Tuesday, December 25, 2012


adj. 1. The good thing left about you, when you're neither beautiful nor intelligent. 

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Random slices

I have ceased worrying about ceasing to write. At some level, I have grown more sure as days have gone that I would not cease to write, but at another level, I must confess, I have resigned to the feeling that if I do cease, it would be acceptable to me. It was never the case that I really knew why I wrote, or why I should write. It was never the case that writing gave me a sense of beautiful exhiliration. It provided me, mostly, a gentle resignation. I wrote, I wonder, in order to resign. To accept things I didn't want to accept, perhaps, I needed to write them down. And maybe I will need to do that forever, I think I will, but why should I be sad if I don't need to, someday.

I moved to US for graduate studies some months ago. A little over three months, now. When I came here I was impressed by the infrastructure, dammit I was mightily impressed. But such charms, or any charm for that matter, often last only as long as you take to get used to it. That is why I think seeking your life's joy from charms all and sundry is not as wise an idea as it seems. Recently, I went to New York city for three days, and nothing happened to me. I mean, from accounts of friends and acquaintances who had had something to do with New York city at some point in their lives, it was almost as if something was supposed to happen to you when you first go there. Everything was bigger than it usually is. The buildings, subways, bridge, road, the number of people - nothing was different, only magnified. If there was an "electricity in the atmosphere", I was unfortunately insulated. I would have liked it to move me, I really would. I seek things that might move me, mostly and increasingly in vain.

I remember reading about some people's almost lyrical accounts of how nothing happened to them when, for instance, they went to Amarnath or to Jerusalem. I haven't been to any of these places, but I do wonder if something happened to these people when they first went to New York city? That would embarrass their lyricism, if they were to admit it, anyway.

In contrast, I liked the serenity and some sort of filled emptiness of the village of Wilson quite a lot. The first thought that came to me as I reached there was that I could retire here. Better still, I could leave the rest of the humdrum and come here and sit in the sun under the vast open sky and write. Maybe, walk half a mile and get milk and bread every morning, waving at the odd morning-jogging person I came across on the way. Maybe, I'd jog down to the grocery store myself. With these thoughts I spent a day roaming about the village, a village, yes, but clean and tidy and equipped with everything one needs to live well. Living well, but then, is a pretty subjective thing. And discussion of this subjectivity a most depressing thing.

I'm now a graduate student here, training to become a quant. Quants do the more distinctly mathematical things in Finance. Usually, they are not a very popular lot, but people here do tend to stereotype them as very clever. And clever as you're aware always paves way for cunning. So far I've had one person explicitly tell me not to "screw up with their economy for your greed". That person's wife calmed him down and said sorry to me. She seemed a warm woman, friendly and of a welcoming disposition, and then she said she "likes to have smart people around herself". Both husband and wife were rather religious about their respective stereotypes of how quants are. It looked like the perfect occassion to excuse myself quickly.

As I write this, hurricane Sandy dances crazy outside the balcony. Winds blow like I have never seen, and as long as it doesn't hurt people, in and of itself it is beautiful. But reflecting on the beauty of winds and trees, even that of children and old people, or that of the commonplace and the exotic has sadly become a thing of the past. Beauty must now be sought and must, must also be found, in calculus equations, C++ code, and probabilistic models. They have beauty too, and as if with flickers of light, I see it sometimes and sometimes not.  But sooner or later you realise that it's all cool after watching a few comedy circus videos on youtube, especially those of Krishna & Sudesh, and of Kapil Sharma.

I was sitting on the window, you can't quite open the balcony door at this stage, before I came to this desk to write this post. When I stood up from the window the idea that had just struck me like a snakebite, the idea that made me want to get up and write, was that physical distance has a suspiciously low correlation with loneliness. If everybody I ever knew stood within a twenty feet radius of me, I would still feel alone, if I was otherwise feeling alone.

But then I came here to write a minute later and I wasn't feeling as alone anymore, so I let it go.

