Thursday, December 30, 2010

The Ghost story




Of late my daughter is scared of Ghosts. It all started when she saw a program in the Discovery channel on ghosts – how a hotel in the US of A is said to be haunted by ghosts and people claiming all sorts of the usual stuff – hearing strange noises, things moving on their own and so on and so forth. So the bottom line is she would not stay by herself nor go into a dark room. When she was scared today by an innocuous noise I took her to the balcony and showed her that it was empty and it was just people walking in a distance. To which she retorted, “But you cannot see ghosts.”

I said: “Oh, okay, then ghosts are invisible like gods ( the other myth she believes in ). Then why can’t gods kill the ghosts.”

She: “Because ghosts are in the earth and god is outside.”

I: “Oh so god is not very powerful, right?

She did not even take a moment to reply – “That is a long story. I will tell you.” And so here it goes.

Once there was a Ghost near God. The Ghost was troubling the gods and goddesses. So god locked him in a cage and put him in the earth so that people can see them (ghost has now become ghosts) and kill. Why god did not kill? Because ghosts will come in the night only. God will not have that much power in the night because he will get his power from the sun.

When the ghosts were fighting god, they made one bad god their friend. That god has power during night. So every night he would come and make their life good. One night the ghosts asked the god to make them invisible and open the cage. The bad god opened the cage, made them invisible and let them free.

Even now ghosts come only in the night and god cannot defeat them. If somebody like robbers or bad people die they become ghosts. There are many more stories like this but this is the most famous story of ghosts. So people tell this story if they want to scare the children. So be very careful. The ghosts may harm you.


I was surprised to see the process of 'myth creation' in such a simple manner - There is a good entity and a bad entity; the good entity powerless in some way; the bad entity enlisting the help of someone and becoming powerful. I was also surprised by the 'inputs' she has received from the society including the television programs in creating the myth. And I liked the concept of god deriving energy from the sun. Finally I was happy that she realizes that 'there are many such stories and people tell the story to scare children.'

But then I don't know how I can help her to outgrow the fear of ghosts. Any suggestion?






Monday, December 27, 2010

ஒரு பார்வையாளியின் பதிவு


நேற்று வானம் சிறிது மேக மூட்டமாயிருந்தது. வீட்டிற்குள் நுழையுமுன்பே வாசலில் வாடியிருந்த மல்லிகை பந்தல் மனதை உறுத்தியது. வாசலில் நின்று கொண்டிருந்த ஒரு அநாதை ஆசிரம வண்டியில் பழைய சாமான்கள் ஏற்றப் பட்டுக் கொண்டிருந்தன.

எங்கள் வீட்டை விற்று விட்டோம், மாமா இறந்து ஒரு வருடமாகி விட்டது. ஊருக்கு வெளியே மிக தொலைவில் இருக்கும் இந்த வீட்டில் இருப்பதற்கு இப்போது யாரும் தயாராக இல்லை. இந்த மாதக் கடைசியில் வீட்டை ஒப்படைக்க வேண்டும். அதற்கு முன் வீட்டில் உள்ள சாமான்களை காலி செய்துக் கொண்டிருக்கிறோம்.

நான் என் குழந்தையுடன் மெதுவாக வீட்டிற்குள் நுழைந்தேன். ஒரு வருடம் கழித்து வருகிறேன். வரவேற்பறையைத் தாண்டி நீள வராந்தா. இருப்பக்கமும் சிறு சிறு அறைகள். எனது மாமனார் தனது மூன்று மகன்களின் குடும்பத்திற்காக என்று கனவு கண்ட அறைகள். கடைசியாக சமையலறை. அதை தாண்டி ஒரு தோட்டம்.

வீட்டைக் கடந்து தோட்டத்தை அடைந்தேன். கிணற்றடியில் துவைக்கும் கல். எத்தனைக் கதைகளை சொல்லும்? இன்னும் காய்க்காத நான்கு தென்னை மரங்கள், ஒரு வாழை மரம். சற்று தள்ளி ஒரு நாரத்தை மரம். அதன் கிளையில் ஒட்டடை. மனது வலித்தது. இங்கே வந்து சென்ற போதெல்லாம் என் மாமியார் பழங்களை ஆசையாக பறித்து என் பையில் அடுக்கியது நினைவிற்கு வந்தது. தென்னை மரத்தை நட்டு நீர் ஊற்றும்போது தங்கள் குழந்தைகளுக்கு என்று நினைத்திருப்பார்களோ?

நீர்த்தொட்டியின் பக்கவாட்டில் மூன்று கோடுகள் - கிரிக்கெட் ஸ்டம்ப் வரைந்திருந்தது என் கண்ணில் பட்டது. அதிர்ச்சியாய் இருந்தது. எத்தனை நாட்கள் சிறுவர்களும் பெரியவர்களும் இங்கு குதூகலமாக வீட்டு பெண்கள் திட்டுவதை பொருட் படுத்தாமல், வேலைக்கு இடைஞ்சலாக விளையாடி கொண்டிருந்தனர்? இப்போது தான் வீட்டின் அமைதியை கவனித்தேன். அது என் மேல் கமிழ்ந்து என்னை அழுத்துவது போலிருந்தது.

எனக்கு திருமணமாகி ஐந்து வருடங்களே ஆகிறது. என் மனதிலேயே இந்த வீடு இத்தனை சலனங்களை ஏற்படுத்துகிறதே, என் மாமியார் 35 வருடங்களாக இருந்த வீடு. அவர்களுக்கு இந்த இழப்பு கணவரை இழந்த அதே உணர்வை மறுபடியும் ஏற்படுத்துமோ? அவர்கள் மெல்ல ஒவ்வொரு அறையாக தன் மகளுடன் வளைய வந்துக் கொண்டிருந்தார்,

வீட்டின் ஒவ்வொரு அறையிலும் பரணிலும் எண்ணிலடங்கா சாமான்கள். வாடகை வீட்டில் இருப்பதில் ஒரு வசதி. வீடு மாற்ற நேரும் போதும் இடப் பற்றாக்குறையினாலும் பழையன கழிதல் நடந்துக் கொண்டேயிருக்கும். சொந்த வீட்டில் என்றாவது தேவைப்படும் என்று எடுத்து வைக்கப்படும் சாமான்கள் மறக்கப்பட்டு, அதை களைவதே பெரும் ப்ரையத்தனமாகி அப்படியே தேங்கி விடுகிறது. ஒவ்வொரு பொருளையும் யாருக்கு கொடுப்பது என்று என் மாமியார் யோசித்து யோசித்து எடுத்து வைத்துக் கொண்டிருந்தார். ஒரு பெரிய அலுமினிய தட்டை எனக்கு கொடுத்து மிளகாய் காய வைக்க வைத்துக் கொள் என்றார். உட்காரும் மனை ஒன்றையும் கொடுத்து இது உனக்காக எடுத்து வைத்தேன் என்றார். எல்லோரும் தங்கள் நகர குடியிருப்பில் உள்ள இட நெருக்கடிக்கு பயந்து அவரிடம் கோபித்தாலும் , ஒவ்வொரு பொருளின் பின்பும் உள்ள நினைவுச் சுமைகளை அவரைத் தவிர யாரறிவார்?

புகைப்படலமாய் வீடு முழுவதும் தூசி படிந்திருந்தது. என் குழந்தை என் மாமனாரின் துளசி மாலை ஒன்றை வைத்து விளையாடிக் கொண்டிருந்தாள். அவள் அந்த இனிய பருவத்திற்கே உரிய குழந்தைத்தனத்துடன், அவளது உடையும் உடலும் அழுக்காவதைப் பொருட்படுத்தாமல் சலனமின்றி விளையாடிக் கொண்டிருந்தாள். என் மாமியார் நினைவுகள் அமிழ்த்த வேலையில் மூழ்கி மௌனமாக பாகப்பிரிவினை செய்துக் கொண்டிருந்தார். வீட்டின் அமைதி என்னுள்ளும் புகுந்தது.

