Sunday, 30 October 2011

Clarifications.....

     My post about Reservations has elicited a lot more comments than I expected. Most of them were complimentary but a few were downright rude (they were not published) . I do not owe any explanations or apologies for my point of view. However, I will be damned if I do not refute the filthy accusations hurled at me.

     First and foremost, I am most certainly not a bigot with prejudices against the lower castes. My post does not have a single word which can be construed as a product of any prejudice. I ask the person who left a particularly vile comment to consult a psychiatrist. You have a serious persecution complex. 

     Secondly, I stand by each and every word in my post. Each and every post I publish is subject to intense scrutiny and constant revision before it is published. I was not ambiguous in any way. My stand on this issue was crystal clear. I reiterate it now. I find the policy of Reservation not only arbitrary and inherently discriminatory but also reprehensible. It is not that different from bonded labour. Both these practices seek to punish the descendants for the actions of their forefathers. Only one of these practices is outlawed. Go figure...



      I never represented myself as a legal expert or a political analyst. That post was a lay opinion. However, I do not appreciate my post being trivialized just because it does not use political jargon or discuss highfalutin' anthropological notions of Reservation being anti-Darwinian. I wrote that post based on my observations. I qualified my entrance exam with a score which places me at the 99th percentile but I still did not get into the  med school I wanted. I know what I am writing about. I was affected by this issue and that sure as hell entitles me to an opinion, experts be damned. 

      Finally, my conclusion in the post may not be optimistic, but it is realistic. I am not a political activist. I do not have, at my disposal, any means to change the system or any recourse, legal or otherwise, to affect that change. I have accepted it. Grudgingly, of course. I urge all the disgruntled people who left adverse comments about the concluding statements of my post to go ahead and try to come up with a way to redress this social imbalance. You have my best wishes. 

      Just don t expect me to hold my breath.

Sharath's bookshelf - The Day of the Jackal.

   

     I was introduced to Frederick Forsyth by a friend. He lent me "The Fourth Protocol". I was enthralled. I then read "The Day of the Jackal". It was better. This book has spawned many imitations but they all pale in comparison. No other author writes with such colour and authority.

      Frederick Forsyth, prior to his fiction writing career, was a journalist with Reuters. His familiarity with the subject matter of his political thrillers probably stems from that. Whatever the reason, all his books clearly reflect meticulous research, in depth analysis and a natural flair for writing.

   The Day of the Jackal is imbued with all these qualities. Another common thread running through all his books is an element of truth. This book, for example, in its beginning discusses the actual assassination attempt made on Charles de Gaulle and then proceeds by detailing the fictional second attempt by the eponymous Jackal.

     The name of the professional assassin, code named Jackal, is never divulged in this novel. He is portrayed as being intelligent, ruthless and exceedingly efficient. By the end of this book, I developed  admiration and grudging respect for the cold calculating assassin. The Jackal has become such an unforgettable part of popular folklore that one of the most notorious terrorists of the world, Ilich Ramírez Sánchez a.k.a. Carlos (the same Carlos of the Bourne trilogy) was nicknamed the Jackal.

    This book details all the preparation made by the Jackal in eerie vividness. As the author describes the preparation, he simultaneously lets us know that the law enforcement agencies have also caught wind of this plan. This sets the stage for the cat and mouse chase that takes place across Europe. The Jackal is always a step ahead and uses ingenious methods and spur of the moment disguises to elude the police till the end of the novel.



     The pace never lets up. The chase is tense. It is suspenseful and thrilling and unputdownable. I have a confession to make. When reading Forsyth's books, I find the villains more interesting and end up wanting them to succeed, most of the time. What that says about me, I leave for the pshrinks to analyse.

      I recommend this as compulsory reading for all those who like political thrillers. Believe me, when it comes to his genre, Frederick Forsyth is in a league of his own. 

Matters of Religion.

