That looks familiar


Last week my bicycle (bike as they call it here) was stolen. I had it locked in front my apartment – which is usually busy 24 hours – and it still got stolen. It’s summer here, so most of the students have left and hence there aren’t many who walk in and out of the apartment after 11.00. I had used a thick wire connected by a ‘number-lock’; I don’t know if the ‘thief’ noticed that I wasn’t using a difficult combination or to top it wasn’t mixing the numbers thoroughly when I locked. It should have been one of those scenarios, because the ‘wire’ was too thick to break using a regular cutter. Or probably he/she (well no bias against men, the thief could have been a woman) is professional who can cut open all kinds locks given the privacy.
This is the second time it has happened to me after coming here. Nothing big has been stolen from me when I was in India. I have left my motorcycle with keys in it, motorbike with a Nike cap on it, unlocked bicycles, unlocked doors (sometimes with the key hanging on it); I’m a careless guy in that sense. But by Murphy’s Law they have always been intact. And here I come to a so called developed country, get a used bicycle for $60, leave it outside the apt without locking it. It got stolen the 11th day. I told my friend about this then (8 months ago),

Suresh: and you know what? I bought a bike and let it get stolen too
Friend: that sucks
Suresh: well cannot blame them, I didn't lock it at all for 10 days. apparently some one was watching it.
Friend: oh god. what were you thinking
Suresh: "well this is Canada, people are good"
Suresh: that's what I was thinking

I wasn’t too worried about it though. I make decent money to afford such “losses”, and moreover it’s not out of so called hard work or intelligence. I make it because this country gives it1. And if the country is going to take some of that “undeserved” money back by letting someone steal my bike, so be it. I got another bike just after 4 days and this time a new one for $120. With a new lock, fender (mudguard), carrier etc, it came to $160. After riding it for 8 months it was stolen last week in spite of locking it. So clearly I wasn’t “asking for it” this time. Anyway, coming to the actual topic, now whenever I see a red bicycle I stop for a while and give it a closer look to check if it’s mine. It’s silly I know, because my bike would have gotten shipped (along with two dozen other bikes) to a city or town 400 miles away, already. I thought this feeling guided by instinct – one that supersedes your conscious logic – will be there just for 2, 3 days. But, after 1 full week, I can’t get it out of my head. Red things in a long distance draw my attention, if it happens to be a bike the attention becomes careful observation. If a bike that didn’t really get itself attached to me emotionally or otherwise can control my mind beyond its wish, I wonder what it would be to lose a person or miss a person.
This might sound like a stupid theory (may be it is), but I think we see ‘familiar’ faces in a crowd because that face was some way close to us or we miss them2. It doesn’t have to be a real life friend, even your favourite movie actor would fit the case. I think the whole idea of “love at first” sight works on the same principle too. While it’s normal for all us to get attracted to “beautiful” people some of us are smitten by not so good looking people. Some times people who are downright ugly and obnoxious. They still manage to attract us because they probably resemble your half burnt Barbie doll from 2nd grade or their chins are protruding like your favourite cartoon character (Batman, Superman). This might be extended to voice, music, movies, jokes, dress everything that is driven by instinct the first time you are exposed to it. Of course it also applies to things you hate (as I had pointed in my post impulsive prejudices)
The next time you find something/someone attractive but your friends don’t, don’t think that there’s something magical about it. Just try to reflect back in your life, you might be able to find a perfectly logical explanation for it.

It also explains the attachment that I had with Hinduism and still have with India as a nationalist. I used to be a proud Hindu – Meaning I cannot stand anyone talking less about Hinduism (wherever it is), or say Christianity or Islam is better than Hinduism. I would immediately jump in to an ego battle with 'that' person, trying to prove him/her wrong. For me Hinduism was the best religion in the whole world, but the very claim is against one of the fundamental ideas of the culture that was then brought under a religion named Hinduism. Now, for me, the pride that is associated with being Hindu has disappeared a bit. I think it’s a crime to associate yourself with something – whose essence is of high value – with you, when you yourself are no where near it. What’s the point in claiming that you come from the cleanest city in the world if you yourself reek?
Most of us would be irritated if I say – I’m the smartest person in the whole world. But we fail to see the underlying ego-booster when we get together with a few more people and say “we belong to smart people’s community which is the best in the whole world”. What am I saying from this? To say that you are a proud Hindu just means that you’re boasting about reading a few Vedas and doing a few rituals (sometimes without doing any of it, for whatever makes one a Hindu). Of course I cannot stay calm when people put forth factually incorrect or logically flawed arguments against Hinduism or related issues (about conversion etc.,). But even that only when the person shows signs of willingness to change his/her idea. Being an agnostic, that's how far I can go with my religion.
But how come I’m still a nationalist? – I had the red bike for just 8 months, but my country had me for 23 years. I am a product of my country, good or bad; product that was shaped by the geography, demography and philosophy of that country. I’m not necessarily proud about India, but my interests will always be in sync with India’s3. So it’s not the values that make you go fanatic about your religion or country. It’s the duration of possession that makes you fanatic about the values and then about religion or country. Yes, what we have is often good not because it's good, but because we have it, and more so when we have it for a long time. My moustache being one of them.
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1 The work-credential-wage inequality from country to country would need an extensive discussion that analyses global economy and colonial history. By stating that I didn’t lose things in India I’m not suggesting that Indian people are more trustworthy. It’s just that my luck worked better in India than Canada. And yes, developed nations have their share of thieves and crooks too. The person who stole my bike could well be a rich white teen (and not a poor black immigrant as you might have imagined immediately). But stealing and getting (read running) away with it is harder in India than in US or Canada. Indians are more than happy to scream "thirudan thirudan" or "chor chor" and catch the person and give him "charity beating". It's not the case here, people are just too indifferent.

