Oct 2, 2012

The countries of India

The phrase 'Unity in diversity' has been drummed into our skulls so much in schools, but we've rarely thought about how much it means. Think of this: out of the 204 countries of the world, 142 are smaller in area than a single state of India, TamilNadu (http://www.wolframalpha.com/input/?i=countries+with+area+less+than+130000+km^2). Many of our states are countries in their own right, with their own language, culture and history; they've been countries for most of history, and are simple states of a country now only because of some historic accidents. In fact, it's better to think of India as a continent, parallel to Europe, than as a country.

It's great that we've all managed to get together as a country, share and exchange elements of our culture, and remain united. However, it's also important to realize the things we've lost in becoming a single country: there would have been a better distributed tourism industry (now most travellers visit only north India thanks to Taj Mahal), websites would offer more language choices to us rather than thinking Hindi will suffice for everyone, we'd learn more of our own history rather than just touching the surfaces of the histories of all parts of India, and the world would in general know our individual states' achievements better.

In a spirit of blind patriotism, let's not try to cram all the different cultures of India into ourselves, and in the process lose our identities and histories.

Aug 3, 2012

The IBCD in me

I lay awake late night, reading through the drunken sexual adventures of female seduction experts in "The Game" by Neil Strauss; I don't exactly identify with any of those people.
I wake up, get ready, and join the dozens of Brahmins reciting holy mantras and changing our sacred threads in a temple. I feel like a hypocrite throughout, not believing in these rituals but going through it anyway. I don't identify with anyone there either.

I read through stories on reddit about "losers" who live with their parents even after college.
I come back to real life and am drawn into a discussion about how kids in India stop living with their parents after marriage, and how "the problem" is getting worse by the day.

There's a book by a girl proud of her one-night stands ("My horizontal life - a collection of one-night stands"). And here's an article criticizing any and all premarital sex as an unthinkable sin.

Which of these am I? Where do my own morals stand? My roots remain in India, but my branches are spreading out in all directions - and the things they find there challenge my unquestioned assumptions, force me to rethink my values. I'm a free spirit by conscious choice, unbound by meaningless restrictions and accepting of the sensible ones among Western values; but my subconscious remains the conservative orthodox Indian, refusing to co-operate with logic and reason.

This is the world of the latest breed of Indian youth - the Indian-Born Confused Desi. Welcome.

(Inspired by a discussion with Vineeth)

Dec 17, 2010

The prison system

"At thirteen, Bobby was nabbed while robbing a Jordan Marsh department store. The remainder of his childhood was spent mostly in the state reform school. That was where he learned how to fight, how to hot-wire a car with a piece of foil, how to pick locks, and how to make a zip gun using a snapped-off automobile radio antenna, which, in those days, was just thick enough to barrel a .22-calibre bullet. Released upon turning eighteen, Dellelo returned to stealing."
[Source: http://www.newyorker.com/reporting/2009/03/30/090330fa_fact_gawande]

See anything wrong in the above paragraph? Anything illogical that shouldn't be happening?
A criminal, spending time in government custody, isn't having anything close to a change of heart and a betterment of life; instead, he's learns more about crime, and returns as a worse criminal.
This is a real life story. It isn't an isolated event either. There have been many such reports of such happenings in daily newspapers and magazines. And, if you think about it, putting in many criminals of varying "expertise" in the same place is logically going to lead to this outcome only - the criminals are going to make friends and learn some new tricks. So, in effect, prisons are training centres for criminals, a place to meet different varieties of their own people and learn from them. Is this what we want our tax money to be spent on? Is this the way to curtail crime and make a better society? I definitely don't think so.

We've come up with so many advances in various fields, but in this one field, we're pretty much imitating what people did thousands of years ago. Well, except for adding new ways of torturing war criminals. Not much constructive experiments, not much innovative ideas. Our "prison reformation" ideas are limited to one or two prisons, one or two people like Kiran Bedi. If those reforms were so good as to deserve Asia's Nobel prize, why aren't they being implemented more widely?

