Sunday, December 18, 2011

Future of Work is here

Aeons ago (circa 2005) 3G was still just a concept, smart phones and tablet PCs like iphone and iPad were science fiction and broadband internet was a pricey reality. In those days (like today) every one got up early in the morning and commuted to work every day. Then followed the usual daily grind with the coffee to keep you awake through the day and then the commute back was unwelcome reality. Working from home or Telecommuting was a seldom encouraged option and stuff only meant for extra-ordinary circumstances. Most bosses would equate "working from home" to slacking at company cost.

In those days, I happened to be working at a client location in the US. The client - a reputed financial institution was experimenting with a concept they called "Future of Work". The guinea pigs of this experiment were a section of employees in the IT department of the company. I was in this batch of guinea pigs.

So what is Future of Work (FoW)?
The experiment was basically a specially designed workplace in a separate building and all of us who were part of this experiment were to be moved to that building. Each employee was given a laptop. Remember this was aeons ago in Computing terms... only people on the move (like sales) or senior managers were provided with company laptops. So for a ordinary software developer .. that too contractor, getting a company laptop was a big deal. Employees also got a blackberry. Again in those days having a blackberry attached to your belt was a corporate style statement which said - "I am important to the company". As a contractor I had to make do with only a laptop.
That was not all we were given a guided tour to the new working place. The new workplace was a fully WiFi enabled building. Most existing desktop computers then could connect to a network only using CAT5 cables so WiFi in the building could well be deemed as unnecessary cost. Each floor was a large open area with several rows of open desks instead of cubicles. The desks were spacious and each desk had a monitor, a phone and a laptop docking station. The obvious missing thing was a cabinet. We were told that we won't have fixed workstations but could occupy any available empty desk.

Days before the move we were handed the detailed briefing documents. Each of us would have a wifi enabled laptop (with VPN connectivty software), an extra set of laptop batteries, a land-line code and a land-line number. Besides employees would also have their blackberry. We were supposed to carry these devices with us like schoolbags. There were assigned cabinets for us and a few fixed corners of the floor where these cabinets should be put away at the end of the day. Remember none of us had fixed desks.
Each day when we entered the work area, we had a short drill. Locate an empty desk of interest, and dock the laptop. Punch the land-line code into the phone and it would immediately become our own personalized land-line with a fixed extension. Then for those of us who chose to leave any papers or stuff in the cabinet, we had to drag the cabinet to this desk. That's it.
Of course given WiFi, we could stay connected from the coffee break out rooms, meeting rooms or even corridors.

It was a paradigm shift in terms of a start of day drill. It felt as if we were all nomads and each day we were to pitch our tent so we could spend time in office.
The most interesting part was that the total number of desks were sufficient for only like 80% (may be even less) of the total staff assigned in that building. The theory (or so I heard) of the management was that on any given day about 20 % of the staff is not at desk due to leaves, work from home, meetings etc. This may have been supported by statistical data but seemed logical. Thus the company could potentially save about 20 % on recurring real estate and related costs. Of course if even 90% of staff did actually turn up to work place on a given day, there would be a serious space crunch. They even had a solution to avoid this problem. The company would pay for the broadband bills of employees so that they could be connected to the company network (via VPN over broadband). This meant that unlike past, bosses wouldn't mind if you were not in office - as long as you were reachable via email and phone and the work was getting done.

Now this being a new concept some people were not quite happy with it. A few days into this concept the early starters would show up and occupy their favorite desks and had converted those into fixed desks like the old days. So for some employees it didn't really matter that the company was experimenting with a new concept. They just wanted to continue with their old style of work. But there were others like me for whom this concept suited perfectly.

Lazy as I was, I would never wake up in time to start work at the 9 (official start time). In fact I would get up at about the time the office was supposed to start.
With FoW I wouldn't bother dashing to office in a hurry. Instead, I would camly open the laptop while still curled up in my bed, and connect to the office network. A quick check on emails and urgent issues and responses as needed were enough to give my boss the impression that I was already busy with work. Since there were no fixed desks, I figured if anybody wanted to meet me in person they wouldn't know where to find me and if I wasn't seen they would probably think that I was sitting in some distant corner of the floor. After my morning routines I would dash to office at about 10 - 10.30 am (or at the time of start of the first in-person meeting). Sometimes meetings were a boring affair where I was only present to provide input on a certain aspect and rest was just jibber-jabber. I would then multi task on my WiFi connected laptop and get some other work done.
After all daily meetings were done, I would leave office at about the time as the early starters (people who started office before 9) were leaving office. The idea was to avoid traffic of the late evening. I would reach home and finish off the day by responding to the last few emails of the day via VPN.
Often I would feel a little too lazy (i.e when there were no in person meetings in the day) and would just stay back home the whole day.

The flexibility that this FoW provided was like stuff of dreams for me then. That of course reflected in my next appraisal where the client had rated me highly and I got an improved overall performance rating. I was of completely surprised when it happened. While I think my room mates (who knew my real FoW drill) thought I was turning into a slacker, it actually had worked wonders for my performance. In retrospect, I believe without worries about work day and flexibility of both time and place of work, I could do the heads down work from a place of my comfort (home) at a time of my choice. Naturally when I did sit down to work, I could get more work done in same time as past.

Like all good things there was a flip side to this as well. Bad weather was no longer a reason to stay away from work. As long as there was electric power supply and internet at home I was expected to be able to get the job done.
Often during "production issues" I ended up working at weird hours of the night (not to mention while still curled up inside the blanket). In other words the laptop was always perched somewhere nearby my pillow. The distinction between work place and home, which I had always maintained quite religiously was getting blurred. All said and done, I thought it was a very interesting concept and really the Future of Work. In a few months, I moved on to another client and this experiment did not continue for me.

6 years later, now 3G is a reality, tablet PCs and smart phones are now everyday devices that even kids can use. Broadband prices have remained stable and speeds have gone up. WiFi is common not only in office buildings but also other commercial establishments (e.g. Airports, coffee shops). In short high speed internet connectivity can be achieved from virtually anywhere in urban regions. Networking socially has become an on-line affair in form of modern social networking sites like Facebook and LinkedIn. Technology companies are now comfortable with a flexi-work ethic. In my last job as a pre-sales consultant, armed with a laptop, vpn connectivity software and USB data card, I could work not just from home, but literally anywhere.

This whole transformation makes me excited about the technology improvements that are to come. Being a technology enthusiast and believer in efficiency of machines, I dare to say the following. Fuel costs are rising and so are urban populations. Cities are expanding and pretty soon everyday travel to and fro from work will seem like an expensive (both on the wallet and mind) and avoidable drill in favor of using that travel time more constructively. This has already happened in large cities like Mumbai. Thus people will prefer "Working from home" over office, traveling only when the job requires face to face interactions. Perhaps even face to face interactions will move to use video conferencing. Thus what was seen as an experimental style of working a few years ago is getting wider acceptance and might soon become a reality. In that sense, the Future of work is here !!............isn't it ?

Sunday, December 04, 2011

The Attraction of Cacophony

I happened to watch the movie Rockstar last week. While the reviews for the movie have been in extremes, I was quite positive about this movie and it lived up to my expectations .... The sound track was quite apt and somewhere in the middle I found myself head banging to the tune of "Sadda Haq" ....The immediate next moment I was full of nostalgia ....  Suddenly I felt like life had rewound more than a decade to college days....Having momentarily relived that moment, I think it is perhaps apt to pen down that memory.

