6 months of working in Spain had several effects on my perception of the world. I had fine-tuned my eyes to such an extent that a face with Indian sub-continental features would show out in high contrast against the predominantly Caucasian European faces in an extremely crowded area. Having been used to hearing Spanish and Catalan during the whole stay, I could accurately pinpoint the location of a person speaking any language spoken in India within 50 metres. My hearing ‘radar’ was so finely honed that I was able to predict the state and probably the dialect of the language spoken with good accuracy. Looking at a fat man with North Indian Caucasoid features cursing the mobile phone signal reception, I could make out that he was from Punjab from his accent, and that it was possibly the state (?) in Pakistan based on the choice of words which he used. Looking at a fair looking man with rounded facial features, I could guess he was from undivided Bengal based on how he said “Ghar” as “Ghor”. We were slightly proud and thought of our homeland very often.
During the flight back to India, the transit was at the Doha airport. Before boarding the flight, the airport was flooded with Indians. Aunties in Sarees were a sudden surprise. About a thousand people speaking in all the familiar tongues seemed like a dream. My hearing had become so sharp that I could hear couples talking some 10 chairs away. I was literally submerged in sounds. A group of people talking in Spanish nearby was the last vestige of foreign-ness around me. I felt nervous with so much of Tamil and so less Spanish around me. Mentally my ears pained me.
When we boarded the connection flight to Chennai, the whole place was filled with so much noise that I could hear bits and pieces of conversations in Tamil and Hindi. The flight safety instructions in Arabic were the only reminders of our presence in a foreign land. While my friend occupied the window seat, I occupied the aisle seat. When the flight took off, I decided to occupy myself with a Tamil movie I wanted to see a year ago. I noticed that two sharply dressed formally looking gentlemen sat to my right. My ultrasensitive hearing picked up their conversation before I placed the headphones over my ears. They spoke of world affairs…Israel and Palestine…China and India…Obama and Osama… Intellectual conversations, but I decided to watch my movie. When the movie ended after more than a couple of hours, the men were still deep in conversation…Hinduism and Caste system in India…3D printing and Apple devices…IT sector and jobs…After two meals and a siesta in between them, I could still overhear some of their conversations. I decided to stay zipped over my comments to ask them to carry on with softer voices. When the flight landed, the overhead LED indicators glowed instructing us to keep our seatbelts on. That’s when Mr. Intelligently-looking-Know-it-all stood up from my right.
“They ask us Economy passengers to sit down while they make the Business class passengers get off the plane. I say! Who follows these rules!?” said the man.
“So true, sir! So true!” replied his sycophant standing up as well.
It was 3.15 am. The man opened his bag, wore a blazer, smiled and walked away towards the exit gate to stand and wait for 15 minutes while the LED still glowed overhead telling us to keep the seatbelts on. My friend and I waited till the plane almost emptied itself of its passengers and stood up to see the whole flight littered with plastic covers. The flight attendant didn’t care. The men who travelled didn’t care. We were back. Rules were now plain guidelines. Laws were minor setbacks with loopholes. We were back in the world with many Intellectual giants but Moral infants…
We celebrated our tenth anniversary last week. I was still a rather silent person with a calm demeanour while she was still the frank, elegant and outgoing girl I fell in love with so many years ago. But I have never understood women completely. I‘ve always wanted a pager in my mind to tell me how to react when she says she hates it when my sister comes to visit us or when she says I don’t love her as I used to. Whenever I am halfway through watching a documentary or in my final week of evaluating the year end papers, she sends subliminal messages for me to be with her. When I don’t react satisfactorily, I end up sleeping on the sofa that night. I’ve always prayed for that pager and these incidents make me want that pager even more.
We visited Spain, I for an academic conference on “Technology and Anthropology” and she on a sabbatical holiday. I met a senile looking old man at the conference who lectured on “Telepathic wireless technology”No one paid any attention to this lecture. Whackos are usually alienated and this old man looked like a patient who escaped from a mental institution. As is the way of fate, we ended up taking the last empty table during lunchtime and he started talking while I simply nodded “yes” or “no” to all his questions and comments. The conference was over and I quietly went back to the hotel.
It was when I opened the conference bag that I realised that the “Whacko” got our bags mixed up. He took my bag while I took his during the hurry to finish lunch and reassemble for the next conference session. I found his phone in the bag and found no numbers to call in his address book to inform his loss. I decided to talk to the conference authorities the next day as I had my supper appointment with my girl.
