Saturday, 21 November 2015

............. Finally back.


It feels good to return to the warm embrace of the bloggersphere, after the extended period of absentia that I indulged myself with. A lot of things happened, from the center of my universe over that period of time.

I finally plucked up the courage to send in pieces of writing to a few daily newspapers, and was rewarded with my first letters of rejection. Two other magazines turned away my internship applications for the winter. Cockroaches have wings, which still terrifies me, and the books that I accidentally borrowed from the library are way overdue.

So, yes. I have been alive, and I have been living.

But I wouldn't say that I've 'grown' as a person. No, I haven't grown much. I think. Rather I've felt some progress in becoming an 'entity' which can understand my own behavior. To an extent. It's a conjecture that I have reached based on a curious occurrence, which exasperates me a great deal.

Often, (Too often) the best states of mind to write anything that isn't an insult to the tree that gave you the paper in the first place - is before something definite. This is a personal problem, just to clarify, but often I find myself writing most steadily, just before a meal.

And this turns out to be a very big problem. Usually, I would type out a few sentences, go 'hmmm' with a dramatically elongated pause at the end, shrug, then go out to eat.

When I return, I would wonder if the low blood-sugar before the meal was the reason that I had written - shall we say - Frivolous drivel? It's certainly a darkly amusing experience when I feel a sharp urge to take a sledgehammer and whack myself at 4AM in the night.

It's just that my thoughts change too much. in too short a span of time. I long for the freedom that comes with being able to gallop across vast spaces of white, with letters of black. The thirst for that freedom is what finally forced me to push everything aside, and return - to my blog.

There. I said it. One of the things that I feared the most was to admit what I wanted to myself. A blog. A chance to write. A niche of my own, carved by tools only I can behold.

 I reread all of my previous posts, and I found that I rarely spoke about this - the very act of letting the mind take shape. An acknowledgement of how awesome this is, having a blog, a space of my own.

Accepting that I wanted all of that and more, was a big step. In a direction.

Whether it's the right direction,..... I'm not certain yet. But it's certainly a step, and I am feeling terribly curious.

After all, what's the worst that could happen (Ok, so I'm in the middle of my end-semester examinations, so,,, I think we got that covered).

Thursday, 10 September 2015

If we were to recognize evil.

Hello, old friend.
It has certainly been a while, hasn't it? Like all reunions, my first thoughts of you, as I give crude form to my stream of conscious, not unlike the way a recording needle makes scratches on the shiny, vinyl-black surface of a Gramophone record, are mostly of all the good that has happened between us. Then comes the bad, and with it, all of the pain and hate that I so inconsiderately left you stained with.

I came back, because I wanted another taste. I wanted another pull of that of that mysterious 'thing' that quenches all thirsts, but leaves me drier than ever.

It's strange isn't it? We always feel that we never have enough of it, and yet, we have no clue how to use what little we have of it.

Freedom is a choice. They say that it is a birthright, but I wouldn't go that far. It's definitely something that we all wish that we had, and yet, it is also something that we shrink away from, for some very inexplicable reasons.

Lack of restraint often disguises itself in its place, and tragically, is all too often misconstrued by its seekers to experiencing freedom. When we let ourselves go, and give ourselves away to spontaneity, we feel a rush; a feeling that tells us that we're doing the right thing.

But are we really doing that? The easy answer would be no. But that's too blase, isn't it? Freedom isn't limited to just being able speak your mind, or to act as you emote. Freedom, ideally, should be a state of mind. I'm not completely sure what exactly I'm trying to say here. The thought, is only half-formed in my mind, but I'm convinced that to truly experience freedom, it should be when we are unaware of it.

How about something like this. I want to do something, and in the spur of the moment, I do it and hurt an unimaginable number of others in an unimaginable number of ways. So, that makes me evil, doesn't it?

Maybe. Maybe so. A thousand people could stand witness to your guilt of harming them. But in the end, the one soul that matters - the one on trial - knows that it meant no ill intent. That soul or 'entity' or whatever that encapsulates the moral self, remains unscarred, without blemish.

Then consider another scenario. I think. I ponder for hours, warring with my demons. I hurl my maker down to the earth in a fit of rage, only to put 'it' on a pedestal. a second later. Then I conclude, and tell myself, rightly, in a manner of speech that befits a man who has bet on a sure thing, that it is fine to hurt an unimaginable number of people...... in an unimaginable number of ways.

Even if the body were to survive the jury; the soul is already burning, smoldering in a quiet flame that will never go out.

Freedom,I think, as a state, should be spontaneous. When we breathe, when we think, when we sit. Our ergonomics should ooze freedom. I think it would make sense, if we were to stop thinking of other people, as 'people' and to treat them as 'entities' instead.

Maybe this sounds cold, and yes, I wouldn't be surprised if it struck one as being that way, but think of it.

No genders. No colors, No nationalities. No orientations.

No opinions? No. That would leave the world without any contrast. It would be the attributes of chaos, not freedom.

So. Freedom of the soul? The spirit?

Maybe. That does come close to encapsulating what I want to convey. I imagine myself walking in a empty plain, watched over by a white sky. I can't see the sun. But I feel. Nothing. No worry. No fear. No excitement, even.

I just, exist. Is that fine though? A pointless existence then?

Not quite. Like I've mentioned before, opinions, the semblance of a self, the indiscriminate color that such characteristics lend to the world, matter. I just wish, that we could all just stop for a minute, and just talk. As individuals inhabiting -for a while, atleast- a world that is perfect in all aspects.

And then we just communicate. It doesn't have to be words. Silence, or the thing which is not there, strikes the higher note than the shrill.

So, an existence without judgement, without malice, without envy, without hatred and remorse?

Yes. Yes, that could be it. Or, it could not. One needs to come to one's own answer, right? I feel like we're all in a gigantic, endlessly infinite examination room. With no invigilators. And no rules against copying.

