10 Ridiculous things happening in India according to the Internet – April 2016

Everyone loves top 10 lists. Long before Buzzfeed and Scoopwhoop started with their ridiculous top 10 lists, I was one of those people who actually believed in the power of these lists. They are supposed to be awesome because they are brief, succinct, gratifying and super quick.

Here’s my shot at ’10 things’ after a long time. I’m not going to explain any of the points below. Just google. And ya, I don’t claim any of them to be true or factual, it’s off the internet for Bhagwan’s sake!

And in a tribute to Buzzfeed, YOU WILL NOT BELIEVE NUMBER 9!!!

  1. Modi government wants to precede every movie screened in theatres with short clips of their achievements. Dictator style.
  2. Smriti Irani wants IIT students to learn Sanskrit along with their regular classes for Quantum Mechanics and 10 Best Ways to cook Maggi. In 10 years Higgs Boson could be renamed to Higram Bosayanam.
  3. As per data released by the government this week, only 5.1 Crore Indians filed Income Tax returns in 2015-16. This is 4% of our population. Ridiculous even after considering retired people, children and housewives. You can read more here.
  4. The even more ridiculous fact is that out of the above 1.6 Crore people who filed returns, paid zero tax. Which is fine because not everyone earns a lot. The ridiculous part is that only 3.5 Crore people actually paid any tax. Basically businessmen, doctors, traders and a lot of such people earning in cash just don’t bother.
  5. The CJI (basically the woman/man who holds the HIGHEST judicial position in India), literally shed tears in front of PM Modi and quite a few other people at an event. He said we need more judges in an extremely overworked judiciary. Apparently our PM need to be told that, in public, with tears, by THE Supreme Court judge.
  6. Salman Khan is now the ‘Goodwill Ambassador’ for the Indian contingent at the Rio Olympics 2016. That’s it, I have nothing more to say about this.
  7. The ethics committee of the Rajya Sabha, after “going through all the relevant documents” has expelled Vijay Mallya from the House. He is the 15th MP to be expelled; list includes Indira Gandhi and the great Subramanian Swamy. He was elected into RS (for the second time) with the backing of BJP in 2010.
  8. According to an Italian court, the Congress party and Sonia Gandhi allegedly took bribes to give an Italian aviation firm an Indian government contract. Surprise! I wonder why the ruling BJP government has never probed this.
  9. Nearly 1 lakh people are being affected by massive floods in Assam. 1 lakh! Right now. Literally. Let that sink in, pun absolutely unintended. Though only the internet seems to know this. So it might not be true.
  10. A massive fire burnt down the National Museum of Natural History in Delhi. It burnt down fossils, antique valuables and over 60,000(!) volumes of rare books and ‘last prints’. A sliver of the past, lost forever.

BONUS: You remember the pictures of topical sand sculptures every newspaper prints on the eve of any world event? Almost all of them are made by Padma Shri Sudarshan Pattnaik. He won a Gold Medal in the International Sand Art Championship in Russia. Smile for him.

Until next time.

The copy-paste Generation

We are in 2016 right now. It has been close to a couple of decades since the Internet became accessible. And a few years before that the PC had become main stream. I am going to obviously talk about the title of this post, in this post. But I have to set this up a little more.

Humans have been copying for centuries. Whether it be actions, reactions, books, music, ideas, creations and everything else. Copying is coded into our DNA since the time we were primates. Most of our learning comes from copying. And most of our evolving came from understanding what we are copying and how we made the copied version better.

The propensity of man to imitate what is before him is one of the strongest parts of his nature.

Walter Bagehot, Physics and Politics (1872)

Ironically, I copied that quote from a paper on plagiarism. I did it to add more gravitas to this post. Plagiarism comes from the Latin word plagiarius which means a person who abducts the child or slave of another, a kidnapper. The word ‘plagiary’ however, entered the English language in the late 16th century – recorded in the Oxford English Dictionary in 1598. In summary, this has been going on since forever. The definition of any multi-cellular organism is that the cells essentially create copies of itself from one single cell. Heck, we are copiers at the cellular level.

Let’s come back to the 21st century. As the internet evolved from being available at a click on our desks to being available at a tap in our hands, so has the ease with which we obtain information. Today, anyone can write really good and insightful research pieces from literally our beds without opening a single fat book in cobwebbed libraries. In essence, not only can we retrieve loads of information extremely quickly, we can also possibly improve on it, add our personal brand of insight and then relay it further down to like-minded individuals who would love the added perspective. By now you can see where I am going with this.

