Monday, March 12, 2007

Looking Back? Looking Ahead? Looking over my Shoulders?

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Monday, August 15, 2005

For a few dollars more

After witnessing a quiz contest that was about as interesting as watching a group of not-so-athletic slugs doing a slow cycle race to determine their next ruler, I was at a friendly neighbourhood eat-out having my dinner when my mobile decided to beep the Walk of Life, and I knew that it had to be a message reminding me not to be late to the meeting where there were things waiting to be discussed and finalized, ostensibly in an atmosphere of brotherly hostel spirit. The Narmad mess at 9:30, the message said.

On arriving at the said spot, one would have been tempted to mistake it for a conclave of angry rugby players bracing up for the referee outside the stadium after losing the game owing to poor decisions on field. And he would not have been too far away from the truth. The meeting was the first of the four General Body Meetings that would be held every academic year. As the name suggests that is when the General Body of the hostel meet for the first time and discuss if pigs really have wings that have a matching colour to their skin complexion. But before that they usually discuss issues of lesser significance like the hostel budget that the secretaries would propose for the coming academic year.

It was the Gen-sec, better known to the watchful reader as the one who sent the message, when I was at the f.n. eat-out, who was presenting his budget when I entered. The issue under discussion was regarding the selection of volunteers to monitor the computer room. The G-S. was of the opinion that he needed a vol with computer fundaes to ensure nothing goes wrong with the computers and another to ensure that the computer room is closed at 11. Now, the closing of a computer room, as you would discern is not a job for the weak hearted. In fact every young man, starting his life ought to be a vol who closed the computer room at 11 in his hostel to build character. But the Narmad brethren seemed to think otherwise. And this meant a cut of about Rs.500 from his budget as there certainly was no free dinner for non-workers. For the uninitiated, the hostel tradition is to reward every hard working young vol with a dinner treat at the end of the academic year. Then there was the issue of transportation, miscellaneous transportation and transportation for the hostel night, that was settled in a not-very amiable manner, but settled finally, it was. But then there were other smaller issues like the purchase of washing machines etc that the cash-conscious general body pooh-poohed.

And then it was the turn of the Sports-Sec. He went about giving his plans for furthering and promoting and developing sporting facilities at the hostel. There were of course a few hiccups when the g.b., rather generously suggested the purchase of ten pairs of socks and studs for fourteen players and came up with a mind-blowing suggestion to do away with the purchase of a chess board and instead involve the largely untapped Narmad potential of budding pop art exponents to draw 64 squares, alternating black and white in colour, and stick them on a good cardboard sheet to further the interests of the chess prodigies. But they had to reluctantly agree to the purchase of a chess board (the cheapest one, no less) when they were reminded that though there were many budding exponents of pop art, there certainly were no wood carvers etc who could make the chess pieces.

Yours truly, as the poet Whatsisname once said had the responsibility thingummy on his shoulders, before he could say What Ho! Being the Lit-Sec of a hostel, and presenting the budget would have made me a red carpet invitee into the sixteenth chapter of Thomas and his nerves of ISO certified Steel, where our brave protagonist braves the fire breathing jaws of the fiercest of the Romanian Dragons, while warding off the attack from the Loch Ness monster. After a quick introduction I proceeded to present my budget. There was a bit of haggling on the question of how much the winner of an intra hostel event ought to be awarded. For some time the scene was reminiscent of a beam balance with empty pans. Then some kindred souls in the g.b. decided that they needed more money for the thingy rather than for the nonameyet as opposed to some others who felt the exact opposite. Abraham Lincoln would have been a proud man had he seen me diffuse the argument with the greatest of ease and bring calm amidst the growing unrest (hell, I am the author here!). And he certainly would have sung my praises during the dinner table conversation and later on had he seen how quickly I concluded the haggling and brought about a peaceful agreement with the g.b. So there was peace at last, but then there were these moments that occurred during the calming process that would have gone a long way in clearing any doubts that Ol’ Abe had in my abilities.

Firstly, there was this question on which was the better event the thingy or the nonameyet, which took some masterful explanation to prove the qualitative superiority of the thingy.

Then, the allocation of an annual budget to buy books. It is a great tradition at the hostel library that we manage to expand our impressive collection of books every year, to ensure that the average Narmadite continues to remain head, shoulders and waist above the mainstream sheep. But there was a bean in the g.b. that seemed to think otherwise. He was politely told by a half of the g.b to go and boil his head off. ‘There you go, Abe! That’s support from unexpected quarters’ I said, and Abe nodded in glad approval.