We all have the same, blank sheet of paper. But, we have no idea how much the answer is worth. And we don't know how much time we have left to finish the exam either.

Well, I don't know. I do know that I haven't reached an answer though.

The fact is that a society without the evil, simply will become stagnant. I have given this some thought before; what if heaven, or rather, the divine dimension as mentioned so often across various theological texts, were to actually end this so called 'eternal struggle of good and evil', with Nike on their side?

A society that is comprised of only the good, becomes too good for it to sustain itself. And once stagnancy turns to rigidity, it may become impossible to advance a change.

So, in the end, it may be that evil needs to exist, but it also needs to take many guises and operate through many forms, so as to avoid recognition. It may be that if we were to one day recognize the face of evil, our world could end.

I realize that my posts are becoming exasperatingly broody. Perhaps it's time for a change in the mood from next week onwards? 

Saturday, 15 August 2015

Creating an epiphany

Firstly, I apologize. I had intended to create a post for every week over the course of this semester. Unfortunately, I seem to have broken that promise already, due to some pressing constraints elsewhere. I would like to promise that I will continue to post with more regularity, and hopefully with the same level of quality that my ever-loving and yet eternally mute audience so vociferously demands. 

But I won't. 

And I'll tell you why. I have had a curious thought for a while; I don't know when it sort of germinated somewhere in the recesses of my conscious, but it probably took a more definite shape about a couple of years ago. I visited a church once, when I was staying at my cousin's place for the weekend. I was struck by how different their practice of worship was to, what I was accustomed to. In Hinduism, prayer emphasized - I think, because I am an amateur here - the vibration, the sound of the hymns chanted, over the words used to worship. 

Here though, it was strange to not have an air of tension, of intensity but instead, an atmosphere that was relaxed and yet, respectful all the same. It was strange, and an invigorating experience that I took away with me. 

My problem though, is that the accepted concept of a higher entity, which, more often than not, is assumed to be one which is more absolute from human beings in every possible way, doesn't tell us if said entity can 'understand' what we are doing. I mean, from what I have seen, it is more likely that 'god' communicates through a higher plane of mutual understanding than the one that, we, his supposed creations use: through words of speech. 

So, what I feel is that our chants, our hymns, our self-assurances that 'god' will sacrifice himself for us, that he loves us, that all of our prostrations of surrender to him will communicate to him our emotions, our desires and our hopes could be for naught. 

I do not think that I am a person without a belief. But, I'm not sure either. The truth is that, only during our darkest moments, when we despair and look to the sky with wet eyes looking for salvation, is when we truly look for a higher entity, or rather; in our mind we look for 'an entity with superior knowledge of the universe, who is thereby in a higher position of power to dictate what the immediate unknown could hold'. I also feel, that it is at that moment, that we could either be right beside that entity, or further away from him that we can possibly comprehend. 

Essentially, we need someone to tell us that 'It's going to be OK' and, because we are not sure of ourselves and of other being at our 'level' of existence, we need a higher, more 'empowered' authority of inform us of the same. Case in point; I often need my parents to review my writing and to suggest improvements. I hold their opinions over that of my peers, because it came from a 'higher' source, which, according to me is more informed about the universe and thus, is able to give me an answer that I am more likely to believe, regardless of the validity of its contents. 

So, whom do we actually worship? I believe that - and I say this purely as something that I've turned over in my mind for a while - we surrender ourselves to virtue. 

We believe ourselves to be creatures of imperfection,  held back by tainted traits such as greed and jealousy. As such, we worship an embodiment of the traits that we hold in high regard; valor, self-sacrifice, piety, humility are all characteristics that feature prominently and more importantly; consistently in major beliefs of today. To put it simply, we worship a being that has all of the traits that we would like to have, and interestingly, because we worship these traits, we subconsciously try to feature them more prominently in our lives. 

In other words, we are all shuffling forward in a long march to eventually become the very being that we worship. It can be said then, that worship, to an extent is a appeal to our own supreme self.

But, if such a being were to already exist, it should have reached a stage of evolutionary development where communication by verbal speech is simply unnecessary. A being with such an innate understanding of the machinations of the universe would simply be able to communicate via mere thought.

An advanced being could simply exist, without a need to communicate, without a need to justify its own existence. The idea that our actions of worship will reach a being of such power, is as likely as the odds of us noticing, if an ant were to suddenly prostate before us, expecting us to understand it's actions as an act of worship.

Such an intimate and powerful communication, I feel, cannot possibly be encapsulated by verbatim, but by making a consciously-aware decision to carry out one's convictions and to justify the ends to ourselves. I suppose, an easy way to say it would be that, at the moment of interaction with the supreme; just a moment, a single, powerful moment of absolute belief and clear thought is enough to convey all that you wished to say. However, such moments of mental eloquence come far and few, and they can lead to a cascade of events that could easily change our world. 

In other words, Yes, we must create an epiphany for ourselves, each time we pray. 

A Happy 69th Independence Day to every one of my countrymen who accidentally stumbled here by accident. 

Friday, 24 July 2015

Certain Empathy extends only after our line of sight.

Hello. It has been about a good ten days since the last time I stumbled my way here, and for once, I actually feel a sense of relief to see the blank, empty page of a new post. I'm back at college, for my fifth semester in chemical engineering. It was quite a vacillating two weeks leading up to my eventual return, though.

When there were ten days left for departure, I was impatient for the holidays to end; I told myself that I was raring to go back to college. However, when there were about three days left, my feelings were akin to Prince Abdullah from 'TinTin'; They'd have to drag me, kicking and screaming every step of the way if they wanted me on that train. On the last day, though, I felt fine. I didn't feel particularly nervous or afraid, and while I did feel a slight twinge of annoyance that I had to return, I accepted the fact that I needed to finish what I had started.