Right now, we have reached a stage of such an information overload that we don’t even need to click, tap or call for any information. It is fired at us through multiple pages in multiple screens limited only by our internet data plan. These come in the form of long drawn thought pieces or just plain old rants written at the spur of the moment by someone expressing their frustration, lets call them manufacturers. The receivers who are at times meant to be nothing more than just plain readers, take upon themselves the mantle of co-thought leaders and propagate these pieces verbatim (lets call them resellers). The problem I have with this is, I find it hard to believe that in any text, which is more than 25 words long or more than 5 bullet points, there is absolutely nothing that the reseller disagrees with. They merrily copy and paste it, after all it just takes a few taps, and broadcast it to their entire known universe, literally.

I really think we have missed out on the evolving part in all of this. Even our cells which copied themselves from our forefathers realised there wasn’t everything that was useful and discarded those qualities and learnt new qualities which are more relevant. We really have stopped evolving as far as our thoughts are concerned. I see the exact same message texted to me by 3 different people on 2 different platforms and I know for a fact that they are not the same people. Every one of us have different backgrounds and different upbringings. Even twins don’t think the same way as each other except in movies. Where have we lost our individuality? Even though I and my sister are separated by literally nothing but time as far as our lineage is concerned, we know we don’t think alike. Why would I assume someone who is in no way related to me, even though they might support the same team, player, nation or party as I, would by my thought-soulmate?

We don’t need any news filtering app controlled by media agencies or governments or political parties to tell us what we should believe in. All we need is our minds, a few intelligent searches and a few minutes to read. We can all make our own minds for ourselves.

Why travel?

IMG_0010

Why read a book if the person who read all the words in it is the same person who first saw the cover?

Why watch a film if the person who reads the end credits is the same person who bought the ticket?

Why draw anything if the person who signs it is the same person who saw the empty sheet?

Why paint a picture if the person who washes the brushes is the same person who first drew out the colours?

Why write an essay if the person who puts the last full stop is the same person who wrote the title?

Why travel when you are the same person when you return home as the person who locked the door when you left?

Review: The Remains of the Day

The Remains of the Day
The Remains of the Day by Kazuo Ishiguro
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This book was highly recommended by a lot of people who’s recommendations I trust. It was more to do with how impressive they thought the book was and how well the story was told. So, a shot at it I had to give.

It truly is a very well written book. The story however, is not really impressive. The book describes a holiday a butler takes to the countryside. Nothing charming about it, right? Well, Ishiguro pulls out all stops in his literary arsenal to charm you, and he succeeds. Simplistic as the story might be, the writing is far from being simple. Written in the first-person, it reads like a memoir of a butler. Ishiguro manages to wring out every bit of charm the butler Stevens can exude, even though he is a no-nonsense, professional, dignified and ‘proper’ English butler who prides himself for possessing these very qualities. It is a lot of fun to read about the idiosyncrasies of a butler and how the littlest of change bothers him. It is lovely to see the amount of pride he takes in his work and the lengths he will go to do it well. And it is charming to see the loyalty he displays towards all his masters and above all, his profession.

Beneath the stiff upper lip of Stevens, there are shades of hopeful love. Ishiguro does a marvelous job of conveying how hopeful the hope of lost love is, while at the same time how it seems to be – unimportant. There could a be a lot of subtle clues and life lessons here, which you can deduce yourself.

The book does drag along at times and you feel like skipping a few pages of Stevens describing a bush or a lake or a field. And you wouldn’t miss much if you do skip these pages. As I mentioned earlier, this book is not about the story. It is about how a story should be told. And I love nothing more than a story told well.

View all my reviews

Last Week Tonight with John Oliver

It has been a really long time since I have posted content from third party sites on my blog, but this one deserves a watch.

I have been a big fan of John Oliver for some time now thanks to the Bugle podcast he hosts with Andy Zaltzman. John’s show Last Week Tonight is one of the best shows on air today, globally. And the below clip is all you need to see to know why.

