Saffron Overdose

August 21, 2009

I was never a great fan of RDB ; and I have often found myself outnumbered by vociferous fans unable to digest my sacrilege. I thought it was contrived and tried too hard to make a point, that there was too much moral posturing to seem genuine; but have learnt over time to keep it to myself and smile off a potential proselytizer.

Chandrahas Choudhary talked about why it didn’t work for him.  I wish I’d seen it three and a half years ago.

What goes around..

August 20, 2009

There’s an entire generation of Ilayaraja watchers who dig his disciplined, classical, even mathematical(?) approach to structure.

They’re still around , and I feel quite ignorant when I 

What’s Classical?

June 11, 2009

In Ingmar Bergman’s Tystnaden (”The Silence”), two sisters stop at an unknown country, home to a strange language that has little in common with Occidental schooling. In their hotel room, the older sister (who is a translator by profession) fails in all her attempts to strike up conversation with a staff member; her inability to communicate sparks off a bout of undignified charade.

But what else could surmount the barrier between them? Culture, language, food – they’re all cleaved neatly with no room to forge familiarity. Later, however, the same sister strains her ears when she catches a melody played by the Hotel. She knows; for the first time in this country, she’s spotted an oasis of comprehension.
Bach?”she asks.
Bach!!” pounces the bellhop, himself relieved to find something in common with the strange foreigner. “Johann Sebastian Bach”, he announces with decidedly festive overtones. She knows Bach, she can’t be that foreign.
Even Bergman couldn’t conceive of a state grotesque enough to admit  an ignorance of Bach.

But we’ve all heard him. What was once an aristocratic privilege seems to have seeped into most corners of our diurnal routines – the elevator, the phone operator, and, of course, the tinkle that serves to underline the air-hostess as she prepares us for take-off (The polyphonic ubiquity of classical sonatas in cell-phones and flash animations are still wounds that throb from the 90s.)As early as 1920, George Squier made a business proposal out of this idea – he called it Muzak. Elevator music was born; and the average employee had listened to all Beethoven’s symphonies in six business trips.

Isn’t that a reason to celebrate? Like the color purple, starched collars, and finishing schools, music is no longer the preserve of a pompous gentry. The next great pianist could be Syrian, and his piano Sri Lankan. Surely, there are worse side-effects to modernity.
Except that there probably aren’t. It is hard to ignore that Gauss, Fermat, De Moivré, and many other giants building up the foundation of modern mathematics were connoisseurs – they recognized and savored the rigor and pattern that the carefully trained musician unleashed in a burst of creative passion. The notes that carved a coda were meditations for these great men; that they were able to meditate in this fashion followed from the pursuit of hard reason they subjected their minds to.
If Bach is remembered today (and not hundreds of his contemporaries), it is because of the tiny number of like-minded people who have turned up century after century. They were hardly aristocratic – except in the quality of their thoughts. There was no doubt a musical equivalent of Steven Seagal loitering among his peers; who caused greater comfort to theatre managers. But he isn’t remembered today, and neither are his listeners.

A twelve year old (economically disadvantaged) Tanzanian Kid, with some self-control, and a desire to break out of poverty can do these with an internet connection today, after he has equipped himself with basics of English language.

  1. Just sit back and explore the wonderful access that MIT provides. He doesn’t need to walk around his village trying to figure out what he wants to do; if he’s got time to spare in the late evening, he just needs to point his browser at MIT’s open source website, and start exploring architecture, engineering, health sciences, humanities, management ,science, and a variety of cross-disciplinary topics. If he’s interested, there’s a treasure trove of information inviting him out there.
  2. Complement what’s being taught at High School; there are a bunch of short-term courses available at OpenLearn, and if he walks into his class with the perspective he gains from here – there’s so much more he can build into himself.

Actually there’s so much more. StingyScholar keeps track of what is actually up on the web that’s available free of cost for the motivated learner.

How did I bump into this? They wrote a great review for MotionMountain.How did I bump into Motion Mountain?  Ha – that’s actually a good one.

I found it on Scribd. That’s (one more!) great portal for a document collection – I was actually searching to see if they’d have Herman Hesse’s (I think last) book – The Glass Bead game. (As it turns out, they do have one which isn’t downloadable. If you’re motivated enough, you can read it online in a ppt kind of format. I did not find it in the bookstore I generally visited – I asked twice for it. I just went from the book to another book to George Polya and Terence Tao, and stumbled serendipitously across what has just been the major part of this blog).

I don’t think we’re all that us-versus-them congenitally. The web erasing those boundaries – it is really a silent revolution(  well, not so silent if you listen to Music companies, Book Publishers, and Movie Production Units- not the best thing to happen to them,perhaps).