சுனாமி நினைவுகள்

ஆழிப்பேரலை
(27 . 12 . 2004 அன்று எழுதியது)

ஒத்துக்கொள்கிறோம்; நீர் வேண்டினோம்
நா உலர்ந்து வியர்வையில் குளித்து
தோழியரை முறைத்து நீருக்காக போராடினோம்
ஆம்; உண்மைதான்
நீருக்காக மன்றாடினோம்.
அண்டை மாநிலங்களின் தயவை நாடி
தலைநகரை பரிந்துரைக்க கோரி
நீருக்காக நாங்கள் செய்த வேள்விகள் கோடி.

அனைத்திற்கும் மேலாக
மாரி தரும் மேகத்தை
வசை மாறி பொழிந்தோம்.
எங்கள் அருமை கண்மணிகள்
கும்பகோண தீயில் கருக
அமிர்தமாய் பொழிந்து காக்க தவறிய இயற்கையை
நிந்தித்தோம் நாங்கள்
ஒத்துக்கொள்கிறோம். அதற்கு பதிலடியா இந்த கொடுமை?

மலையாய் எழுந்த நீர்
விழுங்கிய உயிர்களின் கணக்கு யாரறிவர்?
ஏதுமறியா இளந்தளிர்கள் மீது
அப்படியென்ன கோபம் இயற்கைக்கு?
இயற்கையின் சீற்றத்தால் நேரிட்ட அவலங்கள்
பதைபதைக்கும் எம் உள்ளங்கள்.
உறவுகளும் பெயர்களும் வெறும்
சவங்களாய் கணக்கெடுக்கப்படும் கோரம்.

எப்படி மீள்வோம் இத்துயரிலிருந்து
யார் தருவார் ஆறுதல் மருந்து? புரிந்துக்கொண்டோம்
இயற்கையில் புதைந்திருக்கும் அழகு
கண நேரத்தில் உண்டாக்கும் அழிவு.
நிலமகள் வாகாய் அசைந்து உட்கார
எங்கள் ஆணிவேரே ஆட்டம் கண்டது.
இயற்கையை வென்றதாய் மனிதன் கொக்கரிக்க
அதன் ஒரு பெருமூச்சில் அவன் ஆணவம் அடங்கியது.

இப்பிரபஞ்சத்தில் நமக்கான இடம் காட்டப்படும் நேரமிது.
சரியான குறிப்பறிந்து வாழும் காலத்தை
அற்பச் சண்டையில் ஆணவச் செருக்கில் அழிக்காமல்
மனிதநேயத்தோடு நல்லிணக்கத்தோடு அழகாய் அளவாய்
அறிவோடு வாழ இயற்கை புகட்டும் பாடமிது.
கற்றுக்கொண்டோம் எமக்கான பாடத்தை;
போதுமிந்த முரட்டு கல்வி; வணங்குகிறோம் இயற்கையை
விட்டுவிடு இத்தோடு எம்மை.








Sunday, December 26, 2010

Story time...

A dark mystery....

I am running hard. I can hear my heart pounding in my ears. I look up at the starless sky....could there be someone looking at me down below running like a mad man. Oh God....I did not intend to kill that woman. If only she had not resisted....if only she had parted with her chain .... Oh no...I wanted to set the clock back by an hour. Then I would have been walking in the streets - a forlorn man - hungry, angry and exhausted.

I am still running - my arms flailing - there is no control in my stride...no rhythm. I am running away from the heinous crime I just committed. I know there is nobody pursuing me. I know I may attract attention running like this. But I could not stop.

It was by chance our eyes met. But she looked at me with such revulsion. There was something haughty about her. All I was looking for was food..something to fill my stomach before reaching my home under the bridge; my home, a hut by the stinking river, where I could sleep for a few hours undisturbed by the buzzing mosquitoes if only my stomach was full. I again caught her eyes ...it was hauntingly beautiful and at the same time filled with derision. I followed her ...now there was panic in her eyes. I tried to snatch her chain ...

I still could not stop running as the event unfolded before my eyes with utmost clarity. Was that really me? I only wanted her chain. But when my fingers closed around her long fair neck I saw the cold unalloyed fear in her eyes. It was fascinating. I looked into her eyes as I tightened my squeeze and she suddenly went limp. I did not intend to kill her....believe me...it was her eyes....

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Friday Quote

I find television very educating. Every time somebody turns on the set, I go into the other room and read a book.
Groucho Marx


Friday, November 26, 2010

Friday Quote

You must accept one of two basic premises: Either we are alone in the universe, or we are not alone in the universe. And either way, the implications are staggering — Wernher von Braun

Sunday, November 21, 2010

The Last Lecture

In many Universities in the USA, there is a tradition of top academics delivering what is called the 'Last Lecture' - a talk which is the result of deep thought as an answer to the question - If you were to give a final lecture what would it be - what wisdom would you like to impart to your students and what would you want to share, if you knew it was your last chance.

Randy Pausch was a Professor of Computer Science at the Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburg, Pennysylvania. He was born in 1960. When he was 46 years old he learnt that he had pancreatic cancer. In August 2007 he was told that he had about 6 months of good health left and in September 2007 he delivered his 'Last Lecture' on the topic 'Achieving your Childhood Dreams.' This was a phenomenal lecture delivered with great humor and enthusiasm. I saw it twice in the last one week. It is moving and tells so much about the man - his energy, enthusiasm, passion for Engineering - he calls himself an 'Efficiency freak' and love for his family. Randy Pausch died on July 25, 2008 and is survived by his wonderful wife Jai and three lovely children.

In his lecture, Randy talked about his childhood dreams, enabling others to achieve their dreams and finally about lessons learnt.

As I had watched the lecture twice in quick succession, some of it has stayed in my memory right and I want to try and see how much I can remember. It won't be long before my memory starts fading and I forget what he talked other than that the lecture was extraordinary.

Randy starts by talking about his cancer and then clarifying powerfully that he does not want any pity, goes on to list his childhood dreams - it ranges from experiencing zero gravity to winning stuffed dolls in amusement parks. He hilariously describes how he made his dream of experiencing 'zero gravity' come true.

Then he talks about his Football dreams and says that he accomplished more by not realising that goal than by realising other goals. Of course, football teaches teamwork, sportsmanship and perseverance. But that is only an 'head fake,' he says. Children start to learn football because they enjoy it but then they get out of it valuable lessons which they will carry with them long after they stop playing football. Those lessons for him were:
- You got to get your fundamentals right.....
- When you do something when you are young enough it becomes a part of you...
- When you are screwing up and nobody says anything to you any more, then that means they gave up on you... That's a very bad place to be.


He also talks about how he managed to dabble in Imagineering ...how he talked his way to getting time off from his academic tenure....the people who served as brick walls as well as those who mentored him and so on. Brick walls are there for a reason, he says...they let us prove how badly we want things...and to keep others out.

He talks about several other things - the project he gave his students and how they excelled beyond his imagination and how then he told them to do even better; how to get people to bond; how he found somebody better than him to hand over his mantle. He talks about enabling children to learn computer programming by playing computer games. He recounts how his mentor instead of directly saying that he was a jerk, told him that people 'perceived' him as arrogant. He compares himself to Moses leading his clan to the promised land but not allowed to enter it. And he talks about having fun...I am dying and I am having fun, he says.

Finally he sums up his talk and asks : Have you figured out the head fake? He pauses and then says "It is not about how to achieve your dreams; it is about how to lead your life." Then he asks - Have you figured out the second head fake? "This talk wasn't for you guys. It was for my kids," he says. And that explains how he had put his heart and soul into this one final lecture.