While we are still on the topic of the allocation of an amount to buy books, there was this old egg, not an altogether bad one that wanted to know how many books (exactly, mind you) that I intended to buy in the coming months. It took me some explaining on the lines of how a book is not a tennis ball that has a fixed price, and how I intended not to buy any book that claims to thrill you and chill you and is written by a number without a name, or by any other person who has a fair knowledge of revolver brands and is on a mission to fill up 700 odd pages with useless info about the same in the hands of a smiling assassin or for that matter of anyone who seems to think that the world is essentially full of phallic emblems. Having understood the basic difference in the economics of a tennis ball and a book, he looked an enlightened man.

And then the meeting was largely devoid of any interesting occurrences that would register a good 7 on the Richter scale till the Garden-sec came along (yessir! We have one!). He wanted to buy about a million saplings for half a million rupees and was promptly told by the enlightened g.b to eat cake. And he gladly conceded.

A piece of information which if I fail to mention here would haunt me for the rest of my life is the one concerning our Warden. Narmada like any other self-respecting hostel has a Warden, a thorough gentleman who is always there in every Narmadite’s hour of need. He had the rather unenviable position tonight of having to endure the entire meeting and watch the g.b. lose the sight of the forest for the wood. Yet like one of those heroes in fables whom you find braving the storm with an upper lip that was as stiff as an iron rod, he braved it.The meeting, lasted, I must add for three hours, and the secretaries finally tabled their budgets, which were passed by the g.b., who were glad that the overall budget was just over a lakh of rupees less than what their immediate predecessors had tabled.

All’s well that ends well? I think this is just the beginning.

Monday, June 20, 2005

The Delicate Sounds of Blunder

Heres to peer pressure. My first post since 44 BC, as the gasoline guzzler pointed out. So it was this other day when we had a very happy reunion of school friends, we decided to go around the city. And then, Hari wanted to go to his college to check something out, so we went with him. After the work was done and when we were waiting for the bus back to his place, we noticed that the signposts had long black patches on them. It didn’t take us long to realize that it was another of those apparent missions carried out to further the cause of Tamil and for the general welfare of the Tamil language and her people. And the man who has captured the imagination of all, albeit for all the wrong reasons regarding the language issue as well as most other issues is a certain Dr. Ramadoss, arguably the heir apparent to Captain, should the latter decide to quit his I-am-THE-honest-cop-who-fights-ISI-miscreants and enter politics.

With great difficulty this writer managed to get face to face with the man himself. When asked what the language issue and the black paints were all about, he said: “It is about furthering the cause of Tamil, and making it the mandatory language for all international communications. Understandably, any other language is a hindrance to people’s welfare. And since we fight for people’s welfare we make more than merely a conscious attempt to wipe all other languages from the face of the Tamil soil. Anyway, a long black patch on an otherwise boring green or yellow signboard looks cool from a distance.”

Hmm fair enough, I think. I mean nobody is against adding a dash of colour to the boring city-scape, and come to think of it a black patch on a yellow or a green signboard kicks ass.

“But what about those who don’t give a damn about your astonishing aesthetic sense but are plain pissed because they cannot understand what’s written on the boring green board in front of them because they cannot read Tamil? “

Ha! Gotcha there! That was a trick question. Now let’s see you wiggle your way out of this!

He said: “Three times four cannot be thirteen, and seven times eight is fifty-six everywhere.”

“Huh? Yeah I know that. But what about the people who don’t know Tamil?”

“Don’t they know it?”

“Yes, they know it too.”

“So there. That solves it.” he said.

I was lost for words here. I tried to ask him the same question again. But apparently he was against rhetorical questions. So I had to let go.

Another thing that gets me a little worked up is the practice of giving rhyming names to siblings. So it goes like this. If Ram has a younger brother he automatically becomes Shyam , and Narendran’s younger brother better be a Surendran, and should there be another son in the family, he is Sudhindran or may be Suchindran, but mind you any name not ending with a –dran is deemed unfit to even be mentioned as a possible option.

This is being extremely unfair to the second child. I mean what are the chances that he would get a name that does not sound like a violent mix of crimson and electric turquoise? And all this because he was born after the first guy? The first guy, of course has limitless possibilities, from a plain Suresh to a more exotic !Xobile (ask me how to pronounce it!). The third guy, of course fares even worse. For he has one possibility less. All this is partly because of those insipid story tellers of Bollywood who had hit an all time low in imagination while trying to name their protagonists. So what’s the fun in having a seven syllable name that takes about ten seconds to call out, just because your name had to rhyme with your elder brother’s? Thankfully for me I don’t have to worry about that, for I am a first born. And no, my sister’s name does not rhyme with mine, nor is it in any way derived from my name. She probably wouldn’t have forgiven me for eternity had that happened.

