Friday, August 03, 2007

My portraits for the Photo Contest

Gifg;glg; Nghl;bf;fhd vdJ glq;fs;:

vd;d ,Ue;jhYk; fWg;G nts;is Gifg;glq;fNshl moFk; fiy czh;r;rpANk jdp jhd; !!! ,J ehd; vd;idNa vLj;Jf;nfhz;l glk;.



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,J vd;dJd;D njhpahjtq;fSf;F : ,J jkpopy; Gifg;glf; fiy elj;Jk; Nghl;b .

tiy jsk; : http://photography-in-tamil.blogspot.com/2007/07/blog-post_31.html


Sunday, July 29, 2007

The great Indian Jinx

It would be a heart-breaking day for all the Sania Mirza fans around the globe. She has just lost the finals of the Bank of the West Classic tournament in Stanford, California. This was one good chance for her to win a second WTA title after the first one in Hyderabad. Having beaten 3 top-twenty players in the run-up to the final, she looked to be on course for the title. But then she has meekly succumbed to her opponent in the final.

I did not see the match, but just followed the scores through the net. From the way, the score board ticked, the final score (6-3, 6-2) and from the total duration of the match, it looks like Anna Chakvetadze had the upper hand throughout the match. And that is why she was the top seed in the tournament.

Sania on her part seems to have been bitten by the "Great Indian Sports Jinx". She appeared to play really well all through the tournament and finally when it is time to reap the benefits of her performance, she stumbles in the last hurdle. This seems to be a jinx that is affecting all spheres of Indian sports (It even seems to affect me at my level of playing any game :) ). Our sportsmen in so many disciplines, be it cricket, weight lifting, Boxing, hockey, tennis, shooting, archery ... seem to be doing well until the final stage of a tournament. But then something overcomes them and they seem to fail at the last moment. We've witnessed this so often in major tournaments - World cups, Olympics, Asian games, Commonwealths and so on.

Sports always takes a backseat in India. As long as the government and the public do not give importance to this field, we should not expect any great results. But this doesn't mean that there are no talented sports persons in our country. We know that they are capable of winning and we see some good performances in smaller tournaments. But somehow they fail to deliver in the big stage. This seems to afflict all sports irrespective of how popular the sport is. We all hope this jinx is broken soon and we see some good results. Sania has to play the doubles finals now and she is also taking part in a tournament in San Diego next week. Hope she sees some success there.


Sunday, July 22, 2007

Potter - After the hallows

Spoiler Warning: This post will contain references to the story of Harry Potter and the deathly hallows and will discuss some parts of the story.

So, the wait is finally over. The final edition of Harry Potter has come out. I was eagerly waiting for my copy on Saturday when my friend from India boasted over the phone that he has received his copy. Finally the book came in by around 10:30 am. I brought it in, unwrapped it and immediately called my friends to do my bit of boasting :) I started reading by 1:00 pm, and completed the book by around 12:30 pm the next day.

Now, coming to my impressions of the book. Overall it is a good story. Most of the plot is on expected lines (atleast my expectations), but there are a few unexpected things too.

Looking at how Rowling killed Dumbledore and Sirius, I expected her to finish off either Ron or Hermoine. But she has played safe and kept both of them well and alive. In fact, eventually Ron marries Hermoine and Harry ties the knot with Ginny. I would've been heartbroken, but that might have done justice to Voldermort's power. And all along, Rowling kept saying that we're delaing with a great war and so loss of some of the bigger characters should be anticipated. But the people who died are no doubt important, but by no means the main pivotal characters - Mad-eye, Dobby, Fred, Lupin, Tonks etc.

Sometime back I received a fake 7th potter book (fan-fiction). That author had paid a great deal of attention to every small bit of information that Rowling has provided in her first six books. Plus she (I remember the author is a lady, but not her name). She has also carefully analysed the small clues that Rowling provided about her seventh book. The basic storyline of this fake book is so much like the Actual book (Or should I say the reverse, since the reverse came out first?). In both the books, the horcruxes are the Locket, Ravenclaw's diadem, helga hufflepuff's cup and finally Harry himself. And the person who stole the locket is 'Regalus black', sirius' brother. this has been guessed by so many people in the discussion forums. We just cannot think otherwise. The raven claw's tiara is vaguely specified in HBP to be on a bust in the room of requirements. Both books have placed that exactly in the same place in this book. I'll give more credit only to the author of the fake book. And there are similarities in the retrieval of Hufflepuff cup too. In the fake book, Harry goes to the house of Hufflepuff and goes to someother place through a cupboard and fights a dragon to get the cup. In the original book, the trio steal it from Bellatrix Lestrange's vault in Gringotts and in the process makes use of a dragon to escape.

A special mention should be given to the cup retrieval. For all the hype given about the safety of gringotts, it seems to be childishly simple for Harry, Ron and Hermoine to go in and steal voldermort's most treasured article from one of the most secure and guarded vaults. If this is the case, then I can't imagine, how lax the security will be at ordinary times.

I really liked Dobby's appearance and sacrifice. The author has cleverly used the available options to help Harry come out of difficult situations. Dobby's innocence and unfailing devotion to the person who set it free is really moving. This is to just show the effect of love on a person. We should not think any creature as being lowly and inferior. We should learn to love everything around us.

