A tribute on Teacher’s day

Today is Teacher’s day and I thought I would write a tribute to one of the teachers who had a great impact on me. His name is Mr.Shanmuganathan, who taught English during our higher secondary school. No doubt his was a challenging role, to fight for our attention while the whole world is forcing us to focus on Math & Science courses, the courses that would supposedly decide our future.

Mr. Shanmuganathan is seated at the leftmost seat.

I still remember seeing him on the first day of his class, a muscular build with big burly fingers, disheveled hair that was apparently coerced to a style by those same burly fingers. With such an intimidating stature, all that we thought at that point of time, was not to get inside the swinging radius of those arms. He opened by saying “Your textbook has a great selection”. At didn’t believe that at that time. “Another motivational gimmick” I thought, “Why not ask us to get on with it and start memorizing right away”. But if I had any doubts, it only took an hour of the lecture to dispel.

Of course it helped that the first poem of the syllabus was “All the world’s a stage” (Or did he choose to start with that one? I am not sure) . The stage was set for his teaching. I was amazed by the attention he gave to even a small phrase such as “bearded like the pard”. He paused at every stanza, dwelt over the words and explained the imagination of the poet with same incredulity as if he was reading it for the first time. I have never seen a leopard or the guy Shakespeare was describing, but I bet I could give the exact measurement of that beard, down to a millimeter. So transfixed were we in the world built by Shakespeare and brought to life by him. The poem no longer felt like a wrestling match with terse lyrics, but a beautiful duet with a soul that mirrored our own. The brevity of words, the discordant milieu and those escapist philosophies were like a liberal dose of exotic spices to flavor our numbing present.

And this experience was not limited to bard’s words alone. Throughout the year, he breathed life in to the words of many great poets (At this point of time, I was convinced that the selection of poems were great indeed!). The fire in the eyes of Blake’s Tiger, the treble in the oar-wielding hands of Wordsworth and many more came to life with lucid clarity and chose to stay with us for the rest of our lives. I felt like I was transposed to a literature course in college. But the pièce de résistance was the lecture on Keat’s ‘Ode to a Grecian Urn’. He savored every line of that romantic verse and shared with us with the same zeal. An hour long lecture, would barely get past a single stanza. How many sleepless nights I spent pondering the sweet irony of that lover so close, yet so far. The vivid image of that Grecian Urn is burnt deep in to my memory, far stronger than any real experience I ever had.

Teaching language is a tricky business. Just like how you cannot describe the word ‘describe’ without using that word or any of its synonyms, teaching a language is an exercise in untangling circular dependencies. He sidestepped those challenges beautifully, with stories, examples and explanations that formed a framework to explore and experience those literature without making you feel like you are transcribing from a dictionary. A poets skill is not his choice of vocabulary, the length of his meter or mastery of grammar. It is the soul of the poet that permeates between those rigid cage-work. The essence of his teaching was to experience this soul, to tap in to the collective conscience that had transcended cultural and temporal chasms. And with his guidance, we swayed to the movements of these poets soul, far separated from us both in space and time, like a puppet dancing to the pull of strings.

‘Mata, Pita, Guru, Deiyvam’ is often misquoted as a descending order of respect, that we are ordained to practice. I believe that it is not the case. I believe it refers to the extent to which each of those entity constitutes us. The mother gives us the flesh, the father gives us the soul. Likewise, a teacher imparts a part of him/her on to us. No matter how old or far apart we grow, like the sand that became a pearl, the fragments of a teacher lives within us, forming the core of our character and shaping our every living moment. I am no longer in contact with Shanmuganathan sir, but every time I open a book or come across a piece of literature, I interact with him, share my experience and joy. In that manner, he is always there with me.

P.S: All good sections of this prose are attributable to my English teacher, any spelling mistake or grammar mistake can be attributed to the insolent student.

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Man, the conqueror of the nature, the ruler of the graveyard

We humans, are at war with rest of the nature. A wild predator would only hunt and kill when it is hungry. We kill for all sorts of reasons. We call certain animals wild and hunt them either because they are a competing predator or they don’t feature in our economic activity, the species-wide subservience called domestication.

We hunt or fence out other predators because they may compete for our food. We fence out other wild herbivores, to stop them eating the food for our livestock. We brand certain vegetation as weeds and remove them because it competes with the food source for our livestock. We cull animals in millions because we don’t have the patience to sort out the infected from the uninfected, a problem caused by our farming practice in the first place.