On a brighter note the Sensex has touched 7000. In case you were wondering what all the fuss was about, it’s like this. There is this Bombay Stock Exchange that decides it needs to monitor the growth of the Indian share market. So one fine April morning in 1979, some names that matter get together in what is the first meeting of the Index Committee and then choose 30 companies which according to them are indicative of the cash flow in the Indian market and then say that the index is 100. And that was the basis. Even today, the Committee reviews the list of 30 companies that are similarly indicative of the cash movements in the stock market and the general performance is reflected in the Sensex. A higher value means the economy doing great like the black patch on the yellow sign, and a lower value means a seven syllable name. But then again, one has to take all this with an extra helping of salt, if we have to relate it to the general state of the Indian economy. That is because the percentage of the Indian population who invest in shares is low, and hence a general well being of the share market doesn’t mean Kallu Ram is automatically taken care of in Ballia.

Another piece of news that might actually make me watch cricket this summer is that Australia have been beaten by Bangladesh. To make matters worse for the baggy-green-kangaroos they were beaten by England the next day, and by Somerset the day before and by England again in a Twenty20 match a couple of days before that. It would be good fun if the Ashes for a change would be between two evenly matched sides rather than those dreary one-sided affairs in which the Poms get mauled.

And this is not the Nine o’ clock News.

Thursday, May 12, 2005

The Summer-Winds of Change

If there was no change, then there would be no butterflies. And that would mean one thing less to worry about for Indonesians, for there would certainly be no butterflies flapping their wings in South America. Unfortunately, for them, that is not the case. Change, as we all know oh-so-clichéd-well is the only permanent thing. That clearly, has not been the case with this blog. It has remained, for most practical purposes, without a change for about a couple of months now. The cry went around, saying ‘Echoes don’t sound anymore! The saneman’s blog won’t voom if you put four thousand volts through it!’

Not being the utterly-unconcerned-about-his-blog kind of person, I woke up from my slumber, and decided to breathe life into this blog that was seemingly pushing the daisies. So, what you have on your monitor screens, is what I would prefer to call Echoes Resounded.

Other things have been happening. On a relieving note, the fourth semester has ended, and the summer vacations have begun (three months, baby!). Relieving because, this semester was as interesting as watching Andy Warhol's Sleep alone, whilst being subjected to the musical virtuosity of a bullet-proofed mosquito droning away in your ears.

Elsewhere the Lakers have failed to make it to the NBA Playoffs. Talk about dramatic turnarounds! After a three-peat, nobody would have expected the Lakers to take this kind of a nosedive. Having moved from LA to Miami, Shaq is definitely turning the Heat on in the Eastern Conference, as they start as favourites. And no, he is not the reason why it has become unbearably hot here. The mercury has been on the rise here, with temperatures touching 42 on the Celsius scale, leaving most folks high and dry, trying to find an answer to all this.

Tuesday, April 05, 2005

And now for something completely different...

Arthur: I am your king!
Woman: Well, I didn't vote for you.
Arthur: You don't vote for kings.
Woman: Well, how did you become King, then?
Arthur: The Lady of the Lake... her arm clad in the purest shimmering samite, held aloft Excalibur from the bosom of the water signifying by Divine Providence that I, Arthur, was to carry Excalibur. That is why I am your king!
Dennis: Listen. Strange women lying in ponds distributing swords is no basis for a system of government. Supreme executive power derives from a mandate from the masses, not from some farcical aquatic ceremony.
-Monty Python and the Holy Grail

Monty Python’s Flying Circus was a hugely popular television comedy series, which was aired for four seasons on BBC. The Python lineup included John Cleese, Eric Idle, Graham Chapman, Michael Palin, Terry Jones and Terry Gilliam. Of these, the latter was the animations expert, while the rest were the main characters in their sketches.

The series itself had been named in a rather unusual way. The producers at BBC decided to name the series Circus in response to the way the six Pythons-to-be were scuttling around like a circus, and decided later to prefix Flying to make it sound like something from World War I. The name Monty Python was chosen by the Pythons themselves, referring to it, jokingly as the kind of name that a really bad theatrical agent who would have brought them together, might have had. So the phenomenon that was to be Python was born, in 1969. The rest, as they say has been a heady mixture of history, geography, economics and quantum chemistry.
Over the years, the Pythons have redefined comedy of the television kind with their unconventional style of narration and bizarre content, like vicious attacks from gangs of armed “Keep Left” signs and the friendly neighbourhood Bicycle Repair Man. They came across as a more-than-just-welcome breath of fresh air to the stale ‘two-men-across-a-desk’ comedy sketch that invariably ended with a corny punchline that was prevalent in British television then. Other notable variations, in their narrative were, the absence of punchlines, the nearly, but not quite seamless transition from one sketch to another using Terry Gilliam’s animations.

