Paradox Paradise

Would you still call it nonsense, if sense exchanges its meaning with nonsense?

Monday, January 28, 2008

It’s-never-too-late sort of Happy New Year to you!

Some years back, seven or eight years, one client of the agency I was working with at that time woke up on one fine morning of the second week of January, and with some shock and horror, realised that he had not yet thought of printing a new calendar for his company. “Don’t worry! It’s not too late,” he was told, a little later in that morning, when his frantic call was answered by the agency executive. A few hours later, around 11 in the morning, I was greeted, as usual, with an ‘It’s urgent! We’ve to print and deliver it by tomorrow evening’, as I walked in to the office.

“What’s it?” I greeted the executive back, as usual again.

“ A calendar. Since we have no time, just three options will do.” Came the reply.

“Why just three? We have about a year in our hands!” I was trying my best to pretend that I still haven’t learnt how agencies work. Needless to add, I didn’t succeed at it.

A few more hours later, after a good time talking with colleagues about almost everything except a calendar over many coffees and cigarettes, the executive was informed that three options would be impossible by evening, but surely two could be delivered. The executive pretended disappointment, as that was the practice. Ask for more so that what you get wouldn’t be too less.

“The concepts are already ready. And very unique” I informed him.

“Unique too?”

“Yes. Not unique, as usual. But truly unique. Unique as in U.N.I.Q.U.E.” I could see him smelling a fish, as I announced that.

“It will have dates on it? I want all the months and all the dates on it!”

“It sure does. We don’t have enough time to shoot a pin-up calendar without dates!”

“Are you going to suggest me to buy already printed calendars and stick our client’s logo on it?” The executive had started to think creative, as he usually do when he turns to be too sceptical.

“That’s a brilliant! I never thought of it! We can keep that as the third option.” I was sincerely thrilled at the idea.

“What are your two U.N.I.Q.U.E. concepts then?” He asked, while preparing his best for the worst to come.

“A calendar that starts its dates on 21st of March, and one that starts on 1st of April”


“A zodiac year calendar. Or, a financial year calendar. Our client can take his pick. And now you have figured out a third option too. In case…”


“I told you. These are U.N.I.Q.U.E. concepts, worth to win a few awards” I beamed. I never knew these kind of calendars existed. Neither did anyone in my office or the client’s.

The conversation ended at that. The assignment was approved and eventually dropped by the client, who later realised that he can do business without a calendar of his own. And he also knew a calendar of his own wouldn’t have helped his business anyway. At least, for that year.

I had almost forgotten about this incident. Every working day in medium size advertising agencies having clients with no big budgets and/or stupid Communication Managers, is filled with such. What they say is true. Advertising is indeed fun. I remembered about this conversation, when, I was staring at this year’s calendar that sits right in front of me. I had just turned its first leaf; the dates on it starts on December 22nd.

Another reason that prompted me to write this piece was reading my friend JM’s once-upon-a-time-an-excellent blog. “One thing I don't want to do is tell more lies to myself,” he has written. If you can count that as a resolution, it’s a very brave one. If one is honest about it, that is. The allusions about truth can be pretty tricky. For anyone. Everyone that I know of, who went searching for it ended up finding a void, namely God and its derivatives. The end seldom justifies the means. And there are people, who stop before the first rock that blocks their way.

If you are one who’s been told many times that you should take praise and criticism in the same vain, I’ll offer you my two-paisa wisdom to it. You were told very wrong. What you believed, if you had believed, is the perfect recipe for vegetation, not one that develops intellectual and emotional maturity. Laugh whenever you can, and cry when it’s must.

I could have written about something else. About the new racism raw between Indian and Australian cricket teams. Or about Tata’s new car, and why I’m ashamed of that mass exploitation, which is hailed as the greatest success of the New Indian. Or about the finest bike ride I had so far, and why that made me feel guilty. Or about the biggest joke of recent years – the new Reliance IPO. Instead, I would wish you a very happy New Year ahead. It’s at least, a lot easier. Let me add few more words about the New Year wish. It’s not going to be happy, even if billions sincerely wish so. Before calling me negative, pessimistic, cynical, or anything more, remember the fact that the year just passed on wasn’t very happy either and you were fine with it. The last day of December and the first day of January have never been too far. And things might change overnight, just might.