The source of this memory is the RAIT (my college) festival called "Akarshan" (means Attraction in Hindi).
My first memory of this festival is during my "FE" days. It was the second semester - usually full of a lot of events and among them was the indoor festival Akarshan. A few hand made posters adorned the walls announcing the festival and inviting budding singers/ musicians or for that matter anybody even willing to try their skills (or lack of it) was welcome.

One fine evening I heard sound of music (mostly drums and guitar) emanating from the basement. I followed the sound into the SUC (student union council) room. The room was full of budding singers and a few musicians willing to play the available instruments (keyboard, drums, guitar and I think there was a tabla).
The beauty of this festival was it didn't matter whether you were trained to sing, had raw talent or a bathroom singer (yours truely). There were no real selections or restrictions for the performance. All you had to do was pick a song of your choice, sing it in and hope that you synchronize with the instruments.

In some time, I too got a chance to make an attempt. Till that bathroom melody (read cacophony) was my specialty and I'd even memorized a few songs entirely.
Thus I tried singing one of those songs. Couple of attempts and the musicians (who if I may mention, were already tired of putting up with other bad singers for hours) gave me a look indicative of "please synchronize" with the music. One helpful senior took me aside and attempted to give me a crash course into the concept of notes and pitch etc ... obviously falling on deaf ears. A realization soon dawned that evening when I taped myself and played it back. I was downright cacophonous to my own ears. Still I was happy that other FEs and my friends had gone ahead and tried their voice and were scheduled to sing on the big day.

A few days passed and the big day arrived. It was a Friday and by mid day, most lecturers were pretty lax. The stage was laid out. Right at the entrance of the college building was an open area from where one could look straight up to the roof. On four sides of this area were stair cases and walkways leading to the various labs and classrooms. The stage was laid out in such a way that anybody could view it from the stair cases or railings of the walkways. I looked at the stage and the area around it and wondered how the whole bunch of students ( I guess all 4 yrs of Engg accounted nearly a 1000) were going to fit in that stage.
Nevertheless the excitement was sinking in.

By 3pm, most lectures had either finished or called of lectures. Some of the older Professors were seen rushing out in hurry. A look at them and it felt like they were fleeing away from inevitable disaster. The seniors were seen scavenging for old notebooks, journals and any useless paper that they could lay their hands on. The paper was swiftly torn to shreds. I was wondering what was going on. An hour passed by and I realized how the whole bunch of students managed to watch the show. Every inch of the railing had some one leaning on it. Every stair had some one standing on it. Benches were pulled outside classrooms to make up seats. In short within a span of an hour, the whole college building was converted into a mini-stadium with stage at its center.

As the orchestra and host of the day were still checking the instruments, the crowd started shouting "Start the F***ing music". The sheer reverberations of so many abuses demanding music made the place seem like hell rather than a college. No wonder those older profs had run away. It would take a strong heart and some serious talent to silence this raging crowd. The next few hours were a generous mix of soulful music and heavy metal, melody and cacophony, Indian and western.

Every singer was greeted with a bunch of paper balls aimed at his mouth as soon as he opened it to sing. If the announcement said that the singer was an FE, then the wrath was even worse, as a bunch of abuses tried to silence him/her (mostly him - engg college has few girls and even fewer girls who dare to sing). Even the abuses were hurled in unison and there was a certain tune to Ma********* ... Bhe**********. The orchestra should be appreciated, as despite the frenzy around them, they supported even the most cacophonous singers who dared to sing.
Quite a few singers were pretty good and every good singer was soon enough met with a sing along from the crowd. The better singers were appreciated with "Once more".

Standing there among the crowd gave a feeling of being in a mini concert. I wasn't into Rock music at that point of time but this yearly concert served as my initiation into the world of rock. Soon enough I could rattle out a few names from my mouth. Likes of Eagles, Pink Floyd, Bryan Adams, Metallica, Nirvana, Def Leopard (to name a few) were among the favorites. I learned to let loose by head banging and swaying arms to soulful tunes. Any singers who sang some of those songs well were highly appreciated. Some even earned bows from the whole crowd and thus this little concert even had a fair share of local celebrities. I remember one fellow blogger (writes a blog by name Dirtscapes) was renowned for his rendition of the Eagles classic "Hotel California".

As I end this little blog post I would like to mention a particular memory. I was an SE (second year engineering), and during this festival one FE had sung A.R.Rehman's hit "Aye Ajnabee" so well that he not only became a local celebrity (earned bows and once mores) but was one rare FE to have been known by seniors by his real name (Vishal) instead of the collective name FE. That was a rare feat. But as bad luck would have it, he soon suffered a terminal illness. I don't when exactly but at one point of time this guy was in need of an operation and we learned that the family couldn't afford it. A fund was started by students and every one was putting their hard earned pocket money into a little box. All people knew was their beloved singer was in need of it. I don't think the money eventually helped and left the whole college mourning the loss of a rare singer. Incidentally I share my first name with this fellow and even though I did not know him personally, I would like to dedicate this post to him ... Simply for those 5 minutes when he managed to give the whole crowd a soulful experience with his singing abilities. May his soul rest in peace.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Picking up the RAIT attitude

I watched the bollywood hit movie 3 Idiots (again) recently. The movie is about life in the Engineering campus. Being an engineer myself, I ended up relating a lot to the movie and some of its scenes. It inspired the writer in me to start typing a few memories from that life and in the process try and relive the nostalgia.

I passed H.S.C with flying colors (or so I thought) ... but soon enough I realized that my colors weren't flying high enough to land me into the top colleges of Bombay. So I took a tour of New Bombay (or Navi Mumbai as it is called now) the adjacent city to short list alternatives. A look at the vast RAIT campus (the D.Y.Patil campus) in Nerul and I was sold. Soon enough I'd secured admission into this college through the centralized admission system and here I was staring at the notice board in the college trying to figure out how my next four years were going to be. The college for First Year Engineering (F.E as we would be known for the rest of the year) hadn't started yet. I was there just to pay the fees.

Naive and idiotic as I was, I had traveled there all alone. After I was done with the formalities, I was looking for the canteen so that I could have a beverage to quench my thirst. RAIT then was notorious for "ragging" but I did not know that.
As I was wandering about clueless on the ground floor looking for canteen, I saw a friendly looking person with a book in hand. I figured it was good to ask for directions (rookie mistake no 1... never ask a senior for directions on day one). I think the book was really a decoy so that the spotter could trap gullible juniors like me.

This senior politely asked me if I was an FE. I did not understand the significance of this word yet. He even politely explained to me the meaning and then I said yes. Then instead of guiding me to the canteen (thankfully he did not - I learned later that canteen = hell for FEs) he took me to his classroom.

