Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Shooting to fame

So the jinx is broken at last! Abhinav Bindra now has a good shot at being a national celebrity albeit for a few months till he bags a distinguished sportsperson award. And then everybody can pleasantly forget all about him or what he has done. In a year’s time his relevance would only be to ten year olds mugging up names for their GK test, and a few more seasons down the line someone would be saying: “Abhinav Bindra…aha, sounds familiar. Lemme guess…isn’t he that new cricketing talent coming up from Punjab? Or is he?” So Abhinav, you would be darned not to make use of these sunny days of glory. Bask in it, bathe in it, make some hay if you wish to but do it all on TV – that’s my wise piece of counsel for you. You will probably make an appearance with a bottle of chavanprash in one hand and a rifle in the other between every two overs through one (but not more) Test series, and be cursed by the avid cricket fan whose multitude in this country is same as the populace; but not to grab this chance would be like shooting yourself in the foot.

Around the eighth century BC in the first ever Olympic Games to have been chronicled in history it was Coroebus, a naked runner who won the stade, a short run and the only competition held that time, becoming the very first Olympic champion. India’s startling image in the history of the Games is reminiscent of Coroebus, surely not in the greatness of his achievement but in the peculiarity of his apparel. For years we have been praying and waiting for some godsend to do the unimaginable and cover our shame. At long last we have found Abhinav. Winning the first ever individual gold for a country of over a billion he in the right sense is the reincarnation of Coroebus for us.

Is there any hope of this being a rule rather than an exception one day? Even the eternal optimist would be hard-pressed to say yes. Once the initial euphoria of Abhinav’s feat dies its natural death nothing will change really. India will continue to be an embarrassment in sports. A wide variety of reasons are put forward as to why. Some say it’s the general apathy towards sports and parents' infatuation with engineering and medical degrees while some others blame the lack of funds and infrastructure. The gloom merchants however trace it to our gene pool. They think we as a race have neither the strength of the Europeans, stamina of the Africans or swift reflexes of the East Asians and are thus no-hopers by birth.

The patriotic types who cannot come to terms with the dismal stature of their great country in the medals tally find solace in playing an imaginary role of the President of the Olympics organization. If it were left up to them all the useless running, throwing, diving and sissy stuff like synchronized swimming would be immediately scrapped. They would instead rebuild the Olympics with special focus on more manly games like cricket, kabaddi, hide-and-seek and gilli-danda which form the pedigree of Indian sports.

As a matter of fact they have reasons to rejoice now. The shortest version of cricket Twenty-20 is in the shortlist of new inclusions for the 2020 Olympics - no pun intended!

Tuesday, August 05, 2008

War of words on wardrobe

A great war of words has ensued among celebrated Bong intellectuals as well as the not-so-celebrated struggling Bong intellectuals, the latter constituting a major chunk of the readership of primary Bengali tabloids err… newspapers, about the wardrobe of a certain female school teacher employed in a suburban Kolkata girl’s school. So what has caused this huge hullabaloo? This pretty young thing of a teacher, Kasturi Sen, who hails from Golfgreen, one of the trendiest uptown areas of the City of Joy, prefers to wear a salwar suit to school rather than going about the complicated business of draping a seven yard saree with its multiple pleats. My God can you believe that?! A salwar suit, that too in a girl’s school! Won’t such provocative dressing be detrimental to impressionable minds of young girl students who are yet to figure out their sexual orientation conclusively? For my money it might just tickle their lesbian instincts. Of even greater concern is how such inappropriate dressing would cater to the horny fantasies of Ramdin the sweeper, who by the way is the only male employee in the entire institution.

No wonder thus that the head-mistress has taken serious offence to this intolerable outrage from a newbie teacher half her age. After all it’s about upholding the ethical standards of the school and what single thing represents it more conspicuously than white saree with thin green border (see picture below)? It was never a personal thing for the veteran head-mistress. No doubt she was forced to involve herself in a verbal catfight with Kasturi and personally shut the doors of the Teachers’ Room on the latter’s face when she went to sign the attendance register. However it would be a childish thing to say she took it personally.