Not just these seemingly utilitarian reasons, we even kill for aesthetic reasons or no reason at all. A plain looking plant will be uprooted to make space for an attractive flowering plant. A spider or a caterpillar will be squashed because it looks creepy or ugly. We will spray our surroundings with poison, to keep away those species that are too small to hunt down and can’t control. We call them pests.

We hunt for fun, just because our hunter-gatherer brain is denied the thrill which it learnt to crave over millions of years of evolution. Yet we seek the comfort of piling up frozen food in our refrigerator never to eat again. We are fighting our very own nature and rest of the nature around us.

We dominate and manipulate every level of food-chain, not being happy just sitting at its apex. Every square inch of this earth belongs to us and if we so wish, we will sanitize it with concrete and poison. If you are another species and of no utility mankind, tough luck! Find somewhere else to go or go extinct! At this rate, soon we will follow them!

https://xkcd.com/1338/

Footnotes

The thoughts in this post are heavily influenced by the novel “Ishmael” by Daniel Quinn

Have we done enough?

So judgement has been passed on the Nirbhaya case. There has been mixed reactions from the general public, some rejoicing the justice finally delivered, some regretting the few that walks free. But almost all are in unison in believing they deserved death penalty. It is an easy judgement to pass, such deviants deserve no place in the society, heck not even on the face of earth. They don’t deserve the basic right to life since they are not human, they are an outcast- outside of social boundaries and bear no semblance to any of us in the society. But by assuming they are outside our moral and social domain, are we overlooking something?

The devils that did this are not monolithic tombs of aberration. It is not purely bestial lust that caused this nor is it solely criminal tendency. It is a concoction of several social malice such as male chauvinism, social inequality, moral deprivation colluding with individual traits of these animals. Such disease exists in all of us, walks among us in plain sight. But by training our swords on a single crime, we are turning a blind eye to all such illness. By alienating the rapists, we fail to acknowledge the inherent devils within us.

Even today, the first advise that comes out of such ghastly event is that women should dress less provocatively. A girl is judged more readily than a guy against a pile of moral etiquette designed by a patriarchal society. Etiquette that treats them as property and designed to minimize that property loss. Whereas a guys moral etiquette begins only so far as his actions interferes with another person, a girls etiquette is rigid in defining what she can or cannot do with herself. Because she is a property.

And that judgmental and condescending attitude permeates everywhere, from respectable families to bottom-fed criminals. That attitude which manifests as condescension in the civilized will manifest as violence in radicals and social outcasts. I see no difference between the rapists and those culture mafias who attack women in parties, advice them on the length of their skirt. Their attitude is the same, only its manifestation is different.

Finally the topic of capital punishment. Whether any crime justify capital punishment or not, is a different topic of discussion. Whether capital punishment for rape would help? I think not. The reason such crimes still exist is not because the punishment is lax but because people think they will not get caught. Time after time, studies suggest that improving the efficiency of law enforcement is a greater deterrent for crimes than the severity of punishment.

We should have the courage to deny ourselves the gratification of such simple punishments, to expose the wound and dig into our moral fabric to clean it. Let us not rejoice at justice done, for justice will not undo the dead. There is more at stake here. For every Nirbhaya for whom we shed tears, there are thousands of other silent victims with no hope in the horizon, too afraid to shout, too suppressed to flex.

Do we need excessive violence and media frenzy to warrant our attention? Do we just boil at the extremes and tolerate the therebetween? What have we done for the rest? The road to victory is not just of tightening of a noose, but of slackening of in-numerous knots of social malign. If we acknowledge victory, we give up the struggle. Instead let us use the judgement to remind ourselves of the challenging path ahead. 

