Vantage point

Saturday, March 31, 2007

Ron Paul on Bill Maher

Ron Paul, a Congressman from Texas running for the Republican nomination for '08 appeared on the Bill Maher show yesterday. And the exchange between them shows me exactly why American politics is so polarised, and why the Republican Party keeps moving more and more to the right. The arrogance of the blue-state-liberals in America and their lack of open-mindedness, as displayed by Maher here, shows their shallowness.

It is all very well to pour out into the streets of New York and San Francisco for futile protests against a war that is all but imminent. Such protests and flag-burning exercises are useful for soothing consciences, and nothing else. To really make a difference, there needs to be a fundamental change in American foreign policy. And it is this change that Ron Paul refered to when he said that while there is a role for intelligence-gathering, the way the CIA works, toppling governments, is wrong. Ron Paul is in favour of a strictly non-interventionist foreign policy. Maher however could not comprehend the possibility of a CIA-less world. What won Paul more brownie points from me is that he mentioned how CIA toppled a democratic government in Iran in 1953. This is a fact which the American press and public either don't know or completely ignore and assume that the whole problem started with the embassy hostages, as I wrote a few weeks back.

Throughout the interview Maher keeps ridiculing Paul for "being against the Civil War". The point Ron Paul made was pertinent. Every other Western country got rid of slavery without having a civil war. There were many other peaceful and practical ways to solve the slavery problem. But Lincoln, and other warmongers just thought of war. But then, Lincoln and Kennedy are gods in this country, and insinuating that they might have had feet of clay is blasphemous.

Ron Paul is a libertarian. And though Bill Maher, like many mediapersons who claim to be, is not. He is a paranoid statist. He actually believes that the Walter Reid scandal is the fault of big corporations "which have no conscience".

But the way he approached this interview, with a single-point agenda of ridiculing Ron Paul, shows why the moderate Republicans have been dwindling in numbers and in influence, and why the extreme right has been gaining power. The next time Bill Maher, or any of the shallow liberals go crazy wondering why that doofus from Texas won even the popular vote in 2004, they should watch this interview.

I doubt if they will GET IT, but who knows? They might.

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Oh India.. You Mean...

Whenever someone identifies himself as an Indian in this country, the responses he gets from the white folks have varied.

It started with "Oh India... you mean the place where they fly on carpets?"

Then it went to "Oh India... you mean the place where they ride elephants to work?"

Then, "Oh India... you mean the place where Ghandi(sic) was from?"

to, "Oh India... you mean the place with arranged marriages?"

to, "Oh India... you mean where all our tech support phones are answered?"

If you, as an Indian, were bugged by one or all of these, imagine what I felt when I got the newest and the worst question yesterday. I was talking to a lady at the bus stop yesterday and she asks,

"Oh India... you mean the place where Sanjaya Malakar is from?"

And I wished she had asked me about the caste system, bride burning, poverty, slums instead. But she had to ask me about Sanjaya Malakar.

Yes, Sanjaya Malakar, who very much like the present Indian government, is half-Bengali and half-Italian (not Marathi as I mistakenly assumed here... hey Bongs, stop ending your last names with -kar or I'll set the Sena on you).

Sanjaya Malakar, whose calibre as a performer is marginally greater than Karl Rove's.

Please, please, vote him off. To remind you why, here's a sample of him mangling one of my favourite bands -

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Of Nationality Variables

Listen, all you self-righteous desi culture warriors. Indianness is not a continuous variable. It is a binary variable.


Varun Singh via email sent me a video about early days at IIM Calcutta. Most of the stuff is relevant across all IIMs, and dare I say, all MBA courses.

Caution: Video contains expletives. NSFW.

Youtube Link

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Friday, March 30, 2007

Thanks For Trying, Mahmoud

Dear Mahmoud,

First up, let me tell you how flattered I am that you read my blog. And I can see that you read what I wrote a couple of weeks back -

Now while a terrorist attack, tsunami, earthquake or tornado hitting the US right now will be a sad sad thing if it happened, at least it would push the annoying Anna Nicole story out of the media's consciousness.

Though you did not go as far to order a terror attack, I sure do appreciate your efforts in taking the 15 British soldiers hostage. You sure did push some buttons in America..... metaphorically speaking. But unfortunately, it wasn't enough. The gargantuan mammaries of Anna Nicole Smith still adorn every news channel on TV here.... and Fox News as well. They are following their hour-long "Could she have died from an overdose"-themed and hour-long "Maybe she did die of an overdose"-themed panel discussions with an ongoing "Whoa! She really died of an overdose"-themed extravaganza.

Sure, the Brit-Iran stand-off is mentioned here and there, and Madeline Albright has struck the jackpot, getting free publicity for her new book even as she pontificates on the topic. But still, not good enough.

Thanks for trying, though.

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Thursday, March 29, 2007

Take a deep breath, Shashi

I responded to Shashi Tharoor's sari piece (no, he isn't India's Guiliani, I mean his piece on saris) with a flippant post because that is what it deserved.

The other Tharoor op-ed that caused waves was the one on cricket in the New York Times. It was one of those articles which almost makes you pity the writer.

The one amusing thing common to both the pieces is that they seem to be written by a 1st year PhD student of some social science. No, I don't mean in terms of the frailty of the arguments they make. I know many 1st year doctoral students who can make some pretty solid arguments. I am refering to the forced injection of some social scientific theory into his arguments.

In the first year of a PhD program, we read a LOT. We are literally swimming with ideas, theories, conjectures about the abstract world of social sciences. Some theories seem more fascinating than others. So there is always a tendency to explain everything around us by applying concepts discussed in economics, sociology, psychology, political science and management. It almost becomes a reflex. And in doing so we tend to forget what Freud is supposed to have said - sometimes a cigar is just a cigar.

Both of Tharoor's pieces take on two utterly trivial issues and needlessly and forcibly submerge them into a lot of pop social science. Indian culture, American culture, national character, Gandhi (the first rule of the Op Ed Club is, you have to invoke Gandhi), and all sorts of unnecessary concepts are pulled out to take hair-splitting to giddier heights.

