Mrs Mo.

This story is written as part of the “Once…At School” contest on Tell-A-Tale – Bringing together stories and storytellers to create a positive change.


“Rahul added some extra things to that green Beyblade. Otherwise he would not have beaten me. I asked him to let me see it but he didn’t agree” Anthony said.
“Let it go” Gurpreet said. “Cheaters never prosper”
There weren’t many things more insulting for a 7thgrader than being beaten by a junior at a Beyblade challenge. He swore to take revenge and bit into the chapatti jam roll his mother had packed for him, ripping it into two unequal pieces. He looked like a predator tearing its prey’s head apart from the rest of its body
“I will show that stupid fellow. Just wait and see.” he said, making sure he’d be audible across the room and the corridor.
When the bell rang, everyone scurried around the class, back to their respective seats except Anthony. Anthony sat on top of the desk meddling with his Beyblade, mumbling to himself about the form of revenge he was going to extract. Lost in thought, he didn’t notice the teacher walk in. All the others stood up, hands folded and in a robotic, unostentatious voice said “Namaste ma’am”. Mrs Mo insisted that her students greet all the teachers similarly. Respect, she said, was a trait fast vanishing from this generation.
“Anthony” she called out but he didn’t hear her.
“ANTHONY” she said, a bit louder this time but to no effect. She walked towards him and grabbed him by the pocket of his shirt. He jumped out of his trance even as she held him by the shirt trying to shake him out of the daze. But the sudden movement left the teacher with only his shirt’s pocket in her hand. He dug his hand in his face and burst into tears. He hoped that he’d earn some sympathy points from the teacher but her heavy hand landed on his back with a loud sound that stunned the class into a pin drop silence.
“Stop crying like a baby” she said and the crying stopped instantly. As Mrs Mo turned to go back to black board, she noticed the Beyblade.
“What is that? Give it to me” she said.
“Nothing ma’am. It is nothing.” He said, trying to hide it under a book. He had to hide it all cost. He was planning to challenge Rahul that evening to a re-match.
Mrs Mo reached over the desk and pulled the Beyblade from under the book. She examined it carefully.
“What is this?” she asked. She didn’t actually care but she asked nevertheless. There was no right answer to that question because she wasn’t planning on returning it. The school’s policy about toys was very strict. Anthony began thinking and re-thinking non-cliché excuses to reason with the teacher but he had none. Even as his brain overclocked thinking of an excuse, Mrs Mo tossed the toy out of the window. Anthony stood, his eyes popping out of their sockets.
“Madam!” he yelled and took a couple of paces toward the window. He was promptly sent back to his place by Mrs Mo. Anthony put his head down and cried again. This time, a more genuine outburst of emotion. There was only one thing more insulting for a 7th grader than being beaten by a junior at a Beyblade challenge- To be beaten by a junior at a Beyblade challenge and not going back to take revenge.
“I hope I never see her face again. I HATE her.” Anthony went on a rant. “How dare she throw my Beyblade? I hope her kids never get to play with Beyblades. Or Pokémon cards. Imagine how boring that would be. That’d serve her right” Anthony’s resentment for Mrs Mo was clear. He’d carry it with him till he graduated high school 5 years later.

15 years later…

Anthony stepped into the staff room of his old school and exchanged pleasantries with his teachers. At the far end was Mrs. Mo, now old and fragile but still teaching part-time. Nobody’s lessons had had as much effect on his life as her admonitions. He walked sceptically toward her wondering how he’d have to introduce himself for her to recognise him.  He walked up to her and stood near a rack. She was deep in meditation but she waved at him to come toward her. He obeyed, almost out of fear.
“Good evening ma’am. I’m An…” he started.
“Anthony Rodriguez.” She completed. “Eat some ground nuts. You’ll put on some weight. You’re as skinny as you were in school.” She motioned to him to grab a chair. He sat down and updated her with his life. National Law School, Harvard Law School and now employed with one of the best law firms in the world. He had an enviable resume but, she said, she was only as proud of him as she was of all her other students. He nodded with a smile. You can’t ever please Mrs Mo. She expects better than the best. Suddenly, a young boy ran into the staff room. He wasn’t much older 6 and he ran straight to Anthony.
“Francis! I asked you to stay in the car, didn’t I?”
“I want to go home papa!”
“Francis, have you forgotten something?”
The 6 year old stared into the ground, shy, kicking his feet around for a few seconds. He looked up at Mrs Mo and folded his hands.
“Namaste ma’am” he said and then dug his face into his papa’s arms.
Mrs Mo laughed out loud. “Namaste little one. You’re a smart little fella, aren’t you?”. She got up and walked to her cupboard and came back with a little box which she handed to little Francis.
“What is that?” Anthony asked.
“Nothing. It’s nothing” she replied. Anthony remembered instantly what it is. “You kept it all these years? I..” but she wasn’t listening to him.
“If you don’t know how to use it, ask papa ok?” she told Francis who looked carefully at the slightly damaged Beyblade without the slightest clue about what it was.
Anthony lifted his impatient bundle of joy, bid Mrs Mo farewell and turned to leave.
 A hand landed on his back. His mind raced back 15 years. He was stronger than he was in 7th grade and she, older. But it sent shivers down his spine just like old times.
“It’s nice to know that you haven’t forgotten what I used to say about respect.” she said, “And you’ve raised a wonderful son” she continued. Anthony was delighted that he’d finally done something that Mrs Mo was pleased with.
“Your son did, but you forgot to say Namaste when you entered. So you, Anthony Rodriguez, have failed me again” she said, with a sly grin on her face.
Anthony smiled. “Good bye Mrs Mo.” he said. One always falls short of Mrs Mo’s expectations he thought to himself. But secretly, she was proud and he knew it as he walked out.

 

#NYCDiaries

 Disclaimer: There is no chronological order to read these entries. They are independent of each other and not necessarily in any logical order. Some are short. Others are long. Some are nascent understandings of a city that are heavily biased by stereotype. These maybe inconsistent and could, overtime, even be contradictory. They are meant to be read as singular moments in time without any context or background. You may have had similar experiences as some of these entries or entirely different ones but these are mine alone. 

#1 Times Square

We went back to Manhattan and on to 42nd street, possibly the most famous address on earth – Times Square. Times Square was crazy. It was MG road on steroids. The buildings were taller, the billboards were bigger and brighter and there were 20 times as many people and much more diverse than the crowd back home. To come from a place like India and find a place more crowded was quite something. It was an ocean of tourists, clicking pictures of themselves that would eventually be cover photos on Facebook. There were all the regular characters, Spider man, Iron man and a walking statue of Liberty posing for photos. There was also a recent addition, topless body-painted women who also posed happily for photos with tourists.

Times Square – The crossroads of the world

 We walked and walked to find a spot to sit and finally landed at the spot of the famous 31stDecember ball drop. Sitting on those stairs one had a good view of the crowded streets and the shiny billboards. There was activity all around, people moving, clicking photos, open bus tours, street musicians and a whole lot of other maddening things. But for some reason, the mind was peaceful. It was the kind of sanity that comes out from seeing the insanity around you. There was so much diversity, so many different kinds of people going about their business without intruding anyone’s space. You could be yourself in New York, be unique, be free. Sitting there, one thing became very clear very quickly to me about this city. You didn’t stand out in New York if you’re odd. You stand out in New York if you’re not. You don’t need to put on an accent and wear a certain type of clothing. You do what is important to you, what needs to be done for your good and everything around you is irrelevant and yet enabling at the same time. You can stand in the middle of Times Square with your headphones on and sing out loud. You can dance if your feet feel like it, you can walk by quietly if you don’t. If you have any inhibitions, you need to let go of them. If you can’t do it, you can keep to yourself too. Either way, you’ll fit in. You’ll find people who are happy to have conversations with other random folks and you’ll see people who are lost in their own world. As long as you’re doing what makes you comfortable, no one bothers you. Trying to mimic someone else is probably the biggest mistake one can make. It is next to impossible to put on an act here for too long. You can try, but this massive city will overwhelm you soon enough. By the time we decided to leave, it was 8:30PM. We went back to the 33rdstreet and took the path to Journal square from where we started the hour long drive back home.

 

#2 Lady Landlady.

“Is there a pest problem?” I asked the old landlady.
“No” she replied, nodding her head sideways, clearly offended by my questioning the integrity of her house. “The only pests in my house are my tenants” she grinned as we laughed along sycophantically to her quip. “And I could kill them too” she continued after a pause, laughing heartily, to our shock.

 

#3 Celebrity Status

I craned my neck to look over the sea of people that had gathered in front of the fancy looking hotel on the way to 59th street. There were a few important looking black SUVs at the front and a lot of security personnel dressed in black as well. People were standing behind a barricade across the road too, holding their phones aloft to take pictures. It became obvious that someone important was either about to leave or enter the hotel but the identity of the mystery figure was entirely unclear. From the chatter in the crowd it could’ve been Obama, Jennifer Aniston or even AC/DC. I looked around questioningly only to find more bemused faces looking to me for an answer. Suddenly, a flurry of activity ensued that resulted in more important looking black SUVs moving into the street. This required some rearrangement of the existing SUVs and the general crowd who had, by now, spilled over from the footpath to the street. One of the security personnel walked towards us to make sure we weren’t standing on the road when the young lady next to me took the chance on behalf of the entire crowd around us and asked him “Excuse me, who is here?”
The gentleman in black replied with a sly grin on his face, “You are!” paused for a second to let the answer sink in and walked past to clear the messy crowd from the end of the road. 

#4 Home away from home.