The animations actually became a hallmark of Python sketches. Starting from the famous left foot, inspired from Agnolo Bronzino's 'Venus, Cupid, Folly and Time', to other cardboard animations of the Pythons, and others they have remained an integral part of these sketches - as integral as 0.545 is not.

The Python Fan Club has among other names the likes of The Beatles, Pink Floyd, Led Zeppelin and Douglas Adams. In fact the latter once famously remarked, “I wanted to be John Cleese, but it took a long while for me to realize that the job had already been taken.” He remains only one of the two non-Pythons to have written the scripts for their sketches. Pink Floyd were big fans of the television series and have been known to postpone recording sessions to catch the television episodes. They also funded the production of the movie Monty Python and the Holy Grail.

Ex-Beatle George Harrison was of massive support to the Pythons in the late 70s. He funded and starred in Monty Python’s Life of Brain, and also appeared in Eric Idle’s series titled The Rutles, which parodied The Beatles which had rather imaginative titles like Can’t buy me lunch and All you need is cash. He once said in an interview, "Monty Python helped me get over the trauma of the breakup of the Beatles."

In fact, they were to television comedy, what The Beatles were to music, in the sense that they were essentially British, and were not afraid to experiment creatively on their content. Both were internationally popular, and broke away from stifling demand that their respective producers laid on them. And like The Beatles, the individual members have been extremely successful, with their solo projects after the collective broke up.
Graham Chapman, a vastly talented actor, writer and alcoholic, died of cancer in 1989. John Cleese’s tribute speech barely two months later left the audience in splits, notwithstanding the reference to the Dead Parrot Sketch and the use of that four letter word. “And the reason I think I should say this is, he would never forgive me if I didn't, if I threw away this opportunity to shock you all on his behalf”, he said. Later on, commenting on the possibilities of a reunion, Eric Idle said “We shall have a proper reunion, once Chapman comes back from the dead. We have sent a note to his agent!” Keeping with the loving eccentricities of the Pythons, Chapman is referred to, affectionately as ‘the dead one.

The Pythons have enjoyed huge success, and have been honoured with a number of distinctions. The earliest being a request for producing Flying Circus episodes for the German audience, which they gladly complied with the Fliegender Zirkus. Recently, Monty Python’s Flying Circus has been inducted into the Rose d’Or Hall of Fame, an international television festival that is now in its 45th year. The programming language Python has been named in honour of the Pythons, with sample program codes containing pythonesque references, reaffirming their status as a nerd-staple, among other things. The word spam traces its etymological origins to an eponymous Python sketch. Not too surprisingly, there is a snake species in South America named after them. The Broadway adaptation of Holy Grail, titled SPAMaLOT opened recently.

Post Python, the Pythons have had comparable success with their individual projects. While reuniting for their movies, they have been working independently, collaborating as pairs at times for select projects.

John Cleese acted and produced Fawlty Towers, another hugely popular television comedy series, and later on appeared in a multitude of movie roles like Q in Die Another Day, replacing David Llewellyn, who had played the role in all previous Bond flicks, and as Nearly Headless Nick, in the first two movies of the Harry Potter series.

Eric Idle, famous as the King of one-liners, and the soul of sketches like ‘Nudge Nudge’, has been working on similar television series like The Rutles and lately has been busy with SPAMaLOT, the Broadway adaptation of Holy Grail.

Terry Jones likewise starred in some television series, and later switched over to writing. He wrote among other things Douglas Adam’s Starship Titanic, based on the computer video game, screenplays for Labyrinth, Wind in the willows, and is a regular columnist with The Guardian, where he has been voicing his anguish and complete discontent with the war in Iraq, with essays like George, God here…

Michael Palin has been doing several travelogues, and has given rise to what is called the Palin Effect in tourism. The number of tourists to a particular spot increases after a Michael Palin episode featuring the same, like for instance the Sahara desert!

Terry Gilliam, the undoubted silent spirit behind the not as silent animations, has been involved with a variety of directorial projects, like Don Quixote and Brothers Grimm.

That three of the Pythons - Cleese, Palin and Idle were in the top 50 of the list of Comedian’s Comedians stands testimonial to the respect and love that the Pythons enjoyed among their peers.

Perhaps their outlook is best summed by the closing lines of their last movie The Meaning of Life. Unfortunately, printing them here would mean that the PG-13 certification tag that this magazine, so proudly carries, would cease to be, expire, breathe it’s last, kick the bucket, go on to meet it’s maker and rest in peace. So, in the best interests of the certificate, the article ends here.