Hermoine is absolutely brilliant. She compliments the Hot-headed Harry and the emotional Ron very well. Her expert knowledge on the complex charms, quick-thinking abilities are visible throughout the story. The way she led the three of them to safety after Bill's wedding, their escape from the ministry, escape from Lovegood's house etc. But as lovegood says, she has a narrow view. That is why she refused to believe about the hallows.

The hallows themselves are just additions to the plot. They are like a distraction for Voldermort from his main quest of destroying Potter. Gaunt (Voldy's grandpa) mentions that he descended from a Peverell. Then Dumbledore says that Harry is a descendant of Ignotus Peverell, the youngest of Peverell. Voldermort is younger than Dumbledore, but elder than James and Lily. So in a way, Voldy is a very distinct uncle to Harry. :):):) Harry and Voldy are related. I remember that in HBP, Voldy is said to be the descendant of Salazar Slytherin. so that means, Harry is also related to the slytherin line :)

Rowling has taken it in her mind to talk about Dumbledore's past. And to make it interesting, he has portrayed him to have been briefly overcome by desire to rule over the world and dominate the muggles. Isn't this exactly what Voldy is now trying to do? Of course, Dumbledore comes to his senses, mainly due to the death of his sister. Makes an interesting read, but this doesn't seem to make a difference to the story. Anyways, Dumbledore fought Grindelwald and confiscated the Elder wand. So it doesn't matter if they were friends before or not.

And Rowling has done justice to Neville. The poor guy has always had an inferiority complex all through his life and had difficulty coping with his studies. The manner in which he resisted the death-eater shows the warrior in him. And the loyalty he shows towards the end, that makes the Gryffindor sword appear before him and the way he killed Nagini are simply brilliant. But to make this point, Rowling has made Voldy summon the sorting hat and show some tricks. Just like our tamil cinema, where the villain will have the gun and the hero will be unarmed. Inexplicably, the villain will throw the gun off and will say that he doesn't need a gun to finish off the hero. :)

And Rowling is using the Love-protection clause so often in her stories. It has become an overdose. Whenever Harry is face-to-face with Voldermort, some aspect of love comes in and Harry is saved. As bad and filled with hatred Voldermort is, he would've found a way over this. He is not some petty thief to not be able to master over this. And the final duel between Harry and Voldermort is just too simple. This is not a dueling clib match, where Voldermort and Harry fire spells at the same time. Voldermort is an accomplished legilimens and would be able to read Harry's mind within seconds. And he's also skilled in non-verbal spells, whereas Harry is not. He can cause incredible damage just by thinking a spell. For the hype given to him, I felt that he can just obliterate everything and everyone in the great hall.

Rowling has been portraying Harry to be just a school kid with some additional powers bestowed upon him by a sequence of events during his childhood. He does not possess any extra-ordinary magical power. At the same time, she has to show him as a hero matching Voldermort, the greatest wizard of all times. She has handled that really well to some extent. Whenever Harry is stumped, his mediocrity is well complimentede by the brilliance of Hermoine. Even though Harry is the center of the entire book, he does not do everything alone. He is helped by various people . Ron, hermoine (obviously), Aberforth at hogmeade, Luna a couple of times, Snape in delivering Gryffindor sword, griphook in gringotts, narcissa in the forbidden forest, Neville in killing Nagini, Dobby from Malfoy manor and Dumbledore himself from his portrait through Snape, Fred, George, Mad-eye and so on. That is good. Obviously Harry cannot handle this alone. But he handles the final duel with Voldermort to justify him being the hero. But I guess that is the main crux of the story. You need to love people. Harry's love for the people around him, made them rally around him (though the prospect of getting rid of Voldy is another reason), stand up in his defense when Parkinson talks about handing him over to Voldy. Of course, Voldy also had his set of faithful followers. But that was due to fear rather love (except probably Bellatrix. She seems to be totally in love with him).

The handling of Snape is yet another masterpiece from Rowling. And I'm happy that my instinct about this before reading the book had been correct. After saving Potter for so many years, it just didn't make sense that he suddenly switched sides . And simlarly I was right in telling that Dumbledore will help Harry in some way (Though he did not pass on any power as I suspected). But I do not like the prospect of talking portraits. In the earlier books, this looked good - the photos just moving about. But now all the photos are talking, thinking and just behaving as if they are in real world. Just one another way Rowling has used things to explain some part of the story.

It is unfortunate the "Mcgonagall spy" theory didn't come true. But it was fun thinking in that angle. but I myself never believed it. But I feel that she is just a waste of space. For a teacher of her caliber, she has not done anything worth-while in any of the books. This book is no exception. She makes her appearance only towards the end and runs here and there fighting. So did so many others. But did she do anything extra-ordinary. No, Nothing. Many other like Mad-eye, Snape, Trewlany (atleast she gave the prophecy), hagrid made some contibution through the series. Similarly Ginny also didn't have any role. She's like a heroine in Tamil movies who appear just to fall in love with the hero and dance a few duets (Of course, she did have a good role in COS, though she didn't do much even there.)

All these days, Rowling has been saying that some non-magical person will perform magic. But I don't recall anyone like that from this story. I'm not sure if I missed that. If any of you know about this, let me know.