I believe that the general apathy towards this area is because people think "prison reform" only means a better life for the criminals. And obviously, they couldn't care less about criminals when they've got their own problems. But that's completely missing the point: we need prison reforms not for the criminals' sake (at least not only for that), but for building a better society for ourself. When we have prisons where the criminals have an opportunity to better their lives, ways to learn and improve themselves, we'll have a better society, one with less criminals. It would mean the difference between a one-time hunger thief becoming a lifelong burglar, and becoming a doctor or an entrepreneur; it might mean the difference between losing your life savings to him, and having your kid's life saved by him.

Dec 6, 2010

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Nov 15, 2010

Endhiran - my review

If you know me, you'd know that I'm not the movie-reviewing type usually, but I felt Endhiran deserves one, not only because it's a sci-fi movie, but it's a good sci-fi movie.

(Warning: Here be spoilers!)

I (as is becoming usual) missed the first ten or so minutes of the movie, entering only when Vasee asks Chitti to drive the car and others back off from the journey. Rajini has a very good scientific nerd look as Vasee, suppressing his action movie image and appearing as the intellectual he should be. Chitti, while managing to look truly handsome, did not impress me at first. "Ok, he's the usual robot that does some things awesomely and some things stupidly".

However, the scenes where Chitti takes care of neighbourhood noises brought me back into the movie. He explains why he's able to operate the stereo (it's infra-red) and then does it without directly fighting the enemy guys off  (which would have made this a clichéd action movie scene). Same with the "Chellaattha" loudspeaker guys - he does not pick a fight with them, instead using his electromagnet and disarming them. It turns out to be an amusing comedy (especially with the ladies starting to pray to him as Kaali and then standing confused as he drops the weapons).

The thing that impressed me about the movie was the absence of any glaringly-obvious and embarrassing pseudo-science that's present even in a lot of Hollywood science movies. No superman style flying for long distances, no reading-your-mind-because-I'm-an-awesome-robot stuff.
Ok, the mosquito scene was somewhat stupid. Even if it's the future and we've figured out how to make machines talk to mosquitoes, it doesn't explain the mosquito talking back to Ash. But leaving the scientific viewpoint, it was a well constructed scene, except that they ruined it by making it too long. This is a theme that repeats throughout the movie - almost every single scene in the movie stretches longer than necessary, testing our patience.

Rajini's acting deserves a special mention. The robot and the human are always distinguishable, from their tone, body language and expressions. In the scene where Chitti rescues a bathing girl and is chided by Vasee, his confused response "But she's alive!" reminded me very strongly of Sonny's "But I have to inject the nanites!" in I Robot.

The movie also seemed to contain a lot of references to sci-fi or the-average-Indian-movie. The mosquito scene reminded me of the butterfly scene in Ejamaan where Rajini fetches a butterfly for Meena after jumping through fields and gutter. The scene where Chitti's eye gets damaged and he replaces it with a red colored one feels to be a homage to the Terminator where Arnold Schwarzenegger does the same. The scene where Chitti takes Ash to his magnificent place guarded by other Chitti's is mildly amusing in that it's the usual "villain kidnaps heroine and takes her to his awesome palace guarded by thugs" in average Indian movies, except the villain and thugs this time are robots.

The robots taking formations into spheres and snakes, while obviously done for the "Wow!" effect, also makes sense in context, and each formation is done for a reason which makes it completely excusable.

What's inexcusable is the all-too-frequent and not-so-pleasant songs. They're made tolerable only by the beautiful visuals and the direction in the songs too. Shankar is awesome in this film's songs, Rahman is not. The re-recording is also too noisy and too obvious, the kind I would have expected from a newbie music director - not Rahman. The "thamizh semmozhi" song and the songs in this film make us wonder if Rahman is no longer concentrating much in the Thamizh side after the Oscar. Hmmm.

On the whole, it's a movie that I left feeling clean and refreshed, happy that the arguably first sci-fi movie in thamizh turned out to be a good sci-fi. To be honest, as a movie by itself, it's not great. It's a somewhat confused mess of a sci-fi movie and a family-sentiment-masala-thamizh-movie. But the sci-fi part taken alone is very well done. Kudos to Shankar for that.

Verdict: It's a film worth watching once in the theatre, and storing on the hard drive for years. If you're a sci-fi fan, don't expect an I Robot or a Terminator, expect an average hollywood movie and you might be pleasantly surprised.