Monday, December 15, 2014

Writing Prompt I

The last thing that I remembered was the searing pain in my abdomen and the hacking cough. The warm spit that landed on my cheek. A parting gift from the man who wrote my life’s final chapter.

“Sonso rashkin”, he breathed heavily.

Die, you bastard.

Surprisingly enough, the memories of my childhood didn’t flash before my eyes. I didn’t conjure up the picture of Adele and little Sofie in my mind’s eye; I didn’t think about the wasted years before I fought for my country—when I wanted to be a writer and change the world through my self-righteous ideas. The men I fought against could not be reasoned with and perhaps they thought the same about us. Democracy, diplomacy and hand-shakes go only so far; the human psyche ultimately reverts to its most basal instincts. Hundreds of thousands of years of evolution can only delay that inevitability. In the end, we live only to rip each other’s throats in a primordial fury. The sights, smells and the pain alone remained.

I awoke to complete darkness. All around me I could hear the sounds of people mumbling, some were screaming, some praying, others were pleading. I tried to see, but save for what I guessed were stars in the distance, there was no light to be seen. I tried to walk towards the sound, ignoring the panic in my chest. Was I still on the battlefield? Was I a prisoner of war at an internment camp with my eyes stabbed out?

“Where are we?” I said trying to hide my fear. I expected no answer.

“We are dead.”, came the heavily accented reply. “I was shot in the chest and I bled out. Our comrades are here and so are our enemies.”

I remained silent and waited for the laughter for what was obviously a sick joke.

“We are here. All of us. We wait, we pray for redemption and rescue, but the darkness- it is everywhere. The only light is that of the stars. I know it is strange, but I think our answers lie there. We have no other recourse.”

I hesitated.

“Give me your hand, comrade. We are all friends here.”

I took his warm hand in mine and as he led me through the darkness, towards the stars, his hacking cough drowned out the screams of the other lost souls.

 -- Inspired by this writing prompt

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Sunday, August 17, 2014

Chapter 5: Varun subs

Consider a bead of oil, whose size Millikan would approve, falling gracefully through one of those civilization altering furnaces. The surrounding air molecules possess a kinetic energy of such intensity that they violently pummel the inanimate drop's surface, bruising it with an unrelenting and absurd rage. In an inexplicable urgency to rush into the drop's core, the rabid air dislodges the drop's own molecules, surrounding, evangelizing and authorizing them with their newly bestowed absurd fury. The drop's unleashed rogue remnants join the absurd army of chaos by the quadrillions, breaching the shrinking drop which is, beyond certainty, doomed to a most horrifying annihilation. Many of these rogues purposelessly collide against the air molecules, some collisions merely reorienting the rogues and original assailants, but others, with  just the right amount of maddening bloodlust, enjoin in a fierce kiss. A kiss that lasts just long enough, that the mating molecules transfigure into harder, tougher, stabler species by discharging yet newer, evermore violent berserk rogues! An aging fraction of these rogues, as though overwhelmed by the exponentially increasing action, "relax". That strange principle of physics that says that there's no free lunch, that all phenomena are really transactions of some kind between an object and the rest of the universe, insists that this relaxing be necessarily accompanied by an emission of a prescribed number of photons, particles that put all others to shame when it comes to weight and speed. A speed so raw and large, they reach the Sun in a matter of minutes if nothing stops them! That the word "blitz" was reserved to describe fast - yet again absurd - war is by no means an accident. The absurdity deepens when one realizes that a portion of this light that happens to be obstructed by clueless gazing eyes appears blue to them only because the voids in said eyes that are quote blue-sized feel them! As a certainty buff in my undergrad days, that sentence - uttered by a Physics Professor with a similar aim as mine today - emblazoned in what has since then felt like a vacuous skull, the agonizing realization that not only is there no capital-T-truth but only capital-P-perception, but that all capital-P-perception is itself inherently capital-I-incomplete! If like me, you seek the comfort of a one-size-fits-all explanation, you may, like me, feel haunted while asleep and awake! Please pay attention to what you students have chosen to embrace! The matter in this course is incredibly amusing, but you may need to seriously revise your notion of what an explanation means. This narration which to some of you may sound grotesquely anthropocentric, is more elegantly slash coldly - depending on where you come from - presented by relationships between symbols in a language, don't forget designed by humans, called mathematics. Some of you may think that the truth is in the math, but I submit to you that you'll have better luck finding proofs in puddings! In this course you will find yourselves so frantically masturbating over these symbols, especially on the mornings of your midterms, that the so-called truth starts appearing weird in the way a word starts appearing weird when uttered over and over again. Truth. Truth. Truth. Truth. Truth. Truth. Pronouncing it differently doesn't make it any better. Taruth. Taaaaaruth. Truuuuuuuuth. Taaaaaaaaruuuuuuuuth. How bizarre! I'm told this is called semantic satiation. And I don't feel any wiser knowing that! Back to the realtime-non-relativistic-millisecond sized action movie whose denouement you may have pieced together, which is that the stormy volume of hot gas engulfing the now faint wisp of an oil drop has burst into a Dodger blue flame that will consume the central wisp before a final disappearing act that's a worthy metaphor for the neubulous bind between all life and death! And in a plot-for-a-sequel-that's-so-good-it-write's-itself, the rogue molecules who weren't recruited for the  quote full-burn begin to coalesce into giant factions of nasty black solid particles, who harbor a dissipating anger that radiates bright yellow! This is soot. It's carcinogenic and deadly to humans; the universe is indifferent to it. The next time you see a candle flame and feel a blessing of peaceful serenity gracing your optical apparati, I invite you to recall the spectacular chaos that is taking place underneath it all. I take it that you all received the memo saying that the principle requirement of this class was the staunch belief that however chaotic slash complicated phenomena might seem and however impossible it is obtaining a quote final solution, there exists a set of fundamental and immutable processes that when deftly superposed can sufficiently approximate the capital-T-truth. By sufficient, I mean that the set of phenomena a certain number of you will be toiling away in a basement lab trying to perfectly reproduce at any time of the day, another group of you must be able to develop an accompanying working model for; a model that we can use to make quote predictions. If that sounds like a Sissyphusian sort of deal, I promise you that I'll do my best to make the climbs and descents interesting. Speaking of interesting, let me begin today's class by introducing to you this beast of a brainiac called Ludwig Boltzmann...

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Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Chapter 4.8: Vladimir looks out the window

Sky hangs gray like dampened canvas.
Inner city scintillae appear smog-muffled.
The night, a starless cave.
A warm breeze perspires northern sweat.
Lucid dreaming prom queen kicks at her blanket.
Netflix blunted undergrad reaches for his phone.
Writer's blocked writer masturbates fiercely.
Nuclear scientist's wife curls up fetally in despair.
Thirsty homeless nobody clenches collar with remaining teeth.
Well fed cats cradled in wrinkled Paget's diseased arms.
Hypnotic dubstep reverberates underneath pavement.
Night-shift Nurse prays while cancer dances.
10 year old autistic experiences scalding injuries in nightmare.
Single mother of three destroys final traces of self esteem.
History majoring stripper services orally for a hundred more dollars.
Daytime TV sitcom actor downs tequila, convinced that life is a sick joke.
Off campus night guard stays awake via myoclonic shocks.
He is also getting brutally cheated on.
Lawyer he could never afford hugs a tear drenched pillow.
"Stalwart" marketing exec actually gets sleep at night.
Overly anxious insurance company applicant possibly ODs on sleeping pills.
Rabbi knocks over his bedside Talmud upon an involuntary bowel discharge.
Member of the ghetto scores an unbelievable amount of dope.
That it was counterfeit he will realize before dawn. Painfully. Very painfully.
The Los Angeles night sky is an inaudible slumber.
Her homes wrecked by overpowering insomnia.
A self damaging streak runs across her brow.
A people disfigured.
By loneliness.
By themselves.

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Always an advantage to serve.
Its a fault to overstep.
Just get the other to miss you.
Try not to throw a racquet.
Don't be in love for too long.

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Saturday, April 19, 2014

Chapter 4.7: Still trying

And in my den of delirium, my hamlet of hallucination,
A maddening proof of apoplexy pours into the chalice of my shitty existence,
Spilling right through the clouds that only now realize they're not solid.
The fucking procrustean nature of physical law makes all being look futile.
This futility being the bastard product of Purpose!
Ah, but what of Purpose? Does not the symphony he orchestrates bore him?
What are HIS dreams? HIS Purpose? We're being led by a sophist.
Who gives meaning while defying definition!
Leave me alone, while I replace all my windows with mirrors!