What a Life.....









Friday, November 19, 2010

What happened to Tony Nicklinson....

There is no update for quite a while. I read about this man sometime back.

http://www.guardian.co.uk/society/2010/jul/19/locked-in-syndrome-die-dpp

Tony Nicklinson of the United Kingdom is 'locked in' after suffering a stroke and can move only his head and eyes. He is fed up with his life and wishes to die but is worried that his wife would be prosecuted if she administers the lethal injection. He does not want to suffer indignities and wants to die and his wife understands him - but then his state is such that he cannot do anything about it himself short of starving himself to death which he does not want to do. The last I heard about it, he had requested guidance from the Director of Public Prosecution as to whether his wife would be proceeded against if she acted as per his wish.

What a quandary he finds himself in. Imagine a state when you are fully conscious but unable to move and need help even for your basic upkeep - somebody has to turn him in bed once or twice every night, somebody has to wash him, dress him, feed him and wipe the dribbling saliva. How painful it would be. He feels the task of communicating by blinking at alphabets tiresome. And he has been that way for the past five years and with no hope of getting any better. I would want to die too given the same situation.

So what could be done to tell my family that in the eventuality of such or similar situation happening to me, be it known that I would want to die peacefully - quietly slip into the night as it were, without any fuss - just taking care that if it would be possible to harvest any of my organs it might be done .... and don't forget to donate my eyes..... and also donate my body to some medical college to be cut and viewed by the students instead of consigning to the incinerator straight away. Well I considered writing a living will ...but how valid is it in India? My attempts to discuss it with my family members has been met with jest and humor ...maybe it is a gruesome subject. But not saying it and later rotting away would be worse. So I should think of some legal way to do it.

Anyway I proceed to record my wish here...

In the event of me being unconscious or unable to communicate after being diagnosed with a terminal disease or a condition from which there is no hope of recovery to a meaningful quality of life or in a vegetative state or in a state of extreme mental deterioration I may be allowed to die peacefully either by withdrawing life support or by administering a lethal injection. Any of my organs may be harvested and my body may be donated to a medical college for academic purpose.

Oh ...good. I feel so much at peace and happy. And yeah that reminds me .... I should set out to complete my Bucket list...there are quite a few places to see and things to do before that final act of 'kicking the bucket.'


Friday Quote - Richard Feynman


I was born not knowing and have had only a little time to change that here and there.


You can know the name of a bird in all the languages of the world, but when you are finished, you will know absolutely nothing whatever about the bird. So let us look at the bird and see what it's doing - that's what counts. I learned very early the difference between knowing the name of something and knowing something.


It doesn't seem to me that this fantastically marvelous universe, this tremendous range of time and space and different kinds of animals, and all the different planets, and all these atoms with all their motions, and so on, all this complicated thing can merely be a stage so that God can watch human beings struggle for good and evil — which is the view that religion has. The stage is too big for the drama.

- Richard Feynman

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Quote Backlog...

If I were to give an award for the single best idea anyone has ever had, I'd give it to Darwin, ahead of Newton and Einstein. And everyone else. In a single stroke, the idea of evolution by natural selection unifies the realm of life, meaning, and purpose with the realm of space and time, cause and effect, mechanism and physical law. But it is not just a wonderful scientific idea. It is a dangerous idea.

If you want to reason about faith, and offer a reasoned (and reason-responsive) defense of faith as an extra category of belief worthy of special consideration, I'm eager to participate. I certainly grant the existence of the phenomenon of faith; what I want to see is a reasoned ground for taking faith as a way of getting to the truth, and not, say, just as a way people comfort themselves and each other (a worthy function that I do take seriously). But you must not expect me to go along with your defense of faith as a path to truth if at any point you appeal to the very dispensation you are supposedly trying to justify. Before you appeal to faith when reason has you backed into a corner, think about whether you really want to abandon reason when reason is on your side.


- Daniel Dennett in 'Darwin's Dangerous Idea: Evolution and the Meanings of Life


Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Carl Sagan - My Hero

I never tire of watching Carl Sagan. He has this endearing way of talking about the Cosmos - almost like a child in a sweet shop - with twinkling eyes he somehow manages to convey the wonder he feels about the universe.

November 9th was Carl Sagan day. In his relatively short life he tried to popularize Science a great deal. He was truly one of a kind. His Cosmos series are timeless - I think it is time for me to watch the last episode now : "Who speaks for Earth?"

Wonderful Carl. Steven Novella pays a fitting tribute in his blog - http://theness.com/neurologicablog/?p=2500

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Bertrand Russell Quotes

In all affairs it is a healthy thing, now and then, to hang a question mark on the things you have long taken for granted.

Many people would sooner die than think; infact they do so.

No one gossips about other people's secret virtues.

So far as I can remember, there is not one word in the Gospels in praise of intelligence.

The main things which seem to me important on their own account, and not merely as means to other things are knowledge, art, instinctive happiness and relations of friendship or affection.


Monday, November 1, 2010

Friday, October 29, 2010

Friday Quote

"By Darwinian standards I am a horrible mistake, a pathetic loser, not one iota less than if I were a card-carrying member of Queer Nation. But I am happy to be that way, and if my genes don't like it, they can go jump in the lake."

- Steven Pinker on his choice not to have children

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

An interesting blog

In my journey in the blogosphere, I have come across several good blogs and I frequently share some of these. This blog http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/notrocketscience/ is quite interesting and appears to be very promising. There are several good posts nested in it. The blogger Ed Yong is young and enthusiastic and is set to go a long way. Watch out for him.

An Excerpt

From 'Why I am not a Christian' by Bertrand Russell. This lecture was delivered in 1927.

"Religion is based, I think, primarily and mainly upon fear. It is partly the terror of the unknown and partly, as I have said, the wish to feel that you have a kind of elder brother who will stand by you in all your troubles and disputes. Fear is the basis of the whole thing -- fear of the mysterious, fear of defeat, fear of death. Fear is the parent of cruelty, and therefore it is no wonder if cruelty and religion have gone hand in hand. It is because fear is at the basis of those two things. In this world we can now begin a little to understand things, and a little to master them by help of science, which has forced its way step by step against the Christian religion, against the churches, and against the opposition of all the old precepts. Science can help us to get over this craven fear in which mankind has lived for so many generations. Science can teach us, and I think our own hearts can teach us, no longer to look around for imaginary supports, no longer to invent allies in the sky, but rather to look to our own efforts here below to make this world a better place to live in, instead of the sort of place that the churches in all these centuries have made it."

http://www.users.drew.edu/~jlenz/whynot.html

Friday, October 15, 2010

Friday Quote - Charles Darwin

"It is interesting to contemplate a tangled bank, clothed with many plants of many kinds, with birds singing on the bushes, with various insects flitting about, and with worms crawling through the damp earth, and to reflect that these elaborately constructed forms, so different from each other, and dependent upon each other in so complex a manner, have all been produced by laws acting around us.


"I cannot persuade myself that a beneficent and omnipotent God would have designedly created parasitic wasps with the express intention of their feeding within the living bodies of Caterpillars."

- Charles Darwin

Life gets better, if only you wait....

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Amazing rescue effort.

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-latin-america-11489439

The Chile miners rescue operation is a concerted effort involving several people - scientists, technicians, ministers, psychologists and more. I am intrigued by the so many thanks sent heavenwards ... Why did the omnipotent god let such an incident happen and then wait for 69 days before intervening to help them? I feel thanking a non existent being is somehow belittling those who toiled day and night orchestrating the rescue efforts; though coming to think of it, some of those very people might consider themselves as divine tools...Beats me.

On the 17th day, the first message from the miners was received saying they were alive....



