Monday, October 31, 2005

I Miss India

Now more than ever! Seriously. I have written about the pre-deepavali prep1, the fireworks, the sweets and the actual celeberation. Don't have anything more to add to that. But I really feel sad and homesick when I read it now. Feel like asking the question about time travel again. Not many outside of Madras will know this and feel this or even identify with this (and this is not to belittle any other place) - One of the major things about being in Madras is its unique style of celeberating Deepavali. Very few parts of the country is so fireworks crazy as this place.
I imagine (thats the best I can do) that Madras is now zippy and alive as it can ever be. A trip around the Panagal Park-Usman road area will tell you that. A lot of people avoid this crowded place this time of the year. I would give anything to be there right now. I bet getting into Pothys will be more difficult than trekking up Kilimanjaro. Lalitha Jewllery would have the huge Lord. Balaji image (with bulbs etc). You can't miss it if you are coming in from Pondy Bazaar/Venkat Narayana road. If you are coming from W.Mambalam into T.Nagar Pothys will stand tall and resplendent.

The actual day always amazes me. Everybody wears a new dress. I love the small vehicle stops in the middle of the road to wait until somebody on the roads finishes bursting fireworks. Me - Personally - I am big fireworks fan. If I became the Prime Minister (even CM would do) I would reduce the cost of fireworks to like Rs.5 a Red Fort. I would encourage more R &D into this and make Sivakasi come up with new fangled fireworks. C'mon think of it! Which country in the world would you get to burst fireworks like this? How many people living in the world get to do this? I can never get over the small window of opportunity that this day offers to do something incredible. I miss the days where the firework noises would wake me up at 2:30 AM in the morning. I would like be so impatient finishing of the nalangu, oil bath, pray-to-god stuff in the morning that I am literally bursting out of the house by 4:00 AM. This is why I loved Madras vis-a-vis even another place in TN (say Nellai). The 2:30 AM to midnight non-stop fireworks is special only to Madras. It may have stopped now due to silly political intervention but I loved it when it was alive.

Which is what I hate about living outside India(during Deepavali). I don't want to get into the whole topic of living in India Vs Living in the US. I am sure there are gzillion debates on this to fill up terabytes of internet server space. Everybody has made a choice conciously or unconciously to be where they are right now. There is no point in re-investigating the past. However, if the romantics want to talk on the aspects of "I miss India" it is reasonable to conclude that among the things people in India are blessed to celeberate -- Deepavali would chief among them. If I was presumptuous enough to assume that I would someday have a choice - where I could decide which country I wanted to live in -- Deepavali would single handedly sway the decision in favor of India.


Edit: Something that Anush's comment reminded me of. The legiyams (also called deepavali marunthu) is an awesome part of deepavali. I dont know who concocted this legiyam. The kick that you get out of it is awesome. The visit to relative's house (sometimes you visit them after 1 year) - falling on the feet and getting money.

The other thing that came to me was the way we lit the very first sparklers on the day. The sudden trickle and the sound is always exciting. From that until the last bon fire with all the kuppai assembled with 2 atom bombs thrown in is pure excitement. You know there is always at least 1 person who say "kaasu ellam kari". Although my favorite firework from Redfort (56 shell) to 2-sound, I think the big fireworks that go up and make a huge sensation in the sky grows on you as you grow old.

sigh.. I can write about this all year. I'll stop before I ..like.. get really sad. I wish all the visitors a very happy Deepavali. May all your dreams come true.

Saturday, October 29, 2005

Gajini

This movie lacks both class and logic. However, among the illogical movies I have seen in my life, this one at least kept me riveted in my seat. Leave alone the title credit sequence that has been cut-and-pasted right out of The Fight Club (one of my top 5 movies ever) and the occasional nasal magudi background music that reminded me of Black Hawk Down?. This movie is so loose in its script and presentation that I can't beleieve they did not notice it in the drawing board itself.

