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Yes we can!

Much has been written and said about Obama winning this year’s Nobel peace prize.  I would say it was an absurd decision, but we have seen funnier things happen in life!

This cartoon somebody sent to me by e-mail captures it better than any detailed political analysis would do.

Enjoy 🙂

Cheers!

Vasu

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THAT face with THAT warm smile….

There is a lady (probably my mothers’s age) I see almost every working day at the restaurant on my campus. She has the biggest, most natural and widest smile ever, and she has the warmest “Halllooo” ever. 

There she is smiling, laughing, & talking cheerfully to her customers 24*7, and in the last six months I have never ever seen her remotely sad or upset. In fact, she would give a huge complex to most characters from a feel good movie. (Remember Rajesh Khanna in Anand, or Roberto Benigni in Life is beautiful?) 

Its incredible how a person can come to work, make a conversation with EVERY customer, and have some nice things to say to everybody. Most days I don’t go to her ice cream and desserts counter (I cant think of any person more suitable to serve you sweet dishes!). We could be having a quiet lunch somewhere in the corner. She bellows a loud “Halllloo’ and in case we missed her, follows it up with a “Guten Tag!” 

Every single day I cross her, she pauses to have a few minutes of friendly banter. She cannot speak more than 5 words in English, and I cannot speak more than 5 words in German. Yet I talk to her daily in a ritualistic way; the same applies to my team mates who lunch with me. On some days when work is stressful, I go and get an ice cream from her and listen to her 200 questions in German about how I am doing. I just nod something silly back, and she pretends she can understand me! No problem in the world appears significant after that ice cream, and it’s got nothing to do with the ice cream  🙂 

Some gestures, people, and smiles permeate all artificial barriers of language / culture / race. 

I consider myself a pretty light hearted, warm,  and occasionally funny person. But I can NEVER have a smile around me all day. Not even if I try to fake it. 

Its incredible how we make a big fuss about celebrities from sports, entertainments, art fields, but hardly stop to applaud the heroes we see in our lives everyday.  To me she is one such hero. In an increasingly cynical world driven by ambition, greed, hatred, stress, and complexity, some people remind you that life is essentially simple and meant to be lived with a smile. 

May her tribe increase!

Cheers!

Vasu

One of the many moral dilemmas we face everyday


How do you handle beggars in India? What is the  ideal way to handle a problem like that? 

Its something that I have been grappling with for years without having a clear idea what is the best approach. 

You see them everywhere – footpaths, traffic signals, entrance to malls, and they almost always leave me with a lump in my throat. And most of them happen to be children, women, disabled, or elders. 

It’s a reminder for us day in and day out, that whatever economic progress we have made in last few decades has not reached everybody. Or rather, it has not reached most people. 

On one hand, your brain says its wrong for you to indulge somebody who could work and earn his money. It tells you that by giving him free money, you are pampering him  and making him lazy. On the other hand, your heart says that whatever money you make in life is to be shared with the needy.

 I will be candid to admit that all my life I haven’t figured out a consistent solution to this problem

There are days when I have walked past old, weak women because they shoved a plate at my face. In hindsight, I should have given them something. 

On some other days, I have taken any random note from my wallet, given it to the beggar, and walked past. 

On one occasion, I paid a decent amount to a person who appeared reasonably healthy but had 3 hungry children around him. I got food for all of them, listened to their stories, and satisfied my ego that I am a noble man. They were probably never his children and probably never got all the money. I might have helped pander to their laziness. (In the great tradition of Hinduism and all other religions, I should never mention this, but when you moral dilemmas of such magnitude its best to be candid about the good and bad that you have done) 

Another fine day, I came across a man on a wheel chair who begged me to help him with whatever money I can, so he could have his next meal. He promised me to note my address, and pay me back the earliest he could. I made up my mind to give him whichever note was the first I drew from my wallet. I drew a 500 rupee note, and it was his lucky day. He refused to accept such a large amount. I insisted, and felt that ego gloat again. But when the realization dawned that I cant give a 500 to every beggar I see, and I am not going to help his cause in the long run (damn that brain again) I felt terrible. I would have probably been wiser to give a 10 rupee to 50 beggars. And there are thousands of beggars I haven’t given a single rupee to and walked past rudely before they trap me and play on my emotions. 

And sometimes I feel terrible when I donate huge amounts in temples. Would I have been better off not bribing god for my happiness, and feeding another hungry man. Or, would I rather leave it to god? 

One beggar I saw at Times Square, New York, held up a banner that read” I need $s;  for beer, for drugs, for cigarettes, for sex”. I was shocked beyond comprehension. Even in the lives of the have nots, some are luckier, some are crazier, some more deserving, some less. 

The brain says that the world is unfair, and unjust. A very convenient word for that is Karma. The heart refuses to accept. And this conflict can sometimes leave me crazy. There are no easy answers, but I would like to hear from those reading this, as to how you deal with individually. 

Cheers!

Vasu

Bucket list entry # 6561: Indian man, German shepherd dog!

Have you seen the movie “The Bucket list”?

It’s not a great movie, or a classic; it’s pretty much candy floss Hollywood, but just happened to feature two stalwarts in Jack Nicholson & Morgan Freeman, who made a very simple story line look good on-screen.

In fact, on a guys evening out at Prithvi’s place in Bangalore, when there wasn’t anything exciting to do, we hired the DVD almost as an afterthought. The only other notable event of the day was Akash’s ridiculous claim that “The Dark knight” wasn’t such a great movie, and all of us pouncing on him like a pack of wolves!

