Original Love, Retroverted

Of late, I seem to be warming up to an old flame – mathematics. In a moment borne of an impulse to do something new, I’d blurted out to a friend, albeit wistfully that perhaps I should have studied pure mathematics – mathematics devoid of any applications to the “real” world – somehow I felt the detached nature of obscure theorems (punctuated by queer Greek alphabets) wildly alluring. A week or so later when I’d all but forgotten about that impulse (that’s the sad way most of them succumb – death by laziness) – my friend pointed me to YouTube videos about maths lectures. Now, I had to resuscitate, and fast.
And today a week later – I’m decided to take up the “Theory of numbers” (yes that is a whole discipline) as a pure hobby; I Googled for and today made a pilgrimage to the Tata Book House to get hold of the book that looked most useful to me to start up. Even if I’m able to UNDERSTAND the unsolved Riemann’s hypothesis, I’d deem this endeavour as worthwhile.
It’s an exciting feeling, like being drawn back to a school-time crush after entering mid-age. Maths classes always used to be fun – perhaps it was because the young Kashmiri woman who taught us Maths in high school – she was the first rational person I ever knew. She made no bones of discussing the pros and cons of natural vs C-section delivery in front of a class of 12 year olds – and that too in a maths class – so undogmatic – so unpedantic. So much so that I came to love the subject, since, it started looking like it was never forced on us (so unlike most other subjects). And numbers, seem to look so full of such vibrant persona – and distinctive too – approaching infinity.
After Std X, the interest ebbed a little – an old-school dogmatist had returned to reign – and whatever life was left was sucked always by the humbug called “competitive” exams after XII. Enter “engineering” years and maths was denigrated to its (maybe) more pragmatic but immensely uninteresting cousin with an “applied” tag prefixed to differentiate it from the original.
Today, 14 years after I lost contact with pure mathematics I realise what I’ve missed in the mad race of building a “career”. I donot want to do a formal research as for once I’m not eligible and now its not practical either (with all of my financial liabilities) and anyway I want to do my own things at my own pace without being rushed – without having to worry about completing credits – presenting papers – incentives – recommendations from professors – the dirty politics of claiming credit for something found.
I write about it lest I forget.If I fail to proceed from cipher (as is most probable) this blog will serve as the requiem.


I for an Eye

One of my favourite pass-times of all time is to Google for long-lost acquaintances from my school, college or from previous companies I’ve worked in. I usually search for blokes I would have thought years ago, to turn out to be extreme cases.Of course, only the extreme cases on the “good” side  yield any search results, because the others (by definition) might be at large, disguised  or incarcerated – and either way unsearchable by Google in the their original identity.

One day I found X, an unusually bright computer engg student one year senior to me at college. He is now the founder and CEO of a networking start-up the Silicon vale. And unlike most others start-ups by Indian-Americans, there are no more desis in his crack team.
I remember him most for punching (albeit inadvertently) my eye-ball with a rubber ball while X played bat-n-ball (a poorer cousin of the national obsession called cricket) with a friend in the filthy corridor of our college hostel. Needless to say, I was not playing and was just walking to the toilet blearied by laziness and boredom (typical of my college years), when, in an epiphanic moment I turned back and the locus of my eyes intersected with the trajectory of the oncoming projectile.
Head On.
( A highly improbable event, I thought, and one that could be used to frame a really challenging physics numerical). My eye (left or right I forget) swelled up to a multiple of its original size and X (and his pal) rushed me to the nearest cure-all “clinic” they could possibly find. In my sane state I’d have never visited such a sordid quackery, but ofcourse I was a patient now and so, not in charge. The quack-in-charge glowed a bright torch into my lenses perhaps to check the consistency of my cornea and exclaimed (to my inflictor’s relief) that there was no bleeding. A ointment was pleasantly prescribed, to be applied for some days.
X returned back to his word-crunching preparation for his GRE exam (scheduled for the next morn) – his bat-n-ball break had gotten an unsavoury extension. The next day while he came to check on my eye-pop (which was slowly but steadily receding, though definitely – or so thought I – not due to the quack’s goo), I got the news that his GRE was over and that he’d scored 2390 out of 2400.
The rest, as they say, is history.
A fellowship from IIT, an MS and PhD from a popular American university and then starting up an enterprise…
I sometimes feel if I should send him a mail (and after a brief, unmistakable self-identification using the above anecdote) tell him that its pay-back time and that I need his reco on my resume. I too have worked for networking co.s, perhaps that could come in handy. (Though in all honesty I know next to nothing about networking – no not even the social kind)

