Saturday, December 18, 2010

The Infinite Set of Zeros

Proposition: There exist an infinite number of zeros, and some zeros are greater than others.

Imagine you were playing Russian Roulette with a gun that, instead of having 6 bullet slots, had 666,666,666,666,666,666,666,666,666,666,666,666 bullet slots. And one bullet. Would you be scared? The chance of being shot by that one bullet is very low, in fact, so low that it is zero for all practical purposes. Now, suppose the same game were to be played, but with six hundred and sixty six bullets instead of one. Your chance of dying goes up six hundred and sixty six times, though it is still practically zero. Now, imagine that the shooter opens up the gun in front of you, and removes EVERY bullet. Then, he proceeds to play Russian Roulette with you. Would you be scared any more?

I do not know about you, but I would be most scared in the second case, and absolutely not scared in the last case. The reason is obvious enough: we do know that the odds, though practically zero in all cases, are different in each case.

Georg Cantor was a mathematician who proved that there exist an infinite number of infinities, and some infinities are greater than others. The crux of his work is explained very lucidly by Steven Strogatz here:


Cantor [proved] that there are exactly as many positive fractions (ratios p/q of positive whole numbers p and q) as there are natural numbers (1, 2, 3, 4, …).  That’s a much stronger statement than saying both sets are infinite.  It says they are infinite to precisely the same extent, in the sense that a “one-to-one correspondence” can be established between them.

If many infinities exist and are unequal, their reciprocals, which are zero must also be unequal. That is, if X and Y are two positive infinities such that X<Y, then 1/X>1/Y. And there are an infinite number of such infinities. Thus, it must follow that there exist an infinite number of zeros, which are the reciprocals of these infinities. Each of these is different from the absolute zero, denoted by 0.

Note to readers: There is probably a fallacy in this argument. Do let me know your views in comments...

Friday, November 26, 2010

If Real Cricket Were Like Street Cricket...

  1. There would be no LBWs, hit-wickets, byes, leg byes or overthrows.
  2. Chucking would be legal and bowling illegal. Deliveries that are too fast would be declared dead balls.
  3. The non striker would double up as the umpire. He would either be empty handed or hold a stick.
  4. No runs behind the wicket. Also, any nick behind the wickets would be out.
  5. Every third wide or no ball (in lieu of every wide or no ball) per over would yield one run.
  6. Every team would have 4 members. Both sides would field.
  7. There would be a joker who bats for both teams, and fields for both teams. Usually the weakest player, unless he owns the equipment.
  8. There would be one bowling end and one batting end. Batsmen would change after every over, and not the field. Also, both batsmen would use same bat (see 3). The batting end would have 3 stumps while the bowling end would have one stump. Stumps would be placed in a stump holder, and there would be no bails.
  9. The ball would be a modified tennis ball: Cosco Cricket, Pacer or Vicky. Both innings would be played with the same ball.
  10. There would be no sixers. Any shot clearing longest boundary would be "six and out." In case the ball is lost, the six runs would not be given. Also, shorter boundaries would exist, for "1 declared" and "2 declared" in case of an asymmetric field.
  11. If the batsman were beaten thrice in the same over, he would be declared out.
  12. The owner of the most pieces of equipment would play the role of match referee, opening batsman and bowler of the second over. Except this minor change, a team's bowling order and batting order would be exactly reversed.
  13. Only clean one-handed catches after one bounce would dismiss batsmen. However, catches after one bounce, if two-handed or fumbled would not be valid.
  14. The winner of the toss would always bat first and win by obscene margins.
  15. A batsman would be declared out on playing either a switch hit or a shot with the back of his bat.

Thursday, November 04, 2010

The Chanakya Formula

The latest book by Dan Brown will be released next year. But the story synopsis has been leaked by an employee of his publisher. Here it is:

Harvard Symbologist Robert Langdon is in New Delhi to deliver the keynote address to the graduating batch of St. Stephens College, New Delhi, when all hell breaks loose. Biman Chaudhuri, the legendary economist, management guru and dean of the Indian Institute of Planning and Management, is found asphyxiated to death in his office. His white board has three cryptic symbols, a broken egg, a diamond in a heart and a map of undivided India, along with Robert Langdon's name. 

Meanwhile, a dangerous fanatic hired by revivalist think tank Atanu and Sandeep Society (ASS) is on the prowl, desperate to get at the secret which could alter the very landscape of the world economy. Langdon, must run from the police and save the global economy, with the help of his brilliant, idealistic and young admirer, Ishita Sharma; an Economics lecturer and former gold medallist from St. Stephens. Their chase leads them all over India, as they must unravel clues hidden in the European architecture, fully equipped gyms, free wi-fi and well-stocked libraries of IIPM's numerous campuses. Can they uncover what the great ancient philosopher, economist and statesman had hidden in the Mauryan age? Read The Chanakya Formula to find out...

Friday, August 27, 2010

Vizzy

This is one of my numerous attempts at being a fiction writer. I had submitted this to a contest without any success.