Women are discarding the sari, not because of some deep-rooted attitude shift, but because they want convenience. And Americans don't like cricket because they don't like cricket. Complexity has got nothing to do with it. They don't like soccer. Nor (field) hockey. And believe it or not, they are not too crazy about watching taekwando either. Which is what Americans would probably have been bashed for not liking had Tharoor won and Moon lost the SecGen elections.

Since I am indeed a 1st year PhD student, I am going to exercise my birthright and do some pop social scientific analysis of why Tharoor is being such a dick.

Is he just taking out his frustration at the United States for not supporting his candidature? Or is it something deeper? Why this naked regret that Americans don't follow cricket? Does it arise out of a deep rooted inferiority complex which gets mollified only when the Americans give their approval? No! In all my wisdom, based on my 8 long months in the PhD program, I will now hold forth on this topic.

My proposition is that it is due to the pre-eminent political and cultural domination of America, which is almost brahminical in nature. 300 million Americans dominate a planet of 6 billion. The superiority of the 5%. Brahmins are also 5% of the Hindu population and dominate the community politically and culturally. Brahmins such as Tharoor thus feel an odd sense of kinship with Americans. So when Americans don't give a rabid rat's rear-end about cricket, something the brahmin has a zealous passion toward, it creates cognitive dissonance (Festinger 1956). When people are exposed to information that increases dissonance, they either ignore it, misinterpret or deny it (Festinger, Riecken, & Schachter, 1956; Batson, 1975; Burris, Harmon-Jones, Tarpley, 1997).

Tharoor has clearly taken the path of misinterpretation. Rather than just accept that Americans don't like the sport and move on, he has worked very hard to deal with his cognitive dissonance by building up a crackpot theory which blames the American national character. In fact he says cricket, a sport where there are a dozen ways of getting out, and where the turf, rain, the sun everything combine to produce rich complexity is not suited for a "homogenized McWorld".

In doing so, he displays not just flawed reasoning, but also sheer ignorance because there are a dozen ways of getting out in baseball as well. And the turf, soil, sun, rain and all that are vital to golf, another richly complex (arguably even more complex and giving rise to many more possibilities) game which lasts for a few days and yet is attended by huge crowds in the US.

His assertion that cricket is a more "virile" sport is not very dissimilar to a man in a mid-life crises buying a Porsche. And the last para of his article, where he says, "You may as well learn to accept that there are some things too special for the rest of us to want to waste them on you", is something a 10-year old on a playground might say.

So Shashi, take a deep breath. Get a hobby which does not involve writing op-eds. Even join the Manmohan cabinet. Anything to help you deal with your cognitive dissonance. But the next time you think up a question like "Why don't the Americans like my favourite sport?" or "Why do so many Indian women not wear saris like they used to, back when I didn't have to dye my hair?", and decide to launch into a polemic about it, remember. Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar.

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Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Now This Is A World Cup!!

What an unfrigginbelievable match! Now this is what I call a World Cup. This is called raising your game on the big stage. When a team needs 4 runs to win with plenty balls and 5 wickets left, commentators will joke "the bowling side needs a hattrick" and then snicker.

Malinga produced not just a hattrick but 4-in-4. What a Wasim-ish achievement! SA were plain lucky to escape with a win.

Sri Lanka are now my firm favourites for the Cup.


Petition for Ban Ki Moon's Recall

Dear Members of the United Nations,

In 2003, the great state of California recalled Governor Davis 11 months into his term and elected Arnold Scharzenegger to the post. This set a glorious historic precedent which I think the UN would do well to emulate. It is imperative that Secy General Ban Ki Moon be recalled and Shashi Tharoor be elected in his place.

I make this request, not out of any dissatisfaction about Mr. Moon, because he has performed all the duties of a Secy General admirably. He wears a suit everyday, is not afraid of flying, and has a weirdly funny name which offers itself to many puns. What else could one expect from a SecGen?

The reason I would like this recall held is because Shashi Tharoor, who lost the elections, and also gave up his post of Under Seretary or some such, is doing his best to prove the "empty mind is a devil's workshop" adage true. He is writing some bizarre articles in newspapers, none more bizarre than his appeal to save the sari.

The article seems to be the output of an automatic op-ed generator. It has all the prerequisities of a vacuous op-ed. It reeks of hypocrisy, since Mr. Tharoor himself even goes to bed in an Armani. It talks about our culture, romanticizes some stupid instances from history, and of course, lest we forget, manages to inject a hapless Gandhi into the proceedings. It also ends on a pun so weak that even high school students would wince in pain.

The article appeared in Times of India which has one of the largest circulation figures in the world for an english newspaper. So as you all can imagine, millions went through the ordeal of reading that piece. Is this fair on the world? Is it consistent with the stated principles of the United Nations to allow a pen-wielding Tharoor wreak vengeance on the world which refused to Secretary-Generalize him?

I appeal to your merciful sides, and request you to recall Ban Ki Moon, making sure that Shashi Tharoor is kept busy making pointless statements about international politics and shopping for suits in his role as the new SecGen.

Help us keep our newspapers Tharoor-free.

Yours Sincerely,
Gaurav Sabnis

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Saturday, March 24, 2007

Is that the best you can do, you pansies?

Another day, another cricket-comics similarity. Doesn't Matthew Hayden, in appearance, dimensions and the way he pummels bowlers, remind you of Marv from Sin City? Both are ruthless, relentless and almost sadistically violent, going about their business like butchers who relish their jobs. Both are massive enough to curve space time and make light bend. And both strike the same fear in the hearts of their adversaries. I would not like to be in the same hemisphere as either of them when they are pissed off.

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Greg Chappell in a testy presscon says - Well I don't think India has won a tournament overseas since 1985. There is a bit of history to it. There are obviously some reasons.

Funny, him talking about history while being so blissfully unaware about it.

And what's with the overuse of the word "inflammatory"? Someone give him a crate of analgesics and interview him again.