There I was in an FE's nightmare (if not hell). A classroom comprising of about 20 odd Second year (SE) boys spending their free lecture. I was the source of their entertainment. Now the whole infamy of the word ragging dawned upon me. The next one hour was spent with various connotations of the F*** word and S** words being hurled at me. If I thought something was a joke and opened my mouth to smile I was to flush my smile (can't describe the meaning .. but it sort of equates to flushing after shit in the potty). One of the early scenes of the movie 3 idiots shows a bunch of juniors being "ragged" by a bunch of seniors with a customary salute ("Jahapanah tussi great ... tofah kabool karo"). I was also taught a similar (less vulgar) salute (aka RAIT salute). Towards the end of the hour a few girls entered the classroom. I was thanking God for getting me out of this nightmare ... but I was wrong. The Nightmare just got worse for this shy guy (yours truely) cause I used to be a shy guy in front of girls. There was this bold female standing before me. One of the SEs behind me dared me to propose to her. As I was standing tongue tied in front of this female, she instantly pointed to huge Macho guy (for those who know me as a lean guy now, I was a bag of bones then weighing just about 50 Kgs). She mentioned that he was her boyfriend and if I dared say anything he would beat the crap out of me.
The next few moments seemed like an eternity and I was nearly sweating trying to figure out what to say. Finally the SEs decided to pity the nice guy in me. One senior walked with me out of the campus (lest some other SE catches me again).

The long 1.5 hr journey back home was a thought provoking one. I was feeling humiliated and questioning my decision to enter this college. Then I  thought,what the hell .. all they did was challenge me to open my mouth and hurled a few abusive words for being silent and shy. The one hour was an eye opener to the challenges of the real world. I was no longer in my neighborhood - the protected kid of protective parents. For my life hereon I would always be on my own in the world. Yes, the parents and well wishers would be there if I needed their help. However I would have to shape my life hereon. There dawned the my first lesson of Engineering - "Be Shameless" (which also loosely translated to be bold, give up your inhibitions etc).

A few days later I returned for the beginning of the first semester. I saw whole army of rats (read as FE). We had strength in numbers. But at the first sight of a cat (reads as SEs and any other seniors), the rats would disperse and hide in their rat holes (FE classroom). There my "be shameless" attitude became my boon. Thanks to my previous brush with seniors I was no longer afraid to hangout outside the classroom. The rest of the FEs were always hiding inside the classroom till evening and then run home. The very seniors who had been a part of my nightmare were now quite chatty with me (to be precise they wanted to sell their FE text books to the new batch). Among my batch mates, I was seen as a bold (aah .. a new meaning of shameless) FE as I would talk to the seniors.

I was even responsible for introducing a few FEs to SEs willing to sell books without first ragging the junior. I even learned (albiet not at my own expense) why the canteen was treated like an FEs hell. I ventured into canteen at lunch time. The canteen was inside the basement, with dull lighting. It seemed like dark dungeon. The smoke and steam from kitchen made it look like the dungeon's furnace. The place was certainly a little more than warm. There was a whole bunch of seniors (like an army of cats) busy with their stuff ...smoking, writing journals, discussing sports, discussing college politics, discussing their subjects, banging benches and also having food. Any single FE caught there would then serve as a source of entertainment for seniors for rest of the day. If one group had to leave the canteen, the FE would simply be passed around to the next group and so on. In that sense, for an FE, the canteen was really hell. Thankfully my previous acquaintances (nightmare) with some of the seniors meant that they
were now quite friendly with me. So if any unknown senior would serve thoughts of messing with me, these friendly guys would come to my rescue.

Over the next month I had metamorphosed, from a shy guy who cared about a lot of things people said to or about him, to somebody who didn't give a damn about things people said about him. I learned to "be myself" and be proud about being that self. This next month was also the month where most FEs dreaded the seniors. All of us in FE did not have our names ... we just had one collective name "FE". If a senior shouted across the floor "Aye FE" it meant run for your life. Of course my early brush with seniors meant that I was unafraid of the seniors or ragging. Towards the end of the month, was the grand FE nite - party thrown by the seniors to all FEs. It was the informal welcome from all seniors to juniors and and end of the period of dreading the seniors. From now on no senior would attempt to trouble this batch of juniors. This was kicked off by some seniors doing the RAIT salute in front of juniors.

Of course the word ragging took a new meaning for us for the next four years. We learned (as Viru Sahasrabuddhe from 3 idiots would say) that "life is a race". Every one in the college would be there ragging us (so to speak). There were the boring lectures where some bad lecturers threatened us into attending lectures with "attendance norms". There were the lab assistants who would make faces at us as they handed out old and crappy lab equipment for the practicals as if they were handing out their life savings. Then there were the term work Submissions at end of each sem, where each of bold and dauntless students were reduced to mowing like cows in the hope that our Term work would be accepted and we would be cleared without the ignominy of KT (aka Allowed to Keep Terms - which I'll explain in my next RAIT blog). That one hour of ragging was nothing compared to the torture that the college staff would put us through over the next four years. To say the least, the very seniors whom we avoided for the first month, were to become our saviors over the next couple of years. They would provide us tips and tricks (besides books, journals and notes) to help tide through the term work submissions and exams.

Its has been more than a decade since my FE status.Almost a decade now since I left my college, I don't remember much of what was taught in my curriculum...The extra curricular stuff though (including that little one hour nightmare) did prepare me for my life thereafter and so far. Alongside the "be shameless" and "be myself", I learned several small lessons over the next fours years that I collectively call the "RAIT attitude" (pronounced Right attitude).

Attention around ragging by both college and law enforcement has increased and they are rather strict. In most colleges FE students need not hide like rats. But I ask, has the ragging really stopped.... I mean the students may have stopped ragging their fellow students. The real ragging by the system and enforcers continues in the name of exams, term work and syllabus. The emphasis is still on theory and mugging than on creativity, innovation and learning.
Signing off this one - hoping that future RAIT students learn a little more than just the RAIT attitude.

PS : For a more funnier account of Joys of being and FE click this link from another fellow RAITian who writes the blog named Dirtscapes
I also thank him for inspiring this blog and in general indirectly influencing my writing style.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Watch out Monginis

In a departure from my usual ramblings, today I am attempting to write a report. Before I begin, I should thank (or curse) two of my regular blog fans for literally forcing me in to writing this one..

Last week I was happened to visit a community fun fair where one of my blog fans (aka Narad) and his better half (more importantly the better half) had invited me.... It was a rare public appearance by your truly in capacity as a famous blogger. So what if my fan list is smaller than the number of fingers on my hand - one of my articles was published recently in Mumbai DNA's print edition. I think that qualifies me as famous (wonder what DNA was thinking when they published me ... but who cares .. I am in the newspaper)...

Now that I have been my boastful self for a paragraph, it is time to shift focus to Mrs Narad's culinary treats. The inside story is that Narad was often found sneaking into bakeries to gorge some Muffins.. That sparked Mrs. Narad into considering an expansion of her then limited Culinary skills to add muffins to the list. Months later, I found myself as an observant (read greedy) bystander at her cake and muffin stall in the fun fair.

After spending time attempting to ogle around in the crowd, I realized that there was nothing much other than food to spark my interest. At dusk bucket loads of muffins arrived with Mrs Narad, her family and my other blog fan (Mitra - who was hired as photographer). At first look, I was a little overwhelmed by sheer number of bakery products (both in number and variety). Not to mention, I was also skeptical about the possibility of a sell out. For a change my skepticism would have sweet rewards. I mean if Mrs. Narad failed to sell the muffins, I as a friend would have to step in to help avoid wastage. (In essence I was hoping for a free take out order).