I understand that the general Indian audience is not literate enough to understand a movie of Memento's complexity. A good director would have used a theme and then reworked it from scratch to fit it to local tastes. But Murugadoss has not used the 15 minute short-term memory loss concept at all (except for saying it once every 30 minutes to remind us that Surya really has it). Why did I say the movie has no logic? The police keep Surya in the locker over night, see all the wierd tatoos like "she was killed", "murder him" on his body. They let him go. No questions asked. Surya has a whole lot of wierdo stuff going on in his house like the way John Doe had his house in The Seven (Thats 2 references to Dave fincher). I was assuming that in the beginning nobody ever came into that house because if they did (like the cop guy with short-term life only syndrome) they would find out about Surya. But people keep walking in and out of his house like it was central station. C'mon man!.He has written on the wall that he wants to kill some one. The white dude with a funny wig, the PA, the 4 funny looking doctors - can't you see that? In this whole movie, there are no police anywehere, no neighbors and no public. Whenever any event in this movie happens in public nobody steps in and questions or calls the police. You can walk into anybody's house. It won't be locked. You can chase anybody anywhere. try and rape people on an electric suburban looking train without berths that travels till bombay. It is like Scary movie spoof, whenever there is a chase people run in a funny way (especially Nayanthra..man! what a "uyire" song that was).

On the comment about class. Any director who can make a person like Nayanthra bare her midriff and make her run like a cartoon character has no class. Whats the deal with Surya's Personal Assistants. The costume design. They all look like Mafia thugs than business people. Why do you have funny things like foreign doing comical things on the movie. I just couldn't take the movie seriously. The movie shoots itself in the foot. It does not take itself as seriously as it should have.

One last thing, stop with the films division style "ivar thaan Sobalaal. ivarukku kaasu noi". The movie starts like the way a story in a porn movie would begin. With completely odd looking faces mouthing stupid dialogs. The first 10 minutes where Nayanthra picks up Surya's file and asks her professor if she could "do" a "project" (looking at her, she can just 'do' him. I dont see a 'project' potential in her) on him. He says with a serious face " no there is a police case" and then turns faces the mike and delivers a 3 minute spiel on short-term memory loss. Class anybody? Nobody except Surya and Asin can act. The villian(s), the porn-star looking cop-guy, doctors, PA, side artists, Nayanthra. Nobody can act to save anybody's lives.

The positives: This movie may not be so bad as I made out to be if you are just looking to have general fun in the theatre. Both the flash backs were pretty impressive (its the stuff inbetween that was messy). The whole Asin-Surya thing was pretty sweet actually. You have to ignore the glaring logical flaw in the whole game Asin plays with Surya and stop wondering as to how dumb she was, not to find out who Manohar was. But the flashback and its subplots(there are many sub-plots) are good. The head-thwonking scene was neatly taken. I was impressed by the grand 15 minute movement at the end of the second flashback. Asin is so beautiful, I can't believe she exists. I don't care if she has been make-up'ed. She is pretty awesome. Surya is again extremely impressive with his performance. I genuinely think he has done a good job in a so-so movie. Would I recommend that anybody watch this movie? Yes! of course I would. Its not bad enough to keep you out of the theater. This movie could have been way better than what it is right now and I felt Murugadoss has underestimated the public's ability to grasp a slightly complex story line and has kept this movie unnecessarily trivial.

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

Autumn Colors


oh! btw this is more a "bitch and moan" blog than anything else. I guess B&M blogs are very useful for ventilation. There is too much talk about "strategic inflection point" going on in this part of the world. The first time I stumbled across it was in an exam question paper and I was scratching my head thinking...is it a cool way of saying - "you are screwed...man". Intel's CEO wrote a book called "Only the paranoid survive" and over there he describes strategic inflection point as one in which a person/company realizes they are getting screwed and they better get their act together.

I think the first year MBA folks are going through the same phase right now. The final exam marathon saw all kinds of drama that would put my under graduate last-minute studies to shame. I learnt a few lessons in life (which I had learnt several times before already) that a dominant position in a subject can be lost in a span of 4 hours. In no time regardless of the situation you are in, you can be reduced to rubbles and it comes down to a realization that - it is not one or two flashy performances that will get you there but consistently hittting the spot might.

