Saturday, October 31, 2009

Living The Moment

Improvements in digital storage technology may go on to ruin our lives. Here is a familiar sight: go to any tourist spot, concert, game, show, event, temple functions - essentially any place where stuff happens - you will see 10 morons with cell phone based image/video cameras, recording that stuff. Nobody really knows why they record it. What is evident is the fact that they are not paying attention to the event and instead are focused on operating the recording device.

If you look at their faces you may notice that they have a serious air about them. They give an impression that they are experts in the field of the stuff being recorded. It is a look that misleads us to believe that it is their profession to capture such events for archiving. Probably they want us to assume that they are interested in this stuff more than the average person. That they are recording this event to pore on it it, study it for 300 years and research the heck out of it for several years to come. In reality these morons don't even know what the event is about and probably don't understand any aspect of it. They are just passing tourists who record anything, including them going to the toilet, as a matter of reflex. There is no sight that is more irritating than 10 or 15 morons, blocking your view by raising their hands and recording events that they will never see again.

Even more irritating is the fact that these morons are recording the event purely to post it in facebook.

Leads me to suspect that humans may have already lost the ability to soak in and live the moment. At one point they were capable of going to a (a) place for vacation and truly enjoying the place or (b) concert or a discourse and simply listen. Enjoy. Feel the moment. The intense experience of the moment caused them to remember the moment for years to come. But that was in the past.

I realized this recently during the course of two Jesudas concerts - a carnatic one at Madras during the last music season and a film songs based one in Seattle a few months ago. There was a noticeable theme in both concerts and probably all concerts to do with Jesudas: he prohibits video and audio recording of his concerts. This clause is his contract with the sabha or show organizers. I have to say I love that. I don't really care about his intellectual property rights. I loved the reason he provided for prohibiting this - when yet another moron with a cell phone, right royally went to the front of stage and began to video-record a song.

Jesudas stopped this moron and said: "There was a time where we could recollect a concert from 10 years ago. It is because we didn't have any distractions during the concert. We went there and applied all our concentration and attention on enjoying the concert. As a result our memory held on to the experience for a long time. Nowadays people are more focused on recording the concert. For what reason? How many people play this recording again and listen to it? How many people see these photos that they take now? It simply resides in some corner of their computer unattended"

This is what life has become in the world of Facebook, Twitter and blogs(in the case the blog this is probably known old news). I actually know people who attend events for 5 minutes or just long enough to take a photo of the event, post it in Facebook and leave. Humans have started to do things so that they can TPT about it later. The only purpose of taking photos is to put them on facebook and orkut. They have stopped living the moment and committing anything to memory. Instead they bring surrogate memory along with them and deposit their experiences there. And certainly nobody goes back and listens to audio recordings of a discourse or views videos of an old event. These recordings rot in some corner of their computer. Once they have TPT'ed about it in the Facebook, the event for all purposes is meaningless to them. As a result people miss out on great public events, personal life events (marriage, birth of child, functions) and even interesting events (concerts, meeting a celebrity etc) by focusing on a recording device instead of the moment.

I suspect that people will lose the ability to attach an emotion to a moment because the only emotion they had at that moment was a sense of panic to quickly take the recording device out and click the record button.

Disclaimer: Stating the abovious again: This commentary is more about excesses and less about Internet travelogues and Facebook TPT done in moderation.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

The Farex Wars

There is a moment in parenting life when parents try and feed food to the infant. And we are talking about a human being which has lived on this planet only for very few months. It probably does not even know that it has fingers, legs and a mouth. It has no case history or assessment of the reputation of its parents. This infant, at this stage, decides that its parents are wrong. Thats simply it. It turns its face the other way and refuses food. In effect it is telling the parents; "you are wrong. you don't know stuff. I know better and I am saying I don't want this food". This is the beginning of several decades long Farex wars that happens between a parent and a child. This is the first foray and a harbinger of many such things to come.

