Monday, October 26, 2009

Music and me...almost oxymoronic yet together

This is a post I wrote long back but did not publish. Its incomplete and I am not sure I want to complete it now... anyway here it is...

First, a disclaimer. I am not sure how many people will read this. For those who do, the words that follow could seem to be the blabber of semi-sane person. Yet, I felt I need to put my thoughts of a few years into words. So it may not be an enlightening experience when you finish reading this, although it should be worth one read, for most part.
Music, goes a long way for me. My earliest recollection of music is hearing the songs played by a person who stayed upstairs of my home in Trivandrum. The songs were mostly old Tamil songs, the Ilayaraja type or otherwise devotional. Once I played along with some songs on a small toy flute. I still remember those songs somewhere in the back of my mind; memories die hard especially when it's childhood memories.
Later I was not much into songs at all, just superficially listening to them only because they used to be played somewhere, either the television or radio. Then comes AR Rahman, sometime when I was of age 10 or something. The songs of the movies, Roja and Gentleman got me slightly interested, but still very superficial. I was intrigued by the bass in Chinna Chinna Asai and Kadhal Rojave and the beat of Chikku Bukku. But it was time when hardly knew what a guitar was for. I remember asking around for the use of this instrument which was present in every orchestra but was hardly heard. And ask I did, to every person remotely interested/related to music that I met. The answers I got, were in bits and pieces but over a period they started to make sense. Anyway that got me really started. Then came Minsara Kanavu, again from AR Rahman. But by this time, I was a more keen listener; meaning I heard more of the songs than I did earlier. More and more drawn towards the beats and bass, than the treble sounds. The synthesized sound tracks were good to analyze, for a pattern in the sounds. The more challenging the pattern the more fun it was. I ripped apart the parts of many songs in my mind, each giving more pleasure than the previous. Believe me, its fun. But to date I have not understood the first beat which fascinated me; there is definitely a pattern but it escapes my brain, each time. It was only Rahman for a long time, until started enjoying more melodious songs...

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Raise a Toast to the Masters

Yesterday, 22 Oct 2009 I attended my first ToastMasters session. It was, like most other things these days, in my office. Although I have known the existence of such a system for the past three four years, I had never pictured me as joining it. Call it fear of crowds, lack of time or plain simple lethargy. The one in my current workplace is pretty new having had just three sessions to date. This time around, joining the club had been on my mind for a few days, thanks to the propaganda by well meaning colleagues. Thursday afternoon 3:00 to 4:30 pm, I marked in my mental calendar when I was reminded of the session this Tuesday.

Comes Thursday, I rush to office at 9:30 am, having been awakened to the day only 30 minutes before. This, however, was to attend another 3 hour session on a technical topic. Going late into that session, I made my presence felt with a few questions before returning to my own work during a break in the session. Squeezing the planned and unplanned work into the available time frame, I had the 3:00 pm session somewhere in the back of mind. Yet, I couldn't reach the meeting until by 10 minutes past the hour. Thankfully, the organizers were not particular about giving a distinguished welcome to late comers, so I go and settle down in a chair towards the farther end of the attendees.

To start the session, we had introductions of the role players for the day followed by what was called a Ice breaker speech. For the roles, we had a grammarian, ah-counter, timer and two evaluators. This was followed by a Prepared speech. Then came the table topics section whether random topics appeared out of an orange colored box hoping to be converted within 30 seconds into beautiful 3 minute duration speeches. The duration for the speeches was always marked by green, yellow and red flags meaning not much different from the traffic lights of the same color. Red meant stop while green and yellow indicated decreasing time left for the speech. The speakers were volunteers from the group who had the nerve to walk up to the podium and try their luck with the Pandora's box decorated by orange gift wrap paper. I was the 4th of 8 speakers of the day and got the topic "God cannot be everywhere, so He sends Mothers". The topic was a nice one and I started my speech after some 20 seconds of preparation, not sure whether it was enough but eager to get the speech over with. The speech was within the time limits although I went as far as to get the red card flashed at me. The duration 2:27 seconds, I was told later. Did I do justice to the good topic? Not sure, but it sure filled the given time with the ideas that flowed into my mind on seeing the topic. At least some people seem to have liked it . The other topics were innovative and speakers very varied, some racing the finishing time and some just to short, but the content always interesting and thought provoking. After the table topics, were the evaluations and the reports from the role players, who made it a diplomatic affair by not putting a hammer down on anyone. The evaluations marked the end of the day's session and a tentative date for the next one was announced. A coffee break followed and then everyone made their way back to their own virtual worlds revolving around the computers at their desks.

