Saturday, February 03, 2007

In a state of shock

I am. Because in a state of madness i decided to get back to the land of milk, honey and Arjun Singh called India.

(Warning: Long rant ahead!)

I landed three days ago. My nerves are tingling and my head throbbing with the simultaneous assault of :
1) Honking
Q: Why are people here so stupid? If the traffic signal is red and you have six cars ahead of you, how does honking help?
2) Shouting
I think the unwritten rule here is that you have to raise your voice to "get work done". Soft polite talk is never on, so it seems.
3) Street dogs howling
Q: How is it okay to let street dogs proliferate? Despite kids getting mauled by street dogs, no one seems to bother. Yes, don't kill them but at least spay them for God's sake.
4) Renovation work
Some businessman upstairs in doing some 'renovation' which i believe has been going on since six months. There is continuous hammering, sawing and that ear-splitting, nausea-causing granite polishing. Apparently pleas to this gentleman to give a deadline by which he can finish this 'renovation' and not doing work in the afternoon in deference to senior citizens has fallen on deaf ears. "He knows people", they tell me.
5) Baarat (wedding processing)
Someone's getting married and has chosen to inflict his wedding on everyone in a 10 mile radius. There's a live band that's playing some raucous stuff. Streets are jam-packed.

I can't take it. I decide to shut the windows, plug my ears with cotton and connect to the net. The supposed 'broadband' connection at my home in Bombay seems worse than a dial-up connection. I try using my wireless internet card and apparently i don't have enough signal. For curiosity i check if there are any wireless connections around. None. IT superpower? If computing doesn't touch the daily lives of people, how does writing code make us an "IT superpower". And my home is supposed to be one of the most upmarket locations in town.

I then decide to organize some of my papers. I call up my bank (a multinational bank, by the way) for status on my account. The lady said she'll call me back in half-an-hour. "Half and hour! Just for status?" I get some server-is-down crap or something. It's more than four hours now. Not a call. Not even a call to say she'll call later. Oh, but how could i forget. In India, it's the customer's duty to call.

The bell rings. Postman. Thumps a package on the threshold.
"Geez man, careful - there's stuff in there".
"This thing weighs a ton. What is it?"
"Some of my books and papers"
"Well, you know, i broke my back getting this"
"It's not easy, you know"
"I really broke my back. Ahhhh"
"I took a rickshaw to get here. Cost me Rs. 25"
"It's not the regular thing you know"
"What is the regular thing?"
"Well, if it's too heavy we would just give you an intimation and have you collect it from the post office"
"Actually, there are more such packages expected. So don't break your back the next time. Why don't you just leave an intimation for me and i'll pick it up from the post-office"
"Oh no. I know your dad since ages. I would never have you come to the post-office. I'll get it - don't worry."
"But yeah, i think i have broken my back. And i spent Rs. 25/- on this."
"Sorry about that. Get well soon"

Slimeball. Thinks he's doing me a favour by getting a package to me for which i've paid 150$ (yes!) as postage. Honestly, after this incident i am worried about the fate of my other packages. These contain my personal research notes and books with all my annotations that i've spent almost 500$ on shipping. Should i have just paid him off? Naa...

I decide to pay a visit to one of my old teachers who lives about four miles away. Get some pearls of wisdom which might make me feel better. Five cabs tried. Each of them gives me the FCJ. FCJ = Flick-Cluck-Jerk ; Flick of the wrists, then a cluck of the tongue followed by a jerk of the neck away from you which basically means "Will not go where you want to. Buzz off". This is if he likes you. If only a cluck it means he doesn't like you and wants you to quickly buzz off. I decide to walk the distance to my teacher's house.

I also try visiting an old friend on the way. There is some security system in place in his apartment building where you are supposed to fill up a register on who you are, why are you visiting etc. I just don't see the point of this system anyway because i could just say i was George Bush from the White House and the security guy wouldn't bat an eyelid. Anyway, the register is kept at some corner which the sharpest eye will not see.I keep walking and before long i hear that wierd sound that is produced by elongating the lips and sucking in air through it. No "excuse me" or anything. And the guy is just sitting at his place without moving his ass.

In all this, i think i was just lucky that i was prepared for the bozos on the flight back home. (Red-eyed guy: "get me one more whiskey fast", Orange T-shirt guy with cap and shades on in the flight: "Only one peanut packet with beer? I want two"). And Chhatrapati Shivaji International Airport. The typical phenyl smell, unsmiling faces, an ayah (janitor) lazily wielding her broom and succeeding in spreading the dirt everywhere. Two fellows with some official badges approaching me with "Customs se clear karva deta hoon, sir" (i could clear your luggage from Customs for you, sir). No thanks. I'd rather pay duty if i have to. I make the mistake of asking where the restrooms are from some official. I think he did not want to be awakened from his slumber so he said he didn't know and went back to sleep.