Musings on the opening credits of Westworld

It is not a secret that Westworld is the next big thing from HBO. The cast, the writing and the production values were all top notch and in fact much better than the initial few episodes of GoT. For a series with such big ambitions, at first I felt the opening sequence was rather dull. However with each passing episode, I can find more meaning in each of those frames and can’t help but wander of in to a philosophical meditation about the meaning behind each scene and how it relates to the theme of the show. I don’t mean this is how its creators intended the meaning of each scenes, but I always take the liberty of painting my own interpretation over any art, more an art that lends itself to it, more beautiful it is.
The sequence starts with machines delicately weaving a world out of artificial milky material. Both living and inanimate objects are made the same way, of the same materials, just like our real world. Then suddenly some of these objects spring in to motion. The visuals don’t even try to differentiate between voluntary & effected motion. A bullet fired is the same as a horse galloping or the rider woman riding it. They are all slaves of their original design reacting to some stimuli, time included. The robots that the machine make, even appear to be having sex, but their emotions seems programmed as well. The robotic arms breathe life into their circuitry and robots rock to the joys of electric circuits firing (which Bender explained to us decades back). 
It is hard not to wonder whether the whole thing is a detached commentary on ourselves, an artificial rendering of our real world. After all, we too are slaves of our constituent atoms dancing to the tune of physical laws, the emotions that we feel so sure and true, are mere concoctions of hormones & chemicals. Yet we harbor thoughts of sentience and consciousness, and we are so sure of them that we draw definitions of alive and dead. This conflict between the notion of alive & dead, conscientious & unaware is one of the core themes of the show. By drawing parallels between the artificial world and real world, the opening sequences pushes us to question whether the hosts are persons.

But that alone would be grim determinism and reductionism. The sequences don’t stop there. The hand that plays the piano, recedes from the keys and the piano starts to play on its own. Its precise & mechanical components, in their tryst with time, produce something beautiful & spontaneous! It is like the hosts in the show, that were cast with the rigors of code & logic but with a deft touch of randomness, they blossom in to something so unique & beautiful. There are even theories that our consciousness itself is a result of our quantum substrate interacting with reality with an element of probability governing its collapse into various states. If this is not consciousness, what else is? The whole may be bigger than its constituent parts, but is it also so very different1?

Not everything in the title piece reveals all its meaning at once (such as Invertius man sinking into his the pool of his constituent matter). But I am sure as the show progresses, the meaning behind some portions of the title piece will reveal itself.  One of the shows lead writer, Jonathan Nolan has a quite bit of talent in weaving philosophical quandaries in to everyday story lines, as evident from his work with his brother Christopher Nolan. But with this show and its setting, he has a fertile ground for exploring much more complicated themes and sending our head in to a dizzy. Hope the excitement keeps up!
Here is the official link to the opening credits. See for yourself.



1 This is not much different from the loose definition of ‘Complex Systems’ in Herbert Simon seminal paper “The architecture of complexity“. 


“Roughly, by a complex system I mean one made up of a large number of parts that interact in a nonsimple way. In such systems, the whole is more than the sum of the parts, not in an ultimate, metaphysical sense, but in the important pragmatic sense that, given the properties of the parts and the laws of their interaction, it is not a trivial matter to infer the properties of the whole. “

Irrespective of your topic of interest, it is a great read written in a simple lucid language touching several disciplines. Recommended reading!


Series reboot…

Ok, I am not here to reboot a superhero franchise such as Batman or Spiderman (Former was a terrific idea, later one turned out to be a terrible one). This is about my stupid, useless blog, the supposed realm of my immaterial squabbles, the upholstery of words that lend shape to my nebulous deliberations, the drainage of my thoughts (How insightful I was in my choice of words when I made that first post). Truth be told, the blog never really started since I never posted anything substantial beyond “Hello world”. And then there was the other post, but that blogging traveler, describing about his Bangkok trip is forever going to be trapped in the flight (like the lover trapped in precarious stance on that Grecian urn). For the time being, it is unlikely that he will resume his travel in blogosphere. Meanwhile other noteworthy events such as “getting married” happened which were not dwelt upon in the blog.  And that is the sad thing, despite my continuous self-abominations and in-numerous “ah-should-write-about-that” moments, the cupboard is bare.

Truth is that I have made numerous unsuccessful attempts at making a blog post and equally successful attempts at deleting them, for the fear of looking stupid (which is of course inevitable given my disposition). In any case, one is always wiser than when he was young, conversely one’s stupidity at given point of time is greater than or equal to his stupidity at any point of time in future (Unless you have been fed on a regular diet of media). Given this law, I am sure to look back and regret at my stupidity right?