Being alone in a hostel room is a lot different from the safe solitude, that your boudoir at home provides. This is my fifth time around, coming here, so I thought that I'd be fine, and I was, mostly, for the first few days. As the hours dragged on though, even if you try to convince yourself otherwise, certain undesirable thoughts do creep into your mind. At moments like that, there is nothing quite as effective as finding a creative outlet to occupy all of your concentration.

"Cooper!" Brand shouted, Jerking in her seat, she looked at the craft attached to the underside of the Endurance. 
Cooper gazed back at her; their eyes locked, for what seemed to be an eternity. It might have very well been that, with the black hole being in such close proximity. Or it could have been just a sliver of a split-second. Brand didn't know, couldn't decide. She couldn't see any light reflected from Cooper's eyes.
"We agreed on 90%, remember? Dr Brand" Cooper said simply, as he disengaged the craft, setting himself adrift on the event horizon of the black hole.

It's incredible, that we can find so many scraps of 'Pulp Wisdom' scattered across fiction and non-fiction alike. Even comics and cartoons, often draw inspiration from philosophy and morality, such as Calvin and Hobbes and Cyanide and Happiness. The above dialogue was from a sequence in the movie Interstellar, right before the movie's next scene made people go "Eh? What?"

The movie was acclaimed, mainly for its ambition, and the brave attempt by director Christopher Nolan to create an original screenplay on such a magnitude. What intrigued me the most, was a certain scene of the film, at the beginning of Matt Damon's first appearance. Damon mentions that Michael Caine's character sent all of the astronauts - Cooper, Brand and Co. - into space, knowing full well that the odds of them ever saving the people on earth were close to nil.

He did this, after giving the crew a statement to the contrary, and telling Cooper in particular that he was undertaking this mission to save his children. Damon states that Michael Caine's character had correctly identified this:

                                "Empathy extends only as far as our line of sight"

However, as per the dialogue excerpt from above, we see that Cooper's actions are truly the crux of the entire film's premise. That he chose to sacrifice himself, to give his partner a chance to create a new colony of humans, populated by people whom he would never meet- in other words, out of his line of sight- over a chance to be reunited with his children, is a direct refutation of Micheal Caine's belief, that humanity could not save itself without a proper incentive, something Christopher Nolan probably wrote in the script on purpose.

I believe that people can genuinely care for each other during times of calamity and disaster. The recent earthquake in Nepal is a case in point. Support in the form of relief aid, manpower and prayers for the safety of the survivors poured in from across the world. But for most us, it was just 'Someone Else' who had lost nearly everything they had in their lives, if not their lives itself. If the whole world were in danger, as it already is from numerous mistakes of our own, would we see such empathy for others. or would we prove Michael Caine right?

Alternatively, if we flip that statement around, what would we have, especially in India? Recently the American Supreme Court legalized Homosexual Marriage across the country, in a landmark judgement. Facebook, quick to react to the potential implications of the judgement, offered its users a mechanism to convert their profile pictures into shades of the rainbow, giving them an opportunity to display their solidarity and support to the verdict.

Let me just interrupt in between here though. In my opinion, the victory achieved by representatives of LGBT communities at the supreme court was not a victory for love. I feel that it was common sense that won that day. We are all beings who are capable of living our lives to the best of our capability. If each of us wants to live his or her life a certain way, then he should be allowed to do so, as long as it doesn't infringe upon the equal rights that another person also possesses. Admittedly, this is an over-simplification of a much wider issue, but I do not feel that I am wrong in saying

                                                     "Live and Let Live"

The question that I finally have is, would such an empathy survive at all within our line of sight? There were millions of users on Facebook, in India, a land were homosexuality is still illegal, who changed their profile pictures to the same in shades of the rainbow. But for every single one of them, barring a few, I am willing to wager that actual homosexuals are simply "Someone Else". They support the movement because it trended wildly in the week of the verdict and in our politically-correct society of today, it is 'cool' to be seen as 'forward'.

But exactly how receptive those individuals would be if someone they knew, such as a close friend or family member, came out of the closet? Would they be as understanding and 'forward' as they portray themselves to be?

Tuesday, 14 July 2015

Intriguing ways to express yourself.

Alright, Since nobody really has any problems with what I do around here, I think I'll go with a different format this time. The idea is the same, it's just that I really, really love to write stories. So I figured, why not experiment writing a post like that?

The platform at the train station was streaming with activity, as bodies jostled against each other on the concrete floor, porters bellowed at the top of their voices, furiously pulling their heavy, luggage-laden trolleys, and the vendors at the platform-stalls called out to travelers standing idly by the motionless line of coaches.

There were still about twenty minutes, even after making allocations for the punctuality of services in India, for the train to depart. But, having no companions from college to travel with, I had already wandered into my coach some time ago, and was quietly listening to music. I had found, to my delight that my berth was one on the side-lower side of the cabin.

It was slightly cramped for me, since I was about Six foot one, but once I'd hunkered down and plugged in my earphones, I was able to lean back with a contented sigh. Normal berths were always a nightmare for me, since I always traversed to and forth from Chennai to Trichy alone. More often that not, there would be a crowd of hostile co-passengers, usually a family with some exceptionally unruly children, seated all around me, leaving me to silently grit my teeth and stare furtively out the window.

Travelling alone also makes one, way more suspicious of his surroundings than the normal . A man makes his third bathroom trip under a half-hour? He's probably robbing every sleeping passenger blind. Somebody brushes closer to you than necessary? He has an eye on your laptop bag and is waiting for the next station to snatch it and run out. Every tattoo and every scar that you spot adorning a fellow passenger gains its own dark origin story, and every hand that slips into a pocket is expected to return clutching a knife.

'No wonder I like the solitude of the side-lower seat' I think reflectively, as I tilted my head to the side, and watched the travelling landscape reflected in my eyes.

There was something weird that happened once we were on our way, though.

 As I had predicted, there were a noisy pair of families spread across the other seven berths of the cabin. An old man, -I think he was the father- sat awake in his upper berth for the entirety of his journey.