Back to the bucket list; without getting into a movie review, or storytelling, I would explain the central theme in brief: two old men, who know the end is near, exchange notes about a “bucket list”, or things to do in life, before you “kick the bucket”; and they set about doing just that in the last few days of their lives.

The list itself is a combination of some very simple personal desires that they yearned for, to the extravagant, such as skydiving, tattoos, climbing the pyramids, the French Riviera, the Great Wall of China, a lion safari in Africa etc.

Many random things to do, and places to visit, capture my imagination every once in a while. I think that’s the case for most of us. The only cue I took from the movie was to actually write it down and make a list. However silly the list may sound!

This particular item in my bucket list is a very old fascination: of owning a pet, a dog in particular, and a German shepherd to be precise. Of all dog breeds, I dig the German shepherd the most, the Labrador comes next. To me that’s the best choice for a man, and though many other dogs look much cuter, in terms of intelligence, utility, versatility, and ease of training, the GSD / Alsatian is the king of the canine world! I don’t have too many friends who own a GSD. My cousin Vaish has a terribly cute Pug, but I haven’t played with him 😩

It may not sound like a big deal, and a relatively easy item to tick of the list, but trust me, it’s been a bloody difficult wish to fulfill all these years, and will possibly stay that way for a few more.

To start with, I have to grapple with this huge contradiction that I love animals, but I am scared of being very close to them. Dogs in particular! I am the guy that ticks “Like animals, but at a distance” box in any questionnaire. My pet theory (pun intended) is that if I happen to have my dog starting from the days when it’s a small puppy, I would eventually overcome my fear.

It all started with my neighborhood in Chennai. As little kids, my sister (Poorni) and I were taking a walk around the streets when a friend of mine, who used to have this Alsatian, lost control of the leash and the dog. The dog ran wild and bit my sister, and I was helpless nearby. Poor girl is still petrified of dogs, and I am just 1% less afraid than her! She would hold my hands when there was a dog anywhere in the near vicinity, and I used to act brave. There was no way I could tell her I am equally scared, as having me around was her only source of comfort against any dog!

The problem of stray, street dogs is massive in many Indian cities, most notably Bangalore.  There were these incidents last few years when street dogs attacked people in packs (children in particular) and remains a source of huge debate between animal lovers and the regular people on the roads. Despite being a massive animal lover, in this context, I would place the interests of people above dogs. It may be sad, but that’s the pecking order.

Even if Bangalore evolves an effective mechanism for tackling the stray dog menace, it still doesn’t address the problem of irresponsible owners. Like my friend whose dog bit my sister.

Trust me; this is a massive problem in our country. And it felt even more massive to me when I have traveled abroad. Pets are so well-behaved, and owners are so mature here. I have never heard a dog bark and scare a stranger, or appear intimidating in any way. I have seen that in US, Japan and in Switzerland. I figured out the laws for keeping are very stringent, and well-regulated. Along with pet insurance, regular medical checkups, there are mandatory classes for pets, and owners.  The system pretty much ensures that if at all you have to keep a pet, you have to be extremely sensitive to the animal and fellow human beings.

So that comes to another reason I haven’t had a pet so far. The challenge of keeping a pet to the standard I would like to maintain is difficult in India. There are millions of pet owners in India, but from what I know, not too many of them are sensitive to the pet’s psyche, and its behavior in a public place. What would be easier in India though is to take care of my dog when I am working late, or travelling for e few days. I would find it relatively easier to find a neighbor or friend who takes care in my absence. There are dog walkers in Switzerland, but they come at a price and have their own schedules! Bottom line is, I would like to be a very responsible pet owner, or not have one at all.

On a lighter note, one of the most enjoyable sights from my apartment in Tokyo was a regular “owner – pet – pet – owner” routine I would see from my balcony every evening. The dogs are so well-behaved, (and bloody cute as with anything Japanese) that on the rare occasion when a dog barks at another on the street, the masters stop, apologize profusely  in the long tradition of Japanese manners, exchange pleasantries and become friends. God knows how many business alliances, and love stories have come about that way!

But, by far my biggest challenge has been living in one city long enough to keep a pet. I wouldn’t want to put my dog through relocating cities / countries, and flight journeys! There is no way any dog can live off a suitcase like I do! I remember pleading with Amma to keep a lab, when I wasn’t working yet and didn’t have a place of my own.  Her decisive statement was “If you insist on getting a dog, fine. I can only feed so many people in this house, so it’s either you or the dog. Your choice!”  Appa, and Poorni were eagerly waiting for my response. ..in one of the most decisive moments in my life, I chose myself over the lab instinctively 🙂

 I can thankfully laugh about it today, but on that day I was an angry young man!

So perhaps one day when I know I am going to stay in one city for years together, I would finally knock this long pending item off my bucket list.

Till such day when you visit my house and play with my dog, enjoy the amazing videos here!

Cheers!

Vasu

P.S: Since I have made, chopped, and changed such lists  for so long, that it doesn’t make sense to start this series with #1. Those who know me know my fascination with numbers and patterns in numbers. So I would number this series with my favorite numbers rather than 1, 2, 3
6561 is one such number. I was born on a terrific day for a number lover: 8th January, 1981, or 8-1-8-1. 81 * 81 =6561. Also, 8+1=9, and 9*9*9*9 =6561. There you go!