I think i should do that too. If this is what happens in two days, i am scared.

Why do you disappoint, India? Why are brainless morons now inhabiting you? Where is all that magnificent culture and civilization which others could only dream about.Where did you lose it? When did you lose it? Why did you choose to lose it?

Sunday, January 28, 2007

Are you a Sagittarian?

If your answer is yes, good for you. If not, contact me immediately and i will give you an expensive gem that will remedy the situation. Now! hurry up! Rush!....

"This is the year of the Leo. So Sagittarians and Geminis are bound to be successful", thus spaketh Mr. Bejan Daruwalla.
And the context? Apparently the producers of Big-Shetty-Brother have contacted him on "how religion plays an important role in the life of Indians and also asked me the role of astrology in India".

How convenient for these reporters. Catch the right people in India to potray the usual "Caste, Cows, Curry, Constellations" trash. Do not expect any mention in this programme of how religion* influenced science, arts, architecture, literature etc. in India.

Anyway, more insights:
“It was such a coincidence that Shilpa, who is a part of Channel 4’s ‘Big Brother’, is born on June 8 and this lady’s (the reporter who contacted Mr. Daruwalla) date of birth is June 9. Both of them are Geminis, and Shilpa may perhaps win,” he says.
My mind is spinning. Just like the planets Mr. Daruwalla claims to have a total impact on your life. This is really a revolting brand of astrology.

Here's a piece of advice from Sri Mantreswara, author of the 16th century astrology classic Phaladeepika:
"Planets are constantly favorable to one who is always calm, possessed of self-control, who has earned wealth through virtuous means, and who is always ethical and moral".
Classical Indian thinking was never totally deterministic. The theory of Karma is not an easy one to understand. Ignorance, superstition, bad translations of Sanskrit works and charlatans wanting to make a quick buck have created one big mess.

Ancient texts are flooded with examples on how a person's destiny (if you believe in the concept of 'destiny'. I do. But not in Mr. Daruwalla's sense) has been changed with a combination of right thinking and right action. The Gita Itself says that one just has to do the required tasks at the right time with the right effort and attitude (no attachment to results).

Bottomline: If you believe in astrology and do want to go to an astrologer, please stay away from those who:
1) Put fear into you
2) Tell you that everything is pre-ordained
3) Lead you into thinking that unless you purchase some gem you will be ruined for life

Link to the news article here.
* The word religion itself is probably not the right word for Indic dharmas like Hinduism, Buddhism, Jainism

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

For a Nintendo

Just interrupting the road trip updates to tell you about this:

"I want to say that those people drinking all that water can get sick and die from water intoxication," said the caller.

"Yeah, we're aware of that," replied a DJ. "They signed releases so we're not responsible, okay?"

A radio show where participants had to drink crazy loads of water, then hold their bladders in order to win some electronic gadget.

A contestant died.

Read about it here

Reminds me of a case in India some years back where a foolish fellow had a bet with his friend, gulped down boiling hot tea which internally burnt his intestines and died. The bet was worth Rs. 10 (~0.2$).

It's interesting to see why people take part in these kind of crazy acivities - including participants of reality shows who seem to love to throw away any kind of self-respect. Money? Fame? Challenge? Boredom? Maybe they feel they've been such losers in life that these activities give them an opportunity to 'prove' something. Crazy.

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Beholding God : Winter 2007 Road Trip - Update 1

The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes but in having new eyes
- Marcel Proust

Well, i did start off wanting to see new landscapes. And ended having new eyes. Let me start off with the grandest of the sights i saw on the trip (ever?) :
(click to enlarge photograph)
The picture above can never do justice to the what the eye saw and the mind now recalls. It can be a mind-altering experience. The scale, the age, the colour, the depth, the beauty, the form - it is adbhutam (wonderful), overwhelming.

One now appreciates slightly more what Arjuna would have experienced when Lord Krishna showed him His form:

Thereafter being overwhelmed with amazement, with his bodily hair standing on end due to great ecstacy; Arjuna with his body offerred obeisances unto Lord Krsna and began to speak with folded hands
- Bhagavad Gita, 11-14

Thoughts like these run through your mind and then you come across the following plaque and rub your eyes in disbelief:
Yes! The oldest layer of the Grand Canyon is named after Lord Vishnu!

Coincidence? Unlikely. Note use of 'Zoroaster' in the picture above beside 'Vishnu'. Seems like the Canyon is purposely named on spiritual lines. More on this with more photographs in the next post.