Howrah station was hot, squalid and crowded. From afar it was a majestic red Victorian building, the custodian of the nation’s lifeline. In the days of the Raj, the Railways had been the place to work. A job in the Railways was the ticket to respectability and a good dowry. My grandfather had worked in the Railways – his favourite boast was that he knew all the abbreviations of the station names as a Control Room operator. His father had used his friendship with the local Burra Sahib to get him that job. Now the station was just dirty. Paan stains dotted the walls, as the faint stench of urine pervaded the entire place. The presence of ten baskets of fish packed in ice and straw didn’t help too much either.

It was mid morning and I was looking forward to catching the train. Business had been good, so I was treating myself to an air-conditioned ticket ride home. I looked up at the sky – filled with crows searching for the fish they could smell. Hawkers and porters were everywhere, coexisting peacefully with the vagabonds, the homeless and the several rats that scurried past the sleeping villagers waiting for the train home. “One day I shall fly”, I promised myself. For now, I anticipated the cool confines of the AC III-tier coach with the liveried attendants to hand out blankets and pillows.

My reverie was broken by the shrill sound of the train’s whistle, and the ensuing melee. What had once been a languid trance had in a moment transformed into a free-for-all, as the mad rush began for the general compartment’s elusive seats. People flung bags, handkerchiefs and babies towards the doors, as the porters bulldozed their way past the hapless jeans-clad newly-married couple trying to find their compartment. The elderly couple seemed unfazed by all this, while the voluptuous American girl went stocked up on her mineral water. I waited, safe in the knowledge of my reserved air-conditioned top berth, as I scanned the passenger list to find out who my companions for the next thirty six hours would be.

The train was moving. The voluptuous American girl was not an American girl. She was probably from Sweden, and as tall as me. Her name was Helga Larsson (F24). She was very beautiful. I had to impress her. I took out my new Nokia phone with mp3 and camera, and made a call. “Sell all thousand Reliance shares!” I barked in English for all to hear. “I need to offload some shares at peak value,” I explained to Mr. Mehta (M46), hoping to start off a conversation. He had a nice-looking daughter too, Shreya (F20), and she was staring at the cover of the Richard Bach book (Illusions) that Helga was reading, while her mother Kanta (F40) was busy unpacking lunch. The sixth member in our cubicle was Rustom Merchant (M47), though that was not his real name. This story is really about him.

Though I rarely read anything but the business and sport pages, I had read Illusions a few years ago, and I was glad for that. I  hated the book, but now I could be the brooding philosopher debating the existence and purpose of God himself. She was in the last few pages. Good. Scope for an interesting evening chat, over salted mangoes, peanuts and Pepsi, I thought.

“What do you do, son?”

My reverie was shattered by this question, which was asked in Bengali. This was Mr. Ghoshal (M54) on the side berth. He was short, bald and had a grey beard. He was travelling with his son Sumit (M17), most probably to admit him to one of Bangalore’s numerous colleges. Like me, he too had studied the passenger list and picked out the only fellow Bengalee near him.

“I am an investment banker,” I said, with a discreet glance in the direction of Helga. She didn’t flinch, but Shreya sure seemed impressed. Investment banker. I liked the term. Now you may be thinking what a hot-shot investment banker like me was doing on the Howrah-Bangalore train, instead of jetting to London or San Francisco club-class? Well, I roughly did the same things as most investment bankers did, but worked for myself and only myself. I managed a portfolio of shares. I studied the stock market as thoroughly as any wunderkind on Wall Street. I had my clients too, who trusted me with a lot of money and I used PowerPoint slides on them with devastating effect. My office was a garage and I didn’t have a projector to show my slides (I used my monitor), but my clients trusted me to make their money grow. Why, the other day, Mr. Kesavan had entrusted me with half his provident fund! Heck, to the outside world I was a mere stockbroker, but I preferred to call myself an investment banker. We achieved the same results, albeit on different scales.

“Uncle, what firm are you with?”

Damn Shreya. She may have looked nice, but was an obnoxious little twit. She called me uncle! If only, like me she hadn’t checked my age on the list (M31). Anyway, does a gap of eleven years make you an ‘uncle’? And she had to bring up my past.

“You can call me Raj. That’s what most people call me,” I said with a smile.

“Actually Mr. Raj, I am in my third year engineering and am seriously preparing for CAT. Can you give me a few tips?”

I looked at her blankly. Then I looked at Mr. and Mrs. Mehta. They were smiling benignly at me. Mr. Ghoshal was preparing his next question in his head, while his son was slyly stealing glances at Helga’s voluptuous body.

“She is very good in studies you know. But we are business family. Not much education. She wants to do MBA and pursue investment banking career.”

The conversation had switched to Hindi. Helga had finished Illusions. Now she was reading a fat Linda Goodman book on astrology. I was losing hope. Here I was amidst two beautiful women, but one was in her own world, while the other, the apple of her parents’ eye, was in reality a horrid little wench, hell-bent on raking up my past.

I have no past, at least not a past worth talking about. When I make my first billion, I’ll have to hire one of those spin doctors to build the legend. No rags-to-riches, riches-to-rags, family intrigue or tales of passion. I had been a mediocre student, and had somehow managed to graduate with second class. No fancy business diplomas for me. I had a bit of money with which I started trading in the stock market. Nothing spectacular. Business had been steady, and I had never worked too hard or lost sleep on trading. I was content making small but steady margins and the occasional loss. Slowly, the news of my prowess at day trading spread in my neighbourhood, and a few local uncles, real uncles, asked me to manage their savings, which I did for a small fee. Business was now growing steadily.

