Thursday, September 10, 2009

In Defense of Democracy

I haven't written in a while, and now that I am back I have picked the prickliest subject there is. Recently in a conversation my right to question domestic Indian policies was brought into question, I was also accused of indulging in soft American democratic psychobabble. I hope the few lines I now think are worth putting down don't sound like defensive whining, but come through like the crystal clear thoughts that they are in my mind.

There are a few kinds of people who will not be open to this discussion. If you truly believe that I have forfeited my rights to take an interest in and talk about my country just because I have decided to further my education and career in the United States, then there is nothing I can say that will make you change your mind. In any case the title of the Blog is not 'In defense of my inalienable right as a citizen to be concerned about and have opinions about my country, its governance system, its policies and its people.' I consider that well and truly defended.

Democracy as a word has become commonplace and innocuous. Its meaning seems abundantly apparent and its importance unquestionable. However, as an ideology democracy is a lot more than just being a government 'Of the people, by the people and for the people.'In fact democracy is the perfect anti ideology, one of its fundamental requirements being that all existing ideologies must be embraced and understood. Is democracy just a system of governance or can it be more than that? Can it be a guideline to living our lives?

Democracy gives us the right to vote for our leaders. It gives us the choice to choose an agenda we believe in, a leader we have confidence in and a chance to speak out every time we believe our trust is being misplaced. Democracy has in a way become synonymous with freedom. The freedom to speak out against injustice, to protest, to make our own choices. But I personally think democracy is a lot more than that. I think democracy is more than being able to speak out, it is the opportunity to listen. It is more than airing opinions, it is about fair and reasonable debate and the opportunity not just to change minds but to have your own mind changed.

Democracy as an ideology embraces empathy. We are all brought up with a considerable moral background, we are taught to understand right and wrong. But it is impossible for us to assume that we can understand every perspective and every circumstance. If we are to live by democratic ideals, we must learn to listen to and understand the circumstances of our fellow human beings. Democracy gives us a platform to bring about not just the change we want, but the change a collective wants.

Does democracy impede progress? That is a question that will have me labeled as a heretic in the country I now live in. However democracy does entail a system that slows down the implementation of policies. As an Indian I cannot see my country moving forward economically as fast as China, because we cannot compare to the swift decision making of a single person. That does not and should not however bog us down. Democracy opens up our perspectives to far greater things than just our own needs. It requires the patience to listen and learn. As a country we need to keep that alive. Within our government and within the next generation. Don't just add to the cacophony, listen.

P.S. This blog was a draft since September 09. I came in to do a New Year's post, but thought I couldn't leave this one unpublished. So Happy New Year ya'll! May new and wondrous things happen to us all!

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Thursday, January 08, 2009


I have grown up hearing history or reading it. I have always been at the receiving end of accounts of glory, horror, hardship and greatness. I spent a very trouble free childhood. I never had to face or even understand the concept of hardship. I was brought up with a healthy respect for our condition and the awareness of suffering, but I never suffered. In a broader sense I was born in a stable country going through a longer than normal period of constant growth and high promise.

During my childhood, we as a family had to deal with many issues related to ourselves and our position, but there was never anything we had no control over. We lived through some rough times for Bombay as it was then. We saw the riots; we were there during the serial bombings of 93. But curiously, those events seemed far away and not capable of touching us. (Of course I now realize that was because I was too young then. Too young to really grasp horror).

I went through the education system at a time when a new understanding for alternative and exciting fields was beginning. Where parents and children alike were grasping at new careers and better and more efficient ways to mine their talent and interest. I was fortunate enough to be allowed to follow my own heart. Experimenting, hitting cul de sacs sometimes, but having the luxury to learn and retry. I sometimes underestimate this power I had back then. This shield that allowed me to blunder as only a young adult can and yet be able to rise again and prove myself. All allowing me to be who I need to be.

I was never oblivious of my surrounding pain and suffering, I just never had to face it. I could be and was an audience to life's dramas. Without caring about or understanding the implications to my life. I was as carefree and happy go lucky as an audience at a Shakespearean tragedy. My tears were just those shed in sympathy by an audience.

