Sunday, February 21, 2016

The dusty city

The creaking bus takes me through the dusty city.
Sodium vapor lamps and yellow lights on street corners.
Poor, lonely men consumed by tobacco smoke and shadows.
The women of the night who cannot keep them company.

The creaking bus takes me through the dusty city.
The children trekking hills of garbage to reach the summit.
The smells of cheap cuts of meat on an open fire.
Artificial colors in place of real.

The creaking bus takes me through the dusty city.
A hundred different odors vying for my attention.
The scents of perfume and excreta mingled in one uneasy breath.
The concrete jungle--the masses taking what they can get.

The creaking bus takes me through the dusty city.
The noxious fumes and the smell of kerosene.
The home to a million dreams of decency and salvation.
Therein lie my own.

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Monday, December 15, 2014

Writing Prompt I

The last thing that I remembered was the searing pain in my abdomen and the hacking cough. The warm spit that landed on my cheek. A parting gift from the man who wrote my life’s final chapter.

“Sonso rashkin”, he breathed heavily.

Die, you bastard.

Surprisingly enough, the memories of my childhood didn’t flash before my eyes. I didn’t conjure up the picture of Adele and little Sofie in my mind’s eye; I didn’t think about the wasted years before I fought for my country—when I wanted to be a writer and change the world through my self-righteous ideas. The men I fought against could not be reasoned with and perhaps they thought the same about us. Democracy, diplomacy and hand-shakes go only so far; the human psyche ultimately reverts to its most basal instincts. Hundreds of thousands of years of evolution can only delay that inevitability. In the end, we live only to rip each other’s throats in a primordial fury. The sights, smells and the pain alone remained.

I awoke to complete darkness. All around me I could hear the sounds of people mumbling, some were screaming, some praying, others were pleading. I tried to see, but save for what I guessed were stars in the distance, there was no light to be seen. I tried to walk towards the sound, ignoring the panic in my chest. Was I still on the battlefield? Was I a prisoner of war at an internment camp with my eyes stabbed out?

“Where are we?” I said trying to hide my fear. I expected no answer.

“We are dead.”, came the heavily accented reply. “I was shot in the chest and I bled out. Our comrades are here and so are our enemies.”

I remained silent and waited for the laughter for what was obviously a sick joke.

“We are here. All of us. We wait, we pray for redemption and rescue, but the darkness- it is everywhere. The only light is that of the stars. I know it is strange, but I think our answers lie there. We have no other recourse.”

I hesitated.

“Give me your hand, comrade. We are all friends here.”

I took his warm hand in mine and as he led me through the darkness, towards the stars, his hacking cough drowned out the screams of the other lost souls.

 -- Inspired by this writing prompt

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Sunday, August 17, 2014

Chapter 5: Varun subs

Consider a bead of oil, whose size Millikan would approve, falling gracefully through one of those civilization altering furnaces. The surrounding air molecules possess a kinetic energy of such intensity that they violently pummel the inanimate drop's surface, bruising it with an unrelenting and absurd rage. In an inexplicable urgency to rush into the drop's core, the rabid air dislodges the drop's own molecules, surrounding, evangelizing and authorizing them with their newly bestowed absurd fury. The drop's unleashed rogue remnants join the absurd army of chaos by the quadrillions, breaching the shrinking drop which is, beyond certainty, doomed to a most horrifying annihilation. Many of these rogues purposelessly collide against the air molecules, some collisions merely reorienting the rogues and original assailants, but others, with  just the right amount of maddening bloodlust, enjoin in a fierce kiss. A kiss that lasts just long enough, that the mating molecules transfigure into harder, tougher, stabler species by discharging yet newer, evermore violent berserk rogues! An aging fraction of these rogues, as though overwhelmed by the exponentially increasing action, "relax". That strange principle of physics that says that there's no free lunch, that all phenomena are really transactions of some kind between an object and the rest of the universe, insists that this relaxing be necessarily accompanied by an emission of a prescribed number of photons, particles that put all others to shame when it comes to weight and speed. A speed so raw and large, they reach the Sun in a matter of minutes if nothing stops them! That the word "blitz" was reserved to describe fast - yet again absurd - war is by no means an accident. The absurdity deepens when one realizes that a portion of this light that happens to be obstructed by clueless gazing eyes appears blue to them only because the voids in said eyes that are quote blue-sized feel them! As a certainty buff in my undergrad days, that sentence - uttered by a Physics Professor with a similar aim as mine today - emblazoned in what has since then felt like a vacuous skull, the agonizing realization that not only is there no capital-T-truth but only capital-P-perception, but that all capital-P-perception is itself inherently capital-I-incomplete! If like me, you seek the comfort of a one-size-fits-all explanation, you may, like me, feel haunted while asleep and awake! Please pay attention to what you students have chosen to embrace! The matter in this course is incredibly amusing, but you may need to seriously revise your notion of what an explanation means. This narration which to some of you may sound grotesquely anthropocentric, is more elegantly slash coldly - depending on where you come from - presented by relationships between symbols in a language, don't forget designed by humans, called mathematics. Some of you may think that the truth is in the math, but I submit to you that you'll have better luck finding proofs in puddings! In this course you will find yourselves so frantically masturbating over these symbols, especially on the mornings of your midterms, that the so-called truth starts appearing weird in the way a word starts appearing weird when uttered over and over again. Truth. Truth. Truth. Truth. Truth. Truth. Pronouncing it differently doesn't make it any better. Taruth. Taaaaaruth. Truuuuuuuuth. Taaaaaaaaruuuuuuuuth. How bizarre! I'm told this is called semantic satiation. And I don't feel any wiser knowing that! Back to the realtime-non-relativistic-millisecond sized action movie whose denouement you may have pieced together, which is that the stormy volume of hot gas engulfing the now faint wisp of an oil drop has burst into a Dodger blue flame that will consume the central wisp before a final disappearing act that's a worthy metaphor for the neubulous bind between all life and death! And in a plot-for-a-sequel-that's-so-good-it-write's-itself, the rogue molecules who weren't recruited for the  quote full-burn begin to coalesce into giant factions of nasty black solid particles, who harbor a dissipating anger that radiates bright yellow! This is soot. It's carcinogenic and deadly to humans; the universe is indifferent to it. The next time you see a candle flame and feel a blessing of peaceful serenity gracing your optical apparati, I invite you to recall the spectacular chaos that is taking place underneath it all. I take it that you all received the memo saying that the principle requirement of this class was the staunch belief that however chaotic slash complicated phenomena might seem and however impossible it is obtaining a quote final solution, there exists a set of fundamental and immutable processes that when deftly superposed can sufficiently approximate the capital-T-truth. By sufficient, I mean that the set of phenomena a certain number of you will be toiling away in a basement lab trying to perfectly reproduce at any time of the day, another group of you must be able to develop an accompanying working model for; a model that we can use to make quote predictions. If that sounds like a Sissyphusian sort of deal, I promise you that I'll do my best to make the climbs and descents interesting. Speaking of interesting, let me begin today's class by introducing to you this beast of a brainiac called Ludwig Boltzmann...