I never had a girlfriend or an affair. Many of my friends did, and I envied some of them. I, however, was content to be in the company of guys similar to me, discussing the merits and demerits of every girl we knew. I had invented a nice definition for ‘girlfriend’ – a man’s future ex-wife! Age was, however catching up with me. I was thirty one, single, and secretly dreaming of the lifestyle of the Greek shipping magnates that more than one book described. As of now, I am yet to go on a date.

Helga was now dozing off. Her ample bosom heaved, but I couldn’t look. Neither could Mr. Mehta or Mr. Ghoshal. Rustom Merchant seemed to be oblivious to everything around him. He was doing nothing, and had a blank look on his face.

“I don’t believe in fancy stuff like MBA. I am a self made man, and have my own firm. It has no name, and my clients trust me.”

I couldn’t believe what I said. Here I was, trying to justify myself to the precocious twerp. She couldn’t have cared less anyway. I bet she was busy in her own world of SMS, college fests and boyfriends. Pah! How I hated such females back in college! They never spoke to me.

“Do you believe in astrology?”

“This existence is all Maya. I am here in India on a spiritual quest for Karma.”

Sumit Ghoshal, had managed to strike up a conversation with Helga Larsson. He had a strange shit-eating smile on his face. His obnoxious little father and Mr.Mehta family seemed to have formed a tag team to keep me away from Helga though. The man had started bombarding me with questions in Hindi, all for the benefit of the Mehtas.

“How do you deal with the stock market fluctuations?”
“Do you chase the IPOs?”
“I want my son to do MBA too, after his biotechnology.”

The little twit. He surely was enjoying his journey. Shreya had climbed to the top berth now, where she was playing with her cell phone. The spoilt brat! I mumbled my way through these queries, listening to the sweet lilt of Helga’s voice.

“Swami Paramananda’s teachings have showed me the new meaning of life. I believe in the Oneness of Purpose and the Multiplicity of Paths”

“Is it better to join ISB or go for foreign MBA?”
“I don’t know; I am not an MBA.”
“My daughter is interested in going to foreign…”
“My son is very brilliant and hard-working. Bangalore colleges have good placement no?”
“Should I sell my Reliance Gas shares before it’s too late?”

“Why don’t you come to the virgin beaches of Gokarna? They are clean and unspoilt, and it’s a real spiritual trip down there. I am planning to go there next month”

That was Helga talking. Suddenly there was silence. Mr. Ghoshal had a smile on his face. He was obviously not the conservative father. Far from it, and worst of all, he turned to Sumit, and said with a broad smile

“Yes, Sumu. Why don’t you go? At your age I remember that I went to Puri with my friends and got high on the beach with some hippies. What an experience! Ha ha ha! Nearly got arrested by the police….sigh…those were the days…”

I could have choked myself and dropped dead right there. That lucky bastard! Here was his own dad asking him to go on a wild trip to nowhere with the prettiest white-skinned woman with the loosest of morals that I had ever set eyes upon!

“Of course, you keep my little secret and I shall never mention this to your mother…ha ha ha…she will divorce me and go off to Gaya forever…ha ha ha!”

If Mr. and Mrs. Mehta were a tad uncomfortable they were trying their best not to show it. It would’ve been different if Shreya was in Helga’s place though. For the first time, the stoic Rustom Merchant, whose story this really is, seemed to have a smile on his face.

I was feeling drowsy, and a niggling doubt had begun forming in my mind. I had seen Rustom Merchant before. No, we were not acquaintances. I believe he was someone famous. Where had I seen him? Page 3 of Bangalore Times? Bombay Times perhaps? No, he didn’t seem to be the party animal. Was he a famous sportsman? Arjuna awardees were had lifetime Railway passes, I think. Surely he was not a cricketer, so what sport did he play? Hockey? No, he was a bit too short for hockey. Swimmer? Possible. But there were not too many male Indian swimmers who would command a place in my memory. Athlete? Possible. Bangalore was home to the Sports Authority of India, where most serious athletes trained.

I dozed off, but couldn’t sleep. No, he was not a sportsman, on second thoughts. What was he then? A businessman? Certainly not a hotshot – they didn’t travel by train nowadays. A politician’s spoilt son? I couldn’t recollect a famous Parsi statesman. Business it had to be. I jogged my brain; the idea of not being able to recollect something at the tip of my tongue was killing me. Ratan Tata, Ness Wadia, Russi Modi…only the big names occurred to me. Nope, Rustom Merchant was not a famous businessman.

“What happens when an IPO is over-subscribed?”

Sumit Ghoshal’s wanted to know all about stocks and the stock markets. I wanted to request him to fuck off, but tamely humoured him.

“I think they have lotteries for the retail investors, and try to give most of them at least a few shares to keep them happy. They return the remaining money, but make a killing on the interest during the few days they have it.”

“Why Sumu, you should concentrate on your studies now. The stock market will come later.”

Ghoshal was at last talking sense!