I took the bag with me to meet the conference authorities after dinner. When we sat down and she was looking in the menu, I fiddled with the Whacko’s phone. It looked like any other handheld smart phone. On the back cover was engraved in a gothic style font “TAROT PHONE”. It had a small red button next to the mike area. I pressed it and it displayed “fettuccine alfredo or veal marsala?” I didn’t know what it meant.
When the waiter arrived and asked our order, she asked me “what do you think is good – Fettuccine alfredo or Veal marsala?” I couldn’t answer her. I just sat there flabbergasted. The waiter and she just stared at me with the blank expression. I ordered the veal, ate it in silence and left the restaurant in a very confused state. She was used to my bouts of silence and didn’t mind. While on our way back, I pushed the button again. This time it showed me “Aashaa and Aashik”. I thought I understood it.
“I think we should call the baby Aashaa if it’s a girl and Aashik if it’s a boy” I said.
She was shocked beyond belief and asked me if I had read her mind. I brushed it off as mere coincidence and my knowledge of her taste. She hugged me warmly and kissed me on the cheek. This Tarot phone could make me sleep on the bed for the rest of our lives!
Once we reached the hotel room, I told her that I needed to have my usual walk outside before sleeping. Kissing her goodnight, I rushed eagerly to test my newly accidentally acquired toy on the next person I may encounter. The doorman bowed and I pushed the button.
“Ah! Here’s a bum walking out on a cold evening. How’ll he withstand the cold!?”
Surprisingly, the phone could translate Spanish thoughts into English! I yelled “Gracias” and ran and picked up my jacket before I ran on to the street. The temperature outside was 7 0C.
A man was walking out of the supermarket. ‘Click’
“Why do they touch the tomatoes without wearing the gloves? These Indians need some manners.”
“Well I use gloves Senor!” I said. He stared at me and ran away in a trice.
A policeman was on his beat. ‘Click’
“I marvel how Nature could ever find space
For so many strange contrasts in one human face:
There’s thought and no thought, and there’s paleness and bloom”
I said “And bustle and sluggishness, pleasure and gloom.”
“Wordsworth’s ‘A Character’ eh?” I asked him with a wink.
He was stunned and stared at me. I just walked away really fast from him.
A hooker was walking on her high heels and waiting for her next customer. ‘Click’
“Ah little Pedro! How many more customers before I get 50 euros to get your school fees ready!”
I went straight up to her and gave her a hundred euro note. “Give this to the school” I said and kissed her on the cheek and waved Adios to her. She was shell shocked. I turned to see her crying while she smiled. She yelled “Gracias Senor! Gracias! ”
While my adrenaline rush from all the excitement was starting to wane, I walked back to the hotel pondering about the possible implications of this invention. I had slept through the Whacko’s lecture but it all started making sense now. Reading minds will now not be restricted to junkies and gypsies looking into crystal balls or picking Tarot cards! This technology could revolutionise the entire gambling industry! Military and spying agencies could go berserk with this device! Crime scene investigation and forensics will wrap up cases in a jiffy! Frauds of all kinds will rot in prison! NGOs would not anymore get any investigative looks when they come knocking on the door for charity! People in coma may probably be understood if they want us to pull the plug! We might even understand other animals!….Wait wait wait…Animals? Was it possible?
I decided to test this out. I saw a drunk bum sleeping on the park bench with his hairy St. Bernard. ‘Click’
“Just like how my god is a big dog with with a big juicy bone, is the human god a big human with a very big couch and TV? Hmmm… I wonder!”
That’s when I fainted thinking -
Be careful what you wish for, lest it come true
1) X is considered as one of the best works in Tamil Islamic literature. History has it that the rich Syed Khader a.k.a. Citakkati invited the author, then a poet in a royal court, and requested him to compose a tale on the life of Prophet Muhammad and his teachings. The author accepted and but before the work could be finished, Citakkati died. Then, Abdul Kasim Marakkayar financially helped the author to finish his work. As a tribute, at the end of each hundredth verse in X, the author paid a tribute to Citakkati. X has 5027 poems and describes tales related to the life of Prophet Muhammad. X derives its name from the Arabic word ‘Sirat’ meaning ‘biography’. Interestingly, in X, the mentioned flora, fauna and avifauna are actually found in the Tamil country, but not Arabia, the home of Muhammad. ID the author.
2) In whose praise is this Narastuthi? (FITB)
The golden-limbed woman, yearning for your company, is waiting (for you).
Giver of riches, Son of Tulaja,
__________, Lord of emperors!
The woman asked you to come!