No more. No more have I got this luxury. No more can my generation even think that they are protected. Our jobs are at risk, our lives are at risk. Maybe it’s the frantic urgency of a 24 hr update media frenzy, but it has left me and my fellow people in a state of extreme vulnerability. Our very lives are threatened. I am no longer a listener to the woes of generations before me, but a sympathizer of people my age. I don't have to go to history books to know what a war is like, I just have to turn on the television or even just talk to my boss, who's son is in the Navy.

I don't have to look at grainy black and white photos of people standing in soup lines, I just have to look down the corner of my street. I no longer have to try to imagine the fear of people living under constant threat, I can hear it in the voices of people I care about. I now witness history. Every day, new numbers regarding the state of the global economy. The legacy of the blunders of the past now unfolds at my feet. Careers collapse around me. Companies, giants are falling.

Not only the manmade disasters but the natural disasters come knocking at my door. I saw people swim through floodwaters to get to the basement of my building. I watch the Weather Channel in awe as a hurricane with storm winds stretching for 500 miles threatened to hit the Gulf of Mexico.

My entire generation of people and I have come to face these things which were once fabulous beasts of fantasy. What I couldn’t decide was whether this is a fate unique to my generation, or whether all generations feel this way when they get to be my age. After all when WWII came knocking around, when the Berlin Wall fell, even when the dawn of our Independence and the disaster of our Partition arpproached, there was a generation of twenty to thirty year olds wondering whether such things could be reality.

I finally understand the real nature of what later becomes history. I have figured out that you need to get to a certain age to really do so. I have finally understood the meaning of growing up, or rather of coming of age. You come of age when you understand that not only are you the one impacted by historic events, you are the center of historic events, the cause and the victim all at once. The complexity of the world hits you, the interconnectedness becomes apparent. One understands, we understand, that for all its beauty and its flaws, we have finally inherited the Earth.

Monday, December 29, 2008

Mind's Eye

Why does one write, when one writes? Who knows? I have no answers to my own whims and fancies concerning penning down my thoughts. Things sometimes seem important enough to write about and then sometimes things are too important to write about. I am trying to find a way of expressing myself without laying myself bare to the world. I want to be able to communicate my fears and anxieties without seeming either fearful or anxious. I wish to hide myself and let myself be known. I wish to find a razor thin edge of sanity among a maze of contradictions.

The only thing that keeps bringing me back here and keeps making me send my blog link to everyone is my desire to write. I don't think it has anything to do at all with expressing myself, making myself heard or known (at least not too much of that). It's about this overwhelming need to put thoughts down into words. See them form sentences that roll off the tongue and inspire thoughts. A lot of my writing is pure vanity. I don't think that is any great revelation, and I am in no way repelled by that thought (you might be). But yes, for me prose needs not just to be substantial but beautiful. It needs to be lyrical. Sometimes utter nonsense can seem so magical. The beauty lies in the structure of the prose. In its form, in the grace of its flow, in the atmosphere it creates. The words may not inform you of anything new and wondrous and yet the best prose is that that makes the old and tired wondrous by the very act of stating it.

Writing is a very personal experience. I am always in awe of people who can open themselves to the world with such abandon. I periodically get scared of these thoughts and withdraw from expressing myself through the one medium I can manage. I not only want to write, I was meant to write. My voice is not my vehicle of choice. I cannot make myself heard over a crowd. When I draw or paint, I can never convey exactly what I mean to. The beautiful drawing so fully formed within my brain, with such beautiful colors, with such poignant figures, can never be communicated to the world through my hands. My art is for my mind's eye alone. I am no athelete. My body has no perfection which it can convey through movement. I cannot take anyone's breath away by a display of grace. What remains are words.

They are my only and constant companions. I devour them each day by the thousands. I create them each day, renew them from old origins and mould them to become mine. I train them to be all my eyes, hands and body can never be. I use them to cast the reader's mind into a state that is all new and all mine. Do I succeed? Success is irrelevant. I am no famous author. I do not have any obligations to entertain or inform. I have no bars I need to reach. No finish lines to cross, no deadlines to meet. I am in my way free. Free to write what I want to. Free to be.