     My earliest memories of a religious nature are those of my grandma teaching me slokas when I was four or five. I did not understand them but learnt them by heart. My experience with religion has been similar. I went through all the motions during festivals without pausing for a second and wondering what I was doing or why. My parents are not overly religious. So, growing up, religion and spirituality were not really a huge part of my life.

     Until recently I never really thought about religion or spirituality. Living alone in a new city without much to do leaves you with a lot of free time, free time which leads to introspection and daydreaming. In one such extended reverie, I was thinking about religion as it pertains to me. So I set about on a mind trip of religious self discovery.

      One of the basic tenets of any religion is the existence of a higher power or God. So, I asked myself whether I believed in the existence of God. I thought about it and came to the conclusion that I had not come across any evidence to prove or disprove the existence of God. So I declared myself an agnostic.

     According to Wikipedia, within agnosticism there are agnostic atheists (who do not believe any deity exists, but do not deny it as a possibility) and agnostic theists (who believe a God exists but do not claim to know that). I thought long and hard and decided that being an agnostic theist is more in line with my beliefs. I like to believe there is a God but can provide no hard evidence to prove it.


     It has become popular among the youth of today to question the existence of God and declare themselves atheists. I can understand their stand on religion because I was one of them. All of the greatest crimes against humanity from the holocaust to 9/11 were committed either in the name of religion or God or under the delusion that it was for the greater good. Religion was and is the most common pretext used to justify the most reprehensible actions and most deplorable prejudices.


      It does not help that religion has been the principal opposition for any kind of scientific progress. From the heliocentric theory to evolution to stem cell research and cloning, self appointed protectors of ethical values, fanatical in their adherence to religion and not reason, have always opposed Science. It behooves any rational man to therefore denounce religion and assert proudly their atheism, right? No.


     It has to be noted all the above reasons to condemn religion are the actions of a few and not representative of all theists. All religions are unequivocal in their condemnation of violence. The religious objections to scientific progress do serve a purpose. Unbridled scientific experimentation at the price of ethics is not in anybody's interest. The human experiments carried out by Nazi scientists are a cautionary tale. Dogmatic adherence to Science alone dehumanises people and turns them into robots without a moral compass.




      It would be great if people were inherently charitable but the reality is most altruism is motivated by guilt or the expectation of karmic windfall, both of which are products of religion. God has been the world's personal pshrink. Faith comforts us in grief and enables us to deal with it. It provides us with the optimism needed to start over and not descend into the vortex of depression and weltschmerz. I have always found that spiritual people lead the happiest lives.


      Blind religious fervour and unquestioning acceptance of faith are not what I advocate. On the contrary, I despise people who quote scripture as an absolute truth and rather than understand the underlying intent, allow themselves to be content in following it to the letter. All religious books without exception contain parts that are reflective of narrow-minded prejudices of the time they were written in. It is the prerogative of every progressive and enlightened person to follow their faith after expunging it of all objectionable practices and baseless prejudices and applying their God given intelligence to temper religion with reason and rationality.

     Only when there exists a precarious mental balance between faith provided by religion and healthy skepticism fueled by a scientific bent of mind can we lead a fulfilling life that is free from ignorance and intolerance.
     

Video of the week - P.O.D. (Youth of the nation)

      The first time I heard this song, years earlier, I got the chills. The powerful lyrics, inspired by a series of shootings in high schools, paint portraits of three archetypal American teenagers and their lives which are affected by issues such as gun violence, depression, abandonment by parents and drugs. It is a sublime composition which alchemically transforms the angst, desolation and suffering of the youth into a song that is thought provoking.



     If you have any videos you would like to share, paste the url in the comments section. Your video along with your name will be displayed in the forthcoming weeks, if selected. Thank you.

Random thoughts......

     I was channel surfing at home the other day and these were the thoughts running through my mind.

     I watch TV and am bombarded by images of anorexic women with bleached faces being exalted as modern day incarnations of Aphrodite. Models or rather the generic glorified coat hangers, that walk the ramp and are called models, look emaciated and are reminiscent of drought victims from Sub Saharan Africa. They are being promoted as the epitome of beauty. Am I the only one who finds something wrong with that picture?