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Thursday, April 17, 2014

Chapter 4.6: Vladimir tries

Here, in the Metastable province of uncertainty,
I choicelessly squat Metabolizing a reality,
A suffering that Metaphysics has cursed upon me,
A paralysis Metastasizing with the pulse of quartz.
Tick. Tick. Tick. This Metadrama has seized all ceasing.
No Metamorphosis of ideas slash bodies will wind this clock back.
Alone in the horizonless shadow of Metaphor, I hear my skull crack.

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Saturday, April 5, 2014

Chapter 4.3: Varun's X

When X speaks, X is thoughtless.
And when X is impassioned, X is insensitive.
And when X is engaged, X is also preoccupied.
I feel lonelier when I'm with X than without:
subject to X's mental projects,
cornered by X's mental projections,
bludgeoned by X's mental projectiles.
X makes love masochism.
X spoon-feeds me hope.
Ctrl+X = 2X.
X lures me to the depths of X.
X traps me in the fluorescent lit parts of my mind.
Where the asylum swallows sanity to make room for X.
X cares not for my inner Y.
X lulls me to Z.
All X knows is 'I,I,I'.
X isn't variable.

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Monday, March 24, 2014

Chapter 4: Ellendale

"Varun. Metaphors. Beautiful things aren't they?"
"The poets are our optometrists."
"Will you please grant me membership to the library of your thoughts? Oh what unread philosophical conquests await the avid student in those unforgivingly thick volumes? What melancholic poetry sits gathering dust in those bending shelves? What terrible realities lay veiled in the guise of fiction? What divine Mathematics hides in those cavernous depths where men before me were loathe to tread? What Theology sits reserved exclusively for the cathedral of your soul?"
"If poets are our optometrists, you are my cataract Vladimir."
"Be cruel all you want. But I am in love Varun! In thick, viscous, adhesive love!"
"I hope for your sake and to a greater extent mine that this doesn't go unrequited."
"Varun, you should behold this angel's touch on numbers. I feel like a virgin around her when she derives. She calculates frugally, simplifies daringly and abstracts mercilessly. What may seem like the empty imitations of some creepy Dirac-Fan-Club president, to judgmental fools, when she invents symbols to encapsulate her various thoughts, but to the trained and patient eye, what awaits is a colossal statue whose everything upward of the waist remains in the clouds; Berniniesque balls hanging and all. Certainly her ability with symbol manipulation must mean she has an eye for symbolism in literature! And you know perhaps better than I do, that such a mind is incapable of boredom. Theoretically. Her mind must be a whirlwind of the most sublime, the most enraptured thoughts Varun. I can feel it! I can hear the harp in her head! She is the unity slash singularity slash proverbial one!"
"Holy Jovian Vortices Vladimir! Have you told her this? Minus the Bernini balls part?"
"No. I will disclose all this in an appropriate sonnet."
"Sonnet. You make me wonder sometimes if you're hopeful or dopeful."
"Light me another Varun. I want to share something with you."
"Anything as long as you spare me the eye surgery."
"I said something to a student today and he responded by helping himself to a generous portion of umbrage."
"What did you say?"
"I asked him to work hard."
"He broke into song about how life had dealt him a tough set of cards and how his self-made republican father had always demanded the unadultrated best and how being an undergraduate here is really hard with all the unfairly analytical subjects that expose all kinds of voids in an undergrad - intellectual and, perhaps ergo, emotional - which they aren't really equipped to handle given a preponderance of lousy teachers in high school and a current roster of apathetic slash zombified professors accompanied by subpar yet headstrong sidekick TAs and so on and so on."
"And you responded to all this with some "work hard" aphorism which is always prone to be perceived, here in the United States of Never Wrong and Exceptional  Tweens as insensitive, snobbish and coming from you, Soviet?"
"I call such events sub-zero slip-ups."
"You make me feel like that girl from Inception whose only purpose in the movie was to keep the audience in the loop by asking the most obvious questions."
"The fuck is a sub-zero slip-up?"
"Remember the first Mortal Combat movie? Combat with a K?"
"There is a memorable fight scene. Liu Kang Vs Sub-Zero. Liu Kang is this Chinese Kung-fu fighter defending the realm of Earth while Sub-Zero is one of the mercenaries of Shao Khan, this insanely strong inter-cosmic tyrant who likes fighting all the time; never dies but simply exiles himself upon defeat."
"I know Vladimir. I spent retarded amounts of time and dollars on plastic gamepads and pixelated blood."
"So in this scene, Liu Kang tries delivering some Shaolin love where the moon don't shine but Sub-Zero is light-footed like a ballerina and evades all the incoming blows. Remember also that Sub-Zero can turn things into ice by simply touching them while Liu Kang needs to be sufficiently enraged to shoot a modest albeit difficult to reckon with ball of fire."
"Seriously Vlad. Puberty through college, I was unhealthily infatuated with female video game characters, making me want to beat them up with every male soldier, cyborg, samurai, sorcerer, psycopath, sadist and savant. I couldn't process real life the way a normal teen would. I know all of Mortal Combat. Combat with a K."
"That means you will certainly recall that after a couple minutes of cries, grunts and evasions, Sub-Zero distances himself from our befuddled Buddhist and gets into a kind of squat, commencing to channel the forces of comic book nature in an effort to create a hemispherically expanding field of ultra low Temperature, threatening to turn our oriental hero into a polar zero. Kitana who Liu Kang has some PG rated hots for, walks in at this point and cryptically instructs him to "use the element that brings life", reducing the fight to a second grader's riddle."
"I remember all this with scarily vivid clarity. Isn't there a conveniently placed bucket of water some place?"
"Yes! Which Mr. Chow-Mein grabs and starts rotating about an axis perpendicular to his side profile, with a centrifugal force that keeps the water from spilling out. And while Sub-Zero is still summoning, rather greedily, more and more energy to create a large hemisphere of some fiercely low entropy around him, Liu hurls the bucket at him, which the water leaves and enters the aforementioned hemispherical field turning into a spear. The spear accelerates towards the hemisphere's center, where Sub-Zero spends his last few microseconds stupidly gaping at the inevitable. The Beast from the East emerges victorious, the scene giving the viewer some sort of Buddhist-wisdom-trumps-typical-American-bigger-is-better-stupidity vibe. "
"What is the relevance Vladimir! What is the metaphor?!"
"The metaphor reveals itself when you pay attention to the way we human beings converse: We are constantly creating such force fields around ourselves in some desperate attempt to fortify against the unknown. Force-fields that change sometimes the very structure of incoming matter to reassure us of our positions and to obliterate or at best, dilute the words of our interlocutors."
"When I say something with the most Gandhian intent, it could be perceived as violent by those of us with very sensitive force-fields. Conversely, when I utter the kind of bigotry you'd expect from a red-neck, it could be perceived as a joyful expression of camaraderie! It is a different matter to peel apart the origins of our force-fields. They may come from surrounding culture slash educational traditions slash instinctive prejudices. But the point is that we must disarm ourselves from time to time so we can appraise something for what it is and not what it ought to seem like for if not, like Sub-zero, it will prove to be our undoing. The world maybe so badly misunderstood thanks to our automatic personal force-fields, that we can never get to the bottom of anything. The Truth will simply laugh at us, her mirth sounding so faint and distant, it becomes indistinguishable from noise."
"Are you saying that you should have been more sensitive to your student's position while at the same time he should have been more sensitive to yours? Did both of you Sub-Zero slip?"
"Precisely Varun! We must try and meet half-way and arrive at the truth together."
"You are full of fantasy today."
"Am I?"
"Yes you are. You are in thick, viscous, adhesive, eewy, guey love. For it is only when one is in love that he slash she must necessarily surrender his slash her singular view of the world and instead adopt the point of view of two."
"You melt me Varun."
"Eew. Pull yourself together man."
"I can't. I'm Melting..."

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Friday, March 21, 2014

Sinking into nostalgia

I'd often ask myself why we sense such discomfort in the vagaries of life. Certainly, a departure from the way we usually do things should be rewarding, as opposed to being a slave to routine and schedule. Why is it that we fear change and seek comfort in the status quo? Not to paint everybody with the same brush, but I am inclined to believe that there is a kernel of safety and assurance hidden away in those memories. Nostalgia is that indescribable feeling of living out one's past memories; the way we close our eyes and concentrate on the sights, sounds and smells of experiences past: the lights of the distant city reflected upon the shimmering waters of the creek; the sublime beauty and orgasmic pleasure that one gains from experiencing an artist (and not merely by the physical action of listening); the half-forgotten conversations at the dinner table; the sights of snow-capped mountains and the smell of the countryside; the tizzying aftermath of a fine scotch; the smiles of demure, beautiful women; the kind words of good friends.