Traffic Etiquette – the Indian way

After six years of motoring on Indian roads (and surviving, without serious injury, app 50,000 km across 3 states and 1 UT), I think its about time to pause and reflect (before its too late) to pen down the traffic rules that I’ve learnt hands-on (meaning, the ones not taught in driving schools):

* Its possible to stop your vehicle anywhere (e,g. in the middle of a busy road) anytime (e,g. middle of road at night on a desolate road) – to do various odd chores like dropping a passenger, lighting a smoke or just chatting with a driver coming the opposite way. “Hazard lights” were invented for this very purpose.

* Its possible to drive up on the wrong side of the road – all you have to do is to put your head-lamp in full beam even in broad daylight (and honk as well if someone is stoned enough to ignore the beam)

* Its possible to get into a “No-Entry” marked road especially if you’re on a two-wheeler – you just need to get off and push your vehicle – that qualifies you as a pedestrian. This is tougher for a 4(or more)-wheeler – but theoretically possible if you have healthy passengers.

* To take a right turn you need to extend your right arm and poke the index finger vociferously into the air ( till the guy behind you relents and gives up overtaking from right); to take the left turn do the same with your left arm, this is tough if you’re on a 4-(or more) wheeler and you don’t have a passenger on the front seat to do this for you, in such cases you can use the turn-indicator lamps.

* Horns are the most useful part of any vehicle – originally designed for the potential over-taker to coerce his/her victim into slowing down (and maybe halting) so as to make way for him/her. It can also be used to hasten up folks you have come to pick up from a quiet neighbourhood. When someone who is on the verge of bumping into you, you can use incessant honking to attract his eyes so as to pump choicest invectives into his ears. You can honk from your behind too when backing up – in a sing-a-song way – this can be used to inform your neighbours of your devotion to the God or to the country even at 2 am (when you return home and park your car). A lot of options are available with horns e,g you can put a car horn on a bike so as to surprise your overtakee and attract more respect on the road.

* Full beam lights were invented to dazzle the bloke coming from the opposite side into slowing down ( thus preventing over-speeding and consequential accidents). You can also double ( or quadruple) the number of your head-lamps for the added effect and use halogen lamps and what-not to generate the perfect dazzle – white, yellow , off-white, blue … (I wonder why nobody has used lasers yet). Full beam is also used to discover oncoming vehicles which are one-eyed (thus mistaking a truck for a bike) or completely blind (he’s protecting environment by saving energy).

* In any accident the fault ALWAYS lies with the larger vehicle (by size or cc or price in that order), so if you are in one, be prepared to be instantly lynched by the jurist crowd of rubber-neckers. On a 2-wheeler watch out for pedestrians and cyclists – in a car watch out for those and bikers too; you can ignore all vehicles bigger than you – as they’ll take care of you.

* When your vehicle breaks down mid-road, you can stick leaves, plants on it to warn other road-users ( a STOP sign is simple being too pompous). You can also fence your broken-down territory with stones and pebbles for extra effect.

* A truck with oversized cargo (like iron rods jutting out from the back) can use a small while plastic bag to warn other victims, this would suffice even in the night.

* In a multi-lane carriage-way,the right-most lanes are always reserved for the slowest moving vehicles ( e,g overloaded and oversized trucks and tractors); this allows all the faster vehicles to overtake peacefully from left, while the driver of the slow vehicle can concentrate on his conversation with his conductor, unperturbed.

* When you are too pressed for time to reprimand another overzealous driver for coming too close to you in the busy rush hour; worry not; just look at his direction – spit contemptuously and move on – the offender would get the message.