Tagged ,

Time Machine

IMG_0115.JPG

Every time I travel by train, the ones that go beyond your state. I mean the states which make up our country and not the state of ones mind or the state of a substance. I can see how one could get confused here. Quite forgivable. Talking of states that make up a country, I wonder what is the right number of states. We seem to keep adding them by separating some, for reasons which are I am sure are noble and good. But I wonder, as I usually invariably do, is there a right number?

I digress. Returning to the train of my thought, pun unintended, these long distance trains are the best to give one a healthy shot of nostalgia. I remember all our holiday travels being in trains. There weren’t enough flights as yet then. And one traveled in the normal sleeper class, none of the air conditioned travels that we can’t seem to do without now. It just all seems to an extent vain to me these days. Back then one had the wind hitting you on your face, and one could see the country side with all its glorious fields rolling by. There were rivers flowing below you, which don’t as much as flow anymore, on account of having become drier over the years.

I tend to spend a sizeable period of time near the door of the train compartment or on the railway platform of every station we stop at. Feels nice to have the wind hit you and stand with the morning sun on your face as you breathe in the relatively clear air which one doesn’t find in the cities. It feels like one is traveling. Across states. How many states do we actually have these days? One keeps forgetting.

Tagged

Review: Think Like a Freak

Think Like a Freak
Think Like a Freak by Steven D. Levitt

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

‘Think Like a Freak’ is a book you would quite naturally pick up if you have already read the brilliant Freakonomics: A Rogue Economist Explores the Hidden Side of Everything and the not as brilliant SuperFreakonomics: Global Cooling, Patriotic Prostitutes And Why Suicide Bombers Should Buy Life Insurance. However, one would do well to note that the earlier two books were written by both Levitt and Dubner (only of whom is a qualified economist teaching at a University), this one is written by Levitt, the writer.

One cannot be blamed for comparing ‘Think Like a Freak’ with its predecessors, as the target market for the book are the people who have read the first two. The book promises you to teach you to think like the authors have all their lives, like freaks. There aren’t any economic theories in this book. This book in fact has very little to do with economics. It intends to encourage you to think ‘out of the box’.

The author has tracked down stories from around the world, using them as examples/case studies to outline how thinking like freaks can lead to success. The stories are interesting, however, the stories might sound repetitive if you follow Levitt’s weekly podcast Freakonomics Radio, like I do, and then delayed reading the book till he discussed the book and the stories on the podcast. The book is quite easy to read like its predecessors, which shows that Levitt, former journalist, is genuinely a good writer. One does however feel that the book isn’t substantial enough, being only 210 pages long. Somehow, once through, you end up feeling you still don’t have enough knowledge to start thinking like a freak.

I do feel that people who have read and understood books like the Freakonomics series or The Undercover Economist or other such books, are smart enough to understand how the authors have gone about applying economic theories to find fascinating correlations in seemingly random occurrences. I feel a new book which does not do a great job at delivering its promise is quite unnecessary.

I did like reading it, more because it kind of rounded off the Freakonomics series for me, but I think one can give this a miss if you have already read the other books.

View all my reviews

Review: More Than This

More Than This
More Than This by Patrick Ness
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This review is about three months after I had read the book. I had written a short review but realised I must elaborate.

This book introduced me to Patrick Ness and he shows all signs of being a remarkable author. When I read a book, what I look for isn’t just the story or the plot itself. I look for the way a story is told and the way it unfolds; the words the author uses to tell the story.

This being a young adult book, I didn’t expect it to have fancy words that you might see in bigger tomes. However, I did expect a certain level of profoundness and forceful reading between the lines, and it did mark its attendance.

Ness takes you in a fantasy world, bordering on noir-fantasy genre, confusing you and forcing you to figure out things with the characters themselves. They are as clueless as you are about the world they find themselves in. This isn’t a fun or romantic read, far from it. It is quite dark. And maybe at some level, depressing. There aren’t a lot of characters to speak of, but you do get attached to those that are present. Well fleshed out and adorable. Even though the story does have a protagonist, honestly, I felt more attached to the other characters. Maybe that was how Ness meant it to be.

I would recommend this book though. It is quite quick to read and finish. Give it a read if you don’t mind noir.

View all my reviews

The Curiosity Project

As humans, we are wired to be curious. All of us.

We are supposed to ask questions like why and how when we see something that we don’t understand. All of us wonder about these questions. The difference lies in what extent one would go to find answers to these questions.

