey from Mumbai. Sometimes, the other route too. The waitlisted numbers go into hundreds. So I gotta rely on ‘tatkal’ to book tickets. That is one experience worth writing a book on. Ya, this post is full of complaints but I gotta do it, when we talk about the ‘largest service sector in the World operating in the World’s IT-hub’.
First, one has to login a few minutes before 8 am and just keep wandering around the website until 8. Why? For logging into the site even at 7.59, one must be damn lucky bcos it takes forever. If u r trying for a busy train or during vacation time, everything w'd be pretty much over by the time u login. Why keep wandering there after logging in well before 8? Bcos if u r idle for like 2 mins, the rude system w'd throw u out with a lovely message 'Session expire'. Duh!
Just like any pc/video game, there are several levels u can get stuck into. The most notorious of all is when u click on a particular class of travel. To kill boredom, u r recommended counting how many dozens of times the waiting cycle rotates before it shows u the availability. If u think u can browse any other website in the meanwhile, beware of the bandwidth share it w'd take, thus further increasing ur chance of getting another cooling message 'Service Unavailable'. Ya rite.. Service !!
U r also advised to open a couple more of different browsers and access the IRCTC site at the same time. I know I talked any bandwidth stealing n all just a while ago but more browser windows is a must back-up plan when one or more of the sessions fail. The different levels of online booking r like the diff dream levels talked in 'Inception'. Deeper u go, more w'd be the danger u have to beware of. If not u will be forever trapped in the limbo n it will be impossible to come out unscathed.
So often it happens that u w'd be so near yet so far. Also keep multiple payment options like netbanking, credit card n debit card available bcos there is no guarantee that an option available on a given day will be available any other day. The most frustrating is when u go from ‘10 available seats’ to ‘WL 10’ by the time u enter the passenger details.
Also, the site doesn’t allow any right clicking to copy any long number/name. Some cynic must have designed/authorized a very autocratic website saying ‘why s’d someone right-click? Let them type down everything!”.
Also, some train timings r so odd that it's not uncommon to se some unassuming passengers get stranded. I witnessed once when I was travelling from Mumbai to Gujarat on Vadodara exp. It leaves Mumbai CST at 11.40 pm and reaches borivali, a suburb of Mumbai in the north at 12.04 am, picks up passengers from north Mumbai n leaves at 12.07 am. So when I got into Vadodara exp from borivali, someone was already getting ready to sleep in my berth, which is not an unusual sight. When I told him that its my berth, he said it is his. Initially I thot I had goofed up the booking somehow. So much for my self-confidence! When I checked the date n time, it was indeed a correct ticket. I asked him to show his and his ticket showed the previous day as sate of boarding. Indeed the previous day had ended just 10 mins ago and that is the day he wanted to leave Mumbai. But he or his agent chose a wrong time at the cusp of the day. If the railways had advanced the departure by just 8 mins, it w'd have left Borivali too on the same day and such a confusion like above c'd have been averted.
An exhausting experience each time u plan ur travel via IRCTC. Any talk of India and shining is truly valid only when we get to book tickets in Indian railways within a reasonable time w'out seeing the WLxx, atleast for 3rd a/c and above.

Jun 14, 2011

Time correction

When India won the World Cup recently, one number we often saw was '28'. Yes, different forms of it, like "28 years of wait", "After 28 years", "28 years of pain, hope and disappointment", etc etc. Subtract 1983-the last time India won the cup from 2011-this year and you get that number 28. Now suppose India had the won the last World Cup held in 2007 (ok, I said 'suppose', so dont laugh). Would we have still done a similar subtraction (2011-2007) and said 'After 4 years of wait, we won'? When (and if) India wins against West Indies in the tests next month, we wont say "we won after 5 long years in WI" because the last time we toured WI in 2006, we won!

The same thing holds for several others too. When England won the Ashes in 2005, it was 'For the first time in 18 years Eng won'. I understand where such calculations come from. When the time gap between two events is very long, one simply takes the time difference between the two events. But, in case of sports wins, for example, ideally it must start from the year of the 'first failure after the last win'. In that way, India won the world cup after '24 years of wait', as India failed to retain the cup in 1987. 24 vs 28 years might not be a big difference, but I find this as an example where one has to look beyond what one is repeatedly told, to get the real truth.

