Sunday, October 12, 2008

The Complex Golu Algorithm

There are these idyllic afternoons where after a couple of hours sleep, we get up and sit in the balcony with a second-dose coffee. The sun beats down on you and the odd honk of a vehicle can be heard from outside. These are moments when the world seems so clear and all the minute details of the surrounding environment choose to reveal themselves to us. The paint ridges on the wall surface, the design patterns on mosaic floor, the rust on the iron rod seem have an exaggerated presence. Suddenly the eyes spot the 'kolam' next to the Thulasi plant. An army of ants seem to be marching to and from the Kolam. It is hard to pin-point exactly where these ants emanate from. How do they know about a kolam on the 4th floor of an apartment in some corner of the Indian subcontinent? Do they have a 'flash news' system in their tiny TV sets that shouts "mundhungal! mundhungal! fourth floor maami has put kolam. Free food! mundhungal"? They somehow seem to know. Their world also appears to have a complex workflow and task assignment infrastructure. There are a chosen few ants which seem to be carrying food morsels and other ants seem to be crawling very fast without an objective. There is a clear train like path that these ants tread on with enormous discipine. You sense that there is a hidden order or algorithm that these ants follow with precision.

As you continue with your observation, at some points in the ant-path you would find ants travelling in both directions. The width of the ant-path seems to be built for just one ant. However, to our great surprise two sets of ant trains travelling in opposite directions use that path in parallel. From a distance it appears like a uni-directional ant path. You have to watch it real close to see the two distinct trains travelling in opposite directions. At specific points in that path an ant collides against another ant travelling in the opposite direction, pauses for a moment, then applies a resource contention algorithm and then squeeze-crawls in its own direction. In that collide-junction, all ants collide with the oncoming ant and apply this algorithm. How do they arbitrate on this resource contention algorithm, how is all this orchestrated? If you were observing the benign small black ants (Pillaiyaar Erumbu), you'd waft your hand in that path to disrupt the flow. But they would get into order in no time. And then there are these red ants whom you don't mess with.

Golu is a navarathri ritual celeberated with great gusto by a reasonably large subset of South Indians. Golu (koluvai in telugu) literally means Raja Darbar. It denotes a situation where the king's palace is in its full glory - the royalty, the ministers and the darbar are all attired in their best clothes. Golu means the royalty, dressed in full splendour, grants an audience to the common man. Many people see their favorite God as this mighty king, who is granting them an annual audience. He grants them this audience before going out to slay an evil demon. In today's age, as a substitute for that palace and royalty, people build an odd-numbered step-like structure and arrange idols/dolls of gods and goddesses. They essentially build a palace in their own home and grant audience for other people (read other women) to come and view their king.

So, come October all the maamis come out of their little ant hills and start plotting their way to other ant hills. This is the ancient ritual of Navarathri Golu. Their objective is very clear - collect turmeric, kumum and a blouse piece from maamis living in other ant-hills and head back to their own house to dispense off turmeric, kumkum and blouse pieces to visiting maamis. An invitation flies out a few days before Navarathri and all the maamis gear up to travel around this complex network of golu-palaces. All invitations have be honored and these ants have to visit all the ant-hills within the specified period of 9 days. If there are 2 maamis and just 2 palace-like ant hills to visit, the algorithm is very simple. As the number of maamis increase to three, the algorithm though manageable is slightly complex. If maami-1 has invited maami-2 and maami-3, whereas maami-2 has invited only maami-1 - a new variable called 'timing' is introduced into the equation. Maami-2 travels to maami-1's ant-hill in such a way that avoids contention with maami-3. As the number of maamis increase, the equation tends to have several more variables, complex factorial calculations, differential equations, complex numbers, surds, multi-variate equations, and random probabilities. To help the reader comprehend the scale of all this - an average maami responds to 15-20 invitations and invites 25-30 other maamis.

Given the staggering mathematical complexity of all this - one would imagine these maamis would stop with the kumkum/blouse piece trophy collection. But they don't. Firstly, they invite other maamis and Junior Maami's to sing in their houses. Singing in front of the Golu is a ritual as ancient as 'fire' itself. Secondly, they start a secret underground mafia where they scheme to introduce nubile young girls to bachelors and therby plot marriages. In the world of Golu, women are the ultimate rulers. What they say is final and nobody can mess with this system. Several years ago, in what was a complete violation of the sacred protocol, my dad invited his colleague and her daughters to my house for Navarathri golu. As wives tend to do, my mom regards every action of my dad with complete contempt and dripping sarcasm. Sometimes I wonder if wives look at their respective husbands and think "like this guy thinks he can do anything sensible or be useful around the house ever". The situation is worse if he wife under question is a certified maami. Maami's tend to view Maamas with even more disdain.