“No Baba, it’s always good to know stuff…I was just asking.”

I hated Sumit Ghoshal. I looked up. Little Shreya Mehta was reading Cosmopolitan on the top berth. So much for CAT and the IIMs, I thought. When I was much younger, I would always sneak a Cosmopolitan at the first railway station after the train left. There were women around me now. I was dying to read about sex tips and the latest trends in negligees, but sadly had to pass up on this trip. Besides, the mystery of Rustom Merchant was literally eating me up by then.

The eunuchs had arrived. I hate these cross-dressing goons and their weird chants. Do the math and you realise that most of them earn more than the average software professional. They were ruthless as usual. My friend had once stood firm with a six-foot all, muscular eunuch. Many pleas were tried. His body was compared to the six-packs of Salman Khan and Akshay Kumar by the doting she-man. My friend had refused to budge. Curses inflicting impotency followed. My friend laughed, secure about his manhood. Next had been the body grope, where he had received a brief massage below the waist. My friend pretended to enjoy it with a benign smile. Then the strip-tease had begun. The pallu of the saree had come off. My friend looked the other way. He finally gave up when the second hook of the blouse had come off, and parted with fifty rupees and a lot of cold sweat. I know what you must be thinking right now, but I swear it was really my friend, not me. Anyway, I had the ten rupee note ready, and so did the Ghoshals and Mr. Mehta. Not too many people challenged the eunuchs, and they in turn seldom troubled women or old people.

Rustom Merchant didn’t pay. A eunuch nudged him. He gave a cold stare. The eunuch seemed flustered, and the entire gang backed off. There was something in Rustom’s eyes that scared me, and evidently the she-males too, for they didn’t try any wise tricks, but just carried on, blessing me with a beautiful wife and three bonny boys. Mr. Mehta was promised a rich son-in-law, and Sumit Ghoshal would grow up to be the next Amitabh.

Was he a criminal? A master forger? An art thief? A stock market scamster perhaps? Was he on the run from the law, maybe after defrauding investors in his chit fund? That was it. I hoped he wasn’t a murderer or a feared mafia don, because that was not a pleasant thought. Was there a reward for turning him in? I could do with a few lakhs. What happened to whistle-blowers? Did the gangs come after them? Would I regret turning him in? What number do I contact? All these thoughts came in a flurry, though the important question remained unanswered? Who was Rustom Merchant, for that was obviously not his real name.

Helga seemed very attracted to Rustom Merchant, for she kept stealing furtive glances at him, from behind the new book she was reading. Rich Dad Poor Dad. I was not surprised. I had read somewhere that the women are attracted to the bad boys. They have the charisma and the animal instinct ingrained in them. I was evidently not a bad boy. Would she make the first move? Was he playing the playboy to perfection? The brooding man waiting to pounce on the vulnerable and lonely woman?

The answer struck me like the Courtney Walsh bouncer that had found a gap in Manoj Prabhakar’s helmet’s grill, and it chilled my blood to the bone. Sitting in front of me was no brooding Parsi trader or ill-paid sportsman, but one of India’s, no, the world’s most dreaded fugitives. I was sure as hell – Rustom Merchant was none other than Jacky Carneiro. Yes, the same Jacky Carneiro who has toyed around with the Indian, Portuguese, Greek and Thai police for over two decades. The same Jacky Carneiro who had earned the nickname of Carneiro the Carnivore, for his ability to seduce beautiful women on the beaches of Goa and Greece, before beheading them. The same Jacky Carneiro who engineered three perfect jailbreaks in three different countries. The same Jacky Carneiro whose real-life exploits would make a Jeffrey Archer character seem like a bumbling school kid. The same Jacky Carneiro was sitting opposite me, sipping a mango drink from a tetrapak now. I had recently read about him in a magazine and I knew that Interpol was willing to pay a lot of money to get him.

What was I to do? What number did I call? Did I have to identify myself? Would they note down my name and address? More important questions. What if Jacky managed his fourth jailbreak? How did he deal with people who ratted on him? Would he behead me once he escaped? I was not a gorgeous woman, and I didn’t live close to a beach, but who knows? What if I called the police? Would the average police phone operator know about Jacky Carneiro? How would I collect the money? Would it be tax-free? Maybe I could buy a large number of shares in the next major IPO. Maybe real estate was a better bet…

The train stopped at Vizianagaram; a short stop, but I needed some air and exercise. I got down and stretched my limbs, before proceeding to the tap marked “Drinking Water”. I filled up the two bottles I had, and boarded the train as the whistle blew. The Mehtas were asleep and Mr. Ghoshal had gone to the loo, probably for a quick smoke. His son was doing the day’s Sudoku. Helga and Jacky were gone. In their places were Mr. and Mrs. Reddy (M50 and F44) respectively. They had reserved tickets up to Bangalore.


Sunday, August 01, 2010

Placebo


It was a beautiful afternoon at the Parc Buttes Chaumont, one of the prettiest green spots in Paris. I was lying on the grass, taking in the fresh air, chirping birds and the beautiful people lounging around. In short, it was bliss. After an hour or so of absolute laziness, I started eating a crepe I had bought in a bakery nearby. 

