Friday, August 20, 2010

About dirty Ganges and rampant corruption...

Recently I read a very enlightening book by Mr. Pavan K. Varma. It is called 'Being Indian'. It is a brilliant book of insights from an extremely observant intellectual, who tries to demolish myths and generalizations about Indians.

He gives a great epic on his views on Indian psyche, on what makes Indians tick and what they have to offer to the world in the 21st century.

I was stuck by two obvious traits that we experience everyday but don't normally think too much about the root cause. It is about why our holy Ganga  is dirty and why do we have such rampant corruption in the smallest things we do in our day to day life.

He says, Indians don't care about the community as much as they care about themselves. The whole world revolves around himself and his family, community coming among his least priorities. Then he adds, Indians don't care about the means as long as the end is clear, positive and good by conventional standards.

Most of the phenomena that we observe around us can be explained by these two traits.

Whether it is the noise pollution / water pollution during Ganapati celebrations in Mumbai, or the garbage disposal behaviour of Indians, we see that Indians do not care about the community as a whole. They do not care how dirty the Ganga is, as long as the belief is to become sin-free by immersing in it. All common sense would imply that any holy place would be most cared for, clean, organised and looked after. In India, we hardly see any clean, organised temples across the country. There are efforts by the temple committee but those efforts end in their personal benefits and their personal beliefs about their part of the duty towards God. Its ultimately all about the end.

The author has given innumerable instances to prove this trait including those that we all know in Mahabharata involving Lord Krishna and Arthashashtra written by Kautilya.

In the same breath, Hindus, contrary to popular belief, have no inclination to understand the six schools of Hindu thought. Their pre-occupation is with the ritual of religion and the rewards that it can offer. The pursuit for the fruits of religion and not the religion per se. The end is important, not the means.

The author gives an interesting example of the Gora Baba in a village near Lucknow. The Gora Baba - an English man who died during the 1857 revolt, is known to fulfil every wish of his followers. Since he was an Englishman, he is offered liquor, cigarettes and meat. A prayer is incomplete without the lighting of a cigarette, which is then offered along with the agarbatti.

It is this trait that make us tolerate and encourage the smallest and silliest of bribes that we pay in our everyday life. The job should be done and ultimate profits should be made, and in the process if we have to organise for chai paani, its alright till the job is getting done quickly and to desired results.

I am sure we have enough examples of such instances, stories and anecdotes.

The book is a well illustrated and substantiated personal opinions of Mr. Pawan K Varma. Any Indian with interest to discover Indians should definitely read the book.

You may decide to disagree with his views, but his views would definitely widen your horizon of thinking about Indian and Indians.

For me, it worked. I loved it.

Monday, August 16, 2010

What's the time?

Yesterday, I bought the first watch of my life.

It was closing time at Croma in Malad, Mumbai. Three of their staffs were waiting for my transaction to get over, and to call it a night. I paid, got my warrantee card stamp and wore the bright black-dial, chrono-fitted, multi-function watch. From the World of Titan.

It was independence day discounts all over the place, and I bagged a cool 50% discount.

While the sales lady was closing and packing my empty watch box into a plastic bag, I started chatting with the other two staffs on the various mobiles on offer in the next table. I was basically interested to find out if the mobile that I had bought last month is now available in half the price. Luckily it was not and to better that, there was only a scratch and win offer on mobiles.

Feeling good, I was about to leave when I saw the watch on the sales lady's wrist and asked for the time. Everybody was hurrying to close all the counters and so, it must be really late.

She immediately dug her hand onto her pants' pocket to fish out her mobile and obliged me by telling me the time. It was 10 minutes to 11 PM. One of her colleagues was also about to take out his mobile.

I wondered if I had just bought a watch which is on my wrist. I wondered if both the sales persons were actually wearing watches on their hands. I had. They were. Then why the mobile?

I wondered how human behaviour has changed in a span of 5 years from swinging and rotating one's arm to find out the time to fishing out the mobile.

Amazing!! When everybody had stopped looking at a wrist-watch to look at the time, I bought one. :)

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

A Disappearing Number - An experience

It was an experience that I didn't think existed.

I have been kind of a regular at going for 'Plays' at Prithivi and NCPA, and have always liked the intensity and passion of performance in them. I thought of it as an art done by artists seriously interested in that art, unlike Bollywood that seems to be more about capturing mass appeal, lesser risks and making profits.

But yesterday was different. It was surreal. I had gone to watch 'A Disappearing Number' at NCPA and it managed to break all my pre-conceived notions about a play, its beauty, its art and its limitations. The only thing expected was great acting, everything else was un-expectedly awe inspiring and beautifully creative.

The play, conceived and directed by Simon McBarney of Complicite Company tells the story of the intense relationship between the mathematicians G. H. Hardy and Srinivasan Ramanujan, a 23-year-old Indian genius with no university education. The play also had a parallel love story of a lecturer at a British university, Ruth, with an American hedge fund manager from Los Angeles, Al Cooper. Ruth is shown to be an ardent fan of Ramanujan and Al becomes enchanted by one of her lectures that he randomly attends about the notion of 'an infinity of infinities'.

While the story of Ramanujan is performed in linear time, the story of Ruth and Al travels back and forth in time bringing in relevance and context to the presentation. While the story was good and touched me for it being about an amazing Indian, what caught my admiration was the production values and on-stage ideas that were executed to communicate with the viewers about intricate mathematical concepts.

The play seemed like a jadoo (magic) because of the extremely creative and coordinated use of video footage, recorded audio, and an exceptionally designed stage setting, which could become a Cambridge classroom and a Caurvery riverside within seconds. To me, it has re-defined the creative possibilities in a stage by the use of great acting, backstage coordination, use of props and the use of new media technology.

The play effectively manages to convey the unity and infinity of the universe with continuous and congruous use of actors, shadows of actors, audio/visual aids, props like the over-head projectors and the ever transforming stage.

Let me try to bring into life one of the scenes that tries to represent the concept of continuity, infinity and that there is no gap between two whole numbers, say 1 and 2, because we have the infinite series of 1.1, 1.11, 1.111 etc between 1 and 2. Essentially the scene was representing that the whole world is continuous.

{I decided to delete this paragraph, as my explanation may not do justice to the spectacle that the team at Complicite Company produced on stage. Instead thought of inserting an image.}

Amazing Creativity. Amazing Teamwork. Amazing Screenplay. A must watch for anybody especially if you get emotional about art and creativity. I almost cried with happiness, exhilaration and sadness.


Read more about the 'A Disappearing Number'
Read more about Simon McBurney - my idol now. I have to know and see more of him.