Jun 12, 2011

Focus on New Words

This being a post on lyrics, my hearty congrats to Vairamuthu for winning his nth National award for Thenmerku ParuvakAtru!

Though it has been 4 years since I wrote this post comparing Tamil & Hindi lyricists, whenever I hear a recent hit Hindi song, I try to understand its meaning and find that, more often than not, it has some good lyrics, but new/hard words are quite uncommon. For someone like me who is still on the learning curve of Hindi, I can still make out the meaning of most of the words. For example, the beautiful song "Pee Loon" of last year has some lines

"Sham Ko Milu Jo Main Tujhe,
To Bura Subha Na Jane
Kiyun Kuch Maan Jalati hai Yeh,
Har Lamha Har Ghari Har Pahir,
Bhi Teri Yadon Se Tadpa Ke.
Mujhko Jalati Hai Yeh"

Some lovely lines they are, but quite understandable even for a layman. Nothing wrong in it. Just a comment, not a judgment.

Sometime ago, I was listening to 'Ennamo edho' from "Ko". I must say, it was an 'active listening' without any parallel processing going on. So, I heard these lines carefully for the first time:
"EdhO kuviyamillA kuviyamillA oru kAtchi pezhai"
"ஏதோ குவியமில்லா குவியமில்லா ஒரு காட்சிப்பேழை"

Kuviyam!! Wow. How many decades since I heard that word!! In optics, studying about lenses. For non-tamilians, Kuviyam=focus, pezhai=display/portrait and the above line roughly translates into
"Some focusless view of display".

Lyrics by Jr. Vairamuthu, who writes as if the late Sujatha has ventured into penning the songs.
Considering the profession of the protagonist (photographer), the lines nicely fit to him. Rather than being quite generic for any longing hero in the lyrics, such personal touches would make the songs special.

Update: I am too late blogging about these lines! In addition to a few blog entries, you can also hear it from the horse's mouth. Watch/read Karky's interview here, in which he says "A photographer’s confusion can best be described in his own work jargon as ‘kuviyamila’ or ‘out of focus’. Kaatchi Pezhai describes a display unit such as a TV monitor or a PC monitor. The photographer sees his entire world in the display unit in which nothing seems to be in focus and he questions the reason for this in the song."

Jun 5, 2011

Chop the food

The most common western food at the mercy of desi merchants..

At Marina Beach, Chennai. Shot early August, 2010.

Coz of standing on the beach's sand? Is he angry on Meena? Or is he trying to give us a clue on how his product would be?

At a restaurant in Gujarat, shot a couple of months ago.

Jun 2, 2011

Women in Mahabharata

(Photo courtesy: R-10.80 @ flickr)

A few years ago, I did a small research on the role and portrayal of women in Mahabharata. Now, looking back at this one, I realized that there are glimpses of some of these women in our modern society too. I am sure you too would have come across some of the attributes in your life. Anyway, here it comes..

Like Ramayana, Mahabhaarata too is dominated by male characters. The women provide only supporting roles, and from the various verses, it is possible to know how the women were treated.

Freedom of the women: It appears that women were allowed to be independent, and more so in the ancient times before Mahabhaarata. In a statement to Kunti, Pandu says “there were no restrictions on women in ancient times. They were independent. Their discarding their husbands was not considered irreligious. This practice, favorable to women is the eternal DHARMA, which is still respected by the sages”. Also, Soorya says to Kunti that all females are free, which is the natural course of the world.