* When you do have time to pick up a fight, but the other party is reluctant, just challenge him with mother/sister abuses and once he stops and enters the arena; then you may proceed to break his window-shield and/or bones.

The list is virtually endless….

A life too short

The whiff of life has turned putrid today, the scent of wilted,wasted youth. J, my mother’s youngest brother died today , suddenly, unexpectedly, at 44 years of age. Drank off to his end.
A bright lad, he’d shown promise – a head for science and art both – a contrast against a background of school drop-out brothers . The brightly red coloured pin-hole camera he’d made and sent me (my first precious parcel, packed in straw) once contributed to my my interest in science.
He taught me cycling , chess and “smart” stuff like sleight of hand tricks.
But by then his zenith had been over, peer pressure egged him into the murky realm of college politics in Kerala. A lost election led to a lost year – and a lost education – he too dropped out of (pre-univ) college – a lost cause (I’d discovered IIT-JEE forms unfilled, amongst his old books).
Pragmatism led him to take up a clerical post in the para-military in the rough North-East. And life seemed settled for a while. Diligence paid off in promotions. Back in Kerala, he dated a rather attractive young woman and fell hopelessly in love.
Life seemed perfect when they married. And then they had a daughter.
Differences of some nature crept up and threatened to derail the marriage. My uncle found solace in the bottle.
The bottle grew into a monster and he was discharged of his job, and returned to Kerala.
With some savings and by renting out auto-rickshaws he made a house.
The liquid monster grew stronger and the wife gave up, fled with the kids (a girl and a boy now). That was the final nail …
The house was sold and fed back to the liquid monster, as was all the rest of the savings and stuff in the house. What was left was fed to the lawyer to the contest the divorce notice and to “on-the-house” drinking companions.
In and out of a host of rehab centres in the past five years, life seemed better (even if just so) when the last rehab ashram decided to give him a job after his de-addiction. But he again gave in to the monster before he could take it up.
Now living in the ancestral home, drinking endlessly (and sometimes on empty stomach) with his elder brother for solace (who too had had decided to substitute the bottle for his wife who too had deserted).
Everyone thought that he would drink his way into poverty and then get back to senses.
But before that could happen, today, abruptly, the body gave up. Deserted.
A life cut too short.
And I could never thank him for the things he taught me.
And I could never even try to help him with his problems.

New Bharath Hamam

There is a scraggy hand-painted sign on the Outer Ring Road, through which I commute daily now, which proclaims “New Bharath Hamam” (lit. Bath-house of the New India or new Bath-house of India).
I was not absolutely sure about the business transacted in this hovel sitting on the edge of a card-board and metal scrap-yard. The name of the place and the fact that only sari or maxi clad creatures dwelt there made the seediness of the place apparent. The presence of trucks in front of the house added to its self-incrimination.
Yet it didn’t seem to fit in as I had thought bath-houses to be a Western or Turkish phenomenon, we Indians use dance (Kothas), rather than baths as the facade for practising the world’s oldest profession.
Then I saw a show on Nat Geo, called the “Ladyboys of India” which followed the lives of a handful of transgenders living in Mumbai and Bangalore. One of the them seemed to be surprisingly proficient in English and had lived as a male through schooling and college, but had taken the flight after “his” marriage had been arranged. (For lack of a proper pronoun let me address them in third person as “hse”) .
Hse told us that every one of them adopted by the Community (an association of Ammas with a tight hierarchy) had to work in a bath-house for a fixed number of months/years before being castrated and Bobbitised – which was the Initiation ceremony into the fraternity of Hijras. The Hamam was an euphemism for a brothel usually attached to truck-stops and also provided with a name-sake bathroom.
Even after the Initiation (which is usually conducted by a pseudo-doc under extremely unhygenic conditons and causes life-long infections and revisits to doctors) – these people are not free to choose their vocation. One enterprising fellow in Mumbai left the tradition of begging and prostitution and enrolled hserself as a loan recovery agent with one agency and was quite successful.