Now, insomnia on a train journey is perfectly understandable. The constant rattle of the coach wheels on the gravelly tracks and the shrill whistling of the wind, as it whipped across the windows makes it remarkable that the man was more of an exception than a norm. What stood out in this man's actions what that he had a near zombie like stare for the better part of the three hours that I was observing him.

I really had no choice. As I lay on my back, I couldn't help but look at him as he sat, his head leaning forward with his forehead resting on the berth supports. And, well. It freaked me out. As I lay three berths down, I contemplated, in my head,  all the various situations that could go down if the old man suddenly went on a kleptomaniac/Murder spree.

Sure,  I could stop him. But then... I was the lone, single, entitled young dude, whilst he was the old guy with a family.  IF we were to throwdown, I was fairly certain the rest of the coach's passengers would pronounce me guilty of some heinous crime anyway and mete out 'righteous' justice to me.

Luckily, nothing of that sort happened. The only unusual incident that happened during the rest of the journey was that we had a spot of rain while crossing through one of the bigger towns.

Returning to the hostel was sort of like returning to the frontlines of a war from paternity leave. You're always teary at odd moments of the day, you snap at everyone else, only to go to their rooms at the first opportunity you get, to fret in unison about the prospects for the upcoming semester. It doesn't help that the corridors obligingly resemble a city that has just been bombed, with the amount of trash that other inmates toss out of their rooms.

As I was catching up with friends, one of the three topics that every conversation in college will include in some form or the other, cropped up, namely; grades (The other two are girls and football). So, as we were talking about grades, or rather I was talking about my lack of them, someone mentioned the name of our resident top scorer.

Instantly, all manner of abusive words and obscene comparisons were shouted. I, of course being a person who is all for the notion of keeping with timeless traditions, joined in, adding in a couple of particularly harsh comparisons. They drew dry chuckles and a few laughs from the little gathering in the room, leaving me feeling pleased as punch.

A few days later though, I started to think over it after I saw a few articles online. The first was Ellen Pao's resignation. I don't really dish out opinions out here, and I myself am pretty much a newbie to Reddit, so I won't pretend to understand the community out there. But, when I read some more about it, the abuse hurled at her for stepping on the 'freedom of expression' of certain persons was horrendous. I mean, is it such a bad thing to clamp down a little on online harassment? Some of the banned sub-reddits had some extremely distasteful and allegedly abusive content, which the moderators were doing nothing to stop.

Is shutting down a sub-reddit called 'Fatpersonhate', where people post pictures of fat people being abused, a gross injustice done to the freedom of expression? Ludicrous.
If this happened in India:
1. The government would have shut down reddit completely.
2. People would grumble a bit, send a few nasty tweets at ministers, then accept it with a shrug after a while.
3. Some yogic/social expert would weigh in on the whole issue a few days later, causing a minor flutter in the newspapers.
4. Reddit comes back online, after some ah- 'negotiations with the government, with perhaps Gandhi mediating the whole thing'. Everything goes back to how it was before.

More than the arguments presented by the bereaved users of Reddit though, what interested me was how they chose to go about it. Abusive language. On social media.

Now. My current modus operandi on social media is to rarely create original posts, share the occasional random tidbit, and above all, proofread everything at least twice, before clicking 'post'. These people were using language and obscenities that you'd find on 'roadies' or at an all-nighter study group ten minutes before the finals. And on an incredibly exposed and public stage to boot.

Reddit isn't alone in this phenomenon though. Recently, the government of India announced a programme called the #SelfieWithDaughter initiative. As the name suggests, parents, particularly in the rural sectors of the country were requested to take selfies with their daughters and then post them online, on twitter for instance. It was certainly a novel and unconventional approach to raise the awareness against selective-sex abortions, which were still being reported as common incidents across the nation.

The idea, was that the act of taking a selfie with your daughter, would inspire others and yourself as well to cherish the female child. The initiative, started in a rural village in Haryana, aimed to tackle the problem by stimulating the most ancient incentive of all; human emotions.

There was one person, though. an actress who questioned the effectiveness of such a scheme. She happened to voice her apprehension in the same medium as the campaign, twitter, and unfortunately was rewarded with an incredible amount of abuse. People called her a thesaurus-worth of obscenities, with some individuals (and opinion groups) going as far as to suggest that she had been a victim of abuse from her father at childhood.

Maybe she was validated. in voicing her concerns. After all, we are the world's -yawn- biggest
'democracy'. And as effective as the selfie campaign could be, in the long term, it is more likely that improvements in the accessibility and quality of education, particularly in the inculcation of sex and health education would have a better long-term effect in reversing the trend of India's dropping sex-ratio.

But did she deserve to be a victim of people looking for a 'score' in social circles? No, nobody deserves that I think, and especially not my poor resident class top scorer.  

Friday, 3 July 2015

Subconscious aspirations through advertising?

Blogger tells me that it has been exactly one week since I last wrote a post for my blog.
 *Cue Non-existent Drum Roll*. On time, for once. How long that'll last? Uh. Hopefully a little longer.

It's funny. When I think of a line to write or when I think about doing something, I often get this mental image in my head, which sort of helps me. It doesn't help directly, but it's kind of like my mind telling my body "Yep. No worries. you've done this before, ergo, you must be able to do it again".

When I write on my blog, the mental image that keeps recurring in my head is one, where I stand on-stage in a theater reading a discourse to the janitor, the hall attendant, a few people who wandered in by accident and a stray dog. Either my mind is being too honest with me or it wants to mock me. Sigh.

Ha. Such optimism eh? I hope that my ever-appreciative audience can bear with me for a bit, because for the next couple of paragraphs, I am going to whine like a bitch and since you are always silent, I will take it that you are in complete agreement with what I have to say.

College is back on in a week. I'm actually leaving a day early to my hostel to set up everything and dust up the old hideout a bit. I'm in my third year now, and really, I should be kind of used to the sensation of going back, perhaps I should even be anticipating the prospect of my return to campus.