As things change around us, we seek out something that remains a constant; something that has been experienced and that can remind us of times that deem are more pleasant. Friends meet up after years of separation to talk about the school that built them; to talk about the girl they were infatuated with; to walk the hallowed halls and stand at the empty parking lot where a majestic evergreen tree once stood. They visit the old haunts only to find that they longer exist. The past is dead and gone, but it lives on inside these friends. In fact, all their memories of school, college, society, art, books and music are stored away to be tapped into at some point--before that too is eroded by Time.

Change frightens me sometimes: the established norm and routine are comforting and gives me a sense of control over what I experience. And I find that when I am overwhelmed by change, I dig into past experiences and redo things that offered me solace: I listen to Laura Marling and BBC Radio; I look through old photos and try to recollect the bus route to University; the names of streets and pubs on the main roads.

Ideally what I have to come to understand is that tapping into the past to seek familiarity and comfort through nostalgia is fine, but we must be careful not to sink into it-- to fall prey to our past, forget the present and waste away the future.

(I'm writing after a few months, so forgive me if this piece is a little rough around the edges)

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Sunday, February 23, 2014


I was doing alright with Ubuntu 12.04 but I had to install those darn AMD Catalyst drivers to bring the GPU temp down to mid 50's. Then Canonical decided to upgrade their Xorg and kernel versions and that broke my install. At a risk, I downgraded the Xorg version using a PPA, but that wasn't the way to go. Finally, August 2013, the Radeon Dpm changes are introduced in Linux 3.11 kernel and once I install that, my laptop finally stopped threatening to give my thighs a melanoma. However, Unity was starting to tire me and the lack of customization options was definitely rubbing me the wrong way. I looked to the K Desktop Environment (KDE).

OpenSUSE was the way I went because they have one of the most polished KDE implementations out there (Chakra, in my mind, is a close second). But much to my dismay, OpenSUSE did not have a lot of software choices and most of them involved installing unstable packages. Although it was a long term support 'Evergreen' version, I decided to shift to another KDE based distro.

At this point I decided on SolydK because it was based on Debian Testing and the staff test quarterly on frozen software for bugs, giving the newbie like myself a little more immunity from trying out vanilla Debian Testing (which is somewhat stable but tends to break). The install ensured that I had full access to the Debian software packages and also included non-free and contrib repos enabled by default. That way I'm spared of editing my Sources file and also to include backports. The Solydk install crashed halfway because my laptop overheated! After placing the laptop next to an airconditioner, I completed the install and promptly included the power management settings! Then I sat down and installed (grudgingly) Skype.. since no one wants to pursue Skype alternatives. Then I hunted down the proprietary software that I didn't want to use and uninstalled them, Flash included. SMPlayer has a Youtube player that takes care of that and the browser has a HTML5 alternative. Besides that I found a way to make VLC stream sites, so that's another issue sorted.

Finally came the issue of citation and bibliography management software, I had used the Endnote program at our library computers and I had luckily exported the library as an XML file. I installed BibTeX and JabRef and imported the XML into a fresh database. I looked up a free Wikibook on LaTeX and I'm off to learning the non-WYSIWYG options to article and dissertation authoring. It's a steep slope to conquer, but I guess learning one's way around a free OS like Linux with the options it gives is always more power to you and comes in handy when you need to get work done and going back to Windows is the last option.

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Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Infrequently Asked Questions, an Introduction to the Untitled Enlightenment Project

Augie March, the chief protagonist in Saul Bellow's memorable bildungsroman, narrates the following gut-puncher of a scene:

I remember I was in a fishmarket square in Naples (and the Neapolitans are people who don't give up easily on consanguinity)--this fishmarket where the mussels were done up in bouquets with colored string and slices of lemon, squids rotting out their sunk speckles from their flabbiness, steely fish bleeding and others with peculiar coins of scales --and I saw an old beggar with his eyes closed sitting in the shells who had had written on his chest in mercurochrome: "Profit by my imminent death to send a greeting to your loved ones in Purgatory: 50 lire."

The beggar's surprising calibre of wit, should be relatively less challenging to  the imagination of my fellow Indian city dwellers, than our friends in the first world, given our distinctly high frequency of encounter with them (beggars). The beggar's appraisal of the upper class sentiments, his simplistic but quite accurate perception of the role of money in a society stratified by income, his method of channeling the power of cruel irony to strike his audience with a profound level of awareness for only the briefest moments of self-doubt/loathing. These conceptions of the witty beggar, however excruciating to our feeling of "Life is good", comes easily to the "urbanized" Indian citizen, who perhaps even imbibing this newly acquired wisdom, pays heed to it via the simplest of gestures.

Or so I could fool myself into believing.

In my view, a debilitating wave of cynicism and apathy has swept our nation (yes, the very same as Cardinal Goswami's). What has become far easier to imagine is the emergent narrative, that is virtualizing reality with an emphasis on self-gratification:
1) The beggar's predicament is the result of his karma.
2) Also, the collection of crooks, hoodlums and hooligans we call the Government.
3) Also, maybe the beggar can get a job and earn a living like the rest of us hard-working people.
4) The caste system is unfair you say? Have you not heard of quotas or what?
5) Yes, the quotas don't work, but see (2).
6) I'm just an honest labourer-by-day-family-man-by-night. I vote and pay my taxes. What else do you want me to do? "Think our country" out of disaster?

That is simply a sample of the kind of self-congratulatory yet nihilistic dialectic that Amartya Sen was emphatically NOT referring to when romanticizing the Indian instinct to argue1 . Because at the heart of any serious argument, lies reason. Reason. Yes, it is worth mentioning one more time: Reason. We are becoming a dangerously unreasonable race of peoples. And the tragedy is that it isn't entirely our fault. For what sense is the growing youth supposed to make of a world that apparently values entertainment over ideals (If you find *serious news item with far reaching repercussions* depressingly difficult to follow, why not browse our collection of celebrity gossip that appeals to your apetite for the embarrassing and the inspirational)? What sense is he/she to make of journalists dangling politicians like live bait above a democratically charged mob to invisible avail? What sympathy can be spared for the poor farmer whose circumstances have been relegated to fillers between advertisements for business schools, fast cars and skin care products? How much of his/her conserved time is to be devoted to the affairs outside the solipsistic sanctuaries of social media? The situation is worse than a temporary bout of cultural diarrhea; it throbs with the threat of a metastasizing cancer. Perhaps the allegation of sounding alarmist can be softened if not voided by a personal anecdote.

As an undergraduate in Mechanical Engineering in my senior year, I had realized my over-nursed dream of building and explaining the working of a bicycle gyroscope to students from other departments during the annual ME symposium. For those of you unfamiliar with this remarkable contraption2, the bicycle gyroscope is a standard apparatus used to highlight a very non-intuitive aspect of angular momentum, whose centrality to modern physics can never be understated. Understanding it is a necessary rite of passage for anybody who wishes to grapple with both classical and quantum theory. It is like DNA to a Biologist, rational choice theory to an Economist, the Rosetta Stone to a Historian. The gyroscope is also of immense import to the mechanical engineers who concern themselves with the stability of trajectories. Needless to say, a PhD in physics who teaches the subject for a living, however entranced he/she is by the bizarreness of the Conservation-of-Angular-Momentum's universal validity, surely can be expected to be that soul in the crowd for whom this demonstration is hardly surprising. So it was to my surprise, when my very own PHYSICS PROFESSOR congratulated me not for my expository account of this phenomenon, but rather sarcastically for my legerdemain. At first, I thought he was inviting a dialogue on "True" understanding and that this was his method to inspire me to become a better teacher. But I quickly realized, judging from his shockingly retarded grasp of the subject and its jargon ("things don't simply stand erect and go round and round"), that he hadn't the remotest inkling on what he was talking about! The look of puzzlement on anybody's face when their intuition is challenged is a secret craving of mine, but there was nothing appetizing about this man's doubts, or rather, his certainty. It was in this moment forever crystallized in my memory, that my inner scaffoldings came crashing down: How did this person acquire his degree? What sort of textbooks did he read to avoid confronting this subject through the 5+ years of his college education? What sort of peer group doesn't challenge such deficiencies even for fun? What sort of entrance exams fail to catch such severities and how poorly trained are his employers who make decisions regarding his raise? Which accreditation board was to be held accountable? Who were his teachers and what abject nonsense had they inherited? During which generational shift exactly had it evacuated the minds of those in charge that Science was a proven and rigorous method of enquiry that had encircled Nature as its item of utmost import and for the sake of civilization could not be surrendered to such causality? And what of this man's conscience; the gaping hole in his knowledge didn't stop him from questioning his student's credentials. Was he even aware that such a hole stood agape? After all, one can easily recall instances when one's simplest revelations came after a gentle nudge. To have gone through life without these effective prods would require an incomprehensible grade of immunity to criticism, or worse, a complete eradication of it! At the time it looked like an isolated instance of the kind of lack of awareness you'd expect from the reekingly rich, but society's true colors were beginning to emerge and my resulting extrapolation turns out to be hardly inaccurate. Politicians who don't understand the constitution are commonplace. So too are stenographers who posture as journalists, businessmen who are selectively blind to how their fortunes are intricately linked to the misery of millions, lawyers who'll stop at nothing to win an argument, corporate capitalists' respiratory relationship to IP, cricketers who seem oblivious to the havok money has wreaked in their sport, film producers content with their usual recipe of endocrinologically oriented high grossing scripts, revisionist historians leading cacophonous bandwagon's of propaganda, economists blind to unintended consequences, etc. And here's the gut punch with the same implicit content as Bellow's: the people around us are the ones who comprise this society, this reality. You and me, by this analysis, regardless of whether we like it or not, are complicit in these decays. My Physics Professor - writing this sentence was not easy - was a harsh representation of everything that was wrong with the World, with India and with me.