What’s happened is that there is so much more reason to grow into whatour experiences mould us into; and not the ghosts of our ancestors’ travels. I say ghosts, because Desis like me are typically taught to revere the past – with objectivity that could fit into a (Swadesi MRF) tyre tread.

Are we all on the way to becoming world citizens, then?

I doubt it. We’re still, well, humans. By and large, we tend to be quite selfish, and quite good at transferring that mindset onto the planet. We need to, right; being blessed with large cranial sizes and effective hippocampa (or is it hippocampuses?).

But our environments and societies will cease to be as significant as they were in determining our predilections. There’s a melting pot of left, right, and centre waiting to feast on potentially, every dinner table on the planet.

PS: That wonderful photograph I filched from here. Do check out more there; some of it is copyrighted

I found something that’s vaguely similar to what I tried to say in the last post; it’s just, well, much better. It goes much further; maybe what an extremely deeply thinking individual would inductively reason over a very large scope, if asked to suppose that the last post was acceptable. 

       
 

“The cause of our current social crises, he would have said, is a genetic defect within the nature of reason itself. And until this genetic defect is cleared, the crises will continue.
Our current modes of rationality are not moving society forward into a better world. They are taking it further and further from that better world. Since the Renaissance these modes have worked. As long as the need for food, clothing and shelter is dominant they will continue to work. But now that for huge masses of people these needs no longer overwhelm everything else, the whole structure of reason, handed down to us from ancient times, is no longer adequate. It begins to be seen for what it really is… emotionally hollow, esthetically meaningless and spiritually empty. That, today, is where it is at, and will continue to be at for a long time to come.”

 

Keeping up with the Joneses

February 16, 2009

 

What is it about a fully grown life form that makes self-aggrandizement a rewarding pursuit?

False bravado and credible signals are both part of the mechanism where a jackal gets to mark its territory. It’s understandable to see it as hardwired into survival. Overt display of (attractive) physical characteristic- peacocks, is de rigueur in the mating game. Aquatic creatures, birds, animals, and human beings are all equated into this common denominator.

But which other animal gets turned on by flattery? Desperately looks for social acceptance?  Finds it far easier to claim false credit than accept the possibility of randomness in a purported achievement?

What is it about this collection of atoms that generates a collective high on receipt of any signal that another similar collection of similar atoms is ‘inferior’ – in one loose definition of ‘inferior’ or the other? What survival advantage does it entail? It surely brings about jealousy, rage, and other sub-optimal conditions in extending any lease on the blue planet.

If all of us have it (in some degree or the other), it must be a genetic legacy. As it turns out, all of us do have it – from Atticus Finch to Attila the Hun – some of us ‘succeed’ in curbing a basal emotion for  ‘better’ alternatives, and some don’t. A big chunk of major literature (over thousands of years, no less) is built up on it. Iago fed on it, Indiana Jones battled against it.

So why did it develop in the first place?  Is it something to do with the fact that our social groups evolved beyond basic needs towards a sophisticated marking of peer perspective as a utility measure? That’s the best I can come up with. 

Sphere

February 15, 2009

” On your planet you have an animal called a bear. It is a large animal, sometimes larger than you, and it is clever and has ingenuity, and it has a brain as large as yours. But the bear differs from you in one important way.

It cannot perform the activity you call imagining. It cannot make mental images of how reality might be. It cannot envision what you call the past and what you call the future. This special ability of imagination is what has made your—species as great as it is. Nothing else. It is not your ape—nature, not your tool-using nature, not language or your violence or your caring for young or your social groupings. It is none of these things,which are all found in other animals. Your greatness lies in imagination. The ability to imagine is the largest part of what you call intelligence. You think the ability to imagine is merely a useful step on the way to solving a problem or making something happen. But imagining it is what makes it happen. This is the gift of your species and this is the danger, because you do not choose to control your imaginings. You imagine wonderful things and you imagine terrible things, and you take no responsibility for the choice. You say you have inside you both the power of good and the power of evil, the angel and the devil, but in truth you have just one thing inside you—the ability to imagine”

 
 

 
 

                                      

The man who learnt to learn

February 14, 2009

When I first started to understand that I could begin to understand the world in little spoonfuls, this man captured my imagination as possibly no one else. Michael Crichton stood for so much that I try to make a point of remembering( and am not successful ).