I opened my eyes groggily to my 13th dawn in the United States and rolled over to the side of the bed where the sunlight through the windows were less excited to greet me. As if by the devil’s design, my phone buzzed repeatedly under my pillow leaving me with the option of rolling back to the sun baked side of my world or just waking up and dealing with the world as I’ve been doing for nearly 22 years now. I swore that those overly eager rays of sun were never going to see my face at such ungodly hours as 8AM on a Saturday morning so I sat up on the edge of the bed and contemplated life, love and liberty. After witnessing a rather depressing 2-1 home defeat of Chelsea by Crystal Palace, I had lunch and scheduled multiple events for the month ahead.
 I’d been warned by more persons than one that I’d start feel homesick rather quickly. That seemed like a perfectly good reason for a lot of people to carry a lot of Indian things while travelling from home to the US. These included things like Eastern Sambhar powder, Priya’s mango pickle and a few packs of MTR ready to eat food stuff among multiple other “Non-Firang” things. My experiences in this country so far had proved that the warning was accurate. On day 2 of the trip, we’d been to an “Indian restaurant” called Taj Mahal. It was a small, actually narrow place. There was only enough room for two rows of tiny tables and about 8 tables in total. There were grand chandeliers hanging above and paintings of the beautiful Taj and the king who ordered its construction, Shah Jahan and his beloved wife Mumtaz for whom he had it built. BUT, the food was as far removed from truly Indian as an American restaurant called Taj Mahal run by Bangladeshis could be.
Which was why when I was told that you could get anything you need at the Indian store in New Jersey, I was a bit sceptical. I wore my Bata Hawaii chappal and set foot on American soil with those for the first time on my trip. One small step for this man. One giant step for the Hawaii chappal clad version of this man. Few things make one feel as ‘at home’ as familiar footwear. (The other famous one, of course, is using the bathroom at one’s own house. Seriously. What is it about that?). The Indian store was located next to a small restaurant and a shop selling kurtis and other Indian apparel. My trusty Hawaii chappal got stuck under the mat at the entrance and I tripped a bit. So as I entered the store, my eyes were pointed downwards cursing at, in true Indian style, an inanimate object. When I looked up, it was as if I had been teleported to some supermarket in Bangalore. There were Indian faces everywhere, Bollywood music bleeding out of the speakers and even some small wrappers and tags lying around on the floor- an unmistakable signature of the stores back home. I was even sure that there was some fishy tampering of the AC to make the air inside familiarly Indian- although that was probably only in my head.
 Every step I took through every aisle was slowly dispelling every notion I had about life in America. There were stacks of Priya’s mango pickle stacked right next to rows and rows of Amma’s lime pickle. There was chutney pudi and dosa batter. There were endless racks of pulses, rices and masalas. There were bars of medimix soap, bottles of Dettol and cans of moov. There were even packets of Tiger biscuits and Parle-G. (I must add, with some disappointment, that there was a rack full of “Indian carrots”, the kind of which I have never seen in India. Clearly some scam to convince Indians living abroad that their families are prospering, munching on carrots the size of half litre bottles of coke. Someone call Arnab Goswami. #CarrotGate). It is near impossible to miss Indian food here. In fact, the supermarkets in Bangalore stock less Indian stuff and more American stuff. So in many senses, this Indian store in New Jersey is more Indian than a whole lot of stores in India. So to everyone back home, if there is some Indian stuff you miss at home in India, a certain 2 minute instant noodles brand for instance, give me a call. I’ll bring it from “home” on my next trip home.
“Indian Carrots”

 

#5 Moving.

When I first realized that I’d be staying at an apartment by myself (and a couple of flat mates) in New York City, I was rather excited by the whole idea. Of all the things that excited me though, the idea of ‘moving in’ to a new house fascinated me the most. Many sunrises before I set foot in this country, I’d dreamed many a Utopian dream about walking up a flight of stairs, bag and baggage behind me, stepping into the house, heaving a sigh of relief, tossing my favorite black hat on the coat hanger at the entrance and admiring the spectacular view of an empty house that would soon be teeming with activity.
As it turned out, the actual act of ‘moving in’ was rather underwhelming. We’d been hunting for an apartment for roughly two and half weeks before finding this particular place. In that time, I’d climbed more flights of stairs than I’d bargained for, stepped into more houses than I’d imagined and heaved more sighs of relief than I thought humanly possible. In fact we went to one particular apartment at one point in our search. A beautiful apartment on the 6thfloor, wait no, the 7th floor of a pre-war building (People here count the ground floor as the first floor. They also flip the switches in the opposite direction, turn the key the other way, drive on the other side of the road and, this is my favorite, their toilets flush in the anti-clockwise direction. I won’t vouch for the accuracy of that last one). It wasn’t the biggest house we’d seen but the view from the bedroom was that of the gorgeous Verrazano-Narrows Bridge in the distance. There was a subway station immediately to left side of the entrance to the building- a feature that appealed so much to us that we’d have booked the apartment for that reason alone. But as fate would have it, the Realtor was incompetent, to put it very mildly. After promising that we’d get the flat, he called back 4 days later to say that someone else had got the place. We could’ve comfortably lived under the mountain of our collective disappointment at that point.
It was in that near-depressed state that we came to see this new place. A 3rd floor apartment in a quiet neighborhood. We loved it. The day after signing the lease, I packed a small bag with a week’s worth of clothes from my cousin’s place (I planned to bring the other suitcases later from there) and caught the NJ Transit train from Jersey Avenue to Newark, switched to the PATH train to world trade center and then got on the subway train to my humble abode. I climbed two flights of stairs, stepped into the house and walked straight to my room and left the little bag there. No sigh of relief, no tossing the black hat, no admiring the spectacular view of the empty house. Nothing. But ‘moving in’ was over. I stood in the balcony that overlooked the street, my hands rested on the railings, and eyes stared down at the road. It felt as though a massive burden had been lifted off my shoulders. So what if my dream didn’t come true? I don’t even own a black hat in the first place! I’ve come to understand a basic fact of life. Utopia shouldn’t be one’s expectation but it can always be the aim. “I have a place to live in New York City now” I thought to myself, “It’s time to make it a home”.
Cozy Corner.


#6 F.R.I.E.N.D.S

After an hour and a half on three subway trains I finally reached 110th street. I got out of the nearest exit and landed right next to the entrance to Central Park- that park from that chick flick you saw recently. Now, I don’t remember if I’ve mentioned this before but crossing the roads in this city is one of the most empowering experiences. The moment the lights turn red, the vehicles stop. THEY STOP. (I’ve learnt not to compare anything here with its equivalent back home including, but not limited to, currency, internet speed and, of course, adherence to traffic rules. And so, I will not dwell on the subject). I crossed the road and found Larry’s Free-wheeling just down the street. Larry’s was the meeting point for the Central Park bike tour I’d signed up for a few weeks ago. Cassidy, our wonderful host for the day, was there already with two others. I introduced myself albeit with a shortened version of my name to make the greeting more friendly and less A-Dummy’s-Guide-to-Indian-Name-Pronunciation. After all what’s in a name? We waited for a few more minutes for the rest of the group to join us and in the meanwhile selected our bikes for the evening. (Mom, don’t freak out. Bikes here mean cycles. Not motorbikes). Cassidy told us the route we’d be taking and then we set off on our biking trip through Central Park.
“This is the first time I’m riding a bike since I got to New York” Susan turned to me and said.
 “This is the first time I’m riding a bike since I was 10 years old or something” I replied, breathing laboriously. (At this point, we’d cycled for almost exactly 3 minutes. If anybody has found my stamina, please return it. Sigh).
After a brief stop at the reservoir named after JFK’s wife, Jacqueline, where we got some gorgeous pictures, we moved on to the location I most looked forward to when Cassidy announced the route. Remember that fountain from the F.R.I.E.N.D.S intro song? That iconic round base fountain in Central Park! We got off the cycles as we reached the clearing in the woods where the fountain was and I began picturing the intro song in my head. The couch in the front, the lamp by the side, Ross getting drenched under the fountain and the rest of the cast playing around. Except, I couldn’t actually picture it. I googled “the friends fountain” and found a picture of it. The one I was standing at was a nice fountain- it just wasn’t THAT fountain. I walked up to Cassidy, held out the phone and said “Are you sure this is that fountain? It looks a little..different”. She took the phone from my hand looked at the fountain and back at the screen a couple of times and said, “They lied to me. They LIED to me.” I could see on her face the betrayal she felt at that moment but as it turns out, she’s not the only one who’d fallen for that urban myth. If you ever go to Central Park, just remember- that round fountain on Cherry Hill is not that fountain. 
The Faux F.R.I.E.N.D.S Fountain
Just up ahead was Bow Bridge. Even if you haven’t heard of it, you’ve probably seen it. If you haven’t seen it, you probably haven’t seen Spider man 3 or Made of honour. It isn’t the fanciest bridge in the world. It’s small and unassuming but it just automatically makes the whole place look rather romantic. 
“Do you see those two tall buildings?” Cassidy said “That’s not where John Lennon lived.” We stared blankly at her face.
“He lived in the building next to that” she continued. I looked at her skeptically but she was confident about that information especially because there is a memorial site called Imagine close to that building at the place where he was shot.
We laboured along the cycling trail when Cassidy stopped at one point and pointed to a giant circle on the side of the road.

“That’s the centre of Manhattan” she said. Then, after a brief pause, “But then again, the same people who told me that was the friends fountain told me about this. So who knows.” her voice descended in tone, distraught. Geez. F.R.I.E.N.D.S fountain. What a scam.

The Bow Bridge.

  #7 Freeze

Until about two hours ago, this was not the article I had planned to post. It isn’t for the lack of interesting episodes that I haven’t written anything recently. For instance, I missed out on potential opportunities to meet Frank Lampard (Chelsea Football Club legend and my sporting idol) and Tim Cook (Top Boss of that evil corporation trying to take over the world, Apple Inc). Probably the biggest thing to write about though, was the Global Citizen Festival featuring Cold Play, Ed Sheeran, Beyonce, Sunidhi Chauhan, Michelle Obama, Malala Yousafzai, Bill Gates, Leonardo DiCaprio, Hugh Jackman and multiple other big names which I was surprisingly lucky to attend. But those are stories for another day. In fact, there isn’t much to write about that. The festival was awesome. You’re just going to have to take my word for it.


Somewhere in South Bangalore circa 2012.
It’s a typical Bangalore morning. I throw aside the double layered blanket I had created using a fat blanket and thin, soft blanket so that I’m warm and comfortable in my cosy bed, surrounded by pillows, a hand kerchief and my phone. I get up and roam around aimlessly and settle on the couch in the fetal position, trying to steal a few last minute winks before the mad rush to get ready for college starts. Eventually, I get up again, remove my ear mufflers, then my hoodie and then my socks. I am now warmed up for the rest of the day.

The temperature is 26 degree Celsius and I’m cold.