Nope. Consciously, I feel alright, even nonplussed by the fact that the hols went by in a flash. But I just, feel down. I'm constantly plagued by worry, yet I cannot put my finger on the reason for feeling this way. I conclude that it is because, at a subconscious level, I'm afraid.

I'm scared of what this new semester will bring. And while my conscious tries to push down these feelings, painting over the cracks with thin optimism, my true feelings seem to be seeping out at every turn, during the worst moments of the day.

So, the subconscious. Hm. I actually went to the cinema the day before with a couple of senior friends who've already graduated. They had only a couple of days to spare before they would have to leave for their new jobs, so I felt obliged to have a sort of one-last experience with them before they left. I figured it'd be a good way to snap out of this funk as well.

We watched inside-out, the new Pixar animated movie. It was in short, mindblowing. It was so many things, and I utterly lack the words to describe it. And my poor substitutions would take too many lines for any reader, who wishes to avoid spoilers, to stomach. Simply, It touched my heart. It also had very interesting ideas about the subconscious, but I think it'd be better if people got a chance to watch it.

During the intermission, I actually hustled back to my seat from the popcorn line because I wanted to watch some of the trailers for upcoming flicks on the big screen. Alas, with Youtube poaching the entire trailer-release market, we were force-fed commercials, mostly advertising gold and property-for-rent.

Most of them had cringeworthy acting performances by women heavily laden in gold. And the situations were so ridiculous. Like there was this blinged out lady, sitting casually at her laptop on a fine evening, and she turns around to tell her tech-savvy (and likely employed in software) daughter to stop wasting electricity. Her daughter then replies with equally moronic dialogue which I don't really want to go into. (Basically, instead of switching off the lights like any sane person would do, she says something about gold wastage. Sigh)

Anyway, we had a load of fun laughing at the sheer absurdity of it all. But then there was this one ad which really appealed to me. It was classy, understated. There was no dialogue, just a lot of clever camera-work, and some imperious, statuesque poses by the model on the screen. It just caught my eye, and for marketing personnel, that is the first objective they seek to achieve for any sort of branding.

That leads me to wonder, ads are created to entice people to aspire to the products being shown advertised right? But if a certain ad appealed to me, and caught my attention, while the rest merely drew my ire, is the ad a reflection of my aspirations? Of the kind of image that I would like to project about myself? Maybe some of the other ads which I disliked may have caught the eye of someone else too.

So, what does this mean? Company's generally create their ads to appeal to their target audience, but those are generally generic classifications based on demographics, eg; rich, male, mid-thirties, upper middle-class, female, married etc, so we can say with some confidence that ads aren't tailor-made for each demographic.

Does that mean that subconsciously, we aspire for a certain lifestyle, or a certain quality that is exemplified in the advert's skit? Do Ads secretly tell us what we really want in life? People are getting smarter now, and it is no longer true to say that all ads that tell you to buy something will compel one to do so, People can now select from a variety of choices, It could very well be that the ad that was instrumental in their final choice could have been one which was advertised in a way that was in line with their subconscious aspirations at that time.

From the last bench.

Thursday, 25 June 2015

Birthdays and the Facebook problem

Ha! I posted only Six days later than when I said I would. It's still a struggle really, to post atleast once a week. Somedays, I get two or three ideas, that make me go "Oh yeah, That'd be great to post on my blog", and then, I just sit on them, for days on end, just turning them over in my mind. Believe me, when I say that I love to write, it's just that, I enjoy having these ideas bounce around in my mind all the time.

It's like having a rubik's cube that you can take out of your pocket whenever you feel bored, minus all the looks of annoyance that everyone around gives you for being a show-off.

So, anyway, yesterday was my birthday. I'm now a grand old chap of twenty summers. Leaving the teens was more panicky than I thought it would be. The sheltered shelf-life that I've led as a student and a son, so far is set to expire pretty soon, perhaps as soon as two summers henceforth.

Ah. Well. Reality.

So, one thing that I noticed was that, it's pretty easy for people to wish each other for occasions than it was say, in the nineties. Relatives as far away as Australia were able to wish me via Whatsapp, at practically no cost.

Yeah. Observant right? The thing is, a LOT and I mean a LOT of people, some whom I didn't even know were my friends on Facebook wished me on my wall. But what would have happened if, I'd entered my birth date incorrectly whilst filling in my personal details? what if I'd say, by mistake mentioned my birthday to be the 24th of August instead of June?

That was answered when it happened to a friend of mine. His wall was flooded with messages and wishes on group conversations. Poor chap had to clarify to everyone that it was not his birthday, and had to announce, to great general sadness, that the treat would not be forthcoming.

Wacky, innit? But think about this tidbit too. Facebook recently reached a deal with several websites to stream and host a lot of original content on their site itself. Like, if you were to open a link on facebook, on your phone, you'd be directed to a page on facebook itself, with several easy to access options to save or share the link via messenger.

It was pretty intuitive, and could make facebook a literal ocean of original content. Throw in the fact that it is pretty much standard to incorporate share options on literally any damn online page, and you have so many information being spread around each day, it'd probably take a lifetime to read everything sent around in a day.

So, what would happen if say, a hefty chunk of that information turned out to be misinformation? More and more pop culture reference sites, blogs, shops and social websites are being hosted on Facebook everyday. What would we do if something sufficiently believable, yet enough to cause panic were to hit the web?

With Facebook's increasing clout starting to remind us of the old saying "Putting all your eggs in one basket... " It could just cause some problems in the future.

Friday, 12 June 2015

The future has changed, or has it snuck up on the present aleady?

Unfortunately, I was unable to write a post for last week, since I was seriously gassed out by my intern. But I've told myself that I'd work towards making posts more regular, for the sake of all of my non-existent readers out there.

And so, with that cheery note, lets talk about something today.