It is here that I wish to reintroduce our reluctant average Selvan who might have unwittingly suggested the key to a better future, perhaps hopeful that his interlocutors would take his meaning literally and shut up once and for all. Can we in fact "think" our country out of disaster? I hope to attach meaning to this phrase in the remainder of this pamphlet.

A good place to start would be to adopt the language of logic. Consider two propositions A and B. Also consider the simple third proposition, that the truth of A implies the truth of B i.e. if B is true, A must be true. A particular sort of A is that which is rendered meaningless when left all to itself. For instance, let A be the loaded statement "India is a secular country." Let B be "One is free to follow any religion in India without persecution." Now, if B is true, A is true by definition. But if B is false, is A still true? Answering this question requires knowing what it means to be persecuted. Given the broad spectrum of lifestyles in any subcontinental society, it is safe to assume that getting a majority to agree on what persecution exactly entails is very difficult. So let us strengthen the idea of Indian secularism with another proposition C: "Candidates contesting for office don't exploit people's religious affiliations for votes." C now gives A a discernable shape and allows us to discuss secularism in terms of political motivations3. So if C is true, B is true and A is resoundingly true. But if C is false, B is less plausible and A is even less plausible. Let us stick in a couple more to include considerations regarding indoctrination and law: D "Public institutions like schools and colleges do not have religious affiliations" and E "All religions are equal before the eyes of the law". For a very strong A, we could even throw in a forceful statute F "Any Member of Parliament if found encouraging religiously polarized communities to commit atrocities like, I don't know, demolishing mosques, burning houses and killing people should be tried as purposeful instigators and stripped of their political standing with breakneck immediacy." Now, if one were bold enough to utter A, one would face the uphill task of backing it up with B,C,D,E and F. If even one of these is false, A's truth can be rightfully called into question (even if F's language isn't optimally disinterested). If all of these propositions are found to be false, A is not only false, but downright laughable. In fact, insisting on a poorly verified A's circulation can cause some serious destabilization in the meaning of words like secularism and democracy.

This kind of reasoning is powerful. For one, it is academic and not colored with prejudice; it is simply an exercise in seeing what Indian secularism should entail if it is true. Both the atheist and the believer can agree on the logical relationships between the various propositions and their observable truth values, however distinct their moral judgements on those truths are. The logical route avoids the tediously useless complaints that we've grown tired of hearing, for example, how Hindus were original settlers or how Muslims raped our women. Do those facts have any bearing on our modern conception of secularism? If they do, this discussion was over before it even started. We shouldn't be discussing secularism but how best to allot rights based on genetic heritage!

Another advantage in using the language of logic to arrive at truth values is allowing for a separation of the ideal from the real. No country has completely achieved B,C,D,E and F because reality is extremely complicated. What we're interested in is the degree of difference between the real and the ideal because operating on the platform that connects the two is our only hope for progress. Too long in the logical board room can result in plain impracticable propositions like "ban all religion". Besides being hopelessly unpragmatic and dangerously inconsistent with other core ideals like freedom and liberty, it heralds a tone that is insensitive, brutish and above all certain. Shouldn't all exercises that seek the truth begin with the humble realization that nothing is certain?

Indeed, religion plays a huge role in people's lives and to have it questioned, controlled, altered and mocked can cause many people to visibly sweat. The various interpretations of religion being a way of life or a set of self-contained moral codes or a source of transcendental experiences are all too bulky for the metaphorical carpet to hide. Surely even the atheist can imagine the plummeting of hope being a good enough reason for many to transfer faith to some greater entity. These personal entanglements don't even begin to describe the political nightmare of a fact that all religions are not actually equal, that some are more extreme than others: Jainism compared to Islam for example. And in the midst of this asymmetry, promoting tolerance as a slogan introduces immense inconsistencies in fostering brotherhood and fellowship4. These realities defy rational deconstructions but cannot by virtue of that fact become the very reasons for upending our logical explorations. We have no choice but to use A through F as a basis set to tackle these more difficult questions. The infrequently asked ones. For if we shed A through F, we'd be trapped in an infinitely anarchical game of goal-post moving. Questions like "what is secularism after all?" and "didn't democracy mean anything goes?" are smoke alarms signalling the pyromaniacal lust that burns reason black. If we are sincere in our admission of these problems, then we're obliged to do our best to fix them, and to fix them is to question the validity of not just the answers, but of the questions themselves. Seriously. As in seriously.

"But what is secularism after all?" queries the confused heart. Did proposition A pop out of thin air? Is A even a valid axiom? What with the majority belonging to one religion and all, is A an example of some edgy committee writing? Some perfunctory attempt at emulating the West? Some pipe dream inspired by Marxist opiates?

Everything you experience in life is equal to everything that impinges on your sensory system. You are the absolute center of your universe and your attachment to yourself is the singularity that makes your living even possible. Your reasoning is reflective of the world you exclusively perceive. Which is why it is easy to get carried away. Everything that doesn't belong in your interior design can become superfluous and extraneous. Why should Indian secularism's flimsiness bother you when your everyday experiences have no perceivable relationship to it? Why ruminate on impending ecological disasters when guaranteed a lifetime supply of air-conditioning? Why lose sleep over some border conflict taking place at exotic altitudes? Soon, the triumphant cliche "Out of sight, out of mind" exits, and like a responsible bellhop, hooks to the doorknob of your mind that familiar beige colored tag that reads "Do Not Disturb" prefixed with an italicized "Please" for good measure.

Prop A is readily reduced to a silly non sequitur, too often as a result of the above solipsism. Mounting a defense for A does not require the mental gymnastics of math proofs. It doesn't require research labs or a thousand page treatise. Its proof languishes in the depths of our experience as self-aware Human Beings5. Your ability to socialize without steering the conversation back into your problems every five minutes, your capacity to imagine that you could very well be the problem in the first place, your sense of judgement to convict yourself for being majorly wrong. Dishonest even. If you aren't immediately being persecuted, you would be if you were exchanged atom for atom with someone who was. That thought experiment is more than legitimate because it is the only means to open your mind to the truth that you are not in complete control of your fate, that you are not at the center of the Universe. That is the capitalized, block-lettered and seriffed TRUTH. And this non-empty, in fact very substantive empathy that emerges from your awareness of what it means to be persecuted is key to getting prop A. Simply being aware, being conscious of your environ and your place in it can inspire the necessary and sufficient set of inarticulable propositions that convinces none other than YOU.

Think about this formula of awareness and reason. Take the rape epidemic that has besmirched our Country. If you are aware that as a citizen, you haven't magically severed your umbilical connection to our country's patriarchal roots, then chances are that you can recollect some of the instances when you indulged in some minor patriarchy yourself. Be it in the perception of the role of the Indian Woman: objectifying her as a piece of meat, stereotyping her as a housewife/cook, emphasizing the imperative that is her good looks, patronizing her implicitly/explicitly when she outdid herself or remain passively background when someone else treated her in such ways. Why, even the language you use could have been the friendly fire you once relegated as benign6. With this deep awareness of the underpinnings of chauvinism, having renounced your claim to eternal correctness, how could you muster the gall to jump onto the streets and parade the castration of a rapist, when that is clearly the most obscene of tangents that impersonates the solution? Fight molestation with molestation? Surely it strikes you that as a middle class well educated student of Life, you have benefitted from a set of experiences that has taught you better than to go about brutalizing the opposite sex. But you can also ask yourself about those who were brought up in the most miserable backdrops of our country, where the toxic combination of poverty, piety, peerhood and patriarchy, can drive someone into making dangerous life choices. Atom for atom, it could be you. Now, observe our proximity to the root of the problem. Intimidating. But close. Well poised to tackle the real bull by its horns. Our debates, press releases and legislation can address a richer, more effective solution procedure starting from here. For we have thought and reasoned that the problem has less to do with how we protect our women, and more with how we treat them. Grotesque doctrines in religious texts will be criticized, because your umbrage comes nowhere close to hers. Female roles in mainstream Indian cinema might undergo an overhaul and you might have to answer the unsettling question of why your first response was "I'll adjust." Only awareness can reveal the truth. Only reason can set it free7.