Anyway, this incident has grown a few arms and legs since. Seems everybody starting from the School Education Minister of West Bengal to the occasional roadside eve-teaser – who of course shares the minister’s political affiliation – is reflecting upon the subtle moral and cultural implications that this debate holds for society at large. The girls in the school are of divided opinion – the ninth graders are shouting all in favor of their ‘bold’ teacher whereas the seventh-graders are siding with their head-mistress. That shows how two more years of cramming schoolbooks puts one at an advantage in terms of intelligence. Very recently a section of the parents staged a noisy protest in front of the school for they suspect dirty lobby politics to be the only reason behind this fiasco.

This country doesn’t cease to amaze. When the sensational Riya and Rimi Sens of Youngistan are opening our eyes to aestheticism in skimpiness, one Kasturi Sen finds herself in the middle of a storm for wearing to work something that makes her feel comfortable.

As the school authorities are scratching their heads over the titillation properties of a salwar kameez and a saree I believe they should consult an expert on such matters like Hugh Hefner, founder and chief creative officer of Playboy Enterprises. However from my little experience with his products I really doubt either of these desi outfits would fit into Mr. Hefner’s idea of a naughty dress for a female school teacher!

Saturday, August 02, 2008

Mythology under the microscope: an extraordinary wife-stealing act

Rama, the eldest son of the Great King Dasarath of Ayodhya, and the rightful heir to his throne was living in exile in a thatched hut deep in the forests called Dandakaranya along with his devout wife Sita and loyal brother Laxman. They were quietly content with the humble existence which seemed to have been ordained. They practiced simplicity religiously in all aspects of their life and never complained over a thing at all. Or so did everyone believe. Their life in the wild was going on peacefully until one day disaster struck and changed everything.

It was a hot Sunday afternoon in the middle of May. Rama had just finished an excellent lunch comprising country-style rabbit and home-made mohwa liquor and was lying on the cot turning the pages of a tribal fashion magazine preparing himself for his all important siesta. As he was drooling over the glossy pictures of supermodel Udumbaa showing off the latest banana-leaf brassiere and dove-feather miniskirt, he was alarmed by the sound of quick footsteps. In a hurry he slid the magazine under the pillow and pretended to whistle unmindfully as Sita entered in all excitement.

“What’s the matter sweetheart?” he asked.

Sita took a moment to catch her breath. “You won’t believe what Laxman and I saw while we were playing Ludo in the backyard! Oh! Amazing…I still can’t believe it…how many beautiful ornaments I can have now! Yuhoo! I am so happy!” she said clasping her fists in glee.

Rama was well familiar with his wife’s habit of rambling on hysterically about any event worth a mild exclamation and it would often be half an hour before she even got to the point. So he just said: “Calm down honey! And tell me exactly what you saw.”

The wife started again: “Oh you won’t believe it! I saw a glittering golden stag…the whole of it made of gold…from the hoofs to the horns – golden body, golden legs, golden eyelids, a short golden tail…”

“And a pair of golden goolies too?”- Rama interrupted with a naughty chuckle.

An agitated Sita screamed back “You dirty-minded fool! Can’t you ever listen to me with seriousness? Me and Laxman…we both saw…it was grazing and jumping around in the bushes near the backyard. But then suddenly it scampered off back into the woods.” Sita’s rude tone abruptly turned mellifluous as she continued “Darling! I rarely ask anything of you. Remember our courtship days when you used to come cycling down to Mithila Girl’s college to romance me. I used to dream through rose-tinted glasses those days. You could marry me only because I had asked my maid to secretly switch off the power to the giant electromagnet when you took your turn on lifting the Shiv Dhanush, remember? But what happened after that? Right after our marriage we had to cancel our tickets for Mauritius…that cunning bitch of a step-mom sent us into this forest for honeymoon and all my dreams were crushed!” At this point she started sobbing but carried on: “Now all I ask of you is to get me this golden stag. Don’t you think I deserve a little bit of happiness in this pitiful life in the wilderness?”

