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Friday, November 27, 2009

2 states: post mortem

The past weekend, when I was in Jakarta, I found enough time to complete Chetan Bhagat's latest novel - "2 states, the story of my marriage". I generally like Chetan's style of writing, but the past two books somehow didn't have the same punch on the story front as his first novel Five Point Someone had. With 2 states, Chetan has presented a solid story with a very good narrative. I enjoyed every page of this book.

Having myself gone through pretty much the same story in my marriage - I am from a conservative Tamil Brahmin family and married a Saxena from Delhi - I can empathize with the characters in the novel. To be sure, Chetan has done a fantastic job of portraying the stereotypes of both the Punjabis and the Tamils. Having been in Delhi for too long and having been very close to many Punjabis over the years, I am also well acquainted with the Punjabi culture. So, I believe I am in a position to appreciate 2 states.

The unfortunate truth is that the story presented in this book is not far from reality. Only 4 years ago, I went through the same, and for all practical purposes, the families considered themselves modern and forward looking. The reality is that the peoples from various regions of India still have too strong an affinity to their own individual customs, that any thought of stepping outside of that and merging into one national identity is too difficult for them to fathom. I am saying not only from a TamBrahm perspective, but inferring the same from my numerous meetings with friends, classmates, colleagues from various places.

The most interesting part is that the peoples are willing to get together and mingle with others for purposes of friendship, wealth creation (business, employment etc) or even for national building (army, sports etc), but never for the concept of finding love, partners or family. Its quite sad.

That said, I have to admit that my generation is doing a wonderful job of breaking this and taking the progress on this front to the next level. My own group (friends, classmates, colleagues) has seen enough marriages across caste, communities, regions, religions and languages that I see immense hope for the next generation. At last, we might able to cut across all lines to find what's most important - love and harmony.

While I have already digressed, I wish to bring my focus back to Chetan's book to indicate what I believe are clear factual mistakes in 2 states. Some are trivial ones - like a Tamil sentence never starts with "Illa ...", its almost always the other way around, but the more serious gap is the projection that Tam Brahms treat the bride and the groom families as equal. He portrays that the bride's family (Tamils) had problems with dowry, or with the expenses or with the gifts. Thats complete and utter nonsense.

Tamils unite with their brothers across the country on this. The bride's family bears the cost and groom's family doesn't. The bride's family showers the expensive gifts and so on. In fact, it is in the north, where marriages make the groom pay for at least something. In the Tamil Brahmin community, nothing, and I repeat, nothing is expended upon by the grooms.

So, this whole part of the story where Chetan is trying to put together an alternative view leaves me rather disappointed. He was free to use his freedom of fiction, till it is not tried down to the stereotype of Tamils, but that didn't seem the case.

Chetan Bhagat's past success makes me believe that there shall be enough people who shall read this one too that there is a real danger that this error might be considered truth. I can't help that, but I hope that my bringing this to fore might help turn the tide the other away.

Any which way, do get a copy and read the book - specially if you are in love with somebody who is outside of your caste, community, region or religion. It will be worth every page you read.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Trip to Jakarta and miscellaneous notes

I just came back from a whirlwind trip to Jakarta. I was there as a volunteer/presenter/judge at the Yahoo Open Hack Day SEA 2009. There were a few uniques on this trip for me:

  • Firstly, its the first time I have crossed the equator. This means I have seen both hemispheres. Not a big deal, but still..
  • Its also the first time I have been on a trip where I did not step out even once. This is absolutely new to me. Whenever I travel to any place for official work, I always find time to step into the city, take a walk, do some clicking or just plain shopping. If its a place I have friends, then meeting with friends in included too. But this trip had none of it. All I did was go from Airport to Hotel, then to Balai Kartini for the event, back to hotel and then to airport for the return. Why? The reasons are multiple - We had a tight schedule; The company, and the International SOS, had scared us off too much from venturing out due to high crime rate in Jakarta (maybe its not true), and somehow it worked; I stayed at Hotel Mulia which was so comfortable that it managed to keep me indoors even when I had a bit of free time.
I had the privilege to work with some amazing people on this event:
  • I met AP, a fantastic colleague with loads of experience in traveling and conducting events. The other interesting aspect, as far as I am concerned, is that he is gay. I had the opportunity to chat up with him for long hours - something I haven't done with any homosexual ever. I am a big homosexuality supporter and have been to gay/lesbian bars at Castro St, San Francisco, and chatted up with people, but those were all strangers. This one was a better experience and I have to say meeting AP was one of the high points in my travel meetings with people. (I owe him USD 40 from my duty free shopping.)
  • I met PS, who is a swede but lives and breathes Asia. As a sales guy who has setup multiple teams from scratch, his experiences and opinions about Asia, including his stays in Pakistan was most eye opening.
  • I met JL, who is a french-canadian, but lives in the bay area. He is not only a great technical talent for Y!, he also threw some light on his travels and experience of being a Canadian AND a californian, including his thoughts on dual citizenship.
  • The entire marketing team (SC, Ly, DZ, Ta etc) from the Singapore office kept me enlightened on the various innards of being a singaporean and about the various races in the Island, the consequences thereof (w.r.t education) and a bit about Mandarin and Chinese, were all great discussions. Also, they were among the best organizing teams I have met. Great company indeed.
  • Everybody else who came there, including the Yahoo engineering team, the e27 team, the local organizing team, the execs, Stacy, and anybody I might have missed out inadvertently, were all excellent company. Its quite rare that you go to an event and meet 50 other people and not even meet a single dork who pisses you off. But this one that.
Thanks to everybody for making it a pleasant trip.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Exclusive interview with Mr. Smart Rider from Bangalore