So when this colleague character showed up at the door with spectacles, bright smiles and 2 daughters, my mom welcomed them like one would welcome Type B Jaundice. To rub it in, she asked one of the daughters "can you sing?". Knowing what I know, I understood that in reality she was asking if that little girl had her marbles in order and if she was worth being called a person. The little girl said "yes" - which frankly shocked everybody in the house. We all watched in suspense as this girl proceeded to the golu to sing. In retrospective, we shouldn't have been surprised by what the girl eventually went on to do. But it was hilarious when it happened. The girl sat in front of the golu and sang the movie song "ondraa irundaa". The classic first night song sung by Jyothika during a night of intense love making with Surya. Needless to say when my mom packed off that family, it appeared as if she was holding a dead cockroach, with her face turned the other way and was dropping that cockroach in the dustbin with considerable disgust.

My father did not stop with that adventure. At a time when my parents had decided to find a suitable bride for me, he decided to contribute his might to the process. My mom was out visiting another maami's golu and with great reluctance had kept me and my father on watch to receive random maami's who dropped in out-of-turn. A very beautiful young girl dropped in. After 10 minutes of polite conversation, my father told her that he was looking for a match for his son and if she didn't mind - could she give her parents contact details so that he could discuss this with them? The girl was shocked. She said she was waiting for her daughter to join her any moment. In walked the daughter, who must've been at least 10th standard. I have to say, I was shocked. I wouldn't have rated this girl to be more than 24 years old. It was all the more shocking when my father found out that this girl's husband was related to my mother. Needless to say my father never spoke out-of-turn after that.

This reminds me of resource contention and how maamis visit other maami's houses without missing the other maamis who in-turn visited their houses. This is a superior skill and required that a maami be in several places at the same time and in one place at several times of the day. Its got to be a complex calculation of "I will receive people from 6PM to 7 PM and I will visit people from 7 PM to 8 PM". This will only work if there are other maami's who have the opposite stand on their travel logic. It makes sense for mamis to alternate the send/receive logic to receive/send every day. This would allow them to send/receive most maamis with maximum effeciency. There are ofcourse the red-ant like mamis, you don't mess with. They go out as they please and receive people as they please. You just don't question their logic. You have no choice but to visit them and you cannot expect them to visit you.

As my wife and I found out recently. We are new to Golu syndicate and can at best be called padwan golu learners in the world of Jedi Masters. In America the Golu algorithm is incredibly complex. Since everything from potty training to cancer treatment is rounded-off to the weekend in America, there is really no 9 days during Navarathri. Just 2 days. All maamis send out this new-fangled EVITE thingie inviting other maamis on the only available Saturday. This is resource contention of the highest order. The collision rates are high. Sometimes maamis meet other maamis in some other maami's house and drag them home at gun-point. So we were taken aback, when we got a threatening phone call from a red-ant maami who demanded to know why our EVITE clashed with her EVITE date. The maami let out an ultimatum that if we didn't visit her house, we will have hell to pay for. Her husband had already begun viewing me as a fraud brahmanan, who recited prabhandam paasurams with more 'namaha' and 'om' than actual words just to get a free-ride on sambhavanai. She made no guarantee of return visit. Since my wife was a pillaiyar erumbu, we succumbed to the big bad red-ant without even so much of a whimper.

Sometimes, children are only as good as their parents. I learned what my father must've have experienced, while my mom gave him the 3rd degree for inappropriate Golu-time behavior. My wife's friend visited us for golu. Upon being asked to sing, she did the usual "No. I can't sing very well. It has been 10 years since I last sang, my voice will break"etc etc. After further persuasion, she relented and finally sang a Bharathiar song. All was well. I was smooth as always. Thought I said the right things and in general the behavior was very civil. So my consternation was understandable when, after the guest had departed, my wife pounced on me and called me a "jerk". "How many times I've told you to keep your mouth shut when my friends visit" - seemed to be the popular topic of the day. Apparently, I had told the young lady, at the end of the singing recitation - "not bad for a person who hasn't sung for 10 years".