I see a lot of similarities between this and the fake book. In the fake book, Harry will lure voldermort to the ministry of magic and use Avada Kedavra on him. At the same time, he holds the golden snitch and created a horcrux from his soul which effectively rips off Voldy's soul from Harry. In Rowling's book, Harry gets a snitch from Dumbledore, Hermoine researches about the Horcrux and finds out how to create it. But then towards the end, the snitch just opens up to reveal the "resurrection stone". And I really did not see any use for the stone. In what way Sirius, Lupin, James and Lily help Potter when he went into the forbidden forest? They followed him for sometime and he just let the stone slip from his hand and they vanished. Did Rowling originally intend to put the snitch to the same use as in the fake book? But then after reading the fake one, she probably changed her mind. I got this feeling in many places throughout the book. For example, Bill and Fleur marriage is also so similar in both the books.

A review in Time magazine has specified that the "Accio" charm is childishly simple. At one point, they say "Accio Hagrid". Why didnt Voldy get this idea? When there are seven copies of Potter at the beginning, all he should've done is "Accio potter" and the real one would've come zooming to him or atleast struggled against the charm :):):)

I thought that there are only 7 pieces of Voldy's soul. But in this book, it seems that there are eight: Seven horcruxes namely Riddle's diary, Ring, Cup, diadem, Nagaini, Locket and finally harry. Then the last piece of Voldy's soul is with himself. That makes it eight.

We can keep asking lots of questions like this and give zillions of opinions. But we should admit that it is a good piece of work from Rowling. It is not easy to tie all loose ends together and provide some acceptable solution. She has done that job really well. She is a master story-teller.

A few of my predictions / theories have come true - Dumbledore's help, Snape's goodness, Fred/ Lupin's death, Neville's role. Some have gone wrong - Ron/Hermoine's death, Kreacher helping Voldy, Draco's death etc. But on the whole, it doesn't look bad :):):)

Friday, July 20, 2007

Potter - Before the hallows

Today is July 20, 2007. Time is 11:51 pm. Exactly 9 minutes later, Rowling will read from her final edition of Harry Potter - the series that captivated the entire world for the past decade. Never have I heard of any literary work winnig the hearts of such a wide range of fans - children, adults, whites, blacks, browns and what not.

And I'm sitting here at my home like millions of potter fanatics around the world, painfully waiting for the final edition of the series. And like them, I've also pre-ordered a copy of the hallows and am expecting it to be delivered tomorrow. So, before immersing myself into the final edition, I'm putting down my thoughts, ideas and expectations. I'll follow this up with a "After Hallows" blog once I finish reading the book. Let's then compare my thoughts and expectations with what Rowling has actually created.

The first six books have built an elaborate plot based on very simple concepts : Good Vs Evil, power of love, friendship etc. All these are themes handled by countless authors, but not many have been as successful as Rowling. Now the final edition is expected to tie all the open ends of the plot and provide a exciting feast for its fans.

So what is one guaranteed ending to this series ? Voldermot will be destroyed and the good will triumph over evil. But how will this come about? Will Potter die along with Voldy? Who else will die? As the series progressed, the story kept becoming darker and darker. So I'm sure this will be no exception. My bet is that either Ron or Hermoine or even both will die in this edition. This is my first bet. Even Harry might die. But that will break the hearts of millions of fans. I myself will be soooo disappointed. But Rowling may just want that.

Next comes the question of how Harry, a seventh year student (?) is going to win over Voldermort, one of the greatest wizards of all time. Voldy specializes in wordless spells, that too one of the most powerful ones that no one else knows about. He is an accomplished occlumens whereas Harry is very poor in this. So Harry will have some special help. I've a few guesses:
  1. Dumbledore is going to give Harry with some kind of power to Harry or is going to help Harry in some way. His death is going to aid Harry, like how Lilly's death saved Harry. The circumstances of Dumbledore's death is highly suspicious. However weak he might be, I think he could have protected himself against Draco. His delay there, led to snape interfering. Plus he also stupefied Harry. All these will have a better explanation and effect.
  2. I still trust Snape, probably more than Dumbledore himself. All through the five books, he has been protecting Harry. Then all of a sudden, he goes to Voldy's side. His reasons are not so convincing. I feel this is all a part of a plan between him and Dumbledore. He'll probably be the one helping Harry, while at the same time pretending to be a death-eater. He is an accomplished legilimens, so his thoughts cannot be read by Voldy.
  3. Whoever this RAB is, he's also going to help Harry in some way.
  4. I came across some discussions which proposed that Mcgonagall is Voldy's super-spy. I've always complained that she is fit for nothing and is just a side character who does nothing significant. But what if these discussions are true? It gives a different angle. And We can expect rowling to do something like this. But somehow, the character portrayed by Maggie Smith in the movies doesn't give me that impression. She is more like a headmistress than a spy. This link analyses each of the six books and tries to establish mcgonagall as a spy, some of which are quite convincing: http://community.livejournal.com/unplottables/46684.html
  5. The other important characters like Hagrid, Lupin and atleast one of the weasley brothers might die. On Voldy's side, Lucius, Bellastrix, Narcissa might die.
  6. Draco might die trying to protect his father or might end up at the good side (even if reluctantly), after seeing that his father is prepared to sacrifice draco to save himself.
  7. Rowling has said that Umbridge will have a role again. Maybe she'll again mess things up.
  8. Kreacher might follow Dobby's footsteps i.e. become free. But he might work like a spy and feed voldy with info. Or he might devise some plan to make it harder for Harry to find the horcruxes.
  9. Neville longbottom is going to play some good role here. Mostly Bellastrix lestrange will be killed by Neville - revenge for what she had done to his parents.
  10. Rowling has said that one non-magical character will perform magic. and she herself has ruled out Petunia. I think the person is Dudley. Though I can't imagine what it is. But Petunia is someway related to harry's childhood and is going to play a part.
I do not want to guess what the horcruxes might be. I've read the fake potter book (I know it is fake because it has a happy ending, which is so unlike rowling. And not many people died) and as per the book, the horcruxes are ravenclaw's tiara, hufflepuff's cup, locket stolen by RAB and potter himself. With this idea in mind, I'm not able to think of any other credible alternative.