I had the great opportunity to meet Mr. Smart Rider from Bangalore, India during my trip here. He is a well spoken-about person outside of India. Having achieved fame for having innovative riding skills in India, he spent some time in Singapore past week. In an exclusive shreeni.info interview, he speaks about Singapore riders' lack of value for time or money, self expression and freedom:

Shreeni: Welcome, Mr. Smart Rider, how are your doing today?
Smart Rider: Thank you for welcoming me on your blog, please call me SR.

Shreeni: Fair enough, so let me start by asking you about your Singapore riding experience. What were the highlights?
SR: It is a generally clean city, but I was most disappointed to find that all Singaporeans have no value for time or money.

Shreeni: How did you come to that conclusion?
SR: Take for instance the rider in Singapore. Not only do they wear helmets, but they also make their pillion riders wear helmets. Not just that, they apparently buy costly helmets which are good enough to survive a crash, but what's the use? Everybody knows the only purpose to buy a helmet is to show it to the cops. Why waste money on costly helmets? In fact, in my country, we can just mold used plastic in the shape of a helmet and carry it in our hands. That's good enough to keep the cops away. So, as you see, Singaporeans are a spendthrift lot.

Shreeni: What about your views that Singaporeans having no value for time?
SR: Again, I had ample opportunity of seeing riders there. They waste valuable road time on unnecessary things like stopping at red signals and pedestrians crossings. We Indians value our time. We cant wait for such insignificant things. As you might have seen in Bangalore, we don't follow these conventions.

Shreeni: Isn't that against the law?
SR: Not really. As you see, we Indians believe in true freedom. Not only is the nation free, but every individual is also free to do whatever he feels like. Thats what I like about our nation - we are not hypocrites like other advanced nations, calling themselves free and subjecting the residents to such restrictions like stopping their vehicles based on a color. That even sounds racist to me.

Shreeni: But what about the high level of fatalities in Bangalore compared to Singapore. Isn't that caused by "freedom", as you put it?
SR: Not really. All riders, both in Singapore and Bangalore, are performing nation building. Since India had set itself the goals of population control, all we are only doing is contributing our meagre bit towards it by keeping fatality rates high. But again, since Singapore birth rate is falling and all, motorists there are doing their bit by not having fatalities. You see, riders in both countries are a patriotic lot.

Shreeni: What about the incessant honking seen in India, did you see that in Singapore?
SR: No and that was surprising. In Bangalore, and in India in general, we consider it a mode of self expression. The volume of honking and the music are the way we express ourselves and our standing as a great free nation. I wonder why the Singaporeans don't do it.

Shreeni: But doesn't your "self expression" cause inconvenience to fellow riders?
SR: Thats mathematically impossible. Assuming I express myself at volume v1, there always exists volume (v1 + 1) at which a fellow rider can express himself. Since this is a recursive expression tending to infinity, any self-expression by any rider can, in theory, be mitigated by a higher self-expression by a fellow rider. Given that option, if a fellow rider chooses to only listen to my expression, he is expressing himself with that choice. So, its all a mode of self-expression.

Shreeni: Fair enough, Mr Smart Rider. I hope to be in touch with you.
SR: It was a pleasure talking to you.

(ps: For the humor challenged, this is a sarcastic post)

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Administrative Note: Moving away tech posts

I generally never bother to separate out my tech posts from my general posts, which is definitely for different audiences, though there might be a small overlap. Since I have taken to writing tech posts more frequently these days than previously, I am moved that to http://tech.shreeni.info. The feedburner link for the RSS subscription is http://feeds.feedburner.com/ShreenisTechLog. Please use these two going forward to read/subscribe to my tech posts. All other posts shall remain on the current URLs - http://www.shreeni.info for reading and http://feeds.feedburner.com/TidbitsHereAndThere for subscription.