     MTV was about music. Now all I see are reruns of crass shows like Splitsvilla, Roadies etc.

     Whats with Cartoon Network? Can t they hire decent animators? All the shows look like they were animated by Picasso on crack..(That is NOT a compliment) The storylines are sub moronic and why o why are the shows dubbed in Telugu?

     How can people watch the unmitigated tripe that is presented as a daily serial on Telugu channels? Women in clown makeup crying half the time and mouthing the most inane dialogues. What has Telugu television devolved into?

    Ra one everywhere. I don t think there is a single product that isn t tied up with this movie...Hope the movie is atleast OK.

    Discovery and NGC dubbed in Telugu......sheesh!!!

     One Bible thumping Minister denouncing Evolution on TV.....kept looking for something to throw at the screen........What does he think? Humans crawled out of God's ---  Never mind.

     Half naked children dancing to raunchy item numbers on dance reality shows........Beyond perverse.

     Hundreds of channels....nothing worth watching......Thank God I love reading.

Sunday, 23 October 2011

Merci beaucoup

 

    Thank you all for taking the time to read my humble blog. The unexpectedly high number of page views was the much needed shot in the arm. Please feel free to comment unreservedly on the blog. Do take an extra minute to take part in the weekly poll.

     Diwali is right around the corner; So let me take this opportunity to wish you all a happy and safe Diwali.


     PS   I hope the blog is not too green now. 


Murphy's law and Murphy days

     Murphy's law states, "Anything that can go wrong will go wrong". I have Murphy days once every two to three months when it feels like there is a Murphyonic field around me. I am used to breaking glasses, tripping over stuff and other mishaps that are normal to the average klutz. But on some days it seems like the universe is conspiring to make my day extra murphylicious. I sometimes imagine God watching me on those days and rolling on the floor laughing.



    The last Murphy day was a few weeks ago. It started with me waking up in a sweat because of the powercuts associated with the Telangana Bandh. I woke up after restlessly rolling on the bed for a few minutes. I then stepped on the burning mosquito coil, shrieked and muttered something profane. I made my way to the bathroom, groggy and half awake, after tripping over my flip flops, only to discover there was no running water. My vocabulary of swear words was limited; I exhausted them in a few minutes and made a mental note to keep my ears open for more to use in the future.

     After what seemed like eternity, the plumber was able to get the water running. I took a bath, got dressed and walked to the elevator. The power was back on, the lift stopped at my floor and I got in with one of my neighbours. I did not even know his name so I smiled perfunctorily and started fiddling with my phone. I remember thinking that it was not that bad a day after all. Word of advice - Do not tempt fate. The elevator stopped in between floors at that exact instant. 

    I was trapped in that elevator for the better part of an hour. I am not very claustrophobic and so I started waiting for the watchman to get us out. My fellow detainee was not that sanguine. After banging against the walls, shouting at the top of his voice and generally doing anything to attract attention, he started swearing. I pricked up my ears and started taking mental notes. His language was colourful to put it mildly. I expanded my vocabulary considerably that day.
  
    After a few minutes, he sat down in a corner and started sweating and hyperventilating. He looked like he was about to cry. I tried to calm him down, opened my bag and asked him to put it over his nose and mouth and breathe slowly. He calmed down, apologised and started to make small talk. I was feeling good for handling this situation with grace.

     Something happened that I was ill equipped to deal with. My fellow inmate farted. God! it was awful. It smelled like something died in that elevator. I kept trying to hold my breath and started wishing for either a gas mask or a can of room freshener. I remember trying to smell my underarm to get a whiff of my deodorant. The stench was overpowering and nauseating. After ten minutes, which seemed like an interminable wait in that lift, the watchman was able to get my flatulent neighbour and me out. I ran out of the elevator and breathed in some clean air.