Finally seeing how Rowling approaches her books, I don't think this book is going to have a "Lived Happily ever after" ending. Even if Harry is alive at the end, he's going to be all alone, having lost his friends (possibly Ginny too). The World would be rejoicing, but Harry will be crying in his heart, all alone in this world.

I'm preparing myself to be heart-broken at the endding that Rowling would have given to this series.

That's it for now. I'll get back after reading the book. We'll see how close my thoughts were to Rowling's.

Sunday, July 08, 2007

Evolution - yesterday, today and tomorrow...

Sometime back I saw a program in the history channel about evolution of life. It was really fascinating. It is as though nature is playing a game - something similar to playing with the Lego building blocks. The natural elements are the building blocks in this case. Before starting with the creation of life, the stage needed to be set. From what man has postulated so far, this started with the big bang. Then it took billions of years to get the stage ready. Looking at the sequence of events, it looks like nature is gradually building things by trial and error.

  1. About 5 billion years ago, the sun is formed and remaining debris are allowed to coalesce into planets, moons and asteroids.
  2. All the planets cool down, settle into their relative orbits and start rotating around the sun, paving way to season and weather patterns.
  3. Here each planet seem to have a different characteristic - probably samples of different conditions. Mercury - small and hot; Venus - has excessive carbon-di-oxide and atmospheric pressure; earth - has liquid water and oxygen, Mars - has thin methane based atmosphere and violent storms, Jupiter - a gas giant with lot of hydrogen and so on.
  4. Then the organic elements in earth are fused together to create the first single cell organism.
  5. At this time, the continents look very different. There is just a single giant continent. It is like how we keep changing our designs while building something. The continents continuously keep drifting about forming different land masses.
  6. The single celled organism slowly evolves into complex life forms. The majority of life forms are concentrated in the oceans. Then slowly life spreads over land.
  7. Life multiplies in the oceans and the continents. but what about the skies? They are devoid of life? Then nature creates birds to fill the skies.
  8. The land is quite swampy and the plant life looks very different. The world is ruled by reptiles. Huge dinosaurs roam the planet. The scene must be as chaotic as it was depicted in the Jurassic park movies. It was an age where physical size dominated mental capabilities.
  9. Then suddenly it looks like nature didn't like the path that evolution is taking. Just huge reptiles roaming about and killing each other. Nature has already tried different forms of reptiles, birds and fishes. So how to reverse this evolutionary path? The answer is a meteorite. A huge meteorite strikes the earth and wipes out a major chunk of life on earth. It just happens so quickly in geological terms. The huge dinosaurs are wiped and the slate has been wiped clean. But Nature is careful not to obliterate life totally. It is like pressing ctrl +z just the required number of times.
  10. Now the land form changes. The swamps start drying out and out came mammals. this time nature is careful not to bring about such huge monstrous creatures like the dinosaurs.
  11. But this time nature decides to go one step further. A thinking mammal evolves - man.
  12. Now man starts doing some of Nature's work. He changes the character of dogs, cows, pigs etc by domesticating them. He alters landscapes to suit his needs.
From that point onwards, man has come a long way in his work. He is trying to alter nature at will. The entire evolutionary process has changed because of this. Plants and animals that would have thrived under the absolute rule of nature are now dying out due to man's interference. Similarly life forms that might have been eliminated by nature's plans are being preserved by man's conservation efforts.

In the past, forests grew and disappeared, species developed and became extinct on their own. no one tried to stop either of these. But now man is interfering with every single activity. He is not allowing other life forms to flourish and develop nor is he allowing other life forms to die out on their own.

After man arrived on the scene, how has evolution progressed? I'm not sure. Physically man has changed in appearance from apes and gorillas. And he started looking different in different parts of the world. But now with increased movement of humans across the globe, he has started interbreeding. So probably 1000 years down the lane, all these differences between humans might disappear. And what about other life forms? Many will die out and new ones will be born - but rather than being a direct work of nature, this time it might be due to man's work in genetic modification and such work. Probably nature is driving man through his intellect to further the evolutionary process.

But as with the dinosaurs, will nature again try to change its plans? Will it again try to erase the slate clean and start over? I personally believe it will. If so, how will it happen? Will it be through man? He is already standing ready to wipe the slate clean - nuclear weapons, biological weapons, pollution climate change and what not? But how many times is nature prepared to press ctrl+z? Probably nature will attempt a complete shift+delete and use this experience in a different game - establish a better system of life in some other planet / galaxy?