What I have come to realize is that I have far more regretted not having written something rather than having written something. My English hasn’t improved a bit since my last classroom English lecture. Even worse, my ability to articulate things has been nose-diving to an extent that I have started to doubt my reason. But one doesn’t go anywhere without making an attempt. The caveman didn’t learn swimming by standing at the shore and contemplating whether he would float or not. So I am going to stop worrying about the end result and take the plunge…

No I am not promising that I will regularly post something. I am not going to add to that unkept count of failed resolutions. I merely vow that I will not delete this post, no matter what. Hopefully over a period of time, with the same attitude, this blog will gather some stuff that I will feel confident to share with others. Until then, you my dear reader, are a fictional entity, because my blog doesn’t exist. Blogger statistics shows that my pages have 526 page views since beginning of time (yes, you are right… since the big bang) and quite inexplicably has been read by people from North America and some Eskimos from Alaska.

I feel very sorry for those people… I am sure the post on trip to Thailand must have (mis)led quite a few. Anyway, I am not going to extend this self-centered blog post any more. Hopefully there will be some stuff to come.

Trip to Thailand

1429 days is a long time, unless you are in Jupiter where it would just be one-third of a year. But that is exactly how long it took me to muster enough boredom to write my second blog post. That is not to say that I have been busy having a rollicking fun-filled life… Just that I was getting less bored at being bored. But at last I decided to revive my long dormant blog and to resume my English murdering skills. A huge Hurraah to myself please!

 

I am just back from an awesome trip to Thailand.  Last month my friend Vicky invited me for a vacation in Bangkok. He was planning to go to India to attend wedding of another friend of ours. And while returning back to California he said he will transit via Bangkok and Dubai. Don’t ask me in which parallel universe Bangkok & Dubai sits en route from Chennai to California. But I assumed he was either desperate to see Thailand or terribly poor in Geography. I just gave a notional consent. Our man decided that the only way to confirm my availability would be to book tickets and let me know. And so he did.

 

Initially I had a lot of apprehensions about visiting Thailand, Bangkok in particular. The headline grabbing floods and political unrest in Thailand didn’t help my cause. To make things worse, another friend of ours, Amrish, suggested if we were to tour together in Thailand, it would certainly end like Hangover 2. That kind of scared me. I agree it is a great fun movie to watch, but I don’t think I would ever want to be part of it.

 

And to top it, we had absolutely no planning. The only thing that was on a schedule was the flight tickets. Rest of the schedule between arrival and departure were just as indeterminate as product of Azhagiri’s wealth and his English skills. My friend’s prediction of Hangover 2 kept flashing across my mind. I also had to stay for one extra day because due to some weird ticket pricing it was cheaper if I returned on Saturday night rather than on Friday night. That meant having one whole day on my own alone in Bangkok. All of these added to the scariness quotient, but it actually made me more interested. In hindsight, my extra one day stay turned out to be a blessing, Vicky missed quite some fun on the last day.

 

More to come…

Hi!!!

Ahemm… Hi guys.. here I am with a new blog of mine. I had a slightly dysfuntional homepage that was as primitive as stone age and hence fittingly outdated. This is my feeble attempt to engage myself a bit more. Hopefuly in future I will be able to drain my thoughts here, capture few memories here and there and of course, to kill time (I seem to have a whole lot of it pretty underutilized).

Nothing special has inspired me to start this one, other than long hours of uninspiring boredom and an onslaught of pointless thoughts in due course. Just as some wiseman put it, great thoughts are not to be left alone. I mentioned resolve somewhere, coz this blog has been part of my resolution for so long, but postponed indiscreetly by consistently fresh bouts of laziness. I am an expert procrastinator and proudly so. After countless battles with my laziness and creative slumps I have put together this first post of the blog and God only knows when the next one will come up.

I am a simple guy who forms an uninterestingly tiny miniscular microscopic dot of the unimaginable infinity of creation just as Douglas Adams rightly put forth. I like music, mostly every kind but specifically only those I like. I like sports as long as I am at a safe distance from it, well settled at the comfort of my house, with popcorn and other ancillaries. Patience permitting I watch few films now and then. I do some work at office but mostly pretend so. Further attempts to describe myself any further is only demoralizing since it highlights how futile the whole exercise is.

I thank Blogger.com for giving me this wonderful chance to write some nonsense. I also thank my friends and relatives for their continued tolerance. I thank my mom and dad for things that are beyond grasp of any language.I also thank God for providing me with a partly functioning brain which conjures up most of these nonsenses(As I write the functioning part of my brain is vehemently denying this and abdicating any claims of ownership). Above all, I thank my employers for feeding me with so much leisure time.