    The rest of the day wasn t much better. I ordered Dosa for breakfast and sat down at my table. An inexcusably clumsy waiter then spilled some chutney on my sleeve and brought me my Dosa. That Dosa was   quite possibly the worst Dosa I ever ate (worse than the ones our college canteen serves). It takes special skill to make something taste uncooked and burnt at the same time. I gave the hotel staff a piece of my mind and left hungry, cranky and was in a foul mood when a motorist almost ran me over.

     I exercised my vocal cords and tried out some of the new expletives I picked up in the lift on the speeding motorist. My voice was now hoarse and I felt embarrassed as I saw the onlookers staring at me shocked by my language. I fled and reached my destination only to find it closed because of the Bandh. I walked back to my room intent on catching some zs.

      I got comfortable in bed, reading a book, felt my eyelids getting heavy, stifled a yawn and closed my eyes when the neighbour started hammering on our common wall with a mallet. I pulled the covers over my head, buried my head under the pillow and tried to sleep. The hammering stopped........I was about drift into sleep.........the drilling began. I got up, dressed and went to the movie theatre and got myself a ticket. The movie was bad, I mean BAD. ( It was Salman Khan's Bodyguard )

      After that I picked up a subway sandwich and went home. I ate that sandwich and got into bed. I got up after a few hours only to discover that I had food poisoning. Whether it was that Dosa or the sandwich, I don t know but I was running in and out of the loo for hours. I was hungry, thirsty, sleep deprived and near suicidal at this point.

      Then I got a phone call from Mom. I talked to her for a few minutes and felt instantly better. I slept like a hibernating bear that night and woke up feeling much better. I then knew that whoever said, God created Moms because He couldn t be here in person, was right.



     But now, I wait in dread for the next Murphy day.

Sharath's bookshelf - The Lord of the Rings.

Three Rings for the Elven-kings under the sky,
Seven for the Dwarf-lords in their halls of stone,
Nine for Mortal Men doomed to die,
One for the Dark Lord on his dark throne
In the Land of Mordor where the Shadows lie.
One Ring to rule them all, One Ring to find them,
One Ring to bring them all and in the darkness bind them

In the Land of Mordor where the Shadows lie.

   

     Every self respecting fantasy reader and writer holds LOTR in high regard. It is the fantasy equivalent of the Bible. Tolkien wrote LOTR when fantasy literature was limited to fairy tales for kids. His vision and imagination have changed the landscape of fantasy epic literature for generations to come. LOTR marked a paradigm shift in the way fantasy was written and perceived.

     The Lord of the rings has been interpreted and analysed by literary scholars for many decades. They have looked under a microscope for the faintest signs of allegory. They have dissected the characters and their motivations. LOTR is a perennial favourite as the subject for high school book reports and doctoral theses. So what can I say that hasn t already been said?

     The Lord of the Rings like most fantasy stories is a story about the triumph of good over evil. The moral overtones of the story are not what appeal to me the most. It is that tense atmosphere,Tolkien creates, with a foreboding of doom that permeates the story and underscores the urgency of the quest that I like the most. Tolkien paints, with his words, in vivid detail, a picture of the world the characters inhabit. It is a testament to his skill as a writer that his story continues to excite readers worldwide decades after its first publication. The movie trilogy was such a phenomenal success because it stayed true to the book.



     LOTR is one of the two books which had a profound impact on me when I was growing up. I was a fourteen year old when I first got acquainted with Frodo and the gang. It was an overwhelming and thoroughly enjoyable experience. At that point of time, I counted myself a denizen of Middle Earth and spent hours day-dreaming. Ah! what I wouldn t give to be that young and innocent again.

     My favourite characters in the trilogy are Gandalf, Sam and Eowyn in that order. Gandalf probably needs no introduction and I don t need to explain why I like him the best. The avuncular wizard is the definitive fan favourite. I like Sam because of his unquestioning loyalty and unconditional support for Frodo. There is no doubt that Frodo would have failed in his quest if he wasn t accompanied by Sam.