But hse was ostracised from the community for the this. Apologies to hser reporting Amma didn’t help. Isolated by the only people in the society who would accept hser, hse joined back into the fold.
One group of three individuals (showcased in the documentary) lived a happy life in Bangalore – or so it seemed. They lived disguised as women in a rented house, shared amongst themselves in a middle-class locality. They moved around on scooters wearing burqas at night to solicit customers on the streets of Bangalore. Most customers too thought of them as women.
After work they had parties in the house. And music. And they went shopping.
And they never missed their annual pilgrimage to Koovagam (in TN, which is their mecca) where after enacting wedding and widowing with the Lord, they settle down for the highly-anticipated beauty-pageant.
Given the limitations, they’ve been trying to enjoy life as much as possible. Most are disowned by their parents, can never marry (though one of them seems to have a steady boyfriend) and can’t do any work other than to beg and/or retail sexual services. They try hard to forget these limitations …
This show changed my perspective from one of abhorrence to one of empathy. I still can’t forget the day, when my arrival at a restaurant for lunch coincided with the extortion rounds of these blokes. I was groped by one of them ( I felt for the first time  what most Indian WOMEN, esp in Delhi and Kerala must be feeling daily) – when I was paying the bill after having lunch. So embarrassed was I that I went back to my table without collecting the change.
I still avoid them as much at traffic signals and while traveling on train – their trademark claps put me on high alert and  I vanish into the nearby toilet till they’re gone.
I still pass through New Bharath Hamam everyday to work and see them doing immense amounts of laundry.
Cleaning the filth of the society …. while living on its fringes. Disowned.

PS: Apparently TN is the first state in India which recognizes the Third Sex on its voters’ ID and ration cards. There is a pan-India movement for this – let’s hope it succeeds.


Deriving some inspiration from Sarah, I decided to write down my very own recipe. Its actually a very simple-to-make concoction which I discovered accidentally. For want of a better name let me call it jaljeera-green-lime-tea.
* Jaljeera ( for the really adventurous ones : you could make your own by buying and mixing an assortment of rock salt, black salt, cumin power, dry raw-mango powder, mint, pepper and chilli powders according to taste – I’m yet to try this option)
* green tea
* one half of a lemon
* table salt to taste.
Heat some water to pre-boiling ( ~ 85 deg C, just enough heat to scald your skin but for a moment) and steep the green tea leaves in for 2 mins – stir for a while and the allow the leaves to settle.
Separately, in a cup take a dry mixture of salt, Jaljeera powder (or all its constituents) and squeeze half a lime into it.
Decant (and not strain) the tea into this cup and stir well.
Your special-tea is ready, but owing to an unused to taste there is very less possibility that you would ever like it first time.

I did.

Yours Cynically

Cynicism, especially government-bashing seems to be latest craze in India. A young girl is shot dead near her college in the capital, allegedly by her stalker. A solitary assailant, and nobody in the commuter crowd on the busy foot-over-bridge is able (or willing ?) to block his get-away. The victims’ friends “run away”, nobody is willing to take her to hospital for ten minutes – until one person gets help from a police constable, but by when its too late. Everyone does a vanishing act.
Though the very next day there is no dearth of people for hordes of protest marches and candle-light vigils, by her college students, by other associations, by parents and neighbors all protesting against the govt. and the police for failing to prevent such a tragedy – such opportunists.
Even the most resourceful nation like US can not afford to have a police guard for every female college-student, and more so when the parents don’t even care to inform the police of a person they know for sure, has stalked their daughter.
The truth is no one really cares – everything is a show – the empathy, the sympathy – the candle light vigils. We just want to use every such incident to score brick-bats against the government for its inadequacies and apathy, and in the process showcasing our enhanced (delusional) virtuosity.
Although the govt. IS full of deficiencies – if we really wanted to solve an anomaly ( especially this crime against women anomaly in the capital) we would be more proactive and like to become a part of the solution rather than bickerers.
Even so, without much help from crime-scene witnesses, the police already seem to have identified the murderer and its a matter of time before he’s apprehended. But, if past is any example, this is going to be appended to another long list of “high-profile” cases dragging on in the capital for decades.