Do I envy success? Hell yes. Do I want to be as famous as the famous? Hell yes. But right now. With what I have, I am happy. I am happy to be able to do at least what I can. I need not be agreed with. I need not be annoyed with. I just get to be me. I try to make my prose all I think it needs to be. I try. That's the best I can do or say.


Sukanti tagged me. Well kinda sorta. Anyway, if you've read the post before this you will know my state of mind about writing right now. This is an easy way out. I have questions, I have structure. I just need to answer stuff. And it's pretty entertaining to boot. So here goes:

1.Been arrested?
Nope. Boring is my middle name.

2 . Thought your cousin was hot?
Nah.. trying to remember, but I'm pretty sure I haven't.

3. Been in love?

4. Gone over the speed limit?
No. See explanation in answer 1.

5. Painted your room?
My dream to do so. Haven't yet.

6. Danced in front of your mirror?
Nope. I don't dance. period.

7. Gotten in a car with people you just met?
Come to think of it I have. It just isn't as sinister as this question makes it out to be.

8. Snuck out of your house?
Nope. Always managed to make excuses. :)

9. Had feelings for someone who didn't have them back?
Yup. Story of my life.

10. Been dumped?
Nope. Left a bad relationship, but no dumpings yet.

11. Left your house without telling your parents?
Nope actually. I thought I might have, but never.

12. Had a crush on your neighbor?
Hmm... nope.. Had many crushes. Never neighbors though

13. Slept in a bed with a member of the same or opposite sex ?
uhh.. bed no... together on mattresses laid out on the floor.. yes...

14. Seen someone die?
yes... tht's all i have to say abt tht

15. Kissed a picture?
nope... never been that sentimental

16. Slept in until 3?

17. Love someone or miss someone right now?
yes... but not in a sad way at all.. and its not what you think... i miss and love a lot of people right now..

18. Laid on your back and watched cloud shapes go by?
yup... not as often as i wish i could tho..

19. Played dress up?
not really... remember getting in sari gear once tho..

20. Cheated while playing a game?
sure.. i should be arrested when i play card games...

21. Been lonely?
yup... very..

22. Fallen asleep at work/school?
nope... not because am dedicated, diligent etc.. just cause those are really interesting places you know..

23. Been to a club?
been to bars... havent been to a club yet... see answer one to qualify these responses

24. Felt an earthquake?
yup... once.. the bhuj earthquake.. it hit us in bombay.. i was brushing my teeh and wondering why my bathroom sink was pushing back at me before i realized what was happening..