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Friday, October 26, 2007

Sreesanth must be a commie, ponders captain Ponting

Indians are caught behind the wicket on a racist googly from none other than the masters of the game, the Australians. The majority of Indians believe the whites are superior in everything they do and fancies to imitate them to near perfection. Including, their racist behaviour. But before coming to that aspect of India Shining, let me clarify my thoughts on the alleged racist abuse against the Australian cricketer Andrew Symonds. I doubt how many people knows about his West Indian lineage; and it would be a safe assumption that the crowd were booing at his braided hair and painted lips than his tanned yet fairer skin. And it was not Symonds, but the Australian media who brought in the racist interpretation. Here Symonds is the scapegoat, and it is evident from his later comments that he realises that. He grew up in Australia, and knows a thing or two about racism.

Then I read about what the Australian captain is reported to have said. “They’re fairly passive sort of people, Indians, and he’s probably one from [the] left field.” Ponting said, referring to Indian pacer S. Sreesanth and his aggression in the field, according to the report. May be he should barter his name, Santhakumaran Sreesanth meaning ‘calm young boy of serene grace’, with Rudra Pratap Singh. Pointing has of course seen the red flags fluttering alongside the Indian national flags among the crowd in Kochi, Sreesanth’s home ground. Now, it’s not about Ponting’s commie-phobia, but about his trouble in accepting Indians not being a passive sort of people, as they are supposed to be. I’m not very sure Ponting had to say the same when he was India for the first time for a tour, in 2000 or ’01, about the girl he tried to molest in a pub. I always thought he looked a lot like that guy called George W. Bush. I know, Ponting doesn’t deserve such a huge insult.

The media, and general sentiment about the issue among the public, both in India and Australia is almost consentaneous. Indians played badly and behaved badly in the field, losing a series at home for 2-4. There was a time, not long ago, being in the Indian team required much more than talent, and a time when the players were ‘safe’ in the team in whichever manner they played. Winning was only for personal gratification of not losing, with almost no responsibility on the team. Making such an accusation is not without considering those few exceptions, but it is a just summary. Things have changed, because old ways are inadequate to sustain the fast growing business. Talent has of a little more importance in the selection criteria now.

I stopped watching test matches, ball by ball, quite a long time back. Still some of that old love is left in me. Cricket is not as charged up game as football, the first love. Well, when you put a ball between two strong legs, you ought get a good supply of testosterone, and cricket can’t match that excitement. The beauty of cricket is in its subtleties. The late cuts, or the leg break that whisks the bail off the off stump. Its beauty is in the lack of a second chance. It takes only 10 balls to finish a game, and it’s all about evading those ten deadly balls. Its beauty is in the abundance of chances. It takes only a few overs to turn the game around. A backhand half volley of Jim Courier from the baseline would inspire one to yawn, but an almost same movement before the wickets will give you a beauty of a cover drive.

Sledging is an acceptable practice in cricket. It’s no great surprise that two teams that uses it to the hilt are the now mellowed down South Africa, and Australia. “They pretend the aggression and that sort of backfired,” commented Australian coach after the India tour. To me it’s a clear admission, or claim, that Australians don’t pretend it, but mean it. “The Australians match the personal aggression with the bat and ball,” wrote enlightened Indian media. The trouble I have here is not whether Indians can use sledging successfully, or can win the game without it. My trouble is taking the argument that it is right for Australians and not for Indians, in a good sports man’s spirit. My trouble is in accepting that Australians are naturally aggressive and Indians are passive, and to buy the opinion that it should be so. It’s nothing but well accepted double standards – one so fair and one not so fair.

The Australian team is the finest among all current teams. You have records to prove that. Captain Ricky Pointing is arguably the best among the captains. They have reasonably good bowlers and about alright batsmen. They field well, and win games. The experts call it winning by playing as a team. Sledging is not personal insult, but a pressure mounting tactic, they explain. All true, from the surface. Indian bowlers are never counted as above average, that’s after beating every side they played against. When they say Indians can’t field well, they should give the extra credit to the bowlers for taking wickets without adequate field support. When they say Indians can’t field well, they shouldn’t be giving much credit to the batsmen scoring against them. When they say Australian fielding is impeccable, they should also admit each run scored by Indians against their finest bowlers is of the highest order, and worthier many times over that scored by their batsmen. But to see it like that one should evaluate the game beyond the scorecards. Winning is all that matters, they tell me. And when Indians win, they tell me Australians didn’t play their usual game.