The Rise of ‘Algorithmic Authority’ -an interesting blog on NY Times

Read: http://ideas.blogs.nytimes.com/2009/11/18/the-rise-of-algorithmic-authority/

 Professor Clay Shirky blogs about how we process informatiom from multiple sources, compare and trust the final picture, rather than relying on a single source for new / information.

If you take Wikipedia as an example, most pages present views and information from multiple sources we do not know, let alone trust. Yet, a wiki article on anything presents a close to decent picture for us.

I have stopped reading newspapers, I do not take anything I see on T.V news at face value, and most new things I read about in a book / magazine, I google them! Yet, I consider myself fairly well informed on whataever topics that interest me.

Would the internet work on our ability to cross link information from multiple sources, and do away with traditional sources of information?

I see this field growing with more research and advancement. Perhaps the next few years will give us the answer.

Cheers!

Vasu

A woolly weekend in Valais (pronounced something like Wallis!)

Valais, Switzerland was the highlight of my Swiss summer. I had a  completely “off the beaten path” weekend out there, high in the Swiss Alps.

First up, I was by myself checking out the “International Alphorn festival” in the resort town of Nendaz. Imagine trekking up a hill to a vast open ground and listening to the exotic sounds of the Alphorn reverberate around the mountains
magical!

Then I joined my friends in the Spa town of Leukerbad, and after relaxing overnight, we headed out on a beautiful Sunday morning for “Sheep festival” at Gemmi pass (altitude of 8,000 feet). Our breakfast at that place with a view of the best mountains in the alps was a visual and culinary delight in itself!

The Sheep festival is an annual event where thousands of sheep that have been denied salt for months together at high altitude, are released to a lake bed to fest themselves. So we waited for a few hours around a blue lake waiting for the sheep to coming down by the hundreds and play with the sheep!

After that we trekked the whole day in brilliant conditions and lazed our way back home!

I look back at this as the best memory of the summer of 2009.

They says a picture is worth a thousand words; you could add that a video is worth many pictures;  So, I leave you with some pictures and a Video  🙂

Cheers!

Vasu

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P.S: If you are inclined to look at more pictures and stories from my travels, you might try:

1. https://vasusworld.wordpress.com/2009/11/15/saurkundi-pass-trek-a-travelogue/

2. https://vasusworld.wordpress.com/2010/04/06/sakura/

Fantasia cricket…

Warning: If you are not a fanatic of that silly game called cricket, don’t bother reading further! 

Picking a fantasy team is the favorite sport for those who don’t actually play the sport at any decent level! Cricket is no exception to the rule, and has billions of arm chair critics and experts like me going around! 

And, as if to induce us to do this even more, Cricinfo – that mother of all cricket websites, is picking an all time XI for all test cricket nations. 

India’s turn has not yet come, but they’re done with England, Australia, New Zealand, and are now with South Africa. 

There is a panel of experts and there is an online voting too, so you pretty much end up with two different teams, but there are many names that would make it to both the teams.

 One common trend I noticed is that the online generation, which is typically young, picks more contemporary players, where as the “experts” tend to grow for players from my grand dad’s generation, of whom there is much written about, but nobody has actually seen.

 I guess all this is speculative, and subjective; so each one is free to play selector! 

Though I am Indian, I think the best two all time test teams would be Australia, and West indies. It’s a no brainier actually! And boy what a contest that would be,  in the imaginative world of your brain where this match could take place!

 Here is Cricinfo’s all time Australia XI: Victor Trumper, Arthur Morris, Don Bradman, Greg Chappell, Allan Border, Keith Miller, Adam Gilchrist, Shane Warne, Bill O’Reilly, Dennis Lillee, Glenn McGrath 

Give and take a couple of names based on your taste, this is as good as any team that could take the field. But is it as good as an all time West Indies XI? 

Since Cricinfo hasn’t picked its XI yet, I took the liberty of making my own West Indies list: Gordon Greenidge, Desmond Haynes, George Headley, Vivian Richards, Brian Lara, Gary Sobers, Jeffrey Dujon, Michael Holding, Malcolm Marshall, Curtly Ambrose, Lance Gibbs 

That’s a bloody mighty team, and although Australia would fight like hell, I think West Indies will prevail. 

Picking an Indian XI though, is not easy, primarily because there are a few glaring weaknesses (fielding, fast bowling) that will make it tough against any top team, and because we have very little videos of olden players.

 So I gave myself a few golden rules to pick this XI: 