I am planning on writing a book about the wide-eyed-guy trapped in bschool. In any class I have been (before here) I have taken solace from at least 2-3 dumb guys in the class. I always thought at least I won't be last in class. I have never missed the dumb guys so much like I do now. I have never said ths about any institution I have studied before but man.. this place has too many bright people around. There ought to be a law against places like this. You miss 1 point in statistics exam and 60 people are ahead of you. Everything you can think of someone has thought about it already. Every new thing you try somebody is already tired of doing it. I think Michigan has systematically made me feel inadequate about every aspect of education.

Then comes the exam break - you'd think you will have TV time and lazy-around-the-house time. No! ton load of work remains to be done. If you don't do it, somebody else has the stamina to stay up 12 hours after the exam and do it. So you drag your ass around and do it. It is a never ending thing - story of my life. Which is why I was surprised when my wife said "did you see the Fall colors". I was thinking, I have heard about them and that it was a nice concept. But before I could say anything, she dragged me out into the open for a photo session. You know what! I was surprised to see the outside so beautiful. Much better than the libraries, couches and 4 walls that I have been cooped up for the past several thousand years. The leaves change colors during Autumn and there is a wonderful park in our community which provides for a very romantic stroll. Didn't know the park existed at all. Somehow missed this inbetween demand-curves and autocorrelation. If I were a single graduate student, I might have scorned at a person who talked about Fall colors. However, walking in the park and looking at nature's beauty lying just a stone's throw away from the house made me feel that I was missing out a little on life.

(end Bitch and Moan - regular blogging continues)

Wednesday, October 12, 2005

Madhusudana

We have all heard Arjunan refer to Lord.Krishna as Madhusudanan. Interesting thing if you read Mahabharatha is the names that Arjunan etc use to refer to Krishna. In fact each name Arjunan calls Sri Krishna like Madhusudanan etc. depends on the context of the situation in which Arjunan talks to Lord.Sri Krishna. Each name has a meaning and subtle reasoning behind its usage. We could have thought that Madhusudanan was another name for Krishna. It is true but only sort of. The name Madhusudanan was not given to Sri Krishna because of some incident in the Mahabharatham. It comes from much before.

We have all heard about yugams. Kali yugam is an example of yugam. So how do these yugams come about. This is linked to the concept of pralayam. According to certain schools of thought Maha Vishnu at the end of a particular yugam brings about a pralayam (mass destruction). Pralayam results in complete destruction of earth and galaxy as we know it. Maha Vishnu then re-creates the earth and originates life. The first 'being', He creates from his orb is Brahma. Maha Vishnu then teaches the four vedas to Brahma, who in turn is responsible for teaching the vedas to everybody else. Brahma, it seems, develops conceit as a result of being the all-knower of the vedas. So a grand orchestration takes place to teach Brahma humility. Two Rakshas name Madhu and Kaitabha appear and steal the vedas from Brahma. Brahma loses his great posession and rushes to Vishnu for help. So Maha Vishnu takes the form of Hayagriva (haya means horse and greva means neck) kills Madhu and Kaithabhan to retrieve the vedas. Hence the name MadhuSudanan (slayer of Madhu). Legend also has it that Vishnu takes the form of Hayagriva to teach the vedas to Brahma, at the beginning of every yugam and that Hayagriva avataram precedes Matsya avatharam.

There is a Hayagreeva temple in Hajo, Assam (near Guwahati). The hill in which the temple resides is called Manikoota Parvata. This is interesting because Manikoota is a worship place for Hindus and Budhists. While Budhists regard Hayagreva as an incarnation of Budha, Hindus regard it as a variation of Nrihasimha avataram. According to this temple budha is also considered an avataram of Vishnu. There is another Hayagriva temple on the way from Madras to Srimushnam ( its a detour towards cuddalore). Hayagriva is the author of the vedas. The basis of Hinduism and the differentiator between Sanathana Dharma(Hinduism) and Budhism (Budhism rejects the vedas....sort of). The vedas is considered to have three parts or sections - Ila, Saras and Mahi. Each of the components focuses on a particular school of thought. Note the middle name of these three names Philosophers have long debated on the origin of Saraswathi as a derivative of Saras. The link between Hayagriva teaching Brahma the vedas and Brahma knowing the vedas which contains saras is an established one. The origin of Saraswathi is an interesting topic though. Something we should ponder about especially on Saraswathi Pooja.

