A full circle moment

As I meander through my early 30s, I realize that there will be many “full circle” moments that I will encounter in what I can only construe are life’s futile attempts to make me grow up. I was witness to one such moment a few days ago on the ISB campus.

One evening, I was sitting in the atrium on a comfortable chair with my feet up on the adjoining table, reading the lovely Carnet du Voyage by Craig Thompson while waiting for the missus to finish her workout.

The atrium of the academic center at ISB is imposing the first time you see it. It has tall columns with huge eight blade dragon-killer fans and is literally at the center of all life on campus. It has been designed well to ensure there’s a constant breeze with air flowing around from God-only-knows-where.

It also has some strange acoustics that a friend of mine and I discovered while singing post-drinkage when our stint on campus was about to end in March 2010. If you stand at the center and speak at a volume slightly louder than average, your voice echoes nicely all through the place.

Anyway, I was sitting on my own minding my business, delighted that I could spend time in this glorious infrastructure while not having to worry about the B-school rat race. The students were out and about, scurrying around to build their CVs, one networking conversation at a time.

Suddenly there was loud commotion all around. The GSB (Graduate Student Body) President for the current class was announced and people emerged from their dinners and study sessions to congratulate the winning candidate. I was briefly transported back in time to May 2009 when our President was announced. Many incorrectly believe that holding this post makes one a shoo-in for a prized consulting job, though data from the past few years seems to suggest that these intrepid individuals choose do other things as well with their careers.

A parade of around twenty students walked to the center of the atrium, carrying the President-elect while shouting incoherently. They bumped him up a few times, while not failing to capture and instantaneously upload this ‘historic moment’ online as yet another highlight of their charmed B-school existence.

I continued to sit a few feet away as the drama unfolded, completely inured to this momentous occasion not unlike RK Laxman’s ‘Common Man’ and admittedly bemused at how a somewhat similar scene (possibly) unfolded six years ago when I was a student there.

The Namesake

If you thought Nikhil Gogol Ganguli (from Jhumpa Lahiri’s ‘The Namesake’) had someone illustrious that he shared his name with, it doesn’t beat what I have unearthed recently thanks to some random ego-surfing.

An article in The Hindu dated 19th February 2014, titled ‘Tryst with time’ details the life and times of Hari Shenoy (1849 – 1901), a resident of Matancherry, Cochin.

When I stumbled upon the article, before I began reading it, I thought it detailed the life and times of my grandfather after whom I am named. The house shown in the article looks very much like his house in Mangalore that was demolished to make way for an apartment complex. However, the article timeline predates my grandfather by a fair amount of time.

Reading the article made me dissolve into peals of laughter and cry tears of joy at the outset. Check this out and when you associate the following words with the only person by that name that you know of, you will find out why:

Baburaj D. Pai, one of the 200 members of an interesting group, ‘Fans of Hari Shenoy’, who pitched for this house to be restored says with deference to his ideal. “I began reading about Hari Shenoy 15 years ago when he was mentioned in a Maradhaga Pacha, a book by Krishna Hari Pai on Goshreepureswara. It presents Hari Shenoy as a man with different ideas.”

So besotted are his fans about the works and deeds of their community leader that during festivals children dress up as him. “Last year the winner of a fancy dress competition was a child dressed as Hari Shenoy.” says Baburaj with pride.

Not only is Hari Shenoy celebrated in books and through oral tales but also in Konkani songs.

If the (1849 – 1901) person made such an impact, I wonder what will happen to the (1983- ) version.

The article and also made me wonder what someone who shares my name would stumble upon a hundred years after I had moved on and how he would react upon reading some of the posts in this blog, assuming the internet would exist in some shape or form in the future.

Food for thought.

Meanwhile, please excuse me as I go back to imagining what the kid that won the fancy dress competition was dressed like.

Of the British Pathe, Doordarshan and archiving history

Yesterday, I stumbled upon the fact that the entire British Pathé archive has been uploaded on Youtube.

While I didn’t know what the British Pathe was when I saw the link, I did click through to see that 85,000 videos had been uploaded, segmented, categorized and made freely available to anyone with internet access.

(To correctly pronounce ‘pathé’, you say it like you’d say ‘pati’, the Hindi word for husband, as opposed to say how you’d say ‘lathe’, like in the lathe machine.I mention this specifically because until I was corrected in my first year of engineering college, I always said ‘lathe’ like one would say ‘latte’, but with a soft ‘th’ sound in the second syllable, much to the amusement of those that knew how to say it correctly.)

