Daily Musings

The next renaissance

The movie fight club has a few thought provoking quotes – “We are the middle children of history, no purpose or place, no great wars, no great depression”. I don’t second the thought completely, our generation might also have a purpose may be a latent one, may be the purpose is hidden in layers like a pomegranate hides the berries in layers. Taking the middle path is the norm, the path that is safe, one that might bear the fruits of success – a success that is moderate but not the one that will make you immortal. Fight club comes to rescue one more time by stating “It’s only after we have lost everything that we are free to do anything”.

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The cities that have marked themselves in golden letters in pages of history were unforgiving to the people who called them home. There wasn’t a plan B, if you succeed then you will share the glory and your place in pages of history with the greats from all walks of life but if you fail then you might starve to death and you subject your upcoming generations, if any, to similar fate. But that didn’t deter them to take risks. They always shot for something that can be considered the ultimate manifestation of human spirit.

What is it that we will risk everything for? Pope Julius II gave the commission to Michelangelo to paint the Sistine Chapel. Michelangelo wasn’t a painter, he was a sculptor. But the philosophy to take risk on the unlikely heroes was not uncommon. Identify a talented person and bestow responsibility of a herculean task; sit back and look at the results.

But what we do nowadays is quite tangential to that approach. We enlist the people for jobs once we determine that they are the perfect fit and then we assign the tasks to those who demonstrated the ability to execute those tasks in the past. Entirely risk averse. No risk or reduced risk is what the aim is. The space and time required for the ideas to flourish are not provided and then we wonder why aren’t we living in another renaissance?

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Color me saffron

A few days ago when I was sitting in Scheltema in Amsterdam, I found a book named The Secret Lives of Color on the shelf. It was an interesting find. I quickly read the quoted stories on few of my favorite colors and was delighted to see the aspect of history associated with them. While I was about to return the book, I thought of another color – Saffron that forms a part of the tricolor flag of India.

Saffron is one of the most expensive spices in the world and at one time saffron color was one of the most expensive ones. In 1444 a man was burnt alive in Nuremberg for he used to adulterate saffron with marigold and used to stretch profit margins. The spice is so fragrant that Cleopatra used to bathe in milk and saffron.

In Indian context, the color represents strength and courage in the nation and in terms of Hinduism it represents the holiest color among all colors. It is the color of burning flame that can purify, it represents the sacrifice. The priests, the monks, the learned ones wear the color indicating renunciation of worldly wealth. S Radhakrishnan said the color in the flag should symbolize renunciation and disinterestedness. Indifference to the material gain should be the fundamental rule followed by leaders but we have seen umpteen times how the country has been plagued by corruption scandals.

Bike On

I am not here to preach you about biking and its benefits to health, environment, and the society. The advantages are conspicuous enough and if one can’t see them then what’s even the point. Critically cynical stance from me but I still gape and don’t believe my eyes when people take their cars out to go to a store within 2 mile radius. I have nothing against cars, they are great mode of transport if we are talking about longer distances but if used within the city limits can cause the slow death of the city life, deteriorate the environment, and unnecessarily encroach the urban space. But oh well, what do the status hungry society care? Higher the BHP better it is, flashy the car higher would the status be in the ‘society’. But there is hope, it lies in the diamond frame. H G Wells said ” Whenever I see an adult on a bicycle, I no longer despair for the future of human race.”

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My Parisian Friend

One of my favorite question in the interviews revolve around the framework used by the candidate, and I prefer the lucid and simple ones. A good framework is easy to understand and works well; It is akin to a bicycle – a simple machine that can have solution to few most complicated problems that infest the modern world.

For most of us, bicycles were the first source of freedom, taking us from point A to B but over a period of time we have shunned the bikes and have taken refuge in the cars. Whenever I go to a new city, I prefer to walk or take a bike no matter whether it rains, snows, heats up. Even if I end up walking 33 km in Paris in a day, bike for 40 km in Northern Amsterdam along the dikes, or find myself accidentally in Skagen(sleeping in train isn’t a good idea) and spend the entire day on bike there. There is a different feeling to it, it’s ineffable. You see the world differently, you hear it differently, you smell it differently than from behind a car’s windows. The speed is slow and you can appreciate more around you.

One of the best places to bike, in my opinion, are Amsterdam and Copenhagen, and having the entire road or bike highway to yourself without having to worry about getting hit by a motorized vehicle is a bliss. One can cruise on the bike thanks to the flat terrain of these cities and the cool breeze makes the experience enjoyable. It is interesting to note that studies have been conducted in England that showed that bikes helped in expanding the gene pool of counties( people had more mobility, so they procreated with people from other counties) and at one time was a symbol of female empowerment. Enrique Penasola, the mayor of Bogota exclaimed that absence of bike lanes is undemocratic way of life; If bike paths are present then the city can become a lot safer as there will be people on the road or outside more often.