So what are the positives? Ummm..... Kimi won his first race with Ferrari! Up yours, Axis of Evil, a.k.a. Alonso-McLaren-Denis

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Friday, March 23, 2007

My Post About India's Performance In The World Cup



Justice Not Delayed

All 8 accused in the Manjunath murder case have been found guilty. By Indian standards, a verdict on a murder case in just 16 months is phenomenal. Hats off to Anjali Mullatti and other IIML Alumni who kept the pressure on and ensured media focus at all times.

The sentencing is on Monday, and I hope all 8 get put away for the longest period possible.


Wednesday, March 21, 2007


PaThmoDya Parvat
NirmaL Manaacha AkhanDa Suryaprakash
Chhoti Kumari Suryaprakash
Scotlandcha shevatcha raja
Daha Lakh Rupayaanche BaaL
Paap Nagri
Changle, vaeet aani kurup
Borat: Kazhakhstan naamak daidipyamaan raashtrachya faaydya hetu Amerikechi sanskiritik shikvaN
Schindlerchi Yaadi
Ek uDaala kokiLechya gharTyaavarun
Maagchi Khidki
SheLyaanchi shaantata
Pralay Atta
DharaN Kutri

Sunday, March 18, 2007

Ayyo Thundering Typhoons, Machaa

In a pre-match show before the India-Bangladesh clash, Krishnammachari Srikkanth rubbished any chances of an upset. He said Dhoni would hit 7 sixes in an over (one off a no ball) and overshadow Gibbs. When Anjum Chopra mentioned that Bangladesh had beaten New Zealand in a warm-up match, he pooh-pooh-ed what she said. Leave aside the fact that Anjum Chopra, who possesses more class, poise, erudition and knowledge than all the other DD panelists combined, is very clearly treated as a second-class expert by the host and everyone else. I have a more vital question to ask.

Is it just me or does Kris Srikkanth, in appearance as well as in temperament and propriety(or the lack of it), resemble Captain Haddock a little too much?

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My Solution

Skimpy has an absolutely delicious post on the current situation in the World Cup (written before Woolmer's death) which only an MBA could have written. He writes about a solution from the point of view of the sponsors and broadcasters which, even though illegal and immoral, is definitely not implausible. It is very likely that such an exercise is indeed under way.

But I would like to propose a solution which is very much legal, and fits at least into my convenient borders of morality. This is an idea a friend of mine came up with and we fleshed it out a bit. If India loses, then India and Pakistan should play a long ODI series which clashes with the World Cup. While companies like Sony have rights to telecast the World Cup, surely they don't have an obligation. So Sony culd just broadcast these matches instead. What's more, they should be held such that they start during the afternoon in India, so that by the time the matches end, viewers will be too tired to stay up and watch World Cup matches.

Saturday, March 17, 2007

Captain Dada Part Deux?

If India does not manage to wallop Sri Lanka and Bermuda by massive margins and fails to reach the Super 8s, I think it is almost certain that Dravid will be fired and Ganguly will be offered the captaincy. The question is, will he take it?

As a Dada fan, I really hope he does not. He is finally at the top of his game as well as the batting order. He should just be a good player and let someone else take on the headache that is India's captaincy.

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Wanted - 17 houses for sale in Port of Spain, Trinidad & Tobago. Preferably non-Indian neighbourhood. 16 of the buyers are of Indian nationality and 1 is an Australian. Houses should preferably not have too many big glass windows which can be easily smashed by projectiles.

After this, don't be surprised if you come across such an advertisement.

Monday, March 12, 2007

Dr. Maanga

Nilu is odds on favourite to get an Honorary Doctorate in Economics from the Jawaharlal Nehru University within a few years.

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Move to the EXTREME left after ordering

I finally visited one of my personal shrines. The soup place of Al Yeganey, the man who inspired the Soup Nazi episode from Seinfeld. The "ordering instructions" were just like from Seinfeld. Move to the extreme left after ordering.

The soup itself was well worth the hype. I ordered Mulligatawny (though the image of Newman drooling out the word "Jambalayaaa" tried its best to make me reconsider) and my friend ordered the NECC (Not the National Egg Coordination Committee, but New England Clam Chowder). We got a bread roll, a plum and a lindt chocolate compimentary. Everything was wolfed down with alacrity.

I am travelling for spring break. Have been in NYC and Princeton for the last few days. Will be going to LA tomorrow.

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Thursday, March 08, 2007

Kamal Nath Grilled

The UPA government's economic policies seem to be aimed at slowing down the economy and taking us back to the dark socialist days of price-control where "profit" was a bad word. It is good to see a TV journalist putting the Commerce Minister Kamal Nath in a spot of bother by grilling him on his absurd policies which are moving towards price control. This journalist (whose name I forget) shows a good grasp of economics and I hope we see more such intelligent interviews rather than the quasi-scripted farces that parade as interviews on Indian news channels.

Link via email from Pushkar

Update: The man's name is Udayan Mukherjee, as many of you wrote in to inform me. Good guy. May his diatribe increase.

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Monday, March 05, 2007

Sakharam Gatne by Pu La Deshpande - Part 1

Pu La Deshpande won the Sahitya Akadami Puraskar for his book "Vyakti Aani Valli" which was a collection of fictional character sketches. A few months back I had translated Chitale Master, my favourite sketch. At that time I had also taken up Sakharam Gatne to translate. But I left it midway. I will be maddeningly busy until the spring break, so just posting half of it right now. Will post the remaining in a few days.

“Sir, please deign to sweeten your palate with this humble offering”, Sakharam Gatne handed me a small box of sweets.

“What’s the occasion?”, I asked.

“My endeavor to attain the Higher Secondary Schooling Certificate has fructified”

“Very good”, I immediately zeroed in on the difficulty level of the HSC exam these days “How many marks did you get?”

“The precise marks attained have not yet been communicated by the concerned authorities, but I am confident of lunging past the 65% rubicon.”

Sakharam Gatne does his best to use the purest language possible. I met him after one of my speeches. He was in high school those days. This boy, with a white shirt tucked into his shorts, Gandhi cap almost reaching his nostrils, small expressionless eyes, crooked mis-shapen teeth, was standing in the door of the auditorium. I gathered all the garlands I had been saddled with, and went out when he approached me. He folded his hands and bowed in front of me with more reverence than I felt necessary.