The man had a diabolic scar under his right eye. "Salaam," he said to me from a few metres away. "Salaam," said I. He was about thirty five years old, and was apparently picnicking with his wife and a few other girls in their late teens or early twenties. Probably sisters. Or sisters in law. Or just friends. They were certainly too old to be his daughters. "Good day, isn't it?" he said, in heavily accented French.

Why was he trying to be friendly? He took out a bottle of chilled Heineken beer and offered it to me. "Never accept food or drinks from a stranger, especially if he looks suspicious," my childhood training kicked in immediately. "I don't drink alcohol," I blurted out in my barely comprehensible French. I lied. It was a very hot day, and I had just been kicking myself for not picking up a beer before entering the park.

"Ah, religion!" he smiled. Clearly he was violating one of the tenets of his religion. The atheist and the wino in me were squirming by now. The women in his life were looking at me with amused smiles. He then took out a 1.5 litre bottle of diet coke and offered that to me. "Coca?" he said. That's what the french call their coke. I pointed to wards my stomach and made a grimace. "Desole," I said in my pidgin French. Sorry. His wife started laughing. She poured out an orange drink in a plastic cup, held it out and said, "Fanta?"

It would be really rude to turn this down. I weighed the situation. It was 4 pm, and I was thirsty. My water bottle was almost empty. I was craving beer, or at least something cold. There were hundreds of people around. The man was there with his family. What was the chance of him wanting to mug me? And what would they gain from poisoning me? I accepted the Fanta with a smile, and slowly drank from the glass.

The thoughts of being drugged still lingered though. My stomach felt queasy, even though my brain tried its best to convince me that nothing was wrong. I lay on the grass for another half hour, battling my prejudices. Finally I got up, and slowly and unsteadily staggered out of the park. I felt giddy, and desperately searched for a public toilet. The first one I found was closed. I walked around in a trance till I found the second one, where I vomited out the entire contents of my stomach. Damn you, placebo effect! 

Monday, July 26, 2010

The Golden Age of Punjabi Pop

It was way back in 1999. Mohammed Azharuddin was back as captain of the Indian team, after the disastrous reign of Sachin. Karan Johar had made a spectacular debut in Bollywood, Himesh Reshammiya wasn't the viral sensation he was soon to become. Internet access meant dialling an always-busy number and listening Ashoke Kumar cough his way to death on the modem, to access sites like www.uthplanet.com (who promised to make the first ever crowd-sourced film imaginatively titled "Kaiko Kare Pyaar"). Star Plus was what the "in" crowd watched. And I still did not have cable access at home, for my 10th standard final exam was coming up.

It was a bright evening, the birds were chirping, and there I was, cooped up trying to disseminate the life stories of Dr. Ambedkar in three different languages (the English one written by former president Venkatraman had indelibly added "amelioration" and "eschew" to my vocabulary), when the tornado struck. It was on DD Metro of course, which, till then was playing Sonu Nigam and Anup Jalota on infinite loop, that I first saw the Musical Sensation of the New Millenium! That's right.



It featured an early Shiney Ahuja, watching in bewilderment as Sandali Sinha (then the reigning queen of indi-pop videos) emerged out of the ground, wondering when he would be able to afford her as a domestic help, and in the process, revealing to me a whole pantheon of music gods, not just from India, but also Pakistan, Kenya, the United Kingdom and Canada. While others my age were discovering the worlds of jazz, metal, rock and rap, that classic tune by Sardool Sikander uncovered the magical world of Punjabi pop for me.

You may have been a die-hard fan of Baba Sehgal, but have you experienced the magic of Baba Khan, his lookalike across the border? His iconic number, "I want to see you only" was a favourite of the babus at Prasar Bharti, and they ensured that every trailer program on DD Metro played this video of sailors dancing on the Baby Titanic at least three times in a span of half an hour.



Another all-time great of those days was Harbhajan Mann of Canada, who was such a sex symbol in those days that hot girls would brave slow dial-up internet connections to type www.harbhajanmann.com on their browsers to access streaming videos of their dream man(n), as this video evidences (it was also used in the iconic movie Papa the Great, starring Kishen Kumar, Nagma and Shatrughna Sinha).



Harbhajan, however was just one of many Manns who dominated the Bhangra scene back in the late nineties and early 2000s. Gurdas Mann, Gursewak Mann and Babu Singh Mann all achieved varying degrees of fame as well.

At this stage you must be wondering if all the best Bhangra talent is based outside India. For  those cynics, I give this classic by Surjeet Singh Bindrakhia and Atul Sharma. It features Amit, who uses his unique charm to seduce gals at a bowling alley (a phenomenon that was just taking off back then).



Yes, its true. Punjabi Pop wasn't all about those garish and tuneless Daler Mehendi. It certainly isn't about those industrially manufactured beats  of Punjabi MC or Rishi Rich, featuring Caucasian girls dancing to mind-numbing synthetic beats. It wasn't aout those Karan Joharish "Shaava Shaava, Rabba Rabba" either. The real soul of Punjabi Pop belonged to the Manns, the Baba Khans of course Jassi. I leave you with his memorable song "Channo."