The session will, however remained etched in the memory of people like me, for whom it was the first of its kind.

Saturday, September 5, 2009

Cleaning up the mess, rubbish, et al

Read this article in Time Of India about plans to clean up cooum. Just another dirty water body, the way we see it in India. Every city in India can boast of such living "monuments" that serve as a tribute to our general disregard. Sewage and chemical waste from factories are flown into the water bodies nearby as if it were our birth right to do so. We want our homes to be clean but do not care much for rivers, canals and oceans which are outside the physical boundaries of our own homes. I remember reading some where that while we, in India, are particular about ritual purification of our homes we do not mind throwing the waste over the wall to the other side. So here we are with numerous polluted canals, rivers, lakes and ponds. Thankfully, oceans are big enough to look clean for the most part. That is if we choose to ignore the fish, whales and other creatures of the sea that suffer silently the vices of our actions. And why would anyone care for things that do not yet have a voting right nor would file Public Interest Litigation petitions.

Coming back to the news on Cooum. 99 crores to clean up this river which was made into a stagnant sewer. The "expert" team which went a few days back to study the clean up of San Antonio river now wants to visit Singapore and study the Singapore river. Is this some kind of world tour. Also, can we not apply our common sense to solve such issues. Here's what I think should be the steps

1. First, stop the dumping of further dirt into the river. This is absolutely necessary if we are wee bit serious about this effort.
2. Relocate people living on the banks of the river. This will aid the clean up process.
3. Finally the obvious: Start the clean up.

There are numerous hurdles (political and otherwise) to each of these steps.

For the first point, we should have the political will to stop the sewage dumping and find alternative ways of processing the garbage. Sewerage from residences would form a substantial part of this. We need to find ways of processing/reusing the waste on the site where they are created: Bio-gas, manure and so on. Second comes the industrial component, which by the way is the big fish which is let to slip through the gaping loop holes in our law. Unprocessed chemical waste is being dumped into the river and other water bodies like the erst while Buckingham Canal. As usual, our politicians turn a blind eye to it; they anyway do not live anywhere near these nor use the polluted water for anything.

Relocating people living on the banks of the river is next to impossible they we handle things now. Some people settle "on" the river. Yes, I said it right, "On" on the river. They build mud and thatched houses on the tracts of land that come up in the middle of the river when the water recedes/dries up. Due to lack of other options, the same land comes to be used as bathroom, washing bin, commode and what not, adding to the already dirty surroundings. Its plain disregard to even let people live in such situations. Unhygienic conditions cause various diseases for which the government anyway ends up spending on. Its a lot better to spend it up front to relocate them other more clean places. But if we do that, how can we preserve slums which can act as easy vote banks. And in rainy season, when the river has a little more water, these houses-on-river invariably get flooded or washed away so the people can claim damages and political parties can play savior to them with tax payers money. Honestly, if you live "On" a river, wouldn't the house get flooded once in a while. Can't we have better places to build houses? What has our slum control board doing all these years if these prominent slums still remain in the middle of the city?

And once we have "succeeded" in the first two steps, the actual process of clean up can begin. The usual process of tenders and contracts which well orchestrated to hand over the cash to the "friends" of the political class. When the cleaning starts, we need to look at where the junk needs to be transfered to. Obviously not another river or lake or ocean. Not to mention the diversion of the incoming wastes to another place.