This article appeared in Alchemy 2005 the Chemical Engineering Department magazine

Sunday, February 20, 2005

Mechanical Haiku Operations

It has been a long week, and it's only Monday today! Five quizzes gone one to go. So I have this course called Mechanical Unit Operations which any chemical engineer worth his vacuum evaporated salt must do (sadly). The course per se is somewhere between separation and mixing and I don't know where, exactly. So far as I know, it is in CRC 304. Anyway, I have been inventing new methods to spend the class time usefully, while still sitting in the class.

So the prof went on with his "Size reduction muggawuggayadayadawuggamugga Chamber yadayadayada grinding muggawugga particle ...." and it was mostly an overhead transmission, primarily because I was not able to hear the prof clearly enough... and no I am not hard of hearing, just that I did not try hard enough!

So there were a lot of particles and their size being reduced and then the customer requirements and then I drew Groucho Marx and then ashish said he looked like paul mcartney and I mocked and said he looked more like munkey schaffer and then I decided to write haikus.

Now I am not throwing in that obvious line that would say that I am a greenhorn and I know nothing about writing haikus save the 5-7-5 syllable count,and apologize profusely for even having dreamt about writing a haiku. For all I care,they looked pretty neat to me once I finished writing them.

So here goes... my haikus in chronological order:

I'm learning to fly
A particle blown away
In the D-slot class

The class happened to be in a D-slot, and was about size reduction of particles...

And soon enough ashish came up with one of his own, which I promptly forgot and then I wrote another one

Didn't know what it was
Looked like nothing I had seen
The Invisible

and then as a dedication to the week that has been, the kind of which I have seen and shall see in numerous occasions, I came up with this...

We shall soon see
What has not been seen till now
'Morrow's quiz paper

and then ashish wrote two more to catch up with me. However, the prof felt that enough was enough and started taking the attendance, and then announced that we had to submit some simulation program, working as groups of three and dismissed the class.

So until next time
When there'd be probably more
Auf Wiedersehen!

Saturday, February 05, 2005

That that is is is is and that that is not is not is not is not

As I sit down to pen this article, I step into deep meditation, I close my eyes , take a deep breath and take a view of the human life from the exterior. Having transcended the limits of the human body I am now in a position to comment on the sheer nothingness of the human race… well ok I didn’t do that! anyhow I decide to write about the first thing that comes to my mind and so continuing with my deep breath and all that I launch myself into a state of rather futile brainstorming and the first thing that came to my mind was… well, nothing! So I decide to write about nothing to see if it could mean anything at all!

So… as is the convention when writing earth-shaking articles of such vital importance, the Webster’s Dictionary refers to nothing as… um.. forget it I am too lazy to look up the definition. Anyways I shall now let you out on a little secret that is bound to send shockwaves in the community of the astrophysicists and related people who strive to find what exists beyond the universe. Well, ladies and gentlemen contrary to popular belief, there does exist something beyond the universe and it is (trumpets, drum roll) nothing.

The next obvious question in the mind of discerning reader would be to ask if we actually have to travel such a helluva distance like the end of the universe to find nothing. I mean, can we not find it at any other earthly spot? After all not all of us could become Arthur Dent! Well finding nothing is tougher than finding Nemo! That’s because you can see nothing, hear nothing, smell nothing, feel nothing or taste nothing when you see, hear, smell, feel or taste nothing. So perception of nothing with the five senses as we know them is totally impossible! But one place where we could find it for sure without travelling a helluva distance is the Webster’s Dictionary. So out goes my laziness and I retrieve the one-place–to-find-nothing-for sure-without-traveling-a-helluva-distance from my bookshelf. And it says nothing is “not anything”. As the above definition is detrimental to the raison d’atre of this article it shall be deemed heretical and condemned with immediate effect.

However a positive outcome of the whole exercise is that it has helped us evolve a cure for my laziness and it is nothing. It is only now that I understand the profound meaning of my mother’s oft repeated pearls of wisdom! She has been telling me all along that nothing could cure my laziness! And it has taken me so long to actually realize it.

So people, that’s the last word. Nothing is the universal cure to laziness(anything that could cure my laziness shall surely cure yours too!) as nothing gets you up on your feet as nothing else could!

This article first appeared in Alchemy, the Chemical Engineering department magazine, last year and later in The Sabre, the Narmad hostel magazine. And just in case, you were not able to punctuate the title... it is supposed to be read as "That that is 'is', is 'is' and that that is not 'is not', is not 'is not'! "