Rama was reluctant though and so he said “Okay baby, but my aim has become a bit rusty these days, you know. Let me send brother Laxman. After all he does all the hunting of rabbits and stealing hens from the tribal households…he is in much better shape I think and he has never been less of a Kshatriya (person of the warrior clan) than me you know.”

Sita was left fuming in rage. “I don’t trust any of your brothers!” she shouted. “They are all slimy thieves. If Laxman catches it he will run away with that fortune just like your sweet brother Bharat who came visiting us and returned with bags of mangoes and lichies and your expensive pair of Adidas shoes! So get your lazy bum moving right now or else you know how my broom works like a magic wand in such matters.”

Left with no choice Rama picked up his bow and quiver of arrows from the corner of the room and stepped out in search of the golden stag grumbling to himself.

With the scorching sun above his head Rama, the brave warrior scoured the woods for a long time but there was no sight of the stag. He finally arrived near a lake where he put down his bow under a banyan tree and decided to take a nap. A little while later in half-awake state he felt a wet tickling sensation in his belly button. As the blurred vision became more prominent he realized it was the golden stag standing right in front of him and licking his tummy! But even more amazing was that the animal was shedding its color! Patches of golden paint were dripping down its wet legs – it must have been drinking water in the lake. In a moment Rama realized someone had played a prank. But who could it be he wondered.

He got up and started trudging back home mumbling expletives at the unknown prankster. But he had only taken a dozen paces when something lurking in the grass caught his left foot and before he could say the word “Mama!” he found himself dangling upside down by a rope tied to the branch of a tree. It was a man trap laid by the cannibals in the forest – one of their favorite and effective modes of procuring delicious intra-species nourishment. Terrified at the morbid thought of such a ghastly end to his carefully maintained physique Rama screamed at the top of his voice “Help! Help! Brother Laxman! My darling Sita! Save me!”

Rama’s piercing cries for help did not go unheard. Sita flustered around Laxman and asked him to rush off to help his brother. Laxman was a gallant man no doubt but he did truly believe in the adage: discretion is the better part of valor. It made little sense to him to sacrifice two young souls when one of them could be safely preserved. So he cooked up some nice excuse and said: “Sita, how can I leave you here alone amidst all the dangers of this great forest? It is my duty to protect you above everything and I am not going anywhere. My brother is a great warrior and he will take care of himself.”

Sita always had a cynical view of Laxman’s motives and she was damn irritated at his woeful excuse. “Hmmm…I always knew you had designs on me.” she said venting her ire. “I knew it from day one. That’s the reason you followed us into these forests. You must have been waiting for this moment you ugly bastard! I often caught you peeping at me in the kitchen but I ignored it. Now I see what a lewd scoundrel you are!”

Sita wasn’t too far off the mark with her observation; after all a woman’s intuition is dead accurate in such matters. Laxman did cast a glance at her cleavage from the corner of his eye a few times maybe but it was really harmless. However he couldn’t tolerate such a serious allegation about fostering a wicked ambition and so he made up his mind to go in search of Rama no matter what happened to him. But he also had to convince Sita about the genuineness of his intentions. Being a superstitious man he pulled out a stick, and etched out a great circle on the ground surrounding the hut and solemnly declared: ”If my faith is pure then any evil soul who dares to cross this circle would be burned alive!” With such a great exhibition of melodrama he finally left to look for his brother in the woods.

Meanwhile Ravana, who was the conjurer of the golden-stag trick, was hiding himself nearby behind the shrubs while keeping an eye on all these events as they unfolded. He was reveling at the grand success of his plans so far and thought this to be the opportune moment to execute his final act.

