Thursday, November 26, 2015

Game of Thrones, Lord of the Rings, and Mahabharata

There could be better things to discuss, in these days of degenerating tolerance or intolerance. However, for the fear of not being able to save this topic for later discussion, I am posting this now. After all, that is what my blog, a thought repository, is all about.

The Game of Thrones is the cult fiction of the decade, it is such a craze among people. It is not a cult in terms of fashion, however, it is in terms of which series to watch. George R. R. Martin's plot and the script are simply amazing - unpredictable twists and turns in the plot take most of the credits. The characters and their development are amazing too. Each character is detailed in depth in a completely different dimension - this is something that is not seen in many other series, in my opinion. (I have not watched many other series, so my evaluation may not be the best.) I am not picking any character in particular - that is material for another blog post.

Without much digress, let me present the topic of discussion here - how would the Mahabharata (or the Ramayana - I have not read the Bible or the Koran, so I am not mentioning them here for comparison) fair in terms of literary merits when compared to the Game of Thrones or the Lord of the Rings? This thought occurred recently to me as I was thinking how can creativity be measured, after attending a talk at the University at Buffalo, on 'Creativity and decision making in architecture' by Ms. Ming Hu, Director of Academic Engagement at the American Institute of Architects (AIA). I continued my thoughts along the line of creativity and quality in literature, and then ended up on Lord of the Rings, a contemporary classic work of fiction. Not that there are better works - but this one is the best among the contemporaries in terms of creativity - J.R.R Tolkien's imagination and creativity in creating the 'middle earth' is beyond praise. No, the Harry Potter series is not better because J. K. Rowling followed  J.R.R Tolkien in many ways. The best possible example is the similarity between Rowling's Dobby and Tolkien's Gollum. 

The point is that the Mahabharata has lost its appeal among contemporary youth - the reasons are primarily: (1) westernization: most people prefer western culture to eastern - this trend is seen in fashion, history, mythology, culture, and everything else; and (2) the dragging serials based on mythology which were and are aired in India get no sympathy from youth. I think Mahabharata would be much more popular if it is shot in James Cameron's Avatar-like setting.  No, not as powerful as the Game of Thrones, for the Game of Thrones takes advantage of two of the three whims of mankind - sex and violence. The third one, for a consolation, is comedy.

I stop here by requesting the mankind - to make merry, but live and let live. And picking the Mahabharata was completely random. 

Monday, November 9, 2015

Without a mobile phone - two weeks and counting

My laziness in buying a new mobile phone (after my old one fell from my hand, and then ceased to switch on) taught me a lesson - that I should never set out for places without a phone in hand.
At first, the idea of not having a phone when I traveled to Philadelphia from Buffalo and back seemed adventurous to me. I felt like I was going back to one of those days we see being cherished for on Facebook walls (I feel not many actually cherish those days anymore) - those days when there were no mobile phones to take away our time. I felt like I was facing the world unarmed - the mobile phone is a weapon of the common man - the weapon which he uses to conquer a world of his own - where he gets to see, listen, speak, and touch - a unique taste of these sensory feelings. Without the phone, I felt weak and depleted; yet I tried to be strong.
As I was used to having a battery-drained mobile phone, I didn't miss anything much during the flight to Philly except for some selfies that could have been taken at the airport. The difficulties started when at Philly airport, for every single word of communication with my cousin who would pick me up from the airport, I had to open my laptop, check for free wifi at the airport, and headaches of that sort. None of these difficulties were unexpected - I deserved all that.
Another interesting part was that in Philadelphia city, for free wifi I crashed into the nearest Starbucks coffee. This happened 3-4 times during my 5-day stint in Philly, and each time I ordered a Frappuccino, which I would term as luxury-turned-necessity. Philly happened last week and since then I have not been using a mobile. I would this month pay a mobile bill for mobile services I never used, and I spend now a good amount on hangout calls to India. It might seem weird to account each penny saved or lost, however, I felt that all the extra money that I spent due to not having a phone could have, if saved, been used to add a 50$ to the budget I have set aside to buy a new phone. I find this very interesting because of the monetary quantification of the disutility of not having a mobile phone.
Another upward jump in my learning curve was related to the taking-on-the-world-unarmed adventure. This whole idea was revolutionary, but it was not as pleasant as I thought because without the mobile phone, navigation became difficult and taking advice from random passers-by, I often ended up taking long walking tunnels from one subway station to the next. Those tunnels and even the stations were so vacant that I got scared at times. The fright that creeps in at such times are really chilly. I was of the idea that having a little bit of courage is good. However, as a friend of mine pointed out, people who want to attack others for various reasons would have nothing to lose, whereas we have a lot to lose. I had to agree - all my strength and courage felt suddenly out of place when my friend said that.
I admit that the adventurous in me got the better of myself, but I would never take the risk again of making important travels without a mobile phone. Nevertheless, I would recommend everyone to experience a short stint without a mobile phone. You would lose many things but after all "you win when you lose" is a philosophy to be experienced. An analogy that I can think of is taken from a random Facebook post - that "silence can sometimes be addictive". 

