Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Kafka in MEA

Contrary to the rumors of his death, Kafka is hale and hearty. Met him at the passport office of Ministry of External Affairs, India last couple of days.
Went to get my passport renewed. Since I had got married in the interim, I wanted to get Manvi's name added. The document list on the website suggested that I submit a joint affidavit declaring that I and Manvi are married. Sounded pretty legit. I did the needful and attached the affidavit with the application. The officer at counter B who was responsible for verifying the documents didn't seem convinced that I was married to someone I was stating on a sworn legal document that I was. (Even though the MEA's own site said the document was sufficient.) The officer, in his own infinite wisdom, then decided to ask for the verification of originals -- the wife, in this case. No kidding! His logic: since the affidavit was executed on the same day, he needed to double check. (Implying that had I sworn in the same statement a couple of weeks ago, it would have been more believable. An affidavit is perhaps like concrete that need to be curated for a week or two before it achieves desired strength.) He and subsequently the deputy passport officer asked me to come next day with Manvi.
So I and Manvi reached passport office again early next morning. The only problem? The security guard was adamant that the rules are pretty clear -- in no case can anyone be allowed to accompany the applicant who was not a child or senior citizen. So I tried to make him see the catch-22-ness of my situation. Finally after about 15 mins of hand waving and emphatic arguments, we agreed to wait for some officer who would review my case. In the interim I was left wondering my luck -- had the officers at counter B yesterday shown the similar spirit of sticking to the letters of the rules as this guard was showing today, I and Manvi would have been spared this trouble. The wisdom in a government office is always arbitrarily distributed, I surmised.
Finally the guard talked to someone inside and luckily this person wasn't as stickler for details and advised that we both be allowed in. After about 3 hours of other multiple rounds of verifications, scannings, and clarifications, my file was accepted. Funny part -- the file had exactly the same documents as were submitted the first time. Only consolation -- throughout these hours of difficulty, the wife was present, in original, alongside me, as she promised about a couple of years ago.
Kafka in MEASocialTwist Tell-a-Friend

Tuesday, July 7, 2015


Came across the following Hindi poem on Twitter via @iawoolford - 

And my attempt at translation -

I stumbled upon
As one would on a new word.
To grasp and comprehend you
I accepted my own inferiority;
And with a student-like faith
I turned into a believer.
Doesn't being a believer imply
That only as the understanding dawns
One becomes uncomplicated like a learner?
Isn't word polymorphism the essence of texts?
O my word
O my meaning
O my text

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Monday, May 18, 2015

Stoic Ethics

Change what you should and can. 
Accept what you shouldn't or can't change. 
Understand, regardless. 

~ Stoicism, basically.

P.S. Sounds like a good programming maxim.
Stoic EthicsSocialTwist Tell-a-Friend

Monday, May 11, 2015

On Tolerance

I get along well with people who've high tolerance -- for ideas and alcohol.  
Others generally throw up too soon -- in a pub or a discussion.
On ToleranceSocialTwist Tell-a-Friend

Monday, April 20, 2015

The Joys of Studying History

Some 300 years ago, a dude born in western U.P. and working at the time in Dilli*, moved to Hyderabad to make a career for himself -- not unlike yours truly. So we paid a visit to his family house, the Chowmahallah palace, this weekend. The Nizams, as his dynasty came to be called, seem to have had done rather well for themselves, though we felt that they could have learned a thing or two from the Rajputs in the art of building grand royal palaces.
[* The first Nizam, Asaf Jah I got fed up with the court intrigues in Dilli that followed the death of Aurangzeb in 1707. He moved to Deccan in 1724 to carve out an independent principality for himself -- though the dynasty he founded, the Asaf Jahiya dynasty or the Nizams, would never be absolute sovereign of the Deccan -- at least in theory. First, the Nizams continued to accept the sovereignty of the Mughals, and then later accepted the paramountcy of the British.]
And today, quite unexpectedly, I came to learn that in historical terms the connection with the family of Nizam, Asaf Jah I goes further than the mere similarity of moving to Hyderabad for the reasons of rozgar or career. Apparently, my home town, Ghaziabad, was founded in 1740 by Ghazi ud-Din Khan Feroze Jung II, the eldest son of the first Nizam whom he got installed as the Wezier (prime minister) in the court of Mughal emperor Muhammad Shah before moving to the Deccan.
Ah, the joys of studying history.
The Joys of Studying HistorySocialTwist Tell-a-Friend