Change is inevitable. Needless to say, with my TV addiction, I did not top my class. I went on to join a coaching factory, and soon got cable at home, with an avalanche of trailer channels (ETC, CVO, B4U, etc). DD Metro started its slow but painful journey to oblivion. Star Plus went all-Hindi. Azharuddin was banned. from playing cricket. Himesh began to be seen as much as he was heard. Saas-Bahu dramas started invading our drawing rooms like the mythologicals had in the mid-nineties (on Doordarshan). I went to college where everyone pretended to love heavy metal. And the DJs invaded the Punjabi Pop scene. Killing the genre forever.

Friday, May 28, 2010

Holy Cow!

Along with several jackpot payout notifications from Microsoft, Shell and Yahoo, and offers to launder millions of dollars by fugitive Princes and corrupt ministers, I have recently been the lucky recipient of two issues of a revolutionary new magazine called The Vedic Times. Written by Kiran Kumar B, an alumnus of the prestigious Indian Institute of Science, two thought-provoking issues have given me a fresh perspective on many, many issues. I feel it is my duty to share these issues with as many people as I can; so I have uploaded them online, for public perusal:
  1. Cows
  2. Reincarnation
For example, the "Cows" issue reveals this startling fact, that six years of training in chemical engineering (including two years in the author's alma mater) failed to teach me:
Cow  ghee,  when  poured  on  burning  cow  dung cakes,  it  produces  phenomenal  amount  of oxygen  and  clears  contamination  from  air. Studies  have  proven  that  pouring  ghee  on  cow dung can fight pollution effectively.
And here we are, trying to reduce emissions and causing tensions among countries, squabbling over greenhouse gas emissions! We are even concerned by the greenhouse effect caused by bovine farts. The solution is simple. We need to collect and burn their shit, adding copious amounts of their own ghee, and voila! End of global warming. And more oxygen for all of us.

Another money quote:
Cow  urine  is  useful  in acidity,  stomach  disease  and  many  other  illnesses. According  to  Ayurveda,  cow  urine removes  leprosy  and  other  skin  diseases.  The cow and cow products are incomparable in the eyes of Ayurveda.
Apart from the obvious medicinal uses, I wonder if cow urine can decompose crude oil. The USA is currently facing a massive oil spill crisis off the coast of Louisiana. I was wondering if a scientifically determined combination of cow urine, ghee and dung, with appropriate combustion levels, could check this ecological and socio-economic disaster.

The advice, however comes with a warning:
Do  not  hate  cow  urine  and  cow  dung.  Never eat  cow  meat. By  following  this  advice,  human beings can become prosperous.
I have decided to immediately stop eating those succulent beef rolls,  the Kerala beef curry, the tender  beef chops, the rare steaks and the fragrant biryanis. I  hereby eschew the delights of chilli beef, beef spring rolls and beef kababs. No more barbecued beef, beef stew or grilled beef for me. Heck, I shall even give up beef manchurian, beef rumsteak, beef noodles and beef kheema; from now on, all my drinks will be laced with cow urine - all in my shameless pursuit of material wealth!

In fact, I think Shri BS Yeddyurappa, the Honorable Chief Minister of the State of Karnataka has taken the right step in banning beef in his territory, thus ensuring economic growth in the years to come. I implore other states to follow his admirable example.

I was wondering if cows could solve some of the world's other problems, and came up with the following conjectures. After considerable literature search, I came up with the following revelations:
  1. Cow urine can be converted to high-octane fuel (using vibhuti as catalyst at standard temperature and pressure - and the best part is that its a liquid phase reaction) that can power petrol and diesel engines alike. It burns in ordinary IC engines with a 99.7% efficiency. Furthermore, it prevents no fire hazard whatsoever, as it can only burn in enclosed spaces.
  2. Cowdung is the most complete source of nutrients, and a 5 gram tablet of dried cowdung, washed down with a glass of cow urine provides an entire day's nutrition. This is because of the special enzymes present in the cow's intestines, that convert grass and roughage into vitamin complexes and proteins. In fact, a single day's production of cow excreta of the city of Varanasi can feed the entire population of Somalia for a year.
  3. Cow urine is a proven antiretroviral agent; injections of cow urine in cultures of HIV-infected T-cells have significantly reduced the population of the pathogen as compared to control samples.
  4. Rancid ghee (got by leaving a 40.2%-vol mixture of ghee in water in sunlight for 24 hours) can absorb noxious fumes of sulphur dioxide from the atmosphere. Research is on, to harness this reaction  for municipal use.
  5. Cowdung, if powdered and spray dried at 18000 Kelvin and 300 atm, yields superconducting and self-assembling nanoparticles. A single such particle can store 1024 times the information that all of Google's servers together can hold today.
 Thus, we have excellent growth potential, and we know which animal to thank for that!