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Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Chapter 4.8: Vladimir looks out the window

Sky hangs gray like dampened canvas.
Inner city scintillae appear smog-muffled.
The night, a starless cave.
A warm breeze perspires northern sweat.
Lucid dreaming prom queen kicks at her blanket.
Netflix blunted undergrad reaches for his phone.
Writer's blocked writer masturbates fiercely.
Nuclear scientist's wife curls up fetally in despair.
Thirsty homeless nobody clenches collar with remaining teeth.
Well fed cats cradled in wrinkled Paget's diseased arms.
Hypnotic dubstep reverberates underneath pavement.
Night-shift Nurse prays while cancer dances.
10 year old autistic experiences scalding injuries in nightmare.
Single mother of three destroys final traces of self esteem.
History majoring stripper services orally for a hundred more dollars.
Daytime TV sitcom actor downs tequila, convinced that life is a sick joke.
Off campus night guard stays awake via myoclonic shocks.
He is also getting brutally cheated on.
Lawyer he could never afford hugs a tear drenched pillow.
"Stalwart" marketing exec actually gets sleep at night.
Overly anxious insurance company applicant possibly ODs on sleeping pills.
Rabbi knocks over his bedside Talmud upon an involuntary bowel discharge.
Member of the ghetto scores an unbelievable amount of dope.
That it was counterfeit he will realize before dawn. Painfully. Very painfully.
The Los Angeles night sky is an inaudible slumber.
Her homes wrecked by overpowering insomnia.
A self damaging streak runs across her brow.
A people disfigured.
By loneliness.
By themselves.

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Always an advantage to serve.
Its a fault to overstep.
Just get the other to miss you.
Try not to throw a racquet.
Don't be in love for too long.

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Saturday, April 19, 2014

Chapter 4.7: Still trying

And in my den of delirium, my hamlet of hallucination,
A maddening proof of apoplexy pours into the chalice of my shitty existence,
Spilling right through the clouds that only now realize they're not solid.
The fucking procrustean nature of physical law makes all being look futile.
This futility being the bastard product of Purpose!
Ah, but what of Purpose? Does not the symphony he orchestrates bore him?
What are HIS dreams? HIS Purpose? We're being led by a sophist.
Who gives meaning while defying definition!
Leave me alone, while I replace all my windows with mirrors!

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Thursday, April 17, 2014

Chapter 4.6: Vladimir tries

Here, in the Metastable province of uncertainty,
I choicelessly squat Metabolizing a reality,
A suffering that Metaphysics has cursed upon me,
A paralysis Metastasizing with the pulse of quartz.
Tick. Tick. Tick. This Metadrama has seized all ceasing.
No Metamorphosis of ideas slash bodies will wind this clock back.
Alone in the horizonless shadow of Metaphor, I hear my skull crack.

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Saturday, April 5, 2014

Chapter 4.3: Varun's X

When X speaks, X is thoughtless.
And when X is impassioned, X is insensitive.
And when X is engaged, X is also preoccupied.
I feel lonelier when I'm with X than without:
subject to X's mental projects,
cornered by X's mental projections,
bludgeoned by X's mental projectiles.
X makes love masochism.
X spoon-feeds me hope.
Ctrl+X = 2X.
X lures me to the depths of X.
X traps me in the fluorescent lit parts of my mind.
Where the asylum swallows sanity to make room for X.
X cares not for my inner Y.
X lulls me to Z.
All X knows is 'I,I,I'.
X isn't variable.