Some of the videos I stumbled upon were quite interesting and held tremendous historical significance. For instance, this video of Germany’s invasion of Poland in 1939.

Dalai Lama being received in Tezpur after his escape from China.

India takes Goa (1962) – the reporter, much to my delight, chooses to use the words ‘Righteous indignation’.

There are enough videos that have been uploaded without the accompanying commentary and the pompous background music, but I hope that setting some context to the archived footage will be the next thing that the British Pathé does, for our generation and the ones beyond to understand our recent history better.

Doordarshan on Youtube:
Closer home, Doordarshan’s Youtube channel also seems to have started its digitization efforts, with over 700 videos uploaded. Granted, it is a drop in the ocean compared to the Pathé, but hopefully our government recognizes the importance of bringing us the original content that we cherished when we were growing up.

I was particularly happy with a full Byomkesh Bakshi playlist that was uploaded by DD, since a friend had given me the episodes on a thumb drive but the audio quality in those episodes left a lot to be desired. My mind boggles at all the material they might be able to upload, except, maybe Krishi Darshan which is as boring as the ‘smoking kills’ ads that they show without exception at the start of every movie in a cinema hall.

Archive of Indian Music:
In Bangalore, Vikram Sampath, who is one of the founding trustees of the Bangalore Literature Festival told me about a project that he was working on, titled the Archive of Indian music, where they are trying to document the rich history of Indian recordings.

All the clips have been hosted on Soundcloud and will be a delight to go through for those that are big on old music from back in the 1920s and beyond. I chanced upon Kundan Lal Saigal’s “diya jalao” from the movie Tansen, which I remember watching with my parents and being utterly fascinated about how a man’s voice could be so powerful as to light extinguished lamps. Even now, many years later, that melody is hauntingly beautiful and I’d strongly recommend a listen.

If you have been born in the 80s (like me) or earlier than that and remember a pre-internet era vividly, I’m sure your mind has been blown by the enormous changes that have taken place due to the advent of the world wide web. Data digitization, archiving and retrieval are among the most important of these changes.

The seeds of the future lie buried in the past and the more we know about our past and learn from it, the better we can be. Please leave a comment in case you know of other similar archives. And no, the MTV Roadies Youtube channel does not qualify.

Make religion, not noise

On Sunday morning (16th February 2014), I was rudely woken up at 5-15 AM by a group of people who were making religion* loudly outside my apartment block. I’d heard this cacophony before and had dismissed it, assuming incorrectly on two separate occasions that it was a funeral procession and a Jain family taking sanyas.

Even though religion was happening loudly on both occasions, I thought this was an aberration that can’t be outraged over because these were one-time events. However, what took place on Sunday changed all that.

At 5-15 AM, about 15 people, armed with a dholak and a tambourine began singing / chanting loudly on the National Games Village main road, inside the complex. They did this four times as they walked around the entire block. No speakers were used, but when they were doing what they did so early in the morning, speakers weren’t necessary.

I walked out of my house, waited for them to finish and approached them politely, inquiring about why they did this. One person explained to me that this was being done to purify the atmosphere and to pray for the environment.

Noble intentions, terrible execution.

I then asked these people whether they had taken permission for this activity, since this was being conducted in the wee hours of the morning and (though I didn’t say this explicitly) was excruciatingly loud. A few of the individuals started giving me angry looks and began walking away, while one gentleman answered my queries politely, calling me ‘brother’. I am grateful to him for his patience and for engaging me in conversation to explain his stance.

Other people were not so kind, asking me questions like “What religion are you?“, “Are you from the India? You don’t have any culture?” and so on. The patient gentleman said that they do this once a month and that they will seek police permission and get it easily.

It is quite likely that nobody has ever questioned them before when they were making religion because of the diffusion of responsibility effect. While it is clearly not somebody else’s problem, it has been made so due to the limited frequency of occurrence.

However, sleep and peace of mind as a basic human need trumps making religion loudly.

It is here that I must quote (from a FB status shared by my B-school professor Reuben Abraham) these words by John Stuart Mill -

“If all mankind minus one, were of one opinion, and only one person were of the contrary opinion, mankind would be no more justified in silencing that one person, than he, if he had the power, would be justified in silencing mankind. Were an opinion a personal possession of no value except to the owner; if to be obstructed in the enjoyment of it were simply a private injury, it would make some difference whether the injury was inflicted only on a few persons or on many.