In books like Nineteen Eighty-Four by Orwell, The Perfect day by Ira Levin and A Brave New World, the future is portrayed as one where technology has reached incredible heights, but at terrible cost.

It must be kept in mind as well, before we proceed, that these books were written decades ago, in the middle of the 20th Century, when the definition of the computer was vastly different from what it is now. Still, the thoughts and portrayals of the future in those books suggested a confidence, a modicum of self-assurance, that despite the wars, the sufferings and the disparities, mankind would unite itself at some point in the future.

The authors of these works evidently believed that once that happened, humanity would embark on a journey of incredible technological discovery and space exploration. Our downfall, as explained in the books, would be that our innate desire for perfection would cost us our emotions and that, we would rob ourselves of our own humanity, becoming mindless cogs in a larger machine.

Concepts of an all-controlling thought-police, human clones programmed to carry out only the purposes they were mandated for and even a entire society controlled by a computer were discussed as potential scenarios for mankind's downfall.

But now, it appears that the future has indeed changed. It could be that the future of the past has now become the present- atleast to an extent- and our vision for the future of the present has become more reflective of that.

In other words, there is a growing feeling that despite the technological genius that we've seen over the past decade- we've moved from CDs to Pendrives to Cloud storage in the same time span it took for programmers (They were more of mathematical electricians back then) to advance the first generation of computers to the next.

Our science fiction of today, imagines our downfall. No more of the space-ships, the super-intelligent AI, the clones. Tomorrow, we expect the dead to rise, we expect a society of poverty, driven to fight each other to the death for survival.

So the question is, has our vision for the future changed? or have already reached (an albeit disappointing version) the future, and the books of today are merely telling us what could happen next, that is, the future of the present. 

Saturday, 30 May 2015

The Interstellar in our lives

So, the last time that I posted on my blog, I mentioned that I was surprised that I was able to post something for the second time. And, I was.
But, then I see that I haven't posted for close to one-and-a-half months.


Posting consistently is something that I definitely ought to do, and something that I will try to carry out in the upcoming weeks!

So, then moving, or rather, not moving on; I wanted to write about something that struck me sometime ago.

There's always some time in the day, when I start to think. Just think. It could be anywhere, On the bus, when I'm sitting at my desk or when I'm reading something interesting. And usually, the subject of these thoughts is usually about something that is yet to happen, or something that has already happened in the past.

Sometimes, this could be a really trivial exercise. I would wonder if there were any good footy games scheduled up for the weekend, and that train of thought would take me to a match that I had watched before, and I would smile, the highlights playing out inside of my head. God save those poor souls who wound up on the seat beside me on the bus! Half the time I would be grinning like a hatter for seemingly no apparent reason at all!

I'm still in college though, and inevitably, those thoughts would shift to more serious notes, like the future.

As in, 'the future'. The after-college-future. My poor brain, would wring itself out, speculating almost constantly when it gets stuck in such a rut of thought. I'm fairly certain nearly every student feels the same way.

But, there is also scarcely a day that goes by when I don't think about the memories that I shared with friends and family. This past month was particularly sentimental, with college clubs sending off their final year seniors. More often than not though, a quiet smile draws upon my lips when I reminisce about such experiences. Memories like these age like fine wine, drawing more nostalgia and happiness the more they age.

What struck me most was that none of my thoughts, none of them at all, were about something that was happening in the present. Even thoughts about situations in the present were made with respect to plans for the future and with comparisons to the past.

This leads me to believe that we all travel in the fourth dimension. As in, we always travel in time. Because nothing we do is for the present, but for the sake of the future and in cherished memory of the past.

Saturday, 14 March 2015

Media, the internet and the panic

So, this is my second blog post, ever.
Wow, didn't think I'd make it this far. Although, I'll admit, I had been thinking for a week now, on what I could possibly write about. My thoughts and my general disposition towards my fellow beings on campus and life, in general were somewhat hampered by lingering pain from my knee, in other words I was extremely short tempered and surly almost all the time.

So, how did it happen? I was on my bicycle and heading to my fluid mechanics lab one sunny afternoon, when I went over a corner too fast. And like most streets in India, there were people walking bang in the middle of the road as if they've been paid to.

I tried to brake in time to avoid hitting anyone, but unfortunately, I ended up flattening one poor soul who was completely unaware of my approach. And then, promptly I fell on top of him, smashing my knee on the concrete. Perhaps it was punishment from the beyond, but the thing was, in the aftermath, he walked away fine, (bruised, but fine) and I was limping along with my bicycle to my lab.

The leg was pretty stiff, and wouldn't let me bend the knee very much. On the second day, it swelled up a bit, and I seriously considered going to the campus hospital. Immediately after I fell, I believed, despite the pain, that I had merely sustained a bruise, nothing more. But now, all sorts of dilemmas presented themselves to me.

What if I had fractured something and I didn't notice? What if it needed surgery? What would I do? How long would I be out of the system if I were to have said surgery? I felt scared. One of the thoughts that struck me as I placed a bottle of ice-cold water over the knee, was that possibly, I might have torn a ligament in the knee. All at once, my brain flooded me with information about the anatomy of the knee, the ACLs, PCLs, and the time needed for recovery after surgery.

As these ominous thoughts churned over in my head, I realized something.

Let me explain. I am a huge fan of the NBA and some other American sports leagues. I gives my folks at home a lot of grief and certainly, it earns me a lot of eye-rolls amongst my peers, stricken as they are with cricket and soccer fever. But it was something I did out of personal interest, and the very act of seeing a few scores and some highlights of some of the games was a small joy for me.

And recently with the increase in competitiveness of the games, from the grass root levels, athletes come up to the professional levels much stronger, faster and bigger. The strain they put on their bodies is enormous and it leads to them injuring themselves quite often. A very common problem that many athletes have faced is the torn Anterior Cruciate Ligament. Without going into much detail, the ligament is basically the string that holds the upper leg and lower leg in a line. Without the string, the lower leg slips off, and the injured person is unable to control his walking motion.