Apparently a whole weekend of hard work had gone into preparatory work and now was the time for the acid test ... or should I say taste bud test. The first few minutes went by hoping for customers to show up... Having a few friendly customers drop by helped. A few of muffins left the store and soon enough caught the eye of the kids. Mrs. Narad seemed to know how to make the package attractive to the customers that matter. So not only were they baked well to taste and texture, they were neatly boxed up and appropriate creamy and colorful toppings added to catch the eye of any wandering kids. Soon enough we saw a crowd of kids around the store. All busy staring and choosing what the wanted to eat. So kids who had now developed a craving for muffins were seen coming back to give in to their temptations.

The interesting thing about having a kid fan base is that they have an amazing power of influence Of course with their power of influence they were back with their parents which meant that customer base had now doubled itself. In all the frenzy that followed, I noticed one 6 yr old who kept coming to the stall despite repeated attempts of grandpa, to advertise that muffins aren't quite healthy. (sure Grandpa so much sugar ... so many extra calories). But the bundle of energy that they are, kids don't really need bother about the guilt that we grown ups have after consuming those calories. Persistence payed off, and grandpa caved in to her demands after 3 attempts to draw her attention elsewhere.

That gesture said several things to me ... For one, Narad & co had figure how to woo their customers. More importantly, it meant that my free take out was not going to be there. I quickly turned around to the customer side of the stall and paid for a banana muffin (yes ... the cheapskate me had to pay ), lest they run out of the good stuff before I get a good bite. Sure enough the muffin was worth every penny.Thus Narad & co was the first stall to wind up for the day .. alas they were sold out !!!. I would like add a little futuristic prediction here. In years to come if and when Mrs. Narad gets tired of her software career & economics permitting, baking certainly seems to be an tasty venture. Only time will tell if I am right, till then Watch out Monginis..

If you are still reading this its probably a few hundred words already and I know a picture is apparently worth a thousand words. So here are the links to the photo blog from Mitra
Mesmerizing Muffin Madness -I.
Mesmerizing Muffin Madness -II

Sunday, October 30, 2011


All my blog fans might look at the title and think what a dumb title. Yes unlike most of my posts, not much thought has been given to the title. The title is merely a word play on the actual subject of the post - the movie Damadam.
While I usually don't write about movies (except for one article four years ago about a changing Bollywood), I do watch a lot of movies in 3 different languages. Movies are merely a way of quick entertainment and I prefer not to spend time thinking or writing about them. So what happened today to get me to write about movies... Nothing special. Thanks to some utter dumb-witted sibling banter and useless show of bravado - I ended up in the movie theater to watch this movie.
The ordeal that followed, ensured that this movie got its own share of fame on my blog.

Rewind a few weeks:
Me and my bro - two couch potatoes are in front of the idiot box and a promo of this movie shows up. Some banter ensues around the worst movies each of has endured and in trying to prove the ability to take on more crap we end up agreeing (in fact challenging each other) to a Ghatiya Film festival (GFF).
(For my non Indian readers - Ghatiya is hindi for "lousy")
The promo in question was none other than "Damadam".

So what is a Ghatiya Film festival. Take the usually entertaining Movie Hall visit to the next level by planning a series of "badly rated" new releases and watch them week after week. Being a fairly regular weekend movie goer means that GFF can happen simply because one drops by the movie theater by force of habit and watches any of the available flicks (ratings don't matter). In the words of Mogambo ka bhatija - the great Gogo - "Aaye hain - kuch na kuch dekh ke jayenge".

This was of course the first time we actually agreed deliberately to a GFF.
It wasn't hard to plan one as there are a bunch of lowly rated flicks releasing this time of the year. Of course Damadam (long before it was released or rated) made it to the list simply because it was a Himesh Reshmiya (HR) movie.

After postponing the start of this festival for various reasons like vacation outing, diwali, cleaning day (I think the real reason was both me and my bro were simply afraid to take up the challenge), we finally agreed to start of the GFF - thanks mainly to the release of Damadam. Minutes before leaving for the movie both of us were showing signs of weakness. The stakes were high - one who goes through the whole GFF whilst retaining sanity and consciousness wins the title of "Connoisseur of Crap". So acceptance of defeat meant that I lost claim to title and of course the bro gets the bragging rights which by the way - is a huge thing in sibling banter. Guess same thought was going through bro's mind as well.

Minutes later there we were at the theater, entering a dark near empty movie hall - wondering if we were the only 2 people who turned up for the movie. After taking seats we looked around (and heaved a sigh of relief) to note that we were not the only people in the hall. I had spent some time without pulling my hair. Then I looked at my watch. To my dismay what felt like at least half an hour in perceived time, was only 7 minutes on the watch. Suddenly Einstein's special theory of relativity had a new meaning. I am not sure if traveling at near velocity of light slows down time (as postulated by the great physicist). Watching HR certainly does.

After about 15 minutes in the movie (which seemed like an eternity), the only silver lining in the movie happened. Enter the boss's hot sister (Sonal Sehgal).
The rest of the movie was made more bearable thanks to that female who kept flashing her beautiful smile ever so often (and of course looked sexy in mini skirts). Despite that the torture, of watching HR display his ever so blank expression for pretty much all emotions and a drab script was so immense that I kept pulling my hair and staring at the watch. I even offered to my bro that we call it a draw and walk out at intermission (with both still in contention for the title).

Dumb pride can be a suicidal and we both proved exactly that to each other when we both returned in the hall after intermission with a bucket of pop corn and couple of cold soft drinks. I was returning with a mild headache - but the title contention meant we both dared to continue. The popcorn and soft drink gradually helped in drawing my attention away from the head ache and made the movie more bearable. A few more songs and several badly emoted scenes later the story went through a few minor twists and turns. The ending was with a song that censor board should perhaps adopt as an anthem (it has wordings like "no kissing noo kissing - only seeing .. only seeing").

On hind sight, I think the story was a little like one of those "ordinary" man Amol Palekar / Farooq Sheikh romantic comedies of the late seventies and early eighties. The comparison though is an insult to those movies (which I consider amongst some of the best comedies of bollywood). Over the years, I have seen my fair share of bad movies but this one challenges the worst of those movies.
When we both eventually walked out happy that we were both conscious and sane, we agreed that we both stood at same level with respect to the title contention. Perhaps we should not bother continuing with the GFF and hopefully Dumb-a-dumb has bestowed some common sense. Guess we'll really only know when we engage in our round of sibling banter.

To end this post - I would just like to say this - in the interest of the benefit of brave man kind who choose to watch "Dumb-a-dumb" - "You have been warned"

Friday, August 19, 2011

Mumbaikar - Uncomfortably Numb ?

Last few months I have found myself avoiding trying to write new posts on this blog, not only because I have been busy but also because of lack anything creative to write about.

Once again bomb blasts happened in Mumbai about a month ago. Yet the very next day, people were back on the roads, braving the heavy rains, crowded trains and their own fears. We Mumbaikars seem to have gotten so used to these things that our reactions to some of these events are bordering on the numbness. Politicians and Journalists are quick to attach adjectives such as bravery, resilience and like to the Mumbaikar. Is it really resilience or bravery? In the daily struggle to earn an honest living and support the family, an average Mumbaikar is just too pre-occupied in his/ her own daily routine and struggles, to be too worried about these external threats. The worries of rising prices, rents, monthly bills, water cuts, bad traffic and so on are just so overwhelming that there is little time left to worry about terrorist threats. All that we do is heave a sigh of relief knowing that self and near and dear ones are alive and kicking after that bomb blast.
This is numbness to the situation - no doubt. It however is an "Uncomfortable Numbness". To quote the protagonist common man from the movie "Wednesday" - "We are resilient by force and not by choice". The title of this article had struck me the very next day after the blasts but what am I going to write about this topic was my question.