Present day New York City.
I was trying, and repeatedly failing, at logging into a remote server to run some programs for the VLSI assignment that is due in three days. It was around 6PM and a little hint of hunger was beginning to sway my focus. Suddenly, it occurred to me that it was Friday a.k.a laundry day. I decide to shoo two birds with one stone by going to do the laundry and then eating a gyro from a street cart on 4th avenue while the washing machine did its job. By sheer coincidence, the phone rang. It was my housemate and he made me an offer that I could not refuse. Many weeks ago, we’d planned to go eat Shawarmas from a Lebanese restaurant on 86th. It so happened that the R train he’d taken today from college ran express from Atlantic Avenue to 86th, skipping about 7 stops including the one he was supposed to get down at. Surely the universe had conspired to drag him to 86thstreet to finally eat the shawarma. I stopped what I was doing and postponed my laundry plan for a little later in the day. It had been raining all day thanks to the wide-spanned effects of Hurricane Joaqin. So I grabbed my jacket and an umbrella and stepped out.
As I stepped out of the door, I was still zipping up the jacket. I walked a couple of steps on the footpath when the wind decided to introduce my face to the rain. My face, understandably, was not pleased. I shook off the water and opened the umbrella and walked further. The wind returned, this time just sneaking in through the sleeves of my jacket and causing me some discomfort. I smiled to myself because despite the best efforts of this heartless wind, I wasn’t shivering yet. Suddenly, my phone rang again. As I took my phone out of my pocket, I found my fingers were responding to my brain with the kind of delay you’d normally find when you’re using whatsapp call over a really bad 2G network. Suddenly in the background, I noticed a broken umbrella lying on the ground. And then another. And then many more. I valiantly walked through the ruins of these once-robust repellers of water, proud that my Made in Kerala umbrella was still standing tall in the sky. Drunk in arrogance, I forgot to pay attention to the ground and stepped into a puddle of cold water. Freezing, cold water. It made its way through the clothed lining of my sports shoe, drenched my socks and, I’m pretty sure, froze instantly on my foot. I remember skipping, jumping and hopping my way into the warm safety of the subway station. The station was, after all, just a hop, skip and jump away from home.
I got off at 86th and stepped out of the station, trying to regain the feeling in my feet. The omnipresent wind blew straight into my face again. I hurled a few abuses in the general direction of its origin and looked around for my house mate. We walked into the restaurant, placed the order and sat ourselves in a corner where it was warm (all adjectives especially those with respect to temperature, are relative). In hindsight, sitting right by the entrance was not such a smart idea because every time someone opened the door they brought behind them a large trailer of cold air. After eating some rather terrible food, we walked back to the subway. I was careful not step into any more puddles and safely made my way into the station.
When we stepped out of the station at our destination, I opened the umbrella once more and walked on. Out of nowhere, the rain, the wind and the leaves ganged up in one insane move that made me hold the umbrella in front of me to offer some resistance to wind. In that awkward pose, I left many gaps in my jacket uncovered and the cold air found every single one of them. I readjusted my body and pulled myself back together and marched on. The wind was now colder than earlier and a lot less well mannered. It was blowing along the streets and avenues and causing particularly nasty problems at the intersection of the two. We somehow battled against the forces of nature and made it home. Home, where we were finally safe from the very real dangers of hypothermia. 
The temperature is 11 degree Celsius and I’m cold.
“Just imagine” one of my friends in San Diego had said just this afternoon, “By December..”
“Let’s not talk about December please” I replied, “I don’t want to talk about negative numbers”.
The temperature is 11 degree Celsius and soon, minus 5 won’t be just another insignificant value on the number line in a 4thgrader’s math book.


#8 Home again.

After paying our tributes to John Lennon at his memorial near Strawberry Fields, tossing a few pennies into that pseudo “friends fountain” (which was now, apparently, a wishing well), hanging around a festive gathering of South Americans near the bow bridge for some time and then dancing with an ethnically diverse group of strangers to some catchy music being doled out by a make shift DJ in the middle of Central Park, we walked towards 79thStreet because someone uttered the words “There is a Saravana Bhavan in Manhattan”.

There are a few things one tends to take for granted after living in South India for two decades. At the top of that list are dosas, sambar and filter coffee. That isn’t to say that I’ve been craving dosas or anything. I just haven’t given it much thought because I’ve been busy trying to imbibe as much of this new atmosphere as possible. New cuisines have always excited me and I’ve enjoyed the Gyros and pretzels from the street carts as much as I have the pizza slices, shawarmas, salads or sushi. Two months isn’t enough time for that excitement to wear off and so I’ve been living in my little bubble of satisfaction rather comfortably. But this night out was about to test that resolve.

A few weeks ago I’d written about my experience at the “Taj Mahal hotel” (If you haven’t read it, just scroll up to “#4 Home away from home). For me, that and another similar experience at an “Indian restaurant” established one cold, hard truth. There is no genuine Indian cuisine in New York so I’ll just have to live with that knowledge for two years. With that thought repeatedly ringing in my head, I walked with the rest of the guys through the chilly streets of Manhattan in search of a saving grace for Indian cuisine in the western world. When we got to 79th and Amsterdam Avenue, my shoulders drooped. It looked a very familiar story. A fancy looking restaurant that was crammed into what little space was afforded to them in the extremely expensive avenues of New York. There were a few tables outside, about 5 tables inside, chandeliers hanging above and stereo-typically Indian designs drawn on the tables. That there were large shelves of fine wine stacked near the counter did not help establish the authenticity of a traditional south Indian hotel based out of Chennai. We seated ourselves and were greeted by a friendly waiter who handed us menu cards. It had all the regular stuff- Idlis, dosas, uthappams, bisi belle bath, thalis, rotis, curries and everything else you’d expect from a south Indian hotel. Skeptically, I ordered a paper masala dosa and a filter coffee and decided to share a sambar vada with a friend.

But from the instant we placed the order, I knew this place was going to be different. We ordered 4 coffees and one tea in total. The waiter turned to another elderly waiter and shouted “Anna, Naal coffee, oru tea” (brother, 4 coffees and one tea). It had the tone, the pitch, the accent and the style of an Indian fast food restaurant and it immediately made the environment a lot more homely. The sound of that order was the first of many feel good moments that evening. First to arrive was the sambar vada. I took a spoonful of sambar in the hope that it wouldn’t disappoint. As soon as it went into my stomach, a warm feeling engulfed me. Whether that was because of the hot sambar or the warmth of nostalgic familiarity, I don’t know. But it was beautiful. The dosa came next and it was spectacular as well. But what had me sold was the coffee. Of course, the taste was great but how it was served was even better- In the regular steel cup and saucer with the coffee overflowing just a tad bit and staining the rims as it flowed out of the cup sloppily into the saucer. It lacked the finesse of an American hotel and I loved it. It was rustic, authentic and done perfectly. Nothing in the hotel- not the food, neither the ambience nor the communication among the waiters had been bastardized to suit the standards of the west.

A sophisticated NRI family walked in after a while. The father was in a polo t-shirt and shorts, the mother in casual western wear too, the grandparents in grandparent clothing (which included 3 layers of jackets) and a young son playing on an iPad. They conversed in English and spoke with a faux-American accent to the waiter, asking for bottled water and extra napkins. And then, they began placing their order. But this is where the authenticity of the ambience kicked in. No matter how much you try to hide it, you can’t help but say “2 masala dosai, 2 plate idli vada and one saada dosa” even though there was no such thing as a saada dosa on the menu. The entry in the menu read “plain dosa” but every south Indian in his element knows that it really is a saada dosa. That, for me, was a tribute to the atmosphere that place had.

Was the food out of the world? Arguable. But did the experience remind me of home? Absolutely. And that is as much a part of gastronomy as the taste, probably more. Do I now crave dosas every week? Meh. That craving suppresses itself when you make the rookie mistake of converting the bill from dollars to rupees.

 Rs. 1800 for a dosa, vada and filter coffee. Sacrilegious.

#9 Burn Notice

We were all rather fatigued by the stress that the mid-term exams brought and sitting in class at a time like that isn’t the most ideal thing. Which is why we were all grateful to Microsoft Windows for starting an update on the professor’s computer 15 minutes into class. With the slideshow shut off, she shifted to the printouts she had of some revision for the midterms. The class was suddenly paying rapt attention, hoping to decode some clues she might throw regarding the questions on the exam. Everyone had their eyes on their laptop screens, vigorously highlighting key points and making detailed notes of important concepts (some even typing, verbatim, what the teacher was saying). The difficulty of the topics being discussed went on increasing and the ferocity of the note-taking reached a crescendo when suddenly, bright white lights began flashing all around the room. They glinted at a steady rate accompanied by a loud, arrhythmic, vexatious sound that had by now filled the room. It took a couple of seconds for everyone to realise that the lights were actually from the otherwise insignificant little box that read “Fire alert” and the sound was the unartistic tone of the fire alarm. A sudden panic set in and everyone looked around, perplexed. 99 students and one teacher broke into a nervous laughter while slowly putting laptops back into their bags, ready to run with our lives. 
“I’ll go find out what’s happening” the teacher said and walked out of the class leaving most of the class with a confused expression. I have watched enough Bollywood movies to know how to over react dramatically to a situation so I had my bag in one hand and my legs out of the desk in the kind of starting position for a 100m dash that would make Usain bolt proud. We all turned our collective stare to the door from where the teacher had so calmly left to investigate the situation. The alarm was still ringing and the lights, still flashing. She returned soon enough with a smile on her face that relaxed most of the tension in the class. Surely it was a false alarm. Some sort of mock drill (that we completely failed at because we made no effort to escape). She walked insouciantly to the front of the class and announced nonchalantly,
“The lectures in the other classes haven’t stopped”. We heaved a sigh of relief and I dropped my bag and dragged my feet back into the desk, relaxed.
“So at least we won’t burn alone” she added with a grin and then continued with her lecture as if the fire alarm ringing in the background was irrelevant to our current situation. 99 jaws dropped simultaneously in disbelief, the flashing white lights adding the requisite amount of visual dramatics. The only thing missing was a better background score and the fire sprinklers. But I suppose New Yorkers aren’t very experienced with the use of visual theatrics involving fire and stuff. Oh wait…
P.S: As it turned out, there was no fire or emergency of any kind. But if the real story behind this false alarm turns out to be interesting, I’ll make a post about it!


#10 Saving Sunshine

I was, as usual, scrolling through the multitudes of diverse and often largely garbage information on twitter when I came across it. I’d only heard of it when I was in India and I had never bothered contemplating its effects then because it was never going to affect me in any way. I am, of course, talking about that extraordinarily curious concept called Daylight Saving Time. Apparently at 2AM on the 1st of November daylight saving ended, which was really a pity because I was rather enjoying saving daylight without even knowing it. Maybe in some parallel universe, we were all heroes saving that damsel in distress who gives us light, heat and is the very basis of organic life on our planet. But for some reason, we’ve had enough of her innocuous trouble making and we’ve ended the project of saving her..for now. Soon it will be spring again and we’ll rekindle our affection for her and save her once more but for now, we will take a much needed winter vacation from all that saving we’ve been doing and concentrate on more muggle tasks such as going to work or college and doing our laundry and other menial goings on.
In this universe though, the concept is a lot less interesting but equally innocuous. It meant that I woke up at the exact time of the morning as I did the previous morning except that I had woken up one hour earlier when in reality I had not. Confused? Basically, they changed the time. They made it one hour behind. No. Not some uber-cool time travel technology. They just changed the time on the watch. Thus, marketed brilliantly as “Fall back and spring forward” where you changed the time on your watch to be one hour ahead in the spring and an hour behind in the fall. (You get an extra hour of sleep in the fall and one hour less in the spring). What purpose this serves is not evident to me yet. I will probably find out soon but until then, I’m going to fall back and enjoy that extra hour of good sleep. As for Ms Sunshine, she’s just going to have to stay out of trouble till the spring when everyone is out to save her once more.  