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Monday, March 24, 2014

Chapter 4: Ellendale

"Varun. Metaphors. Beautiful things aren't they?"
"The poets are our optometrists."
"Will you please grant me membership to the library of your thoughts? Oh what unread philosophical conquests await the avid student in those unforgivingly thick volumes? What melancholic poetry sits gathering dust in those bending shelves? What terrible realities lay veiled in the guise of fiction? What divine Mathematics hides in those cavernous depths where men before me were loathe to tread? What Theology sits reserved exclusively for the cathedral of your soul?"
"If poets are our optometrists, you are my cataract Vladimir."
"Be cruel all you want. But I am in love Varun! In thick, viscous, adhesive love!"
"I hope for your sake and to a greater extent mine that this doesn't go unrequited."
"Varun, you should behold this angel's touch on numbers. I feel like a virgin around her when she derives. She calculates frugally, simplifies daringly and abstracts mercilessly. What may seem like the empty imitations of some creepy Dirac-Fan-Club president, to judgmental fools, when she invents symbols to encapsulate her various thoughts, but to the trained and patient eye, what awaits is a colossal statue whose everything upward of the waist remains in the clouds; Berniniesque balls hanging and all. Certainly her ability with symbol manipulation must mean she has an eye for symbolism in literature! And you know perhaps better than I do, that such a mind is incapable of boredom. Theoretically. Her mind must be a whirlwind of the most sublime, the most enraptured thoughts Varun. I can feel it! I can hear the harp in her head! She is the unity slash singularity slash proverbial one!"
"Holy Jovian Vortices Vladimir! Have you told her this? Minus the Bernini balls part?"
"No. I will disclose all this in an appropriate sonnet."
"Sonnet. You make me wonder sometimes if you're hopeful or dopeful."
"Light me another Varun. I want to share something with you."
"Anything as long as you spare me the eye surgery."
"I said something to a student today and he responded by helping himself to a generous portion of umbrage."
"What did you say?"
"I asked him to work hard."
"He broke into song about how life had dealt him a tough set of cards and how his self-made republican father had always demanded the unadultrated best and how being an undergraduate here is really hard with all the unfairly analytical subjects that expose all kinds of voids in an undergrad - intellectual and, perhaps ergo, emotional - which they aren't really equipped to handle given a preponderance of lousy teachers in high school and a current roster of apathetic slash zombified professors accompanied by subpar yet headstrong sidekick TAs and so on and so on."
"And you responded to all this with some "work hard" aphorism which is always prone to be perceived, here in the United States of Never Wrong and Exceptional  Tweens as insensitive, snobbish and coming from you, Soviet?"
"I call such events sub-zero slip-ups."
"You make me feel like that girl from Inception whose only purpose in the movie was to keep the audience in the loop by asking the most obvious questions."
"The fuck is a sub-zero slip-up?"
"Remember the first Mortal Combat movie? Combat with a K?"
"There is a memorable fight scene. Liu Kang Vs Sub-Zero. Liu Kang is this Chinese Kung-fu fighter defending the realm of Earth while Sub-Zero is one of the mercenaries of Shao Khan, this insanely strong inter-cosmic tyrant who likes fighting all the time; never dies but simply exiles himself upon defeat."
"I know Vladimir. I spent retarded amounts of time and dollars on plastic gamepads and pixelated blood."
"So in this scene, Liu Kang tries delivering some Shaolin love where the moon don't shine but Sub-Zero is light-footed like a ballerina and evades all the incoming blows. Remember also that Sub-Zero can turn things into ice by simply touching them while Liu Kang needs to be sufficiently enraged to shoot a modest albeit difficult to reckon with ball of fire."
"Seriously Vlad. Puberty through college, I was unhealthily infatuated with female video game characters, making me want to beat them up with every male soldier, cyborg, samurai, sorcerer, psycopath, sadist and savant. I couldn't process real life the way a normal teen would. I know all of Mortal Combat. Combat with a K."
"That means you will certainly recall that after a couple minutes of cries, grunts and evasions, Sub-Zero distances himself from our befuddled Buddhist and gets into a kind of squat, commencing to channel the forces of comic book nature in an effort to create a hemispherically expanding field of ultra low Temperature, threatening to turn our oriental hero into a polar zero. Kitana who Liu Kang has some PG rated hots for, walks in at this point and cryptically instructs him to "use the element that brings life", reducing the fight to a second grader's riddle."
"I remember all this with scarily vivid clarity. Isn't there a conveniently placed bucket of water some place?"
"Yes! Which Mr. Chow-Mein grabs and starts rotating about an axis perpendicular to his side profile, with a centrifugal force that keeps the water from spilling out. And while Sub-Zero is still summoning, rather greedily, more and more energy to create a large hemisphere of some fiercely low entropy around him, Liu hurls the bucket at him, which the water leaves and enters the aforementioned hemispherical field turning into a spear. The spear accelerates towards the hemisphere's center, where Sub-Zero spends his last few microseconds stupidly gaping at the inevitable. The Beast from the East emerges victorious, the scene giving the viewer some sort of Buddhist-wisdom-trumps-typical-American-bigger-is-better-stupidity vibe. "
"What is the relevance Vladimir! What is the metaphor?!"
"The metaphor reveals itself when you pay attention to the way we human beings converse: We are constantly creating such force fields around ourselves in some desperate attempt to fortify against the unknown. Force-fields that change sometimes the very structure of incoming matter to reassure us of our positions and to obliterate or at best, dilute the words of our interlocutors."
"When I say something with the most Gandhian intent, it could be perceived as violent by those of us with very sensitive force-fields. Conversely, when I utter the kind of bigotry you'd expect from a red-neck, it could be perceived as a joyful expression of camaraderie! It is a different matter to peel apart the origins of our force-fields. They may come from surrounding culture slash educational traditions slash instinctive prejudices. But the point is that we must disarm ourselves from time to time so we can appraise something for what it is and not what it ought to seem like for if not, like Sub-zero, it will prove to be our undoing. The world maybe so badly misunderstood thanks to our automatic personal force-fields, that we can never get to the bottom of anything. The Truth will simply laugh at us, her mirth sounding so faint and distant, it becomes indistinguishable from noise."
"Are you saying that you should have been more sensitive to your student's position while at the same time he should have been more sensitive to yours? Did both of you Sub-Zero slip?"
"Precisely Varun! We must try and meet half-way and arrive at the truth together."
"You are full of fantasy today."
"Am I?"
"Yes you are. You are in thick, viscous, adhesive, eewy, guey love. For it is only when one is in love that he slash she must necessarily surrender his slash her singular view of the world and instead adopt the point of view of two."
"You melt me Varun."
"Eew. Pull yourself together man."
"I can't. I'm Melting..."

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Friday, March 21, 2014

Sinking into nostalgia

I'd often ask myself why we sense such discomfort in the vagaries of life. Certainly, a departure from the way we usually do things should be rewarding, as opposed to being a slave to routine and schedule. Why is it that we fear change and seek comfort in the status quo? Not to paint everybody with the same brush, but I am inclined to believe that there is a kernel of safety and assurance hidden away in those memories. Nostalgia is that indescribable feeling of living out one's past memories; the way we close our eyes and concentrate on the sights, sounds and smells of experiences past: the lights of the distant city reflected upon the shimmering waters of the creek; the sublime beauty and orgasmic pleasure that one gains from experiencing an artist (and not merely by the physical action of listening); the half-forgotten conversations at the dinner table; the sights of snow-capped mountains and the smell of the countryside; the tizzying aftermath of a fine scotch; the smiles of demure, beautiful women; the kind words of good friends.

As things change around us, we seek out something that remains a constant; something that has been experienced and that can remind us of times that deem are more pleasant. Friends meet up after years of separation to talk about the school that built them; to talk about the girl they were infatuated with; to walk the hallowed halls and stand at the empty parking lot where a majestic evergreen tree once stood. They visit the old haunts only to find that they longer exist. The past is dead and gone, but it lives on inside these friends. In fact, all their memories of school, college, society, art, books and music are stored away to be tapped into at some point--before that too is eroded by Time.