25. Touched a snake?
nope.. dont think am missing out on anything tho

26. Made out in a movie theater?

27. Been in a car accident?

28. Hated the way you look?

29. Witnessed a crime?

30. Been lost?
hmmm.. cant remember... dont think so..

31. Been to the opposite side of the country?
been to west coast USA and east coast India... so yeah..

32. Felt like dying from embarrassment?

33. Cried yourself to sleep?
nope... i do the crying way before bedtime..

34. Sang karaoke?
nope.. would like to tho..

35. Done something you told yourself you wouldn't do?
yes... not proud..

36. Kissed in the rain?

37. Sung in the shower?
yup.. its a recurring disastrous occurrence...

38. Played getting married?
no way!..

39. Ever gone to school partially nude?
again.. no way!

40. Ever been too scared to watch scary movies alone?
yeh... and i dont watch gore btw... never...

41. Had crush on married man/ woman
real live not on celluloid married men??.. never!

42. Been told you're hot by a complete stranger?
Yeah... this real sweet old lady told me once...

43. Broken a bone?

44. Been easily amused?

45. Laugh so hard you cry?
many many times..

46. Cheated on a test?

47. Played an instrument for more than 10 hours?
nope.. i think 3 hours tops..

48. Cheated on a girlfriend/boyfriend?

49. Did you celebrate the 4th of July?

50. Felt like someone?
yeh... tht's happened.. its weird..

51. Thought about running away?
yup... but very ambiguously

52. Cried over someone?

53. Own an instrument?
yes... harmonium

54. Drank 25 sodas in a day?

55. Shot a gun?
nope... never want to try..

56. Been on facebook or orkut for more than 5 hours?
nope.. i have ADD

57. Have a major crush on someone right now?
kinda sorta... nothing serious..

58. Thought about what people would say at your funeral?
yup... never worried abt it tho..

59. Got frustrated because someone didn’t kiss you?
hmmm.. dont remember feeling tht way..

60. Followed someone secretely
nope... unless stalking on orkut counts :)

Tuesday, July 15, 2008


In a purely philosophical sense, the question 'who am I?' opens many doors which in turn seem to open many others in their wake. It is not just a slightly egotistic exercise for the mind, it is also a tool for self realization.

The answers to that question are myriad. Ranging from the specific, my name is ABC, son/daughter of DEF, etc., to the extremely vague, where even the existence of reality may be questioned, where sensory perceptions can be fooled and anything can happen.

Our identity is wrapped up in a thousand different colored threads. Each represents a different part of our life that has claim on us. I am an animal, a mammal, a human, a woman, a daughter, a friend, a cousin, a student, an employee, a writer, a movie addict, and so on and so forth. At any given time I am an undefinable combination of all that makes me. I am as common and as unique as any one of us. That combination of beings within one is never of the same balance in any of us. We may have many beings in common but probably as many apart.

The 'self' is a very tricky thing. After all no one can experience me like I can. Each of our worlds do revolve around us. They must. You alone perceive your surroundings. You may be taught and instructed and commanded. But the experience of your actions comes through you. When I try to understand selflessness, I generally fail. I know that in the English language that word is tied up with a positive connotation. It is associated with people who seem to be paragons of virtue. Who leave self aside and live only for others. I simply cannot see how. I personally do not believe it is possible to be without self, without identity.

To do good for others does not mean to deny self. Even if it may translate very literally like that sometimes, where you give your bread to someone else so that they may survive. Even in such a case, the self has not disappeared. There is gratification in doing good. It is impossible to simply remove yourself from any situation. You can make a decision which may be better for someone else rather than you, but you have not left the knowledge of yourself anywhere, it is there with you essentially there, for all time.

We our born with our own lots. We are our own keepers. We may identify with others, we may love others, we may seek out others, but the only thing that will never desert us is ourselves. This realization is not as self evident as you might think it is. It takes time for a person to realize that to make yourself happy and content is one of the only priorities in life. Without self happiness, you cannot help anyone else. Only if you are content can you really help others be content. You can then love with everything you have because then there will be no resentment, no ugliness. You must have self worth and happiness in order to be a good daughter, mother, wife, citizen, good anything really.

I guess what I really wanted to say through all this rambling is that happiness that comes through being content with one's self, is the only pure kind. It brings no envy, no bitterness and it shines through and multiplies. Understanding one's self, understanding all the facets of one's identity and learning to live with it, that's all we need to do.

Now that sounds easy dunnit? heheheheheehe

Monday, June 30, 2008


It is the single most important virtue in our lives. The strength to motivate ourselves, the strength to have a vision of a better life, the strength to work, the strength to let ourselves hang loose, the strength to open up to others, the strength to deal with the darkest secrets of others and ourselves. It is strength that you need when you must deal with deprivation and scarcity. It is strength you need when you must deal with temptation and seduction. It is strength you need when making moral choices. It is strength you need when you are the one called upon to take care of others, be those others a family of three or a society of a million.

It is the one thing I pray for. It is the one thing I never want to run out of. Both physically and mentally, I want to be strong for myself and all others whose lives I touch in the smallest way. It is the one thing I wish upon every person in this world. The strength to take a stand, to be themselves, to resist peer pressure, to fight, to care, to love. That's all we need. Strength.