There have been several media articles written about this, including a statistical analysis about the trends that cause such tears, as well as extremely specific articles that explain the injury from the medical as well as the emotional- the personalized experience of the injured athletes recovery and rehab- perspectives. The collective dismay and the reactions of fans and observers are also reflected severely in the form of news reports, twitter posts and other blogs.

The truth is though, that in any sport or any physical activity, including in my case, the very act of cycling somewhere, comes with the inherent risk of injury. This is known to us as a fact. However, the media, now empowered by readily available data and news outlets that spin out stories almost instantaneously after an event of even moderate significance, choose to create a kind of 'information overload'.

Statistics can now be easily calculated using readily available and free tools online, and news updates too are becoming more of an online phenomenon. Take twitter for example, it's easy to access, the data it spins out is concise, links and photos can be uploaded to updates as well. As a result, journalists, companies and organizations take to posting information in short 'bites' on their pages, along with links and photos.

This data availability also exacerbates another problem that people have been talking about for years.

Media initiated panic.

Why did I fear that I had torn a ligament, even though it probably wasn't the case? (I was able to walk normally after a four days) I had read so many article, and lists detailing the injury from every possible angle; videos of athletes running after recovery, interviews, lists of athletes recovering from torn ligaments, medical articles, statistical correlations between ligament injuries and food habits, the works. So literally, the idea that one could easily rupture his ACL was firmly planted in my mind.

So, I called my dad and asked him anxiously. Did I tear something?, will I need surgery?, will it really take six months to recover? To his credit, my dad stayed calm and asked me about the current status of the knee. I told him, that while walking had been tough for a few days after the fall, right now, I could walk normally and bend the knee to an extent, but not fully. And I couldn't run either.

Fortunately, it sounds like a strained tendon in the back of my knee, which is something I'm truly relieved to hear. My dad told me take it easy on that leg for a week, and that it probably wasn't anything serious.

This leads me to the final part of my post. I'm a member of the college magazine and this month, we were doing a cover story on the impact of the internet and how indispensable it has become in our lives. Our smartphones are now so... well, smart that, once again, the effect of data availability can be seen. People talk and react about something that happens barely minutes ago, such is the instantaneous nature of our times.

So, we were discussing our smartphones and their impact and the issues that we could address in the story on a message board, when, I mentioned that I had lost my smartphone for a couple of days sometime ago. There is a big story behind this, but I'll save it for later, when I'm scrambling for topics to blog about.

I mentioned how I felt when I lost the phone, and these are my honest feelings. It felt like the early stages of recovery from an addictive drug, Without my phone, I couldn't check my messages, which was crucial as nearly all the information regarding classes and assignments is conveyed to us via messages. I was also cut off from Facebook, and google, so I couldn't see what my friends were upto and I couldn't browse the internet. But, that wasn't the main problem that I was faced with.

The main problem was the feeling of emotionally anxiety and aloneness without my phone. When I mentioned this in the message group, the first reply that I received was "Oh yeah, that feeling of being left behind or missing out"

This was not what I had meant, but when I pondered over it, I found that it actually made sense. For, me the functioning of my phone and my knee were things that I rarely thought about. Not to the point were I took it for granted, but yes, I would curse loudly and crudely if a page I wanted to see didn't load quickly enough and I did have a few choice words to utter at my knee when it crumpled like a twig when I tried to run for the first time after my fall.

So, this leads to another thought. We often mention to each other in the passing 'oh hey, did you hear, that guy's phone screen cracked when he dropped it on the road' or 'hey did you check out this article about this unlucky guy who broke nearly every bone in his body?' and there was a real case recently, when a couple of zealous fourth year students, attempting to take a short film got a friend of theirs to jump off the first floor of a building under construction. He was supposed to fall into a pile of sand, but instead ended up tearing out his ligaments.

So, that's it. We mention it, and forget about it. It's now upto said person to make his way back to a life of normalcy. But, have we actually wondered about that? The whole process of making your way back from something that upsets your life as it is? More than once for my knee alone, I've wished the pain would just go away and that I could be all better at once. So how would a person, such as the ill-advised stunt-jumper feel as he tries to make his way back from an injury that requires surgery.

I've never thought about it like this before, probably because I'm still pretty young, but health has never been very high on the parameters for success for me. But, now I'm inclined to think otherwise. Health is probably a paramount parameter for success, and only after that I feel comes the rest.

Thank you for reading. 

Monday, 2 March 2015

Celebrating Technology and Chasing our "Real Dreams"

February's gone.

And just like that, we're already Two months into the new year.
Surprising really, how time passes by. I know I'm still not used to the fact that we are in the year 2015. I probably won't be either, probably not until around when June comes by.

My college, NIT-Trichy, celebrated it's annual Techno-Fest, Pragyan. for the Eleventh time ever. The tagline of Prgayan is 'Lets Celebrate Technology', which, for me is, for want of a better word, interesting, In my first year, I've heard a lot of tales about Pragyan, and now, in my second year, I still have no idea if they are true or not.

One of the stories whispered about, were that the name of the fest itself, Pragyan, came about in a tongue-in-cheek moment, suggested by one of the founding students after one of his ex-girlfriends. Sounds ridiculous I know, and the official story is that the name was chosen by a vote amongst the founding members. Pragyan does mean 'Supreme Intelligence' in Sanskrit, so there is some merit to the official version.

But, why couldn't it have been the former? It would have been really cool if it turned out to be the case. Sadly, I, at the very least will probably never know the truth. The very fact that such a rumour existed however, does give us some thoughts to munch over, about the mindset that the founders had when they set about to create a student-organized tech fest.