     Contrary to what people think, Eowyn is the heroine of this trilogy, not Arwen. Aragorn asks her, "  What do you fear, my lady? ". She replies" A cage. To stay behind bars until use and old age accept them and all chance of valor has gone beyond recall or desire. ". One of the best lines ever written. Her confrontation of the Witch king, the lord of the Nazgul, extols her courage. 'But no living man am I! You look upon a woman. Eowyn I am, Eomund's daughter You stand between me and my lord and kin. Begone, if you be not deathless! For living or dark undead, I will smite you, if you touch him.' For all that and more, I love her character.



     While Lord of the Rings is arguably the best piece of fantasy fiction ever written, it does have flaws. It is tediously long in some parts; most if not all characters are unidimensional; Barring Eowyn and Galadriel, there are no other female characters of importance in the story. (Arwen Undomiel is mentioned only in passing. She is referred to in greater detail in the appendix of the book unlike the movies where she plays a greater role.)

     I can go on and on discussing LOTR till the end of days, But I do not want to bore you guys. If you love reading,read LOTR. I promise you will enjoy it more than the movies.  I would love to hear your take on LOTR. Keep those comments coming.    

The Reservation Debate

     When I first started this blog, I thought I would never write about anything political or religious. As a middle class upper caste Hindu Indian, most political issues do not affect me. My sheltered upbringing has shielded me from the effects of most political issues. Hikes in the prices of commodities or petrol were never discussed in our drawing room. Living in a tier two city like Visakhapatnam was like living in an apolitical cul de sac.All through high school, Reservation was just a topic for debate competitions, not a political issue I felt strongly about.

      The Reservation issue has been debated ad nauseum in various avenues of the media always polarising the society and provoking an incendiary reaction. Until the EAMCET counselling, I never really thought about my caste or its impact on my future. It was the first time I became acutely aware of the separation of society along the lines of caste. With the PG exams fast approaching, this issue rears its ugly head reawakening feelings, which were buried in the deepest recesses of my mind for six years. This post is primarily to clear the air about my views and to deal with them by putting everything out in the open.



      At the outset, I would like to declare myself a staunch anti-reservationist. One thing I hate about being an anti reservationist is being clubbed with bigoted individuals who use the merit versus caste argument to proclaim their prejudices. I have to clarify that I am against Reservation not affirmative action. Reservation creates a reverse discrimination by holding the interests of the so called lower castes above those of the higher castes. It is imperative that we realise that the policy of reservation does not really address the issue of social inequality or work towards bridging the gap between the haves and have- nots. It only creates a newer class of disadvantaged citizens, the economically backward upper caste. It is this writer's contention that though there are some disadvantaged members of our society who have benefited from this policy, it has been at the expense of other deserving people. We need a system of affirmative action that uplifts the living conditions of the disadvantaged and the disenfranchised irrespective of caste.



     Reservation is not the panacea for social inequity. It is akin to placing a band aid on a festering wound. The wound if not treated will result in a loss of limb or life.(forgive the medical metaphor. occupational hazard :) ). Apart from the obvious unrest among the populace,there are other hidden ramifications of this policy. One of them is brain drain. The deserving meritorious student will look for greener pastures abroad rather than be condemned to work in a job that fails to utilize his skills. Stanching the attrition of our brightest minds to other countries cannot be done when staying at home does not offer the promise of jobs commensurate with their skill.

    The reason why this issue is so volatile and combustible is because both the sides feel cheated. The economically backward upper caste student resents the lower caste student who comes to the school in his father's car, scores a lower rank but still gets a seat in a good college. The lower caste economically backward student resents the upper caste rich kid who gets into a college by paying capitation fees. In both these instances, the disadvantaged student is neglected and they are on opposite sides of this debate.



     For this issue to be settled, there needs to be a change from the grass root level. With education in the rural government schools and junior colleges at a sub par level, the students of these schools start the rat race of admissions with a handicap. Reforms in rural education are long overdue. We also need a strong political party to head our government, one which is interested in long term development and not vote bank politics which will lead to the continuation of the reservation policy in perpetuity.A policy of affirmative action which reaches out to all those in need irrespective of caste must replace the present system of reservation. I know hoping for such a policy in the near future would constitute wishful thinking.