Many many years ago, my friend colorKing made me sit on a chair and told me what Seinfeld told Kramer - "You are not a human being. You are a pod. A cave man.". We were in grad scool and were invited for dinner by a few girls, who were a year junior to us. He thought the decent thing to do was to get them a gift. I was a non-believer of gifts and had told him that I wouldn't be buying any gift. However, I also told him that I wouldn't be averse to paying him 50% of the gift-money, if he chose to get those girls a gift. He bought a gift and had extracted $10 from me. During dinner, the girl opened the gift and out came a darn good dinner set. Unknowingly, I commented "not a bad dinner set for twenty dollars". Slowly stares became giggles and then laughter broke out. And then all hell broke loose. ColorKing, to this date, refuses forgive me for that transgression.

Recently, I found myself at the receiving end of another "you are a pod" criticism from my wife. I had said something, which frankly appeared to be an insult only after it was pointed out to me in retrospect. A couple had come to our house for Navarathri Golu. It was late in the evening. We insisted that they have dinner with us, which they had - after several rounds of "no... its okay... no... no.." type refusals and shy-type arguments. After dinner the lady guest said with severe guilt "we committed a big mistake. We must be the only people to visit a house for Navarathri Golu and end up having dinner. Sorry for imposing this on you.". I could have shut up. Or I could have said several innocous things. But I wanted to make them feel at ease. So I said - "No. No. I have committed this mistake several times. Once, many years before..."


Mambalam Mani said...

What is faux 'paux'?

Hawkeye said...

faux paux is a faux pas

Babs said...

Ur father is classic man.....that was bloody funny, he he he he.....of course ur "I did the same mistake" tops too..LOL

BTW if there is an award for digressing, it has to be YOU...but I don't mind that ;-)

Anuradha said...

A true 'Hawkeye classic' this post was! I must say this is one of your best posts in a long time.


Sarang said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Suvarna said...

'Koluvai' doesn't sound like telugu. Must be 'Koluvu'?
Hilarious masterpiece of one of a kind of a brilliant write-up of one helluva signature Hawkeye post.Fantastic read!

Anonymous said...

Hilarious.. boss you are best in writing this kinda stuff.... I was wondering why were you talking abt ants under the Golu title while reading the first para.. That was one hellava linking...


WA said...

:) Great post Hawkeye, loved it

Sriram said...

Does the "red ant" mama drive a lexus suv? I think I know him and will forward this link to him.

maxdavinci said...

Brilliant one bharath saar. Been a while since you write something like this!

I enjoyed the connect from ants-golu-loose tongue.

more I say!

PS: loose tongue may not be the apt word, but then I hope you get the drift!

Sango said...

"No. No. I have committed this mistake several times..." - OOPS!!!

Hillarious post.. Made a fantastic read.. :-)

Sarang said...

Had a great laugh! Nice post. Hope you and your family had a great Navaratri.


Anonymous said...

A very enjoyable read. LOL @ "I did the same mistake..."


bonziegal said...

Another hilarious post from you! Anu reminded me to read this one 'coz she totally loved it. I had a constant grin/laugh on my face the entire time I was reading this post.

Anonymous said...

All narrations of Kolu and Navaraathri, without any mention of 'SUNDAL " !!!!
I am reminded of the song Pani Illaatha Maargzhiya !!!

Sangeetha said...

Here is an invitation from my MIL to my mom
- Please come for golu but I will not be there on 2, 3,6,7,9 and a bunch of different times. But you are welcome to come by any other time & Oh! Call before you come.

OK, Now how complex is that - So lady - do you want her to come or not?

My poor mom had to remember all the dates & times.

Coming to the US - Like you mentioned everything is pushed to the weekends and then it will be like- If we say we have some inconvenience - They would still go- Its OK at least come for snacks(Since its a bug deal for the ladies to do that and cannot get their plans messed up after all the planning)- True golu spirit- Huh?

gradwolf said...

hahaa some ant colony optimization framework for maamis visiting golus? Romba over! And very very funny!

I thought the general algorithm in the US was invite everyone home for dinner. (Not just vethala paaku) Why is tht so? (Observation totally from reading blogs and ntn else)

bala said...