Being the king of Sri Lanka Ravana was a stinking rich fellow and had at his disposal a majestic palace built by the famous Russian architect Maidanov apart from several island resorts, a wide collection of luxury cars and all the pleasures of life. But all this wealth seemed to have no worth if he couldn’t have Sita, the woman he really adored. Having missed out on her in the Swayambar (Who’s Gonna Be My Hubby) ceremony, he was besotted with the idea of marrying her somehow and spent most of his time drawing up devilish plans to wrest her from the arms of the undeserving pauper, Rama. Everything is fair in love and war - he thought to himself. Inspired by the character of Shah Rukh Khan in his favorite movie, Darr he just wanted to have his object of desire, by persuasion or by force.

Disguised as a bearded old monk he approached the hut. As he gingerly stepped over the line drawn by Laxman…well let’s just say he wasn’t exactly burnt alive! Sorry to disappoint all those who swear by the name of black magic, voodooism, mumbo-jumbo – miracles don’t work anymore. Ravana stood at the doorstep and started yelling ”Give it to me in the name of Allah, gimme in the name of Maula” for those were the time tested professional lines for all beggars. In a while the door opened and out came Sita. Ravana’s heart skipped with joy, his inside melted at the sight of his gorgeous love! But so melted the glue around his right cheek and off came the false beard from the sides! Before he could say or do anything Sita’s soft palm had left its imprint on his cheek with a slap of savage ferocity. Ravana was in tears. Seeing the tall, dark macho hunk in such a feeble emotional state Sita felt a touch of sympathy in her heart and wanted to know what he was up to.

They went inside the hut and shared the sorrows and miseries of their lives. It turned out from this conversation that both of them were such unhappy oppressed souls – Sita banished to a wretched life of poverty ever since her marriage, a life devoid of the royal pleasures she was used to and Ravana on the other hand, for all his massive fortune, felt so lonely and incomplete without the love of the one woman he obsessively craved. “I have often wondered about divorcing this good for nothing hubby of mine but I would have nowhere to go.” Sita complained with tears rolling down. Her heart was swept away by the intensity of Ravana’s love besides the little material benefits of being with a rich guy. Ravana couldn’t believe his luck and he seized the chance to take the dainty little creature in his manly embrace. With little coaxing Sita was ready to flee with him, out of the bounds of a dreadful marriage which was never rewarding enough.

So the new pair of love-birds ran off to the helipad by the riverside where Ravana’s personal pilot was waiting with his private jet.

It has been heard that a great white bird Jatayu caused a little trouble during their flight by trying to hit the engine and was mutilated to death. But then no such bird is ever mentioned by Salim Ali in his books. So the sensible reader would do well not to place much credence in such rumors.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Definition: matrimony

After a lot of mulling I think I have arrived at a very insightful definition for marriage from the perspective of the husband. Here it goes:

Matrimony is an alliance where you harmoniously submit to the hegemony of your sanctimonious shonamony, rather than indulge in parsimony, to prevent greater damages of alimony.

My commiserations to those affected.

N.B. shonamony is a Bong word meaning 'darling'.

Bombs and bimbos

Bombs and bimbos… Hmm…so what is the apparent connection between the two? Well, if I could just shun political correctness for the moment I would candidly say that they both entertain! Some eyebrows would be raised, some foreheads would wrinkle, and some faint hearts would cringe at such a pathetic statement. But this sad truth stared me right in the face when I was sitting around in the hostel canteen last evening over a cup of coffee. I was in the company of another guy who had the prerogative to decide which television channel was to be watched since he had come before me. And he was making good use of it, intermittently switching between a news channel and a music channel through the remote-control in his hand.