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My Dutch Way Out

The most talked about advantages of biking are economic, political, social, and ecological but the personal ones cannot be discounted. Advantage of biking for the Parkinson’s patients has been talked about in many papers; one of the doctors took his patient on a tandem bike ride and saw the symptom level for Parkinson has gone down, he kept on repeating this tandem ride for few weeks and found his eureka moment for finding a correlation between biking and slowing down of disease.

Here goes a high five to German born Baron Karl von Drais – creator of this simple machine for “Nothing compares to the simple pleasure of riding a bike.” — John F. Kennedy

 

Stalker

 

Sifting through a myriad number of films that have been produced till now can be a herculean task and if I were to leave it on chance to find films that I would enjoy then I would be getting to see the gems once in blue moon only. Today only I was discussing this with a friend of mine that there are millions of things that have to be done, millions of books to be read, places to be visited, songs to listen to, movies to watch, emotions to express and experience, will one lifetime be enough for that?

I knew about Filmstruck for a long time and decided to have the trial version of the same for the 14 days before I would start my work-related travel again. I watched Krzysztof Kieslowski’s  Trois Couleurs Bleu, A French classic – Une affaire de femmes, a couple of Swedish ones namely Together and the famous – I am curious Yellow. I had kept Stalker – the 1979 soviet sci-fi in my watch list and was I delighted to watch it?

When I started writing this post I thought I would write a review for this masterpiece by Andrei Tarkovsky but in between I have changed my mind and my propensity is towards the instruments and film theory Tarkovsky resorted to while he directed this one. There is not an iota of question that the film is a strange one, not easily digestible, set in a post-apocalyptic world, talks in ciphers and cryptic language. The medium is terse and esoteric, talks philosophy, and focuses on single frames for a long time, at times as long as 4 to 5 minutes. Such lengths make people uncomfortable. Why? May be it makes them bored. Boredom is quite magical, it makes you do things that you wouldn’t have done otherwise even if it means jumping from one task to the other aimlessly. But the question is – Is this movie meant for everyone? May be not. Soviet state committee pointed out that the film isn’t immersive but alienating the audience and is slow. Tarkovsky replied it is the way it should be.

The arrogance and obstinacy is what is attractive here. Tarkovsky was assiduous, arduous, and audacious in one of his final attempt. So was Bertolt Brecht, the man who coined the concept of Verfremdungseffekt, popularly known as alienating the audience. Most of the movies that we see these days rely on CGI for the grandeur or the emotional manipulation of the audience. In layman terms, you identify with the main character of the film and go on an emotional roller coaster with that character. You laugh and cry in unison, one such example is Roman Holiday in which people can start relating themselves to princess Audrey Hepburn and l’ordinaire journalist Gregory Peck. To Brecht, emotional manipulation meant vile and scrupulous like a lie that steals your right of knowing the truth. This concept cuts chords with Khaled Hosseini’s The Kite Runner.

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At this point, Brecht decided to alienate audience than immersing them in the film watching experience. They would be looking at the characters, film, the plot, the props as an outsider. The audience won’t become part of the emotional experience but will be a self appointed critique. The end goal was to distance the viewers so they can take a rational decision on the plot, events, and the actions of the characters. Tarkovsky used this method well to create a radical, surprising, and a critical product – Stalker. The art practice no longer remains a bourgeois and lofty one but can assimilate with the audience without manipulating them emotionally. Another film that follows the similar path is Jeanne Dielman, 23 Commerce Quay, 1080 Brussels. I was thoroughly bored when I watched it for the first time and anticipated ‘something’ will happen but after 3 hours 45 minutes, the film just ended and I felt deceived. I was naive. After watching Stalker that belongs to the similar genre, I felt challenged. The film challenged me to remain bored, to maintain the static nature and then observe my surroundings. It challenges us to try and take a step away from the buffet of dissipation and profligacy and visit the mysteries of the zone. It is inline with Brecht statement that sometimes it is important to be human than to have good taste.

PS: Today I had a mathematical model’s delivery at work and while wrapping up the presentation I asked my clients to be devil’s advocate while checking the model or if we talk in film theory, I would like to alienate my audience so they can take a rational decision on the final product. We all had a hearty laugh.