My question answered itself today. We are not completely numb, we do feel the pinch of everything.
It is just that with 61yrs of being a part of a Democratic Republic, we have simply seem to have lost the hope that democracy offers. Not because democracy is hopeless, but because the corruption in this democracy has systematically destroyed all hope. Every time I go out to vote, I have to make a choice amongst several unworthy and corrupt candidates who just have promises. For too long has the government has enjoyed lack of accountability. This hopelessness has given rise to our numbness. This numbness has become our defense mechanism for protecting self from the troubles, we seem powerless to fight. I often find myself as a part of agitated debates and always the frustrations and hopelessness returned.

A few days ago I heard the news of one man demanding the end of Corruption. Anna Hazare and demands for Lokpal bill need no introduction. To be frank, I doubted this man's resolve and credibility when he first voiced his demands some months ago. However this time he backed his demands with a hunger strike and the resolve that has been equated (by media) with the famous Mahatma.
What has followed over the next few days has been unprecedented in the history of Free India.
His movement against corruption has captured the imagination of the old and the young alike. Again I am not reporting anything different from what the news channels are reporting. In fact my own numbness meant that I was conveniently ignoring the happenings around me and getting busy with my life. Living in a quite neighbourhood certainly helps.

Today though something different happened. On my way back home I noticed a crowd of familiar faces - friends and neighbours along with their families, taking to the streets with candles in hand and being vocal in their support to Anna's cause. These are not people swayed by a glib politician's eloquence. These are not people paid to form a crowd at a political rally. These are not people fanatic about cricket or religion. These are the same well educated, numb office goers who till yesterday formed a part of those inconsequential rants and arguments.
As I took the opportunity to take a few pictures, I could see those playful kids who cannot even spell corruption, cheerfully lead the way. The crowd ranged from 4 yr old toddlers to 70 year old grey hair.

This movement is a democratic movement in real sense of the term - "of the people, by the people, for the people", unlike the government which remains so only in the text books. Practically its full of corrupt politicians. It is thus not surprising at all that when the cause is so noble, the very politicians who are supposed to be representatives of the people, have stayed away from the cause. The opposition politicians who are usually very quick to point finger on the government on seemingly trivial issues are now simply mum. Perhaps standing for the cause is a suicide for the corrupt politician. Perhaps the corrupt politician is just waiting for the movement to die its natural death. Perhaps they are all conspiring to strike back at the people. Only time will tell.

For now this movement has given me and every Indian a new hope. I just hope that this movement gives its ultimate outcome, not the just the lokpal bill but the end of corruption. I hope that this movement does not die a premature death. I hope that the politicians wake up from filling their coffers and get on with the job they were chosen for - public service. I hope that for the sake of the 4 yr old holding the tri-colour, this movement means that he can grow up to earn an honest living in an honest country. I hope that the 70 yr old lives to see his 4 yr old grand kid become an honest youth driving the country.
I have nothing more to write for now - but just end this blog with the words "Hope is everlasting" and a few pictures from my neighbourhood which inspired this article.

Vande Mataram and Jai Hind.

Sunday, August 07, 2011

Travails of the Chromatically challenged

A large number (read as 2) of my blog fans have noticed that I have not been writing for a while. I wasn't aware that people can actually miss my online presence, but with two fans personally pointing that out to me, I am sure that my whole fan club is craving for more (and even if they are not .. I am still writing this post). Let me just say here that I have been too busy lately. Also I have not had any epiphanies of creativity to prompt me too start typing vigorously. However there is this one post that has been in my mind for a while so I think its time for me break my silence over this topic.

Humans have a very perceptive eyesight in that we can distinguish several colours unlike many animals who mostly see monochromatic shades. Thus when we see things around us we see several colours and have come up with several words to describe them. There probably are hundred or more words in our vocabulary just to name the colours. Then there are those of us who cannot describe so many colours, not because we lack the vocabulary, but simply because we lack the ability to attach a specific word to the colour that we see. I am not entirely sure if there is a word to describe this scenario. So I have come up the the phrase "Chromatically Challenged".

At the risk of sounding a sexist, I am going to put the claim that most men are chromatically challenged (at least I am one). I am not putting a percentage here as I do not have a scientific study to prove that. The rest of this article is purely a aggregation of my observations and experiences in this matter. Those who agree with me read on to find points to support this argument. Those who don't, read on and I hope by the end of the article you will agree with me.

A few years ago I used to travel quite regularly between Mumbai and Pune. Often a female friend of mine would be there in the bus and we ended up chatting about several useless topics. One of my first discussions around colours was with her. Somewhere within one such discussion I pointed out that most guys were not capable of describing more than 24 colours. She suddenly became defensive about guys and argued that they could do better.So we decided to start counting the colours that I could describe. The next half an hour was spent with me trying hard to go up to 25. She ensured that she threw enough names of colours to help me get to that point, however a lot of names almost fell on deaf ears as I couldn't distinguish the colours. I think eventually I stopped around 22 (and may I point that I tried very hard to go beyond that number). Ever since I have presented this argument to several guys and almost always my point has been validated.

I have been thinking about making my articles more interactive so I think it is now time to give an exercise to my readers. Please try naming the colours you can recognize. There are two simple rules here if you know a word as a color but you can't name it when you see it then it does not count. This rule is specifically for those intellectuals who think it is their duty to expand their vocabulary but by virtue of being chromatically challenged cannot use that expanded vocabulary to good effect. There is another rule - use of words light and dark prefixed to colors don't count as new colour names (go polish your vocabulary in this case).

Now time for exercise results :
  1. If you are a guy and scored more than 24 :
    You are artistically oriented (e.g. you like painting and thus know your colours), or the knowledge of additional colours has been enforced upon you by the significant women in your life (wife / girlfriend and in some cases mother, sister). In case of the enforced knowledge it could also be the case where you are in a profession which requires the knowledge of colours (e.g. you sell women's clothing). If you are the former than its time to consider giving up your well paying desk job (I don't think any real artists read my blog) and moving to become what you really dream of. Don't blame me though if you end up becoming broke. That will most likely happen as you would realize that your feeling of being artistic was also enforced upon you.
  2. If you are a guy and scored less than 24:
    Its perfectly normal. After all you are the subject of this blog.
  3. If you are a girl and scored more than 24:
    Don't worry its perfectly normal. It is your duty to teach the significant men (son, husband, brother) in your life to break the barrier.
  4. If you are a girl and scored less than 24:
    I didn't actually think that this category was practically possible. However since its a logical possibility I have to write something here. Either you are a girl who is in early stages of learning English (in which case you are really category 3 but only need to add a few words to your vocabulary to move there) or you are hypothetical.
Now comes the part when I did deeper into travails of the category 2 - aka the Chromatically Challenged aka men.