Apparently, our cynical times call for empathy's defense. "You dare empathize with the scumbag, pervert, barbaric rapist? Has your sense of true north escaped you? What evil ganja have you been smoking?"

I wish to introduce a coinage, The Disease of the Synecdoche8, a.k.a. DOS.
The frequent DOS attack here is that a part of my opposition to the rape isn't so much about the rapist as it is about society's instincts, hence the whole of my opposition is voided due to the elbow room I've gifted him. By empathizing with him, I have become his lawyer, his publicist, his loyal fan. By some accounts, I promote his merchandise and also secretly god-father his children. The reason this line of reasoning is automatic, is the same reason the aforementioned solipsism is also automatic. It is intracranio-numbingly easy to take such cross-Atlantic leaps of logic when you've renounced all your stakes. There are other extremely relatable examples:
"Modi is guilty? So you're from the left? One more of Sonia Ji's stooges? Naxal?"
"Gays are humans? Next you'll say cows are humans. Then pigs." 
"Farmers are committing suicide? So should I stop buying groceries so we can join them?"
Don't pretend you haven't heard at least variants of such right-wing poetry. And don't be surprised when you come across similar speech impediments from the left:
"Sonia Ji is guilty? So you're from the right? One more of Advani's acolytes?    RSS?" 
"The Iraq war is freeing people? Why don't we bomb everyone and free them all?" 
"Farmers are committing suicide? So should I stop buying groceries so we can join them?"
What we have here is a set of growingly innovative automatic DOS defences, a socio-immunological proven method of evasion. Conflate, accuse and repeat. At the speed of sound. It becomes impossible to be critical without being violently polarized. Arundhati Roy is a naxalite. Palagummi Sainath is an alarmist. Vandana Shiva is a hippy. This Standard Operating Procedure indicates a bad conscience. Ask yourself: Was there a condoning of the rape? Was there the slightest insinuation that the victim was asking for it? But in swoop the pundits, the television anchors, the spokespersons, the geriatrics and the juveniles, stroboscopically finger-wagging to the tune of conformity. Our media has set the agenda and its survival as an industry depends on us participating in its narrative. And its narrative has a complicated dependence on revenue. Advertising and television ratings have sealed themselves as indispensable fittings to today's information manifold. Expect a media with a predator's instincts for the quick buck. That's why our TVs have gotten louder and varicolored; because the quickest buck comes from exploiting that intracranio-numbing ease with which we surrender to self gratification. Shouting matches, celebrity gossip, doomsday soundtracks, vivid imagery, inflated rhetoric, controversy curdling are all turning out to be SOP in the media because it appeals to our automatic disposition to be minimally engaged so as to not take anything outside our immediate lives seriously. Consider just a few recent articles of news that have been squeezed dry of their shock value and thrown aside like spoilt cheese:
1) The Indian Jawan who was returned mutilated by the Pakistan army, was an opportunity to conduct a nuanced discussion on the sanguinary confusion regarding Kashmir's allegiance and the tinderbox description threatening Pakistan's sovereignty (cf. MJ Akbar's "Tinderbox - The Past and Future of Pakistan"). Instead, Goswami, India's self-appointed Premiership, used this opportunity to extend his Pan-Indianism to call for War against Pakistan by inviting Pakistani scholars and ex-generals to his primetime show and silencing them every time they offered evidence of peaceful piecing together of the problem. The exchanges closely resembled the sweaty testosterone infused clinch fighting seen in WWE matches, minus the spandex9.
2) The maoist attack at Chattisgarh that killed 28 Congress workers was as good a platform as any to deconstruct the politically charged race for resources, the plundering of adivasi land, the historical and sociological circumstances permitting a dominant presence of terrorists in the state. Once again, Goswami's sympathies for those suggesting carpet bombing the affected areas seemed strongly parallel to the predictable climaxes of action movies.
3) The IPL "rotten apples" disgraced for match-fixing could have been just the episodic segway required to step back and inspect the beast that Indian Cricket has become. It is a billion dollar industry mixed with the drama and trauma of Bollywood, which bandies about players like pieces on a life-size game of Monopoly played by businessmen whose abodes are in clouds. There is also a compelling similarity between America's war on drugs and India's war on match-fixers. Institutionalizing and hence legalizing betting could subtract significantly from the work of policemen, who lets not forget are at the service of the Indian public first before investigating the semaphores of entitled cricketing tweens. And the currency siphon stemming from the corporate-government nexus can be seen in the Indian budget's tax write-offs (cf. Sainath's "Many Insecurities") for the entertainment industry, which the IPL is neatly bracketed into. Money that rightfully belongs to the uplifting of our poor Indian laborers. You can imagine the ready reluctance to engage in these harsh realities. It would depress people. Make them feel guilty in pleasuring themselves like hormone besotted boys who just discovered the internet. It might even stir them into action and possibly ruin the business model. A business model so plastic and surreal, it can be thought of in the same sense as a lingerie model.

Look how cripplingly inadequate our information sources are. The nutrition value of our news channels, if you can pardon the gruesome analogy, would have us suffering from goitre, scurvy, rickets, parasthesia and night blindness all at the same time! The paralysis is not meant to be an exaggeration. If you are attentive of the paid-news pandemic, from local language news papers to the English Behemoths, you'd immediately see how this single phenomenon can be the undoing of our sovereign republic. To compare this to McCarthyism like propaganda is like not getting a good joke. The bureaucratically mottled universe of Kafka and the tyrannical hell of Orwell, as overused as yardsticks for doom as they are, enunciate the reality well, because cliche alone explains cliche. And as Sainath coldly exacts his judgement on Indian mainstream news, "Forget Professor Chomsky's Manufacturing Consent10. We've begun to Manufacture Content!"

So when we can't trust our mainstream media, how are we to witness reality? How does one separate it from the fictions that are understandably linked to an impregnable business model? How does one begin to think and calculate when force fed the deceptions and delusions of our media?

The questions are surprisingly old and are even canonical starting points in studies in philosophy, namely epistemology. One metaphor that isn't repeated enough is that of Socrates' Allegory of the Cave, found in Plato's Republic, Mankind's first attempt at assimilating a coherent theory of Justice. Socrates encourages his disciples Glaucon and Adeimantus to conduct the following thought experiment:

Imagine a cave in which prisoners are tied by their arms, necks and legs, constricting their view to only one direction, specifically towards a large wall facing them. Behind them is a fire that lights the cave and in front of it, yet still behind the prisoners, are figures casting shadows on the large wall, like some sort of bizarre cinematic puppet show. All the prisoners can see and interpret is limited to their sensations of these shadows. With no way of realizing that a world exists outside this claustrophobic nightmare they've come to call home, they get supremely confident that what they are experiencing is in fact reality. Then one day, one of the prisoners is released and dragged out of the cave into the world outside, where after his eyes adjust to the Sun, slowly starts to put two and two together, that life all this while had been a fantastic delusion. This education, the real meat of his enlightenment, was something inexplicably worth sharing. So he comes back to the cave to inform the prisoners that the lives they are living is imperially fake, that the gap between their belief in the constitution of reality and their knowledge of the constitution of reality is unimaginably large. But the prisoners are so hardwired to their beliefs, that this "freed" prisoner starts to sound like a trickster anarchist. The allegory is supposed to be a reference to the real life of Socrates, who was eventually fed hemlock and put to death for precisely this sort of annoyance.

The Greeks were definitely onto something when they were discussing education as a liberation of the mind. All this stuff about awareness, reason and truth converge beautifully at the focal points of our education. An education that is less about examinations, job interviews or status symbols and more about refusing to serve another term in the comfortable prisons we've erected for ourselves. And it turns out, this most electrifying liberation is exactly what the most downtrodden, exploited and poorest people in our country can benefit from the most. You are the class of people that become lawyers, businessmen, politicians, journalists, doctors, writers and Physics Professors. You are the beholders, transmitters and guardians of our culture and economy. Your imprisonment, is thus our culture's imprisonment, and the ones who suffer the most are the economically and socially backward classes of your society, for you are their employers, their representatives. And when you screw up, you are unwittingly boring away at the lives of an entire class of people, which our media's business model doesn't permit us to think about.