  • Generation: I am going to pick only from players I have seen in action. So that rules out names like Vijay Merchant, Vijay Hazare, Lala Amarnath, Subhash Gupte, Amar Singh, Mohammad Nissar
  • Batting: Variety in batting: a good mix of players with aggressive, risky games + solid technicians who can grind it out + players who can capitalize and score fast against spinners and the old ball.
  • Fielding & catching: This has to be the best fielding & catching XI we can play, as our fielding standards are lousy, and against a real top team we would be made to pay dearly. This was a tough rule for me, as it ruled out a personal favorite G.R Vishwanath, in favor of another personal favorite, but not quite Vishy’s caliber: Mohammed Azharuddin. Thankfully, our slip & close-in catching is as good as any with Dravid, Sunil, and Sachin.
  • Keeping: Since I am playing 5 batsmen + 4 bowlers + one all-rounder, I wanted to pick a wicket keeper whose batting was pretty good & versatile, while being a safe keeper. Amongst M.S. Dhoni, Syed Kirmani, Nayan Mongia, and Farokh Engineer, Dhoni was the better wicketkeeper batsman at number 7
  • Bowling: There has got to be variety in bowling: 2 pace and swing bowlers (spin and reverse swing will be the only factors that will help us get 20 wickets against strong teams), one bowling all-rounder (Kapil, the de facto choice), one leg spin, and one finger spin. Kumble was the obvious first choice spinner, and my second choice had to be a finger spinner (that ruled out Chandra in spite of terrific numbers and a mystery factor) that got good turn (as Kumble doesn’t spin much). The choice was between two sardars: Bedi & Harbhajan. Numbers being fairly similar, I went for Bhajji for his batting at number 8, better fielding, and a slightly modern aggressive streak that has helped us compete better.
  • When in doubt, go by gut instincts, personal bias, and throw stats to the wind: Sehwag, Azhar, Bhajji, Srinath (struggled in early days with no guidance, matured into a deadly bowler, but fitness and terrible support from fielders and other bowlers let his statistics down) are such personal picks. They may make the cut even by statistics – Sehwag’s stats for example, are as good any anybody else’s, but there will be naysayers. That’s why Kapil is also captain ahead of most others. Kapil is the best all-round player in this team, and while that itself is no consideration for captaincy, he deserves the honor purely for his attacking instincts and style of play. And he is the only bloody Indian captain to win a world cup. So I let my favorite’s reign- after all it’s my team! 

And so, here is my all time best Indian test XI dream team:  Kapil’s devils:

Sunil Gavskar, Virender Sehwag, Rahul Dravid, Sachin Tendulkar, Mohammed Azharuddin, M.S. Dhoni,  Kapil Dev (Captain), Harbhajan Singh, Anil Kumble, Zaheer Khan, Javagal Srinath

 I would rate this team as the joint 3rd best with Pakistan & South Africa, but behind West Indies & Australia. 

My verdict (for a 3 match series):

  • Fast pacy pitches against an all time Australia / West indies XI : Will lose
  • Fast pacy pitches against an all time SA XIs : Draw
  • Sub continental pitches against:
    • England, SA, NZ, SL: Will win
    • Pakistan, West Indies, Australia: Draw
  • Swinging conditions against England / NZ XI: Will win 

The most awesome sight for me would be to watch the chalk and cheese pair of Sehwag, and Gavaskar open. If they happen to survive the first session against an attack that has any one amongst: Lillee, McGrath, Ambrose, Holding, Marshall, Imran, Wasim, Waqar, Warne, and then we can beat any opposition anywhere. 

And the contest to savor for a life time would be: India Vs. Pakistan, on any good pitch amongst the few available on the sub continent. 

Here is to some more day dreaming  🙂 

Cheers!

Vasu

 P.S: Those who think the IPL & T20 is cricket may have a different opinion if they watched some classic Australia vs. West Indies clashes from the 60s through the early 90s, which are up on YouTube. That’s pretty much how my fantasy game would have played out.

Select clips that I am in awe of:

Empire of cricket series’ story on the historic series in 1960 featuring the first tied test in Brisbane:

Gary Sobers smashes a double hundred at Melbourne, playing for a Rest of the World XI against Australia:

Dennis Lillee Vs. Viv Richards:

Curtly Ambrose’s spell of 7 for 1 at Perth:

Outside magazine’s Adventure Lab: World’s Best Climber

Prety cool read & videos about how an awesome climber (Dean Potter) would fare against a Tokay Gecko 🙂

Check: http://outside-blog.away.com/blog/2009/11/adventure-lab-worlds-best-climber.html

Cheers!

Vasu

The misplaced romantic notions of yearning for a dangerously flawed system.

I followed the celebrations to mark the 20th anniversary of the Berlin wall with great interest and curiosity. I remember reading about the fall of the wall (doesn’t it have a nice rhyme to it?) with eyes wide open, as a little kid who had never been outside his country. To me Berlin was just a cold, foreign land where people were white, large, and wore suits all the time. I was too young to comprehend the words Iron curtain, Communism, Cold war, etc. I saw thousands of people on TV breaking a wall
may be there were some kids my age there; perhaps it meant the world to them. (one of my German friends who is just a little older than me, confirmed that indeed meant the world to him) 

And here I am, a few hours train ride away from Berlin. You would think I understand the meaning if it all now. Well, mostly yes, but there are still un answered questions for the future. 

One of the most interesting, but worrying trends I have noted is a series of articles, interviews, and voices suggesting that perhaps the end of communism wasn’t such a terrible thing after all. Apart from the usual suspects from the maniacal Indian left, there were views from around the world on this topic.

 The arguments run roughly like this: 

  1. The free market driven majority of the world is in the middle of a terrible economic recession
  2. Colonialism and feudalism have given way to corporate imperialism, but the enemies of the poor remain in a different form
  3. The country that is bucking the global trend and emerging as an economic and political powerhouse, is a communist China
  4. So perhaps communism wasn’t such a terrible thing after all, and we should revive this romantic, utopian notion of communism. 

To me this is a dangerous trend. The fight between Capitalism & Democracy vs. Communism & One party rule has gone on for a long time, and has seen much bloodshed on either side in the name of ideology. Perhaps, I don’t have any credentials to talk about that. And capitalistic democracies have their share of massive problems and grievances too. 

But I just wanted to take the example of one film, set in Communist controlled GDR (East Germany) to highlight why this kind of thinking is dangerous. 