Saturday, May 12, 2007

Bodies - the exhibition

New york is like a city of museums . There are quite a few of them here : Museum of natural history, arts museum, financial museum, architectural museum ... A fortnight back I decided to visit one of them, a rather unusual one - The 'Bodies' museum. Back home, people call museums as 'Setha College' (Dead college). This museum is a 'Setha College' in its literal sense. Yes, it houses real dead bodies - some 20 of them.

The aim of this museum is to explain the human body and its anatomy. They've displayed the real organs of the different systems of our body. The bodies are preserved by a process called 'polymer preservation'. Different organs have been separated according to the different systems and arranged as such. The photo to the left is the backside view of bodies in sitting posture. The brain, spinal chord, shoulder blades and the muscles are all clearly visible.


The museum starts with the skeletal system. The first items of display are the different joints in our body - the hips, knees and so on. Bones of different parts - skull, joints, fingers etc along with a whole skeleton are there on display. There is section on the functions of cartilage - the soft tissue like covering over our bones. They have separated the cartilage from the bones of a body, preserved the entire cartilage exactly in the shape of the skeleton. The skeleton shaped cartilage and the corresponding skeleton are holding hands as though playing together. It is a really wonderful and innovative display. I'm just not able to put it in proper words. The cartilage and the skeleton are supposed to be from the same body. They've carefully separated the cartilage from the skeleton, shaped it the same way as the skeleton and have arranged both of them together. Excellent innovation.

The museum then takes us through the other systems like nervous system, digestive system, circulatory system, respiratory system and so on. Under the respiratory system section, they've displayed the lungs of a chain-smoker. They are fully coated with tar and totally black in colour. There is also the specimen of a healthy lung by its side. And just after this exhibit, they've appealed to people to quit smoking. A huge glass container has been placed asking people to drop in their cigarette packets symbolizing their resolve to quit smoking. A very good effort, I should say.

There is also a separate section displaying foetuses. These are specimens collected during miscarriages. They've placed a warning at the entrance to this section, asking people who are sensitive to these things to skip this section. But this is a really wonderful section. It is here that we can fully appreciate the wonders of God's creation, the complexity of the evolutionary process. There is a long row of specimens showing the development of a human embryos starting from a couple of weeks after fertilization. The first specimen is of an embryo that is just a few days old. It is very small, not bigger than our finger nails and looks just like a small piece of cotton, translucent and very fragile. But even in that we're able to identify the shape of the baby. Then this embryo grows in size and by the end of 12 weeks, it is still has the same cotton-like appearance, but has clearly distinguishable hands, legs, head and other organs. It is no bigger than our thumb. Then there is this series showing the development of the spinal chord in an embryo. Within a few weeks of development, the spinal chord starts developing and appear like numerous tiny pin-heads. It is just really wonderful.

There are cross sections of most of the body parts. There is one specimen showing the cross section of the entire body. The entire body has been cut into small slices in a horizontal fashion and the pieces are spaced slightly apart, so that you can see the cross-section of the each body part along with their respective positions in the human body. The head alone was cut in a vertical fashion to show the brain clearly. The photo to the right is of a body split vertically through the center. You can notice the lungs, heart, stomach, intestine etc. This I feel is a very good depiction of our body.

Whenever I tell people that I visited this museum, they give a kind of shocked and disgusted reaction - probably the effect of seeing so many horror movies, deaths in movies, TV etc. In fact, I feel that even the photos of the museum do not give a very comfortable feeling. But it is so very different when experience first-hand. The organs have been drained of traces of blood and have been hardened. The most unrealistic exhibits are those of the circulatory system. So actually they've lost some of their realistic look or feel. The entire network of arteries and veins has been carefully extracted from the body and is arranged exactly in the shape of a human body. But when you look at it, it just looks like being made from coconut fibre dipped in red paint or ink. I somehow feel that this is a minus point. But this will make people who are more sensitive to bodies, feel more comfortable. I noticed specimens of all important body systems, but I didn't see any explicit explanation or specimen of the optical system. Most of the full-body specimens as in the photo to the right had eyes in them, but no specific section on the eyes. Probably they felt that it is just too much to have a cross section of the eyes.

And finally about the source of these bodies: All these specimens are supposed to have been obtained through the Dalian Medical University Plastination Laboratories in China. It looks like the 'Made in china' tag will follow us even after death. China has really pervaded all sphere of life, from birth till even after death.

Sunday, April 22, 2007

Beauty

I was all alone at home yesterday. and I have not gone out anywhere since the start of winter. every weekend, I used to spend the entire stretch of 48 hours inside the house without even opening the windows. My record is staying indoors for 72 straight hours :)

So I decided to break my monotony and go out. And what better place would there be than a botanical garden - a place where I can see spring rushing in and pushing winter out !!! Winter in these regions is quite depressing for people - especially if it was a "snowy" one. The trees are all bare with no leaves or flowers; the birds become silent and it is dull, white and dreary everywhere. And so when spring arrives - it is like the birth of a new day; the trees are covered with beautiful flowers, the birds start chirping, the climate warms up allowing people to shed their heavy woollen coats. So people really enjoy spring and I decided to take part in their celebration.


