Thursday, August 25, 2005

Two Cents of Hope

If you are reading this blog you are priveleged. Okay, that was not a very nice way of putting it. The accent was on reading, a verb which is still not so common amongst the Indian kids.

I lived in the hostel while I was doing my bachelors degree from Vellore Institute of Technology. The hostel was habitable and the food was bearable. The mess employed kids aged between 10 and 15 years to serve food and clean the mess. The chancellor of the university, an ex-MP/minister, truly believed in educating the youth which was OBVIOUSLY the primary purpose for him to set up the university. 1000 students graduated every year so it didn't matter if there were about 30 uneducated kids slaving in the mess. Inorder to gain some you lose some. One of my friends who thankfuly didn't have the same ideologies as the chancellor took an effort to teach one of the kids basic mathematics and alphabets. The kid really took an effort to learn from my friend amidst the cleaning and serving he had to do to earn a living. It was nice to see the kid smile while learning. I should have probably followed suit but I didn't. If you have gone through something similar and you wished that you should have probably done something more then here is your chance.

A group of graduate students from North Carolina State University (my alma mater)have formed a non profit organization called "Two cents of hope" with the vision of forming a self sustaining society by providing education to the youth. Education in India has no doubt improved in the last few decades. But we still have a long way to go in our quest of being a fully developed and self sufficient nation. Overly qualified readers like you would obviously know the pivotal role of education in today's society. You can make a difference if you want to.Ideas, suggestions and donations are most welcome.

Friday, August 19, 2005


For the past few days I have been reading news items and blogs (my own too) about events that have happened a long time back and their after effects. These after effects are just not mere scars that reamin from wounds sustained in a war. It's something far more serious. These scars have penetrated so deep into our heart that our mind ceases to think and we lose the capabilty of making informed decisions.Well, the purpose of the post is not to discombobulate (finally I get to use this word, 2 years after my GRE...I think it means 'confuse') you. I perhaps should get to the point right away.

The last post was about how I like history. But HisStory could also be a pain in the butt. Every one has their own versions, made up versions that can suit ideologies and ego's, not minding the repercussions of such tales. The Jews will have a version and the Christians will their own,the Indians will have different things to say about Kashmir than the Pakistani's. These things are just not limited to being at such a broad level, a relative of mine is contesting a court case for some thing that happened eons back ( well if he wins the case, I could be a millionaire's nephew).

I wish inheritance was just limited to getting the good stuff from your ancestors. You know what I am talking about right, the Ravi Verma paintings and the antique chairs. But sadly those aren't the only things that are forced down the family chain. If you have seen a dozen Indian movies from the 70's and 80's you would have come across the concept of family feuds.
"In 1846 your great great grandfather was hit by your great great grand uncle for not sharing his toys. Since then we have been sworn enemies and I don't want you ever to talk with their family ever again. Its a matter of honour." The chances of getting to hear dialogues of such kind in your own house are extremely bright.

Similarly when you see an Indo-Pak cricket match, you will invariably get to hear these words from Shastri
"...emotions are running high in this encounter."
We go out of our way to remember the partition, Kashmir conflict and the wars to be emotionally charged for a sporting event. I got a crash course on why hating Pakistan is important to every Indian from one of my cousins during an Indo-Pak match. Its easy to influence a teenager when Shoaib Akhtar resembles the devil while he is bowling menancingly quick.The Indian batsmen really didn't last long enough for me and my cousin to admire the Indian batting skills. Quite predictably the conversation veered from cricket to politics.

I can understand personal vendetta but avenging for things that have happened centuries ago is stupid.Similarly the atrocities that the Jews have gone through for something their ancestors did a long while back is absolutely stupid.Among the many gifts God has given man, the ability to forget is one of the most important one's. I think we are not using this gift as much as we are supposed to. Forgiving might require a lot of emotional maturity but trying to forget about such sour incidents could probably save a lot of lives.

What prevents one to forget events of the past?
I think it all boils down to pride. I think we are just too proud to step down from the imaginary tower that we create for ourselves. The family honor could go for a toss if I would go up to someone and tell him that his grandfather owed me some money and so I am forced to confiscate his ancestral home.

Its heartening to see people like Ariel Sharon taking the bold step of evacuating the Gaza strip. I do not know if there is a hidden political agenda, it seems genuine. You can read his speech here. RB's post questioned the motive for Sharon doing such a thing? The only thing that I can think of at the moment is that probably political leaders are finally realizing that humanity is something beyond pride and honour. Probably everyone can take a cue and realize that History doesn't have a place for people who do stupid things to insure their political future. And on a more personal level we should let the future generation form their own conclusions about the past. It really doesn't make sense to impose our beliefs on them.