Thursday, November 5, 2015

Why do Indian names tend to be longer than Western names?

Picture courtesy:
This is a follow-up on a discussion I had with an American friend, after he asked me the question why do Indians have longer names. I didn't have an answer ready, however, as I went on to beat around the bush and to give a vague explanation, this thought came into my mind. It makes sense to me, although I am not very confident partly because of I am not proficient in any Indian language, including my mother tongue, Malayalam. Let me try to explain for this lack of proficiency before you judge me - I have had no formal training in Malayalam, because my school never had Malayalam as a course. I know to speak very well, and to write well, and to listen very well. However, my literary skills are poor.
Getting back to the topic of interest here - I feel that the reason why Indians have longer names and Westerners have shorter names is due to differences in what I would call the "letters-to-syllables ratio". I would illustrate this in an example here. In Malayalam, my name "Vineet" has 3 main letters (forms of the English letters "v", "n", and "t", pronouced "va", "na", and "tta" respectively) and 3 syllables (pronounced "vi", "nee", and "tt" respectively). In contrast, you already know that the same name in English has 6 letters (v, i, n, e, e, and t) and 2 syllables ("vi" and "neet". note that the final "t" is not emphasized). In this example, Malayalam has a letters-to-syllables ratio of 3/3 = 1, whereas English has a letters-to-syllables ratio of 6/2 = 3. This is a form of compression ratio, as it is evident from the example. In a general sense, the English language is able to compress more letters, and hence the information content (information density) is higher for an English name when compared to that of an Indian name.
Now that you have seen the difference using an Indian name ("Vineet") as an example, I will explain the same concept using an English name as an example. The English name Shakespeare has 11 letters and 2 syllables, whereas when written in Malayalam, the same name has 6 letters (the main letters are pronounced "sha", "ka", "sa", "pa", "ya", and "ra") and 4 syllables (pronounced as "shay", "kku", "spee", and "yer"). The letters-to-syllables ratio for this example is 11/2 = 5.5 in English and 6/4 = 1.5 in Malayalam.
The key point that you would see from these two examples is that the higher is letters-to-syllables ratio (the information density), the less is the number of syllables that needs to be used; and the number of syllables is what decides the length of a name.
However, there are two other important notes to be made before concluding this article. First, it should be noted that new-generation Indian names are shorter than older names. Hence Westerners would not find many young Indians who have shorter names. Second, there are Westerners with longer names. For example Arnold Schwarzenegger!
So I believe it is not the length of the name that bothers the Westerners; instead, it is the structure of the Indian names that makes those hard for the Westerners to pronounce. In any case, what's in a name?
PS: This idea is only an opinion. Any reader who feels has different thoughts or who has suggestions, please feel free to comment. Thanks!   

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Presents of mind

Presence of mind is the fuel to a man's development. Sow this presence and reap the presents, soon or later. In some moments I find myself searching for this presence, and by the time it is found, the moment is no more. The moment is past.
However, in some moments, the very realization of the vibrant and joyful soul brings about a smile on my lips, a shine on my face. This is not lost in romance; this is a rendezvous between the soul and mind.
That tormenting bug causes these momentary absences of mind. The bug shows up less, especially after I became conscious. Nevertheless, the hunt is very much on, very much present!

Monday, September 21, 2015

Kill - the bug!

Alright. I am back after quite a long recluse. Thanks to a very happening part of my life, there has not been much time to write. Moreover, I had lost that spark which used to instigate the desire to pen down thoughts. My writing would have had a silent decline, one that I dreaded, if not for a recent thought that occurred to me - the thought that the sole purpose of my blog's existence is to have a collection of thoughts to retrospect - and that can happen only if translation of thoughts to e-ink continues. And hence here I am.
I am here to write about a bug. To write, and then to hunt the bug down. The bug is in my brain. A bug that lurks around most of the time, but comes out when it is the most unwelcome. It creeps out slowly into nascent thoughts, and then grows in proportion to thoughts, and sometimes, it diffuses thoughts, as easily as fumes from a candle vanish into thin air. The extent of alertness and calm when this bug is not around makes it hard to believe that such a bug could, ever, infest such a pristine brain.
This bug has to be rooted out. This bug has to be killed. Or thoughts would die young, and the brain would soon become a lump of tissues and some neurons to reminisce the memorable past.
I guess the bug is active again now. This thought too, might die here. 