Change frightens me sometimes: the established norm and routine are comforting and gives me a sense of control over what I experience. And I find that when I am overwhelmed by change, I dig into past experiences and redo things that offered me solace: I listen to Laura Marling and BBC Radio; I look through old photos and try to recollect the bus route to University; the names of streets and pubs on the main roads.

Ideally what I have to come to understand is that tapping into the past to seek familiarity and comfort through nostalgia is fine, but we must be careful not to sink into it-- to fall prey to our past, forget the present and waste away the future.

(I'm writing after a few months, so forgive me if this piece is a little rough around the edges)

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Sunday, February 23, 2014


I was doing alright with Ubuntu 12.04 but I had to install those darn AMD Catalyst drivers to bring the GPU temp down to mid 50's. Then Canonical decided to upgrade their Xorg and kernel versions and that broke my install. At a risk, I downgraded the Xorg version using a PPA, but that wasn't the way to go. Finally, August 2013, the Radeon Dpm changes are introduced in Linux 3.11 kernel and once I install that, my laptop finally stopped threatening to give my thighs a melanoma. However, Unity was starting to tire me and the lack of customization options was definitely rubbing me the wrong way. I looked to the K Desktop Environment (KDE).

OpenSUSE was the way I went because they have one of the most polished KDE implementations out there (Chakra, in my mind, is a close second). But much to my dismay, OpenSUSE did not have a lot of software choices and most of them involved installing unstable packages. Although it was a long term support 'Evergreen' version, I decided to shift to another KDE based distro.

At this point I decided on SolydK because it was based on Debian Testing and the staff test quarterly on frozen software for bugs, giving the newbie like myself a little more immunity from trying out vanilla Debian Testing (which is somewhat stable but tends to break). The install ensured that I had full access to the Debian software packages and also included non-free and contrib repos enabled by default. That way I'm spared of editing my Sources file and also to include backports. The Solydk install crashed halfway because my laptop overheated! After placing the laptop next to an airconditioner, I completed the install and promptly included the power management settings! Then I sat down and installed (grudgingly) Skype.. since no one wants to pursue Skype alternatives. Then I hunted down the proprietary software that I didn't want to use and uninstalled them, Flash included. SMPlayer has a Youtube player that takes care of that and the browser has a HTML5 alternative. Besides that I found a way to make VLC stream sites, so that's another issue sorted.

Finally came the issue of citation and bibliography management software, I had used the Endnote program at our library computers and I had luckily exported the library as an XML file. I installed BibTeX and JabRef and imported the XML into a fresh database. I looked up a free Wikibook on LaTeX and I'm off to learning the non-WYSIWYG options to article and dissertation authoring. It's a steep slope to conquer, but I guess learning one's way around a free OS like Linux with the options it gives is always more power to you and comes in handy when you need to get work done and going back to Windows is the last option.

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Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Infrequently Asked Questions, an Introduction to the Untitled Enlightenment Project

Augie March, the chief protagonist in Saul Bellow's memorable bildungsroman, narrates the following gut-puncher of a scene:

I remember I was in a fishmarket square in Naples (and the Neapolitans are people who don't give up easily on consanguinity)--this fishmarket where the mussels were done up in bouquets with colored string and slices of lemon, squids rotting out their sunk speckles from their flabbiness, steely fish bleeding and others with peculiar coins of scales --and I saw an old beggar with his eyes closed sitting in the shells who had had written on his chest in mercurochrome: "Profit by my imminent death to send a greeting to your loved ones in Purgatory: 50 lire."

The beggar's surprising calibre of wit, should be relatively less challenging to  the imagination of my fellow Indian city dwellers, than our friends in the first world, given our distinctly high frequency of encounter with them (beggars). The beggar's appraisal of the upper class sentiments, his simplistic but quite accurate perception of the role of money in a society stratified by income, his method of channeling the power of cruel irony to strike his audience with a profound level of awareness for only the briefest moments of self-doubt/loathing. These conceptions of the witty beggar, however excruciating to our feeling of "Life is good", comes easily to the "urbanized" Indian citizen, who perhaps even imbibing this newly acquired wisdom, pays heed to it via the simplest of gestures.

Or so I could fool myself into believing.

In my view, a debilitating wave of cynicism and apathy has swept our nation (yes, the very same as Cardinal Goswami's). What has become far easier to imagine is the emergent narrative, that is virtualizing reality with an emphasis on self-gratification:
1) The beggar's predicament is the result of his karma.
2) Also, the collection of crooks, hoodlums and hooligans we call the Government.
3) Also, maybe the beggar can get a job and earn a living like the rest of us hard-working people.
4) The caste system is unfair you say? Have you not heard of quotas or what?
5) Yes, the quotas don't work, but see (2).
6) I'm just an honest labourer-by-day-family-man-by-night. I vote and pay my taxes. What else do you want me to do? "Think our country" out of disaster?

That is simply a sample of the kind of self-congratulatory yet nihilistic dialectic that Amartya Sen was emphatically NOT referring to when romanticizing the Indian instinct to argue1 . Because at the heart of any serious argument, lies reason. Reason. Yes, it is worth mentioning one more time: Reason. We are becoming a dangerously unreasonable race of peoples. And the tragedy is that it isn't entirely our fault. For what sense is the growing youth supposed to make of a world that apparently values entertainment over ideals (If you find *serious news item with far reaching repercussions* depressingly difficult to follow, why not browse our collection of celebrity gossip that appeals to your apetite for the embarrassing and the inspirational)? What sense is he/she to make of journalists dangling politicians like live bait above a democratically charged mob to invisible avail? What sympathy can be spared for the poor farmer whose circumstances have been relegated to fillers between advertisements for business schools, fast cars and skin care products? How much of his/her conserved time is to be devoted to the affairs outside the solipsistic sanctuaries of social media? The situation is worse than a temporary bout of cultural diarrhea; it throbs with the threat of a metastasizing cancer. Perhaps the allegation of sounding alarmist can be softened if not voided by a personal anecdote.