2 Close doesn’t necessarily mean friendly. It could also be a teacher who you hated or a cousin who regularly steals your share of chocolate.

3 I used to be a proud about India too, but it is too hard to defend all the events that shaped India in to what it is today. When there is so much influence of external elements in shaping a country's contemporary existence, I don’t know which part you should identify with and feel proud about. I’m not proud about Bihar, but proud about TN. But in TN I’m not proud about Trichy but Madras. In Madras I’m not proud about Saidapet but K.K.Nagar. There is so much dichotomy that you cannot escape.

Medical students on strike, let’s see.


AIIMS students and doctors (no longer in active strike) are in protest against Arjun Singh’s proposal to add 22.5% reservation to the people who belong to so called other backward castes (OBC). I did a podcast on this issue when this announcement was actually made (April first week). There was quite a lot of attention given to the issue in blogs and media and to an extent by the students (as they show in TV) in India as well. But nothing close to what’s happening now. There’s been a clear 40 day gap between what’s happening now as a “reaction” to Arjun Singh’s announcement and the announcement itself, don’t know if they took the time to consolidate themselves. Still, a month seems like a long period for planning a protest and hunger strike.
If you are wondering why the medical students are so active and there’s been next to no response from students from other faculties (engineering and sciences), it’s because of this:
-->The reservation scheme suggested now includes postgraduate studies as well.
While postgraduate studies in India is not a big deal for UG students in Engg, it is for the med students; especially when the number of seats is halved or less than that in most of the institutions. Since what I write here is not going to change anything, I’ll save myself the effort and time of searching the exact numbers. I’ll just give a shallow theory based on my assumptions.
It appears as if the majority of students of the AIIMS belong to OC. Let me make up some random numbers (out of 100)

No of students who belong to OC = 50
No of students who belong to OBC = 27
No of students who belong to SC/ST = 23

We should keep in mind that the OBC students who are currently enrolled in AIIMS and other such institutions, got in through open competition. So Arjun Singh’s announcement would actually favour the existing OBC students. Now let’s see what the case is when they try to go for PG studies.
Again I’m making up some ridiculously extreme numbers here (this time the GPA),

All OC students have an average of 90%
All OBC students have an average of 85%
All of SC/ST students have an average of 80%

As we saw earlier the number of PG seats is half or less than half of the UG seats. So if there are 50 seats for PG,

13 seats are allocated to SC/ST students
12 seats are allocated to OBC students and
25 seats for open competition

Hmm… seems like it’s close to 50% chance for each student to get in to the PG program. The obvious problem is the difference in credentials required for each student. But the problem doesn’t stop there. Let me play with the numbers, this time a bit more on the dangerous side,

No of students who belong to OC = 65
No of students who belong to OBC = 12
No of students who belong to SC/ST = 23

Now, the OC students have 38% chance, the SC students have 50% chance and OBC students have a 100% chance of making it to PG studies. And there are always self-respecting students from SC/ST and OBC category who not only have high average but also high moral values. Assuming half of SC/ST students (say X) choose to fight it out in open category the no of students in OC changes a little but with wider ramifications,

No of students who belong to OC + X = 77
No of students who belong to OBC = 12
No of students who belong to SC/ST = 13

Now, the OC students have 32% chance, the SC students - X, have 100% chance and OBC students have a 100% chance of making it to PG studies. Woah that is scary! ridiculous, yet scary. My assumption is that this is pretty much the case now, and that’s why so many medical students have jumped in to protests while others have not.