3) Y is a song that has a rather interesting claim to fame since 1989. It seems to have reached the status of a closing song for almost all outdoor activities in China. Many organizations play the music in a loop on their loudspeakers just before closing for the day. Despite not even knowing the name the song or its artist, many Chinese people have the urge to finish what they are doing in a hurry once this song starts playing. ID Y.
4) ID the blacked out portion.
His watch showed 6.15 pm when the train reached the FGC station at Reina Elisenda. It was now the time to exit his cabin and walk back to the other end of the train and start the vehicle to commute back to Placa Catalunya. Jordi Garcia-Sanchez was used to this routine. He was working for the Ferrocarrils de la Generalitat de Catalunya, the FGC, for the past 15 years. This suburban line (L6) was his duty line this year during his afternoon shifts. He liked the way the whole FGC operated. While the commuters were unaware of the FGC-staffs’ collective efforts to simplify and enhance their commuting experience, the staff had to endure the long routines during their shifts. A trip to the loo had to be cut short to the minimal possible time scale so as to stick to the strict train schedules. Of course, the occasional delays were inevitable, but the 5 minute breaks between two subsequent trips was enough to rid the intestine or the bladder of its contents or have a peaceful drag on handmade fags (cigs are expensive to buy as are).
Though the work may seem mundane to a bystander, Jordi loved his job. He wore the red jacket of his uniform with pride and felt wonderful whenever he saw FGC’s logo gleaming when he examined himself in a mirror. He could meet his buddies from work every night for beer –a bottle or two, and have a serene supper with his wife and teenage kids. He was approaching middle age, but his job had the security that others lacked since the recent sacking embroilment that followed the economic crisis in Spain. When life gives roses, it gives with them thorns. Jordi’s salary was relatively low and his savings will start diminishing once he retires from his job. He has been agitated and the conversations with his comrades often involved the need for salary raises and how the recognition of an independent territory of Catalonia will serve to alleviate the crashing local economy.
Today he was tense. Someone had stolen his wife’s purse while shopping for groceries earlier this afternoon. The increasing prices of local market goods meant that he had to curtail about 3 meals this week to break even on the family’s expenditure. He thought of how Man was losing his sanity and now his courtesy towards the rest of his kinsmen. His mind was letting lose a variety of expletives at the perpetrator of thievery and cursing him to molder in the eighth Halo of Dante’s Inferno. A soft but high pitched squeak from behind him interrupted his walk towards the opposite end of the train.
“Excuse me!” shouted the round-faced 3 year old girl running to keep up with his steps. She was no taller than the height of his thigh. She was wearing her kindergarten uniform of a yellow T-shirt (with green and red elbow patches on the right and left hand sleeves respectively) with a matching yellow skirt. Her parents and 2 older sisters were looking on from twenty yards behind her.
“Disculpe señor. Creo que alguien ha perdido su billete de tren en la plataforma. Aquí está.”
“Excuse me Mister. I think someone has lost his train ticket on the platform. Here it is.” The girl was panting in excitement and concern.
Jordi’s thoughts of the state of humanity and the simulated wails of pain of the thief who stole his meals had instantly vanished. He took the ticket and its cover.
“Gracias niña. Volveré esta al propietario.”
“Thank you little girl. I will return this to the owner”, Jordi promised the little girl with a large smile.
As he walked away in an elated mood towards his cabin at the other end of the train, the little girl ran back with a smile from ear to ear. She was satisfied that she had done a good deed in congruence with her altruistic upbringing. Her mother waited eagerly till she returned and dabbed her affectionately on the back and fondled with her daughter’s hair. She was proud to see how her daughter was growing up.
Jordi walked away with his trust in humanity restored (though he lost 3 meals); the little girl’s actions were the right things to be done in a society with rampant crimes of all magnitudes; and her mother was reminded of a quote of Khalil Gibran that she had read in high-school:
“The smallest act of kindness is worth more than the greatest intention.”
Note: The above narration is that of a true incident. The time, name and dialogs of the characters may not be true. Google translate is solely responsible for any mistakes in the Spanish quotes.
It was Valentine’s Day. It was just one year after the war had ended. People were still recovering from the horrors they were exposed to. This war had given them a raw taste of disease and death. Every family had either lost a hero or gained a veteran. The environment had changed rapidly. What used to be calm and peaceful had come to be replaced by the fear filled stress of agony and death. The agitated minds of the people were slowly simmering down. The war was itself not just an accumulation of all things evil…
Somewhere in Maryland, on the very same day of 1946, the “Giant Brain” was being celebrated by the US Army and the Pentagon alike. The University of Pennsylvania’s very own Electrical Engineering Professors, J. Presper Eckert and John Mauchly, now offered the world the “Electronic Numerical Integrator And Computer”, ENIAC. This was the beginning of a new era in the Man’s life on Earth. Occupying the floor space of that of a large room, the ENIAC was built to solve “a large class of numerical problems”. With 17,468 vacuum tubes, 7,200 crystal diodes, 1,500 relays, 70,000 resistors, 10,000 capacitors and around 5 million hand-soldered joints, it weighed almost 30 tons and consumed 150 kW of power. A rumor that lights in Philadelphia dimming whenever the computer was switched on was in circulation. Yes, the computer era was born but it was a heavy baby in the flimsy cradle.