Please don't fall for the tempting although pathetic Synecdoche that understanding DNA, rational choice theory, the Rosetta Stone and gyroscopes frees the oppressed classes. The kind of thinking required in the serious study of these subjects is the same kind of thinking that fosters the liberation of the mind. It isn't the actual content of these subjects, but the self-contained dialectic in them that offers the chisels and forks to break out of our Shawshanks. Put another way, it doesn't matter what you think but how you think. Anybody can have thoughts, but the distinction lies in the machinery that produces them11. The difference between inspecting prop A through the lens of empathy is different from accepting it as an immovable standard. Both views may reach a moral equivalence on paper, but only one of them offers the opportunity to extend the perimeter of understanding. Learning the structure and functions of DNA, besides leaving one absolutely slack-jawed at Nature's infinite complexity, dislodges you from the center of things, and reminds you that to tackle complexity is to be disciplined and free to consider possibilities foreign to your life's routines. To digest the inherent paradoxes of rational choice theory is to be hypersensitive to the power of incentives and psyche. To appreciate the Rosetta Stone is to confront mankind's roots and its immutable love for language and how it always seems to magically supersede its grammar. How can such intellectual excursions not affect the way one perceives and interacts with fellow human-beings? And how can one ignore the ingrained humanity in these subjects? If you write software and are aware of the way it shapes society and its consciousness, then you will think deeply about its repercussions and might not be as trigger happy as you're told to be by execs when its time to file for an IP patent. If you are a businessman, even if profit-making is the end goal, being aware of how much you owe society and how similar everybody else is to you can go a long way in codifying ethical practices. If you are a minister in charge of foreign affairs, being aware of the kind of privileged access you have to operations of the WTO and the UN and the economic avalanches they can cause in particular regions, is more than half the battle won in resuscitating the World's lowest classes.

Your education, if you choose to take ownership of it, will restore your grasp on reality. It is a painstaking process. It can be a frightfully lonely one. But it promises to reveal the truth if you're persistent. Like the emergent structure of a Sierpinski triangle.

It would be remiss not to complete the context of Bellow's beggar in Napoli, or rather Augie's. His realization that awareness was inseparable from strangeness is a comforting admission:
Dying or not, this witty old man was sassing everybody about the circle of love that protects you. His skinny chest went up and down with the respiration of the deep-sea stink of the hot shore and its smell of explosions and fires. The war had gone north not so long before. The Neapolitan passersby grinned and smarted, longing and ironical as they read this ingenious challenge. You do all you can to humanize and familiarize the world, and suddenly it becomes more strange than ever. The living are not what they were, the dead die again and again, and at last for good.
I see this now. At that time not.
This pamphlet aspires to be the spark of your personal renaissance. Via subjects mentioned in this preface and more, we hope to strengthen this thesis, that it is possible to "think" our country, and ourselves, out of disaster.


[1] Amartya Sen's "The Argumentative Indian"
[2] If beauty is a priority, see The Feynman Lectures on Physics (Volume 1)
[3] C is however not entirely independent of B because of this other nagging concept called Democracy, for if B is false, C to some degree is rendered false as well, because the effectiveness of my vote has been altered by my religious affiliation (hence persecution). Real life is difficult to distillate into mathematically precise ideas, but we aren't looking for complete descriptions anyway.
[4]Do you tolerate your brother, or do you love him?
[5] David Foster Wallace's "This is Water", one of the greatest commencement speeches in recent history, lays the sufficiency condition, awareness, for the Copernican revolution of the mind.
[6] "Be a man."  "You throw like a girl." And also the etched-in-memory-forever "You catch like a girl."
[7] Our existential retreat is best summed, not by the difficult to parse Heidegger ("We are thrown into this World"), but by the language artist Salman Rushdie who in his "Midnight's Children" writes:
“I am the sum total of everything that went before me, of all I have been seen done, of everything done-to-me. I am everyone everything whose being-in-the-world affected was affected by mine. I am anything that happens after I'm gone which would not have happened if I had not come.”
[8] Synecdoche, n
a figure of speech by which a part is put for the whole
[9]  The E in WWE stands for Entertainment.
[10] For an introduction to Propaganda models, there is no better place to start than Professor Chomsky's "Manufacturing Consent". And for an encapsulation of our postmodern TV culture, read DFW's essay "E Unibus Pluram".
[11] Christopher Hitchens offers an example to illustrate:
The examination for captaincy in the navy used to be a very demanding one. There came a day when a young man was sitting for his exam and he was asked what he would do if a great wind got up and was blowing him towards the rocks. He said he would tack a starboard and pile on an extra sail. Said the admirals, "What if the wind continues to blow you towards the rocks?" He replied "I'd continue to tack the starboard and I'd add another main sail". He was asked the question again and he gave them the same answer. Then finally one of the admirals asked, "Where are you getting all this sail from?" The Young captain-to-be said ,"Same place you're getting all that wind from."

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Sunday, June 16, 2013

Saturday is mine

Today was a complete day.
I made Sambar.
And Poriyal.

I get Strang splitting.
Fourier showed up again.
In a place I hadn't looked before.
Spectrally as always.

Only Mozart played.
Allegro. Allegro. Allegro.
Heart relaxed.
Hammock style.

Helped myself to some surreal existentialism.
No Exit means an infinitude of things.
Sartre man.
Soul stuff.
Brain bluff.

I miss my dog friend.
I miss my friend dog.
I miss Jude and other helpless things.
I miss a girl who doesn't exist.
You parsing this?
Deep shit.

I shed a tear.
For love.
When no one was looking.
So I could write about it.

Saturday is mine.

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Friday, May 31, 2013

Mint Olivia backgrounds on Ubuntu 12.04

It's always been an issue: I wanted a fully functional, tweaked, stable system with minimal reinstalls and a desktop environment that got work done quickly. After a bit of distrohopping, I decided to settle on Ubuntu 12.04 LTS since it provides 5 years of support. To be honest, Unity has really grown on me and I find the Dash to be an easy way of getting around. Plus, I've tweaked the settings so that Unity hides and it takes just the right amount of mouse hovering to reveal. Keyboard shortcuts also ensure I could shift through windows without having the Unity bar show up. So, a non-traditional desktop that works alright for me. Plus, using Tomasz Makarewicz's PPA online, I got AMD Catalyst Legacy to work on my old Dell Studio 15. Otherwise the thing heats up like a volcano! 102 degrees Celsius, I kid not. So, yes: an LTS release, graphic drivers installed (after downgrading Xserver version and applying a patched version of the ATI drivers- thank you Arch developers..), I have a great stable (alright, it's no Debian :D ) system.

However, the wallpapers make me want to scream. A couple of them are alright, but overall the Ubuntu default wallpapers leave a LOT to be desired. Linux Mint on the other hand has beautiful, lush wallpapers that are really, really good. HD wallpapers that just make you want to lose yourself in them. The problem however is that while it's easy for you to set any old picture as a Ubuntu wallpaper, you cannot make that custom wallpaper as your Lightdm wallpaper when you log-in. Sort of kills the feeling of integration: one wallpaper on log-in and a different one on your desktop.

To try and remedy this, I visited the Packages page of Linux Mint and navigated to the Olivia release. There, I downloaded the .deb file for backgrounds-olivia. Then I used Gdebi to install the entire .deb file. To my surprise (I'm a relative noob), I was now able to visit Appearance on Ubuntu Desktop and choose from the beautiful default background wallpapers of Linux Mint 15 Olivia. And the best part is that when I log out and log in again, the log in screen also has the exact same wallpaper! Huzzah! 

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Sunday, May 26, 2013

Changing India (again)

If the media is good at anything at all, it's good at trying to whip up a crescendo of pseudo-patriotism. With all the corruption going on these days (seriously, as if there was a Shangri-La where no dictionary contained the word corrupt or people knew not the meaning of bribery existed) and the old farts in houses of power, shouldn't the youth of India dictate change in this country?

Shouldn't enough be enough and the youth of India rise as one collective force; a force that sends evil doers running for cover and then wrest the levers of power from those who stand to benefit from the chaos and bureaucracy?

(Insert adrenaline  pumping, Grammy award winning music).

Surely this unexplored idea of the youth of India being the change is a novel idea. (/sarcasm)

Enter the "I Lead India Youth Brigade" campaign by Maruti Suzuki and Times of India, where the latter doesn't waste any time getting it of its chest that it's a 175 years old. Yeah yeah. Tell me more about this campaign of yours. Ah, I see... 5 people from each city do acts of good after being shortlisted from over 3000 odd people after psychometric analysis, interviews and such? The reward? You get a nice certificate of participation and obviously media coverage. Something nice to put on your CV. Congratulations, you have changed India as we know it.