#11 Sleepless in New York

 I’d mentioned right at the start that some times these updates will be few and far between and incoherent at times. This one is the “far between” and incoherent post because it comes after a gap of two months and is about nothing in particular. Just a few post-mid night musing on a day when I was sleepless in New York.

 As it turns out, the annoyance, frustration, anger and helplessness that comes with exams transcends boundaries both geographic and academic. It doesn’t matter if you’re a 5thgrader in India or a masters’ student in New York- you go through the same set of emotions anyway. But apart from that, the semester was largely interesting and a lot of fun. Speaking of which- HOLY SMOKES THE SEMESTER IS OVER. “That year went by quickly” is a scientifically inaccurate cliché that is uttered every year. But it’s hard to disagree with that statement primarily because it is that time of the year when you sit back and reflect about the year gone by and wonder what exactly you did all year.
It’s 3AM as I write this. In the last two months, I’ve spent 3AMs’ in the library studying, out by the pier chilling with friends, at home singing out loud and occasionally in the subway station waiting for the ‘R’ train. The ‘R’ train, by the way, is a mythical creature that runs between Brooklyn and Manhattan under the constraints of no particular schedule. I joke (although that’s exactly what it feels like). The ‘R’ takes me to college and brings me home everyday no matter what time it is. As frustrating as the wait for the old, slow fellow can be sometimes, that is just the dynamic of our little love-hate relationship. Over time, I’ve come to enjoy the time I get to spend on the train with no cellphone network or internet- the necessary evils of our time- because of the numerous people of varied cultures that you get to come across from business executives to homeless people and from young students to old street musicians. More about the train in another post.
But why am I not doing those things during more godly hours of the day? Well because alternative perspectives are amazing. This is a city, like any big city, that is more than bustling with activity during the day. People rushing to work, others waiting for their dates, still others waiting in vain and a multitude of others with a plethora of other things to do roam here. These streets have seen more stories than we think possible, these skies have heard more cries of joy laughter than we can imagine, these buildings have witnessed more history than we can document and everyday dawn brings more. But late at night, when nothing is happening and nobody is watching, to sit in silence in this theater of madness is an experience like no other. Like leaving the camera rolling after the scene and watching the set come alive albeit only in your mind. 
Now that the vacations are upon me, I won’t have to wait till those ungodly hours to find a moment or two to breathe. But being sleepless in New York isn’t a sickness, it’s an addiction. Even while nothing is happening, there is so much to see and hear. All you need to do, is to pay attention.
Happy new year everyone!

“Drama, my darling, is when you watch something happen while nothing happens at all. Like when the sun sets on the horizon and the clouds hang from the sky, and I watch these glorious moments just as they pass me by”

#12 Snow


Outside, water has decided to take another one of its many forms. Dancing in the air, twisting and twirling in circles to the tunes that the night seems to be humming without a care in the world. Gradually the world turns into one big picture with a white filter permanently fixed in front. Every half an hour, I peek out to see what has changed. A solitary car revs past, clearing the snow on the road where its tyres rolled. Those dancing above aren’t perturbed because they’ll dance through the night and into the morning and soon, the car’s tracks will be covered again. The grass in front of my house is no longer visible- in its place lies a cottony carpet sent from the heavens above. When it clears in the morning the grass will look up again but without the emerald joy it oozed the day before. But alas, my friend announces, that the worst is yet to come. The dancing party must twist and twirl to their heart’s content now for in the morning the breeze will leave for some distant shore across the ocean. When dawn breaks, a strong wind will drag the little flakes against their wish past the lamp shades they love so much to settle on some insignificant car on Bliss avenue. I squint my eyes as I look through the patterned curtains in my room and there’s been a flurry of sudden activity. The dance has already mellowed and like soldiers in a blinding white, they now march along in organised waves on their way to colonizing whatever land they will be dropped on. There’s no sound outside but I suspect that will change in the morning. The sun might even be out and look on with guilt as the blizzard roars, the winds howl and the snow-flakes fall silently in line. After all, if he’d been a little closer this whole mess could’ve been avoided. But even without his micromanagement, this whole affair has been handled well. While the rogue few continue to dance in the silent tones of the middle of the night, the others march on robotically. When the storm hits in the morning, we are all prepared for the worst but the ones who really don’t want it to happen are those- those little fellows in white who want to dance and sing all night and just be happy. Soon, I’ll be fast asleep and they’ll be gone too without a word of good bye. Because soon, Jonas will say hello.

 

#50BookChallenge

Background: The intention is to read and review 50 books this year. While the original is a 100 book pact, I decided to do 50 for a start and maybe progress to 100 next year. There’s no specific genre- Fiction, non-fiction, self-help- if it’s been published, it’s up for consideration. I’m not ‘rating’ these stories because it is not my place to judge these amazing writers. If you have book suggestions, drop comments or leave me a message! I encourage you to take up the challenge too and send me the link to your reviews! Start with 5 or 10 if you’re not confident but give it a go! We spend too much time reading click bait nonsense on the internet- it’s time we got back to reading real stuff. Here’s hoping that this works!

 #1 Interpreter of Maladies by Jhumpa Lahiri


The Interpreter of Maladies is a collection of short stories by multiple award-winning author Jhumpa Lahiri. Each story is incredibly detailed both in setting and character and vary in location and genre. While some are set in the United States, others are based in India and while some are set in times gone by, others are set in more recent times. But what Jhumpa manages to accomplish is to take the reader through the different time-lines of her stories effortlessly. They end, sometimes, rather abruptly but not in a way that would make the reader uncomfortable. The book is named after one of the stories in it about a part-time taxi driver who also works as a translator at a doctor’s clinic. There are stories of love, loss and everything in between with a distinct Bengali touch in at least one character in almost every one of them.
The stories are light reads but touching, some of them heart wrenching. In the space of a few pages Jhumpa tells soulful life stories that introduces the reader to the entire little words around the protagonists so beautifully that it feels almost like you’re intruding sometimes. The winner of the Pulitzer prize and the New Yorker’s Best Debut of the year apart from featuring in Oprah’s Top Ten book list, it is the perfect book to read over a cuppa in the middle of the week. Highly recommended!

Genre: Short Stories.
Author: Jhumpa Lahiri
Read Time: 2 days casual reading.


#2 Why are you so sad?


Raymond Champs is an illustrator of assembly manuals for a home furniture company who is convinced that everybody is sick. Mentally. He believes that everyone around him and the world in general is suffering from clinical depression and they’re either hiding it or not aware of it yet. But to back his theory, he needs proof. Proof that he can then show to the world and hopefully help save the world. He sets out on making a survey to test his theory and distributes it to everyone in his office. The story follows Raymond as he receives responses to his survey from everyone including his boss using whose name he had started this entire experiment in the first place.

Even though it gets a little monotonous in the middle, this satirical story based on the life of a generic 9-5 employee is enjoyable. The ending is thoroughly fascinating and that is truly what keeps the book alive but it isn’t a book that I’d recommend to someone looking to read good satire. A read-it-and-shut-it book that isn’t going to linger in your memory for too long.

Genre: Satire/comedy.
Author: Jason Potter
Read Time: 2 days casual reading.

#3 The Dark Horse

When Mary, the widow of Wade Barsad, confesses to having shot her husband everyone believes her. Wade had set the barn on fire, killing 8 of Mary’s prized horses. Nobody had any doubt that this was a crime of vengeance and Mary was certain to be found guilty of murder. Nobody, except Walt Longmire the sheriff in-charge of the prison where she was being held. When Walt digs deeper into the case, he finds that almost everyone in town had a reason for wanting Wade dead.
An absorbing thriller set in a quite brilliant location, the dark horse is a beautifully written story. Craig Johnson switches between two time lines repeatedly without making it a nuisance to read. There’s a certain inevitability about the end for anyone who is familiar with the mystery genre but there’s a rather unique emotional touch to it nevertheless. Without overdosing the reader with descriptions, Craig paints a picture that you can imagine in your head, places the characters in it and moves them around at will very naturally. If you’re looking to gift a young relative a mystery book, this should be one you should consider!
Genre: Mystery
Author: Craig Johnson
Read Time: 3 days.

 

#4 The Trials and Tribulations of Life

Lily Elizabeth Evans is a seventh year student and the head girl at Hogwarts. When she finds out that James Potter was going to be the head boy that year, she couldn’t believe, like many others, that Dumbledore had actually chosen him. When James, irresponsibly decides to get drunk with a bunch of juniors, her apprehensions about giving him such a big responsibility were reaffirmed. But destiny (and Dumbledore) had brought them together for a reason- to save Hogwarts. Other characters from JKR’s original Harry Potter series like Snape and Sirius Black feature in this fan-fiction prequel with Sirius playing quite a standout role as the funny friend (whose carol dedicated to Lord Voldemort stays in your head. I’d quote but I’m not sure if I stand on firm enough copyright footing to do so).
Fan fiction, in general, is amazing. Part of the magic of Harry Potter is that the entire fandom has grown up with the characters and know them- almost personally. While the books will be enjoyed by many generations to come, the kind of connect this generation of Harry Potter fans has to the story (remember, pre-Twitter and Facebook madness), will probably never happen again. This little spin-off is the handy work of a 15-year-old from that “first generation” of HP fans. It’s a cute story that ends abruptly because the 15-year-old ran out of patience, got bored and decided to stop writing the story at a certain point. That also probably explains why the title and story don’t match. In my possession, is the “original manuscript” in all its glory, fervor and flaws and hopefully the 15-year-old (who is slightly older now) will complete it at some point.
Book: The Trials and Tribulations of Life
Genre: Fan fiction.
Author: Mishika Ravishankar under the pen name “GoldenPhoenix261”
Read Time: One-day casual reading. 

#5 Fumbling the Future: How Xerox Invented, Then Ignored, The First Personal Computer

The story of Steve Jobs and a team of Apple employees going on a tour of Xerox’s Palo Alto Research Center (PARC) is tech folklore now. On seeing Xerox’s Alto computer which had a bitmap display with pictures (“icons”), a pointing device to select them (the mouse) and multiple windows, the Apple co-founder was amazed that Xerox wasn’t selling this marvel already. The Apple team went back and used those elements and more to build their own computer and the rest, as they say, is history. But long before that historic moment, Xerox had already dug themselves into a very deep pit.
Fumbling the Future is the story of how the Haloid Photographic Company a.k.a Xerox- the unrivaled leader of the photocopying industry-whose machines were so popular that the term “Xerox” came to be used as a verb that means “to photocopy”- essentially lost the plot when it came to computers. Starting with the acquisition of Scientific Data Systems for an ungodly $900 million in Xerox stocks, Xerox’s plan to compete with IBM in the “personal distributed computing” industry never really took off. Far from being an asset, SDS turned into a burden that they eventually off-loaded but not before it cost them almost $1.3 billion. Riddled with organizational silos that often led to stand offs between heads of department and the fact that PARC was located an entire continent away from the rest of the company, Xerox’s management fumbled on multiple occasions when they had a chance to redeem themselves. The risk-averse, sales-accountant mentality that had crept in to Xerox led to them losing not just the computing segment to IBM, Apple and just about everyone else but also the photocopier industry to the likes of Kodak.
 