“Autograph please”, he said extending a notebook towards me.

“No no, I never give autographs”, I put on airs without any rhyme or reason.

“As you deem appropriate, Sir”, he said and stepped back.

He folded his hands once again as if he was in his favourite temple. Now actually it’s not as if I always turn down autograph-seekers. But sometimes children tend to make you want to act brusque. I know that giving autographs is pointless, but it is also true that refusing autographs is equally pointless. Sakharam Gatne was standing in a corner looking very nondescript.

I went inside the office of the organization hosting me. I could see Gatne from the window, just standing there like a little puppy. Somehow my guilty conscience got the better of me and I asked the Secretary of the organization hosting me to call him inside.

He entered and stood in front of me like a guilt-stricken convict.

“What is your name, son?” I asked him as softly and encouragingly as I could.

“Sakharam Appaji Gatne” he replied.

“This kid has really beautiful hand-writing, you know. In fact he is the one who is in charge of writing on our notice board every day”, the Secretary informed me. “His father runs a signboard painting business in Appa Balwant Chowk”.

“Is that so? Ten tell me son, if your handwriting is so good, why do you go around collecting signatures from others?” I said.

Now actually, this was at best a feeble joke, at the most worthy of a smile, but all the members of the managing committee present inside the room started laughing loudly.

“Anyway, let’s see whose signatures you have collected so far” I asked

“I exclusively aggregate autographs of litterateurs.” Gatne said handing me his notebook.

I started flipping through his notebook. Each page had a quote taken from a writer’s work and had the autograph below it. I flipped to the last page. The quote there did not have an autograph below it.

“Whose quote is this?” I asked him.

“It is from one of your plays”, he respectfully replied.

That quote looked so ridiculous out of context, that I felt ashamed of having ever written it.

“But why did you choose this quote?” I asked.

“I think of this quote as being the epistemological kernel of your philosophy”, he replied.

Good heavens, I though to myself. I was not expecting a phrase like “the epistemological kernel of philosophy” to be uttered by this 4-4.5 feet tall kid. I kept staring at his face in surprise. An elderly gentleman in the managing committee, possibly equally awe-struck by that phrase, offered Sakharam a chair.

“Sit down, son”, he said.

“Epistemological kernel? On what basis? Have you read any of my books?” I finally managed to say something.

“I have pored over each and every line ever published under your name, Sir”, he said, “Sane Guruji and you are my literary idols.”

“Oh God!” I couldn’t help saying.

“Hey Gatnya, but I remember, when that other author had come last month, you told him it was him and Sane Guruji”, the Secretary of the committee said.

There is probably an unwritten law which states that any man holding the title of the “Secretary” of any organization should not possess even an ounce of common sense. Sakharam looked very embarrassed. I tried to change the subject and said,

“What class do you study in?”

“I’ll appear for the SSC shortly” he said, “If you bestow me with your esteemed autograph, I shall be eternally indebted to you, Sir”.

The more I heard this guy speak, the more I felt like he had printing press types in his mouth instead of teeth.

The next time I met Sakharam was a few months later. He had come to my house on Dussehra.

“You may not recollect making my acquaintance, Sir” he said.

“Of course I recollect.... I mean remember. You had come for one of my speeches.”

“I am flattered beyond all conceivable imagination, Sir. This is like the sun preserving the memory of encountering a mere firefly.” Gatne, true to his habit, let out a bookish tribute.

Now I could not figure out what to do with this kid. He had come specially to greet me for Dussehra. So I had to at least offer him a cup of tea. But the devotion on his face was driving me crazy.

“I had some queries which I was hoping you would reply to.”, he said.

“Let us meet some other time for those, son” I tried an evasive tactic.

“I will come whenever it is convenient for you, Sir. I do not wish to disturb your intellectual ruminations.”

Intellectual ruminations?? I felt like shouting at him, “Kid, why don’t you talk like a normal person? Who turned you into such a nerd? And who the heck does intellectual rumination?”. But I did not say any of that. Gatne’s eyes were dripping with the vulnerability of a few dozen bunnies. The way that the veins in his neck and his facial muscles would contort every time he spoke was so piteous, that even if he had uttered an expletive, it would have made the listener sympathize with Gatne instead of being offended. And it seemed like Goddess Saraswati had opened language classes on his tongue.

“Come in the evening sometime next week.” I said instead.

“Could you specify the exact day, Sir? It is entirely acceptable, even if you do not wish to do so, Sir. I will come everyday.”

Just as I was beginning to grapple with the idea of the possibility that this creature would be visiting me every day, he let loose another missile.

“After all, perseverance is the lifeblood of perspicacity.”

“Lifeblood of what?” I asked.

“Of perspicacity. That’s what Kudchedkar says.”

“Kudchedkar? Who is Kudchedkar?”

“S. T. Kudchedkar, author of The Drooping Dahlia. Reknowned.”

“Ok” Now I had never heard of an author named Kudchedkar. But Gatne was actually quoting his “The Drooping Dahlia” from memory. Gatne’s case seemed completely beyond repair.

We decided on a day when to meet, and sure enough, Gatne turned up promptly on time the next week.

“I apologize if I am culpable of interrupting your contemplations, Sir.”

“What contemplations? I was just lying down for a while.” I said, already feeling annoyed with him. This evening did not look promising.

“Or was it meditation?”

“Not meditation either, Gatne. Anyway, will you have some tea?” I asked.

“No thank you, Sir. I desist from consuming any stimulating beverage.”

Stimulating beverage! I started fantasizing about taking a powerful hose and washing away all these bookish cobwebs from his brain.

“Who told you tea is a stimulating beverage?” I asked him.

“Choukhule Guruji has written so in the Vijayadashmi special edition of the Unnati magazine in an illuminating essay titled – “Six Principles of Personal Self-Improvement”.”, he replied earnestly.

“Listen to me, Gatne. Don’t read essays like these.” I said.

“I actually came to seek your counsel on this very issue.” Gatne said.

“What sort of counsel?”

“I aspire to broaden my literary horizons. Without a broad literary horizon, a man’s personality does not develop the appropriate contours.”