And now the operation is in full swing...already thirteen of them have been rescued. Hope it is completed successfully.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Science and faith

Science and faith are fundamentally incompatible says Jerry Coyne in this USA Today article. Jerry Coyne is a professor in the Department of Ecology and Evolution at The University of Chicago. Check it out.
http://www.usatoday.com/news/opinion/forum/2010-10-11-column11_ST_N.htm

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

An Interesting Life - Pankaj Mishra

Pankaj Mishra is a writer - novelist; he also writes essays, literary review and more non fiction. He writes for The New York Times, Guardian etc.,He was living in Delhi and later moved to a small Himalayan village- Mashobra. More about him here http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pankaj_Mishra

In his New York Times article "Games India isn't ready to play" he says only the affluent elite Indians are anxious about India's image in the wealthy world. He further says "Like hundreds of millions of other voiceless Indians, the migrant laborers in my village are even less able to distinguish between the oppressions of old feudal India and the pitiless exploitations of the new business-minded India." He concludes by quoting Walter Benjamin, a German philosopher, “There is no document of civilization which is not at the same time a document of barbarism.”

As I was impressed by the article, I endeavored to know more about the man.

In his interview to the Believer magazine he comes across as a very well read and articulate person.
http://www.believermag.com/issues/200703/?read=interview_mishra

And in case you do not have the time to go through the whole interview, some interesting excerpts:

"Initially, I saw the life of the writer as a life of reading, which for me was really an extension of the life of idleness that I’d been living as an undergraduate at university. Reading gave me so much pleasure that I felt that maybe I could continue that life indefinitely. I basically went from day to day, reading a lot, loving most books I read and making notes about them. I was just hoping that nothing would happen—like having to apply for a job or think seriously about a career—that would put a stop to the wonderful life I was leading. And, miraculously, nothing stopped me."

"I definitely miss that sense of being a disinterested reader who’s reading purely for the pleasure of imagining his way into emotional situations and vividly realized scenes in nineteenth-century France or late nineteenth-century Russia. Often I find that when I go back to those books by Flaubert or Chekhov—which I loved—I’m unable to summon up that same imaginative richness. That seems to me a huge loss. Now I’m thinking more about the craftsmanship of it—why did this paragraph end here—narrowly technical things."

"I don’t know how many critics today are trying to make the act of reading a more enriching experience as distinct from establishing their own superior intelligence vis-à-vis authors."

"I write for a very elite audience, but is there something else that I’m also responsible to? People who write about issues like poverty or terrorism are a part of the elite, and the distance between the elite and nonelite is growing very fast. You can move around the world but meet only people who speak your language, who share the same ideas, the same beliefs, and in doing so you can lose sight of the fact that the vast majority of the world does not think or believe in or speak the everyday discourse of the elite. Yet their lives are being shaped by these elites, by people like us. I don’t mean this in a pompous way, but we have a responsibility to articulate their sense of suffering."

"You need to work yourself up into some kind of a state every morning and believe that you are doing something terribly important upon which the future of literature, if not the world, depends. Buddhism tells you that this is just a foolish fantasy. So, I try not to think too much about Buddhism early in the morning. From noon on, I think about it."

"I wake up at five or five-thirty, have a cup of coffee on the balcony overlooking the mountains, which is absolutely wonderful, look at the newspapers, start work. Lunch arrives—lunch is made by a family in the village, they deliver it."

"The internet has spawned people for whom knowingness is more important than knowledge. It equips you with the illusion of offering knowledge instantly—and quite easily—so you can read a few articles on a few subjects and feel well informed but not actually know any of those subjects in any depth."

"I feel very privileged to get to read and write and not to have to do things that I don’t like, and I don’t want to give that up. Everything else is just a bonus and often a distraction from the writing, reading, and traveling that gives me the most pleasure. I feel that I already have the life I love and I don’t see how it could be improved radically by any greater material success."

A man of substance.... should read him more.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Put your hand in the LHC?

What happens then? Well no one knows for sure; but scientists attempt to answer that.




Sixty symbols is a collections of videos on physics presented by experts from the University of Nottingham.
http://www.sixtysymbols.com/index.html

It is enriching to see scientists answer questions which are put forth by 'the common man' and it is revealing when they smile and say 'I don't know' to some questions. But then they proceed to think and come up with some interesting possibilities. The presentation is endearing and elegant. An excellent project.

One more video to entice you to visit the website. Enjoy.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

A Double Rainbow

What a wonderful sight - I saw a double rainbow for the first time today. What made it even more joyous was I saw it with my daughter who is seven years old and my mother-in-law who is eighty years old. And everyone of us, irrespective of the age found it fascinating. Wordsworth captures the emotion flawlessly:

My heart leaps up when I behold
A rainbow in the sky:
So was it when my life began;
So is it now I am a man;
So be it when I shall grow old,
Or let me die!
The Child is father of the Man;
And I could wish my days to be
Bound each to each by natural piety.


Rainbows are fascinating even when you know the phenomena of refraction and reflection that cause it. And how did Newton decide there were only seven colours in the spectrum. Of course the colours are indistinct and diffused and it is a continuous spectrum. As to how Newton decided on the number 7 there are several surmises ranging from how he drew an analogy with the seven notes in music to seven days in a week and even that he considered seven to be a 'spiritual' number. But the fallout of it is whenever we see a rainbow we try to identify the seven colours though it is generally very difficult to distinguish the violet - blue - indigo bands.

When Newton explained the phenomenon of rainbow, John Keats famously lamented the 'unweaving of rainbow' thus:
Do not all charms fly
At the mere touch of cold philosophy?
There was an awful rainbow once in heaven:
We know her woof, her texture; she is given
In the dull catalogue of common things.
Philosophy will clip an Angel’s wings,
Conquer all mysteries by rule and line,
Empty the haunted air, and gnomed mine—-
Unweave a rainbow, as it erewhile made
The tender-person’d Lamia melt into a shade.

My most favorite of Richard Dawkins' books is 'Unweaving the Rainbow: Science, Delusion and the Appetite for wonder' which wonderfully seeks to counter Keats' view and instead argues that the poetry of the rainbow was not destroyed by Newton; instead it seeks to enhance our appreciation of Nature in all its glory.

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Quantum theory cannot hurt you

This is a book by Marcus Chown, a cosmology consultant for the New Scientist magazine. This is a "For Dummies" kind of book, trying to explain the concepts of quantum theory and the theory of general relativity without mathematics for the common people who did not study Science in college but who are curious to understand the universe we live in.
The title says it all - it is a gentle book without any hard theories and Marcus has a pleasant style of writing and so the book flows interestingly.

More importantly, you are armed to answer some of the toughest questions that children so effortlessly ask and you are left speechless and manage to mumble - "Oh, that is an interesting question. I don't know the answer too. Let us find out." Often I resist the urge to immediately google for the answer and force myself along with my daughter to instead search for it in the relevant book.

One such question is answered in the chapter 'Breathing in Einstein' in this book. If it would take 10 million atoms to span the width of a single full stop how did we ever discover that everything is made of atoms in the first place. A brief of that chapter then for your consumption.

The idea of 'atoms' was first conjured by the Greek philosopher Democritus in about 440 BC, who called the hypothetical building block of all matter atoms from the Greek a-tomos, meaning uncuttable. Since atoms were too smal finding evidence was very difficult. Bernoulli imagined a gas as a collection of billions of atoms in a frenzied motion like a swarm of angry bees. Boyle observed this too. However Robert Brown, a botanist observed in 1827 through a magnifying glass, pollen grains suspended in water, undergoing a curious zig zag motion through the liquid. But he could not solve the mystery which was solved eventually in 1905 by Albert Einstein. Einstein said that the reason for the crazy dance of the pollen grains was that they were under continual machine-gun bombardment by tiny water molecules and devised a mathematical theory to describe Brownian motion.