  •  He  published at fourteen, dabbled in literature and anthropology at Harvard, took a summa cum laude in one of them, and finally qualified as an MD ,and then decided to write. All that , while winning the Edgar still in College, with two different pen names as a writer. Directed movies, created TV shows,wrote (quite stunning) science fiction, and , towards the end of his life, took impassionate and controversial views on many legal issues – Cloning,Global Warming, and Science in general. Gulp.
  • He seemed to be able to take on academic complexity with remarkable disrespect for professorial reputation, and emerge  with a ringside view of how much progress had been made. Somehow, he kept spotting petty human prejudices in the forestry of high-sounding words. You were reminded of why someone chose to explore Nature –not to publish in Nature, but really, to feel the thrill of having a jab at a hypothesis.And then check that out.Even if it happened to be wrong.
  • He behaved as if passive learning was an oxymoron. He learnt to program in BASIC(not because he had a console job, but because he didn’ t feel comfortable operating a black box). He was audacious enough to write a general manual for BASIC. The book was audacious enough to sell itself. 

I did not  agree with him on everything, particularly in the last eight years when I thought he wasn’t in the same place he was earlier. Maybe that was an unfair comment. I know I ‘m not in the same place where I was awed by him.  I think that’s what he’d have replied if ever faced with an accusation of that sort. Sure, after reading (and using equations based on ) Heisenberg’s uncertainty principle for a full year, I finally understood what I was into when a character from  Jurassic Park made this comment:

You can’t observe anything without changing it. That’s the single most important scientific discovery of the twentieth century. 

Of course I knew that . I just didn’t feel  it until then.  That was Michael Crichton. I already started missing him in the last eight years. I hope I can latch on to what spoke to me(and it seemed, just me) from across half the globe, into my bedroom.

I got pampered as an undergraduate getting music for almost free (as I do now). It doesn’t matter that Napster no longer rolls Music companies into Gordian knots (or does it?). There’s YouTube and metacafe, which seem to have burrowed a hole right under Tommy Mottola‘s bravado (On second thoughts, maybe he’s not that concerned. Perhaps not everyone matches up to the desis in being cheap).

It was music to all our ears when it played hard-to-get. There was so much more in chasing after it, and acquiring that piece of tape (Oh yes, we bought tapes back then). That tape, of course, was the keystone to a strange and sonorous world that was ours. Like Rome, it wasn’t built in a day. We discovered new voices that escaped the idiot box (and the idiots populating it).  There were sudden epiphanies that redeemed the hundred rupees a few thousand times over. We felt up little jingles that nested inside somewhere, sowed them over wastelands that were begging to drink them in.

And boy, did we reap what we sowed.

Now of course, we fret if it takes more than five seconds to find what we want – it’s either buried in an a small (but tagged!) universe, or up there on the great Video mother ship. The desire to listen isn’t as much an urge as an itch – we scratch it out as soon as it starts to bloom. And as happens with all scratches, we just end up whipping those cells that had an appetite. Those ones that asked for more. What Twisted minds we’ve developed.

PS: There are anomalies. Tony Peluso does this (at the end), and nothing can get me from playing him repeatedly on a tired laptop. But Tony Peluso did not twitter, and neither did he volunteer to enter  Big Brother. He lived when Led Zeppelin could afford to name their albums I,II,III,and IV.

Fifteen minutes wasn’t much in those days.

I remember strutting with a puffed chest into the music store. I’d have waited for that moment for typically a month, and would first feast myself on the treasures up for public viewing . I’d drive anyone who made the mistake of accompanying me completely bonkers, but then, the first hour wasn’t meant even to choose, let alone buy.

And boy, did I hold on to my treasure after that. I’d play everything once, after lingering on to what got me hooked in the first place. Then I’d go again, discover something that lit up a new cranial corner. And more, even more till I’d chewed that album into my mental stream of consciousness. Each time something played, an audio field crystallized and let each note fit snugly into an assigned place. I’d associate guitar licks with visits made and solo vocals with new entrants into the family. The Cranberries were no longer just an Irish band; they were packages of tightly bundled emotions triggered through the two ampere socket.

I ‘d often feel the same anticipation(and dewdrop freshness) wafting over me after some months( or years) when I’d happen to stub into a piece of that experience. At a friend’s place, flipping television channels, or just honking up the irritating jaywalker(what is the car next to me playing?). It was a juggle-fest; listening memories leaped back-and-forth from the left brain to the right. Action to reaction, intent to intuition. Until that point where I stopped listening and began feeling.

Sigh. That was when I used to pay for my music. With money, that is.

Now, of course, I don’t have to fret about experiencing that haunting (and teasing) riff I caught somewhere. I don’t need to sweat and grumble at the Neanderthals next door passing off as music store owners (Does that profession sound Kafkaesquely oxymoronic now?).

I blow the Google bugle. Unless , of course, I find it on youtube.

And I never listen to it again. Or associate it with my cousin’s new puppy. Or drive it into a classmate’s unwilling hippocampus.