Sunday, August 14, 2005

Review: Mangal Pandey- The Rising

It has been one of the most awaited movies this year. But, after watching the movie the first thing that comes to your mind is whether this movie warranted so much hype. It is a really good movie but does the end product really require 2 years of labour (i.e excluding the other 2 years Aamir took for looking the part, the mooch, the hair etc.). Once you get out of the theatre, you replay a few scenes/parts of the movie in your mind but the overall package somehow doesn’t feel as special as Lagaan. I think a reviewer should never have preconceived notions about a movie- but come on, a movie from Aamir Khan after 4 years…you would definitely feel that this is going to be a mind blowing experience while you keenly munch on the popcorn when the first scene rolls out on the big screen.

Mangal Pandey was not a mind blowing experience but I felt that it is definitely worth watching. When I was in class 8, History was a subject that I loved despite the dull and boring NCERT history text books. I found it very interesting to know how different things were back then. The revolt of 1857 or our first war of independence sounded very silly to me then when I was a 12 year old. Cow and pig fat being used as grease for cartridges didn’t sound rebellion worthy. Moreover, I had a paan chewing history teacher who drenched you with her saliva. You are in her radar even if you are sitting in the third row. So my history classes on the first war of independence with ‘Jayalakshmi Miss’ were very forgettable. So the Revolt remained silly to me until yesterday.

There is a scene in the movie which made me understand why this war was so important to us. Mangal Pandey (Aamir Khan) lies on the hospital bed while Captain William Gordon (Toby Stephens) urges him to apologize to the British East India Company so that he could escape death row. Mangal Pandey smiles at the captain and explains to him that he was not sorry for anything he did and how he feels that his death could stoke the fire of millions in the country. Gordon responds to Pandey by telling him that losing so many lives over an issue that could be settled with reason is simply not worth it. Pandey then tells him that grease wasn’t the issue any more. An upper class Brahmin like him who thought that coming in contact with an untouchable sweeper was a sin felt like an untouchable in his own land. He could chew on those very same cartridges and wipe out the Brits if it could bring him independence. That scene, I felt was soul stirring and aptly summarized the entire revolt, something no one ever did in my high school. But, the problem with MP is that such scenes are very far flung for a film whose theme is patriotism.

The performances in the movie were superlative. Toby Stephens played the part of a person torn apart between two different cultures extremely well. He speaks hindi so much better than some of the people who speak an anglicized variation of hindi nowadays. Aamir Khan breathes fire in every frame of the movie. I thought his voice did not match the intensity of his physical demeanour. The bonding sequences between Aamir and Toby seem to be forced. Rani Mukherjea’s role as a nauch girl was very limited. The character was not given enough importance. It felt like they included the character just to have a romantic angle to the story and shoot a bunch of songs on the lead pair. Talking about songs, I felt all the songs were introduced at very inappropriate moments. Just when the pace is picking up and when you feel completely entrenched in the movie, the cast starts dancing to ARR’s melodies out of the blue. A bunch of jokers sitting on top of an elephant breaking into a song every half an hour was also very irritating. I really didn’t know why the director Ketan Mehta had to incorporate an item number in the movie. It simply jars the movie’s narrative. Amisha Patel has very little to do in this movie. She plays the role of a Sati Maatha- a woman who is about to be burnt alive along with her husband in his funeral pyre. It was shocking to see that the widow’s eyes were glazed as she was high on opium while they make her sit in the funeral pyre. She doesn’t realize what is happening around her until they set fire to the body. That was an interesting detail which finally answered my question of- “Why on earth didn’t women just run away from the pyre?” Capt. William Gordon quite predictably saves her and another love story blooms. Ms. Patel has 4 scenes in this 3 and a half hour saga. I couldn’t identify anyone from the supporting cast but all of them acted decently well.

A.R.Rehman is brilliant. I liked all the songs in the movie. The movie literally transports you to 1857, the costumes and sets in the movie are authentic. I felt the editing was not up to the mark in the movie. The movie didn’t flow very well. It was awesome in parts but collectively didn’t manage to work. The idea of having a Hindi voice over when the characters spoke in English was novel. You get to hear the English dialogues; they don’t mute the English dialogues and start the voice over. Om Puri’s voice was really good and his voice over would have definitely been appreciated by the non-English speakers. I am sure there will be inevitable comparisons with Big B’s voice over in Lagaan.

Overall a good movie. Even though it doesn’t quite match the expectations that I had, it is still worth a watch.

Saturday, August 13, 2005

“What is human life but a game of cricket?”

“What is human life but a game of cricket?”
-The Third Duke of Dorchester

I am a regular player of the Brian Lara International Cricket 2005 computer game (demo version).So before you start playing the game you get to read the above quote from the third duke of Dorchester which was made in the year 1777. I can’t give so much importance to cricket like the Duke. But, I guess people in England would probably empathize with him (finally….after 3 bloody centuries) much more than the fanatic Indian/Australian cricket fan at this point in time. Things are going fabulously well for the English and I guess they are finding it very difficult to come to terms with their newfound Ashes success. Understandable, after all a whole generation of the English haven’t witnessed an English team holding aloft the Ashes urn since 1986-87.