It’s not the story of this series, it’s the same story that I’m hearing ever since I started reading sports columns. It was a very rare occasion of losing a series at home. Two of the four matches could have been won, if it were not for a few mistakes; and it would have been a 4-2 series win. That’s a lame argument in justifying the loss, but if Indians had won I would have got to read that they won by chance and sledging. I have nothing against losing, and don’t believe winning is the only thing. Indians usually win all the series matches at home, and rarely win any abroad. Indians rarely win abroad only means someone else wins at home; still, I never have read about that point of view. The people, who tell me Indians make pitches that support spin bowlers, don’t tell me all others make pitches to support their fast bowlers. This imposed feeling of guilt, and lack of self-esteem is not a very surprising thing for a nation that was colonised for over 200 years.

“Whatever logic you may say, but it’s a fact that we are way behind the Whites – in physical and psychological capabilities.” One of my good friends, who has seen a bit of the world informs me. “May be, it’s purely for socio-environmental reasons,” he adds in an attempt to cover-up the factual error in the argument. He is not alone in this view, he has got majority of Indians with him. Including most of the cricketers. And that shows on the field. With such an attitude, the best thing one can aim for is measuring up to them, once in a while, and then calling it luck. That’s why very often we end up reading Indians won because the opposition didn’t play their best game.

The induced aggression seen recently among Indian bowlers has something to credit to their coach Venkitesh Prasad. He is one who had to take it lying down during his playing career. And this attitude change should go deeper than the expressions. It can only be called a change on the day people start to accept it as not just mere pretension. And the up coming Australian tour can be a real test for it. If some of the eleven can prove it, then the rest of the billion can try to follow it.

While Australia is a topic of discussion, I would like to bring back another subject, that’s not so cricket, related to Australia. I had posted this piece sometime back, explaining the racist, genocidal policy of the Australian government, and called for to sign an online petition put up by Ridwan Laher. That post was the most visited on this blog to this day, getting more than 2000 hits for that page in a week. And hardly anyone among those visitors decided to sign the petition. I got some responses saying they are afraid that would affect their job, because the companies they work for has Australian clients. Another person wrote in and said she’s planning to travel to Australia for higher studies, and do not want to risk her visa. All you people, if wish, can sign the petition as anonymous. Still, I suggest you not to do it. A short but credible list is always more powerful than an inflated one. Those who like to spread the word through their blogs can get the banner from Tom.

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Tuesday, October 09, 2007

Don’t silence me, bro!

There’s some more good news for those who have, by now, learnt to love bad news. Water cannons and tear gas shells are on their way out of the scene. TASERs and other stun guns will soon be antique pieces. Don’t get upset, or protest. I’ll tell you the good news I promised, for sure. It is about what they call the Silent Guardian. Even the much-celebrated Chinese torture techniques will look like squirt guns before the Grand Guardian.

The U.S. military equipment manufacturing giant Raytheon, the makers of Patriot missiles that got famous during Papa Bush’s Iraq war, has announced its new find. They are very particular about not calling it a ray gun. And as far as their claims go, this new Direct Energy Solution, which a layman would call a Direct Energy Weapon, is not designed to cause any permanent harm, but only to inflict pain and make people run away from places that the same people might want to walk to, or accidentally had stepped in to. The peace loving technological innovation is christened as Silent Guardian. But the message is quite vocal: Shut up and run.

In its final, field model, it will be a square transmitter that can be mounted on a defence vehicle. When activated, it’ll emit a microwave radiation that is tuned to the exact frequency to stimulate human nerve endings, to simulate the sensation of extreme pain. It can be effective up to half a mile of distance. According to Raytheon, the radiation penetrates only to the depth of 1/64th of an inch, and thus wouldn’t leave any visible injuries on the victims. Don’t you think bloodless wars are going to be fun?