Sunday, March 8, 2015

Paternalism and Morality

Bemused at the debate around the interview of Delhi gang rape convict. Worryingly large number of apparently sensible people are expressing the view that broadcast of the interview should be banned to protect the public from such views. This is a paternalistic argument and it is wrong.
The views expressed in the interview may be wrong and disturbing, but so far as they are true in the sense of being held by an actual person, it is in society's larger interest to be aware of existence of such views.
Even more importantly, there's an ethical angle to this whole debate -- assuming that morality involves *autonomous* choices between right and wrong, it is precisely in the presence of opposing views that a person's or a society's choices and affirmations become autonomous and acquire moral worth. Paternalism takes away this autonomy and thus erodes the capacity for moral judgement -- both for the individual and the society. It makes a society or a person morally under-confident.
Paternalism and MoralitySocialTwist Tell-a-Friend

Monday, March 2, 2015

Dum Laga Ke Haisha - Review

'Dum Laga Ke Haisha' is a good movie -- in a charming sort of way. It has a simple, honest and important theme -- personal insecurity and inferiority complexes affect your relationship not just with yourself but also with everyone else around you. Usually in a negative way. And it explores this theme in an authentic, short, and crisp style. (The movie is just around 100 mins and set in the small town of Haridwar.) And it's this very honesty and authenticity that makes it possible to like this movie even if one does not entirely agree with its conclusions. Though a certain wisdom is apparent in the point that the movie finally makes.

Personally, it's always a delight to watch a well made Hindi movie with an authentic regional dialect. In that sense, it joins the likes of Paan Singh Tomar (Central Indian dialect), Haasil (Eastern UP), and Khosla ka Ghosla (Delhi and NCR). It is delightful in its use of spoken Hindi dialect from the Saharanpur-Haridwar region.

[*Spoiler Alert*]

However, let me go on a bit of a tangent and talk about the theme of the movie a little more.

Consider an alternative ending where the protagonist is not able to make amends with his estranged wife. Unable to get his domestic life going and fueled by an intense sense of insecurity, he devotes an increasingly large amount of time to the RSS shakhas and becomes a Hindutva 'Pracharak'. He works hard and dedicatedly to overcome his inferiority complex and to prove himself. And remains a bachelor for his whole life.

In the context of the movie, that would probably be not such a happy ending. But as the quote goes - "If you want a happy ending, that depends, of course, on where you stop your story." So let's stretch this alternative story a bit further and see if it does in fact have an happy ending after all. And sure enough, if we allow the story a few more decades we get a totally different sort of happy ending for the protagonist -- which we know from another popular story -- he ends up becoming the PM of the country.

Given that the alternative story is not all that far fetched, the point here, I guess is this -- insecurity can lead to troubled relationships but it can also act as a fuel to push people towards greater creativity and greater "will to power". It then stops being an entirely negative and destructive emotion. 

Of course as with pretty much most other things, there are no absolutely right answers here. The best we can do, perhaps then, is just be aware of different possibilities and make autonomous choices to deal with our insecurities.
Dum Laga Ke Haisha - ReviewSocialTwist Tell-a-Friend

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

On Legitimacy

Legitimacy refers to that ingredient which turns mere power into authority.

I take your money, it's stealing or robbing. I take it with authority of a tax collector (appointed by an accepted legal process and acting according to the law), then it is not. I use a legal example, but legitimacy (or authority) need not necessarily be synonymous with legal.