Then in 1981 the scanning tunnelling microscope - STM was invented by Binnig and Rohrer for which they won the Nobel Prize for Physics. The STM uses a stylus, more like a gramaphone needle charged with electricity, dragging it across the surface of a material and building a picture of the undulations in a computer.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Scanning_tunneling_microscope

The author says "Their STM images were some of the most remarkable in the history of science, ranking alongside that of Earth rising above the gray desolation of the moon or the sweeping spiral staircase of DNA. Atoms looked like tiny footballs ....."

Poetry

Rabindranath Tagore's Gitanjali is matchless for the imagery it creates and for the feelings it evokes. This poem is one of my favorites. To me the image is of a lonely woman peeping out of her hut in a cold dark forest with rains lashing furiously accompanied by thunder and lightning .....

How lyrical it would be in Bengali.....




Art thou abroad on this stormy night
on thy journey of love, my friend?
The sky groans like one in despair.

I have no sleep tonight.
Ever and again I open my door and look out on
the darkness, my friend!

I can see nothing before me.
I wonder where lies thy path!

By what dim shore of the ink-black river,
by what far edge of the frowning forest,
through what mazy depth of gloom art thou threading
thy course to come to me, my friend?

Friday, October 1, 2010

Friday quote

Regret for the things we did can be tempered by time; it is regret for
the things we did not do that is inconsolable.
-- Sidney J. Harris

Friday, September 24, 2010

Friday quotes

Oscar Wilde


The aim of life is self-development. To realize one's nature perfectly - that is what each of us is here for.


The only thing to do with good advice is pass it on. It is never of any use to oneself.


My own business always bores me to death; I prefer other people's.

We are all in the gutter, but some of us are looking at the stars.



More wonderful Wilde quotes at ... http://www.quotationspage.com/quotes/Oscar_Wilde/31

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Somewhere towards the End - Diana Athill

I am yet to read the book. Read about the book and I am mighty impressed.

Some interesting quotes:

On love: “… a broken heart mends much faster from a conclusive blow than it does from slow strangulation.”

On being over 60: “All through my sixties I felt I was still within hailing distance of middle age, not safe on its shores, perhaps, but navigating its coastal waters. My seventieth birthday failed to change this because I managed scarcely to notice it, but my seventy-first did change it. Being ‘over seventy’ is being old: suddenly I was aground on that fact and saw that the time had come to size it up.”

On her waning interest in sex in old age: “An important aspect of the ebbing of sex was that other things became more interesting. Sex obliterates the individuality of young women more often than it does that of young men, because so much more of a woman than of a man is used by sex.

Source: http://oneminutebookreviews.wordpress.com

And then my most favorite passages on Old age and relationship with youngsters:

What is so good about it is not just the affection young people inspire and how interesting their lives are to watch. They also, just by being there, provide a useful counteraction to a disagreeable element in an old person’s life. We tend to become convinced that everything is getting worse simply because within our own boundaries things are doing so.

We are becoming less able to do things we would like to do, can hear less, see less, eat less, hurt more, our friends die, we know that we ourselves will soon be dead. It’s not surprising, perhaps, that we easily slide into a general pessimism about life, but it is very boring and it makes dreary last years even drearier.

Whereas if, flitting in and out of our awareness, there are people who are beginning, to whom the years ahead are long and full of who knows what, it is a reminder (indeed it enables us actually to feel again) that we are not just dots at the end of thin black lines projecting into nothingness, but are parts of the broad, many-coloured river teeming with beginnings, ripenings, decayings, new beginnings – are still part of it, and our dying will be part of it just as these children’s being young is, so while we still have the equipment to see this, let us not waste our time grizzling.

Always we are being reflected in the eyes of others. Are we silly or sensible, stupid or clever, bad or good, unattractive or sexy? We never stop being at least slightly aware of, if not actively searching for, answers to such questions, and are either deflated or elated, in extreme cases ruined or saved, by what we get. So if when you are old a beloved child happens to look at you as if he or she thinks (even if mistakenly!) that you are wise and kind: what a blessing!

On turning 40 ...

Okay okay it should actually be on turning 41.Well, why I remembered it today is because I am getting my Reading glasses today. I still remember when my father started wearing glasses. He seemed OLD. So am I old now? Well though I don't feel old, there are surely some imperceptible changes and some not so imperceptible changes in me. So onto the process of aging....

For a start, the hair starts greying at the temples and you need to dye your hair once every couple of months. Not only children, even college going kids(?) start calling you 'Aunty' and the word does not echo all around you, like it does in the advertisement for an hair dye. All these days you thought going for a walk was only to stay in shape, but now you realise that it is to keep blood pressure and diabetes at bay, if it is ever possible.

Then when you talk of being old, your peers, probably conscious of old age creeping on them too, react very strangely - "Come on, it is all in the mind. You are quite young. You don't look forty" And one good friend Jayanthi said "Eh let us keep it this way. Forty is not old. Fifty is. And then when we move to Fifty, we will keep Sixty as old." Can you think of Moving goalposts better than this.

Some very subtle changes in the body remind you that you are aging and it is better to come to grips with it. You no longer merit a second glance from good looking guys :) though it seems odd initially, you then realise what liberation that is. It actually feels great to be sort of invisible while in the public domain.

Does all the above mean that I am giving up on life for good? Hell, no. If anything, I am more alive than ever before. I feel all my pleasures much more intensely than I ever felt. I relish every small happiness that comes my way. I live more....I laugh more...I experiment more.... Now that I know how mortal I am, I don't try too hard to live a perfect life. I don't try to pack everything in my daily schedule. I have kind of learnt to let go, just flow along with life and at the same time be aware of what I want from life and make sure that I get it. I no longer need to prove anything to anybody and whatever I do, it is only for my happiness and that is invigorating.

So 40 is not all that bad. Neither in the passions of youth, nor in the aches and pains of old age, 40 actually feels good. And so you have a choice - of aging gracefully and at peace with oneself or entering old age kicking and screaming just as you entered school reluctantly. Either way it does not matter much - time ultimately claims you - your body first and your mind later, if you are lucky. A reminder then to live lift to the hilt .....

Monday, September 13, 2010

Economists quotes

"If all the economists were laid end to end, they'd never reach a conclusion."
- George Bernard Shaw

Give me a one-handed economist! All my economists say, On the one hand on the other.
- Harry S. Truman

And now I will wait for comments from the Kishores........... :)

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Interesting Life

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/H._L._Mencken



We must respect the other fellow's religion, but only in the sense and to the extent that we respect his theory that his wife is beautiful and his children smart


-Mencken

Mencken wrote a joking epitaph for himself:

If, after I depart this vale, you ever remember me and have thought to please my ghost, forgive some sinner and wink your eye at some homely girl.

Although this famous quote is not on his tombstone, it is widely reported on the Internet as being inscribed on a plaque in the lobby of the Baltimore Sun.

Poetry

ITHAKA

As you set out for Ithaka
hope the voyage is a long one,
full of adventure, full of discovery.
Laistrygonians and Cyclops,
angry Poseidon—don’t be afraid of them:
you’ll never find things like that on your way
as long as you keep your thoughts raised high,
as long as a rare excitement
stirs your spirit and your body.
Laistrygonians and Cyclops,
wild Poseidon—you won’t encounter them
unless you bring them along inside your soul,
unless your soul sets them up in front of you.

Hope the voyage is a long one.
May there be many a summer morning when,
with what pleasure, what joy,
you come into harbors seen for the first time;
may you stop at Phoenician trading stations
to buy fine things,
mother of pearl and coral, amber and ebony,
sensual perfume of every kind—
as many sensual perfumes as you can;
and may you visit many Egyptian cities
to gather stores of knowledge from their scholars.