To start with I postulate that when it comes to colours it is the men who are the weaker sex.
Imagine when it comes to formal office clothes what are the options that we men have ?.
Full Shirt, pant, tie and sometimes the suit / blazer to make it very formal. Again the range of colours that is most popular here is very short- blue, black, white, brown, gray. When it comes to shirts they variety of colours can be expanded a little with entries like green,cream, yellow, orange , red etc. There are very few patterns and colours available really. It is almost as if the fashion world somehow conspired to give all men a uniform look. I know men in Uniform are supposed to look smart. However, compare that with females they simply have too many options not just in colours, but also in the variety of dresses that are acceptable in formals. In fact in India apart from generally accepted western formals, a whole lot of Indian traditional wear are also accepted as formals (e.g. Sarees, punjabi suits). Not the same case with men. The moment one of us men decides to walk in to office in an Indian traditional formal wear (like Kurta) it better be some festive occasion or you are going to get asked to explain your "informal" dressing.Of course since this article is about colours, the type of dressing is not quite the point, but you get the drift.

Coming back to the choice of colours (rather the lack of it), for a chromatically challenged individual though it is not that bad. It makes life so much easier when it comes to selecting the colours on anything (not just clothes, but accessories, electronics, cars etc). Imagine a person who can barely count more than a dozen colours having to make choice of one of 99 colours If you are a man its probably hard to believe that any product can have a choice of those many colours -so check this site from TVS Scooty. So in general we men are happy with our limited choices in colours but the problem starts when we have to go shopping with women.
Since I have sighted the Scooty as an example, imagine a guy shopping for his little sister so she can have a cool ride to her college. She pulls up the colour chart and picks 3 colours from that - Ruby, Toreador red and Rouge Babylone. Now perhaps women see them as 3 colours, but for us guys they are all red. So the little sister here is putting dear bro in a fix by giving him 3 choices - A - Red, B - Red,C- Red. Now when bro picks A, the next question will go something like why not B or C. Poor bro is now having justify why he picked A against B and C while in his mind he thinking "inny mini myna moe... whatever, lets just make the payment and take it home".

I know by now some of the ladies reading this article are thinking, "hang on - my husband / boy friend knows colours well. He always helps me in shopping with distinctive opinions on each choice". Lady don't be fooled. He is likely a very smooth lair. He must have also told you that he loves you like hell and you are the most beautiful woman and blah blah .
For the rest of the ladies its either shopping with your other female friends or having to one out of below possibilities (when shopping with your beloved)
  • a quick and decisive choice with no justification (because the guy is just busy with some gadget or wants to get home to catch the cricket match).
  • an eternity of confused indecision (case in point the choices between A,B,C above).
  • (can't think of other possibilities really ... guys enlighten me by putting some comments)
I think I have been rambling along, to the point of this article now becoming a bore. So I think I should end this article now, but as I do it, I will leave a cheat sheet of how chromatically challenged see some colours.
In the below list are the names for colours that are clearly seen by chromatically challenged individuals.
White, Black, Red, Green, Blue, Yellow, Pink , Orange, Violet, Gold, Silver, Gray, Brown, Indigo, Cream.
Yeah if you were counting that's just about 15 colours. Most other colours can simply be described by prefixing the above with the words "light" or "dark" or by denying that they are even colours. Men reading this blog you may stop here.
For the women who are still reading, here is a list of colours that you know and men don't (the words in brackets indicate how most men would describe those colours). Please spare us by not trying to teach us that difference between the 15 colours above and the rest. We are happy to use the words in brackets.
  1. Mauve (light violet)
  2. Lilac (light violet)
  3. Lavender (violet)
  4. Magenta (dark pink)
  5. Peach (that's a fruit not a colour... ok if you insist it is light orange).
  6. lime (light green)
  7. purple (indigo)
  8. Navy blue (dark blue)
  9. Aqua (other name for water .. .oh wait that's light blue)
  10. Sky (Sky is blue .. my teacher taught me that)
  11. Cyan (light blue)
  12. Mint (light green)
  13. Olive (that's a fruit not a colour)
  14. Tan (light brown)
  15. Beige (light brown)
  16. Maroon (dark red)
  17. Ruby (is a precious stone)

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Spock's tricorder

Star Trek fans can relate with both the tricorder and Mr. Spock. So imagine an episode from the series  - Spock lands on an alien planet. He draws out his tricorder and starts scanning the atmosphere around him. He hears a noise and learns the its a native life form attempting to communicate with him. He uses his universal translator to understand the alien and communicate back. As he is about to bid adieu he gets a call from Captain Kirk inquiring about his findings. 15 years ago  this was science fiction.

Fast forward into today. Imagine yourself flying (should I say beaming) to China on a business trip. You land at the city of Shanghai. Unable to comprehend Chinese, you draw your mobile phone. You open the translator application on phone and speak English into the phone which in turn translates it into Chinese so the cab driver can take you to the right destination. On your way you scan the surrounding with your reality browser application and get instant information about the various places that you see.
Just as you get off from the cab you get a call from your boss to check if you have reached the venue of your conference.

If we ignore the hole that international roaming and 3g data connectivity creates into our pockets, the situation of Spock and my imaginary visit to China ain't too different. Today's mobile phone is no different from Spock's tricorder. Technology is changing our life even as I use my tricorder to write this log. Pity voice to text isn't quite working on my mobile (tricorder) yet. Else I could have simply dictated this blog. Guess this tricorder still has a few functions desired, but we are getting there.

Monday, February 28, 2011

Android geekdom

I got hold of an android  phone a few weeks ago. Since then I spend more time online using my phone as if it were a pc. My dear home desktop must be craving for some attention. But I guess it will have to wait its turn as for now I am preferring my phone for anything remotely connected with communication. Besides this post is dedicated to android phone and how it appeals to the geek inside me.

Soon after me buying this phone , my office lunch group was planning an outing. On the pen-ultimate day came the requirement that we needed to colate everyone's phone numbers. Suddenly I woke up from my hibernation and mentioned that i had all phone numbers on my phone book and volunteered to mail everyone the same.

Now all i had to do was open outlook on my work desktop and type in all names and numbers and send. That of course is not quite as geeky as i would like. So i decided that i will use my android effectively. First task was to transfer contacts online without typing them. So In absence of a much desired 3g connection I used my GPRS internet to sync my contacts to Google addressbook. Next I realised that our corporate intranet had blocked gmail access from inside the firm's network. So even though All contacts were online I could not access them. Give up and type ..? No way! not when I am so close.

A little thought and I realised that iGoogle has a contacts gadget. So I imported the same on my igoogle page. Luckily this gadget was not blocked. So i picked all contacts of my interest and exported as csv. Now with those open on my desktop it was a mere copy paste send routine. The sweet accomplishment was that my goal was achieved without typing a single letter on my keyboard.

So now its time to blog this. So here I am typing this on the blogger app on my latest android phone, which uses my home wifi network to go online. Geeky and loving it.

Monday, January 24, 2011

A salute to my XBOX

Ever since as a kid when I first saw an Atari console at a friend's place, TV video games always fascinated me. However they were quite pricey then and I didn't dare ask my dad for one.
Even when I got my first computer while in college. I had to convince my Mom that I was going to use it strictly to supplement my engineering education (i.e. programming, research etc).
With computer a whole new avenue of education and entertainment (mostly the later) opened up. Soon enough I found myself fighting with my brother over usage of the computer. Both of us were completely hooked on to computer games (mostly strategy and simulation). Given that we were in our teens we also used it for educational purposes (perhaps not the education that my Mom intended .. but you get the point).