Consider a traditional tribal society with no legal system. Such a society still has elders or leaders who exercise authority and can dole out punishment and rewards simply because it is thought to be legitimate for them to do so. They act in absence of any formal legal system. Weber famously gave his three way classification of authority -- traditional, charismatic and rational-legal. Only last is explicitly tied to a legal system. First two are not.

Finally Beetham's views on the subject are relevant. According to him, legitimate power (and therefore authority) must satisfy 3 conditions -
1. Power must be exercised according to established rules.
2. Rules must be justified in terms of shared belief of the government and governed.
3. Legitimacy must be demonstrated by the expression of consent.

The essential point here is -- for it to be legitimate, the exercise of power must be justified in terms of shared beliefs of the government and the governed. And those views may be codified either as laws of a modern society or customs of a tribal society or even dictates of a charismatic messiah.
On Legitimacy SocialTwist Tell-a-Friend

Happy MahaShivratri

He is an ascetic and an householder. A Maha-Yogi, He's a "fitness freak" and yet He loves his bhang and his soma. A lover of nature and animals, He meditates in Himalayas, far removed from the concerns of the world and yet He cares enough about it to drink the worldly poison. A destroyer and a creator - He performs tandava and lasya in turn. His legendary phallus is a symbol of male fertility and yet as Ardhanarishvara he's also half feminine.
A patron of all performing arts, isn't He the coolest God ever?
Happy MahaShivratri!

[P.S. Of course celebrate the day with this lovely song -- which I have already translated for you :D ]
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Tuesday, February 3, 2015

Mohe Apne Rang Mein...

So I heard a song in a friends car and it wont leave my head. So I searched it online and found it's sung by Shafqat. No surprises there -- he's an amazing singer. More interestingly, the song is written by Amir Khusro - the 12th century poet disciple of Nizamuddin Auliya. And that makes it second consecutive ear-worm for me that has originated from Khusro and dedicated to Nizamuddin Auliya. [The earlier one that I've been binging on for last few weeks is - ]
So obviously I got a bit curious about Khusro and these songs. And it turns out that this Kusro dude was, to put it colloquially, f'ing awesome! He invented sitar and tabla and Qawalli and maybe even Ghazal. And he was "originator of the khayal and tarana styles of music". Wow! Basically Khusro was to Hindustani music what Newton was to classical mechanics.
Coming to the song -- "Mehboob-e-illahi" in the song is one of the names of Nizannudin Auliya, of whom Khusro was a disciple. And the phrase means beloved of God. (And it reminds of the similar title of the emperor Ashoka -- "Devānāmpriya" (in Pali or was it Prakrit?) also meaning beloved of gods). Anyway, I digress. Coming back to the song -- here's my attempt at translating the simple yet beautiful lyrics -
मोहे अपने ही रंग में रंगले
मोहे अपने ही रंग में रंगले
तू तो साहिब मेरा मेहबूब-ए-इलाही
मोहे अपने ही रंग में रंगले
[Dye me in your own color
You're my master, O beloved of God
Dye me in your own color.]
हमरी चुनरिया, पिया की पगरिया
वो तो दोनो बसंती रंगले
तू तो साहिब मेरा मेहबूब-ए-इलाही
मोहे अपने ही रंग में रंगले
[My stole and beloved's turban
Color them both saffron.
You're my master, O beloved of God
Dye me in your own color.]
जो कुछ मांगे रंग कि रंगाई
मोरा जौबन गिरवी रख ले
तू तो साहिब मेरा मेहबूब-ए-इलाही
मोहे अपने ही रंग में रंगले
[If some fee you ask for dyeing
Keep my youth as security.
You're my master, O beloved of God
Dye me in your own color.]
आन पड़ी दरबार तेहारे
मोरी लाज़ सरम सब रख ले
तू तो साहिब मेरा मेहबूब-ए-इलाही
मोहे अपने ही रंग में रंगले
[I come to your court
Keep (uphold) my honor and dignity.
You're my master, O beloved of God
Dye me in your own color.]
Mohe Apne Rang Mein...SocialTwist Tell-a-Friend