But the peculiar evil of silencing the expression of an opinion is, that it is robbing the human race; posterity as well as the existing generation; those who dissent from the opinion, still more than those who hold it. If the opinion is right, they are deprived of the opportunity of exchanging error for truth: if wrong, they lose, what is almost as great a benefit, the clearer perception and livelier impression of truth, produced by its collision with error.”

TL;DR – one must not ignore contrarian opinions either because they might be right or when wrong can further reinforce the original stance.

In light of this, Dear Reader, I had to ask you a few questions:

  • Have you faced similar problems that disrupt sleep at odd times and have you done anything about it?
  • Is there any legal recourse that can be adopted to dissuade these individuals from making religion loudly so as not to disturb the peace?

Please note that the reason I am asking these questions is to ensure that we are aware of our rights in our respective neighbourhoods and to see how we can collectively arrive at a situation where we are as respectful of people’s needs to make religion as they are of our need for peaceful sleep.

*Making religion / religion happened is an Aadisht Khanna coinage. My wife and I, despite the limited sample size are of the unanimous opinion that Aadisht is one of the best house guests we’ve had. On one occasion, I checked with him if he had slept well and his response was, “Yes da, for the most part. Then religion happened loudly and I wasn’t able to go back to sleep.“.

Yad Vashem, Mint Lounge (August 2013)

Thanks to Shamanth Rao, I had an opportunity to be published again in the travel section of Mint Lounge, this time to document my time spent at Yad Vashem, Israel’s holocaust history museum in Jerusalem.

It wouldn’t be inaccurate to assume that I’ve milked my trip to the max by writing about it three years later, and it also wouldn’t be inaccurate to state that the feeling of wanting to go back there on a visit is as strong as ever.

PS – notice the new blog theme? It works really well on the mobile too!

Readability: Right Click + R + S

Of Readability and why Right Click + ‘R’ + ‘S’ is such a wonderful thing.

Earlier in February, I came in possession of a wonderful new Kindle Paperwhite, thanks to my generous, awesome better half. I guess she didn’t want me buying another huge bookshelf, have its contents displayed to all who visited and seeing me transform from a perfectly normal, well-behaved host to a rude, stand-offish sort when asked to lend a book.

Nor did she, I reckon, want me to bear the agony of having my books damaged if and when we moved next, like it happened when I moved from Gurgaon to Bangalore.

There are divided opinions on the merits / demerits of ebooks versus paperbacks and hardbound books. I’m not sure which side of the fence I am on, since I like both kinds. However, the sheer joy of reading off the Kindle whenever I felt like (including at night, thanks to the fact that it is back-lit) made up for all the romantic notions I harboured in my head about the old-school-cool factor that physical books possessed.

I found out a few days after starting to use the device of the fact that there existed tools such as Calibre, Instapaper and Readability that gave me the ability to push articles from the internet onto the Kindle with extreme ease.

I’ve tried all three with varying results.

Calibre allows you to set subscriptions from websites onto your Kindle and is nifty and useful. Only caveat is that it needs to be running all the time on your laptop for the sync to take place.

Instapaper is also quite easy to use, especially when you integrate it with IFTTT. However, sometimes it doesn’t render images easily and I’ve still not been able to figure out how to ensure that items pushed onto my Kindle are marked as ‘read’, so that I don’t have to see them again.

Readability has been my savior. A quick browser extension installation later, I was able to, with two clicks or by pressing Ctrl + Shift + K, send articles onto my Kindle. However, it didn’t work 100% of the time. Unfortunately, I’ve not kept track of its success rates using the method specified, but I remember that a few articles that I wanted to read weren’t pushed onto the Kindle through this method.

That was when I discovered the option of right clicking on links + R (for Readability) + S (Send to Kindle). This works with 100% accuracy and gives me the flexibility of looking at links shared on twitter / facebook / reddit / wikipedia and pushing content directly. It doesn’t work with LinkedIn, though.

I’m still unable to subscribe to epapers or to web comics, and I’m hoping that some of you seasoned users have elegant solutions that I can use to remedy that.

However, if you’ve recently picked up a Kindle, you now know what to do. You’re welcome!

Edit: Amulya Shruti recommends using the “Push to Kindle” extension, though I see that it can happen only once the page has been loaded, compared to Readability which lets you click and push articles directly.

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