Anyway with this post on Hayagriva, the god of knowledge and education, I take a week's break. Next week is final exam week. With 4 exams in 4 days, I think it is wise if I take a break from blogging :-)

Tuesday, October 11, 2005

Nash Equilibrium

I might not have learnt to spell equilibrium correctly but I learnt Nash's definition of it for oligopoly/duopoly markets (markets which have 2 competing firms who want to maximize profits by competing/colluding at the same time). I have to say the primary advantage of being in B school is you learn Nash's equilibrium :-) (obviously I am kidding). No this is not Ogden Nash from the Xth Std Gulmohar textbook, the poet who wrote "Ode to Clothes" and talked about Kister Monductor. This is the person, the movie Beautiful Mind, was based out of. Nash got Nobel prize in 1994 for this.

Think about this: An interesting example given to illustrate two competitors who mistrust each other but still want to collude/compete at the same time. Criminals A and B are caught. Police tell A that if he confesses he will go free and B will get 5 years in the slammer. B is told the same thing. So the matrix is now: if A & B are silent both get 1 year. A confesses & B is silent then A goes free and B gets 5 years. A is silent and B confesses means A gets 5 years and B goes free. If both confess both get 3 years. If you are A what is your dominant strategy?

The traditional dominant strategy says that in order to reach maximizing equilibrium each party should take a position regardless of what the other party is doing or can do. So if A confesses he either goes free (if B remains silent) or gets 3 years(if B talks). So either way, whatever B does, A is better off or in the same situation as B.

But think about the situation where a dominant strategy is not possible. Or two "best situations" exist. Nash's equilibrium was illustrated with the example of the classic "battle of the sexes". Let us say a man and woman wanted to go out. The woman wants to go for a ballet and the man wants to go for prize-fighting show. They can only go to one show. The woman gets 1 unit of happiness if she goes to the ballet. The man gets 1 unit of happiness if he goes to the prize fight. They both get 1 unit of happiness if their partner accompanies them. They get -1 unit of happiness if their partner does not accompany them. Think about this situation as a 2 X 2 matrix with man as Y axis and woman as X axis. 0,0 represents man and woman together in prize-fight competition(man =2, woman =1). 0,1 represents man in prize fight and woman in ballet (man=-1, woman =-1). 1,0 represent man in ballet and woman in prizefight(both are so unhappy that man and woman each are -5 units unhappy). 1,1 is where man and woman are in ballet (man =1, woman =2). When man and woman sit and decide where they want to go, how do they decide? Their decision should result in a large amount of happiness units. Now clearly a more sophisticated dominant strategy is required.

Nash changed this to say that in order to acheive happiness/profit maximizing equilibrium A should do the best he/she can given what B does. B does his/her best given what A does. If you think A and B are like Coke and Pepsi fighting for market space, Nash's equilibrium changes the way firms thought about dominant strategy.

Sunday, October 09, 2005

Navarathri

It is also called Dussera. In School all it means is 3 days vacation somewhere during these 10 days. Ofcourse sometimes your quarterly exam schedule is aligned so that Dussera falls during vacation then its a waste of a vacation. You certainly don't have to study on Saraswathi pooja because your books have been sent to Godess Saraswathi for a senior level HOD verification. However, you certainly have to study on Vijayadasami because it sets the trend for the entire year. When my grandma says, "if you study on vijayadasami you will study throughout the year," I am almost tempted to say "but I dont wanna study throughout the year. Infact I'd be better off not studying at all". Confusing for a child isn't it. You just finished your quarterly exams and 2nd mid-term is looming large. Suddenly your mom tells you to handover your books and not study. The next day she turns around gives you the book (with kumkum, manjal stains on it) back and forces you to read something. "Just read something" she says and you are thinking "gimme Tintin and I'll read". Two extremes in 2 days beats the logic out of you. If you didn't know about Navarathri you'd think "parents have gone crazy".