Maidens: The issues regarding women’s freedom, pre-marital sex and the concept of virginity are discussed while dealing with maidens in Mahabhaarata. Perhaps the most important maiden in Mahabhaarata is Kunti. She pays a heavy price for testing the mantra invoking the sun (Soorya) and eventually bears his child. Soorya threatens Kunti that he would curse her, her father and the Brahmin who gave her the mantra if she doesn’t gratify him. From her reply, it is clear that she considers maidenhood an important virtue. Soorya’s response to Kunti that a virgin is, by nature, free in the world and that it is natural that all the men and women should be bound by no restraints, suggests that maidens were allowed to be sexually free in the male-dominated society. Similarly Satyavati had to oblige to Parashara’s desires for the fear of suffering from the rishi’s curse. Both Satyavati and Kunti are deemed virgins by Parashara and Soorya respectively after the affair.

When Arjuna wins the contest in the Swayamvara, Draupadi placed the garland around his neck, hoping to become just his wife. Vyasa doesn’t record her reaction when she learns that she would be the wife of all five brothers. Her decision hardly mattered, since it was her father, brother, Kunti and the Pandavas who decided how she would live her married life. Here again, the concept of Swayamvara was based on a man’s skill in succeeding a challenge, rather than the maiden’s choice.

Wives: The law says that a woman should be with one man throughout her life and her connection with another man is unlawful. According to a story narrated by Pandu to Kunti, a wife getting to sleep with another man who loathes her, albeit her discontent, was a sanctioned practice, which was changed only later, by a Brahmin. Thus, it is clear that the men created, broke, twisted and recreated the rules regarding the sanctity of a wife.

There are a few cases of wives acting according to their will as well. Ganga leaves her husband when he questions her and thus breaking his promise. Satyavati gets what she wants from the king, her husband, though through her father; after his death, she feels responsible for the future of the kingdom. On the other hand, Ambika and Ambalika let others decide as to whom they marry and how they become mothers.

Gandhari, the wife of Dhrtarashtra, was known for her loyalty to her husband. She decides to deprive herself of eyesight to experience the handicap of her husband. She participates in the decisions relating to the kingdom. He never lives away from her husband.

Kunti, at Pandu’s suggestion to be impregnated by a Brahmin for progeny, refuses it steadfast, calling it an ‘unrighteous act’, which she does eventually though. Even at that moment, she doesn’t tell him of her earlier affair with Soorya. Though she remarks that death is a blessing to women without husbands, she chooses to live for several years after Pandu’s death. Madri, the other wife of Pandu, feels responsible for his death and decides to end her life.

Arguably, the most important character of wife in Mahabhaarata is Draupadi. She marries the five Pandavas, which is considered ‘immoral’ practice according to her own father. Probably her choice was never going to be considered; so she decides to obey the words of Arjuna who is her first husband. It is further exemplified by the act of Yudhishthira who places her as a wager during the game of dice. We see the wife being considered as just another property by the Pandavas in the process, a valuable one though, considering that she is the ultimate bet placed by them. When she is stripped by Duchathana, the Pandavas merely act as spectators, bound to the law that the loser has no say on the treatment on a lost bet, but forgetting the vow they made during the wedding that the wife should be protected at any cost. She is abducted by Jayadratha during their exile but (fortunately) is accepted by husbands without any test to prove her chastity.

Mothers: Some fortunate mothers left an ever-lasting impression on their children. Some of the children were called as ‘Son of their mother’, e.g., Bhishma as ‘Gangaputra’, Krishna as ‘Devaki putra’, Karna as ‘Radheya’ (after his adopted mother Radha) and Arjuna as ‘Partha’ (after his mother Kunti’s another name Prithaa). Ganga is shown to be kind to Bhishma and is credited for raising Bhishma to be the best character. Similarly, Kunti raises her sons who honor every word; they commit even what is considered immoral just to obey her unintentional command. She abandons Karna due to the fear of being branded immoral; and she shows her selfishness in requesting Karna to spare her other sons’ lives.

Gandhari is portrayed as a jealous mother. Upon learning about Yudhishtra’s birth, she becomes impatient and breaks the lump of flesh she has given birth to. She tries to be impartial towards the Pandavas but always envies their achievements. She loves her son to the extent of tolerating and sometimes supporting his meanness.

Widows: Satyavati gains power in her widowhood. Kunti is respected all the more by her children. Kandhari and Madri end their lives after the death of their husbands, Pandu and Dhritarashtra respectively.