I had the privilege of seeing with English sub titles, the German film called “Das Leben Der Anderen” (The lives of others). It’s a strong recommend for each and everybody if you could get your hands on a DVD. 

Made in 2006 by a German team & cast, it was written and directed by Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck. It is the story of communist controlled East Berlin. During that time, monitoring of cultural performers / groups / writers in East Berlin, by Stasi was a norm. Stasi was the communist GDR’s state police that had complete authority over East Berlin. The film is really powerful, even if it showed the totalitarian excesses of the state in a very subtle way, and did not depict a brutal reality. But in spite of the subtlety, it managed to convey the message about oppression, lack of free speech, political manipulation, during the communist regime. It won the 2007 Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film. 

It’s incredible that Germany can look back at its troubled recent history, introspect, and come out with meaningful literature and cinema about it. This kind of candid and critical look at our history is not something we are used to in India. But, only somebody that has witnessed communist & totalitarian brutality can tell you how it chokes you at the best of times, and kills masses in the worst of times. Those who still worship Lenin, Stalin & Mao would do will to take notice of such stories. 

Yes, we are in the middle of a recession (we refers to a large section of the free markets & states, democracies of the world such as US, UK, Europe, India, Japan); yes, people have lost jobs even as the greedy prosper; yes, money and development does not reach a  section of the society.

 But, there are ways and means for us to express our anger, voice our concerns, fight our causes, and make our changes. China may have rapid growth, strong reserves, large dams, modern cities and infrastructure, and roads / train lines into remote lands.

But China is a black box, and a pseudo communist country. Its economic policies are capitalistic, and its control over the free speech of the people is communist. Thus, it combines the worst of both worlds. Nobody has any clue as to the millions displaced / left behind / brutally killed to achieve its development or for showing dissent. As for the Cubas, Venezuelas of the world, the less said the better. 

Totalitarianism of any form – left or right wing, curtails of free speech, and the absence of democracy, are evils that misplaced romantics that dream of an equal world tend to ignore for their convenience.

You cannot dream of correcting our current failures by going back to a failed and even more terrible system. 

Cheers!

Vasu

I Heart My City: Arun’s Bangalore – Intelligent Travel Blog

I Heart My City: Arun’s Bangalore – Intelligent Travel Blog

Posted using ShareThis

I was pleasantly surprised and a touch nostalgic to read about my adopted home town of Bangalore in the National Geographic Travel Magazine. Thought I’ll share a nice read about a charming old city indeed! Wonder if they have something about Chennai as well…

Cheers!

Vasu

A wannabe Yogi’ story

The two yoga worlds 

After what seems like ages, I managed to get up really early on a weekday (to me that means around 6.30) and full of energy. I open the curtains and it was pitch dark (winter has set in here in Basel, and I typically don’t see any light before 7.30 or so), but there were no clouds. Now that was such a pleasant surprise that I actually stood outside in just my T shirt and shorts, unmindful of the numbing chill wind. 

I decided its time for my long overdue morning yoga. I very rarely work out in the morning these days, but today was the perfect day to break the shackle, stretch my bones, and sweat it out. 

Sweat it out? Yoga? Are you confused? 

Yoga, that ancient Indian method of relaxing, freshening and rejuvenating your body and mind is not that well understood. To a lot of westerners, it conjures up images of naked sadhus in some mystic pose in a Himalayan landscape telling you how you can transform your life. To a lot of Indians, it’s a cool thing you state every time to be proud of your culture, but hardly know anything about.

 That’s until people like B.K.S Iyengar, Sri Sri Ravishankar, Baba Ramdev, and Bharat Thakur popped up on the stage (I may have missed many more relevant names, but that’s because I am not too knowledgeable on this subject myself) 

Although I cant claim expertise on this subject, I have flirted with different forms of yoga at different stages, and perhaps my experiences on this are worth sharing. And I can say with pride that Yoga is a huge contribution to mankind from India. 

First brushes with Yoga

My first initiation to Yoga, was at my boarding school – Rishi Valley. It was one of the hundred good things I picked up there. I still remember my first few weeks of Yoga as a 11 year old. We had to get up early for what is called as P.T session (Physical training), and we fought like crazy to bunk this. At some stage, all of us matured enough to either enjoy or accept as your fate. Most people ended up doing any combination of  a cross country run across  a lush green valley, or a run up hill with an incentive of the view from Cave rock or Boat rock, or limitless rounds across the football field. There was an alternative though, and that was Mishra Ji’s serene, quiet, and non violent (!)  yoga classes. As you stretched your bones and then went into Shavasan (the pose of the dead), you could hear the birds chirping, see the first few rays of the sun, and blissfully fall asleep before he woke you up! 

In those days yoga was all about spending an extra hour either sleeping or doing something closes to sleeping. 

By the time I actually started enjoying them and felt myself fitter, the classes stopped and it was back to the runs and drills. By which time, I made it to the cricket teams , and a chance to do what I loved more than anything else was enough motivation for me to get up at 5 and run from hostel to hostel waking my team mates. The reward was diving and bruising yourself trying to catch a ball, which, if you did, was bound to bite you hard with the early morning cold and dew. I would like to think Yoga helped me play sports pretty well at a time when playing cricket, tennis or football was the biggest passion of my life. 

The next round of Yoga was a few years later at an RSS camp that I attended briefly. For the uninitiated, RSS is a right wing Hindu nationalistic organization, that is typically in the news for all the wrong reasons these days (that’s about as diplomatic and neutral as I can put it!). But at the core of their organization is an endeavor to make young kids work out and do yoga to stay fit & focused. In those innocent days, all that mattered to me was to look at the sun while doing the wonderful Surya Namsakar (Sun salutation) , and competing with the other kids in my neighborhood about who could hold onto a particular posture for longer. 