“Which ass told you this?” I almost yelled.

Gatne gave a start and looked at me surprised. I think I had unknowingly fingered one of his innumerable literary idols.

“Listen to me. Have some tea.” I said. “have you ever had it before?”

“Yes”, he said looking needlessly contrite, “I used to drink it.”

Finally he drank the tea as I commanded. After all, I was also a member of his pantheon. But the expression on his face while drinking that tea was remarkable. He resembled a lamb eating at the same table as a wolf. Now that I mention it, Gatne did remind me of a lamb in more ways than one. Lambs consume leaves from plants and he consumed pages from books.

I made a list of all the possible books I could remember and gave it to him. His face was a picture of gratitude as he took the list from me. He went through the list and said to me,

“I have read these.”

“All of them?” I almost fell off the chair.

“Yes, but never mind. I will read them again, and attempt to do so with a broader perspective.”

“No, no, you don’t need to read them again.” I said. Actually I felt like telling him, my dear friend, don’t even read the newspaper for the next five years.

Finally I took him to my bookshelf. As he laid eyes on those books, he started resembling a kid in a candy shop.

“Take whichever books you want.” I said.

“I hope to read as much as you some day, Sir”, he said and I felt embarrassed. I hadn’t even opened half the books there. Gatne picked out a few and put them in his bag. He left, and I breathed easy again.

About ten days later, the sentence “I apologize if I am culpable of interrupting your contemplations, Sir.” pricked me once more as Gatne stood at the door. This guy had run through some 2000 pages in a matter of a little more than a week. I took the books from him and asked,

“So did you like the books?”

But Gatne was standing still, with his eyes moist. I was shocked.

“Gatne don’t cry.” I said.

“Please forgive me, Sir.”, he said in a choked voice.

to be continued

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About Comments

Folks, FYI, comments haven't been enabled on Vantage Point. I just enabled them for the January Quiz post. Blogger settings aren't flexible enough to allow me to turn comments on for just one post without turning them on for the whole archive of posts. Comments displayed is the default setting. As for newer posts having comments, sometimes I forget that I need to disable comments for each individual post.


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Saturday, March 03, 2007

Six Degrees of Separation

Arguably, Stanley Milgram is more famous for his experiments about the obedience of authority, which Amit wrote about a few weeks back. The experiment threw up some really disturbing findings, and also played a big role in the setting up of a regulatory board for experiments on human subjects.

But more interestingly(for me at least), he is also reknowned for the "small world phenomenon" experiment which first empirically proved the "six degrees of separation" concept.

In 2001 Duncan Watts replicated Milgram's experiment using email and came up with similar results, i.e the average distance length was around 6. It will be interesting to see if this number - "6" decreases in the future, with the spread of blogs, internet forums and social networking websites.

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Zach Braff's Blog

Through the young Anantha a.k.a. The Blogger Formerly Known As Anti, I learnt that one of my favourite entertainers, Zach Braff has a blog. This is it. Pretty easy URL to remember actually. Readers will remember from my Garden State review that I consider Braff as one of the most promising talents in Hollywood.

The blog was fun to read because unlike other celebrity blogs which are more of exercises in PR, Zach's blog is just that - Zach's blog. He writes it with the honest freshness of just another blogger. Here are a few samples -

Didn’t win, but I met P. Diddy, so who u calling a loser? He made eye contact with me and headed towards me and I was like “uh oh, did I anger Diddy?” My brain started spinning, “think of times you may or may not have pissed off Diddy. Quickly! What r u doing? Don’t look at Harley from “Lost” focus on Diddy!!!”

I met Donald Trump today. It was odd because I’ve never met a person while holding a bobble-head doll of them. By coincidence, someone had just given it to me. If you ever get the opportunity to meet a person while holding a bobble-head doll of them, you too will notice it is an odd feeling that is better felt than described. He was nice. I told him that I am a big fan of his show. I don’t watch tons of reality TV, but there’s something about that guy… I don’t know- he makes me laugh. And in an odd/superficial way you do learn a little about big business.

AMAZING song. Anyway I wrote Garden State about a time in my life when I was very depressed. I felt like I had no one! And out of that sadness I began to write. So many of you, in response to Garden State or “The Last Kiss” have write me such painful/yet beautiful stories of things you are dealing with in your life; emotions and memories that those films brought up for you in your own life. A woman today wrote me the most beautiful letter about her emotional response to “The Last Kiss” and it almost brought tears to my eyes. So I would feel dishonest if I didn’t say at some point that Garden State was very much inspired by my own experience and I have had some hard times, but I am not currently depressed. I’m actually quite the opposite. The way it was worded in the article, it implied that I am not currently happy. I walked into an interview today and the interviewer goes, “You look fine to me!” And I was like what the hell are you talking about I just got a fucking Donald Trump bobble-head doll, why would I not be giggling like there’s a feather stuck in my bottom?

Oh just read the whole thing, or I'll end up quoting it all here.

He also links to some funny youtube videos on it, and fans of Scrubs or Peanuts or both(like me) will love this -

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Friday, March 02, 2007

My Newfound Spirituality from Asami Asami by Pu La Deshpande

This is an excerpt from P.L. Deshpande's 'Asami Asami', a novel written in first person from the perspective of Dhondopant "Bemtya" Joshi, a middle class Maharashtrian living in Mumbai in 1960s. Joshi lives in a small house in a chawl with his wife and kids and works as a clerk in a small company. The novel is a light-hearted yet profound commentary on life in middle class India in the 1960s. One of my favourite parts is the one where Joshi goes to a religious Guru. Though written almost 50 years back, this story remains relevant, in fact even more so, to the absurdities of the religious Gurus who command irrational following. I will take you to the translation with the usual disclaimer - a lot of PuLa's humour was based on wordplay which is gets lost in translation. Yet, whatever remains is sharp enough, which goes to show why he was one of the most intelligent authors this country ever produced.

I have never been a religious man. My father didn't really care for gods and goddesses either. In fact he would often say to me,

"Bemtya, a smooth and shiny rupee is the real god. You know how even a puny letter does not budge from its place unless you buy stamps to stick on it? Similarly, even god can't help a "not paid" man get anywhere in life. So, counting cash as more important than counting blessings, get it?"