Unlike its colonizer things are not looking very pretty for India. Life/cricket has been a struggle for the Indian cricket team/fan/selectors. An Indian ODI resurgence seems to be just as unlikely as seeing our beloved Prime Minister without a beard. Harsha Bhogle in his Indian Express column very rightfully expressed his concerns with this Indian Team. He feels that this Indian team which is currently ranked number 7 played like a number 7 team and if things continued to proceed in a similar fashion number seven looks like a good place to build a house.

The selectors aren’t helping the team’s cause by continuously playing ping-pong with the captaincy. Their latest decision to appoint Ganguly as the captain for the upcoming Zimbabwe tour baffled me. They should have either asked Ganguly to captain for the entire season or should have persisted with Dravid who I think is a very shrewd and astute man. They both have different leadership styles but they are both capable men who have played a big part in whatever successes that this team has managed to achieve in the past decade. As an Indian I think it’s in our nature to submit to authority. I could have gone to the extreme and used the phrase suck up to authority, but I guess then I would be guilty of stereotyping.

Imagine the plight of newcomers like Suresh Raina who has just completed his first tour. This guy would have to earn his captain’s confidence to stay in the team. So things can be pretty rough when you are told that your captain would be named on a series to series basis. The older ones in the team like Kumble would also be very frustrated. Kumble would have probably got to play a lot more games if Dravid were the captain, because Dravid and Kumble go a long way back. Kumble whose in the twilight of his career cannot afford to vocally support Dravid as Ganguly is still part of the team and could take over the reins from Dravid any time soon (which is exactly what happened).

Constant shift in power is never easy on anyone- the team, the individual who is being relieved and the individual who is taking over. It would be foolish on my part to say that “persist no matter what” approach is the best medicine for an ailing team. But “persisting with the change” can most certainly help the team at this juncture. Change (bringing in Ganguly) is what made this team believe in itself.

A part of me wants Ganguly to continue on till the next world cup. This man is all about passion, pride, self-belief, agression and arrogance. He managed to change the mindset of an Indian cricketer. Sagging shoulders and dropped down heads gave way to pumping fists and the now very famous team huddle. The Indian team was always a docile lot (the occasional Indo-Pak matches are an exception). You could even go to the extent of calling them the well mannered bahu types but things changed dramatically once Ganguly was at the helm. Ganguly lent the team the much needed bad boy image. I guess he was the first Indian captain who managed to convey “Indians mean Business” to the opposing teams. Ganguly provided this team the aggressiveness which it desperately lacked.

But then a part of me wants Dravid to be the captain because this guy has done whatever he possibly can to help the team. His team first attitude is something which is not very common in contemporary cricket. He will even bat at number 11 if it is going to help the team. He is a guy who leads his team by example. Solid, dependable and ice cool irrespective of the situation he is faced with. This guy hasn’t done a thing wrong. He has stood up to the challenges of captaincy admirably. It’s never easy to know that you are leadership skills are going to be assessed in one off test matches because of an injury/ban prone Ganguly.

So, I guess I am defeating my own “persisting with the change” approach by describing how I think both of them are suited for the job. Before blaming the selectors I would have to accept the difficulties that they are faced with. I associate Ganguly with Lord Krishna, because this man is vivacious, lucky and has so far had things handed out on a platter compared to what Dravid a.k.a Lord Rama has gone through. The heart sides with Ganguly but the mind sides with Dravid.

Bottomline: Just like how I began this post with a quote I would like to end this post with a quote...

"The heart has its reasons which reasons know nothing of."

Tuesday, August 09, 2005

The Curse of the Red Dot*

KumKum a.k.a Kungumam a.k.a Theeka a.k.a Tilak

Kumkum: If you don’t know what this word means please go to the following
link before reading this post.

Ok, yours truly is a devout Hindu. So as soon as I take a bath, I
dutifully recite my shlokas (holy verses) and apply kungumam to my fore
head. If my mom gets to read this…she will say chamathu (which in English
roughly translates to ‘Good Boy’). It wasn’t that big a deal in India,
even though I was one among the very few guys in college who sported the
sacred red dot.

But once I landed in North Carolina, I started facing difficulties. People
thought I had some kind of a cut on my forehead. A guy on the bus even
went to the extent of saying that if the cut was towards the side instead
of being dead center it could have looked like the one Harry Potter had.
Well I really couldn’t blame him; the mark turned out like a diagonal N
that day. I decided to enlighten the guy about our customs and traditions.
So the poor guy had to endure a 20 minute discourse on the significance of
the DOT. Just as I was getting to how Hindus related kungumam to the
mystic third eye, I saw my listener hurriedly pulling the chain of the bus
and get down. His parting words were…..
”Dude, the next stop is the health center. You should seriously get your
third eye treated bro. It’s not normal you know.”