As an undergraduate in Mechanical Engineering in my senior year, I had realized my over-nursed dream of building and explaining the working of a bicycle gyroscope to students from other departments during the annual ME symposium. For those of you unfamiliar with this remarkable contraption2, the bicycle gyroscope is a standard apparatus used to highlight a very non-intuitive aspect of angular momentum, whose centrality to modern physics can never be understated. Understanding it is a necessary rite of passage for anybody who wishes to grapple with both classical and quantum theory. It is like DNA to a Biologist, rational choice theory to an Economist, the Rosetta Stone to a Historian. The gyroscope is also of immense import to the mechanical engineers who concern themselves with the stability of trajectories. Needless to say, a PhD in physics who teaches the subject for a living, however entranced he/she is by the bizarreness of the Conservation-of-Angular-Momentum's universal validity, surely can be expected to be that soul in the crowd for whom this demonstration is hardly surprising. So it was to my surprise, when my very own PHYSICS PROFESSOR congratulated me not for my expository account of this phenomenon, but rather sarcastically for my legerdemain. At first, I thought he was inviting a dialogue on "True" understanding and that this was his method to inspire me to become a better teacher. But I quickly realized, judging from his shockingly retarded grasp of the subject and its jargon ("things don't simply stand erect and go round and round"), that he hadn't the remotest inkling on what he was talking about! The look of puzzlement on anybody's face when their intuition is challenged is a secret craving of mine, but there was nothing appetizing about this man's doubts, or rather, his certainty. It was in this moment forever crystallized in my memory, that my inner scaffoldings came crashing down: How did this person acquire his degree? What sort of textbooks did he read to avoid confronting this subject through the 5+ years of his college education? What sort of peer group doesn't challenge such deficiencies even for fun? What sort of entrance exams fail to catch such severities and how poorly trained are his employers who make decisions regarding his raise? Which accreditation board was to be held accountable? Who were his teachers and what abject nonsense had they inherited? During which generational shift exactly had it evacuated the minds of those in charge that Science was a proven and rigorous method of enquiry that had encircled Nature as its item of utmost import and for the sake of civilization could not be surrendered to such causality? And what of this man's conscience; the gaping hole in his knowledge didn't stop him from questioning his student's credentials. Was he even aware that such a hole stood agape? After all, one can easily recall instances when one's simplest revelations came after a gentle nudge. To have gone through life without these effective prods would require an incomprehensible grade of immunity to criticism, or worse, a complete eradication of it! At the time it looked like an isolated instance of the kind of lack of awareness you'd expect from the reekingly rich, but society's true colors were beginning to emerge and my resulting extrapolation turns out to be hardly inaccurate. Politicians who don't understand the constitution are commonplace. So too are stenographers who posture as journalists, businessmen who are selectively blind to how their fortunes are intricately linked to the misery of millions, lawyers who'll stop at nothing to win an argument, corporate capitalists' respiratory relationship to IP, cricketers who seem oblivious to the havok money has wreaked in their sport, film producers content with their usual recipe of endocrinologically oriented high grossing scripts, revisionist historians leading cacophonous bandwagon's of propaganda, economists blind to unintended consequences, etc. And here's the gut punch with the same implicit content as Bellow's: the people around us are the ones who comprise this society, this reality. You and me, by this analysis, regardless of whether we like it or not, are complicit in these decays. My Physics Professor - writing this sentence was not easy - was a harsh representation of everything that was wrong with the World, with India and with me.

It is here that I wish to reintroduce our reluctant average Selvan who might have unwittingly suggested the key to a better future, perhaps hopeful that his interlocutors would take his meaning literally and shut up once and for all. Can we in fact "think" our country out of disaster? I hope to attach meaning to this phrase in the remainder of this pamphlet.

A good place to start would be to adopt the language of logic. Consider two propositions A and B. Also consider the simple third proposition, that the truth of A implies the truth of B i.e. if B is true, A must be true. A particular sort of A is that which is rendered meaningless when left all to itself. For instance, let A be the loaded statement "India is a secular country." Let B be "One is free to follow any religion in India without persecution." Now, if B is true, A is true by definition. But if B is false, is A still true? Answering this question requires knowing what it means to be persecuted. Given the broad spectrum of lifestyles in any subcontinental society, it is safe to assume that getting a majority to agree on what persecution exactly entails is very difficult. So let us strengthen the idea of Indian secularism with another proposition C: "Candidates contesting for office don't exploit people's religious affiliations for votes." C now gives A a discernable shape and allows us to discuss secularism in terms of political motivations3. So if C is true, B is true and A is resoundingly true. But if C is false, B is less plausible and A is even less plausible. Let us stick in a couple more to include considerations regarding indoctrination and law: D "Public institutions like schools and colleges do not have religious affiliations" and E "All religions are equal before the eyes of the law". For a very strong A, we could even throw in a forceful statute F "Any Member of Parliament if found encouraging religiously polarized communities to commit atrocities like, I don't know, demolishing mosques, burning houses and killing people should be tried as purposeful instigators and stripped of their political standing with breakneck immediacy." Now, if one were bold enough to utter A, one would face the uphill task of backing it up with B,C,D,E and F. If even one of these is false, A's truth can be rightfully called into question (even if F's language isn't optimally disinterested). If all of these propositions are found to be false, A is not only false, but downright laughable. In fact, insisting on a poorly verified A's circulation can cause some serious destabilization in the meaning of words like secularism and democracy.

This kind of reasoning is powerful. For one, it is academic and not colored with prejudice; it is simply an exercise in seeing what Indian secularism should entail if it is true. Both the atheist and the believer can agree on the logical relationships between the various propositions and their observable truth values, however distinct their moral judgements on those truths are. The logical route avoids the tediously useless complaints that we've grown tired of hearing, for example, how Hindus were original settlers or how Muslims raped our women. Do those facts have any bearing on our modern conception of secularism? If they do, this discussion was over before it even started. We shouldn't be discussing secularism but how best to allot rights based on genetic heritage!