Like with most things in life, I never followed up those great surya namskar sessions regularly and lost touch with yoga for many more years. 

In my adult life, I tried the “Art of Living” classes that are fairly popular in the country. There is mixed opinion on Sri Sri Ravishankar and his organization, but you’ve got to hand it to him that he has branded his foundation extremely well and is know in most parts of the world. Technically speaking, he teaches specific kriyas or techniques, that are a part of the wide body of Yoga, but I do not think the focus is Yoga itself. 

But to me those sessions were a mixed bag; there was very less of workout, a lot of meditation / breathing techniques, and a fair bit of propaganda. Now that’s the part which fascinates the west : mystics gurus, typically with beard and a pleasant face, and who claim that after a few sessions with them, you will be transformed. This is exactly what a lot of westerners want and this is exactly what a lot of less informed Indians suck up to. 

But I always believe in coming out of anything with the positive take ways, of which there were a few techniques that helped me deal with stress better. 

That being the approach, my search went on until I found Bharat Thakur’s artistic yoga. Now this is not the perfect thing, but the closest I have found.

A yoga form in tune with modern life & times
 

BT, as he is popularly called, is a bit of a maverick and a new age guru. I am going to do free marketing for him here, but you can read up about him on his website. Makes for a pretty good read actually! 

Artistic Yoga is a bit of  a rage across large cities in India, drawing youngsters and elders alike. It’s a bit like power yoga or aerobics, in its genre, but there are differences. In spite of being fairly pricey, people are flocking to these classes. I have nothing against the fees, as I can afford it and see the value for money; plus when you pay for something you tend to be more serious about it. But I hope in future more yoga centers at different price levels, but with same quality, expand across the nation. 

I have been doing it whenever I was in India and the daily evening classes were a no miss for me, and a huge part of my life. 

The classes were typically very intense, comparable to any hard gym session, and full of fun. Almost inevitably your body ached a little afterwards but you were assured of either a good day at work or a good sleep, depending on when you did it.

 The most impressive things I took away from those classes were:

  1. A risk / injury format of an ancient science form, that has been customized to modern life
  2. Fun, fast, intense and sweaty classes!
  3. Very easy to follow and DIY workouts. You don’t have to go for the classes after a while, but they helped tremendously from a  motivation and routine perspective
  4. Loads of fun people to meet and friends to make, including most of the teachers 

I still do some asanas, bandhas  and stretches that I learnt over the years, but its not quite the same as being in my friend Ramshad’s classes in Bangalore where on a crazy day he is capable of pushing you to do over a 150 surya namaskars in an hour. (If anybody reading this can Google how to do surya namaskar, and can do more than 50 in an hour, please let me know, I’d like to meet you!) 

I am pretty sure there are many different yoga gurus, and centers across India and rest of the world,  that are run by well trained and committed people.

So, I would love it if my friends reading this, take the initiative to sign up to any yoga class that suits their style and convenience. Tapping into our rich heritage of knowledge of the body and mind, is tremendously rewarding! And, if you have been as lucky as I was to travel to,  and do yoga near  an icy waterfall on the Himalayas, at a lush green village in the alps, or by a silver sand beach in Goa, there’s nothing quite like it in life 🙂 

Cheers!

Vasu

Excerpts from Ramachandra Guha’s “India after Gandhi”. Reproduced from Outlook magazine

http://www.outlookindia.com/article.aspx?234562.

This is one of the best books I’ve read that discusses India’s modern history and role in the world. I may not agree to all the points made, but I strongly admire the central themes of Indian democracy, pluralism, and ability to cater to the needs of a significantly diverse population, in the face of complexities of the magnititude not witnessed anywhere else in the world.

The book is a strong recommendation for any Indian / person interested in India. At the very least, you can try to read & absorb this article 🙂

Cheers!

Vasu

The dark and sinister confessions of a facebook addict

Facebook threw up an interesting statistic to me. “How addicted am I to facebook”. It was a shockingly high number, and so high I dared not publish it. Damn, it was even higher than that of a good friend of mine S,  who I keep taunting in jest for being on Facebook all the time! 

And she coolly  suggested I have to first admit there is a problem. She made it sound as if I was an alcoholic in need of help! 

While all that was in good humor, I couldn’t help thinking about it. Have I let the online social networking world take over my life? 

The short answer was no, and the long answer is as follows: (And this is dedicated to my well meaning friend who got it wrong nevertheless!) 

I have been observing how people use / misuse social networking for a while. I think some people use it very smartly and that is irrespective of how much time they spend on it. Some people may spend less time, but may go about it in a way that doesn’t help them or their online  friends. So while it is a good idea to keep your time spent on it to the bare minimun, it’s also important to understand how we use these technologies, and where we should draw the line. 