20 minutes wasted. Damn! So after that day, I never went into the details.
I came here to study not scare people with my 3rd eye, so I usually told
people that I had to wear it because of religious reasons. Normally,
people never bothered me after I gave them that explanation. But, my boss
is this inquisitive woman. She wasn’t satisfied with my explanation and
she began to bombard me with questions.

Boss: Coooohmaar (the number of o’s are directly proportional to how
excited she was), I only see Indian women wear the bindi. You are the
first guy I have ever seen wearing the bindi.

Me (wincing whenever she used the word bindi): Uh, Boss you are right.
Women wear the bindi, it comes in a lot of shapes and patterns. But what
I…uh…er.. what MEN wear is called a theeka.

Boss: I guess bindi and thee..thee..thee (looking at me to complete it for

Me: Theeka

Boss: Yeah aren’t they the same. But why are you the only Indian guy
wearing it?

I needed a paycheck every month so I really didn’t want to voice my
frustrations about how westerners thought that they knew everything there
is to know about India by watching one Bollywood movie (which in my boss’s
case was Lagaan).But, at the same time I wanted to let her know that I am
not the only weird Indian guy with the dot.

Me: Boss, don’t you remember the Hero had theeka on his forehead in the

Boss: Oh yeah. Now I remember Coooooohmaaar. But the one he wears is
vertical and not horizontal like the one you have.

I gave up and didn’t want to prolong the conversation any more. So I
emailed her a link which talked about the heritage behind the kungumam and
how it could be applied to the forehead by BOTH men and women.

During my second year at NC State I became wiser (yeah, I finally got to
know Ohm’s law) and rarely ventured out sporting the dot. I really didn’t
have the patience to explain about our culture and heritage every time
some stranger in the middle of the road spotted the dot. So I thought it
was better to rub it off before I got out of the house. But on Deepavali
(an Indian festival) my religious sentiments got the better of me. I
didn’t want God to wreak havoc (the semester was already looking bleak)
for my not wearing kungumam on such a holy day. On that particular day,
Susan, one of my American friends picked me up at my house. She and I were
working on a project that was due in a week. So in the car she quizzed me
about the red dot. For obvious reasons I wanted the topic to end as
quickly as possible and I knew it all hinged on my answer. So, I told her
that I usually wore the dot as soon as I took a bath. She didn’t ask me
any further questions and I was relieved. I was so happy that I
entertained hopes of using this as my default explanation if the topic was
ever breached again (only to be quashed the very next week).

The following week I applied kungumam on my forehead and made a conscious
decision to not rub it off as I stepped out of my house (how could I even
think of rubbing it off when I had my project presentation in an hour.
Lord is divine. Lord have mercy!) . I entered the class and sat next to
Susan. I was mentally going over the presentation slides and making note
of the places where I had to crack jokes to keep the audience awake. I
didn’t notice Peg and Elaine (two of my class mates who sat one row ahead
of me) staring at my forehead. Only when they started having an argument
did I realize that my red dot was the cause for it.

Peg: No he is not married.

Elaine: Peg, I have an Indian friend who told me that only married people
get to wear the red thing.

Peg: But, he didn’t wear it for the whole of last month.

Elaine: Maybe he got married yesterday.

I was furious. Enough was enough. Some body had to teach these people
about our traditions and values. I seriously didn’t care even if it
required me to take them through the mystic third eye. Just as I was about
to interrupt them I heard Susan’s sagely voice.

Susan: Girls, relax. Kumar took a bath today.

As Susan enlightened them about how the red mark signified that I was
clean, I was regretting my idiotic explanation to Susan the previous week.

I have truly become wise now. I never repeated that mistake. Whenever
someone has questions about the red dot, I take down their email address
and ask them to check their email inbox for an explanation.

*The author has exaggerated parts of the story to make it seem a little
funnier than how the events originally transpired. But, the crux of the
story, sadly (for me), is true.

Friday, August 05, 2005

Quidditch:Cricket :: Bush:Brains

Don't worry I am not going to go through analogies and coach you for your competetive exams. There is this journalist from The Toledo Blade who thinks Quidditch is a cricket type game.

Here is her description of Quidditch.
***QUIDDITCH: A wizard game, played on flying broomsticks. Quidditch is a wildly exciting, cricket-type game that is an obsession with many in the wizarding world, including Harry and Ron.
***the link:

If you are ever in a position where you are desperately trying to convince a Toledan (I assume people from Toledo would like to be called Toledan's) that you don't play cricket with broom sticks, you know whom to blame. I think the Toledans might even feel a little let down if they ever get to see a 5 day cricket match (Imagine if they call this a wildly exciting game then what would be termed as boring).
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