Another advantage in using the language of logic to arrive at truth values is allowing for a separation of the ideal from the real. No country has completely achieved B,C,D,E and F because reality is extremely complicated. What we're interested in is the degree of difference between the real and the ideal because operating on the platform that connects the two is our only hope for progress. Too long in the logical board room can result in plain impracticable propositions like "ban all religion". Besides being hopelessly unpragmatic and dangerously inconsistent with other core ideals like freedom and liberty, it heralds a tone that is insensitive, brutish and above all certain. Shouldn't all exercises that seek the truth begin with the humble realization that nothing is certain?

Indeed, religion plays a huge role in people's lives and to have it questioned, controlled, altered and mocked can cause many people to visibly sweat. The various interpretations of religion being a way of life or a set of self-contained moral codes or a source of transcendental experiences are all too bulky for the metaphorical carpet to hide. Surely even the atheist can imagine the plummeting of hope being a good enough reason for many to transfer faith to some greater entity. These personal entanglements don't even begin to describe the political nightmare of a fact that all religions are not actually equal, that some are more extreme than others: Jainism compared to Islam for example. And in the midst of this asymmetry, promoting tolerance as a slogan introduces immense inconsistencies in fostering brotherhood and fellowship4. These realities defy rational deconstructions but cannot by virtue of that fact become the very reasons for upending our logical explorations. We have no choice but to use A through F as a basis set to tackle these more difficult questions. The infrequently asked ones. For if we shed A through F, we'd be trapped in an infinitely anarchical game of goal-post moving. Questions like "what is secularism after all?" and "didn't democracy mean anything goes?" are smoke alarms signalling the pyromaniacal lust that burns reason black. If we are sincere in our admission of these problems, then we're obliged to do our best to fix them, and to fix them is to question the validity of not just the answers, but of the questions themselves. Seriously. As in seriously.

"But what is secularism after all?" queries the confused heart. Did proposition A pop out of thin air? Is A even a valid axiom? What with the majority belonging to one religion and all, is A an example of some edgy committee writing? Some perfunctory attempt at emulating the West? Some pipe dream inspired by Marxist opiates?

Everything you experience in life is equal to everything that impinges on your sensory system. You are the absolute center of your universe and your attachment to yourself is the singularity that makes your living even possible. Your reasoning is reflective of the world you exclusively perceive. Which is why it is easy to get carried away. Everything that doesn't belong in your interior design can become superfluous and extraneous. Why should Indian secularism's flimsiness bother you when your everyday experiences have no perceivable relationship to it? Why ruminate on impending ecological disasters when guaranteed a lifetime supply of air-conditioning? Why lose sleep over some border conflict taking place at exotic altitudes? Soon, the triumphant cliche "Out of sight, out of mind" exits, and like a responsible bellhop, hooks to the doorknob of your mind that familiar beige colored tag that reads "Do Not Disturb" prefixed with an italicized "Please" for good measure.

Prop A is readily reduced to a silly non sequitur, too often as a result of the above solipsism. Mounting a defense for A does not require the mental gymnastics of math proofs. It doesn't require research labs or a thousand page treatise. Its proof languishes in the depths of our experience as self-aware Human Beings5. Your ability to socialize without steering the conversation back into your problems every five minutes, your capacity to imagine that you could very well be the problem in the first place, your sense of judgement to convict yourself for being majorly wrong. Dishonest even. If you aren't immediately being persecuted, you would be if you were exchanged atom for atom with someone who was. That thought experiment is more than legitimate because it is the only means to open your mind to the truth that you are not in complete control of your fate, that you are not at the center of the Universe. That is the capitalized, block-lettered and seriffed TRUTH. And this non-empty, in fact very substantive empathy that emerges from your awareness of what it means to be persecuted is key to getting prop A. Simply being aware, being conscious of your environ and your place in it can inspire the necessary and sufficient set of inarticulable propositions that convinces none other than YOU.

Think about this formula of awareness and reason. Take the rape epidemic that has besmirched our Country. If you are aware that as a citizen, you haven't magically severed your umbilical connection to our country's patriarchal roots, then chances are that you can recollect some of the instances when you indulged in some minor patriarchy yourself. Be it in the perception of the role of the Indian Woman: objectifying her as a piece of meat, stereotyping her as a housewife/cook, emphasizing the imperative that is her good looks, patronizing her implicitly/explicitly when she outdid herself or remain passively background when someone else treated her in such ways. Why, even the language you use could have been the friendly fire you once relegated as benign6. With this deep awareness of the underpinnings of chauvinism, having renounced your claim to eternal correctness, how could you muster the gall to jump onto the streets and parade the castration of a rapist, when that is clearly the most obscene of tangents that impersonates the solution? Fight molestation with molestation? Surely it strikes you that as a middle class well educated student of Life, you have benefitted from a set of experiences that has taught you better than to go about brutalizing the opposite sex. But you can also ask yourself about those who were brought up in the most miserable backdrops of our country, where the toxic combination of poverty, piety, peerhood and patriarchy, can drive someone into making dangerous life choices. Atom for atom, it could be you. Now, observe our proximity to the root of the problem. Intimidating. But close. Well poised to tackle the real bull by its horns. Our debates, press releases and legislation can address a richer, more effective solution procedure starting from here. For we have thought and reasoned that the problem has less to do with how we protect our women, and more with how we treat them. Grotesque doctrines in religious texts will be criticized, because your umbrage comes nowhere close to hers. Female roles in mainstream Indian cinema might undergo an overhaul and you might have to answer the unsettling question of why your first response was "I'll adjust." Only awareness can reveal the truth. Only reason can set it free7.

Apparently, our cynical times call for empathy's defense. "You dare empathize with the scumbag, pervert, barbaric rapist? Has your sense of true north escaped you? What evil ganja have you been smoking?"