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Uniquely Indian Scams and Crimes

Indian scientists may not be creative enough, and our movie industry may be filled with plagiarists galore. However, our scamsters and criminals distinguish themselves by creating crimes that bear the singular stamp of our great country. Here are some uniquely Indian crimes and scams:
  1. Khap killings - An obsession with incestuous relationships makes the words "m****c***d" and "b****c**d" as ubiquitous as the "namaste" in the wheat and dust bowls of Punjab, Haryana, Delhi and Rajasthan. No wonder that their society has come up with a unique cause for honor killing: the crime of marrying someone with a common mythological ancestor. However, we all know that pop music (especially of the rap genre) is an outlet of rebellion against societal norms. The youth of Haryana have chosen to rebel through music, asking the elders to go away and mind their own business, as this excellent music video shows


  2. Stamp paper forgery - Abdul Karim Telgi is the criminal's criminal. If crime were to be compared to batsmen, Dawood Ibrahim would be the equivalent of Sachin Tendulkar: adaptible to all situations, with a wide repertoire of strokes and a man for all occassions. The naxalite mastermind Kishenji is like Rahul Dravid, underrated but consistent. Harshad Mehta would be more of a Yuvraj Singh, a maverick, hard hitting batsman who takes no prisoners while he is in form, but fades away with a whimper when he is not. Telgi, however is a dream amalgamation of Brian Lara and Michael Hussey: an all-time great, an artistic maestro with a propensity to inflict little cuts that gradually bleed the victim. His greatness lies in the fact that he managed to screw the government of several millions of dollars while flying completely below the radar. And the quality of his forged stamp papers is so good (he even used the same ink as the mint itself) that there is still no way to distinguish between his fakes and the real deal. Also, like Lara, he has faded into oblivion since his career ended.
  3. Miracle workers - Another uniquely Indian scam, these geniuses have managed to con even highly educated and accomplished persons, not just in India, but all over the world. Sathya Sai Baba commands the respect of all dignitaries in India, including luminaries like Vajpayee, Abdul Kalam, Manmohan Singh and MM Joshi. Maharshi Mahesh Yogi, Deepak Chopra, Rajneesh and even Nithyananda are other examples of successful Indian miracle workers who have managed to con rich and poor, illiterate and PhD-holder with equal efficacy. Among them, they can materialize Rolex watches from thin air, leverage quantum theory in meditation, organize orgies, and a lot more.
  4. Fairness creams - Less of a crime and more of a scam, these products explicitly exploit our inherent racism. There is even a new generation these that target men. Celebrities like Srikkanth, John Abraham, Deepika Padukone and many more, all endorse these miracle gels that promise you a Michael Jackson-like transformation in weeks. Even a well known victim and opponent of racism, Shah Rukh Khan has no qualms about being a poster boy for a fairness cream for men. A hugely profitable segment in the subcontionent, these are made and marketed by the world's leading FMCG companies.
  5. Cash for riots - Pramod Muthalik was a hero. We believed that he and his army were selfless messiahs of Hindu culture, risking  life and limb in beating up those who violated our ancient scriptures.

    We were outraged when some misguided and loose women women decided to hurt our sentiments further by sending him offensive gifts as an act of revenge. Our world has come crashing down now, as we realise that behind the facade of the selfless crusader lies a venal mercenary, a thorough professional who commands a high price for his skills. Yes, Pramod Muthalik and his army are merely freelance professionals who will do your bidding if the price is right.
  6. Porn doctor - Voyeur cams are popular all over the world, but trust the Indian masterminds to add a whole new dimension to voyeurism.  Bedrooms and bathrooms are passe; one mastermind has instituted an altogether new genre of voyeur porn - the doctor's examination room. Dr. Prakash is truly a visionary. Starting with filming patients being examined, he soon diversified into more conventional categories of pornography, becoming the Indian Larry Flynt. He enlisted professionals and coaxed and threatened amateurs and innocents into performing for his camera.Unfortunately, the government was not amused, and he now cools his heels in jail.
These are just some crimes and scams which I believe have a unique Indian flavor to them. We have more than our share of terrorists, bigots, brigands, ponzis, extortionists, embezzlers, rapists, racists, murderers, forgers and and every other kind of criminal possible. But that is the subject of another, and probably more fascinating story.

    Tuesday, April 20, 2010

    IPL questions that nobody seems to be asking

    The IPL has opened up a can of many slimy worms. It is undoubtedly a good source of entertainment, and a great opportunity to gamble, because the teams are so evenly matched that the overwhelming underdogs have managed to with both the first two seasons (in true ToI fashion: Team Jaipur in season 1 and Team Hyderabad in season 2). Though there are allegations of match-fixing being rampant in IPL, I personally believe that this would be an extremely foolish thing to do, as that would kill the goose totally, Since it is a fantastic way to launder money, it is in the best interest of everyone involved to keep the cricket clean. In spite of many angles being probed, including the media reports of tweets by absolute nobodies,here are a few questions that nobody seems to be asking, and I would love to know the answers to.

    1. Why was there a clause in the IPL rules providing for confidentiality of team ownership anyway? With India being a hotbed for international crime and a terrorism, what is the guarantee that these elements don't control the IPL?
    2. Players were bought in an open auction. Why wasn't the same process used to sell teams to their owners, instead of the closed bidding process? An open auction would probably have brought in a lot more money, with bidding prices known to everyone.
    3. Has anyone bothered to investigate the share price history of Videocon Industries Ltd., and the stakes in Videocon by IPL functionaries? Since Videocon were apparently going to win the IPL bid, their share prices started climbing steadily from 31 March 2010 to a maximum on 9 April 2010, before beginning a steady descent again, corresponding well with developments in the IPL saga. On the other hand the share prices of the Adani Enterprises Ltd. ( intitially supposed to be a serious contender but later billed as an insincere bidder) rose from 31 March 2010 to 8 April 2010, and fell slightly, but nothing as dramatic as Videocon. It is now on an upward trend again.