Indian Cinderella Story

Winters olympics concluded today and all participating nations took part in the closing ceremony. It is sacrilegious moment for the athletes to represent and win at this pivotal congregation of sportsmen. Set cricket aside, India isn’t a sporting nation or a successful sporting nation as compared to the other nations in its cohort of developing countries such as China, Brazil, Mexico. There are inherent and deep rooted problems in the country at socioeconomic level but then too we have one of the most successful space programs in the world and are a nuclear power equipped nation. Coming back to the sports, there is major lack of infrastructure and opportunities and many times nepotism rules out the selection of better candidates. Scouting for talent requires patience and money and one thing we as a country should come to terms with is the fact that you cannot get a sports star who will win you olympics golds overnight. The talent is scouted, farmed, and then brought to the larger podium. Systematic inclusion of infra is not the end point but also the proclivity and predisposition of Indian population towards sports in general. The sport that is favored and has established itself as a business is cricket and parents, schools, clubs, sports centers, coaches, Govt. agencies channelize their efforts towards it as well. Wrestling, Badminton, Field hockey are a few others that have gotten some attention because the players brought laurels to the country by winning at international podium.

Field hockey has always been dear to me, its precision, speed, accuracy, constant movement, athletic prowess, skills are parallel and akin to Football. It’s counterpart for the nations with colder climate is Ice hockey which is ruled by powerhouses such as Sweden, Canada, USA, Finland etc. A few days ago I was watching a few goals by Ellen Hoog and Jamie Dwyer before the olympic quarter final between Sweden and Germany. The way they dribble is magic! Germany was able to pull a win against mighty Swedes; It was then I started scouring for Ice Hockey rinks in India. We have diverse geography, and at places such as Himalayas and Leh should have some small teams and I was ecstatic to find that THERE ARE! I found the story of Ice skaters and Ice Hockey players of India, mostly concentrated in the Leh region. They don’t have equipments, next to nothing resources, no ice rink except when the lakes freeze in the winters but these girls aren’t lacking motivation and spirit. Most of the time their parents support the passion and a few of them sold their properties to make the dreams come true for their daughters. With the help of crowdfunding, players were able to raise money and were able to compete successfully in 2017 Challenge cup of Asia and defeated Phillipines and Malaysia. The support from Indian population was inspirational and impeccable.

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I wish and hope that these players rise further and get proper support and facilities from the Govt. so India can have a facelift in the upcoming international competitions. We must be cognizant that to win medals in a sporting event that will be held 20 years from now, we’ll have to give will, sweat, resources, and blood right now. Fortune favors the brave.

PS: You can watch the small documentary on the female ice hockey players of India, here. 

Home Sapiens and The Walls

Recently I was flipping through the pages of The Third Chimpanzee by Jared Diamond and then later discussed the same with a colleague of mine about the fact that we share the 98.6% DNA with Chimps and the possibility that at least someone somewhere might be working in the world on trying to align the DNA of humans and chimps and then inserting the part of chimp’s DNA that carries the raw strength and inserting it human’s and thereby making a powerful human or may be the other way round to get a super intelligent Chimp if fallen in wrong hands can be weapon against mankind. Well, this process isn’t as simple as they show in the fantasy series but entirely possible. Apart from decoding the massive dataset of DNA, mutating any organism’s to make it behave in a certain fashion is not a cakewalk. Body should be able to receive that new DNA just as the new software should work with the old hardware.

It lead me to think about the human capacity, how far we have come from Homo habilis to erectus to neanderthal to homo sapiens. From the wheel to paper to combustion engines to medicines to light bulb to internet and now the mobile phones that can do almost everything. Between these inventions many great wars were fought, millions died, civilizations were razed and ravaged, vacillating tempers were disturbed and egos were hurt, egotists and dictators came and went away, ideas were brought in, suppressed, sometimes adopted, and eventually faded away with time only to leave a mark in the pages of history.

Walls and borders have been built and have been torn down. The standing and destroyed pieces reminisce us of what human beings are capable of. I don’t think this one need any explanation, one of the inhumane experiments conducted to annihilate nation’s integrity and pride into parts.

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But there can be others that integrate and bring people together. One example is Le mur des je t’aime in the Jehan Rictus square, Place des Abbesses in Montmartre area of Paris. Popularly known as the love wall, it has I Love You written in 311 languages over a 1000 times.

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The wall was created by two artists – Frédéric Baron and Claire Kito, who knocked on doors of the neighbors and people and collected this sentiment of love from them and later transferred them to the tiles. The red color burst represents the broken pieces of a heart but the wall keeps them at one place and united. Walls generally divide and segregate but this one is uniting and brining people together and spreading the message for the same.