I wish to introduce a coinage, The Disease of the Synecdoche8, a.k.a. DOS.
The frequent DOS attack here is that a part of my opposition to the rape isn't so much about the rapist as it is about society's instincts, hence the whole of my opposition is voided due to the elbow room I've gifted him. By empathizing with him, I have become his lawyer, his publicist, his loyal fan. By some accounts, I promote his merchandise and also secretly god-father his children. The reason this line of reasoning is automatic, is the same reason the aforementioned solipsism is also automatic. It is intracranio-numbingly easy to take such cross-Atlantic leaps of logic when you've renounced all your stakes. There are other extremely relatable examples:
"Modi is guilty? So you're from the left? One more of Sonia Ji's stooges? Naxal?"
"Gays are humans? Next you'll say cows are humans. Then pigs." 
"Farmers are committing suicide? So should I stop buying groceries so we can join them?"
Don't pretend you haven't heard at least variants of such right-wing poetry. And don't be surprised when you come across similar speech impediments from the left:
"Sonia Ji is guilty? So you're from the right? One more of Advani's acolytes?    RSS?" 
"The Iraq war is freeing people? Why don't we bomb everyone and free them all?" 
"Farmers are committing suicide? So should I stop buying groceries so we can join them?"
What we have here is a set of growingly innovative automatic DOS defences, a socio-immunological proven method of evasion. Conflate, accuse and repeat. At the speed of sound. It becomes impossible to be critical without being violently polarized. Arundhati Roy is a naxalite. Palagummi Sainath is an alarmist. Vandana Shiva is a hippy. This Standard Operating Procedure indicates a bad conscience. Ask yourself: Was there a condoning of the rape? Was there the slightest insinuation that the victim was asking for it? But in swoop the pundits, the television anchors, the spokespersons, the geriatrics and the juveniles, stroboscopically finger-wagging to the tune of conformity. Our media has set the agenda and its survival as an industry depends on us participating in its narrative. And its narrative has a complicated dependence on revenue. Advertising and television ratings have sealed themselves as indispensable fittings to today's information manifold. Expect a media with a predator's instincts for the quick buck. That's why our TVs have gotten louder and varicolored; because the quickest buck comes from exploiting that intracranio-numbing ease with which we surrender to self gratification. Shouting matches, celebrity gossip, doomsday soundtracks, vivid imagery, inflated rhetoric, controversy curdling are all turning out to be SOP in the media because it appeals to our automatic disposition to be minimally engaged so as to not take anything outside our immediate lives seriously. Consider just a few recent articles of news that have been squeezed dry of their shock value and thrown aside like spoilt cheese:
1) The Indian Jawan who was returned mutilated by the Pakistan army, was an opportunity to conduct a nuanced discussion on the sanguinary confusion regarding Kashmir's allegiance and the tinderbox description threatening Pakistan's sovereignty (cf. MJ Akbar's "Tinderbox - The Past and Future of Pakistan"). Instead, Goswami, India's self-appointed Premiership, used this opportunity to extend his Pan-Indianism to call for War against Pakistan by inviting Pakistani scholars and ex-generals to his primetime show and silencing them every time they offered evidence of peaceful piecing together of the problem. The exchanges closely resembled the sweaty testosterone infused clinch fighting seen in WWE matches, minus the spandex9.
2) The maoist attack at Chattisgarh that killed 28 Congress workers was as good a platform as any to deconstruct the politically charged race for resources, the plundering of adivasi land, the historical and sociological circumstances permitting a dominant presence of terrorists in the state. Once again, Goswami's sympathies for those suggesting carpet bombing the affected areas seemed strongly parallel to the predictable climaxes of action movies.
3) The IPL "rotten apples" disgraced for match-fixing could have been just the episodic segway required to step back and inspect the beast that Indian Cricket has become. It is a billion dollar industry mixed with the drama and trauma of Bollywood, which bandies about players like pieces on a life-size game of Monopoly played by businessmen whose abodes are in clouds. There is also a compelling similarity between America's war on drugs and India's war on match-fixers. Institutionalizing and hence legalizing betting could subtract significantly from the work of policemen, who lets not forget are at the service of the Indian public first before investigating the semaphores of entitled cricketing tweens. And the currency siphon stemming from the corporate-government nexus can be seen in the Indian budget's tax write-offs (cf. Sainath's "Many Insecurities") for the entertainment industry, which the IPL is neatly bracketed into. Money that rightfully belongs to the uplifting of our poor Indian laborers. You can imagine the ready reluctance to engage in these harsh realities. It would depress people. Make them feel guilty in pleasuring themselves like hormone besotted boys who just discovered the internet. It might even stir them into action and possibly ruin the business model. A business model so plastic and surreal, it can be thought of in the same sense as a lingerie model.

Look how cripplingly inadequate our information sources are. The nutrition value of our news channels, if you can pardon the gruesome analogy, would have us suffering from goitre, scurvy, rickets, parasthesia and night blindness all at the same time! The paralysis is not meant to be an exaggeration. If you are attentive of the paid-news pandemic, from local language news papers to the English Behemoths, you'd immediately see how this single phenomenon can be the undoing of our sovereign republic. To compare this to McCarthyism like propaganda is like not getting a good joke. The bureaucratically mottled universe of Kafka and the tyrannical hell of Orwell, as overused as yardsticks for doom as they are, enunciate the reality well, because cliche alone explains cliche. And as Sainath coldly exacts his judgement on Indian mainstream news, "Forget Professor Chomsky's Manufacturing Consent10. We've begun to Manufacture Content!"

So when we can't trust our mainstream media, how are we to witness reality? How does one separate it from the fictions that are understandably linked to an impregnable business model? How does one begin to think and calculate when force fed the deceptions and delusions of our media?

The questions are surprisingly old and are even canonical starting points in studies in philosophy, namely epistemology. One metaphor that isn't repeated enough is that of Socrates' Allegory of the Cave, found in Plato's Republic, Mankind's first attempt at assimilating a coherent theory of Justice. Socrates encourages his disciples Glaucon and Adeimantus to conduct the following thought experiment:

Imagine a cave in which prisoners are tied by their arms, necks and legs, constricting their view to only one direction, specifically towards a large wall facing them. Behind them is a fire that lights the cave and in front of it, yet still behind the prisoners, are figures casting shadows on the large wall, like some sort of bizarre cinematic puppet show. All the prisoners can see and interpret is limited to their sensations of these shadows. With no way of realizing that a world exists outside this claustrophobic nightmare they've come to call home, they get supremely confident that what they are experiencing is in fact reality. Then one day, one of the prisoners is released and dragged out of the cave into the world outside, where after his eyes adjust to the Sun, slowly starts to put two and two together, that life all this while had been a fantastic delusion. This education, the real meat of his enlightenment, was something inexplicably worth sharing. So he comes back to the cave to inform the prisoners that the lives they are living is imperially fake, that the gap between their belief in the constitution of reality and their knowledge of the constitution of reality is unimaginably large. But the prisoners are so hardwired to their beliefs, that this "freed" prisoner starts to sound like a trickster anarchist. The allegory is supposed to be a reference to the real life of Socrates, who was eventually fed hemlock and put to death for precisely this sort of annoyance.