But in my office, everyone prayed to at least one god each. From Titwala's Ganpati to Wadala's Maruti, every member of the pantheon had followers amongst my colleagues. But among all of them, Kaykini Gopalrao was on a different spiritual plane altogether. First he placed faith in Shivanand, Nityanand, Swanand, Parmanand..... all sorts of Anands he could get hold of. Then he went through the Swamis in all the mutths possible. Next it was the turn of all the Murtis from A. Ramamurti to Z. Krishnamurti. Then all possible Babas, Matajis, Devis he could find. And even after all this, for good measure, he was also a regular at Mount Mary and Haji Malang.

Gopalrao was far beyond spiritual thirst; what he had was spiritual gluttony. Recently he found a new Gurudev in Juhu. And believe it or not, I happened to visit that Gurudev with Kaykini Gopalrao.

Actually what happened was, recently I had been having a few bouts of dizziness. I went to the doctor in our office, and he said "It's high blood pressure". But Kushabhau Gulawane would have none of it. He said,

"Dhondopant, I tell you... this office of the doctor..."

This was Kushabhau's own brand of english.

".. this office of the doctor is a Number 1 fool. You come with me to the family of my doctor."

So Kushabhau dragged me to his family doctor who said, "It's low blood pressure"!

The doctor in Colaba said it was high blood pressure, and this doctor in the suburbs was saying low blood pressure. This was like one of those weather forecasts for Mumbai. The Colaba Observatory predicts cloudy skies with intermittent showers, and the Santacruz Observatory predicts clear skies.

Now I told Kaykini Gopalrao about these divergent diagnoses, just to amuse him. But he got very serious and said,

"No no, you must not take chances with this. You know, you should come with me to my Gurudev in Juhu. Once he blesses you, all problems will disappear. No high, no low, no blood, no pressure, nothing."

Finally it wasn't high or low blood pressure, but Kaykini Gopalrao's pressure that made me agree to visit his venerated Gurudev.

"Make sure you wear white clothes, OK?", and then as if I had no idea of what the colour white was, Kaykini Gopalrao picked up a blank sheet of paper and waved it in front of my face. That bugged me and I was about to ask him if he thought I had never worn white clothes in my life. But Kaykini Gopalrao is a very mild-mannered and polite man. He even greets the office peon with folded hands. So I didn't feel like saying anything.

Ironically though, finding white clothes for me turned out to be tougher than finding god. Because our household believes in clothes which don't get dirty easily. So I had to borrow a white kurta from Gothoskar Dada, a white dhoti from Kushabhau, and a white cap from Maganlal Mehta. With each garment on my body from a different household, I set off to meet Gurudev.

Kaykini Gopalrao was waiting for me outside his house. With him were two more people from our office - Keshar Madgaonkar and Appa Bhingarde. It took me a few moments to recognize the usually slobby and unwashed Bhingarde in such clean white clothes. And Keshar had taken whiteness to a new level. Except for her hair and face, everything else was ultra white. She reminded me of the way our chawl looks after being whitewashed once every 10 years or so.

"Miss Keshar, didn't know you were a religious person." I said

"I tell you, Mr. Joshi, after all spirituality is the only thing that makes any sense in this world these days." she replied, and I guessed that she and her boyfriend were having some problems.

"And Appa, you too?"

"What do you mean, me too? I have always been religious. You know in my house, we have one of those rare Ganpati idols with the snout curving to the right." Appa Bhingaarde said, bllissfully unaware that at that very moment, his poking the end of his handkerchief into his nose was making him resemble a rare Ganpati idol with the snout curving to the right.

Finally at about five in the evening we reached our destination, a palatial looking house near MHADA. At the door, Gopalrao said to us "Remove your footwear and keep it here".

As soon as he said that I took out a bag from my pocket. My father always used to say, "Whenever you are going to a public place, always carry a bag with you, in case you need to remove your chappals. You don't want them stolen by anyone, do you?"

Gopalrao saw me putting my chappals in the bag and said "Don't worry, don't worry. Your sandals are safe here."

Now calling my ragged chappals "sandals" was like calling a hawaldar a Police Commissioner. But when I looked around and saw all the imported leather shoes, high heels, sandals with intricate embroidery, I realised that a thief coming there and stealing my chappals was as likely as a robber carrying out a daring heist on a bank and taking with him only the security guard's cap. So I left my chappals there with its more distinguished looking friends and entered the house.

The thick velvet carpet in the corridor was tickling my bare feet. Kaykini Gopalrao's spirituality had turned out to be very plush and luxurious. Growing up, I always thought spirituality meant standing barefoot on just one leg on the scorching hot ground next to a river for days at end. Surviving on nothing but water. Smearing your body with ash. When I was a kid, a religious person meant someone who braved hardships and difficulties.

Now of course, it is entirely possible that spirituality in the remote impoverished region of Konkan can mean one thing, and spirituality in Juhu can mean something completely different. After all, there is a difference in what my son gets as gifts at his birthday party and what the son of my chawl owner gets. His son gets a lot of cash, expensive gifts. My son gets a grand total of ten rupees, and if he is lucky, some Sane Guruji books.

Gopalrao took us to the upper floor. I saw that a man looking just like me, with a white cap, white kurta, white dhoti, was walking towards us. I stopped in my steps, surprised, and he stopped as well. I thought maybe it was someone I knew, so I folded my hands to say namaste, and he did the same. Then I realised.... it was a mirror covering the whole wall!

Now don't think me stupid. In my defense, I had never seen such a massive mirror in my whole life. The mirror I have at home is pretty small, and I can never see both my cheeks at the same time when I am shaving. One reason of coruse is that it is chipped. Plus my wife keeps wiping her fingers on it after she puts kumkum on her forehead. So whenever I am shaving I feel like like I've cut myself. But this mirror was huge.

I was standing there admiring the mirror, when a woman who looked like she might be a film star, went past us. Appa Bhingarde twisted his neck in a way that would make a corkscrew proud, and drank in every inch of her body with his eyes.