Considering the decade when the computer was born, computers were not known or heard of in the public as commonly as now. A regular man’s work during the last part of the first half of the twentieth century would have been fairly dependent on the radio and cars for entertainment. A typical holiday time lazing would be with friends at a local bar or at hunting game or the beach. But things were very slow then and people didn’t need computers for their everyday activities.
Fast forward 68 years into the future and now we have computers that we can carry on the move. A laptop which can magically transform into a tab on the press of a button (which triggers a decoupling mechanism) may have sounded similar to an alien technology from the future. Considering myself at this point of time, I can’t live without my computer and WiFi connection. Imagining myself with a handheld computer which can change the way I want to work on it gives me that big futuristic fantasy I’ve wanted ever since the day I understood that computers were not meant to be bulky giants on tables. I envision it to simply function as a gaming tablet or an ebook reader without the keyboard and an important executive office desk with the keyboard attached to it. With an incredibly long battery life, life may never be the same as I may keep working on the go without worrying about drained batteries! With an extremely slim body, I might as well have a small pocket tailored into the inner lining of my jacket so that others won’t notice it and I’ll have handy all the time. With a lightning fast processing speed, it may make the ENIAC look like a dragon fly competing against an elephant in a body weighing contest. With a beautifully crafted design, I’d be able to feel the smooth glossy surface with a good grip. It may sound really like a dream from the future. But engineers have never failed Moore’s law and the designers always keep improvising. I personally think it is time for us to get out and check the market for such products too…
Some such products have started showing up out there (for example, ASUS’s T100 (http://asusindia.co.in/T100/) – seems promisingly good). I hope many more products come out.
I am an ardent fan of Albert Einstein. Yes, the theory of relativity gives me a thrill whenever I get to think about weighing stuff in relative terms. Though I love doing this consciously and rationally, what many people do with the same concept in a relatively uncouth albeit an unconscious manner would be assessing how “Rich” a person is.
Having had the excruciating experience of attending a lot of weddings in and out of my family, I have noticed how aunties and grannies pass incorrigible commentaries about the way their third cousin’s or distant uncle’s offspring married someone from a “Poor” background and how much it is derogatory to their family! In fact, my first cousin’s marriage was scorned upon by most of my family members while I remained a silent but strong supporter of her decision to marry her sweetheart from college. Familial ties with her have seemingly degraded down to a cotton thread of communication and her very own sibling refuses to talk to her! If all men had to be “Rich” to be given a bride, most of the men would end up having surnames such as Hilton, Trump or Gates! (Ofcourse, no offence meant to them as they are self-made monetarily wealthy individuals)
Maybe I am too naïve, but when people say “Rich” I fail to understand how this quantitative adjective applies only for the measurement of monetary accumulations. When I hear the word “Rich”, tonnes of different interpretations emerge in my mind.
Being a die-hard fan of Sir David Attenborough and his documentary narratives, “Rich” means to me the diversity of life on Earth. With more than 8.7 million species of organisms on Earth, the number seems staggering. The different dazzling hues in which these species come in; the curiously orchestered behaviours that they engage in; the engineering and design brilliance of Nature; and the surprisingly intricate means by which every species is interdependent on the other while Nature tirelessly regulates the available resources in a never ending circle of life are simply breath-taking.
When I imagine Dr. Richard Dawkins in my mind and hear the word “Rich”, it switches on my mind’s simulation tool and I see the many indistinguishable strands of DNA inside the cellular nucleus and stand in awe understanding that it is nearly next to impossible to completely understand the beauty of the genetic basis of life! The genome is “Rich” with so many sequences that how a life-form may take in its first breath; how it may grow its organs and regulate them; and how it may sense, perceive, process, respond to external stimuli and remember all of this at the same time. The genome may seem rather small, but it is “Rich” in both relevant (life giving and sustaining) and irrelevant (non-sense or as of now unknown) information.