The parents and child are locked in a tussle on a variety of subjects: school, marks, sports, lunch, breakfast, dinner, tiffin, mid-tiffin, special dinner, going to cinema, not going to cinema, talking to relatives, paying respect to elders, religion, diet, weight, height, color of finger nails, slipper choice, dress choice, boyfriend, girlfriends, friends, marriage, work, spending money, choice of sofa, having children, naming the children, shashti-abhda-poorthi, booking cook for shashti-abdha-poorthi, sadha-abhishekam, booking cook for sadha-abishekam, driving scooter after 80 years, travelling in second class, travelling, not travelling, booking tickets to America, staying in America for 6 months, old age home, will, and finally love.

Here are two germ-sized people standing on a rock of dust hurling through space, locked in a tremendous tussle. A long line of ancestors are standing in line trying to push upwards and downwards. They are standing with arms locked trying to push the other and the other won't budge. Yet there is love. Like a rough and sturdy coconut cover that wraps around its tender kernel, the farex wars wraps itself around the purest love in the world.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Where the mind is lost and knowledge absent

She is very small now, almost the size of her great grand daughter. They have locked her up in a room, where she lays in her bed day and night, oblivious to the smell of her own feces. What is she thinking of? About the time she threw the plate full of food in her daughter-in-law's face because it didn't smell right? The only person who agreed to do this job walks in to clean her: "ennai kulipaata vandhirukkiya" she asks gleefully and is carried into the bathroom almost single-handedly. She goes in singing "maru kelaraa" loudly.

In the other bathroom her great grand daughter is also being bathed. The child was carried in wailing and crying and continues to cry as it is bathed. Meanwhile, she is having fun. She goes into high pitch with "O' raagavaaa..". Both are bathed, powdered, dressed and made to sit in a chair. The grandson is introduced and question is asked "yaar theriyarha sollu" ("do you know who this is "). The baby cries and looks away. When it is her turn, she says "theriyume. ennoda peran". And then asks "amerikkavula irukkiya nee". Upon receiving confirmation, she says "nalla iru". . The boy asks "eppadi irukke paati"? And she gives back a blank stare. She suddenly has no recollection of him. They give up after an hour of trying.

Two people are fed and tucked in their bed during daytime. Both have dodgy memories and won't remember the events of the day. They are waiting. One for life and the other death.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Deepavali in Madras

Sadly, as evidenced this deepavali, the concept of fireworks has reduced considerably in Madras. This is a a great disservice to the magnificent minds at Sivakasi who conjure up so many varieties of firecrackers. There was a time when you could hear crackers at 2 AM. This was a time when I lived in Mylai and deepavali crackers were 50% over at the break of dawn. That was a time when Red Fort 56 Deluxe was a huge thing and you only bought 15 or so of those for the entire day. Red Fort by Standard Fireworks is my favorite cracker. I can burst that variety alone for the entire day. There is something about a 'sara vedi' that is very sexy. There is a thrill associated with lighting it, backing away and watching it zip through. My watchman would shout - as I reached out and wafted the air like a blind man trying to somehow connect the 'killi vitta thiree' and the 'oodhuvathi'. "Pottai pulla madhiri thiriya killittu.. appadiye ethu da..." he would say. 'killi vitta thiree' is now a thing of the past.

Atom Bombs generated a fear that 10,000 walas did not. Sivakasi introduced the hydrogen bomb, the bullet bomb and many other bombs that were designed to scare you before the bomb was lighted. The beauty of the design was that these atom bombs carried a large fuse. It would be coiled around the bomb and when you removed it - it was a good 30 second worth of fuse. The wait was more terrifying than the blast. Rockets are evergreen like 'sara vedis'. They are famous because of their unpredictability. The charm increased because people used innovative methods to launch them. Plastic bottles, used flower pot, holes dug in the mud were the great launch pads. Of course "Colour rockets were for the wusses. Real men fired bomb rockets". Afternoons were mainly for atom bombs, lakshmi vedis and bijilis. As a child these were fascinating things that held enormous opportunity to have fun.

Yesterday, I got used to the latest deepavali trend in Madras. More of aerial shows and less of bombs and lakshmi vedis. This time my purchases had a distinct Kaliswari bias and very less Standard fireworks. As is well known now, Deepavali begins very late these days and it was almost 5 by the time I heard the first sound of something bursting. By 8 AM things were brought to a close and I did not hear another cracker sound until 5PM. Gone are the days were you could continuously hear something from 2AM to 10PM. The fun is getting killed year-by-year. Children prefer to watch TV rather than burst crackers outside. Children today will not know the thrill of lighting up a bijili with a hand and throwing it into the air. The modern world will suck the fun out of life and eventually turn everyone into walking zombies.