Not to be cynical, but changing the country starts from ground up. Our parents need to instill in us good values. Our teachers must be beacons of knowledge and inspiration. Our neighbourhoods need to be strong-knit communities and each of us must have a sense of pride in every action we do. Change must come from legislation, from understanding new ideas,from co-operation and from breaking away from orthodoxy. It comes when people learn to shun avarice and lead lives dedicated to their families, their co-workers and their countrymen. It comes from educating the poor and empowering women and taking bold steps in technology and infrastructures. It comes from a ruthless and impartial iron fist of the justice department that treats everyone as the same. It comes from everyone doing any little bit that they can to help. Where change doesn't come from is a highly publicized event whose campaign ad depicts the youth of India dumping furniture in the middle of fucking nowhere and setting said pile of CGI generated furniture on fire. 

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Saturday, May 18, 2013

Chapter 3.5: Varun conducting market research on Chywanprash PLUS in Starbucks sans Summers

“Have a nice day!” the barista recommended to me, in a voice of maternal aspiration. I carried the steaming cappuccino back upstream of the multi-ethnic queue to find a seat among those who weren’t as paranoid as they should have been at how their laptops were literally screaming out loud - electromagnetically of course- their unencrypted data on Starbucks’ unsecured wifi network most likely sidejacked by adolescents who didn’t need to be begoggled hirsute grease-transuding computer-science majors to know the difference between http and https.

I’d ordered a wet cappuccino. Not the dry shit that some cost-cutting executive made default,  its ultra-light foam barely weighing the cup down during the most benign of zephyrs. You had to prefix your order with the word wet. Few loyalists knew this. Fewer convince themselves that knowing such a thing is what makes them different from all those superficial coffee consumers whose gustatory systems have been vestigialized by their “drink-don’t-think” instincts. I thankfully don’t belong to this snobbish subset, but can always pretend to be, which confuses me. How much of one’s life is pretense and how much genuine? Are they truly two different modus operandis? Are they necessarily opposites? Can one be the adjective of the other - genuine pretense or pretentious genuineness, in which case, are they inseparable? Then what about mens rea? Does it make sense to convict murderers who genuinely intend to inflict death but pretend to be innocent and not soldiers who pretend to intend to inflict death but are genuinely innocent? Maybe the problem is with language. “Murderer”, “Soldier”, “inflict” , “innocent”, “genuine”, “pretend” are words whose definitional spaces are overlapping, making it difficult to disentangle them and arrive at some truth. But if language is used to convey truth - no, reality - and language is so garbled, then reality should appear garbled too! But “reality” is also just another word, so I shouldn’t be too surprised if it’s likely to seem as garbled as any other concept, like “fiction”. So upon subtracting the garbling due to language, am I then left with reality’s inherent garbling? But there I go again, applying concepts like subtraction to things that defy any notion of quantity! What we’re left with then is Tarski’s inescapable theorem: “Snow is white if and only if snow is white.” Has humanity ever heard a more profound yet meaningless revelation? Here’s another one: the last line, the thundering conclusion, of Wittgenstein’s Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus: “Whereof one cannot speak, thereof one must be silent.” which achieves its full nihilistic force in German: “Wovon man nicht sprechen kann, darĂ¼ber muss man schweigen.” This is the state of human understanding. Where reason dissolves in this plasm of absurdity. Like the sugar in my wet cappuccino.

The barista was clearly an undergrad, perhaps coping with some difficult concepts in the Arts and Humanities, judging from the cover of the book on the countertop which had grown a significant taper from spine to fore-edge from the absurd number of fluorescent yellow and pink post-its protruding like torchered tongues from the pages, titled “Poetry for Dummies”, its familiar cringe inducing shade of aureolin yellow , its alienating subtitle “A reference for the rest of us”, its wide-eyed lizard looking mascot pointing shamelessly at some promotional device like “for more, visit us at”. The series of books began with one written for young enthusiastic DOS programmers at a time when computers didn’t belong in social settings. Apparently Hungry Minds Inc., now acquired by John Wiley & his Sons, are of the impression that the formula that makes engineering problems appetizing to the application oriented palate is the desired template for all subjects (“subjects” here refers not to various fields of study, but to the customers). This seemingly crackpot wishful thought is realized through a series of preceding paradigm altering marketing strategies: First make the customer feel more stupid than he/she originally feels by agreeing that his/her self-loathing is an authentic feeling that must be embraced and not corrected. Once the “dummy” is stuffed with a sufficient number of metaphorical saccharine lollipops and reassured that his/her feeling of entitlement to knowledge sans any serious work ethic is justified, proceed to distill concepts that took what is left of humanity generations to construct and refine, on the basis of publishing logistics like page limits, word limits, illustration limits and ultimately “average end user” limits. Upon adequately undermining “competing” authors and professionals (publish or perish remember?), climbing up the bookshelves by brutally, year after year, convincing students first in cities and then in an entire nation that their capacity to read “big books” is marginally better than a retarded child’s and that they shouldn’t shit themselves that they can actually grasp complex ideas independently, what with all the mass media having increased average endocrinal activity across the board. Encourage students to believe that everything (not just topics like fishing, carpentry, photography and combinatorics but interpreting Shakespeare, Heidegger, Heisenberg and Monet) can be understood if it were only presented properly, replacing the burden of learning with the burden of teaching. This should afflict a growing number of Professors with “teaching hypochondria”, debilitating them to take refuge in and learn from pop-culture so that more students don’t fill the feedback forms with “failed to make the class interesting”. The entire textbook industry has to get with the plan before they’re eliminated - effaced - from this life-size version of Monopoly. They reduce pages and increase font size, multiplying the number of books by the number of solipsistic character traits of the intended reader, flooding the market with the euphemistic Choice(TM). The academic inflation proceeds like a runaway chain reaction, gobbling up and delegitimizing the high standards of inquiry, and what once served as a gentle reminder of your stupidity is now a megalomaniacal institution founded on that single fact. Brace yourself, for you will soon witness an apocalyptic cultural impulse to know everything by doing nothing! Everything must be compressed, as lossily as possible, and delivered in between and alongside scheduled social gatherings and unscheduled social networking. Learning is now another form of entertainment, having inherited the nomenclature of advertisers (in all fairness, this needn’t have been the original intention of Arthur Nielsen). Good luck trying to deliver a compelling thought without the aid of a soundtrack, animation and a subscription package, all of which, incidentally, increase one’s arsenal to bullshit their way through life. Syllabi are truncated, TAs are hired and the job market is streamlined, now that the average college graduate is a lumbering mass of such astonishing stupor, conformity training isn’t even playfully considered as a worthwhile investment in “leading” corporations. So desensitized is he/she, that ideas like Democracy and Equality which are tectonically shifting right underneath his/her feet, fail to cause even the faintest of stirrings. But of course! Your ability to stand on your feet will determine if you can perceive the ground beneath you moving or shaking. But if you're dangling like a puppet in the hands of those who refuse to drop you, what strange meanings freedom, liberty and justice take?! Right to food isn't right to nutrition, its just right to food. Right to education isn't right to learning and questioning authority, its just right to education. Meaninglessness abounds because being philosophical, i.e. discerning, is what a drunk person is accused of when digressing from that ever-fecund topic of boobs & bums by raising some unnerving question on existence or purpose using an articulation broken and stunted by alcoholic incoherence. Orwell’s dystopia is nothing but a cheap horror film compared to DFW’s. The Dumminess that was all the while silently gaining market space has completed its transition to something far more impotent  and lethargic that even the puppet masters didn't foresee but are nonetheless rejoicing: Sheer Mass Dumbness.

And just as I was independently discovering the roots of Postmodernism, teetering on the cliff of sanity in an exhausting effort to distance myself as much as possible from the threatening imminence of a syllogistic avalanche, I heard a tune that restored my mind’s balance, at least temporarily, via appeal to my nostalgia, wafting through the caffeinated air in the usual way that Starbucks manages to make even the harsh acoustics of punk rock sound like white noise:

She screams in silence
A sullen riot penetrating through her mind
Waiting for a sign
To smash the silence with the brick of self-control

I started pondering the relevance of the Green day lyrics to an ongoing exchange within earshot, between the barista and the next customer, apart from them both being girls.