Keep Ithaka always in your mind.
Arriving there is what you are destined for.
But do not hurry the journey at all.
Better if it lasts for years,
so you are old by the time you reach the island,
wealthy with all you have gained on the way,
not expecting Ithaka to make you rich.

Ithaka gave you the marvelous journey.
Without her you would not have set out.
She has nothing left to give you now.

And if you find her poor, Ithaka won’t have fooled you.
Wise as you will have become, so full of experience,
you will have understood by then what these Ithakas mean.

Translated by Edmund Keeley/Philip Sherrard

(C.P. Cavafy, Collected Poems. Translated by Edmund Keeley and Philip Sherrard. Edited by George Savidis. Revised Edition. Princeton University Press, 1992)

Source: http://www.cavafy.com/poems/content.asp?id=74&cat=1

Friday, September 10, 2010

Friday Quote

To the dumb question “Why me?” the cosmos barely bothers to return the reply: Why not?

-
Christopher Hitchens on dealing with his cancer.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

A Woman of Substance

I met her for the first time when we visited our friend after our wedding. My friend's mother - she came across as a friendly, loving and caring person. Even then she was sick. And their family was facing quite a few problems. But she was so full of concern for us and with so many questions she kept the focus on us.

Coming to think of it what impressed me so much was her zest for life. With a naughty smile and wink she urged us to enjoy life and be happy. Her love for her husband and son was very touching. I observed their general conversation and wondered whether it was for real. I should confess that I even thought they were faking it. Not a hint of negativity - just bubbling enthusiasm. They made me feel special.

My visits were few and far between. Everytime I saw her, her health had deteriorated a bit; but amazingly she seemed stronger and happier. The disease that ravaged her body could not touch her spirit.

Once she showed her amputated leg without any embarrassment. She crawled to see us off that day. I never felt any pity for her. She was simply beyond needing anyone's sympathy.

One day my friend called and in his usual chirpy voice enquired about my daughter and then asked for my husband. Something was amiss. I did not enquire about his mother as was my wont. I somehow knew she was no more. Though I tell myself that she suffered so much pain that death should have been a welcome relief for her, I still think, how could someone so full of life, die?

I remember the last time I saw her. She could not walk as both her feet had been amputated and she was undergoing painful treatment for her renal problems. Yet as usual she kept the focus on us. Her health was very poor - she was in terrible shape - but she received us with a broad smile. She kept bombarding us with questions about our life. Oh how was it possible for her to think about others, when she was in such misery.

I later learnt that she spent the last 28 days of her life in hospital in severe pain. I asked my friend whether she turned bitter or angry towards the end. "Nope" he replied in his inimitable style - "not a grumble or complaint." I was curious to know what kept her so strong. Was it her faith in some supernatural being. No, he said, it was her faith in herself. She just loved life a lot. That in effect summed up her vibrant personality.

I am glad I came across such a lively character in my life. I only hope that I exhibit atleast a fraction of the determination and courage that she did, when life turns unpleasant and when my body is ravaged in the evening of my life.

Adore or Ignore ????



(I thought translating the dialogue into English would not convey the essence of the conversation. And I know the limited readership of my blog includes just two guys who can't understand Tamil. To those two guys : In case you happen to read this post and in case you are curious to know the meaning, send me a mail)

Getting my daughter to sleep is the toughest task in the entire day. She will have a hundred things to say and a million questions to ask. I will have to listen patiently to her anecdotes and answer her queries, all the time reminding her it was well past her bed time. Last night, when all my efforts to keep her quiet failed, I switched on my Mobile and made her listen to her favourite song from the movie 'Mozhi.' That kept her quiet for exactly 1 minute. And then it started:

Abi: Amma, movie -la andha ponnu peru Archana dhane ...

Amma: Mmmm

Abi: Ava nija peru enna?

Amma: Jyotika, ok ippo thoongu ...

Abi: Amma, ava kamal dhane marriage panni kitta?

Amma: :) Illa Surya

Abi: Andha innoru ponnu peru enna?

Amma: Swarnamalya - seri, thoongu da ...

Abi: Ava yaara marriage pannikitta?

Amma: Ava marriage pannikale..

Abi: Appo baby?

Amma: No baby for her

Abi: Appadi kooda irukalama? Appo naanum marriage pannike poradhu illa. Enakku boys pidikadhu. I adore boys.

Amma: ?????

Abi: Adore na enna amma?

Amma: Romba pidikum

Abi: Ayyo, appo I ignore boys. I hate them.

Amma: :) (thinking... hmm seri seri, naan kooda appadi dhan solli kittu irundhen ..)

Red Earth and Pouring Rain

The imagery in the Ancient Tamil literature works such as Kurunthogai and Pura Nanooru are very rich. Out of the blue this Kurunthogai poem came to my mind and I googled it and reached here

- http://karkanirka.wordpress.com/2010/06/10/kurunthokai-40/

Sempula pei neer - Water raining on red earth - Wow, isn't that wonderful? A.K.Ramanujan has done commendable work translating poems from Ettu Thogai and Pathu Paattu - Poems of Love and War.


40. குறிஞ்சி

யாயும் ஞாயும் யார் ஆகியரோ?

எந்தையும் நுந்தையும் எம் முறைக் கேளிர்?

யானும் நீயும் எவ் வழி அறிதும்?

செம் புலப் பெயல் நீர் போல

அன்புடை நெஞ்சம் தாம் கலந்தனவே.

- செம்புலப்பெயனீரார்

….

Kurunthokai 40 –


What could be my mother be

to yours?what kin is my father

to yours anyway?And how

did you and I meet ever?

But in love our hearts are as red

earth and pouring rain:

mingled

beyond parting.

Translated by A.K.Ramanujan

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Poetry

The Road Not Taken - Robert Frost (Excerpts)

TWO roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth; 5

.....

....


I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference. 20

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

On letting go ....and growing up....

"For heaven's sake, please grow up"- he burst out. She was shocked and just stared at him.

"You are precious to me. But I can't make you grow up," he said softly. And that came as a stunning blow to her. She was shattered inside. An eerie calmness enveloped her. So, is that it, she thought. That's how it felt to be at the receiving end, she realized.

She was a poet; she led a lonely existence, content in her loneliness and satisfied with the hand dealt to her by chance. She was famous in her field. But she was tired with the snide remarks she received about 'writing from experience' whenever the subject of her poems were love and longing. She felt it was unfair when a man writing such poems was accepted and acclaimed. And then she met a fan who was different. She found in him a soul mate. He had a family of his own, yet found time to reach out to her and bond with her.

And now this statement .... Was she that demanding? She always thought of herself as someone with some calibre - elegance, dignity and poise. That image melted away. She felt cheap. And she remembered their early days when she stayed within the confines of her small world and reached out to him only at an intellectual level. He drew her out, mocking her, taunting her and challenging her about 'stretching the envelope of existence.'

When she demurred while he made passes at her, he teased her, "Oh, what kind of relationship do you want with me? Neck up?" Slowly she lost her inhibitions and became comfortable discussing all and sundry with him. She was never overt but she was not bashful either. Thus she experimented with stretching the envelope of her existence.

And then it appeared he lost interest in her. It was not a single event. He stopped calling on her and the phone calls were never returned. He did not reply to her passionate letters or replied with a clinical "Oh ok, more later I guess," which was never followed up. It did not strike her odd initially but slowly she realized the change that had crept into their relationship. Her ego was terribly hurt. She could not believe that someone could shake her off so easily. On the few occasions she confronted him with the change in the fabric of their relationship, he either feigned ignorance and said she was extrapolating or bluntly said, "That was during the initial days - initial rush." He talked of letting go in some other context. Slowly it dawned on her where she stood with him. And it was painful. She was hurting very badly. The mental agony manifested as physical ailment, surprising her that she had let someone affect her that deeply. She still longed for their earlier closeness - an unique intimacy she had shared with him.