Today with so much data relatively easily available, we somehow don’t want to spend time to satisfy our curiosity. Which is not really a problem. However, trying to find answers to such questions helps us spend more time with ourselves and thinking about something unrelated to our jobs, hopefully.

I read quite a bit, as most of you would probably know. I also love knowing about things, as most of you are probably annoyed with. I propose we combine your questions with our need to find answers. Give me your questions about ‘why does it exist’ or ‘how does this work’ or ‘why this way’ and I will try my best to find answers to those whys and hows.

The questions can be about sociology, culture, history, technology or economics. Invariably all questions come down to a few of these basic concepts in any case. All I ask is that it be interesting.

Questions like,

What is the deal with fondue and how did it start? Hint: It’s a Swiss post world-war conspiracy.

Why are the buttons on a woman’s shirt on the left hand side? Hint: There was a time when maids used to dress up women.

Why are the number pads on your phone and your keyboard different? Hint:  Twist-dial phones and Calculators.

Is there an underground sneakers market that behaves like the commodities market? Hint: Yes. In the US.

In Burma, why do they drive on the right of the road but the bus doors are on the left? Hint: History.

See? Fascinating!

I will try as much as I can to find a complete and all-encompassing answer or explanation to your question. I will read books, read journals, listen to podcasts, watch videos, talk to people who know better (I know a LOT of people, and they know a LOT of people) and if need be visit libraries as well (yes, they still exist and are quite lovely places).

The idea is not to make you lazy, but to push you to be more curious and eventually, curious enough for you to find out the answer yourself and not bother waiting for me to find out.

A few ground rules though:

  1. Refrain from asking questions on life, love, religion or philosophy. All of these are subjective and I honestly can never have enough knowledge or sense to give a satisfactory answer.
  2. Ask one question at a time and please wait for my answer. I have a full-time job and I intend to keep it. You might have to wait for a few days or maybe a couple of weeks. But, we shall try to get the answer together, as long as it is interesting.
  3. Ask the question via email only. You probably know my email address already, or know someone who knows it. I am honestly not sure of the response to this and hence would like to keep it constrained to begin with.
  4. You are free to ask a question and suggest an answer that you think is the right one. We can weed out and get to the fact together. It will be fun!
  5. At times, I might point you to links where you can read/hear/see stuff for yourself. This is just to save our time and effort from reinventing the wheel.

All of this in no way means to imply I know more than anyone else does. And we always have Wikipedia. I am sure you search and read random things as well. But I also want to know those random things you read. Your questions will give me interesting topics to read about. That is my selfish purpose behind this. If you don’t have questions, mail me the last fascinating thing you read somewhere? Just a snippet, maybe.

None of us can know everything. But we can try. I have friends who are doctors, journalists, bankers and lawyers and I am not afraid to ask them your questions. And we will make more friends to get answers.

I am honestly not sure if I will get even a single question, which is fine as well, or if I will even be able to answer the questions one would ask. So, shall we give this a shot?

What say you?

Review: The Hundred-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out of the Window and Disappeared

The Hundred-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out of the Window and Disappeared
The Hundred-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out of the Window and Disappeared by Jonas Jonasson

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Every time you tell someone the name of the last book you read or the one you are currently reading, the logical question asked would be ‘What is it about?’ I can assure you Jonas Jonasson’s ‘The Hundred-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out of the Window and Disappeared’ (which is quite a mouthful, and to be honest, we love it, don’t we?) will not raise that question.

It is a great book to go to for some stress free reading. Jonasson follows a tone of dark humour throughout and anyone who takes this book seriously is probably reading the wrong book anyway. Having said that, it does follow a parallel story-line which conveniently chronicles the history of the world over the last century along with one of the best characters I have had the pleasure of meeting in a book, Alan.

It might be unfair to compare this book to any other in a similar genre. The writing is simple and straightforward and assumes the reader to be knowledgeable enough to differentiate between facts and fiction. It does quite well at satarising most of the key events that have occurred in the recent history of our species.

The book has a good mix of characters going through a series of fortunate/unfortunate events depending on the perspective you look at it from. It is a story with an astounding number of coincidences that can only occur in a story.

It is a well written book and I would recommend one to read this just so you get to meet Alan.

View all my reviews

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 1,301 other followers