The arithmetic above also may explain why virtually no student from TN has joined AIIMS students’ protests (not even symbolically). How? TN already has 69% reservation for the so called OBC, MBC and SC/ST students. I’m not sure of the exact split, but only 31% is for open competition. So it’s very likely that we’ll have the spread as follows

No of students who belong to OC = 30
No of students who belong to OBC/MBC = 60
No of students who belong to SC/ST = 10

Again there are those students from OBC and SC/ST who got their seats through open competition (meaning, they did not use their reservation when they entered UGS but may use it while entering PGS).
The majority of the existing students have already gotten their seats using reservations, and that’s how it’s been for over 15 years. Why the heck would they protest when what’s happening up north doesn’t have any effect on the existing system in TN? And that’s exactly why you see so many students from TN completely apathetic to this issue or in some cases show support to the proposed scheme. There’s also the anti-Brahmin sentiment fostered by the Dravidian parties for decades. A lot of students truly believe that Brahmins control most of the academia by crooked means. Others just don’t care as long as they are benefited by the scheme.
This is not to suggest that the AIIMS students and those who have joined the former’s protests are doing so just because they are personally affected, but that seems to be a major contributing factor. No disrespect to those students--few as it may be--who are protesting for meritocracy1 just for the sake of it, without any personal motive.
My claim above is supported by the fact the IIT students all over India have so far made no strong protest independently or with the med students (sure “they have shown support”). Then come the school students who don't seem to be bothered by this at all.
There are schools that have 500 plus students studying in them every year, if anyone should be concerned, it should be them above everyone else. The reason I mentioned about the schools having 500 and above students is to counter the claim that school students cannot act as organized as college students. +1 and +2 students are mostly 16 or 17. If those teenagers have cell phones and girlfriends/boyfriends, I would be appalled if their age is given as a reason for their lack of action.

What am I trying to say from all this? I’m saying that while the AIIMS students’ protests may be seen as the “awakening of the youth of a country”, it, sadly for India, is not. What you are witnessing, in my opinion, is just a bunch of students who are angered by the immediate “injustice” they are going to face. For, they did not oppose when the reservations were already in place for OBCs in TN and few other states. Did they not know that such reservations (actually more) were in TN or did they not care enough to voice against it? Neither of the scenarios paints a good picture of the current or the past students.3

Yes my pessimism is screaming loud here. These students were definitely at some level inspired by the young protesters of Nepal. They probably thought they can snowball a rally as days pass by. But to their dismay it’s turning in to a miserably failed coup with the killing of the entire militia. Yes, Manmohan singh has finally setup a committee to look in to the issue and I hope that there is a positive outcome notwithstanding the lack of support from other students and pro-reservation rallies.3

This is where we differ from Nepal and other countries that have had "successful" protests and rallies. India has a lot of people who just don’t care. The OC students in school would rather slog for 2 more hours a day than organize a protest or request a judicial enquiry through the court. Ironically though, this group is what is contributing to the development of India. They just work hard to beat the politics and bureaucracy that constantly stand as hurdles in their path. Some escape them and go abroad, but some, thanks to their complacency and parochial view of the world, stay back. Of course, there are those exceptional souls like Kalam and Kasthurirangan who neither escape the system nor surrender, but fight it out.
To restate what I said about IIT students earlier, the existing students don’t care, they are going out. Not many of them continue their higher studies (if they choose to) in India, another reason to not care.

I’m generally against protests of any kind, especially in India; because protests have long been carried out by people who don’t have a just cause to back them. So governments, for whatever reasons, have gotten used to ignoring those protests too. If AIIMS protests are going to be successful it may set a bad precedent. Threatening the government, whatever the cause is, should be entertained only to the extent of setting up a judicial enquiry in to the issue. And if the Supreme Court has already passed an unqualified judgment, there shouldn’t any more protest regarding the issue.4

Let’s see how this issue proceeds further. I’ve expressed my take on the reservation issue in my podcast. I don’t feel like spending the time to type it out (knowing that it’s been discussed well by a lot of others).

Disclaimer: The use of OC, OBC, SC/ST in the post above is simply to indicate what is used in government records. The grades and spread of people from various castes in the equations above don’t mean that OCs generally have a higher average or vice versa. The term FC (forward caste) is no longer used and it's been replaced with OC (other caste). OC is also used interchangeably with open category or open comptetion in related dicussions.
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1 The way meritocracy is defined and assessed is debatable and needs a separate discussion.

2 The pro-reservation rallies are just political gimmicks as most of those who took part in the rally did not even know why they were in the rally (as shown in NDTV). Not to mention the fact that there was literally no student from AIIMS or other universities that are going to be affected by the scheme in question.

3 There werent any large scale protests in TN--when 69% reservations were introduced--for obvious reasons. Protests of this kind would have been disastrous in TN 15 years ago. Some of the students might have even been burnt alive by the anti-Brahmin DMK cadres.

4 Like that of Medha Patkar’s protest against the increase of height of the dams across the river Narmada. She even went to the extent of criticizing the Supreme Court’s latest judgment – a criminal offence.