Saturday, June 16, 2012

On the people who make the buildings that make India's big cities big

Next to my flat is a construction site for an upcoming shopping mall that you will go to, sometimes to buy yourself objects that will add to your list of acquisitions that will define your place in society, and more often to just chit-chat over a cup of coffee. The labourers who work at this construction site, just as in most others, get Rs 120 for a day of labour, which is less than the price of that coffee you will drink often for no particular reason. They work entire days in scorching sun and blowing mud. They are not spoken to 'professionally' : "Could you please take care of this task? - Regards, your site supervisor". Their work entails not sitting on their butts and complaining about the weather, or passing grand moral judgements like I'm about to, just now. Their work entails hard, physical work, with kilos and kilocalories of energy lost every hour. They do not get paid leaves, they are provided no home rent allowance, there are practically no rights they can avail. The work they do is harder than what you, dear reader, and I do. Is their work clearly less important to society than the work that you, dear reader, and I, do, that they are paid so much lesser than us? Unless you are a doctor who treats these same people for something they can afford, no. Their work is exponentially harder and maybe also more important to the functioning of our cities than our work. Those of you who think, as many of us do, that the work these workers do is only physically harder, while what you and I do is mentally much more challenging and therefore more difficult on the whole, are deluded. Actually, you are not deluded. You are corrupt (and every time you criticise our politicians for being venal, you should write in your diary - "I am phony"). Thinking like this suits you, because this way you can justify to yourself the worth our society accords you vis-a-vis them. If you can evaluate a balance-sheet they can't, or debug a piece of code that they can't, the one and only thing it means is that you were more fortunate to have been born in the right household. If you are a reasonable person, you can probably figure out that by no means does it mean that you are more talented. By the way, sshhh between you and me, not that it matters, but in all likelihood the work you do is actually pretty dumb, hardly requires anything that must especially be called intelligence instead of common-sense, and you know it. Anyway, my problem is not particularly that no one is doing anything about it - I am not doing anything about it either (and am pretty ashamed about it).  My problem is how it is a non-issue not only in our public discourse but also in our coffee-table intellectual manicures. How no one has it on their minds, is what is sad. Bright city youngsters will put all their neural firepower on show in their dismissal of reservations, in their advocacy for the wife-like rights for female live-in partners, in their tenacious arguments against scrapping of one exam in favour of another. They make me sad not because of what they fight for - all fairly valid issues generally, in their own right. What is saddening is how none of those smart and savvy youngsters ever include the plight of the construction workers in even their casual coffee-table conversations. How they choose to act totally oblivious to this glaring injustice. The labourers of India are discriminated against, and the mobile India consists of two types of people - those that exploit them, and those that ignore them altogether. Construction workers are just one of the many kinds of labourers that do not remotely get their due in the Indian society - parallels exist for labourers of all kinds. When I say that they do not get their due - I mean not just monetary but also social. It is not just the paltry 120 Rupees that they will earn for a day of work worth more than yours, it is also that they will be social downcasts after that day is over and they head home (if they have one). For the most part, it is as if their life is isolated from you, confined within their own world of abject living conditions and fellow hardworking labourers. It is as though they do not exist in the larger society, until they must physically arrive at your doorstep.  At which point, they will get your shortlived, suspicious glance when they come to repair the leaking tap in your house, and your maid or handyman will be asked watch over them while they are at work and talk them through with it, because you, yourself, won't do even that. If there's one thing that can be said about the concept of Dignity of Labour in India, it is that it's non-existent. 

Friday, February 24, 2012

Everybody observes everything, except their observations.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012


Today's workday wasn't as hectic as all others. This is what I made in the break today:

Yes, that's Chanakya. India's (also the world's ?) first real economist and the author of Arthashaastra.

And this is what I did with it after coming back home:


Thursday, February 9, 2012


I'm going to be 26 in a month. I really don't feel 26 in my head. I feel, well, umm, 21? Physically, yes, I think I'm not 21 anymore, and it would be ridiculous to pretend otherwise. But in my head (I hope you can know what I mean), in my head, in the way I think, I mean that hasn't changed much since I was 21. Infact I'd say that except for a greater readiness for failures in life, nothing has changed. I remember going to take the Mensa test 5 years ago, Rohit was there, Pyush, Adyansh. Two months later results of the test came from somewhere in Pune. I got 147 in the test and a letter reached me a day later that stated, well let me understate, that I was quite smart. I hate to admit it, but I was really full of hot air for a day. Sentences like Jason Bourne's "I'm always listening" and Sherlock Holmes' "Elementary, dear Watson" got recited in front of the mirror, I confess. I did a lot of googling and found much to my dismay that at 148, they called you a genius. But it was still good, my mom was so happy to see that thing that she showed it to all my relatives who came home the next one month. S*****t show that certificate! Other than that I can't quite recall how everything was back then. I also recall the 4th semester exams, Electronics in particular, but not much else. Harpreet was staying in the hostel for that exam. We studied till really late, Harpreet and I, while Khanka was off to sleep at 1 AM. Khanka's roomie was never there, so we also slept in his room. Just an hour or so in the morning. Oh, yeah, now I recall other things. Then Rohit and I joined an NGO. One day we roamed about the most godforsaken parts of Delhi to see how street kids live and if possible offer them a way to start getting educated through this NGO. It sounds fun, but at 48 degree celsius in May 2007, it wasn't. Neither of us had quite started driving yet, so it was 5-6 buses and an enormous amount of walking. At a different nonprofit event, one of the girls, a particularly pretty one, not knowing my name referred to me as the fat guy while talking with Rohit. By the time I got to know this, I knew she'd never see me again. But I felt so insulted, I really ran and ran the next two months. I think I must have still been a teenager at 21. In just fifteen days, I was running 7-8 kms at a stretch every morning plus cycling an equal distance every evening. In just over a month, I was running close to 10 kms every morning and I'd lost 9-10 kgs without any gym-advisor or dietician crap, and felt my healthiest best. This was both good and bad, I think. Bad because ever since then, I never panic about my weight because somewhere inside I tend to be overly overconfident (redundancy intended) that I can do it in 20 days whenever I really decide, so what's the hurry.

Everything was so straight and good. Anyway, I completed 1 year at Mumbai today. Not much to say on that as of now. Perhaps when I'm 31.