Hotel Salvation

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An appointment in Samarra is the old Mesopotamian tale in which a man encounters death in Baghdad and to avoid it he runs away to the old city of Samarra thinking death won’t catch him there. It is later revealed that death was surprised to see him in Baghdad as that man had an appointment in Samarra that late night. There is no escape as it turns out to be the case. In the city of Varanasi, death comes at its own will like anywhere else but the quest for salvation and ultimate liberation draws devout Hindus to the city. In the film, Mukti Bhawan, one fine day Devendra realizes that his end is near and he
has to be in Varanasi to meet his end. Thus he embarks on a journey with his son who is reluctant to join the journey. A journey not only from life to death but also the one
towards self realization, towards the moments that are unprofitable though should be cherished.
The film is about coming to terms with certain concepts and truths of life. There are many characters in the film and it won’t be hyperbolic to say that even the city of Varanasi was portrayed as a character that has transformed the relation between the father and son, the smaller joys and woes of life into a chronicled intro and retrospection. The city serves as a medium for the poignant realizations and truths of life not only of this world but also the other world. The word death doesn’t seem so dreadful anymore between father and the son and when asked what he would like to be in his next life, the father says – a kangaroo so that he will have a personal pouch. There are certain moments of joy that are portrayed through the humane compassion between the granddaughter and grandfather.

I wonder what is the central theme of the film, is it the eventual journey one has to undertake, is it coming to terms with certain aspects of human life, is it gaining perspective through a journey to a city that is allegory for taking time off and observing the world as an outsider and what is your role in the wide gamut of things. Ich warum nicht!

Words we speak

The power of the languages lie in their ability to convey the words and feelings to someone sitting thousands of miles away. Some words can be poetic such as cafuné in Portuguese and some can be really terse such as Mamihlapinatapai in the ancient Yaghan language spoken in Tierra Del Fuego. I admire German for its ability to create compound words and convey the meaning which reader might not have imagined would exist. I encountered two such words while reading someone else’s blogs and researched on them. They are Lebenslangerschicksalsschatz – Lifelong treasure of destiny as I found the translation of web and also confirmed with my German friends. It is a feeling that makes you complete and you feel it in every iota of your being. The other one was Beinaheleidenschaftsgegenstand which is another compound word and would roughly translate to – almost object of passion. Something that you are passionate about but still not that passionate that it will be your Lebenslangerschicksalsschatz.

Paris to Berlin

I lingered over the thought for quite a while to decide how to form my words in most succinct manner. Meanwhile I prepared a small batch of potato chips, I am sure Van Gogh must be pleased.

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The oily treat didn’t satiate my desire and my mind started digressing and one thing that I have realized again and again is I don’t mind sitting in the front row of a movie theater, to me it is natural to do so even if the neck pains. What matters is I receive the images first than anyone else and I don’t see anyone else’s head.

I looked at the map that I had used and traced all the places I have been to by moving my finger. The crumpled, wrinkled, dog eared map of Berlin.

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Much has been written about Paris and Berlin and when one arrives in Berlin from Paris at night, one wonders is it really the capital of strongest economy of Europe? Paris is ostentatious with its art Deco and art Nouveau. It has been stereotyped as the most romantic and literary city on Earth, but is it? A Parisian has the same problems as a New Yorker has or a Berliner. So where is the difference?

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Meanwhile still caught up in my thoughts I started watching The Dreamers and joined Theo, Isabelle, and Matthew in the bathtub.

From my eyes Berlin is bare, tattered, and bruised. It’s history has been told so many times that there is no room for pretension. The city has no shroud, no cloak, or any shame in showing it’s true being. It has nothing to hide and nothing to lose. It is finding itself like a teenager slowly stepping into adulthood. It is an organism that is transforming by the day and the night, taking shapes to siphon all the ideas, cultures it can. It is a tumbleweed that continues to fly from one place to other transforming itself and those who come in its contact.

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Walking back to my humble abode in Kreuzberg from Anhalter Bahnhof with a pilsner in my hand, I had the epiphany of freedom that I hadn’t experienced in years, reprieved from masquerades.

Radikal Aus Tradition : Berlin ist radikal, die einzige Tradition, die diese Stadt akzeptiert, ist die Traditionslosigkeit. ( Berlin is radical, the only tradition this city will accept is that it doesn’t have any tradition)

 

 

Tumbleweed

When you find yourself in unknown parts of the world, trying to finish some work assignment or a presentation while nibbling on your croissant and listening to some white noise to gain concentration,

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always try to find some time for yourself, to gather your thoughts, to introspect and retrospect, to write your thoughts down to crystallize the concoctions of your brain over a cup of coffee and to listen to some music to enjoy those stolen moments,

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because it is important to find your own story at the end. The story of our life to break us free from ourselves and from the tangible and intangible object, so even if our body can’t walk through walls and obstructions but our imagination and soul can.

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