"Suvarna Kapoor", Keshar Madgaonkar said.

"Who?" I asked

"The one in 'Police Ki Beti'" she said.

"The one in what?"

"The one in 'Police Ki Beti'. She was also in QattalKhana - The Slaughterhouse. You must have seen Qattalkhana for sure." Keshar explained.

"Qattalkhana? Why would a Joshi from Kadmadey in Konkan ever see a Qattalkhana?" I asked.

"Oh Mr. Joshi, not an actual slaughterhouse. It's the name of a film. She is an actress."

"Oh, then you should have said so in the first place. An actress, eh? Must be a woman of faith, then." I said.

Gopalrao then took us to a huge living room. It was really big and was decorated very opulently. There were candles everywhere, and people were sitting on diwans. Appa and Keshar sat down as well. Kaykini Gopalrao however walked straight to the middle of the room and reverentially placed his forehead on the top of an empty throne. I decided to do the same, and for good measure, also placed my forehead on a few chairs around that throne. The people sitting there who saw me do this pegged me as a very religious man, and one rich looking guy said to me in Gujarati,

"Come and sit here, Sheth".

Sheth? Oh right, wearing borrowed clothes was aparently making me look like a rich sheth from the stock market. I quietly went and sat next to him. To my left, was a very pretty young woman and to her left, acting as if she was her younger sister, was her mother.

In the old days, women weren't allowed in the company of rishis and saints. After rishis like Vishwamitra prayed for a few centuries, Indra would send Apsaras to test their concentration. But now, at the start of my religious life, there was this pretty woman sitting right next to me. How was I supposed to concentrate? Here I was in my spiritual kindergarten and god had thrown me a PhD Candidacy question. An Apsara even before I had prayed? This was like getting the judgement in a Bombay Sessions court case even before the plaintiff and defendant die.

What the men on my right were talking about, was for all practical purposes greek to me. Tata Steel, Share Capital, bulls, bears, lakhs, crores and other such foreign concepts were being thrown around. So I was sitting there, feeling very awkward, with beauty on my left and wealth on my right.

The rich guy on my right smiled at me and said to me in Gujarati,

"Kem sheth? Su business chhe?"

(note - "chhe" is a form of "is" in Gujarati, and the word for "no" in Marathi)

"Chhe chhe chhe, business nathi chhe." I replied, "Benson Johnson company maa job chhe."

As soon as I said "job" he immediately realised that I was a ghaati in sheth's clothing and switched to Marathi,

"So you come here every month?" he asked me.

"No no, this is my first time." I said.

"OK, OK. But you should come every month from now on, OK. This Gurudev is very powerful. Speaks English with such fluency, totally high class. As if Mad in England. Kem, Gordhanbhai?"

And Gordhanbhai responded, "Chokkas(correct)."

"And this Gurudev", the man next to me continued, "is completely original. He isn't an imitation of someone else."

"Is that so?" I asked.

"Yes. He is a great man. You know, he had gone to pray for days at end high up in the Himalayas. Very high. So high, that even Tenzing Norgay would not have gone so high. Snow all around him. Freezing cold. No food, no drink. He just survived on milk."


"Yes, only milk."

I thought to myself, there was snow around him as well. Maybe he even had a few milkshakes while he was at it.

"But that's not all", he continued, "tell me, who do you think got that milk for him up there?"

"Umm... milkman?" I ventured a guess.

"Milkman?? Are you crazy?? How can a milkman go up a place higher than even Tenzing Norgay has ever climbed?"


"He got the milk from... what do they call it... a tiger's woman... what do you call that in your language?"


"Yes, a tiger's wife."

"Mrs. Tiger?"

"No no, not someone named Mrs. Tiger. The wife of a real tiger... the one with stripes and all... you know, the kind you find in zoos and circuses, and sometimes even in jungles."

"Oh, you mean a tigress??"

"Yes!! Gurudev got the milk from a tigress."

"That's amazing", I said.

"Then? This is no ordinary man we are talking about here. This is Gurudev. He didn't become this powerful by drinking bottled milk purchased in Aarey Colony. You know there's even a photograph of that in his ashram in Rishikesh. Gurudev, with one leg raised, is praying, and the tigress, with one leg raised, is feeding him milk."

I thought to myself, I wonder which photographer must have been brave enough to go higher in the Himalayas than Tenzing Norgay ever went and take this picture. Must have been one heck of a spiritual photographer, I guess.

"Gurudev's fame has spread far and wide. He even has devotees in America."

Just then an old man sitting behind us got up, came near us and said,

"Gurudev loves all his devotees as the same, whether they are in India or America."

This old man then took charge of me from the Gujarati sheth.

"You know, Gurudev has meditated not just in the Himalayas, but also in the Alps. That's where he met Mayyadevi."

"Mayyadevi who?" I asked.

"Mayyadevi is a goddess reincarnated. She was originally a German, named Margaret Unterdanken. But everyone calls her Mayyadevi."

"Will we get to see her today?"

"No, she won't be here today. She isn't feeling well. She's got boils in her armpits." the old man said.

"What? A reincarnated goddess has gotten boils in her armpits?" I was surprised.

"That's part of the miracle, my friend. gurudev once had hydrophobia, even though he was never bitten by a dog. These great souls cure their devotees by taking the ailments upon themselves."

I thought to myself, it would be so convenient if Gurudev and Mayyadevi each took on my low and high blood pressure. The old man interrupted my selfish fantasy,

"Tell me Sir, have you read Gurudev's "In Tune With The Tune"?" he asked.

"Have I read what?"

""In Tune With The Tune". It's about how this universal chaos was leading into the creation of a cosmos.."

"Creation of a what?"




"Oh ok, ok, cosmos!" I said laughing. Actually I didn't have a clue what cosmos meant. Non-spiritual people like me know what kishmish is. But why would we know what on earth cosmos is? But not wanting to look ignorant, I confidently said "oh ok, ok, cosmos" as if I bandy around the word hundreds of times a day.