Years passed, I graduated with flying colors (i.e. managed to clear all subjects and got a job). The gaming hobby was now in my blood but being away from home meant I was away from my dear computer as well. Soon enough I found myself in an "Electronics City" store in the US staring at a whole bunch of different gaming consoles. My research had already narrowed the choice between the Playstation II and XBOX. There I was staring at all those consoles with a look of "the kid in the candy store". It was the day after Thanksgiving sale and while rest of my roommates were busy coming up with strategies to lay their hands on the best deals on their electronic gadgets (cameras, mobile phones, laptops and so on). Here I was in the gaming section, staring at the XBOX (being sold at its regular price), a 10 year old kid caught inside the body of a 23 yr old me. Finally the temptation, to own the only gaming console in the neighborhood, won (definition of neighborhood here is limited to the few Indians who lived in the same apartment complex and worked for the same client).

On day one I got my first controller and a Star Wars game. Of course no one else among my roommates were interested in Star wars itself, let alone being interested in seeing me play a unskilled Obi-Wan on the only T.V. available in the room. So I had to struggle to get hold of the T.V. for games. I figured the only way I could play games on that T.V. if they were all interested in playing the same game as me and I had to have extra controllers.

Thus I got Dead Or Alive III and one extra controller. Soon enough everyone found that with human opponents button mashing the controllers, the fighting games provided far bigger challenges then the ones they had scene as kids. When I returned to India, it was even easier to get my roommates hooked onto games. Soon we found ourself planning new strategies, learning new attack - defense combos to beat each other. Of course DOA was not only about fighting. The beautifully designed female fighters added to the visual treat - of watching the ladies gracefully execute the moves. I think we eventually got over the visual treat and were all interested in beating each other fair and square. Although the best fighters - Jan lee, Hayabusa and Brad Wong (think mostly due to the ease of controlling them) were all male, who can ignore Helena, Kasumi, Leifang or Ayane.

I think the funniest fight I can remember was a day before leaving Bangalore for good. Me and two of my dearest roomies most of us drunk to the point of being emotional. Then we got in to a discussion about who amongst us was a better fighter. Obviously being the owner of the console, I had to bet on being the best. While being a few pegs down and barely able to keep my head stable let alone being half asleep, I was betting against all odds. More so because the other guy who used Hayabusa to very good effect, had already beaten all of us and he had not been drinking that day. Since I was drunk, it had to be Brad Wong, the drunken master who was my character of choice. After all this way I could feel one with the character that I was playing online. I don't remember how many fights we had decided on, but half way through my only supporters (the other two drunk guys) fell asleep. Then it was only me, with no cheering concentrating as hard as I could. The only other sane person in the room (chacha) was having a hearty laugh watching my butt (or rather brad wong's behind) getting kicked as also watching me move in the same way as my character moved on screen. After a lot of effort I did eventually I win (or was it that Hayabusa let me win). However all the effort meant that I stayed away from drinks for a long while after moving from Bangalore.

My second trip to US brought with it a few more new roomies and opportunity to improve my portfolio of games (which was limited to 2 at that point). So the famous Halo - a game largely considered the reason for the popularity of the XBOX itself, made its debut on my console. Soon enough I found myself playing the Mithun da / Rajnikanth of gaming aka Master Chief. Master Chief provided me with several hours of the vicarious thrill of shooting several evil Aliens. Most missions typically started with a few supportive fellow humans (computer controlled dumb soldiers who usually died long before a particular mission was accomplished). However soon enough, I would find myself the lone soldier taking on hordes of Aliens.

Halo's music track was quite engrossing, the alien opponents were quite smart and switched their stance between being aggressive to being stealthy depending on the situation. While first person shooters have improved drastically over the years, I think the strong story line, engrossing sound track and most importantly the relatively smart AI really helped Halo gain its cult status. Once I had completed a significant number of levels, the challenge started to become redundant and only the number of aliens increased. A few new and hardy aliens came up to improve the challenge, but by now I realized that I needed to involve my room mates for lasting fun. Soon enough two more controllers were bought and saturday afternoons or friday nights became battle time.

After trying different battle configurations we found that all of us were pretty slow shooters and not meant for a fast deathmatch. However we all loved to play the hide and seek using sniper rifles. Again it is not really hide and seek if you can see through the eyes of all 4 players (i.e. 4 way split screen), but every now and then we managed to sneak into places that the other 3 guys wouldn't know and then the battle was on. I remember a short battle where me and one my roomie aka "Master Chef" (note the missing I) were literally facing off. Thanks to the split screen we could both see each other. One guy hiding in a den somewhere in the mountain and the other guy hiding behind a distant tree. We both kept moving and shooting at each other for a few minutes without a single bullet touching each other (so much for being good snipers and all ). During this whole battle we felt like those cowboys from the movies. Those few minutes we were pretty much in the same hiding place and those gun shots felt like taking an eternity to get close to the other guy. Yet when the fight was eventually settled, it had only been a little over a couple of minutes (I think). I think the Chef eventually won, gaining his crown as the best with the Sniper rifle, but we had just fought an epic battle (at least for epic for all the roomies).

Not all good things last and neither did our Halo battles. I had to move to a different location on project deputation and was now at a place where I did not have half a dozen friends or roommates. Then I discovered the fun of XBOX live with DOA2 Ultimate and Halo 2, the live versions of 2 of my favorite games. Playing over internet had its advantages and disadvantages.
On the bright side, I was never a lone player and with just a few clicks could play online and face off against world's best.
The disadvantages however outweighed the advantages. I was good at beating the computer and would often feel overconfident and decide to go online for a real test. Only then did I realize that the world's best were true pros. So not only that I lost, almost every time I suffered humiliating defeats sealing my status as an amateur at best. Besides having gotten used to playing on split screen, the lack of it meant that I couldn't see through my opponents eyes, which only made my situation worse. Even so I think I managed a decent amateur ranking later on in DOA. While playing on internet provided a challenge, the fun of beating roomates and teasing them in face was definitely missing. Nevertheless I still remember those good times of playing on internet.

Years have passed since those fun days. The live version DOA2 has been stopped for ever and replaced by its successor (DOA4). The XBOX console I used is now two generations (by gaming console age) old. My own console is rusting in peace underneath a cloth that hides it like a kafan. The few wires hanging from it serve as the reminders of those good times. Those memories itself have started fading in my mind. So I thought it would be best to post them online. It feels as if I am writing an eulogy for a dead pet just before doing its last rites. As I sign off, I have found a store which claims to be able resurrect my dear XBOX. So I sign off with the hope that I will be able to let it live an after life and maybe even relive some of those memories.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Are Vegetarians hypocrites ?

I happened to read a small article about PETA and their advertising strategy in India. Despite being a staunch non-vegetarian by diet, I believe in their purpose of treating animals with due respect. After all if I want to eat a chicken it better be a healthy well bred chicken. That however is besides the point. My little knowledge of PETA and most supporters of vegetarian diet (India surely has a very high proportion of Vegetarians) begs the question if they really mean what they say or are they plain hypocrites.

Personally I have been a vegetarian (Lacto vegetarian to be precise) in past and I am sure I am a hypocrite (although I try to convince myself otherwise) on several ideologies of mine . So I believe it qualifies me to examine certain arguments made in favour of vegetarianism. In India, generally or colloquially vegetarian means Lacto Vegetarian.The more restrictive Vegan, Jain vegetarianism also exist. In the rest of the blog Veg - means the Lacto vegetarian form unless otherwise specified.