My podcasts


I had mentioned in my previous about my podcasts, I’ll just include the flash players here, so that you can listen to them from here. All the podcasts here are in Tamil Tamil Podcast.

Thotti jaya pola kevalamana padam paakradhu, pathuttu vandhu comment adikradhu, idhellam ellarum panradhu dhan. Adhaye dhan naanum panni irukken. By the way, the boy in the picture is the comic character Suppandi. Well it's not all that explicity really, the word that I have used (ma**ru)is actually used in a lot of movies (and i've used it only once). But I'll give the warning anyway!


Autograph and Thavamai Thavamirundhu have been regarded as some of the best movies in recent times. Are those movies really worth all those praises? I think they are two movies that are a bit over-rated by our generation (people in their 20s and 30s). I enjoyed this rant, it was quite relieving for me, but I think it'll give you the opposite feeling :p.



This may not be interesting to those who are in their teens or 30s. I recorded this podcast when I felt exteremely nostalgic, not about home, but about my past, my childhood; my childhood which started and got over in the 80s. It was then we had Doordarshan, just Doordarshan, TV ads that keep sreaming the product's name end to end, 'mile sur mera tumhara', goldspot, sprint and a bunch of things that were unique to the 80s.
Of course I would be romanticizing if I say everything was pure and innocent back then, for it seems special simply because it is associated with my past. In any case you might enjoy it.


Disclaimer: The main segement of this podcast was recorded long back, when I hadn't acquired any "recording skills". So please excuse the annoying "blows" and "puffs".

The podcast could be boring, so if you decide to skip, try minutes: 1-3, 15-25




The following podcast was a reaction to a small incident in my university. My angry reaction to that incident brought back some old memories of my life; it threw light on the hidden sexism behind some of the setups I had to live through, try it.



Listen to the rest of the episodes (if you’re interested) from: http://www.podbazaar.com/show/alumbu

And then there are my podcasts based on Cho’s Mahabaratham pesukiradhu (not my favourite but more popular than my other podcasts). I’ll just give the link for the episodes and the player for the first episode.



Listen to the rest of the episodes (if you’re interested) from: www.podbazaar.com/show/mahab


It's sad that there aren't many Tamil podcasts that deal with subjects other than "interview with a celebrity" or "how to make paruppu rasam".

I'm blogging again

In March second week, almost a month after my last post, I thought I’ll start filling my blog during this summer(May), but I had found another means to express myself; may be not as coherently, but definitely with more flair and freedom and to an extent with good flow. Yeah I started doing podcasts and as I had imagined it worked out ok. Now I’m getting a little stale in it. As self-conscious as I am, I cannot help being bogged down by the thought that people would have gotten used to my style and perspective already. And by now most of the “regular” listeners, I presume, can judge what my take is going to be on any issue. While this is true with anyone, it hinders me from saying things freely. It’s almost like saying the same jokes over and over again to the same person.
I: “when I was in my 5th std I used to draw…”
Friend: “yeah you said this before!”
I: “oh!... well in my 10th std I once made fun of my maths tea…”
Friend: “you’ve told this one too, several times..”
I: “really? hmmm”
That’s the end of it; I’ll never start a casual conversation again. I’ve had a few friends like this, they just don’t make enough observations of their life experiences and as a result of that they turn out to be really bad conversationalists. But even if you make those observations there are only few perspectives you as a person can give, and over a period you become very predictable. It becomes like a movie with the same story and same sequences only played by different actors, and sometimes, different music. Looking back, I’m wondering how many situations in my life have that unique flavour, independent from others of mine and those of the others. I’m counting - good, I have to use the fingers in my feet as well.
Anyway, all those thoughts affect the way I speak and I already feel that I might have a reached a saturation point. Of course there will be listeners, regardless of how bad your podcasts get, like those who watch Balachander’s TV serials (compare these to his old movies). Why? Your works in the initial stages, if they turn out good, create a good impression about you. Most people are optimistic in this regard, they hope that the creator would reach his best like he did in his first few creations.
Writing, however, gives you the option to be free and yet not be hampered by simultaneous criticisms from my inner self. I’ve grown really weary of blogs that write about politics, economics, environment and all that; things that cannot really be changed by changing the opinion of a few (which I believe cannot be done by a mere post in a blog, but yes, it can be, as Cho would say, “the starting point for a debate”). I know where strength lies when it comes to writing. It’s in criticizing others. So far I’ve been leaving comments in random blogs and posting stuff because I don’t have anyone to attack from home.
But I think I’ll start talking about things I watch in TV, what I do for an average 3-4 hours a day. I pass a lot of comments about that I see. These are the channels I switch between: Discovery, Comedy n/w, Teletoons, BBC world, NatGeo, ESPN and NDTV 24x7. Of course there are channels that I watch too. So let’s how things go from here.

Suresh

 
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