To tell the truth, I was a bit early to the garden. Most of the trees are still bare with winter trying desperately to maintain its hold. Only yesterday did it look like spring is finally getting the upper hand. But some trees and plants were early starters. There is this tree in front of my house, that is now totally covered with beautiful white flowers. And this contrasts nicely with the red bricks of the building behind. I caught the NY city subway to Brooklyn botanical garden and went inside. I was
initially greeted by nothing but bare trees on either side of a walkway. I started wondering if I had done a mistake by going there at this time of the year. But my doubts disappeared after going round a bend. There, in front of me were half-a-dozen cheery trees all in full blossom. Here, during spring time, most of the plants first produce flowers and only then start growing fresh leaves. I guess this is nature's way of utilizing the spring season to its maximum and ensuring that pollination is completed early and new plants start growing ASAP.

Then I came across a small pond with small rocks on its banks. And there were these small turtles standing on these rocks. Even they were in pairs - probably enjoying the spring. There were beautiful ducks, some crow-like birds with bluish neck and
giant squirrels (they are really giants compared to the ones found in Chennai). Then there were these flaming yellow flowers. And the blazing sun did its part to make the flaming yellow to flame even more.


And there are these group of trees just outside the botanical garden. They are totally covered in white flowers. There must be
lakhs of flowers in that group alone. The flowers are so dense and there is no a single green leaf anywhere. Wow !!! what a sight !!! And this is just beside a very busy road - Have we ever seen like this !!!


I then boarded the train back home and when I was nearing NY downtown, I thought "Why shouldn't I take a small walk on the NY riverside?". And this short walk turned out to be a 2-hour one. As you would know, NY downtown is called the economic capital of the world and is full of skyscrapers bustling with activity. And behind all this hustle-bustle, lies a small oasis of beauty. They have set aside a paved walkway along the banks of the
Hudson river behind the buildings for enjoying the beauty of nature and to forget all gadgets and gizmos inside the walls of the surrounding buildings. And across the river is the state of New Jersey. The sun was setting behind the state making the buildings stand out as tall dark silhouettes against the sky. The sky was a beautiful collage of colours of different hues and shades. Every now and then, the sun's rays would reflect on the glass exteriors of the buildings, giving a sparkling effect. The statue of liberty, Ellis island, Staten island, Brooklyn were visible in the distance. There were all sorts of people around - people skating on roller skates, cycling, walking their dogs, young and old couples walking hand-in-hand (with younger ones kissing every now and then), solitary guys/gals sitting on the numerous benches listening to music/reading books/working on laptops, tourists trying to the take in the magnificence of the sunset, guys with their fishing rods set in the water, parents pushing their kids in prams, groups of kids runnig around, a dedicated photographer with his camera mounted on a tripod hoping to capture all of this beauty in his lens ... And I really was angry with myself for not taking my ipod with me then. There is nothing like soaking yourself in this beauty and enjoy some melodious music. The batteries in my camera were also getting weak. I had to switch-off the cam for a few minutes in order to take a photo. But anyways I managed to capture things as much as possible.



On my way back, I was thinking if there are any such places in
Chennai. What would I do if I need to go on a trip like this? For the greenery, we have the guindy park, the theosophical society and so on. But having a evergreen forest makes them less colourful since we do not have the fall-spring cycle of the deciduous forests. But then what about the water? Is beach the only option - And even that is crowded. Then I thought - Chennai has 2 rivers and a few canals too. How nice will it be if I can walk along the banks of the Cooum/Adayar river, probably stand on its banks in Saidapet and see the buildings of T.Nagar across or watch the early morning sunrise over the mouth of the river at the Bay of Bengal !!! Probably we can have our local flowers - Red/pink/white Arali, Yellow flowered thoongu moonji trees, red/pink/rose/white/yellow shades of hibiscus, white nandiyavettai, green money plants lining the banks. Throw in some local attractions - pattani sundal, molagai bajji, boiled groundnuts. And the result - Hudson river is no match. But it all remains wishful thinking :(:(:(

Hmmm... Anyways, here is the link to more of the photos that I took: http://picasaweb.google.com/vijayvmail/BrooklynBotanicalGardenRiotOfColours
http://picasaweb.google.com/vijayvmail/ManhattanRiversideWalk

Sunday, April 15, 2007

Indian English

Recently I read in Wikipedia that India has the highest English speaking population in this world - around 325 million, followed by US at 250 million. UK comes fifth in the list. China comes third(but there is a note saying that this is the no. of English users and not speakers) followed by Nigeria. English is an official language in India whereas it is not in UK and USA (They are defacto official but has not been declared)

There is a distinct English variety called "Indian English" (I've seen this option on one installation of Red hat
Linux). But all along I've been thinking that my English is not so very different from the English of the Brits. But this article proved me wrong. There seems to be a huge difference between the two. And the grammar that we are taught in schools are supposed to be archaic in UK (supposed to more specifically Scottish English) - result of our prescribed books being Wren & Martin and the likes that were written in the late 1800s. Here are some excerpts :
  1. Legacy of the East India Company and its practices still prevails in all official correspondence in India। Official letters continue to include phrases like "please do the needful" and "you will be intimated shortly".
  2. British writers who made creative (and comical) use of now obsolete forms of colloquial English, such as P.G. Wodehouse and Thomas Hardy, are still popular in India. It is ironic that although British writers Enid Blyton, P.G. Wodehouse, and Agatha Christie are now considered to have held racist views in their time, their books remain immensely popular in India. British writer, journalist and wit Malcolm Muggeridge once joked that рдеे last Englishman would be an Indian.
  3. Schools still teach grammar from (frequently older) British textbooks like Wren & Martin or J. C. Nesfield (1898): the grammar of higher British English is considered the only correct one. Efforts by the Oxford University Press to publish a dictionary of Indian English were an abject failure since customers in India preferred the 'proper' British dictionary.