Since me turning to the dark-side (read as as turning non-veg) I have heard several arguments about turning veg again. Lets examine some of them based on some actual arguments that I have had in past. To make this slightly intereting, I am now going to take some creative liberty and create a few fictional characters - Jimesh Jain (the name says it - staunch follower of the jain way), Madhav Oak (Hindu - Kokanastha Brahmin - a confused lacto vegetarian) and Shelly Fernandez (a recently converted Vegan ).
Me and my fictional characters are having lunch together and among other things mine contains a well done steak and some chicken nuggets.

Madhav Oak (Maddy) : Dude what is that dark red meat that you are eating.
Me : Steak.
Maddy : I mean is that mutton or pork.
Me : Neither. Its beef.
Maddy (Exclaims in shock ): How can you eat cow? You are an insult to Hinduism.
Me (Cool as a cucumber): And why would eating a cow be an insult to Hinduism.
Maddy : For one, Cow is worshiped as a holy animal, the Kamadhenu. Secondly you do drink cow's milk so in a sense its like your mother.
Me (Looking at Maddy 's footwear). Aren't those Lee Cooper shoes ?
Maddy (with a sense of pride) : Yup. Good quality ones and great style, not to mention the brand. But why? You are digressing from the topic.
Me : Hmm. Just wondering what kind material would it be. Are those made of cotton, linen or nylon.
Maddy : Moron, it is leather.
Me : So it is alright to be wearing the "holy cow" in your feet but it is unholy to eat its meat. Let me put it this way, I am just eating the meat from the dead animal which was killed to make your shoes. As far as Religious belief goes, I am not really that religious. I don't see such a great distinction between the Cow and any of the other animals we eat.
Maddy (Now a little defensive): Hey I don't eat any animals or their eggs. I am a pure veggie.
Me: So what's your definition of veggie. No animals or animal products ?.
Maddy : Of course. I take the point about leather. Will considering moving to non - leather alternatives for formal shoes (wondering if there are any formal shoes which are not made of some kind of animal skin). However in general, I think we should not be harming animals for food.

Me: Interesting point. In that case you should also stop having milk or milk products. (Maddy looks startled again).
Two simple reasons
a. It is an animal product. And if we go by the animal product = non-veg definition then milk definitely falls in that category.
b. If we go with no harm to animals, then think again. The calf isn't jumping gleefully when it is taken away from its mother so that the dairy farmer can take the milk and transport it to us.
(At this point Maddy is feeling dejected as if his principles of religion and vegetarianism have been blown inside out. Shelly decides to take my case now).

Shelly: Yeah.. Milk and eggs kind of blur the distinction between Veg and non-veg. That's why I have gone vegan. I eat neither milk nor eggs. Why should we harm animals so that we can have food. There are so many varieties of plants and their products that should suffice.

Me: So do you don't eat farm products - rice, wheat, and so on.
Shelly: Of course I eat them. Didn't I say plants / their products.
Me : No I mean't "no animals should be harmed for food". So obviously you shouldn't eat agricultural products.
Shelly : Why ? What's wrong with agriculture ? How does me eating agriculture products amount to killing of animals.

Me: Yeah.. That is true, you don't kill any animals for eating agriculture products.
You just happen to accidentally add boric acid or like to preserve rice. The bugs just get a high from that and decide to give up rice cause it is like having drugs ...
Oh come on, how can you forget all the insects and rodents that had to be destroyed so that that rice can make it to your table in one piece.

Jimesh Jain (JJ) (So far he has been quietly nibbling away his food and enjoying the lesser mortals squabble over veg - non veg). The true way is the Jain way. We do not eat any animal products. We do not believe in harming animals in any way. In fact to avoid eating animals we don't even eat anything that grows underground, as typically its the abode of some organisms. We believe that we should not have to consume anything that has life for the sake of self.

Me : Dude, with all due respect to your religious beliefs, I think you are being a hypocrite as well. Let us assume for the moment that some how, you only eat the unharmed, untouched left overs after any insects and rodents have had their share of the agriculture products. i.e. avoided harming life for sake of self. But farming itself requires so much land. To feed the ever increasing demand, we end up clearing vast parts of forest land for farming. Not to mention - that even existing farms employ all sorts of chemicals to kill pests even during the process of growing. So harming animals is not exactly something that you can avoid.

JJ (maintaining his buddha smile) : Yeah, with modern technology some things are inevitable. However at least we can avoid killing some form of life by staying veg. Think about the scene, where a huge knife is used to chop the chicken's head and the blood starts flowing through it. Don't you even have some empathy ?. We have so many laws prohibiting killing of humans, but that animal can't even speak against its killing. It feels so cruel.

Me : So you are saying that its cruel to be killing animals cause they can't even protest against it.

JJ : Yes. In general the we believe in non violence.

Me : Do you know how crops are harvested. All the plants (crops) in the field are cut from above the ground, which means that basically "killed" just that the name for this killing is a euphemism called harvest. So while it may seem non-violent as no red liquid gets spilled during this process, the killing still happens.

JJ (now sort of shaken off his foundations) : Yeah but we got to eat something to survive. In that sense plants are meant to be consumed as food. We make an effort to apply the bare minimum amount of violence as necessary for survival.

Me : I agree with that point to some extent. The only big difference is that I don't bother making a distinction between veg and non veg for the convenience of religious principles. I will have to eat some form of life and therefore I really don't care if that form is plant or animal. The only principle is survival. .....

This argument would probably continue (and might even get ugly) if JJ,Maddy and Shelly were real people. However I think I made my point. Stepping out of my imaginary conversation, I think there are some side effects of civilizations. One such effect is food is not meant only for survival. It has several socio - economic impacts. These socio - economic aspects associated with food mean that we as "civilized" humans have created very violent occupations which can be collectively pooled in agriculture and food processing (aka dairy farming, meat processing et all). Every morsel of food we consume, or cloth we wear almost always has some form of violence involved and with human population explosion that violence is inevitable.
What we call as civilization is perhaps worse in this respect than the aborigines or tribals who dwell at the fringe of civilization. At least they have learned to live in harmony with their surroundings.

The only real alternative to go the "non violent" way would be to go ascetic like an ancient sanyasi who would survive in the forest with only fruits and roots taking due care that no seeds (carriers of life) are harmed. Of course most of civilized beings aren't capable / ready to survive that way (not to mention the lack of sufficient forests to follow that lifestyle).

So until we accept true sanyas or invent /evolve a photosynthetic gadget to simply convert incident energy into food for survival, we will have to consume some life to survive. Which means there is no point whining about non - vegetarianism being unethical or violent. All veggies really do in the process is establish themselves as hypocrites.

Disclaimer -
This article is not meant to belittle or malign any religious faith. My apologies to any readers who feel that I may have harmed their religious sentiments. That was definitely not the intent.
This blog is only an attempt to rationalize the validity of the popular culture around vegetarianism.
You could be a vegetarian for various reasons like religion (the jain way), guilt (I saw blood spew out from the goat's neck at the neighbourhood slaughterhouse), fear of disease (e.g. bird or avian flu) or simply taste (I don't like meat). It is the reader's individual opinion and faith that governs their choice of diet.
All I am doing here is laying out my own opinion around the topic (albeit with the help of that imaginary discussion). There are also some very good reasons to being veggie (other than ethics or violence), but that is "besides the point".