I have a few guidelines that I try my best to follow when it comes to social networking, specifically for Facebook. This is based on what I did in the past, and found to be a waste of time / harmful, and what I have seen others doing: 

  1. I don’t typically add friends I do not know at all
  2. I do not add friends to show that I have a few hundred friends on my Facebook
  3. I do not use it to read up about people’s personal info or stalk women (Women, you could be either flattered or shocked if you know how many men you never know stalked you online!)
  4. I try not to share very personal feelings, discussions, moments, photos etc
  5. When I see something very significant posted on a friend’s profile (such as a child’s birth,  a separation, or a new job) I make it a point to contact them over phone / in person. A lot many people think it cool to just click on “like” and not bother there after
  6. I use the privacy settings pretty well, to control who can see what
  7. I do not see my friends as “virtual only”. If anybody on my Facebook happens to be in and around where I live, I make it a point to call / meet hang out with them
  8. I use it to promote my thoughts / websites etc, but I do not rely entirely on Facebook for that
  9. If I go somewhere and take pictures, I do not upload a few hundred pictures and expect my friends to see all of them!
  10. I do not play any games on Facebook 🙂 

Now you may, or may not agree to the points above, but I think it’s a good idea to develop your own guidelines and stick to them. Else we all may have technology like this take over our lives, and affect our ability for normal human relationships one day! 

On a lighter note, one of my best friends ever – B, refuses to tag herself on photos of us together. She truly believes she does not look cool enough in those pictures, and apart from laughing out loud and screaming “Women”, I didn’t bother about it. I know a lot of other friends who take such things seriously. Do  you need a Facebook picture / wall post, or some stupid Facebook quiz to tell you who your best friends are?

 P.S: I know the title of the blog is misleading, but it’s always a nice feeling to pull a fast one on people 🙂

 Cheers!

Vasu

It’s a Free Country
So why can’t I pick the technology I use in the office?

Lovely read from the WSJ on corporate IT policies. It would be interesting to see how the future shapes up
  

Link to original article: http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052748703567204574499032945309844.html 

By NICK WINGFIELD 

At the office, you’ve got a sluggish computer running aging software, and the email system routinely badgers you to delete messages after you blow through the storage limits set by your IT department. Searching your company’s internal Web site feels like being teleported back to the pre-Google era of irrelevant search results.

At home, though, you zip into the 21st century. You’ve got a slick, late-model computer and an email account with seemingly inexhaustible storage space. And while Web search engines don’t always figure out exactly what you’re looking for, they’re practically clairvoyant compared with your company intranet.

This is the double life many people lead: yesterday’s technology for work, today’s technology for everything else. The past decade has brought awesome innovations to the marketplace—Internet search, the iPhone, Twitter and so on—but consumers, not companies, embrace them first and with the most gusto.

Even more galling, especially to tech-savvy workers, is the nanny-state attitude of employers who block access to Web sites, lock down PCs so users can’t install software and force employees to use clunky programs. Sure, IT departments had legitimate concerns in the past. Employees would blindly open emails from persons unknown or visit shady Web sites, bringing in malicious software that could crash the network. Then there were cost issues: It was a lot cheaper to get one-size-fits-all packages of middling hardware and software than to let people choose what they wanted.

But those arguments are getting weaker all the time. Companies now have an array of technologies at their disposal to give employees greater freedom without breaking the bank or laying out a welcome mat for hackers. “Virtual machine” software, for example, lets companies install a package of essential work software on a computer and wall it off from the rest of the system. So, employees can install personal programs on the machine with minimal interference with the work software.

Some forward-thinking companies are already giving employees more freedom to pick mobile phones, computers and applications for work—in some cases, they’re even giving workers allowances to spend on outfitting themselves. The result, they’ve found, is more-productive employees. There’s a reason professional chefs bring their own knives to work, rather than using a dull set of blades lying around the kitchen.

What century Is This, Anyway?

For a look at how sharp the divide between work and home can be, consider my experience. The Wall Street Journal gives me a laptop with Windows XP, an operating system I found satisfying when it came out eight years ago but that lacks a lot of modern touches, like a speedy file-search function. My home computer, meanwhile, is a two-year-old iMac running the Leopard version of Apple’s Macintosh operating system. Among other virtues, it’s got a search function called Spotlight that lets me track down files in a flash.

Or take email. Please. There’s a limit on how much email employees can store on the company’s system, and I routinely bump into it. So, I need to spend time hunting through old notes in Microsoft Outlook and deciding what to keep and what to delete, or risk a shutdown of my account. I’m not the only one; a colleague told me she often receives messages with large attached files that overload her inbox while she’s asleep. That means she can’t receive any more mail until she gets into the office in the morning and cleans out her messages.

Limits like those are tough to swallow when you consider how generous free email services are. In nearly five years, for instance, I’ve used only about a quarter of the storage space in my personal Gmail account from Google Inc., despite almost never deleting messages. Furthermore, I can search for old Gmail messages almost instantaneously, while the search function in the email I use for work is painfully slow.

When they get fed up with work technologies, employees often become digital rogues, finding sneaky ways to use better tools that aren’t sanctioned by the IT department. In my case, I’ve installed a search engine called Google Desktop that lets me quickly scour my hard drive for files, and a product by Xobni Corp. that does something similar for Outlook email, even though neither is approved by my IT department. And those programs have made a world of difference. In a simple test, it took Outlook two minutes to track down an email from a few months ago, based on a few search terms. Xobni found the message before I finished typing the words.

The Journal declined to comment on its policies. But even with the potential for productivity gains from newer technologies, it’s tough for many enterprises to stomach the prohibitive costs of a companywide upgrade to the latest software and hardware, especially during the current economic downturn. Research firm Gartner Inc. estimates enterprises will cut technology purchases by 6.9% this year, which would be the biggest decline on record.