It so happened that a car full of bombs had been recovered in Surat that day following successive series explosions in Bangalore and Ahmedabad on previous days. A bearded fellow from the news channel with wide eyes and quivering voice was trying to get across this horror message to his viewers. He had made his point that bombs could pop out of nowhere so well that out of discretion I checked underneath my chair, while a tremor of fear ran down my spine. No sooner had I satisfied myself about my security and lifted my eyes back on the screen that a bomb of another kind hit me. Thanks to my ‘remote-friend’ we were now watching Malaika Arora Khan on a music channel gyrating seductively to the tunes of ‘Honth rasile tere honth rasile’ (Your lips are juicy). In a flash the horror of the terrorists and their bombs had given way to the killing gestures of this bimbo armed with all the weaponry to torment a man’s soul. However this detour into the fanciful world of Malaika’s womanly beauty was cut short by my companion after about three minutes. He decided to go back to the thriller show of the news channel.

There the same bearded journo was now going gaga about how his channel had exclusively deciphered the master plan behind the terror attacks. Respectively nine and eighteen bombs had been planted in Bangalore and Ahmedabad and thirty three had been found in Surat till that time according to the channel. Thus they were convinced that three more explosives would be hidden at other places in Surat taking the total to thirty six which would be in keeping with a strategy of geometric progression (doubling the number of bombs each day). A scary thought crossed my mind – if seventy two blasts were to take place in our city, Kanpur the very next day what are the chances of our campus staying safe? I was just beginning to estimate the number of days our country would survive if bombs went off in geometric progression and wondering about the magnitude of devastation when I was suddenly shaken back to reality by a shrill female voice screaming “Yaaaay, Khallas!” (Yaaay, you are finished!) It was the sultry item girl Isha Kopikar on the screen - water dripping down her minimal garb – sounding out a fatal warning to those who surrender to her charms. At this point I was at my wits' end as to how to react.

Within this short span I had already experienced, though in condensed form, the amusing rollercoaster of a Bollywood potboiler with all its bombs and bimbos (read violence and sex). As I finished my coffee and got up to leave I thought to myself: Bombs are entertaining as long as you aren’t sitting on top of one and seductive bimbos are entertaining as long as you aren’t married to one! Well, at least those are the principles on which television channels are fighting out their TRP war…

Footnote: The number thirty-six was nowhere to be found in any news reports the next morning in the context of bombs recovered or defused in Surat. Boring!

Monday, July 28, 2008

On the topic of God...

Being a privileged being on a unique planet I feel the need to delve into this topic at least once in my life despite the limits of my knowledge and deduction abilities. I cannot remember when as a child I first encountered the word ‘god’. Neither can I say since when I started associating the word with a vaguely understandable, immensely complex abstraction rather than pretty looking beings with human faces living up in the heavens. However this relative upgrade in concept must have given me a sense of maturity. At the same time it preserved my earlier belief in the existence of controlled order in everything around me. I lived with this imaginary concept for many years invoking it only occasionally when something too good or too bad happened to me.

Now I ask myself: do I honestly understand this concept to the point where I can defend it to myself with acceptable logic? The answer is a clear ‘no’. It may or may not be the limits of my intelligence that leads me to such an answer but at least I am not deluding myself. This by no means allows me to throw away the concept since there are other abstract things which I use in daily life and believe in, without being able to comprehend them in totality. Some such things are infinity, imaginary numbers, gravity, quantum mechanics, emotions etc. However one important feature of these concepts is that they have been identified by requirement, can be tested by logical means, and I can see their manifestation in the form of irrefutable evidence. In that sense the notion of god is indeed different.

At this point it becomes necessary for me to scan through the set of arguments which, to many human minds, ‘validate’ the existence of a complex supernatural controller of Nature.