All the previous posts related to Tech have already been migrated and they shall be removed from this blog over the next few weeks. I am sorry for the inconvenience, but I am hoping separating them out shall leave you with less noise in the long run.

Friday, November 06, 2009

[Cricket] This is the One

Before I say what I am going to say, I need to take a bit of time explaining the context here. About 1994, when I started following Cricket, Sachin was just about starting to convert into a match winner from the child prodigy he was hailed as. He hit 4 match winning centuries that season and has effectively been a consistent solid batsmen.

He is one of the most stylish, technical-sound, calculative, confident stroke maker you will ever find in the game. It is no surprise, then, that me and millions like me around the world were his fans expecting him to perform his magic every now and then. And he enthralled us all will amazing match winning performances, the tipping point most certainly being the 1998 Sharjah final against Australia.

However, in the years to come, possibly because of captaincy pressure, or otherwise, there were one too many matches in which either he didn't contribute or that he couldn't close things out. Most of the fans, having more idolatry than objective affection for him, continued to idol worship, while a few select people like me started questioning the point of making so much runs when India wasn't able to convert these to victories that matter - Test series victories abroad; Major (World cup, Champions trophy) ODI tournament victories and so on.

I was carrying this grudge for a few years and stopped giving as much importance to him, as I did to people who were from a younger generation, but working hard to make those very same victories happen. First Ganguly started a trend of winning test series abroad and then youngsters like Yuvraj and Dhoni and the likes have started making it happen in the ODI/T20 arena on the big stage. Somewhere Sachin wasn't contributing to this movement all the much, with the like of Dravid and Lakshman in Tests and Sehwag-Gambhir-Yuvraj-Dhoni in the ODI making the crucial difference.

However, I started having a change of heart in the past year or so, as Sachin has started making that extra difference - closing out the win against England on the fifth day and the World series finals in 2009.

In this context, I wish to say that I was most privileged and honoured to have witnessed what a fantastic effort he put into play in making the stunning 175 yesterday. It was an effort in the second innings, which is generally harder with the tiredness of the first innings showing in, under the pressure of a huge total, with little support during the first half of the innings when the Indian top order was busy failing.

A few innings of such proportions come to my immediate mind, but none of them is better than what Sachin did. Saeed Anwar had a runner while batting first; Brian Lara batted first for his 169; Herschelle Gibbs had a solid partnership going for him during his 175.

And probably for the very first time, the result didn't matter. It didn't matter that he didn't close out the win, it didn't matter that he fell a few short of the ODI world record, it didn't matter that India lost the match, and possibly could lose the series on this one match. It doesn't matter. The effort was the absolute best I have ever seen in an ODI. Period. Full stop.

Sunday, November 01, 2009

[Backpacking Travelogue]: People I met

Continuing on the travelogues of my backpacking trip, I am going to write a bit about the people I met. A few days before I was to leave, I was chickening out at the thought of spending an entire week alone, but D steeled me saying other backpackers are always a great source of quality company and some interesting anecdotes. How true did that prove!

Pretty much from the first day of my trip, I had some great interactions with people of various nationalities, traveling/living in these areas for various reasons. I am going to list them out here (of course in brief). As you can understand, there wasn't much identification involved - nobody asks your name and you don't ask theirs. You just keep talking to them and move on!