Then one day she was having a normal conversation with him and during an unguarded moment, let something slip by, revealing her need for him. That was when he told her to grow up. When he said that he can't make her grow up, it was like a solid slap on her face. That did it. She realized the irrevocable path their relationship had taken - a fork in their journey. What about all those statements he had made which affected her? Well, it was all part of his growing up and part of the ego boost he needed. She had been useful and she had played her part well. Now the curtains were down and she had to move on.

She knew the pain will lessen with time. But for now, she is clutching her heart, clenching her fist and savoring the pain. Sure she will move on and this will soon become a distant memory. But then she will never be the same again. And that was exactly how she learned to let go and grow up.

Monday, August 30, 2010

A journey called Reading

Reading a book is a lot like a journey. Especially if it is Non-fiction. You have to mentally prepare yourself to embark on the journey, take time to savor the sights instead of rushing through it, mull over it to assimilate it for later remembrances, stick to the journey without giving up halfway and finally enjoy the feeling of having successfully completed it.

And so I have started a journey now. With Murray Gell-Mann's The Quark and the Jaguar - Adventures in the Simple and the Complex.

Murray Gell-Mann is a physicist, a Nobel prize winner. He postulated the existence of an elementary particle, he named as 'quark' a word taken from a novel by James Joyce. Simply put, the quarks are basic building blocks of all matter. Quarks combine to form the more familiar protons and neutrons. There is more. He named the six types (called them flavors) of quarks: up, down, charm, strange, top and bottom.

The book does not deal with elementary particle physics but is about the connections between the fundamental laws of physics and the complexity and diversity of the natural world including archaeology, linguistics, child development, computers and other complex adaptive systems. The title of the book comes from a line in a poem by Arthur Sze : "The world of the quark has everything to do with a jaguar circling in the night."

I read the Preface and the first two Chapters today.

Excerpts:

"At most I require only a pencil, some paper and a wastebasket. Often, even those are not essential. Give me a good night’s sleep, freedom from distractions and time unburdened by worries and obligations and I can work. Whether I am standing in the shower, hovering between wakefulness and sleep on a late-night flight, or walking along a wilderness trail, my work can accompany me wherever I go."

When Murray planned to study archaeology or linguistics, his father wanted him to study Physics at the Yale University to which he replied that it was the dullest course in his high school curriculum.

"We had had to memorize such things as the seven kinds of simple machine: the lever, the screw, the inclined plane and so on. Also we had studied mechanics, heat, sound, light, electricity and magnetism but with no hint of any connections among those topics." Sounds familiar, eh?

To humor his father he went along and then he was hooked.
" My father had been right about relativity and quantum mechanics. I began to understand, as I studied them, that the beauty of nature is manifested just as much in the elegance of these fundamental principles as in the cry of a loon or in trails of bioluminescence made by porpoises at night."

Friday, August 27, 2010

Male weedy seadragon seduces female with dazzling dance

Male weedy seadragon seduces female with dazzling dance

Friday Quote

Only human beings guide their behaviour by a knowledge of what happened before they were born and a preconception of what may happen after they are dead; thus only humans find their way by a light that illuminates more than the patch of ground they stand on.
-Peter Medawar

More Poetry .....

To gild refined gold, to paint the lily,
To throw a perfume on the violet,
To smooth the ice, or add another hue
Unto the rainbow, or with taper-light
To seek the beauteous eye of heaven to garnish,
Is wasteful and ridiculous excess.

- W.Shakespeare, King John

Poetry

Ode to a Nightingale - John Keats
(Excerpts)

My heart aches, and a drowsy numbness pains
My sense, as though of hemlock I had drunk,
.......

'Tis not through envy of thy happy lot,
But being too happy in thine happiness, -
.......
Singest of summer in full-throated ease.

..........
That I might drink, and leave the world unseen,
And with thee fade away into the forest dim:

Fade far away, dissolve, and quite forget
What thou among the leaves hast never known,
The weariness, the fever, and the fret
Here, where men sit and hear each other groan;
Where palsy shakes a few, sad, last gray hairs,
Where youth grows pale, and spectre-thin, and dies;
Where but to think is to be full of sorrow
And leaden-eyed despairs,
Where Beauty cannot keep her lustrous eyes,
Or new Love pine at them beyond to-morrow.

......


Now more than ever seems it rich to die,
To cease upon the midnight with no pain,
While thou art pouring forth thy soul abroad
In such an ecstasy!

.......
The voice I hear this passing night was heard
In ancient days by emperor and clown:

.........
Adieu! adieu! thy plaintive anthem fades
Past the near meadows, over the still stream,
Up the hill-side; and now 'tis buried deep
In the next valley-glades:
Was it a vision, or a waking dream?
Fled is that music: - Do I wake or sleep?

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Humbly about Hubble

'Pictures
Source: Hubblesite.org

I am surprised ... How would I even dare to write about the Hubble Space Telescope.

I have been always fascinated by the Images sent by the Hubble and just want to share a bit of that magic .... nothing academic ... no pretensions of knowledge.

The Hubble Space Telescope orbits the Earth and is able to capture images of the Universe without the distortions caused by the Earth's atmosphere. Scientists have learnt about the age of the Universe, various stages of evolution of galaxies and so much more like the dark energy, quasars .............

For a lay person like me, the spectacular images sent by Hubble are mind boggling and liberating.

The Hubblesite (http://hubblesite.org/) best describes it... Out of the ordinary .... out of this world.......

The Mysterious boy at the Petrol Bunk

A week back I filled Petrol and waited to fill air in the tyres. I saw a boy, nondescript, pumping air in the tyres of the vehicle ahead of me and when the man offered a coin he refused to accept it. After my turn I too proffered a few coins and the boy said, "Vendam, Akka." I was surprised and then I said Thanks pa. He looked at me and smiled. And my idle mind set thinking.

What could be the reason? The boy looked obviously poor. A few coins would have surely helped him either to assuage his hunger or to mitigate some basic need. Or his mother could have used it for their household expenses. Why then did he steadfastly refuse to accept the money in spite of my mild persuasion.

Maybe he had his reasons. Maybe he felt it was beneath his dignity to accept tips when he was being paid a salary by the petrol bunk owner. Or maybe he felt accepting a few coins just like that was akin to begging. Or maybe someone sometime had made him feel bad when he asked for money for pumping air. Still for someone like him, even a little amount mattered a lot. To say No to that was inexplicable. I imagined myself in his place and was sure that I would have been greedy for every penny that came my way.

And then today when I visited the Petrol bunk again, the mystery turned deeper. I saw the boy accepting money from a car driver. I wondered whether it was the same boy .... or his brother. Or may be that day was an aberration. Or some holy day when people take all strange vows. Or does he take money only from car owners and not us mere 2-wheeler owners. Whatever...... I remembered how my imagination had run riot the last time .....

Then mindlessly when I offered some money, he again said Vendam Akka. I was stunned. I asked him why and told him that even the last time he did not take money from me and that I saw him taking money from others. Again he smiled and said, Illa Akka, Vendam. Neenga Ponga. Even after much insistence he absolutely refused.

Shaking my head in disbelief, I started my vehicle and turned to see him smile at me. I wagged a finger at him and said, Next time ....... To which too he just smiled and shook his head. And again my imagination ran riot ....... Why would he refuse ....... Maybe ............