    Thursday, March 11, 2010

    Thoughts on Cricket

    With the advent of T20, the face of cricket has changed drastically. While some people say that T20 is the future, we have purists arguing about the resurgence and importance of Test cricket. Most people seem to have forgotten the ODI, though Sachin's double century has brought it back into focus. So, the uncomfortable question is: are ODIs relevant any more? Should they be phased out like vestiges from a bygone era? Before you jump to any conclusions, take a few minutes to recall the following memorable events:
    1. The Titan Cup in 1996. Not a marquee tournament by any stretch of imagination. Sachin Tendulkar has been foolishly run out by greenhorn Sujit Somasundar, who soon follows to the pavilion. India-Australia league match, with India staring at sure defeat. The stands are empty, since dejected fans have gone home. Suddenly, in the most incredible last wicket partnership, local boys Javagal Srinath and Anil Kumble go berserk, and India scrape through. Most anguished are the idiots who walked out of the stadium.
    2. The inaugural World T20 in 2007. India are overwhelming underdogs against the mighty Australians in the semi-final. Yuvraj Singh butchers the world's most feared attack for 5 sixers on his way to 70 off 38 balls. In the second innings, Matthew Hayden starts a predictable massacre before Sreesanth snares him, and the Aussies capitulate, paving the way for a  subsequently historic World Cup victory for India.
    Which one do you recall more vividly? My guess is the former (assuming you followed cricket back then). Even though fourteen years have passed, an insignificant ODI league match draws more recall than a recent epoch-making T20 World Cup match. And therein lies the power of One Day cricket.  My guess is that people remember Rajesh Chauhan's last over sixer off Saqlain Mushtaq in Karachi in 1997 and Sanath Jayasuriya ending Manoj Prabhakar's career (though his final score of 79 off 76 balls with 9X4 and 2X6 does not seem that impressive anymore) in New Delhi in 1996 far more vividly than any T20 rampage by Yuvraj (barring his six sixers in an over against England of course) or Yusuf.

    T20 matches are exciting, but have no character. One is just like another. While domestic tournaments like the IPL do give opportunities to a large number of promising players, the matches themselves hardly stand out. Almost every match follows the predictable pattern of wickets falling, one batsman going on a rampage before the tail pitches in. How many people remember anything from the two IPL finals we have had so far?

    It makes absolutely no sense to have one-off T20 matches or even non World Cup T20 tourneys between countries. Domestic tourneys like the IPL and its regional variants are good enough to milk the cash cow for all its worth. International T20 should be restricted to the T20 World Cup (unfortunately its once in two years, though ideally it should be once in 4 years like the ODI or soccer World Cups, or the Olympics, to maintain its prestige and exclusivity).

    ODI cricket could also do without the overkill. Test cricket is still the real cricket, and meaningless 3 and 5-match series and the Champions Trophy should be done away with.ODI matches should be infrequent tri-nation or quadrangular series that serve as gap-fillers between Test series, with the World Cup once in 4 years to crown the champions.

    The goose does not lay golden eggs once it is dead.

    Sunday, March 07, 2010

    Barcelona

    I heard that Barcelona is a great city, and that's why I decided to visit it last month.  Our flight was late, and we reached the youth hostel at 4 am, and went to sleep. When I woke up, I was welcomed by a magnificent view of Torres Agbar, a giant building that reminds every man of his shortcomings.


    Walking down the streets, one was is struck by the gaudiness (literally of the Sagrada Familia), a scary church that is under construction since the 1880s, and might be finished within two decades!

     

    As I was to discover soon, Barcelona is a city is very much like Bangalore; perennially under construction, with a bizarre skyline dominated by several cranes used in either construction or renovation.



     

    The Parc Guelle, is a must-see in Barcelona, where the eccentric architect Gaudi went berserk with his creativity. It is like entering one of those fairy tales where the innocent young princess is lured by a wicked witch.



    The park is filled with all kinds of people; tourists, amateur models, musicians and costumed superheroes.
     
    The city itself is very warm, and has a beautiful beach, whose beauty could somewhat be ruined by naked guys. Some of the buildings have interesting graffiti too, though most have the ugly lettering you find in Paris walls.

     


     

    However, Barcelona wakes up only at night. The real fun of Barcelona is in swigging copious amounts of beer at night, and sleeping at dawn. Obviously, I have no pictures of this vibrant culture. I do, however, have a few pictures  from their museums.
      
     
    Do not miss out on the Museum of Catalan History, which has such rare artifacts as a 20-year old computer and a 35-year old transistor radio, apart from this vintage car you see above. I was so awestruck by these treasures, that I was unable to photograph them.

    Note: Do not fret if you do not speak Spanish and Catalan. Hindi works almost as well, since most of the convenience store owners, gift store owners, restaurant waiters and drug dealers are Indian or Pakistani. Also, do try the Paella, a local dish of rice and meat or fish.