Daily Mail had a report on the equipment, a few weeks back. The reporter had seen, and experienced the effect, of a tabletop prototype of the weapon. He describes the sensation as equivalent to touching a red-hot wire, minus the burn injury. The field model mounted on a defence vehicle is potent to give the same pain all over the victim’s body. As per Raytheon experts the maximum a person can stand the pain is for a second. They didn’t tell whether the radiation will be emitted only for a second, or for an hour. The reporter humbly admits that he was not able to stand it even for a second. He had tried it only on the tip of one of his fingers.

The Silent Guardian is not that new an innovation. It’s only the latest, and one of the most potent inventions of the like. Dazzlers, that can cause temporary blindness to human eyes and electronic sensors were in use even at the time of WWII. The other direct energy weapons under development and production include particle beam weapons that can cause permanent damage, and laser and sonic weaponry with worse effects.

It’s not lethal, and absolutely harmless, asserts Raytheon. But that’s what TASER International claimed too. As per the count until 2006, there are over 150 deaths caused by the administration, often unnecessarily, of TASERs by the police in US alone. Just like TASER, Silent Guardian too is introduced as an alternative to lethal weaponry. But unlike TASER, the new weapon fixes its eyes on war fronts. But what I see is them being used by the police to handle protesters and mobs.

When thinking hypothetically, and with blind optimism, such an invention is a wonderful solution for peacekeepers. A Raytheon executive gives an example of a situation where it can be the only solution. He talks about a situation the US military faced in Iraq, where the combatants had taken media personnel as human shields. The invaders were left with the option of letting the combatants escape, or kill the non-combatants along with them. And it is in such situations a Silent Guardian can be of great, and only, help. And it could be the best possible ammunition against violent mobs. Or even peaceful protesters, like the one the world saw in Burma a week back. Well, Buddhist monks are a different matter all together. Remember the picture of a monk who torched himself and sat there like he was dreaming, during the Vietnam War protests?

Killing is unavoidable in wars. The amount of killing and destruction is the sole determinant of a victory. If victory could be accomplished without destruction, the war wouldn’t have happened in the first place. And that’s why machines like the Silent Guardian are of no great use. Or, of great use, where it is not necessary. Like in a prison as a torturing tool. With the police, where they can have some harmless, sweat-less fun.

Raytheon have no plans to sell its product to countries with questionable human rights records, informs the company executive. Except the United States of America, of course. The vast majority of the company’s US$ 20 bn revenue is contributed by US government’s defence purchases. That’s something they call the Military-Industrial Complex, and the Iron Triangle. Something, which was criticised and warned against by even Eisenhower. It was no surprise to anyone when the biggest contributors to the last Presidential campaign in US were Lockheed Martin, the top most military equipment supplier in the world, and Raytheon. They would most probably retain that status in the coming elections too.

The economics of war is not as complicated, when one looks in to the complete picture. In his 1961 masterpiece Catch 22, Joseph Heller simplifies it as simple as it can get – with the story of the character Lieutenant Milo Minderbinder. In a free economic system, which is the fuelling idea of the contemporary libertarian discourses, cluster bombs and chocolates are given equal rights. More rights to the one, which can make more profits, quite deservingly.

In the US, the country that spends more than half of the global military expenses every year, many organisations and individuals are frequently heard of denouncing the wastage of State money on unnecessary military movements and wars. For a taxpayer, that worry might have some weight. Not as much as they are told to be though, as war is only one of the major GDP contributors for that country. This country, the USA, is home to seven of the top ten defence contractors in the world. These seven, including Raytheon, together has the revenue of about US$ 150 bn, only from defence contracts in a year. It’s only the revenue of the seven companies of the 44 US companies in the list of top 100 global defence equipment suppliers. Procurement cost specified in the last US defence budget is a mere US$ 84.2 billion, and is just about half of revenue of the top seven companies. There are more than 150 such companies in the US with global businesses. The specified amount is not inclusive of the expenditure on the war on terror. But the same equation works there too. More than 95% of the spending of the government is paid to its own citizens – as salaries and procurement charges. And it opens up the market for its powerful GDP generators. That way the US dollar is not only staying safe inside the US, but also sowed and harvested from the fertile desserts of Iraq and Afghanistan. I’m not ignoring the cost of human lives, but that’s only worth the labour it can contribute, and is a cause of spending than earning, in a capitalist system.