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Friday quote

Each one of us is alone in the world...... We seek pitifully to convey to others the treasures of our heart, but they have not the power to accept them, and so we go lonely, side by side but not together, unable to know our fellows and unknown by them. We are like people living in a country whose language they know so little that, with all manner of beautiful and profound things to say, they are condemned to the banalities of the conversation manual. Their brain is seething with ideas, and they can only tell you that the umbrella of the gardener's aunt is in the house.

- Somerset Maugham (Moon and Sixpence)

Friday, August 13, 2010

Friday Quote

This is the true joy in life, the being used for a purpose recognized by yourself as a mighty one; the being thoroughly worn out before you are thrown on the scrap heap; the being a force of Nature instead of a feverish selfish little clod of ailments and grievances complaining that the world will not devote itself to making you happy.
-George Bernard Shaw

Friday, August 6, 2010

Friday Quote


"The best thing for being sad," replied Merlin, beginning to puff and blow, "is to learn something. That's the only thing that never fails. You may grow old and trembling in your anatomies, you may lie awake at night listening to the disorder of your veins, you may miss your only love, you may see the world about you devastated by evil lunatics, or know your honour trampled in the sewers of baser minds. There is only one thing for it then — to learn. Learn why the world wags and what wags it. That is the only thing which the mind can never exhaust, never alienate, never be tortured by, never fear or distrust, and never dream of regretting. Learning is the only thing for you. Look what a lot of things there are to learn."
T.H. White (The Once and Future King)

Poetry

She walks in beauty, like the night
Of cloudless climes and starry skies;
And all that's best of dark and bright
Meet in her aspect and her eyes:

- Byron

An Atheist in a foxhole

Christopher Hitchens, the author of God is not great and the recent Hitch-22 has been diagnosed with cancer of the esophagus. He has written eloquently about his 'battling with cancer' - http://www.vanityfair.com/culture/features/2010/09/hitchens-201009.
"To the dumb question 'Why me?' the cosmos barely bothers to return the reply: Why not?"

In an Interview with CNN's Anderson Cooper, Hitchens stated that: the only way there will be a deathbed conversion is if he's rendered irrational and babbling with pain, and concedes that the person who dies could very well be someone very different from the living Hitch. But while he's lucid, he's adamant: he doesn't believe in gods at all. (http://scienceblogs.com/pharyngula/)

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Omar Khayyam

I had heard of Omar Khayyam and knew him only as a poet, as someone who wrote a lot about wine and women. I was intrigued by this verse years back.

Ah, Love! could thou and I with Fate conspire
To grasp this sorry Scheme of Things entire!
Would not we shatter it to bits-and then
Re-mould it nearer to the Heart's Desire!

Recently I rediscovered Omar and found him fascinating. He was a polymath - oh what a beautiful word. Wikipedia says : A polymath is a person whose expertise spans a significant number of different subject areas. Leonardo Da Vinci, Rabindranath Tagore and Benjamin Franklin come to mind, thinking of polymaths.

Omar Khayyam was a mathematician, philosopher, astronomer and poet.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Omar_Khayyám What an interesting life he would have led, dabbling in such diverse areas. Reading the literal meaning of his quatrains and the translations by Fitzgerald I was struck by how it occurred to the translator to interpret the verses in such manner. Of course, any literary work would shine through only if read in original. Bengali, Urdu, Spanish ........Forget it, to read Kurunthogai and Kamba Ramayanam is in itself an herculean task - you need the help of Tamil Agarathi to make sense of literary Tamil.



The Giving Pledge

Forty billionaires of the USA have signed The Giving Pledge (http://givingpledge.org/#enter) thereby resolving to give atleast half their wealth to charity. The initiative was taken by Bill and Melinda Gates and Warren Buffet. The familiar names in the list apart from the above were Ted Turner, George Lucas, Michael Bloomberg and David Rockefeller.

The work done by the Bill and Melinda Gates foundation in developing countries is phenomenal tackling health and education issues. In India, among other things, the foundation concentrates on preventing HIV infections and reducing infant mortality.

Fantastic amounts of money are being donated by these rich people and I hope others would follow suit including those in India.

Warren Buffet once said, "I want to give my kids just enough so that they would feel that they could do anything, but not so much that they would feel like doing nothing." Wise words, indeed.

Monday, August 2, 2010

Message to Graduates

I do not remember who presided over my Graduation Ceremony nor what he or she spoke. Obviously the speech was not much to remember - nothing too inspirational. Not that a motivational speech would change the lives of all those who listen. But it is a tradition that as the students leave the portals of their college and move on to higher studies or to take up a job, a few tips from an experienced achiever would kind of illuminate their way. Maybe the charged up nature of the atmosphere would increase the impact of such a motivating speech.

Happened to listen to the Commencement Speech of Marissa Mayer, VP of Google, given at the Illinois Institute of Technology in 2009. Though she claims to be a shy person towards the end of the speech, the advice she delivers is powerful and timeless. Being from Google, the search engine, the central point of her speech was 'Find.'

1. Find something that you are really passionate about.

2. Find the smartest people you can and surround yourself with them.

3. Find allies rather than adorers.

4. Find the courage to do things you are not ready to do.

5. Find places where you're comfortable with.

6. You can help others find things. Be an information fountain.

I hope our College going children would use the Internet to listen to such speeches, learn about inspiring people and acquire knowledge from the vast ocean of material available in the websites of Universities of MIT, Stanford etc.,. Our own IIT professors have recorded several lectures and posted them in Youtube. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=w8Dq8blTmSA.

I really wish youngsters would stop playing Farmville and Mafia wars in Facebook and use the World wide web for acquiring knowledge. Do I sound like an old hag?



Getting our priorities right

That seems to be the need of the hour.

We as a nation seem to excel in practicing mediocrity and take it to sublime levels. Being mediocre is good enough in most spheres of our lives.

Take the tamasha that is the Commonwealth Games. Why did we even have to offer to host it when so many of our countrymen still go without food? What relevance does "Commonwealth" have in the present global scenario? Do we really delude ourselves into thinking that our nation's pride will go a notch higher after we host the CWG? In whose eyes? And is it worth the Rs.11,000 crores that is said to have been spent?

Allegations of corruption and shoddy work are heard day after day. Will the structures put up stay stable after the Games are over? And I wonder whether our sportsmen and women will be allowed to use these facilities for their training. We have a wonderful Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium in Chennai here and we use it for many purposes other than sports - including television dance shows like Maan Aada Mayil Aada. What is the point?

I can think of so many ways the money could have been utilised effectively and efficiently to benefit the people of India. The least that could have been done is to identify budding sportsmen and train them and help them participate in games held world wide. Not to speak about using all the mindboggling amount of money to alleviate hunger or educate the poor children in a better manner.

And I do not subscribe to the view that infrastructure improves when such International Games are held. Where? In Delhi? Why not hold them in Bihar and Chattisgarh?
We need to gather our act together if we truly want our nation to be promoted to the category of 'developed country' instead of continuing to wallow under the title 'developing country' which is what we have been for the past 60 years or so. Otherwise our skewed up development with high rise buildings at one side and unimaginable poverty on the other side would be nothing other than a ticking time bomb and it will not be long before it explodes in our face.

Friday, July 30, 2010

Friday Quotes

Note the plural ....Could not restrict myself to just one quote by Carl Sagan.



But the fact that some geniuses were laughed at does not imply that all who are laughed at are geniuses. They laughed at Columbus, they laughed at Fulton, they laughed at the Wright Brothers. But they also laughed at Bozo the Clown.



A celibate clergy is an especially good idea, because it tends to suppress any hereditary propensity toward fanaticism.


Personally, I would be delighted if there were a life after death, especially if it permitted me to continue to learn about this world and others, if it gave me a chance to discover how history turns out.


It is far better to grasp the universe as it really is than to persist in delusion, however satisfying and reassuring.


Somewhere, something incredible is waiting to be known.