Creating Pragyan ground up, from scratch for the first time, would have entailed a lot of hard work and effort. And, not only that, it would have taken a kind of obsessive love and passion towards technology. It would have meant that they admired and loved engineering and innovation so much so that they created a platform for them to share their joy of 'celebrating technology' with others. Although, to be honest, the 'Let's celebrate...' tagline was adoped only in 2011, by which time, Pragyan had probably evolved and grown beyond what its founders had envisioned for it.

It was my second Pragyan, and the third overall college fest that I was able to attend. I had missed out on Festember, the college's cultural fest (No prizes for guessing when it occurs) in my first semester, as I had chosen to go home, rather than staying back for the celebrations. I feel bad about that now, not only because, I ended up missing something cool, but also the reasons for my departure.

The friends that I hung out with then, had decided to leave for Chennai during Festember, and I, not wanting to be left out, went with them. I didn't stop to consider for even once, that maybe I should think and take the best decision for myself, instead of taking the easy route of 'going with the flow'. Since then though, I've reformed a bit, and started to decide what I wanted to do for myself.

I was in campus for the next iteration of Festember, and of course, I was there for Pragyan 14 as well. The experience was not perfect, and there was a decent bit of the bad mixed in with the good, but overall, I grew a lot, saw a lot of cool things, and improved my perceptions on a lot, lot of things.

After my first Festember though, I noticed a visible difference between the atmosphere at Prgayan 15. Earlier, Pragyan was the only fest that I had had a chance to experience, so I had nothing to compare it with, Now, after Festember 14, I found that the air was much more serious, muted even at Pragyan.
The crowds too, were sparser, more calculated and less likely to amble along leisurely, like tourists. This was not necessarily a bad thing, as Prgayan is, at heart, a tech fest, where people generally come to attend workshops and participate in serious events involving a lot of coding, wiring and a lot of technical know-how.

In the middle of all of this though, is an odd set of events called 'infotainment'. These are events, which are supposed to be technical, or at the very least, scientific, but entertaining at the same time. This year, Pragyan invited a troupe of fire artists from Czechoslovakia. Their connection with 'science' is mild, at best, unless they were planned to be used as live targets for a new method to extinguish fire, but damn, they put on a show.

The show occured at Seven-ish in the evening, at the sports ground, which was perfect. Lots of sand, very little flammable material nearby, although, in retrospect, was it a good idea for the fencing that separated the crowd from the performing stage to be made our of dry wood? Luckily though, nothing untoward happened and the show was a blast.

I was transfixed by what I saw. It was incredible. Their performance could almost be called a dance, and it involved a lot of stylish actions, quick, precise movements of their wrists and hands and from what I could see, a lot of confidence. They performed using long torches, lit with live fire at both ends and with cloth-covered slings, also alight with flame.

Heavy Metal and Rock music blared over the speakers over the course of their performance, and to be frank, the crowd couldn't get enough of the complicated twirls, spins and crossovers that the threesome (There were three performers) executed flawlessly. I was struck by the scene, which reminded me of depictions of hell, with fire raging everywhere, but I marveled at the beauty and the intricacy of the performance.

At first, the three performed solo, with each showing off his (There were two men and a woman) prowess with the flaming torch and the sling. The woman also performed using a many-branched frame, carrying several small flames. But, then they suddenly crossed over and danced together, the flames weaving, a mere blur,  through the gaps in between their tightly swaying bodies.

The audience gasped and clapped in awe, struck by their talent. And that was when I noticed something interesting. The faces of the performers, all the three of them, and in particular, the woman, bore no sign of stress or fatigue. At all.

In Fact, the woman was actually smiling, as she confidently stepped past her partner, swinging the flaming torches in her hands in an intricate pattern, firm in the knowledge that she would not hit him in error,

So, let me ask you then, can you smile, while you are literally holding death in your hands? While you are pretty much as close to the edge as you can possibly be? Undoubtedly, the clothes that the performers wore had some anti-inflammation properties, but the flames themselves would exude hot gas and heat. The hands of each member of the troupe would be feeling unbelievably hot, singed and dangerously sweaty, which brings me to my second question.

When your current condition is as slippery as that, do you trust in your practice and more importantly do you trust yourself to walk up to your partner, fire in hand, and perform confidently, while smiling all the way?

It says a lot about their talent and ability, true. But it also speaks volumes about their dedication and the passion that they must have for their jobs. Honestly, this was the kind of job, that one would not enlist oneself in unless he truly loved doing it.

We talk so much about how we want to chase our dreams and do what we 'really' wanted to do during our childhood, but would we approach it with the same love and dedication?

I had a friend once, back in eight grade. He told me that he wanted to become an astronaut. But when the subject of 'what do you want to do after your schooling' came up again (It has now become 'What do you think you want to do after college?'), in tenth grade,  he told me clearly that he wanted to become a software engineer, maybe work a few years in an IT company and then join his father in the family business. I felt upset when I heard this, because if felt that he had given up his original dream.

There was another guy from my school that I knew around the same time as well. He was pretty good at dancing and everyone in the school knew about that. But around the time we were in our eleventh grade, he would do pretty badly in, just about every test given to him. And each time, he'd blame his father for forcing him to study in a conventional school, when what he truly wanted to become was a professional dancer.

But the thing was, I had never seen him take the initiative to try and make that happen. Or at the very least, to try to make the best out of what looked like a bad situation. He would just sit in a corner of the classroom, content and in solace with the fact that he had a 'different' dream, that he was breaking convention by declaring his dancing ambitions. He stayed like that till the end of 12th grade.

Today, both of them are engineering students, in different colleges. I have since lost touch with both of them, which is something that I honestly regret. I am currently endeavoring to find out their current status, but I can tell this with certainty.

It isn't enough to have a 'different dream', or to just dream big. You just need to love what you dream of doing and follow through with it. It doesn't matter if you want to become something that people scorn or deem to be 'cliched' these days, such as engineering or medicine. All you need is to love it. You need to love it with a passion that gives birth to a confidence akin to that displayed by that pretty Czech woman from the fire troupe; the confidence to handle fire without the fear of getting burnt.