But there is little chance you wont know about Navarathri. The day they set the golu you pretty much know its not normal anymore for the next 10 days. What is golu? In south India .. hmm... its difficult to explain now. Remember Kramer talking about levels in his house to Seinfeld. This is more like it. There is a big shelf made in every house (temporarily assembled ofcourse). The shelf has step-like levels (odd number of steps mind you!). So your mom keeps dolls in these steps. Apart from 10 avatharams of Vishnu and a few other God related dolls everything else is randomly picked without significance. Do any of you know why golu is kept? No. I dont know either. No! googling didn't help too.All I know is that - its fun. As a kid arranging the cricket player dolls in the plate full of mud was awesome. The hype created about it is too much to meet the expectations out of the festival. Because after you arrange those cricket players with careful field settings -- they just stay there. After a while you kinda look at those clay dolls and say... "ahmm they are not moving". However, the excitement in bringing those old smelly boxes full of dolls down from the "paranai" (attic) is unbeatable. My mom is a big fan of golu and so every year the arrangement in my house with be kinda dramatic.

Then the girls arrive. This is the best part. As a high school/college kid you are chasing girls. Now girls get invited to your house. Pretty stunning looking girls that too. You think "mom can do some amazing things". They come to your house and sing couple of songs too. But ofcourse as a guy you have to b e -- c o o l. You dont want to show those girls you changed into a neat shirt and were combing your hair for 30 minutes. You have to pretend that you don't care about the whole function, pass two sarcastic remarks and in general appear un interested. I cranked up the TV volume and overdid this "cool attitude" sometimes. Not good! Because that results in your mom yelling at you in front of the girl and totally embarass you. Girls man! they are simply wonderful species. The shy little beauties sing nicely. They don't talk much when they come in and mostly hide behind their sisters or mom. But once somebody asks them to sing they immediately sit down and dish out charanams and pallavis like it is nobody's business. You are stunned at decibel level these tender species can generate. Ofcourse you can't show out that you are quite taken-in by their voice, their demenaour, they way they lift their eyes when they sing and the way the hair loosely falls on their face when they transitioned thalams. Because you have to b e -- c o o l. Ofcourse there are times when the over eager girls burst into a song out of nowhere. You are almost not expecting it. You are in the middle of a conversation with someone and suddenly you hear sombody singing loud enough to drown the other voices. For a few second you are wondering if you should complete the sentence or should you stop abruptly? You sort of mess around spitting out a few nonsensic words and then go silent pretending as if you are listening. Except for the old man in the house who is catching unseen and unknown raagas flying in the air, nobody really knows what the chic is screaming about. And after the song gets over the visitors leave before you can remember and complete the unfinished sentence.

The whole I-visit-you-and-you-visit-me amazes me. Because everytime women visit other women's house (its a custom that all women you know come over and visit your house and vice versa) they are given sundal ( delicacy) and a gift. Of course! those gifts are re-gifted to other women. My question is (sorry! but I have hangover from my statistics class) - given the high probability that the social circle of women is highly networked with very little standard deviation -- how come they aren't gifted with something that they had gifted to someone else two days ago. That the gifts did not choose to loop and come back to the same person bugged my engineering senses ( Then again I wasn't bugged so much because I had very little engineering sense). Everytime my mom came back, I'd look at the gifts to see if something we gave out 2 days before came back. Sundals are a cool thing ofcourse. You never knew so many varieties of sundal existed. Now navarathri is like a distant memory in a place where no festivals of this ilk exist. I was pleasantly surprised when my wife kept a 3 step golu arrangement and invited a couple of confused n.indians to give out sundal. Started narrating the spilled-coffee-on-pant-when-chics-visited kind of embarassing navarathri stories to my wife and that ultimately led to this blog.