When I hear Dr. V. S. Ramachandran’s low pitched voice with a curiously differently sounding American English accent explaining the marvels of the human brain, it makes me marvel at the way the human brain performs such logic defying feats of performance such that with even such a big and “Rich” brain that we have come to possess, it will take several more decades to even closely understand how our brain works! The brain is so rich in information sensing, processing, storage and retrieval that the human body as a machine would outperform all manmade automation designed and constructed till date by several hundred or even thousand folds. The brain is Nature’s piece of technological artistry so “Rich” in processing abilities that one may study the brain his whole life and yet remain in his educational infancy at his death bed!
When I read the works of Roald Amundsen or Henry David Thoreau, I understand how “Rich” a man can think and try to live his life equally colourfully despite all ordeals he has to face in life. When I glance at the notebooks of Leonardo Da Vinci, I am awestruck at how “Rich” one man can be in so many different things at the same time! When I watch an old episode of a sitcom such as Seinfeld or Friends, unbeknownst to myself, I sit wide-eyed and surprised at how “Rich” in comedy a show about a bunch of crazy people doing whacky things can be when all they do is be themselves as characters!
In a rather funny take, when I see a man with a head full of hair, I envy the way he is still “Rich” with active hair follicles and when I see a man with a balding scalp, I understand how “Rich” his face becomes with the added realty from the North.
When I see an infant, I see the “Rich” potential welling in his heart and life to make his dent in the universe. When I see a wrinkled, hunching and withering old man, I see his “Rich” repository of experience and wisdom that he has accumulated over the years.
In simple words, “Rich”-ness is only the abundance of the characteristic we wish to quantify. It may be money, wisdom, colour, experience or any apparently relatively quantifiable entity or perceived characteristic.
With all this optimistically different perspective, isn’t this piece of work a relatively poorly pessimistic in itself in explaining there are no other means of perceiving “Rich”-ness?…
He woke up feeling totally tired. 6 hours of sleep were not sufficient. His legs were still aching from the previous day’s activity. There was no choice. He woke up from the bed to face his world. The man in the mirror was old and bald. His Crow’s feet were longer and wrinkles criss-crossed his face. His denture-less mouth over-closed and his lips were dry. A silvery stubble was growing from the previous night. Despite the man’s age, his eyes still sparkled with vitality. A toothless smile softened his entire face to look like a baby. The man took inspiration from his reflection. He was ready…ready to face life to the fullest just as he did every day since he was in his early twenties. Pablo never backed down from any fights, even if it meant losing the love and affection of his parents.
His suit was white, the same that Bill Belew had designed. Though the eagle on his back was the exact replica, he had never visited the USA. No matter that. He knew the right pitch and tempo to sing in. He had mastered the voice of his role model. Ever since he had seen him sing “Aloha from Hawaii” on the Telly in 1973, he had decided what he was going to do. He started singing in the same voice. He practised day and night. His studies had to face the darkness. He eventually dropped out of college despite his parents’ strong insistence in continuing their dream for him to become an Engineer.
“No. Yo quiero cantar. Quiero ser Elvis.” No. I want to sing. I want to be Elvis.
40 years had passed. He was still singing. The King changed. The country changed. Even Elvis had left the building once and for all. But Elvis’ voice was still echoing in Barcelona Metro. His voice welcomed the dazed tourists of the city. His voice welcomed the busy people who hurried to finish their own errands. His voice brought back good old memories of that age to the veterans who grew up listening to him. Standing in the high heeled shoes for more than 5 hours a day for the past 10 years had taken a heavy toll on his body. A distinct hunch made his head move forward while Elvis grasped the mike to sing “Life”…
“Somewhere out in empty space
Long before the human race something stirred
A vast and timeless source began intelligence was born
And then there was the world”
People were too busy to notice him singing his heart out. He had made only 2,20 €. Maybe he had to starve tonight as well. No, he will not stop. He will sing on. He is Elvis.
While he was nearing the twilight of “Life” for the day, his stomach was singing for sustaining his Life. That was when a Mexican lad in his early twenties stopped right in front of him. He hated his mother’s Tortas. He hated the taste. He liked to have a McBurger. But not a Torta! Just when he was going to throw it away into the trash did he find the old hunchbacked man. He was wearing a black wig and singing in a low pitched voice more in gibberish than in English. He gave the Mexican sandwich to Pablo. At least this man could eat it instead.
He sang the last stanza such that everyone in Barcelona Metro could hear that night:
“Well He showed the world that dreadful day
That love could be the only way
Or all is lost of life everlasting life
For life is love and love is life”
One man’s trash is another’s treasure. One man’s disliked lunch, is another’s best supper of the day.
Today Pablo will sleep without hunger.