While we are at it, let’s talk a thing about capitalism. It was on this day, in 1967, Ernesto Che Guevara was shot dead and buried under a runway in Bolivia. 40 years after his murder, that famous portrait of Guevara for which the photographer Alberto Korda never received any royalties, is merchandised on anything and everything imaginable. From vodka bottles to bikinis. Many Catholics in Bolivia pray to the legend that the call Saint Ernesto of La Higuera, and the Christ of Vellegrande. “Shoot me, coward you are only going to kill a man,” Guevara had told his executioner. This solider, Mario Teran, received a free cataract operation by Cuban doctors under Cuba-Venezuela Operation Miracle programme, last year. And the news of it is being now celebrated in Cuba as a great act of unconditional forgiveness of the revolutionaries. Guevara proved to be a failure not just in Congo and Bolivia. More than a man was killed. If not then, by now.

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Thursday, October 04, 2007

Free Burma!

Monday, September 17, 2007

Another thousand miles

Blisters on your bum can do wonders to your mind. Surprisingly in a good way, provided that you earn those burning blisters in the right way. There are quite a few such good ways on the Kerala-Tamil Nadu border. This borderline runs across the Western Ghats, which geologically is not a true mountain, but a faulted edge of the Deccan Plateau. Still, at elevations of 3000-6000 ft, the ranges sure give you a true feeling of the mountains. And monsoons are the time to ride through them, if you believe your skin is naturally waterproof.

There are ten excellent routes across the 600 km long Ghats that we have travelled, of which six are on the Kerala – Tamil Nadu border, and the rest four on the Karnataka border. Two of these routes, the Teni-Munnar and Athirapalli-Pollachi, are so frequented by us that we know them as much as we know the streets we ended up living. So much so that, the teashop owners on the route know us, and greet us with ‘It’s been a long time!’ when we pull up. Well, this time, it had been a long time indeed. Even the guard at one of the check posts exhibited his familiarity by asking, “Veettil poyittu varua, alle?” (On the way back from home, eh?) It’s a great to feel home, while on the roads.

If you ask me which is the most beautiful of these ten routes, I’d be fighting in my mind for an answer. Either the Athirapalli-Pollachi route, which has countless waterfalls by your left and right along its 40 hairpin bends, or the Bathery-Ooty route lined with majestic, centenarian Eucalyptus trees could be called the best. Then, the Teni-Munnar and the Udumalaipettai-Marayoor routes are equally good. The Tenmala-Tenkasi and Kumali-Kambam ones are not any less good. The Mysore-Mattannoor and Madikeri-Badiaduka routes too equal in their beauty. It’s a tough time deciding, and an easy time riding. By the way, there’s this overcrowded National Highway 47 that takes you from Palaghat to Coimbatore, through the dried-up, plain land gap in the Western Ghats, which we would never consider taking. All these Ghat routes are pretty much deserted. This time, we hardly saw two or three vehicles, while we were crossing the uninhabited stretches of the route.

There were a couple of unpleasant incidents too for us. In one, we tore our jackets at the elbows. No great fun. But we were happy that we didn’t buy the Rs. 17,000 jackets we had plans to buy. Then the next day morning, we maimed a son-of-a-bitch. A very bad feeling for another few hours. Still, was consoled by the thought that it didn’t tear more of our jackets, or killed that son-of-a-bitch, which didn’t listen to its mommy and was looking only one way while crossing a two-lane National Highway.

Apart from that, and a broken clutch cable – which we changed in a record time, the bike was in as good mood as ours, with its engine sounding like a song. With a puny 350cc engine that’s placed too high on the bike, a Bullet may not make a decent cruiser. Still, the machine is simple and sturdy enough to make a real good companion on the road. It rarely gives problems, and even if it does can be fixed by yourself. The only instance it gave a serious trouble in the 50,000+ km long company so far, was when one of its valves got screwed up. It took an hour to find a mechanic who knows to work on a Bullet, and he took the whole day to change the valve, granting us a great time with chilled beers after chilled beers on that boiling-hot day. The next day morning we woke up and changed the route we had planned, only to have a pretty nice surprise. Instead of a Chennai-Bangalore-Mysore-Ooty-Chennai, we ended up doing a Chennai-Bangalore-Mysore -Madikeri-Bangalore-Chennai. Nothing to complain. The general rule we follow while riding – to ride half the days you have in one direction, and then find another route back, avoiding the roads you already have taken – proved to be the best riding plan. The extra beer was only a treat we deserved. Hope, the roads will never run out.