An excellent documentation of the fall of a mighty giant to the nadirs of the tech world, Fumbling the Future is a must read for everybody, especially those who judge success through the narrow lens of revenue and quarterly profits.

Book: Fumbling the Future: How Xerox Invented, Then Ignored, The First Personal Computer.(William Morrow and Company, 1988)
Genre: Non-fiction.
Author: Douglas K. Smith and Robert C. Alexander
Read Time: 8 days  

#6 The First Word: The Search for the Origins of Language.

The First Word is an intriguing read. It explores the various theories about how humans came to use language. It seeks to present multiple points of view to answer a large set of questions about language that we don’t normally think about too much. Is it language that separates humans from the apes? Why is language unique to humans? Did we develop language thanks to the flipping of “genetic switch” that caused a mutation in one ancient human who then passed it on to following generations or did language, like everything else about humans, evolve from nothing? Is there a basic set of rules that all languages have in common? Is there a gene responsible for language?
Christine Kenneally presents a whole host of varied opinions that demonstrates just how complicated this topic is. From Chomsky’s early theories that formed the basis for early research into the origin of language to other theories, some in support and some contrasting, but equally interesting ones that open your mind to whole new area of study.
A book that makes you question something so fundamental in everyone’s life that we often take it for granted. Great read.


Book: The First Word: The Search for the Origins of Language.(Viking Penguin, 2007)
Genre: Non-fiction.
Author: Christine Kenneally
Read Time: 8 days 

#7 Smart Citizens, Smarter State: The Technologies of Expertise and the Future of Governing.

In order to function efficiently and serve the citizenry well, governments face a critical challenge- they need the right people to provide the right answers at the right time. In the traditional form of governance, the “experts” who advice government may not have right answers and very often may not be available when needed. It is hard to believe that in the age of the internet, finding people is a hurdle. Beth Noveck argues that what is fundamentally wrong with this system begins with the definition of who an “expert” is. University degrees and vague titles like “deputy director” tell you close to nothing about the skills and expertise of a person. The other part of the problem is the lack of public engagement in governance. Noveck provides examples like The GovLab’s Network of Innovators that solves the problems of finding expertise and apps like Pulse Point, that notifies registered members of the public (who are certified to administer CPR) when 911 reports that someone has had a heart attack near them thereby saving thousands of lives. The role of the government, needs to be one that enables this sort of public engagement.
Smart Citizens, Smarter State redefines the role of citizenry in governance and the way that government must approach governance. The marriage of technology and governance is one key part of this new paradigm and leveraging citizen’s expertise is another. 

A must read on governance innovation and technology’s role in it. 

Book: Smart Citizens, Smarter State: The Technologies of Expertise and the Future of Governing.(Harvard University Press, 2015)
Genre: Non-fiction.
Author: Beth Simone Noveck
Read Time: 8 days 

#8 This Unquiet Land.

Barkha Dutt is one of India’s most prominent journalists. While she’s found herself embroiled in controversies ranging from being accused of compromising the position of Indian soldiers during the Kargil war to incurring Narendra Modi’s wrath which continues to the day, she has seen and reported it all. Wars, kidnappings, hostage situations, secret envoy meetings and everything in between. This Unquiet Land is Barkha’s summary of India over the past two decades. While it’s intriguing because of the backroom stories it tells and compelling because of the narrative it so brilliantly describes, the greatest quality of this book is the honesty with which it is written. Barkha does not attempt to hide behind nuances or word play and offers her take on major events in India while exposing the fault lines that run deep through the Indian society at the same time. The book shot to unwelcome glory when it received less-than-flattering reviews online almost as soon as it released because of right-wing internet trolls who aren’t exactly Barkha’s biggest fans.
Amartya Sen wrote a book that aptly described a large number of us as “Argumentative Indians”. It is a title I found fascinating because of the simplicity with which it describes a complex people. “This Unquiet Land” is another one of those thoughtful titles which does a magnificent job of describing our nation.

Book: This Unquiet Land (Aleph Book Company, 2016)
Genre: Non-fiction.
Author: Barkha Dutt
Read Time: 4 days
 

#9 Good Omens

When heaven and hell go to war on earth the outcome is obvious- Armageddon. But the only problem is that the antichrist in charge of the event has been misplaced. An angel and, a liberal devil set out to find him before it’s too late. But there are others who must find him too in order to fulfill the ancient prophecies. Good Omens is about the journey of all these characters to the end of the world as we know it. The story is witty and gripping and the last part of the book is an absolute must read for every single person on our disturbed planet. You’ll need to read the book to find out why and it’s no wonder the book has cult following.
Genre: Fiction.
Author: Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman
Read Time: 8 days 

#10 A Thousand Splendid Suns

This book is a heartbreaking story that captures the history of violence and instability in Afghanistan through the eyes of three generations of Afghans. The most incredible part of this book is how well Khaled Hosseini tells the story of the unrest without focusing on the actual conflict but instead focusing on the impact it had on one family. His descriptions are haunting and stay with you well after you’re done reading the book and without a doubt will bring more than a tear to your eyes. With so much war and violence around the world, this book makes you stop and think about the people affected by it less as numbers and figures and more as human beings. Without a doubt, this book is a must read. 

Book: A Thousand Splendid Suns
Genre: Fiction.
Author: Khaled Hosseini
Read Time: 6 days  




#11 Railonama

Railonama is a collection of short stories about traveling by trains in India. It is a lovely selection of experiences that anyone who has traveled by the Indian railways can relate to instantly. It brought back memories of the conversations I’ve had with co-passengers in sleeper coaches and AC compartments, of the chaiwallas early in the morning, of the singing children, the folks selling hot vadas wrapped in newspapers and my mom packing chappatis and curry for our train journeys to Kerala. The biggest compliment I can pay to this book is this: It made me want to travel by the Indian Railways again. A feel-good read! 


Book: Railonama
Genre: Short Stories
Author: Anupama Sharma
Read Time: 2 days

Pareidolia: Part 1

 On the night of the 23rd of December 1982, a police control room in southern India received a distress call from a woman who only said that she was calling from Redwood trail. Inspector Sarah Joseph was asked to find out what was happening at Redwood trail apartments. Sarah and assistant Issac “Ice”  Hamilton turned their patrol vehicle towards terrence road where the apartments was located. What happened from then on formed the script of a story. One that was written by fate and guided by destiny.

“Aaron” Purva said softly, “Stand up slowly baby”. Her voice was filled with fear but masked with confidence. She slowly put her hand out so that the 5 year old could grab on to it. “Aaron. Hold my hand” she said again and stretched her hand out a little more from around the ledge. He stood up, unsteadily. His tender fingers trying to get a hold of any support the brick wall behind him could provide. He took a step towards the voice of his caretaker, unaware that a thread from his dress had
gotten stuck on a nail in the wall behind him. “Aaron. Come here slowly, baby” she said, stretching her hand as far as she possibly could. She was sweating bullets and her legs were trembling. A gentle winter breeze sailed through the window . Her heart was now beating faster than ever. But she had to remain calm. Aaron shouldn’t see that she’s afraid. That’s what the man from the fire department had told her. They’d be arriving soon but she had to make sure the baby was in her sight.
Another breeze entered the house. Momentarily, she withdrew one of her hands to wipe off the sweat on her eyelashes. Instantly, she reached out again. “Aaron, Baby. Come to vapa.” she said, reassuringly.She looked out into the vast expanse of the city landscape, hoping to see a fire truck on its way. Aaron took another step forward. The thread loosened from his dress. He took another step, shakily. “Slowly baby. Slowly”. In his excitement of hearing his vapa’s voice get closer, Aaron giggled and clapped his hands, not knowing that he was standing on a 3foot wide landing, seventeen floors above the ground. Clapping happily, he tried taking another step and lost balance and sat down again. Purva’s heart jumped into her hands. “Stay there baby. Vapa can see you. Stay there”. He heard her voice and giggled and clapped his hands in joy again and tried standing up. The thread was now stretched to its limit. He stood up and turned, the thread put him off balance and tugged him back.He lost balance again and slipped.

“AARON!!!!!!”, she wailed. Her eyes were frozen in shock. Her face, white. Her hands and feet, paralysed. She coudln’t react.

A little while later..

“Are you absolutely sure?” Inspector Sarah asked her assistant Isaac, bewildered.
“Positive.” he replied.
“How’s Purva doing?”she enquired.
“She’s inside. Depressed and traumatised. We should get a psychiatrist here ASAP” he said.
“How many people did you talk to?”
“27. That’s everyone on this side of the building” he said, pointing to the side facing the balcony they were standing in.
“Who called the police?”
“Control room said it was an anonymous call from a woman but the residents say that it wasn’t one of them. Must’ve been Purva herself” Isaac answered.
“And nobody saw or heard anything other than her screaming?” she asked, amused.
“SJ. There is no body. There’s no blood. No crime scene, no witnesses. Just a depressed complaintant. What are we even investigating here?” Isaac asked, trying to convince Sarah that there was no case.
“Where did the baby go, Ice? We have to find him. There’s no way Purva will recover from whatever it is she is suffering from without finding Aaron.”
“There wasn’t a baby Sarah. Nobody around here has seen a baby in this house or with her. She was probably hallucinating. I’ve called the medical team, they’re bringing some help for Purva. Let’s get out of here”

“Alright. Wait in the car. I need to talk to her again. I won’t be long” Sarah said, not convinced by the overwhelming evidence.

She walked into the room where Purva was sitting, wrapped in a blanket with a mug of coffee in her hand, staring at the wall opposite her.
“Purva..Who was Aaron?”she asked.
Purva said nothing.
“Did you call the police, Purva?”
Sarah walked closer and put her hand on Purva’s drooping shoulder.”Purva..I need you to talk to..” she stopped her sentence midway as Purva fell to the ground.
“Jesus Christ.No way” she murmured and sat on her knees next to Purva and checked her pulse. There wasn’t one.
She reached into her jacket to get her phone but she’d left it in the car. She ran to the balcony and looked down. Isaac was in the car.
“ICE! ISAAC!! ISAAAC” she shouted at the top of her voice. He couldn’t hear her. She looked around for something she could throw at the car to get his attention.

Unable to find anything, she took off her shoe and used that.
Isaac jumped out of the car, startled and looked up. Sarah was waving frantically at him to come up.