Part of that is because fireworks are more expensive than cars. In the 90s my father purchased fireworks for about 4000 - 5000 rupees and those crackers came in 2 big boxes and a plastic bag. On Friday I saw a boy buy crackers for 7000 from Standard fireworks. The entire lot fit into 1 small plastic bag. He wouldn't be able to burst those for more than an hour. Remember the MRP prices that they put on crackers in the 80s. You'd look at them and wonder "The guy who put these prices was smoking something". Well those are the real prices now. 1 Redfort 56 shell Deluxe is 63 Rupees. 1 box of 30 cm Sparklers cost 120 Rs. The trend is moving towards air shows - like the ones we see on July 4th. We bought a few of those and they lit of the sky well but somehow one felt that the thrill was missing. I did the 10,000 wala thing though. I love 10,000 walas. While in Mylai, I had to walk to chokkalingam street to see Crazy Mohan's family burst 10,000 walas like it was nobody's business. People used to discuss what chokkalingam street would burst a few days before deepavali. The whoe street would be covered with paper at the end of the day. Unfortunately, in the case of my 10K wala, one spark from the lit (and bursting) side of 10,000 wala flew all the way to the unlit side of it and the giant 'saram' started bursting from both ends. The show got over quicker than I wanted it to.

There is sadness when deepavali ends. It is a majestic festival. Not many countries in the world celebrate life this way. This I thought was true cavalier Indian style. Full of fun, life and energy. It is an expression of joy that is unique and very demonstrative. Whatever it was, it was certainly not dour. People didn't wear suits, exchange gifts and sat down for dinner. Finally there was a festival that wasn't just about food (and a stupid dance to loud music). Literally a whole country 'bursts' into celebration. It allowed people to let go and vent out the stress of daily life. It was a vacation that allowed people to escape into something that they wouldn't do any other normal day. Such a pressure valve has rarely been designed in the history of civilization. Standing in the terrace and watching the sky getting lit was an amazing sight. Madras night is beautiful on Deepavali.

Wednesday, October 07, 2009

TPT, Facebook, etc.

1000 years ago people were aware that human beings loved to talk about themselves. People wanted to be heard, considered important, be valued and appreciated. Everything we do involves, to a certain extent, pretense. We pretend to be a certain kind of person or drop hints to make the audience form certain opinions towards us. Favorable opinions. Which is why Shakespeare, apart from saying "no god is equal to sabapathi", also said "the world is a theater". Humans derived pleasure when their deeds, virtues, and struggles were recognized, called out as great by a large group of unknown people. Yes! blogs are a great example of that. But first things first. In that order. For over 2000 years, it was hard for human beings to achieve this easily. You needed to be a great warrior, a king, a poet or a religious leader in order for people to sing praises about you and appreciate you. So essentially, only 1% of the entire population had their cravings satisfied. The rest were starved or simply resorted to singing their own praises to other unlucky listeners. In the early age instances of self-trumpeting (TPT) was rare as there was too much emphasis on humility etc.

After several thousand years of suppressed cravings, humans sprung a leak. In the 80s, some very sad parents vented this suppressed craving by relentlessly, ruthlessly and really tirelessly singing praises about their children. You could never shut those parents at all. They would go on and on about "my son is so awesome. he is class first, will get into IIT etc". Such parents exist today and can't stop yapping about their how great their 6 month old baby looked when it pooped.

Leaving parents aside, there are some luminaries we see everyday who innocently exhibit these cravings publicly. They remind us that this trait is present in all of us but it manifests itself in the luminaries because there is opportunity for them to display it. Take a classic example of 'Koffee with Anu' for instance. For a year she interviewed other people and allowed them to sing their praises and sometimes even sang their praises for them. But really what she was waiting for was a chance to speak about herself. She didn't really have an acting credentials or any other credentials, so voluntary praise wasn't necessarily forthcoming. So she did an anniversary show and got Prakash Raj to interview her, sang praises about her own struggles (which as expected very extremely trivial and told us what we knew already - that she was a moron). One should have expected this TPT from her because her cousin Suhasini, is an expert TPT. She inserts "when I was cameraman.." or "when I was god and knew everything under the sun" in almost every sentence she gets to speak on TV. The only reason why she has agreed to do the 'movie review' show is to tell us how great she is. The reviews are incidental and if she could she'd do without them.