I remember my mom ripping off my Dad's budget during Golu time. Sometimes she goes on decorating with bit of colorful lights :)

Ur depiction of the incident where the girls sings ""ondraa irundaa" for a Gollu gathering is hilarious....I found hard to control my laughther at office.

Good observation on the Maamis.

Hari N Iyer said...

super post sir ...

Ram said...

really hilarious!! I got entangled into a scheduling algorithm with complex collision detect.. never did I have to use my coursework until now! It is funny how we screw up and speak just what we should not ;)

Mannaru said...

post just blew me away Hawk eye view...

The Talkative Man said...

lol...I generally respond with "why say sorry?" with a surprised look and change the topic. Works all the time without aggrieving them further :)

R-ambam said...

Hilarious !
//" ondra... renda? "// hee.. he...
May be she was curious about the number of Golu.

Antha stepskkaaga keezhe ennalaam vechu adukkuvaanga.....arisi tinlaerndu aazhaakku varaikkum vechu oru mallu vaettiya pin panni cover duvaanga ..

ant pathi eluthi anti-sentimentlaa aunty ellaam kalaaichiteengale... !

anantha said...

The funniest kolu story involves my mom. But she will kill me if I repeat it here. Suffice to say that it is similar to that "Ondra Renda" incident, except that it was a Malayalam song and she does not know a word of Malayalam.

curdriceaurora said...

had a good laugh after a long time here.

Maya said...

Very Funny...u shud change ur profession to comedy dialogue writer!

Krishnan said...

Vintage Hawkeye classic ! Humor with capital H.

R K said...

A certain newly married cousin's wife called from Salt Lake City to Houston and said - "You are invited for golu vethala paaku and pls join us, it will be a great pleasure" like she totally meant it!

Wonder which kinda ant I'd classify her under!!!

Ramesh said...

Well my wife makes those sundals with beans, channa and moongdaal, that would stuff you!

She claims that's the way maami's stuff visitors in Mylai.

BTW, she's one.

Arun Sundar said...

Reference to complex factorial calculations, differential equations, complex numbers, surds was top-notch!! Good one :)

Hawkeye said...


thanks :-).


nandri hai!


I agree. Maybe its koluvu. I'll check.






ithu andha maama illai! btw the lexus SUV was a superb guess. almost scared me.




i promise. i didnt realize it until it was pointed out to me.


thanks. why deleted [rev comment?


thanks. hope everything is good at your side.




this time my sundal supply got terminated after the first 4 days :-) thats why i missed it. btw superb reference to 'pani illadha maargazhia"


LOL. good anecdote. for the ladies who arent working - afternoons are like an extra compartment in a loaded train. more free time/space to visit people.


dinner invite used to work in michigan when there were only 3-4 people we knew.

inga desi social networking and society integration has taken all that out of the equation.


i love people who put extra enthu into golu. your mom be blessed. we visited a house where one person had recreated a mini-mylapore. very impressive.




somehow during such occasions the voice that filters out stupidity inside me mysteriously disapperas.




i think if i had shut up my wife would have said that. but i was quick to the trigger.


/* Antha stepskkaaga keezhe ennalaam vechu adukkuvaanga.....arisi tinlaerndu aazhaakku varaikkum vechu oru mallu vaettiya pin panni cover duvaanga .. */

brilliant. we had rice cooker box, books etc to make the steps. its really a "cover up job" :-)


malayalam songa. you have to tell this anecdote.

curd rice,


maya, krishnan



your other friend send invitations to people in bangalore and dallas. you should be lucky you weren't threatened.


god bless her. sundals rock. maybe its the coconut that fascinates me. i almost waited 2 weeks for navarathri to begin. my favorite ones are peanut sundal.

arun sundar,

thanks :-)

Gayathri said...

Well well.. absolute fun reading this .. n v true as well.. n the word blouse piece reminds me of the other blog blouse piece sentiments one ... job well done as usual :)

Kokki Kumarru said...

Class act hawkeye.. one of the best.
Erumbu-maami analogy marvellous. pottu thakkunga thala!!

MaySan said...

I can totally understand what you mean in the last para! We did that at your house, and you gave us the same story....

LOL abt date clash. I choose to have a date clash, so that ppl will come!

Lord Labakudoss said...

It was hilarious to read the faux pas committed by yr father! Reading on, it looks like the genes did NOT skip a generation!!!

Devi Balaji said... superb!!