Sarah was waiting at near the elevator for him. She told him what had happened as they walked back into the house.
“She just fell. Dropped dead. Something is wrong here ice. I just kn..” she stopped midway through her sentence again and put her hands over her mouth in disbelief.
There was a knife through Purva’s stomach.
Isaac instinctively took his service revolver out of its holster and searched the house for the culprit. Sarah coudln’t believe what she’d just seen. She looked around the room to check if someone was hiding there. She found the windows locked. So were the cupboards. “This room’s clear” she shouted,to let Isaac know and then looked around for some clues.
Isaac came back in the room looking stupefied.
“There’s nobody here”

To be continued..

Read the next part here:
Pareidolia: Part 2 

The Other India

I. Can we move beyond outrage?

On the 17th of December 2012, India’s capital New Delhi woke up to news reports about the gang rape of a 23-year-old female physiotherapy intern. When details began emerging about the horrors she was put through the previous night at the hands of 5 men (including a minor), it sent the nation into shock. People were outraged both by the brutal nature of the crime and by the fact that 5 men were able to commit it in a moving bus on the roads of the national capital without getting caught. Despite being afforded the best medical care and battling the odds for almost two weeks Nirbhaya (fearless), as she had come to be called by the nation, succumbed to her injuries on the 29th of December 2012.
Public anger after the Nirbhaya case forced the then government to take immediate action on multiple fronts. A Rs.100 crore (~ $15 million) fund was allotted towards infrastructural improvements such as installing CCTV cameras and for setting up an emergency hotline for women. Multiple fast-track courts were set up specifically to deal with cases of sexual harassment and rape. Private buses services came under more scrutiny and night-time patrolling was increased. 4 years later, nothing changed.
A large part of the “Nirbhaya fund” remained un-utilized at the end of that year. An investigation by CNN-News18 revealed that the call center that handled the emergency hotline was severely under-staffed and didn’t have the infrastructure to deal with the volume of calls they received. The courts were still overwhelmed by the number of cases they needed to handle and inspections of private buses and night-time patrolling both reduced in frequency once the public outcry had died down.
It wasn’t the first time India was hearing of such an incident. In a hospital ward in Delhi in 2015, nurse Aruna Shaunbaug died at the age of 66, 42 years after she was raped by a ward boy in the same hospital she worked in. Her case is one of the most discussed in the nation- not while talking about violence against women but in the debate about euthanasia. The attack on her had rendered her unable to move, speak or even eat by herself but she could still feel pain and her eyes reacted to light- the only signs of life left in Aruna in the latter half of her life. Death, as many argued, was a less cruel fate for her.
Aruna in 1973 or Nirbhaya in 2012 were extreme manifestations of a problem that plagues societies around the world- inhumane acts of violence against women. It is estimated that a woman is raped every 20 minutes somewhere in India every day but only 34,600 cases of rape are registered in police stations. 98% of the time, the culprit is the husband or a close relative or someone the victim knows. For reasons including societal stigma, these cases do not reach the doorsteps of police stations which leaves the police helpless but not blameless. The police is infamous for their insensitive handling of cases of sexual abuse- often forcing complainants to repeat their story multiple times to shame them and sometimes asking them to disrobe and show “evidence”. But even in the rare instance when the police files an FIR (First Information Report), the wait for justice is a long and frustrating one and barely 29% of cases end in conviction.
Until 2012, media coverage of sexual abuse was limited to these heinous, gut-wrenching crimes from time to time. A very small number of “mainstream media” organizations covered stories of abuse in daily life. The casual groping on a bus or cat-calling on the streets were common occurrences every woman faced but weren’t “newsworthy” enough to start a national dialogue. The great impact of the Nirbhaya case, and where the media deserves most praise, is the role it played in shattering (to some extent) the taboo associated with speaking about issues concerning women’s safety. Nirbhaya became the faceless mascot of India’s fight against atrocities against women. Everyone had been violently shaken into understanding the seriousness of the problem. Cases of molestation would be featured in the top headlines and, whether out of a fear of being exposed as incompetent on national TV or out of a sense of duty, the police began getting their act together with increased patrolling and a more humane and welcoming attitude towards women who’d come to them with complaints.
In 2013, when the trial in the Nirbhaya case was on-going, the lawyer appearing on behalf of the accused made an appalling analogy and suggesting in not uncertain terms that women must not be allowed to leave the house and that if something were to happen to them, it is their fault.
“Suppose you have a box of sweets and you keep them in front of your house. What will happen? Street dogs will come and finish them (the sweets). But if you keep the same box of sweets in your fridge, will the street dogs be able to eat it?”

The unfortunate reality in India is that his is not an isolated opinion. Women have shattered glass ceilings in fields including politics and business many years before the west but at the same time there exists a section of our population which not only holds regressive opinions but also endeavors, often successfully, to force them on others. Some have claimed that those opinions are held by the old and uneducated while others claim that it reflects India’s urban-rural divide. But these superficial analyses are seldom based on any rigorous research or data. Marital rape and sexual harassment at workplaces are painful reminders that these are crimes perpetuated by people across financial and educational silos. Therefore, while stronger background checks of bus and cab drivers are important, we must be conscious that those solutions are only aimed at one part of the problem. Recent events have proved how easily we will accept allegations against the “village types” for crimes often without any evidence but will overlook those against the “urban types”. My intention is not to point out the blatant discrimination which plagues our society (as it does many others) but instead, I want to emphasize the need for a multi-pronged approach which takes these and other factors into account. Simply calling for harsher rape laws is clearly not the answer. But then, what is? “Violence against women” is not the problem we’re trying to solve. It’s the consequence. It is a consequence of several factors- primarily of patriarchy and of poorly raised men but also of weakly enforced laws and horribly trained policemen, of carelessly designed reporting mechanisms and a terribly understaffed and overburdened justice delivery system. But the encouraging part is that we ask these questions every time a story appears in the news. The disappointing part is that we ask these questions only when a story appears in the news.
Yet, I refuse to believe that our outrage is synced with news cycles. Reading this article, I’m certain, has brought back memories of every single story you’ve heard on TV, Facebook or even from friends. It brings with it anger at the perpetrators, frustration at the apathy of successive governments and soon after, a sense of helplessness. Sometimes we take to the streets to show solidarity and at other times we petition our government online and offline but, unfortunately, they’ve proven inadequate. And it isn’t only about women’s safety. This is true for how we deal with anti-corruption, education, health care, agriculture, pollutions and so on. How do we fix that?

II. Leading from below

Inaction is certainly not an option for our generation. We need to disrupt the social and political status quo and create technologies and processes that actually work. Top-down policy diktats have seldom changed anything in our country in the long term. Token announcements of budgetary allotments and fiery rants on TV channels by party spokespersons are no longer sufficient. We need to get over our cynicism for politics, shed our indolence and realize that a democracy is not just for and of the people- it is also made by the people. And while the protests are great to show support and move governments, we must focus our efforts on being proactive rather than reactive. In reality, seldom do we get opportunities to do that easily. Voting once in four or five years is one of the rare occasions when we, as citizens, make our voices heard to those in the corridors of power (of course, for several reasons, many of us don’t exercise even this constitutional right granted to us). Issues as complex as women’s safety, public health, sanitation, and education among several others, are far too important to be forgotten by the electorate the day after the elections (or the protests). When the election results are out and the new party is in power, will we simply outsource the country’s functioning to a room full of politicians and bureaucrats and let them do their bidding while we go back to our lives? or will we support them, engage with them and start solving problems, faster? This isn’t to say that we absolve government of all its responsibilities. For furthering the public good, we must make sure that those in government have access to the best expertise and if they still fail to deliver, we must be able to move beyond political rhetoric and hold them accountable for it. There are those among us who are terrific lawyers, doctors, engineers, honest bureaucrats, artists, social workers, teachers and those with several other skills. These skills will prove to be invaluable when we dissect the problem at hand. We need to understand how the law works, teach kids and adults new skills and how to be decent human beings, reform ways of working, build tools and apps to solve public problems, run awareness campaigns and do so much more. This doesn’t have to be everybody’s full time job. But when we decide that we want to change something, the question is if we are willing to put our talent to use?  And if we are, will government listen?

Poorna Swaraj: Why the roaring success of demonetization isn’t economics at all

How many times out of 10 would you listen to a politician asking you to physically go to a bank to either deposit your cash or exchange it for new currency notes, failing which any currency you hold would not only be worthless but also illegal?

Until exactly a year ago I would’ve, in arrogance, vehemently ruled out the possibility of anybody in India ever agreeing to such a seemingly absurd arrangement. What I’d severely under-estimated was the value of two things: 1) Narendra Modi’s reality distortion field and 2) the extraordinary spirit in our people to contribute to social good in our country.
This post is about the latter because the former, with no disrespect, is merely a spark- not the fuel or the flame which will carry India into the 21st century and beyond.

Demonetization’s success as a financial policy move has been the subject of intense debate between some of the leading economists around the world. But whether Narendra Modi and his government eliminated corruption, black money, terrorism and, most recently, prostitution in one swift blow is not what interests me. The fact that nearly every cash-wielding Indian cooperated in this massive experiment is infinitely more interesting to me. While one of the drivers for this level of compliance was obviously the fact that no one had a choice in the matter- you needed the new currency to sustain survival- I want to venture out and make a claim with limited evidence- there wasn’t widespread resentment of the move among the vast majority of the population. Why didn’t India take to the streets on November 9th and revolt in many fragmented voices like she always does and force the government to withdraw its announcement? Did the prime minister, in his 30 minute address, manage to teach 1.2 billion Indians the nuances of monetary economics?

I remember blogging impatiently 4 years ago when Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Finance minister Chidambaram appealed to the nation to “control our appetite for gold” in a desperate bid to curb the rising current account deficit at the time. Disillusioned by the extraordinary amount of pushback that plea received from various quarters, I wrote in my blog:

“Does it ever anger you that the government is increasing fuel prices? THINK. It’s YOUR country. It runs using YOUR money. They buy crude oil using YOUR money. It’s a government not an MNC. Their revenue is YOU.
Not buying gold and paying more for fuel won’t solve this almost-crisis. But it’ll certainly help. This isn’t to say that government should wait for your help. They can do plenty that they haven’t done already. But what kind of sleepy democracy only wakes up ( partially) every 5 years only to vote and then sits back and hopes for the best?
Don’t vote for someone who claims he’ll bring petrol prices down. He won’t. Don’t boo someone who paints a realistic picture. Encourage them. Bite the bullet. Swallow the bitter pill.”

In hindsight the UPA government by that time had lost nearly all of its political capital and that was evident in the elections that followed and I’m inclined, now, to put down our complete and deliberate denial of our own roles in, what is now being called. “nation building” to that lack of trust in government. It wasn’t always that way. OECD’s trust in government stats which recently showed that over 70% of Indians trust the present government to do the right thing, also showed that in 2007, a whopping 82% of Indians trusted the then government to do the right thing. In a world where those numbers are constantly declining, we have chosen to believe in the leaders we elect. We’re proud of our democracy and we expect our representatives to do right on our behalf.