Few things specific to Indian English:
  1. Usage of "out of hundred" instead of per cent: "He got hundred out of hundred" instead of "He got a hundred" or "He got a one hundred per cent".
  2. "Your good name please?": "What is your name?", carryover from Hindi expression "Shubh-naam", literally meaning "auspicious name".
  3. "Out of station" to mean "out of town".
  4. "send it across" instead of "send it over", as in "send the bill across to me" instead of "send the bill over to me".
  5. "back" replacing "ago" when talking about elapsed time, as in "I met him five years back" rather than "I met him five years ago." (Though this too is not uncommon in British English)
  6. "freak out" is meant to have fun, as in "let's go to the party and freak out."
  7. "pass out" is meant to graduate, as in "I passed out of the university in 1995."
  8. "go for a toss" is meant to go haywire or to flop, as in "my plans went for a toss when it started raining heavily."
  9. "funny" is meant to replace not only "odd"/"strange" but "rude"/"precocious"/"impolite" as well. "That man was acting really funny with me, so I gave him a piece of my mind"
  10. "on the anvil" is used often in the Indian press to mean something is about to appear or happen. For example, a headline might read "New roads on the anvil".
  11. "tight slap" to mean "hard slap".
  12. Use of Respected Sir while starting a formal letter instead of Dear Sir. Again, such letters are ended with non-standard greetings, such as "Yours respectfully", or "Yours obediently", rather than the standard "Yours sincerely/faithfully/truly".
  13. The phrase of 'the concerned person' is widely used in oral Indian English
  14. 'A child was born of wed lock' in Indian English has the opposite meaning of its English origin. (I really don't know what the opposite meaning is)
  15. "cent per cent" means "100 per cent" as in "He got cent per cent in maths."
  16. "centum" is also frequently used to refer to 100.
  17. "Metro" to mean large city (i.e. 'metros such as Delhi and Bangalore') This is a shortening of the term Metropolis. This can be confusing for Europeans, who tend to use the word to describe underground urban rail networks.
  18. Use of the word "shift" to indicate "move", as in "When are you shifting?" (instead of "When are you moving?").
  19. Batchmate or batch-mate (Not classmate, but a schoolmate of the same grade)
  20. Eve teasing (catcalling - harassment of women)
  21. Foot overbridge (bridge meant for pedestrians)
  22. "pass-out" to "graduate from college"
I really didn't know that our speech is so distinct from others. This is so cool!!! I like it.

For more info, here's the link : http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Indian_English

Saturday, March 31, 2007

Perspectives

An instructor in one of my company organized training programs used to say: "There is no right way or no wrong way. There are just different ways of doing things".

Though I really didn't like that instructor very much, this line just stayed with me. Whenever someone says/does something that I don't fully agree with, these lines automatically pop into my head. This makes it very difficult for me to get angry with someone - even if I should get angry.

Coming to the main topic here, I recently came across a blog in my company intranet. It is about how a team successfully endured a number of obstacles and took a project to completion. I've known people from that project (my current manager is one). That project was notorious for its loss making bid and a bad estimation. Its members used to continuously stay all night in office. If on any day they manage to leave by 10:00 pm, then its an achievement.

So this blog goes on about how the project people sacrificed a number of things for the project.

"Mr.A, a team lead had an eye infection and was not able to drive to the office for couple of days. He asked team members to email the source code, so that he can review the same from home and send the feedback to the team. He had to stay at on-site for few extra days to cover another associate on vacation though his wife was expecting him back home urgently as their baby was due anytime – Incidentally, when he returned back from on-site, he had to directly drive to the hospital from the airport to see his just-born baby."

Mr.B, the data conversion lead on the project was blessed with twins just few weeks before the project went live. This did not stop from being completely available and work throughout during the entire conversion week-end along with the rest of the team who was waiting for the momentous occasion for 3 years.

Mr.C proved his versatility when he took the challenge of uncharted territory of CVS for code merge/branching etc – He showed the true company spirit of continuing to be involved even when he had health issues and in hospital while at on-site.


I thought: Whats the big point of being onsite, earning a 5/6 digit salary, having a car, house and what not, if you cannot be with your wife during child birth or when you cannot even look after yourself? Is it really worth it?

These things are quite common in developing economies like India. There's whole lot of things that happening in the country. Jobs are very few compared to the demand, so there is always someone to replace you and work even harder. And there's lot of competition around and companies just keep increasing the load of their employees to stay competitive. The result - the individual loses his grip over his personal life.

It is just the perspective of the concerned person. I personally want to have a balance between the personal and official life. Putting in more work at a crunch time is fine. But it should not always be a crunch time.

I've seen some who are really charged up for their company. They will do everything possible to benefit the company. They will be ready to sacrifice their personal life for the company. So, in their eyes, whatever that blog said is really a great thing. They would actually expect everyone to be like that.

So everything in this world is perspective. It is each individual's perspective of things that decide their actions. And conflicts arise when the perspectives and consequently the expectations/views of two individuals do not match.