A common argument stems from the ‘laws’ of Nature - trying to imply that their existence is synonymous with the existence of a ‘lawmaker’. One must not forget that the laws of nature are quite unlike human laws that are made by and thrust upon humans. Laws of nature simply refer to a description or interpretation of nature and anything that exists is in principle describable. It is useful to note that Nature is neither completely homogenous nor completely random – it is something in between. What if it was completely inhomogeneous and each miniscule constituent was different in behavior? That would simply mean a huge increase in the till known finite set of laws and an enormous increase in God’s already immense calculation job. Patterns or types in nature lead to degeneracy and reduce the number of laws compared to the above imagined situation but definitely do not lend any extra weight to the argument of God’s existence! This line of argument takes us back to the supposition that existence of things in the universe requires a creator rather than substantiating it. Recognizing patterns and mathematical harmony is just our way of simplifying the way we understand Nature to make it usable knowledge and that is what we named the “laws of Nature”. It is a fact of Nature that such simplification is possible and we are lucky to be intelligent enough to see it.

Another argument based on the ‘wow’-factor comes from the rich diversity of life forms each of which is an instance of hugely complicated biological machinery. I must admit that as a boy when I first saw the colorful tapestry on a peacock’s feathers I thought to myself that the hand of an intelligent designer is self-evident. But now I know from the fact of biological evolution that a series of mutations in a gene pool over a long period of time can lead to both extraordinary complexity and captivating beauty! The voluminous data from fossils and observations like the increase in percentage population of the darker variety of English moths from 2% to 98% over 50 years (1848-1898) establishes the fact of evolution, which is smoothly interpolated by the mechanisms of natural selection and genetic mutation. So we have a perfectly plausible, partially verifiable mechanism which unravels the grand mystery of biological diversity and complexity and not once do we need to hypothesize God’s role in it.

Some of us find it demeaning to be considered as biological machines and as cousins of apes through evolution. We would rather think of ourselves as connected in spirit to an almighty God and like to believe in His perfect orderliness ignoring facts like ever increasing entropy of the universe or the deep embedded unpredictability of the quantum world. We would turn away from scientific facts and plausible arguments and creep into our cocoon of emotional security. So long as there is no proof or evidence of its presence God appears to be a redundant concept shrouded with ambiguity. Its staunchest believers cannot decide amongst themselves about its attributes – some reckon it to stand for all that is good while others are fearful of its capricious nature.

Nature is a vast mystery and to people like Einstein served the purpose of God. It encapsulates beauty, diversity and enormity and also makes us feel connected through interactions. There is no need to hypothesize a creator without evidence and fall into the slippery slope of searching its origins. Nature is fact and it is enough! To say that the answers we don’t yet know has to be known to some omniscient being is merely wishful thinking.

At the end I must say that the hypothesis of God is not falsifiable primarily because it is ill-defined. If we were to start with an unambiguous definition it may or may not be falsified through facts and logic; but surely we can realize its high implausibility. There is no good logical premise to accept it unless we deliberately want to suspend disbelief and go with it anyway.

Monday, September 25, 2006

The Reunion

I held her hand
Like a forlorn child,
Bereft of love
And lost in the wild.
She lifted her eyes,
In a way so tender
That the loveliest flower
In bloom can't render.
On an old teak bench,
Amidst the citrus grove,
She sat there quiet
Clad in frilly white robe.
What words were lacking,
Gentle touch did offer;
That pale hand of her
In silent surrender .
My mind was in doubt
Much as 'twas blissed -
Did I touch the finest
Silk from Far East!
The moments fleeted by;
Her hand was in mine.
Like a picture card
Frozen we were in time.
Piercing the misty shroud
And tapestry of leaves new,
The morning light flooded
The grove in lemon hue.
Much as dewdrops gleamed
On fragile blades of grass,
Tears of joy sparkled
On cheeks red with blush.
The hearts were racing,
Our fingers entwined,
The eyes were kissing -
For so long they'd pined!

Saturday, September 16, 2006

The Doomed Lover

In the clumsy thoughts of an aimless fool
His dreams flew around in a dusty squall.
Was playing a game of which he knew no rule;
An utter doom was the writing on the wall.

Seems everyone knew but for the thick-skulled;
Wise men had long back made the prophecy.
The lights blew out, darkness sieged his world;
He'd heard love is blind and now blind was he.