We’ve been taught to look at government in India as though it were a service. The administration, including the politicians, bureaucrats and every “sarkaari employee”,provides us services that we’re entitled to. We vote in the elections to pick the people who run this establishment and we pay our taxes to fund the services they provide. In return for devoting all their time to serving us, we let them have certain privileges- red beacons atop their tax-payer funded cars, tax-payer funded homes in the capital city, tax-payer funded flights and offices and the perks and vices of being “in power”. But democracy isn’t a service. Its a partnership. It is, as that cliched quote goes, a government, “for the people, of the people and by the people”. We’re a lazy democracy. When we’re called to action by big issues that are close to our hearts, we have shown that we are willing to engage and, when necessary, to resist. Through popular movements we have forced both UPA and NDA governments, in the last 5 years alone, to do things like taking stern action for women’s safety, enacting anti-corruption legislation, protecting net neutrality, abandoning an anti-environmental steel flyover project and, now, rejected great sufferings in the hope that it would end black money, corruption and terrorism in our country.

But our participation in democracy can not be reactive. We need to be more proactive and governments must enable that. We need to have well structured processes to make sure that it doesn’t take an Anna Hazare shouting with thousands of people in Ramlila maidan for our voices to be heard in the corridors of power. We’re a country of argumentative Indians, as Amartya Sen famously said. Everyone has an opinion and an idea to solve every public problem. Walk over to a breakfast spot like SLV or Adigas in Bangalore and there you’ll see it: The extraordinary sight of sweaty middle-aged gentlemen in trackpants and running shorts, just back from their morning walks, sipping hot filter coffee and belting out idea after idea for what the Prime Minister should do to end corruption, fix the roads, reduce traffic, solve air pollution and many other critical issues- all before the coffee goes cold.

These random ideas are seldom useful to anyone. The question is this: are you willing to put in your expertise and your time to make some suggestions to government on the basis of which they can take some action? Maybe you’re willing to take that action yourself. Groups like the ugly Indian are good examples of the community taking responsibility to pick up the trash in their neighborhoods to keep it clean. But maybe YOU know exactly why the trash piles up there in the first place and know how to fix that problem? How would you tell government about this? Do the mechanisms exist? Are there people who will listen to you? Are there people who will actually implement it? Are we willing to get involved in that process? Or are we going to say “Its THEIR job. Not ours”? Clearly, the government and we, as a society, have to answer these tough questions to bring real change to our local communities.

This modern day “panchayati raj” is what, I think, will carry India forward and it can only be powered by, as I mentioned at the start of this piece, the extraordinary spirit in our people. We don’t need to fight for Independence but maybe its time to pursue true swaraj and demand the right to make our own contributions to nation-building (beyond beating up people who don’t stand up for the national anthem in a movie theatre).

Jai Hind.

Image source: Mellisa Anthony Jones via Wikimedia Commons

The Nation Wants to Know

A farrago of exasperated thoughts and disconnected rants about the enervating persona that is Arnab Goswami. (Originally published on my medium account)

 

“Exasperating farrago of distortions, misrepresentations and outright lies being broadcast by an unprincipled showman masquerading as a journalist” -Dr. Shashi Tharoor


For those who are unfamiliar with the mainstream TV media in India, the name Arnab Goswami isn’t one that might ring a bell. For the others, it is a name that sets off a series of bells attempting unsuccessfully to ring over the loud and resonating voice of the biggest showman on Indian television. In November 2016 when he resigned as the Editor-in-Chief of Times Now, arguably at the peak of its popularity, it left a lot of people wondering what he his next move would be. 6 months later, with the birth of RepublicTV, he clarified that beyond all doubt. Arnab had taken his wildly popular evening news show on Times Now called “News Hour” (named inappropriately for it had no news and lasted well beyond an hour) and given it a 24×7 identity of its own.

None of this should come as a surprise to anyone. As the self-annointed revolutionary in Indian journalism (“we changed the news” was a sticker prominently visible in the Times Now news room) it was only a matter of time before he outgrew the small screen and narrow editorial prowess that Times Now offered him. Arnab has gained his credibility and raging popularity through his complete oblitration of Abhijith Mukherjee (son of the Indian President, for calling women “dented and painted”), Ashok Khenny (a Karnataka MLA, for abusing a Times Now reporter), countless retired Pakistani Generals (for presenting the Pakistani point of view) and possibly most famously, Rahul Gandhi (the vice-president of the Congress party, who slipped and stuttered his way through a rare, one-on-one interview) among many others. He is credited with having broken many high profile cases of corruption including the CWG scam, the 2G scam, the coal scam and more. He took on a lot of important issues head-on and asked questions of the government that no other journalist would ask. That was his USP, captured succinctly in his now famous catch-phrase, The Nation Wants to Know.

RepublicTV: What would happen if twitter trolls had a TV channel

But Arnab Goswami is a double-sided sword that is considerably sharper on one end. Stemming from his strong belief that journalists must take sides, Arnab’s show, as I mentioned earlier, was never a “news” hour- it was an opinion column on steroids, broadcast on national TV under the facade of being a news channel. The problem with that is not the part where he expresses his opinion- a constitutional right which he is free to exercise- but the part where he defrauds millions of people by expressing them on a medium where people tune-in to receive unbiased news. Jokingly, I’ve read that people rarely tuned-in to his show for news- they did so more often for the entertainment. Only now, he’s his own boss.
Arnab Goswami, Managing Director and Co-Founder, RepublicTV
Questions have been raised about the ownership pattern of the newly-born media outlet, christened ARG Outliers Group and funded by Rajya Sabha MP Rajeev Chandrashekar, and whether the coverage will be predominantly biased in favour of the BJP-led government. Whether he is supported by the right or the left, the fact that he almost never presents the opposing argument is beyond disturbing. Once Arnab positions himself in one corner of the ring, he’s also simultaneously made up his mind to position you in the opposite side corner and from that, there’s no coming back no matter how logical or factual your position is.
 
Arnab is a senior journalist and nobody should attempt to teach him journalism because he’s seen and experienced enough to have an idea of journalism that he believes in. But what he does on TV is not journalism at all and that, everyone MUST question. Just take, for example, the promotions of RepublicTV before the channel went live. In a series of videos Arnab sent a message to a number of politicians and industrialists simply saying, that he’d be back. Amusingly, he picked Rahul Gandhi (who’s from an opposition party with a paltry 44/543 seats in parliament), Arvind Kerjriwal (the Chief Minister of New Delhi) and Subramanium Swamy (who he,despite the “brave” video warning, conveniently interviewed to legitimize his allegations against Tharoor). If the brave journalism that he espouses is one where he is going to spend time finding dirt against opposition members, so be it. If people are more interested in that news as opposed to holding the present government accountable to their many promises and lapses, then he is entirely right.
 
Or maybe its just that there is simply nothing to hold this government accountable for. That demonetization achieved none of its stated goals and led to the death of Indian citizens unable to access their own bank accounts is not news-worthy enough to question the government. That a person was killed for eating beef within the confines of his own house and that an investigation was launched into whether he ate cow or buffalo instead of arresting the people responsible for his death is not news-worthy enough to question the government. That the patriotism of sloganeering students on a university campus in Delhi was questioned to distract people from the sickening murder of CRPF soldiers by Maoists is not news-worthy enough to question the government.
In the 6 days that RepublicTV has been alive, the stories it has covered are 1) some (unconvincing) audio tapes alleging that Lalu Prasad Yadav has connections to the ISI, 2) accused Arvind Kejriwal of accepting a Rs 2 crore bribe, 3) brought up some audio tapes which, unless you make leaps of faith so large that you could break olympic records, prove nothing about Shashi Tharoor’s involvement in Sunanda Pushkar’s death, 4) the national herald case accusing the Gandhis of laundering party funds- a case that has already taken the accused to court.
 
Republic reporters are on tape harassing Shashi Tharoor by (extremely creepily) staking out outside his house in Delhi and Kerala and thrusting multiple mics his face everytime he walks in public. My simple question, is this- What do you want him to say that would make you stop? Firstly, if your allegations are true, there should really be nothing for him to say. So you should really just take what you have to the cops and have him tried in court. On the other hand, if you have no real evidence and all you’re looking for is for him to say something controversial on national TV, you’re not going to get that out of someone who has more experience regarding the media than anyone on your pay roll.
But such is the absurd charm of Arnab that you simply can’t stop watching this madness. It’s basically reality TV with a little bit of General Knowledge thrown in. As compared to the time before Arnab, people now recognize BJP, Congress and AAP party spokespersons. People look forward to coming home from a hard day’s work, turning on the idiot box and finally seeing that device live up to its name. And most recently, thanks to Arnab, we all got to learn the phrase “exasperating farrago of distortions and misrepresentations”. But I prefer to describe that channel using Dr Tharoor’s less sophisticated, yet more accurate phrase, “The digital equivalent of toilet roll”.
 
I don’t know what the nation wants to know. But I sure hope they’re not relying on RepublicTV to find out.

Are Digital Technologies Making Politics Impossible?

This article was originally written as part of my unfinished submission to the nine dots prize. Maybe next time I’ll actually submit something. 

“The internet is the first thing that humanity has built that humanity doesn’t understand, the largest experiment in anarchy we’ve ever had.” -Eric Schmidt, Co-Founder and CEO, Google.com

In the year 1947 when John Bardeen and his team at Bell Labs in Murray Hill, New Jersey were busy inventing the first transistor, Harry S Truman was on the campaign trail with almost every prediction indicating that he would be defeated by Republican Thomas E. Dewey in the elections that would be held the following year. Meanwhile, somewhere in Illinois, Hugh Rodham and Dorothy Howell were celebrating the birth of their first child, a baby girl they named Hillary Diane Rodham and nearly 7000 miles away, 300 million Indians were celebrating their hard-fought independence from over 200 years of British colonial rule.

The invention of the transistor that year ushered in an age of rapid technological progress- one that would have a massive impact on both the new borns- Hillary and the newly born country of India; And though she didn’t know it yet, 7 decades later, Hillary would be part of an election campaign that turned out to be nearly as surprising as the one Truman ran. Only she, was going to be on the wrong side of history. At the same time Great Britain would make world headlines again- this time for exiting the European Union- while India, would become the world’s fastest growing economy and one of the largest beneficiaries of the tech revolution enabled by transistors.

Image Courtesy: Magnascan | Pixabay.com

The invention of the transistor led to the creation of the modern microprocessor and subsequently computers; The most powerful consequence of which was, arguably, the Internet. In recent times there has been a rise of internet-enabled digital technologies. These technologies, especially (but not limited to) Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs) have changed the landscape of nearly every field they’ve been used in and politics is no exception. President Erdogan addressing the Turkish people using FaceTime during a coup d’état is one of the most interesting cases of the use of digital technologies impacting politics as was the use of the FireChat app by the Iraqi people to communicate after the government shut down the internet there.