Is it really so difficult to keep a water body clean. No, I think, going by what has been set as a precedent by other countries. We do have the disadvantage of an ever growing population with many not having access to even a basic level of education. But if we can start off a move to keep our surroundings clean at some level and keep up the momentum, sooner or later our rivers could become the thriving ecosystems they once were.

Monday, July 6, 2009

Feet a Size too Large for my Shoes

The title means literally what it says. I bought a pair of shoes and my feet are too large for it, so I cut my feet so they fit in the shoes. In fact this is something we can see a lot in our every day life. A polite way of saying the same will be: Treating the symptoms instead of the disease, Quick Fix!

May be because it is too easy to do such a thing. Here are a couple of scenarios:

Reservation - This is one of the most perfect examples for this statement. We give preference to the "weaker" sections of the society for various positions instead of enabling them to compete on par with others. This is like saying someone needs to get only 10 marks of 100 in an examination while others need to get 60 out of 100. Just because the former is "under privileged". And we would like to keep them so, so they keep coming for that slice of bread we always throw at them. Instead of this why not enable them to get the required 60 marks. So they feel a sense of self satisfaction instead of feeling obliged to a benefactor.

While the advocates of reservation (affirmative action, in parliamentary terms) have an argument that this is to offset the wrongs done to these "under privileged" people for thousands of years (!). I am not saying that there is no truth in that they were oppressed for a period of time, but to say thousands of years will be taking it too far. Also, it makes instant heroes of our politicians who are so beautifully changing a trend which has been vogue for "thousands" of years. Someone taking time to study the entire period of written history will not be able to validate this claim. In the end it just happens to be an easy way to lure the naive voters.

Making Class X exams optional - Yet another beautiful example. Students get stressed in exams, so stop the exams. An easy way right? We do not need find why they are stressed, bother about how we manage the stress to make them more powerful, or what is so wrong with our education system. Remove the exams, quick, very quick. So, are we to believe that students who are afraid of Class X exams will suddenly turn bold in time for the next one at Class XII? Instead of find the root cause and handling it, we just treat the symptom: the stress of exams.

Personally, I wrote my Class X just like any other exam. Of course there was this little tension about filling the name and registration number properly in the answer book, but that was it. While this may not be a perfect example, there is just too much hype being given to this particular set of exams. And hype creates pressure and parents add to it but playing up the tension. What we need to tell the students is that they will be given scores based on what they write and not in comparison with others. The comparison comes into picture only for ranks, not for the marks. The competition is more among the parents than the students leading to excessive comparisons, which ruins the morale of the students.

Again, ignoring all this our politicians have their way: make exams optional. Who do they think will opt to write an optional exam. And anyway how much effort will they put into preparing the question papers for such an eye wash. By doing this we are depriving the students of the feeling of achievement they get when clearing the exams or securing a high grade.

It will further enable the cunning education factories which pass off as schools to churn out more of their products, untested and make more money.

I hope to add more to this list in future. Meanwhile, comments are welcome.

Sunday, June 7, 2009

Mobile-o-philia: An addiction?...

Gadgets, Gadgets everywhere...This has been the state for the past two decades or so. However it has been growing more quickly in the last 10 years. With a number of new devices being introduced and being easily accessbile to all both due to lower prices and ease of purchase, they are really seen everywhere While it is good that all people are getting to use these gadgets it is also to be noted that it will lead to an increasing number of people being addicted to devices. And some of these people will be more vulnerable to this due to ignorance of the ill effects. The foremost among these gadgets is the Cell phone. If one goes out today and looks around, almost everyone has a cell phone: Cheap/costly, small/big, with different features, but omnipresent all the same. This leads to some interesting scenarios:

  • Always on the phone folks: These people can be found everywhere. The most distinguishing quality of these guys being that it is difficult to get them to talk to someone in front of them. Not because they cannot, but because they hardly get off the phone for an hour a day.Talking in the phone late at night, early in the morning, in the noons. Anytime when there is even two or three minutes of available time, they whip up there phones and starting talking. Some of them wake up to phone calls everyday, possibly from the same person. And sleep while still on the phone. It becomes so habitual to others around that, you never answer to these people when they say something standing in front of you. This is because it might something they said to someone across the phone, talking on an invisible blue tooth headphone or a semivisible handsfree cord. So not answering is a way to save yourself from an embarassing situation when they stare at you with a "I was not talking to you" look.
  • Walking Talkies: They are bit more difficult to come by but are definitely more interesting. They walk around on the roads talking to themselves, laughing by themselves oblivious to thing around them. From my childhood, I always thought that this was done by people we generally refer as being mad - the ones you find wearing torn dirty clothes and sitting by the side of busy roads and not so busy by lanes. And it was not considered a particularly respected state to be in. But suddenly it seems to have become fashionable to be "mad" minus the torn clothes (torn and worn out jeans excepted). They walk around as potential visitors for open manholes and in general as entertainment for people not affected by this "illness" as yet.
  • Talk and Drive enthusiasts: They go around talking on their phones while driving bikes and cars, taxicabs and autorickshaws, trucks, buses, and what not, even bullock carts. They are more dangerous to an average layman than terrorists, by the sheer number of them among us. Recently, the driver of the cab which drops me back from work was caught on Chennai ECR by a cop. The guy was asked to pull over. The cop came running to tell the driver that it is not good drive while you talk (or while you drive). As usual after the pep talk from the cop, the driver paid him Rs. 50 as token of appreciation for allowing us to proceed on our homeward journey. This is just one case, there are many others driving around on the roads while being in a totally different dimension over the phone. And the most ridiculous as aspect of this is that the talk is not about saving india from pakistani insurgents or anything atleast of a minuscule importance to anyone. People share and solve riddles over the phone, talk about what they had/did not have for breakfast, lunch or dinner and why, and so on. Is this something which cannot wait until the journey is over?...More than anything else, it is another manifestation of the utter disregard we harbour for our fellow beings. "Don't drink and Drive" is only for the few who drink but "Don't Talk on phone while you drive" or rather "Don't drive while you are on the phone" is a slogan which is for almost everyone among us.
  • In their own world: With cell phones doubling as mp3 players and FM radios, the overcrowded places which used to be socially active are now filled with pre occuppied people who hardly notice who is standing or sitting next to them. Buses, Waiting rooms, rail station, name any place we have people sitting or standing with ears plugged into a pair of headphones. It is but difficult to capture their attention for anything.

So much for the funny side. But is this something of a healthy trend? To me, it is nothing other than addiction. Very similar to the other addictions like for alcohol, tobacco, gambling, except that this is far more widespread and socially accepted. And anyway we have news about the microwave radiation from cell phones being harmful to our health. The time is not far when they will de addiction centers to treat people for this syndrome.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Connected: For what ?

Today I am India, typing in from a Internet Cafe in Thiruvanmiyur Chennai. Its long since I have had to do so much to get on the Internet: I walked about 1 km, had to show my id, have a photograph taken to get on the PC. By the way I had to hop two PC's to get one with a working Internet connection. Used to non stop wireless internet of US, this is quite a change. But this is where I started and coming back has this strange sense of nostalgia. To say the truth, I enjoyed walking so much to check mail.
It may sound odd, but sometimes it helps for life to be slow and unconnected. Many people were far more connected in the era of post and telegraph than in this ultra modern world of perpetual connectivity. There are fewer phones call and far fewer mails since you can call or mail at anytime. I remember the time when I used to walk to the nearby PCO to call my friends. No I have a wireless companion that roams around with me but I do not have same level of contact with those same friends. Sometimes, I like to leave my cell phone behind just so that no can interrupt what I am doing and I can fully concentrate on the present.
Also, this gives a strange happiness, too strange to explain
Let's see how far this goes and when I get tangled back into the web of connectedness that has so engulfed the world.