"Yes. When you ascend on to the supraconscious level and then encounter some occult experiences... oh I tell you, you must read "In Tune With The Tune". It costs 5 rupees."

"Have you read it?" I asked him.

"Read it? Hehehehe" he guiltily laughed, "Actually I have written it. Gurudev appeared in my dreams and told me what to write."

Suddenly a heavyset old Madrasi at the other end of the room stood up and yelled,


"Who is that guy?" I asked the old man next to me.

"Professor Kumbhakonam. He nurtures the hopes of taking over after Gurudev dies. He is a complete charlatan. Doesn't deserve any position of importance. But he is from Gurudev's village. It's all nepotism."

I didn't know nepotism existed even in the spiritual domain. Kumbhakonam said to everyone,

"Brothers and sisters. Our most reverend Gurudeva has asked me to start the prayer today. But before I do that, there will be complete silence for one minute. In which we will do dhyaaNam, of our most reverend Gurudeva."

We all shut our eyes in silence. After a few seconds I opened my eyes slightly, and saw that Professor Kumbhakonam was looking intently at the pretty lady on my left. I thought to myself, maybe he is looking at her from a spiritual perspective.

Now the irritating thing is, that minute refused to end. This is a question I have always had. If everyone is supposed to shut their eyes for one minute, then who will look at the clock and see when that minute is up? I always have this trouble whenever respects are being paid to the recently departed. In fact I worry that I will start thinking about this, and then start laughing inappropriately. The spiritual minute kept dragging on and on and I was sure I would break into a highly inappropriate giggle, when suddenly,


Appa Bhingarde. For the last 16 years, his patent sneeze has caused the walls of our office to tremor. His sneeze ended the minute of silence.

Then Kumbhakonam started with his prayer. Now what should I tell you about his voice? Wow. Imagine if a bull, separated for several years from his favourite cow, wanted to sing to her and tell her how much he was missing her. It was that earth-shattering plaintiveness that shone through Kumbhakonam's voice -

"vhaataapi ganapati vajenam... vhaataapi...paramaaa...panamaaa..."

and then suddenly, as if a mouse had entered his underwear, he went,


His prayer would have gone on for ages to come, but luckily for us, a conch shell sounded and he stopped. The curtains at the door were parted, and Suvarna Kapoor entered with a handfan made of peacock feathers. Then a man dressed like he was playing a part in an enactment of the Mahabharat entered. This was Gurudev.

Everyone rushed to place their forehead on his feet. The pretty lady next to me and her mother also rushed ahead. I overheard them telling Gurudev that they were the members of some royal family. The mother told Gurudev that some Chandrashekhar was ill and he needed to be cured. I was wondering who Chandrashekhar was and why she didn't get him here, when she said, "He has an infection on his tail". I realised that Chandrashekhar was the royal canine. Gurudev assured her that Chandrashekhar will be cured.

But what I couldn't understand was how Gurudev would take this tail ailment upon himself? From what I could see, he did not have a corresponding appendage at the back.

People were emptying their pockets at Gurudev's feet and Kumbhakonam was putting it all inside a wooden box using forceps, making a big show of the fact that he wasn't even touching the money. The Rani Sahiba gave a big wad of currency notes. When my turn came, I put my hand inside my pocket just to save face, and surprisingly, found a crisp ten rupee note! My wife had given me just 3 rupees when I left the house. And some of it had been spent on the local train ticket and the bus fare. SO where did this ten rupee note come from?

I was about to yell "Gurudev, What a Miracle" and fall at his feet when it dawned upon me - the kurta belonged to Gothoskar Dada. And that simple man had given it to me without checking his pockets. I gave the ten rupees to Kumbhakonam, and returned to the place where I was sitting.

After a while everyone had made their donations and Gurudev suddenly inhaled loudly and said, "WHO ARE YOU?"

I thought he was asking me, so I started compiling the sentence "Sir, my name is.." in my mind in English, and just as I was about to say it, he said again,

"WHO ARE YOU?? WHO AM I?? WHO IS HE??" and he pointed upwards. I looked up, but there was no one.

Now what was I supposed to say? I was already finding it very weird that this whole spiritual exercise had been carried out strictly in English. But then Gurudev started answering his own question,

"He is the you in the I of the you. In which you in the I and I in the you are the you in the you."

Both my blood pressures suddenly started acting up. And Gordhanbhai next to me said,

"Saala su English boley chhe na? Saala fine."

After a while I started imagining that Gurudev was putting chains around everyone's necks with his "youyouyouyou" and turning everyone into Chandrashekhars. All this was getting too much for me to bear. A strong incense smell. The crowd. All the chanting. And Gurudev continuing,

"Land in the realm of.... the truth beyond the... beyond the... eternal bliss of... the altitude of... the supraconscious..."

I started feeling light in the head. I don't know what happened but the next thing I knew, Kaykini Gopalrao was waking me up. The room was almost empty.

"You are very fortunate, Dhondopant, very fortunate", Gopalrao said to me.

"Why?" I asked.

"Falling into a spiritual trance on your very first visit.... very rare. You must have lead a virtuous life."

I did not feel the need to tell him that I fall into such spiritual trances every weekend after a heavy lunch. We walked out the door. All the fancy shoes had left with their owners. My old chappals were sitting there faithfully waiting for me.

The next morning I went to Gothoskar dada's place and returned his kurta. I also returned his ten rupees. I wasn't going to rob someone of his hard earned money for no rhyme or reason. I was no Gurudev.

"So, what did Gurudev say?" he asked me.

"Gurudev said", I took a breath and said, "He is the you in the I of the you. In which you in the I and I in the you are the you in the you."

Gothoskar dada looked at me disapprovingly and said,

"Drinking this early in the day, Dhondopant?"

"I am serious. That's what he actually said" I explained.

"What nonsense? What is this you in the you? What does it mean?"

"I'll tell you what it means. My father used to say -

"Bemtya, Brahma created this entire universe using all 4 heads of his. But his favourite animal is the ass. Which is why even while creating human beings, he generously poured in a lot of asinine qualities. In this world, there are few potters. And too many asses. So if you become a potter, there is no dearth of asses to toil for you. Understand?"

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