Digital technologies have had a multifarious impact on politics. It is important, therefore, to analyze it’s impact starting with election campaigning and voting in democratic nations to its impact on governance and accountability in and dissent of governments around the world. Not to be forgotten, is a component of equal importance in any political analysis- the role of the media and so it is critical to include the impact of digital technologies on news reportage too.

Are digital technologies really making politics impossible? The short answer is no. Contemporary history is evidence of the fact that digital technologies have enabled political campaigns from President Bush and John Kerry in the US in 2004 to Prime Minister Modi in India in 2014. ICTs enabled socio-political movements like the Arab Spring in 2011 and the anti-corruption movement in India that same year. And most importantly digital technologies have enabled a citizen-government interaction in a form and on a scale that has never been seen before. But at the same time, it has also enabled, what some people call, “online echo chambers”- the polarization of opinions on the internet. In other words, digital technologies have enabled every stage of the political process- the good, the bad and the ugly- and we will analyze each of those in chapters ahead. 

To be continued..


iPredict | Follow up

The dust hasn’t settled on the Apple Special event but I’m back to review my predictions. Firstly, let me convey my condolences to the intern who posted the tweet about the iPhone 7 on Apple’s (new and till now unused) twitter account before it was even announced on stage. Also, for a company whose mysterious aura used to captivate audiences, if the only things you could hide from everyone was the Mario app and the Pokemon Go what-ever-the-hell announcement, you might want to take a step back and evaluate where it all went wrong.
It’s naïve of me to expect the return of the Apple of Steve Jobs. But if you want any evidence that Apple has changed, it was all in today’s presentations. More on that in a later post! For now, let’s get straight to it!
Predictions from the previous post are italicized. My reactions to my predictions are below them. If you want to read the previous post, it’s here.

An amazingly new iPhone.

Well, amazement lies in the eyes of the beholder. The new iPhone will have a faster processor and a better camera. The difference from its predecessors being that this one will have iOS 10 and as we have noticed increasingly in small yet significant features of iOS 10, there seems to be a lot of on-board machine learning happening which means that the 64-bit, rumored 3Gb RAM might finally be put to more use than just driving that retina display for watching videos.

I got this one right. Not much to add. The processor got a bump up and is faster and more power efficient.

Wireless “AirPods”?

Err. Umm. I’m going to stick my neck out and say no. iOS 10 is Siri-heavy. To my mind, while you can design a mic into the “AirPods”, it’d be quite an experiment to make that deep-dive before giving users time to adapt to them. The other reason this rumor has been gaining traction is the expectation that Apple will remove the 3.5mm audio jack (which is a reasonable thing to assume) and the discovery of a low power Bluetooth chip patent. That chip PROBABLY has something to do with the Apple Watch and less to do with the earphones.
My guess would be that the earphones are lightning-enabled.

I got his one half wrong. The Bluetooth chip WAS for the “AirPods”. They made a lovely “double tap to activate Siri”, emphasizing my point about the importance of Siri in this phone. But apart from that, the “AirPods” are a, excuse my French, shit device. Steve Jobs once said “you’ve to take them out and put them away and blah. Nobody wants a stylus”. Find and replace stylus with annoyingly tiny AirPods. That plus the fact that it lasts barely 4 hours and, here’s the most amazing part, it costs $160. Whoever thought that something would beat the Apple pencil at being the most pretentious product ever.

Design Changes!

I hate what the iPhone 6 and 6S feel like (I’m not even going to mention the plus versions of those things). But since millions around the world seem to like this new design, Tim Cook-led Apple is unlikely to fix what isn’t broken. But here’s a word I’d expect to be mentioned somewhere in the keynote: Liquid Metal.

Slightly embarrassed that I got this one right for the most part. Liquid metal was NOT mentioned but the new home screen button seems to have used it. I’ll hold out for more details on that one.

Pencil

With all the weird rich-text and media support throughout the iOS 10 system, it is only logical that Pencil support comes to the iPhone. But the moment those words are spoken at that keynote, remember these words “If you see a stylus, they blew it”. Google it if you don’t know who said that.

Thank god I got this one entirely wrong.

Camera

“It’s the best camera that has ever been put in a smart phone”- Phil Schiller, tomorrow.
But Phil, if it’s going to be protruding, I still don’t understand it. Just make the phone that much fatter please. Nobody really cares about 3mm. If you want to make the thinnest phone ever, congratulations on losing that battle anyway.

Quote unquote. I got that one right. As usual, the camera is brilliant but it still protrudes. He used the word “courage” to describe the act of dropping the audio jack. Make the iPhone fatter. THAT takes courage. Not that brave after huh?

Storage Space

Here’s why the “best camera ever” matters. Storage. The one tiny but relevant rumor has been that apple will wave goodbye to the 16Gb model. Say hello to 32, 128 and 256Gb! The size of iOS 10 probably has a lot to do with that too.

Easy to get this one right.

Other announcements

MacBook Pro update

It’s feels like it’s been ages since the previous one and they’re really proud of the MacBook so this will be something to watch out for. Expect Skylake, USB-C and Touch ID. I like the rumor about the OLED touch bar for the function keys but somehow that feels like a gimmick they’d have on the MacBook first. I’m on the fence on that one.

So depressingly wrong. DID YOU FORGET ABOUT THE LAPTOP, TIM? Spent all that time making the goddamn AirPods and forgot the MacBook?

Apple Watch

This is the one Apple device that has so much scope for improvement, it feels like a joke to me. Sure there’s cool tech in it but if Apple was simply about the tech, it wouldn’t be Apple. I’m waiting patiently for the day when all the bio-engineers and fashion designers sit together in Jonathan Ive’s design studio and say “Can we fire that intern who talked us into releasing this thing and pretend like it never happened and start over?”
HealthKit, ResearchKit and CareKit are really, really good. Here’s my problem with the watch- It’s the dumbest smart device to come out of one infinite loop. And while I’m sure that will change in the future (when it becomes capable of existing without an iPhone), in the meanwhile I’d expect it do something to complement the iPhone and change this parasitic relationship they share into symbiotic relationship. Remember the low power Bluetooth chip? That could help, no?

Wrong about the Bluetooth chip again. The in-built GPS is a small step towards independence but the UI remains weird as ever. But there is some seriously cool tech in there that has SO much potential.

Image Courtesy: Apple Inc

iPredict

[Updated with one additional paragraph I forgot to include when I posted this half an hour ago]

Apple’s latest special event is in less than 24 hours and as is usual before this event every year, speculation is rife about what they will announce. A new iPhone is widely expected to be launched but nobody is still quite sure what’s going to be in it. It’s been a while since I last wrote an Apple-related piece so I’m quite rusty but this post is basically my two cents about what could possibly come out of this event. More internet garbage!

What’s new! 

An amazingly new iPhone.
Well, amazement lies in the eyes of the beholder. The new iPhone will have a faster processor and a better camera. The difference from its predecessors being that this one will have iOS 10 and as we have noticed increasingly in small yet significant features of iOS 10, there seems to be a lot of on-board machine learning happening which means that the 64-bit, rumored 3Gb RAM might finally be put to more use than just driving that retina display for watching videos.

Wireless “AirPods”?
Err. Umm. I’m going to stick my neck out and say no. iOS 10 is Siri-heavy. To my mind, while you can design a mic into the “AirPods”, it’d be quite an experiment to make that deep-dive before giving users time to adapt to them. The other reason this rumor has been gaining traction is the expectation that Apple will remove the 3.5mm audio jack (which is a reasonable thing to assume) and the discovery of a low power Bluetooth chip patent. That chip PROBABLY has something to do with the Apple Watch and less to do with the earphones.
My guess would be that the earphones are lightning-enabled.

Design Changes!
I hate what the iPhone 6 and 6S feel like (I’m not even going to mention the plus versions of those things). But since millions around the world seem to like this new design, Tim Cook-led Apple is unlikely to fix what isn’t broken. But here’s a word I’d expect to be mentioned somewhere in the keynote: Liquid Metal.

Pencil
With all the weird rich-text and media support throughout the iOS 10 system, it is only logical that Pencil support comes to the iPhone. But the moment those words are spoken at that keynote, remember these words “If you see a stylus, they blew it”. Google it if you don’t know who said that.

Camera
“It’s the best camera that has ever been put in a smart phone”- Phil Schiller, tomorrow.
But Phil, if it’s going to be protruding, I still don’t understand it. Just make the phone that much fatter please. Nobody really cares about 3mm. If you want to make the thinnest phone ever, congratulations on losing that battle anyway.

Storage Space
Here’s why the “best camera ever” matters. Storage. The one tiny but relevant rumor has been that apple will wave goodbye to the 16Gb model. Say hello to 32, 128 and 256Gb! The size of iOS 10 probably has a lot to do with that too.

But here’s the thing. I get the feeling that Apple is holding back the real updates for next year and that this update is going to be a lazy-product cycle demand device that really is a filler. All year so far they’ve struggled in the market (nowhere near the $120 peaks they hit last year) and the fluctuations might carry on till the end of the year irrespective of what they do with their phones. So once the storm is weathered, you might see more exciting features in the phone. So keep the expectations low.

Other announcements

MacBook Pro update
It’s feels like it’s been ages since the previous one and they’re really proud of the MacBook so this will be something to watch out for. Expect Skylake, USB-C and Touch ID. I like the rumor about the OLED touch bar for the function keys but somehow that feels like a gimmick they’d have on the MacBook first. I’m on the fence on that one.

Apple Watch
This is the one Apple device that has so much scope for improvement, it feels like a joke to me. Sure there’s cool tech in it but if Apple was simply about the tech, it wouldn’t be Apple. I’m waiting patiently for the day when all the bio-engineers and fashion designers sit together in Jonathan Ive’s design studio and say “Can we fire that intern who talked us into releasing this thing and pretend like it never happened and start over?”

HealthKit, ResearchKit and CareKit are really, really good. Here’s my problem with the watch- It’s the dumbest smart device to come out of one infinite loop. And while I’m sure that will change in the future (when it becomes capable of existing without an iPhone), in the meanwhile I’d expect it do something to complement the iPhone and change this parasitic relationship they share into symbiotic relationship. Remember the low power Bluetooth chip? That could help, no?

The event is tomorrow, Wednesday September 7th at 10AM PDT, 1PM EST, 10:30PM IST and can be watched at this link: http://www.apple.com/apple-events/september-2016/

Watch it! I’ll try to do a post event piece about what actually transpired and I promise I will compare it with this list and happily take all the rotten tomatoes aimed my way when these turn out to be wrong. LOL.