  • The Kiwi Couple: I met them first on the ferry ride from Penang to Butterworth and found them to be my neighbors on the train ride from Butterworth to Prachuap Khiri Khan. The couple had got a cheap deal to come to Malaysia, but realized they could enjoy a bit of Thailand too and they decided to just take the short ride to Bangkok. The lady was most enamored by the idea of meeting an Indian and asking some thankfully-not-the-stereotypical questions about India and I enjoyed the company.
  • The Vietnamese Salesman: A young lad of early 20s, this guy had come from Vietnam to Penang, malaysia in search of greener opportunities. As it turns out, he admitted, it is just a case of grass being greener on the other side. With a compensation attached to the number of book sales he made, the slowing economy and the inflation had ended him up with a bad financial state. On top of this, he was sorely missing his family back home. I hope the next time I see him, he is in a better state.
  • The English Marketing Dude: This dude was awesome company. A Brit by birth, but lived in France for too many years. A advertising creative person in his past professional life, he says he is in Asia because it is cheaper to live. He has two apartments in France, which he has rented out which supports his life in Asia. He has been to pretty much all countries in Asia and speaks very highly of the whole continent. He was traveling to Bangkok to pick up his wife who was coming back from a quick trip to France. Apparently, tickets from France to Bangkok are much cheaper than those to KL.
  • The American English Teacher: A english teacher by profession, this person has written a couple of yet-unpublished-books. He has been spending his time in various asian and south american countries. He has a financial support arrangement, which I am not going to reveal for privacy reasons, which ensures that he can live in these countries without having to work. The man revealed too many interesting anecdotes during our bus ride from Prachuap Khiri Khan to Bangkok, which I shall not reveal, partially because of privacy reasons, and partially because I believe I can morph those stories into something more creative. Again, a very good company.
  • The Malay-Portuguese: I met him while eating roadside breakfast in Bangkok. This person is a Malay national with his grandfather being a Portuguese. He wants to change his nationality to Portuguese so that he can find greener opportunities in Europe. He has been struggling with all the red tape involved in the process as he detailed me the horror of having to work with a system where the Portuguese embassy is only in Bangkok, while he has to shuttle between Malacca, his home city, and Bangkok and work with documents printed in 3 languages - Malay, English and Portuguese with translations thrown in and the typical delay with these organizations to get this done. His frustrations was turning out to an interesting anecdote to the unattached me, of course.
  • The Australian traveler: I met him at the same spot I met the Malay-Portuguese the next day. He is an Australian who spends six months of his life working in Australia and making his money while he spends the other half of the year living and traveling and enjoying Asia. He is a spiritual traveler and has spent multiple weeks in India too being a regular to Ramana Maharishi Ashram.
  • The Swiss-Postman: This former swiss posts supervisor was kicked out of his job a while back, but with his 6 month severance in pocket, he headed to Asia to spend some time here. He has been liking the area so much that he is planning to start a garment export-from-Thailand-into-Switzerland business. I met him on the train ride from Bangkok to Nong-Khai, while he was heading to Udon Thani, where he was going to visit a swiss friend who had married a Thai and had recently built a new house. A little convincing from my side was enough to get a promise from him to visit Tirichur in India to see if it is a better place to get his garments made rather than Thailand. You see, you got to be a good ambassador/salesman of your own country!
  • The German Girl: I met her on my ride across the Mekong river and into Vientiane city. She is a german by birth, but lives and studies in London. She was interning in Cambodia for the past 3 months and was currently on a backpacking trip across Thailand and Laos. She had just come off a few days with her german boyfriend who is living in Thailand these days. Like me, her partner wasn't interested in Backpacking while she was. So, she headed off alone to enjoy Vientiane, Luang Prabang and the likes that Laos has to provide. An Asian-Australian kid on the same ride was so excited about her german antecedents that he started shooting of questions about the concentration camps and such and the lady was mst graceful and patient in her replies. She says she gets a lot of these.
  • The Indian cook and Waiter in Vientiane: After a tired afternoon, I headed into an Indian restaurant to find some familiar food and Beerlao. I wasn't surprised to find Indians working there, but the anecdotes were definitely interesting. They are hired directly from Tamilnadu, India, with one of them being from my hometown - Tirunelveli while the other was from Nagapattinam. They are paid a fixed salary back in India, while they are provided boarding, lodging, a little pocket money and a once-in-two-years-return-ticket-to-India-to-meet-family. Getting a little comfortable, I chatted up in Tamil and asked why they wouldn't take their wares and start a small business in India and get more independent. On of them said the little salary he gets isn't enough to save up for something like that and taking loans from the sharks wasn't worth the risk. It just opened familiar stories I have heard in the past.
  • The Boxing Secretary from Malaysia: On my final day I met a gentleman at the lobby of my hotel. He is the secretary of a malaysian state's boxing association and was in Vientiane to check out the preparations for the SEA games to be held later this year in Vientiane. I couldn't help getting a little lecture on history of the sport in the region and the way the Laotians were preparing for the games.
The Indian-Connection: It would be an injustice to cut out the fact that pretty much all of them are highly respectful of India, her traditions, cultures and the traveling opportunities. Multiple of the people I met were also in love with the spirituality in India, while others were enamored with the Architecture in India. Its a different perspective of India, which I touched down upon in an earlier post.

There were a few more interesting stories, but in the interest of brevity, I am stopping here. Also, a few not-so-successful attempts were made to strike conversations with locals at many places, but most of them ended up being short conversations with not much of an anecdote to report. I guess the span of the conversation and the language barriers were the problems.

Administrative note

All tech posts have now moved to http://tech.shreeni.info or you may subscribe to its RSS feed. In due course, I shall be moving it out completely, so if you follow my tech posts, please shift to following that blog.