The Greeks were definitely onto something when they were discussing education as a liberation of the mind. All this stuff about awareness, reason and truth converge beautifully at the focal points of our education. An education that is less about examinations, job interviews or status symbols and more about refusing to serve another term in the comfortable prisons we've erected for ourselves. And it turns out, this most electrifying liberation is exactly what the most downtrodden, exploited and poorest people in our country can benefit from the most. You are the class of people that become lawyers, businessmen, politicians, journalists, doctors, writers and Physics Professors. You are the beholders, transmitters and guardians of our culture and economy. Your imprisonment, is thus our culture's imprisonment, and the ones who suffer the most are the economically and socially backward classes of your society, for you are their employers, their representatives. And when you screw up, you are unwittingly boring away at the lives of an entire class of people, which our media's business model doesn't permit us to think about.

Please don't fall for the tempting although pathetic Synecdoche that understanding DNA, rational choice theory, the Rosetta Stone and gyroscopes frees the oppressed classes. The kind of thinking required in the serious study of these subjects is the same kind of thinking that fosters the liberation of the mind. It isn't the actual content of these subjects, but the self-contained dialectic in them that offers the chisels and forks to break out of our Shawshanks. Put another way, it doesn't matter what you think but how you think. Anybody can have thoughts, but the distinction lies in the machinery that produces them11. The difference between inspecting prop A through the lens of empathy is different from accepting it as an immovable standard. Both views may reach a moral equivalence on paper, but only one of them offers the opportunity to extend the perimeter of understanding. Learning the structure and functions of DNA, besides leaving one absolutely slack-jawed at Nature's infinite complexity, dislodges you from the center of things, and reminds you that to tackle complexity is to be disciplined and free to consider possibilities foreign to your life's routines. To digest the inherent paradoxes of rational choice theory is to be hypersensitive to the power of incentives and psyche. To appreciate the Rosetta Stone is to confront mankind's roots and its immutable love for language and how it always seems to magically supersede its grammar. How can such intellectual excursions not affect the way one perceives and interacts with fellow human-beings? And how can one ignore the ingrained humanity in these subjects? If you write software and are aware of the way it shapes society and its consciousness, then you will think deeply about its repercussions and might not be as trigger happy as you're told to be by execs when its time to file for an IP patent. If you are a businessman, even if profit-making is the end goal, being aware of how much you owe society and how similar everybody else is to you can go a long way in codifying ethical practices. If you are a minister in charge of foreign affairs, being aware of the kind of privileged access you have to operations of the WTO and the UN and the economic avalanches they can cause in particular regions, is more than half the battle won in resuscitating the World's lowest classes.

Your education, if you choose to take ownership of it, will restore your grasp on reality. It is a painstaking process. It can be a frightfully lonely one. But it promises to reveal the truth if you're persistent. Like the emergent structure of a Sierpinski triangle.

It would be remiss not to complete the context of Bellow's beggar in Napoli, or rather Augie's. His realization that awareness was inseparable from strangeness is a comforting admission:
Dying or not, this witty old man was sassing everybody about the circle of love that protects you. His skinny chest went up and down with the respiration of the deep-sea stink of the hot shore and its smell of explosions and fires. The war had gone north not so long before. The Neapolitan passersby grinned and smarted, longing and ironical as they read this ingenious challenge. You do all you can to humanize and familiarize the world, and suddenly it becomes more strange than ever. The living are not what they were, the dead die again and again, and at last for good.
I see this now. At that time not.
This pamphlet aspires to be the spark of your personal renaissance. Via subjects mentioned in this preface and more, we hope to strengthen this thesis, that it is possible to "think" our country, and ourselves, out of disaster.


[1] Amartya Sen's "The Argumentative Indian"
[2] If beauty is a priority, see The Feynman Lectures on Physics (Volume 1)
[3] C is however not entirely independent of B because of this other nagging concept called Democracy, for if B is false, C to some degree is rendered false as well, because the effectiveness of my vote has been altered by my religious affiliation (hence persecution). Real life is difficult to distillate into mathematically precise ideas, but we aren't looking for complete descriptions anyway.
[4]Do you tolerate your brother, or do you love him?
[5] David Foster Wallace's "This is Water", one of the greatest commencement speeches in recent history, lays the sufficiency condition, awareness, for the Copernican revolution of the mind.
[6] "Be a man."  "You throw like a girl." And also the etched-in-memory-forever "You catch like a girl."
[7] Our existential retreat is best summed, not by the difficult to parse Heidegger ("We are thrown into this World"), but by the language artist Salman Rushdie who in his "Midnight's Children" writes:
“I am the sum total of everything that went before me, of all I have been seen done, of everything done-to-me. I am everyone everything whose being-in-the-world affected was affected by mine. I am anything that happens after I'm gone which would not have happened if I had not come.”
[8] Synecdoche, n
a figure of speech by which a part is put for the whole
[9]  The E in WWE stands for Entertainment.
[10] For an introduction to Propaganda models, there is no better place to start than Professor Chomsky's "Manufacturing Consent". And for an encapsulation of our postmodern TV culture, read DFW's essay "E Unibus Pluram".
[11] Christopher Hitchens offers an example to illustrate:
The examination for captaincy in the navy used to be a very demanding one. There came a day when a young man was sitting for his exam and he was asked what he would do if a great wind got up and was blowing him towards the rocks. He said he would tack a starboard and pile on an extra sail. Said the admirals, "What if the wind continues to blow you towards the rocks?" He replied "I'd continue to tack the starboard and I'd add another main sail". He was asked the question again and he gave them the same answer. Then finally one of the admirals asked, "Where are you getting all this sail from?" The Young captain-to-be said ,"Same place you're getting all that wind from."

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