Furthermore, there are indirect costs connected with upgrades that give businesses an incentive to stick with battle-tested technologies, like the hassles of retraining workers and of dealing with buggy new products. In one example, many companies never bothered to upgrade to Microsoft’s last version of its operating system, Windows Vista, in part because of technical issues with the software when it was first released.

Home-Field Advantage

It wasn’t always this way. For years, the big breakthroughs in computing technology came in corporate IT departments and university computer labs. But that started to change as the cost of PCs plunged and they became fixtures in people’s homes. Now consumers buy more PCs than businesses do—and the consumer market spurs the most interesting innovations.

Instant messaging reached the mainstream through America Online. Amazon.com Inc. used the technology behind its shopping site to become a pioneer in “cloud computing”—where businesses rent resources in Amazon data centers rather than running hardware and software on their own. Apple Inc.’s iPhone broke new ground in Web surfing and running applications on mobile phones.

The rise of the consumer market also means people have gotten a lot smarter when it comes to technology—and a lot less patient with substandard stuff at the office. Even with the weak economy, companies will find it harder to recruit savvy workers if they don’t let them use their favored technology.

Some companies have decided the best solution is to start giving workers what they want. Until a couple of years ago, Kraft Foods Inc., the consumer-goods giant, had a rigid approach to workplace technology that was typical of many big companies: It locked down PCs so employees couldn’t install software on their own, and it prevented them from accessing sites like YouTube and Facebook. When it came to hardware, Kraft offered a limited choice of smart phones and Windows PCs.

Executives began to worry that the company’s technology policies were preventing employees from staying in step with trends. Kraft was a consumer company, they figured, so workers needed to be more familiar with the technologies that consumers were using, whether the iPhone or YouTube.

So, the IT department stopped blocking access to consumer Web sites, and the company started a stipend program for smart phones: Workers get an allowance every 18 months to buy a phone of their choosing. (Over 60% picked iPhones.) Kraft has also started a pilot program to let some of its employees pick their own computer. One catch: Employees who choose Macs are expected to solve technical problems by consulting an online discussion group at Kraft, rather than going through the help desk, which deals mainly with Windows users.

“The win for Kraft is employees are more productive if they use devices they’re familiar with,” says David Diedrich, vice president of information-systems technology, security and workplace services at Kraft.

A Brighter Tomorrow

The prospect of giving employees choice may be too frightening for some companies to contemplate, but there are ways of doing it without completely giving up control. Employers could require workers to sign agreements promising that they’ll back up all their data and run the latest antivirus software and won’t download pornography. Employers can also require workers to run all of their corporate applications inside a virtual machine on the computer, which seals company information off from everything else.

Still, financial-services companies, law firms and others may feel the need to maintain stricter control, for regulatory and legal reasons. Even some companies moving toward letting employees choose their own computers, like consumer-goods maker Unilever PLC, say the policy won’t work for every employee inside a business. One reason: Many companies offering free choice ask workers to troubleshoot technical problems on their own, and some people simply aren’t up to the task.

That said, many executives agree that change is in the air. Chris Turner, Unilever’s chief technology officer, says the pressure to relax IT policies is bubbling up, especially from young employees. “They look at your standard corporate desktop and say, ‘I can’t work with that,’ ” Mr. Turner says. “If you can make it an attractive thing that they want to work with, that’s a hugely powerful thing.”

Why is Rahul Dravid so underrated by the Indian media & public?

Rahul Dravid, one of my most favorite cricketers of all time, hit 177 runs  in a day’s play of test cricket, rescued India yet again from a terrible start, and crossed a monumental 11,000 runs in test cricket, all in one day.

Yet you never have anybody talking about him as often as some of the Indian media’s favorite celebrities.

You may ask, why this injustice? It’s all too easy to understand,  I‘ll tell you why:

  • He never slapped his team-mate on a cricket field, or called his an opponent a monkey (official version is Teri Maa ki)
  • He never got slapped by his team-mate (and hence he couldn’t cry on TV for getting slapped), never danced on a cricket field, and never spoke of himself in third person and said things like: “I think Rahul Dravid is a terrific guy!”
  • He took a world record 184 catches in test cricket with a lot of ease, and no fuss. Little did he realize that unless he flaunted a new hairstyle or wig, and pump his fist looking at the camera, those are not counted as catches.  Poor guy!
  • He’s always had the same boring hairstyle. No wigs, extensions, coloring, or perming. How boring!
  • He was never involved in any serious rumors with bollywood starlets. Now that’s a terrible thing to do. How could you be so condescending towards the media and the eager public?
  • He never leaked confidential emails; never ran to his government asking for support to get back into the team when he was dropped shamelessly (actually he should have, if a left-wing government batted for a left hander terribly out of form, wouldn’t you expect a right-wing government to support a right hander in pretty good form?)
  • He never kissed his ex girlfriend in public at her birthday party. Hence nobody played his smooch a few thousand times on TV, and so he was never a media sensation.
  • He did not have the attitude or the body to be shirtless a few hundred times in public, and do the same cool dude dance for the same song for twenty years
  • He never bashed up a bowler screaming “Howzaatttt” in English, during test matches played in Mumbai. If he can’t speak Marathi, he has no business playing in Mumbai, does he?
  • He never wrote a book called “Going Rogue: A cricketer’s life”
  • He did not participate in Big Boss,  and hence nobody could have made a racist taunt at him
  • He proved again and again that nice guys do not necessarily finish last
  • And last, but the most important factor: He is Rahul Dravid and not Rahul Gandhi

Cheers!

Vasu

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