     I think that a nation with a billion people has more than a few enlightened minds who can come up with more imaginative ideas to tackle the problem of social inequality. Until then we live as our parents before us did. Accept the system or move to another country.    

My Blog - What is it about?

     Those who have had the distinct displeasure of having made my acquaintance can attest to the fact that I am not particularly loquacious. Some might even say I exemplify the schizoid personality type. They are not entirely wrong. I am introverted, taciturn and self effacing in the presence of most people. I strive to maintain an air of nonchalance, a veneer of respectability and carefully practiced facial expressions alternating between indifference and disinterest. It is not an actual response to the people around me but a conditioned reflex learnt after many incidents involving me saying the wrong thing at the wrong time. I swear I always end up with my gigantic foot in my mouth if I even try a normal conversation.


     So, I have avoided talking much resulting in people typecasting me as the quiet guy in the corner who studies well. If you ask people about me, I guarantee ninety percent of them would refer to me as a good student who is reserved and aloof. I don t spend all my time with my head buried in books. My family and close friends are probably the only ones who know that there is a lot more to me than that.



     I am a writer and have always felt more comfortable communicating through writing. This blog is partly an attempt to show the world a hitherto concealed part of me.  I have, what has been called, a wry abrasive sometimes witty sense of humour which has caused many a social f aux pas. This blog is also an outlet for such humour. I have opinions about everything under the sun. This blog will also chronicle some of those opinions and showcase my writing skills (or the lack thereof). I cannot promise an exceptionally high standard of writing or posts that will always be interesting. What I can promise is candour and a perspective that is totally original and completely mine. 
     
     I value opinions from all my readers (if there are any). Please feel free to comment on any aspect of any post. Ayn Rand wrote “When I disagree with a rational man, I let reality be our final arbiter; if I am right, he will learn; if I am wrong, I will; one of us will win, but both will profit.”. If your opinion is contrary to mine, I may refuse to accept it but will nevertheless respect it. The only caveat is that your comments should not contain any words which can be construed as racist or bigoted. So, please keep your comments strictly PC.

Sunday, 16 October 2011

Sharath's bookshelf

      I was never into sports or any activity that involves physical exertion. I can loftily claim that reading books and other intellectual pursuits are superior to any sport and a much better use of time. It would just be a load of BS. The truth is I have the hand eye coordination of a two year old and very poor reflexes. I am also an accident prone klutz and so clumsy that I trip over a cordless phone. Add to that my monumental laziness. Needless to say, I wasn t the captain of the basketball team. Growing up, heck even during my college days, I nursed feelings of jealousy towards all those people who seemed so adroit and adept at sports.

     As my profile points out, I am a self confessed bibliophile. My love of books was probably the only thing that kept me from becoming embittered and resentful. I discovered the joy of reading when I was very young. My brother unknowingly introduced me to my first book. He brought home comics ( Chacha chowdhary and Tinkle mostly ) from his friends which stoked the overly active imagination of a budding bookworm. That was the beginning of a lifelong love for books.



      My grades at school were always better than average. I had a lot of free time as I had no extracurricular activities and all activities pertaining to the curriculum required only a portion of my time. In my free time, I raided the cupboards of my house and came across a treasure trove of books belonging to my dad. After going through my dad's collection, my uncle's collection in Kakinada was next. After that, I was reading fiction's best selling authors like there was no tomorrow.

      Reading books introduced me to worlds that exist only in an author's imagination. When I read, I am in a trance oblivious to the world around me. I don t just read, I construct every detail, every character, every minutia of the landscape in my head. I join the quests of heroes, fall in love with the heroines, defeat the villains, laugh out loud at the jokes and tear up when a character dies. I don t just read the book; I live and enjoy every moment I read.

       For this blog to be about me, a part of it has to be about books. So I give to you the very first Sharath's bookshelf post, a weekly post dedicated to my love. Next week,read my take on a fantasy classic. As always, your comments are welcome.