Saturday, May 03, 2008

Chaos and Fractals

I am now going to slump back into one of those philosophical musings that I sometimes do. The fact that this time philosophy not only coincides with but mingles and is born from science is in itself an event worthy of mention. Fine!, so the geek-o-meter on this post is set to high. I admit and embrace my geekiness.

I recently have taken a class that required me to understand the physicist's version of what chaos is. I also learned about what the Butterfly effect is and how any of this makes any difference to me. I got hooked. Not just because of the far reaching consequences of understanding chaotic systems, but also the elegance that lies within one. The patterns that are evident beneath and its effects on our understanding of the Universe.

All my friends who have had anything to do with physics, will know what I mean by a deterministic system. Determinism is the basis of a lot of physics. All systems that are deterministic show a very defined relationship between cause and effect. This is a part of Newtonian physics. We believe that if we can understand the initial conditions of a system, and mathematically compute all its interactions, we can reasonably predict the outcomes down the line. The path of planetary orbits were calculated this way rather reasonably.

However things were not quite as simple as they seemed. Since measurement is one of the cornerstones of science, a lot depends on the accuracy of these measurements of the initial conditions. Earlier it was thought that a very small discrepancy could hardly affect the outcomes of the systems. However Edward Lorenz in 1961, found out that that was entirely wrong. Some systems, especially weather systems, show very remarkable sensitivity to the initial conditions. So remarkable in fact that it lead Lorenz to hypothesize that the fluttering of the wings of a butterfly could change the conditions enough to create a cyclone in the future. Thus giving birth to the term, the 'Butterfly Effect'. (Women, stop thinking of Ashton Kutcher now!)

Such systems, showing this sensitivity were called chaotic systems. This chaos however again has nothing to do with the frenzy associated with the lay use of the word. Scientists soon found some patterns hidden within this chaos. These were termed as 'attractors'. The famous 'Lorenz Attractor' actually does look like a butterfly weirdly :)

Image on the left, is a plot of the Lorenz Attractor taken from Wikipedia. Patterns in chaos meant something very interesting. We may have a problem predicting systems right now, but if patterns exist, then can't they be explained by some sort of equation? Finding equations is apparently the no. 1 preoccupation of physicists.

Now comes the more interesting part. People who have fallen asleep can wake up now. What is a little more fun about these patterns in chaos, is the structures they create. Some attractors were found to consists of self similar structures known as fractals.

Fractals are probably one of the most fascinating geometries in the world. What is meant by self similar is that every part of the fractal when magnified consists of the entire structure of the fractal. This keeps on going ad infinitum till it is resolved to its smallest structure, and it creates insanely beautiful things. To put this in perspective, DNA is a fractal. So are mountain ranges, coastlines, snowflakes, etc. Nature abounds in examples of fractal geometries and scientists are extremely excited about that.

Why am I excited? and why do I subject you to this lecture? Well its a two part answer. Fractals and computer generated fractal images spoke to me, like no other art form has ever done. Every new image I see just makes me gasp in wonder. It opens up lines of thought I did not think I was deep enough to have. I am going to attach a few images. You will see for yourself, the beauty of these images.

Secondly, this is one scientific theory that makes sense to me. I can understand why anyone would pursue a lifetime trying to understand this. It epitomizes all that I believe science should epitomize. It is truly inter disciplinary. It has repercussions all throughout the physical world, from space to DNA. It is just beautiful and elegant. These I believe are reasons enough to care.

I shall leave you with some gasping and awing. Here are a few images of fractal art I found.

The above image is entitled 'Spectral Staircase'

This one is called 'Birds of Paradise'.

The resolution is not the greatest on these as they are on the post, so do click to enlarge. I am adding the URL to the site where you can see these and many other fractal images created by this artist.

Also I will give you the URL to a website where you can download a fractal creator if you would like. You can actually feed in basic equations to create your own fractals and can select color schemes etc.

To all the people who's website links and images I have used, please don't be upset. None of this is for profit. In fact I just thought it would be great to let people know about this.

So, I am expecting comments, I hope I get some. Don't think of this as a boring science lecture. I encourage you to explore these topics. I do believe they hold a fascination for anyone, not only those connected with science.