During monsoons, the greenery of the Western Ghats, especially the South Western montane rain forests, is contagious in every sense of the word. The lush green life almost vaporises into the air, filling it, and filling you in turn. And when the drizzling stops, the mist comes folding you in its cold, moist comfort. As the roads take you winding the hills, one after the other, cute dark green pyramids of little hills turbaned with light, lone, white clouds, play hide and seek with you. When you are riding towards west, there’s nothing much of a chance with the South Western monsoon. It will come pouring, when you least wanted it, right when the wind had dried your wet clothes from the previous shower. But when you are riding to the east, you can play chase with the hovering rain cloud, and can even beat it. On the plains, you have a better chance of winning, than on the hills where every alternate turn will take you back under the clouds. And if you stop for a tea, like the legendary, lazy rabbit, the cloud will take you over, and wait for you to finish the tea to splash its grace on you. And there are times, when you think you have almost left the clouds behind, but still at your heels, and the road takes a right turn, right in to the middle of the cloud. Right then, with a childlike excitement, the clouds shower the rains, and the losers grin a stupid grin, warning each other to be careful on the slippery road.

Once the Ghats are left behind, you are out in the scorching sun again. But, during monsoons, the clouds cover up the sun most time of the day and give you the best riding climate possible on that terrain. Still, the plains are boring in comparison, even with the fresh greenery of the fields, and swelled up rivers that unless stay as depressing stretches of sand dunes most part of the year – credits to over 50 dams that are on the South Western Ghats. When you are back on the National Highway pestered with trucks, and buses, and cars – all of them believe asphalt roads are not for bikes; bikers don’t pay toll at tolled roads, after all – there’s only one thing to look forward to, other than a truck coming against you on your lane. The evening, and the drink.

The drinking dens in Tamil Nadu are very different from the ones you see in the neighbouring states. I have written about them earlier, still they are worth telling again. Through out India, one can find same services offered in different classes, under the same roof. An economically viable colonial hangover. In trains there are up to five different classes of comfort – or discomfort, depending on the end you are looking at – provided, obviously, at five different rates. At a bus station we have three or more different ‘types’ of buses that commute the same routes – equal distances, almost equal speeds, but very different rates. At a restaurant, one can find the cheapest self-service counter, slightly expensive service area, and a premium priced air-conditioned dining area. To substantiate the price difference, and the faithfulness to the colonisers, the plates and uniforms of waiters are kept to match the each class. The food served though, is from the same kitchen. Bars are no exception. But slightly different in Tamil Nadu.

Alcoholic beverage marketing is under the complete control of the state government in Tamil Nadu. All the retail shops are owned and operated by the government, with its employed staff. They are called Wineshops for some strange reason, and sell every alcoholic beverage except the wine. These places don’t serve alcohol, as a rule, but only sell you bottled drinks. There will inevitably be a small shop close to it selling disposable cups and water and cola and pickles. Though, drinking in public is an offence punishable under IPC-268 and IPC-502, I never have heard of an instance of the invoking that law in front of a Wineshop. Apparently, IPC-502 says, Whoever, in a state of intoxication, appears in any public place, or in any place which it is a trespass in him to enter, and there conducts himself in such a manner as to cause annoyance to any person, shall be punished.” You can actually sue someone for talking nonsense, if he/she is drunk.

In contrast to these retail shops, the bars that are licensed to sell and serve alcohol are luxurious. With cosy couches in an air-conditioned hall, and 5 to 6 varieties of snacks on the house with the drink. They also put low wattage bulbs in different colours to lighten up this luxury. The bar we walked into went a step further. They serve every drink, except beer, in wine glasses, may be with the same allusion as of the Wineshops. No, not even brandy glasses. That too with stirrers, which are logically placed upside down in each drink. While paddling in the rum and water in our glasses with the broadened end of the stirrer, my companion said, “the laughs are on the house!” “Very entertaining place,” I replied through the laughter. And there were no more miles to go before we sleep.

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