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Migrant Labor and Self-Sufficiency in Kerala

Migrant laborers in a railway station in Kerala
Image courtesy:
The inundation of Kerala's labor market with "bengalis" (no offense intended to anybody - this has become a vernacular term in Kerala and probably south India for migrant laborers from the north-east) is reflected in every nook an corner of Kerala. So is in Padinjattummuri, a humble town in Malappuram district, north Kerala. By 6:30 or 7:00 A.M., the town is crowded with migrant laborers waiting to be picked up for that day's work by local contractors. Overall, this mass influx of laborers has increased the social status of an average Keralite - bengalis demand cheaper wages, and they are ready to do any work. Some important points to be noted here are:
  1. The migrant workers might be lifting the social status of an average Keralite, however, might not be so generous to the the economy of Kerala. The Department of Labor reveals in it's Domestic Migrant Labor (DML) Report (2013) that the remittance of these laborers to their home states amount to Rs. 17,500 crores. The report also suggests that the then welfare schemes for such laborers are not sufficient. Although it could be argued that welfare of immigrants should not be prioritized above the welfare of Keralites, welfare schemes for migrant laborers which ensure their investment and spending in Kerala, will boost Kerala's economy. Not to be neglected are the side-effects such as increased settling of immigrants in Kerala, which will bring in new issues such as population explosion, etc. 
  2. The situation that Kerala needs bengalis for every work underlines the need for increasing the self-sufficiency of households in Kerala. Self-sufficiency here means being able to fix minor electric and plumbing problems, being able to grow vegetables in gardens, etc. 
    • It may be that a good percentage of Keralite households is self-sufficient, if not in farming, but the tendency might be prevalent predominantly in lower class households, and diminishes up the economic status scale. The enrollment in engineering colleges in Kerala is about 28,000 a year in 2012, a majority of which are from the middle or the upper class. There would be numerous households familiar with the common complaint that the kid here is/ was an engineering student, and yet he/ she does not know how to change a bulb! This poses questions on the quality of technical education imparted to students, right from the school level. This state will continue if students are forced to learn only theorems and proofs, and not experiments and vocational aspects. It is a popular belief that CBSE and English-medium schools train students for only quizzes and olympiads and not innovative practical competitions. This, if true, only worsens the situation that these days, more and more parents want their children to study in these types of schools, and not in the Malayalam-medium schools. The governments and schools could come up with joint ventures with industrial institutions - ventures which inculcate and develop competitive and innovative industrial ideas in students.  
    • With respect to farming, self-sufficiency could be possible even in apartments, using rooftop farming as shown in the Malayalam movie How Old Are You. Although the Kerala State Horticulture Mission launched a rooftop farming drive in 2011, there are no reports of progress. As a relief come the news of individuals and groups who have resorted to household and small-scale farming, reaping success and becoming role-models for others. I personally know people who have been farming on rooftops and backyards for years, and reap excellent yield, enough to cover the vegetable requirements of theirs and their neighbors' families.
A rooftop garden in Kochi, 2011 photo.
During such a dynamic phase of social and economic development in Kerala, it is necessary that the governments take steps to stabilize the condition, doing what the current situation demands, without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs - in short, strive for sustainable development.

Friday, August 1, 2014

Some respect, some compassion, please!!!

Getting back to writing after a long break is tough. The thought of writing again is easy to come by - that happens every time I see a good article, a blog, a movie or a book that I think is good to write a review about. But the act of peacefully sitting at a comfortable study ambient to thoughts - is a difficult thing to do. More so is to continue writing, and to not get carried away by pastimes that I would right now underrate so as to prove that I am really hooked to writing - pastimes such as playing football (not the American one) or watching Futurama. After a long gap, I made it this time!
Cocoa worker [Image courtesy:]
I came across an article that was about the cocoa farmers in the Ivory Coast. They are the largest producers  of cocoa in the world, and yet chocolates are said to be very very expensive in the Ivory Coast, and hardly available. All of us would love to have a chocolate irrespective of the time of any day. We want the best chocolates, the most expensive food, the most luxurious car - in brief, a luxurious life, or prosperous, as we say when we wish each other. Well, we are not prospering, we are in a downfall. The world has lost its peace and is probably already at a point of no return, and Gaza could be a mirage where we see reflections of near future. The world is metamorphosing - to a hell. We have lost humanity - we care the least about resources - we don't turn off the lights when we don't need them, we litter in public, we destroy public property. We don't care about the people who restore order, and even if we knew, pretend that we don't, and we continue restoring disorder. And then we boast we are social animals - intelligent, politically sound, and future builders. How ironical! A small comfort zone and we are the biggest hedonists, spitting contempt on fellow people whom we call filthy. Man's quest for symbols of his heights and glory are in fact leading him to building his tomb stones. On the other side of every glorified symbol is a dark, sad story of mankind torturing mankind. This article about the preparations in Qatar for the FIFA Football World Cup 2022 is only an example.
My cries for demanding some respect for people who seek some order in life might be lost in the madness of the majority, but the solution is definitely not to stop crying. Neither is it to cry. Have a determination such as that of Howard Roark's, and be collectivistic - hard to get these two traits along, but that's what the day needs from each one of us. 
Whoa! From Ivorian cocoa to collectivism. That was a good connection, I feel accomplished!