Thinking from both angles of a situation, I usually can't really say that either one of the views is right/wrong. This attitude sometimes confuses me a lot. whenever I feel angry or when I feel something is wrong, I immediately start thinking more from the other person's point of view. And most of the times, whatever bothered me no longer seems wrong. I don't think this actually is a good thing. It becomes really difficult to get things done - It just makes me too soft. Assume I'm standing in a billing counter in a shop and the sales person is so busy with so many people pulling him/her in different directions. I will then refrain from asking him/her anything till they are somewhat free. There are instances where I've just stood there for more than 15 minutes waiting for them. On the other hand, there will be someone else, who will just walk in and demand attention. And they will get all the needed attention whenever they walk in through the door. But I on the other hand, end up being taken for granted - because the people there know that I won't say anything and that they can afford to take some liberty with me.

And because of this attitude, I'm considered too much of a moderate. My cousins call me 'truly secular' for my beliefs that everyone has a right to practice/propagate their religions. Sometimes I even go to the extremes of justifying Jihad or any such thing (Definitely not the killings, but their anger). So am I an extremist from that perspective? I have this terrible habit of finding flaws in my own beliefs - vegetarianism, Hinduism etc. When I think of some idea, I also think of what points an opponent would put forward for that idea. And suddenly I find my idea weakening.

Is this good/bad ? Again, its matter of perspective.

Sunday, March 18, 2007

Has mankind become more barbaric?

Everyday we hear around us, someone saying "The world has become sooo bad. People are not good anymore. Voilence, murder, wars have increased. The world is about to end..." or something like that. We hear this all round the world. I don't want to say anything about the 'doomsday' forecast of the world coming to an end. But whenever I hear something like this, I start thinking - Has mankind really become more barbarian? Have our moral values deteroirated?

Looking at the history of Mankind (yes, I know I'm again talking about history), I don't really think so. Right from the time we evolved into modern day homo sapiens, barbarism, violence and cruelty has been a part of our genetic imprints. Whenever a group of Humans moved into a new land, it was common for them to clash with the original inhabitants of the area. Either one would survive the clash.

Right from the ancient times, we can find several instances of barbarism:
  1. The cruel pharos of Egypt who proclaimed themselves to be gods and just obliterated anyone who opposed them.
  2. The cruel roman emperors who just mass murdered their own subjects. One classic example is the emperor Nero, who was a psycho path and just went about killing his own people and family.
  3. The barbaric Germaninc tribes of northern Europe who went on a rampage across Europe and challenged Rome.
  4. The cruel and Barbaric Vikings who for more than a century spread terror across large parts of British Isles and Ireland. By 1000 A.D they even reached North America and establish some settlements there.
  5. The harsh regimes of Aztecs and Mayas, who were busy Killing each other in the New world, while others were busy doing the same in the old world.
  6. By the time the Viking invasions ended, there were huge number of soldiers across Europe who had taken up arms to repel the Vikings. Suddenly they were left jobless and could not stay put. So they resorted to terrorozing the local population.
  7. Now it was the turn of the Roman catholic church to take up the reigns of terror. They launched the Crusade wars again the middle east and the orthodox christians of Eastern Europe. They plundered and ravaged the cities that were in their way. No one cared about the value of human life. A total of 9 crusades were launched resulting in a loss of thousands of lives.
  8. Asia saw the barbaric acts of the Mongols under Chengiz khan, huns and many others.
  9. Then came the Renaissance in Europe. The new worlds were discovered and thus began an age of exploration and discovery(also colonisation and exploitation). Wherever they went the Europeans brought a reign of terror and destruction. The spaniards literally obliterated the indegenious poulation of the americas. The french, british, germans, portugese and others took up the same task in Asia and Africa. Their atrocities in Africa has made a huge impact on the African continent from which it is yet to emerge.
  10. The period also saw some atrocities by the Muslim rules of the Indian sub-continent like some rulers of the slave dynasty, mughal emperor Aurangazeb and other invaders like Nadir shah who plundered Indian cities following the decline of the Mughal empire.
  11. The period also saw mass plundering and exploitation of the people of europe themselves by the rules of France, the Czars of Russia and others.
  12. Then finally came the world wars, the marked the height of barbarism. Millions perished.
  13. The period after the world wars saw a number of proxy wars.
  14. A new form of violence has emerged - terrorism. That is going to see another round of barbarism.

So as we can see, no where in the history was there a period of relative peace and never did man exhibit any high sense of morality and respect for his fellow being. Every one and then, a great person came along and tried to harness the good side of mankind. Though they seemed to bring mankind to its senses for some short periods of time, we invariably slid back to our violent ways.It has always been a period of violence followed by a period of calm and peace brought on by some benevolent ruler, religious head or someone like that.

But what makes the current age more deadly is the technological advancement that we've made in our methods of warfare. We now possess bombs and weapons capable of destroying the entire planet. But if Nero or the vikings or the huns had these technologies they would have definetely caused the same damage.
So it is technology that has made the current age seem more deadly. Man himself is always the same, seeking to prevail over others, subdue his fellow beings and consolidate 'power'. Maybe mankind will merge into one unified race, only in the wake of an all-out attack by some alien race - Remember the movie 'Independence day'. Yeah -something like that.