Maybe the barista has little to no choice in the economic circumstances that made her pick up that book and not a compendium of World War I poetry which is the best place to start IMO if you want to experience the stomach-tightening amphetamine-like lyrics - written by articulate warriors thronging in bloodshed, longing for peace, of mind and nation (in that order) - that can erupt in one a feeling of Gestalt unique to one’s Erfahrung which mitotically splits into an incalculable Zustandsumme of perceptions that flagellate one’s mind into submission to this greater unknown wisdom and bestowing a sense of humility that textbook publishers couldn’t give half a rodent’s turd about, this realization never getting the chance to dawn on her fast lane life because of the bullshit she’s had to put up with since that time when some widowed art teacher told her her crayon drawing of her golden retriever resembled a horny capuchin monkey and that her talents would be better “harnessed" in learning an instrument, which she did, only to discover that she couldn’t concentrate on her finger-key coordination whether it was Beethoven’s Fur Elise or Billy Joel’s Piano Man because the piano was next to a goddamn window through which you could always see kids - orphans perhaps - playing on the lawn, the frustrated instructor having exhausted all her innovative teaching strategies including a glucose rich reward system, informs her parents that she had ADD, and like all those parents not one of whom suspected the window (or the glucose), they shovelled into their problem child’s pried open oral cavity adderall, ritalin and dexadrine in whimsical proportions until Mommy learnt how to use the internet and promptly stumbled upon webmd and/or a Tom Cruise interview that revealed to her that she could be killing her daughter with the bulldozer dosage, so she threw the pills and started consuming her own out of a self-inflicted depression arising from feelings of being an inadequate mother, thus spiralling out of self-control until her husband found her drug-riddled body one day laying on the bed naked with a cocaine moustache and “who-needs-boys-when-you-have-toys” toys, causing him to file for divorce, further contributing to their daughter’s disillusionment with the matrimonial institution of love, and later all semblances of love and similar romances, like Poetry, which she could never get even if she tried because most of her life had been the pursuit of things decided for her on her behalf, like the time when she felt that shoe-shopping was an empty headed excursion to the mall designed precisely by overrated fashion companies and their cold-blooded advertising minions to lure children away from the Library and into a world where stupid insecurities like the color of your skin, hair, shoes and nails would give rise to zombie consumerists who’d open their Lavender Lambskin leather handbags to pull out their Crimson Cowhide leather purses to pay for the latest fashion trends manufactured by WTO-protected cigar smoking CEOs like her presently-disowned-merely-biological father, all this she was scared to tell her bffs because they’d bully her and seduce her pussyclined bf in an act of teenage alienation which was too much for her to handle, worsened by her bf dumping her anyway for this chick who’s older and taller than him in a dominatrix kinda way that made her more anxious and insecure than ever before, driving her insane during a period wherein between being eiffel-towered by strict-protein-diet quarterbacks and cruelly speculating on the psychotic thrills in poisoning this year’s prom queen, a tiny voice inside her head (where the fuck else?) was gradually mustering the critical impulse load to get her to finally visit her now rehabilitated mother who responsibly advised her to join a Community College and get a degree in Literature or something for a fresh start, except that it would never be a fresh start without electroshock therapy and what comes next can only be worse but she’d do it anyway, yet Poetry could suck a bagodicks cause she had to make a living by working at a coffee shop serving random ungrateful judgemental strangers.
Like me.

Are you locked up in a world
That's been planned out for you?
Are you feeling like a social tool without a use?
Scream at me until my ears bleed
I'm taking heed just for you

Or maybe the barista was a senior scholar with no history of traumatic events, reviewing the book in an intellectually honest attempt to inform posterity to abstain from shallow simplistic works for sound Aristotelian reasons articulated in a disinterested yet stirring fashion.

Whatever it was, the Chinese girl on the other side of the counter couldn’t care less. She was clearly new to campus. And the English language.

Barista: Hey! How are you today?
Chinese girl: I’m wanna coffee.
Barista: Which one?
Chinese girl: One.
Barista: I’m sorry Mam. You need to pick a coffee.
Chinese girl (bringing her right index finger to the right side of her nose adorably): One.
Barista (vigorously gesticulating at the giant menu behind her- large fonts for beverage, small fonts for price, smallest drink is called a “tall” - which was suspended from the ceiling at an angle so as to optimize ease of viewing): You’ve got to PICK a drink on the menu.
Chinese girl (points at a not-to-scale picture on the menu of a steaming black liquid that resembled inviscid tar in a porcelain cup placed on a saucer that didn’t make much sense for coffee but looked pretty all the same, as though driving home the point that inanimate objects can look photogenic too): That!
Barista: I’m sorry Mam. But you have to tell me which one. I honestly can’t make this decision for you.

Why the flaming fuck was this barista increasing the complexity of her sentences when she was more than capable of understanding that the customer was a foreign student with a local-language-limitation? I momentarily thought of drilling a hole and tunneling this insensitive bitch through it and into a hypothetical PRC that had exchanged ideological roles with USA, where she’d have to pay for an overpriced education in a country that thinks or at least behaves like all other countries are inhabited by people who bathe in shit but since her own country can’t provide a decent education because of a restricted system that conflicts quite obviously with their undemocratic authoritarian tradition, she ends up being surrounded by people with different values, all of whom she reasonably expects to fathom the globalized world order and its inherent inconsistencies and injustices but is shocked to realize that she can’t find the most minimum of sympathies from even baristas (forget the customs officers) who address her in complicated Mandarin, a language she promised to the PRC government that she’d intended to learn during the time she’d spare herself when everyone else went clubbing and boozing in the weekends which gets her thinking about how fascinatingly different this culture really is and finds no compelling reason to hate it until this ignoramus barista’s limited imagination in what constitutes a universal cup of goddamn coffee assaults her perceptions of multiculturalism to the point where she’s trying to remember which finger it is that conveys the unholy trinity of insubordination, impatience and intolerance.

She's figured out
All her doubts were someone else's point of view
Waking up this time
To smash the silence with the brick of self-control

Chinese girl (looks around helplessly and then strains with all her might): Regurrarr!
Barista: Will that be a tall or a grande?
Chinese girl (bringing her thumb and index finger together to indicate the word "small" hoping that this barista would not think she meant lobster): Smarr!
Barista: Ooookay! That’ll be one ninety five.

Chinese girl produces a one dollar note, three quarters and two dimes, balancing her turquoise colored purse between the palm, ring finger and pinky of her right hand with the other fingers designated to hold the sleeveless hot cup of coffee, maximizing the arm's neural flux, causing visible tremors in her shoulder that eventually caused her to drop the money which was in her left hand on the floor, so she bends over spilling the coffee on her crotch, Billie Joe Armstrong joining in the scream:


I decided to walk outside. The stuff was wearing off.

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Tuesday, May 14, 2013

The Mother

Cristin Milioti.

That's all I ever wanted to know. Now I can skip the final season because the most important question has been answered.

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Sunday, May 12, 2013


The water has reached a roiling boil and the immaculate white mug is placed on its coaster on the dining table. There is no thought process involved; everything happens in an orchestrated flurry of movements. Two teaspoons of Maxwell House, hot water till the mug's half mark and a dabble of tepid milk. Two cubes of sugar. Stir well and imbibe. Bliss.

He reaches out for the plastic tongs and adds in the sugar cubes while the drone of the morning news fills the air of his cramped apartment like a miasma. The celebrity newsman prattles on inanely, occasionally demanding order and respect from his panelists who appear on his show only to further their sordid agendas in Parliament. Something about a neighboring country acting up again; fears about another trampling all over our sovereignty and concerns about our decadent moral core. What he'd like to call the Mass Media's wet dream. People are kept angry, fed with half-knowledge and allowed to act on their fears and bigotries. Where would these cretins be without the mayhem and chaos in our current social structure?

The first sugar cube has melted away but the second cube catches his attention. A black ant, with all the temerity that the Hymenoptera order could muster, sits on the dissolving second cube of sugar. A lone man on a lone island grabs onto the only coconut tree as the imaginary plug is pulled from underneath. Glug glug. At first, he studies the ant and gently prods the cube. The ant falls into the scalding beverage and were it capable of expressing emotions it would be screaming no doubt. No pity is offered, no pity is forthcoming. The spoon comes down without repent and the ant is consigned to the depths of the instant coffee.

An old memory is pulled up. At the water slide, he, as a young child, hesitates. The cries behind him get louder and harsher. Kids were unforgiving then too. Finally, with his back turned to the wall and with literally no other recourse, he goes down the slide and hits the pool after what feels like an eternity later. Before he gets his bearings together, David has followed suit and ploughs into his back, sending him deep underwater. The fear is overwhelming and the mind freezes. Arms flay and water invades the nasal crevices. Blindness and burning lungs. Panic and fleeting thoughts of death.

He finally disengages from auto-pilot and looks at the tainted metal spoon. He feels sick to his stomach. The room echoes with the crash of the ceramic mug on the mosaic floor and his screams telling the newsman to shut up. He glances at the black ant and wills with all of his might for the brave Hymenopteran to move.

Note: This is a work of fiction and no real ants were hurt in the writing of this post.

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