Take Anuradha Sriram, the playback singer, as another example of humans displaying this trait. She reminds me of the time when Joey Tribbiani ( a character in FRIENDS who plays the role of an aspiring actor) gets to make a wedding dinner speech. Once he finds out that a movie casting director is on the table, his whole speech changes. He starts by saying a few words about the newly wedded couple and goes on to display range of emotions - sadness, happiness, shock, fear and ends with "as a person who can emote, fight martial arts and do partial nudity...I wish the couple a happy married life". His speech had nothing to do with the wedding but everything to do with showcasing himself to the casting director. Every time Anuradha Sriram talks on TV, it is about how great she is. Even when she is called upon to praise KJJesudas, she first praises herself, sings a note or two herself, and mentions a few irrelevant things about herself and in the end says "As a person who is so awesome I can say that KJY is sort of cool"

But praising children, getting on TV, talking to others about yourself requires a lot of work. Probably even talent. What about the average idiot who can't get on TV. Us? Where do we get to sing praises about ourselves. Enter facebook, twitter and blogger. Facebook is the subject of focus here. Facebook has removed any and all subtlety that was previously required to do TPT. It allowed Users to forthrightly say 'I am awesome, please know that as a fact'. The common theme among all facebook messages is "look at me, I am so awesome". 99% of status messages has people saying "I am soooo busy" or "Working like a dog" or "I am doing work and if I wasn't there an entire country of people would need to work for300 years to do what I do in 2 days" or "I jog 300 miles in 2 nano seconds" or "I lifted 3000 pound dumbells with my little finger". Some subtle people join the "Become a fan of 4.0 GPA" and others become fans of "high performing employees group".

Then there are these freakin' facebook quizzes that showcases unknown traits of the user. These quizzes are carefully designed to trumpet the User. You see a post that says "Margabandhu took the 'how long is your dick quiz' and the answer is '20000 million miles' " or "Vishwanath took the 'What kind of person are you quiz' and the answer is 'you are sensitive, awesome, great, fantastic, chicks should dig you, chicks should strip and surrender to your love'". "Ganapathi took the 'what kind of car are you' quiz and the answer is 'Ferrari, chicks should dig and dig and totally dig you'". Facebook is to satisfy the cravings of mediocre boneheads, who cannot and will not gain any sort of acclaim in real lives. It makes them feel that others will read their quizes and status updates and go "oh my god! what a fantastic supertastic awesome guy he is, i am a piece of dirt if front of him, i should go lick his feet". The correct quizzes these people should be taking are "Muthappan took the 'what fart smell are you quiz' and the result is ' you smell like fart after person has eaten 8 dhonnai puliyodharais, 8 eggs that have been spoilt and 2 kilos of potatoes'". Unfortunately those quizzes don't exist.

Note1: TPT refers to Thar Perumai Thanigachalam. 'Dabur' from OSU was the first ever TPT the world has known.

Note2: The scope of this post obviously includes blogs, this blog and its author. It is uncool and pointless to restate the obvious that I draw from my own experiences while writing this post.

Thursday, October 01, 2009

Mahan Gandhiye Mahan

Whenever this time of the year approaches, I am reminded of a song that has been my favorite song for many many years. 'Naam Iruvar' is a very good movie that was telecast several times in DD. It is such an old movie that most of the actors featuring in the movie might've died by the time I first saw the movie. It depicted good values and in general was a very goody goody type movie. The running time for 'Naam Iruvar' movie was 3+ hours but it felt more like a few years. There was a song every 2 minutes in that movie. As old technology and cheesy as the movie was it was certainly very endearing. My feelings towards Gandhi has changed over time from intense liking to indifference to critical to ' i don't care about having such opinions anymore'. But this song still remains one of my all time favorites