Wednesday, July 23, 2014

How I got arrested and had to spend many minutes in Prison

I went to the fast conducted by Satta Panchayath Iyakkam (SPI), a remarkable NGO (no foreign funding, so relax). It was to submit 10 demands to the TN state, most important to remove the State Chief Information Commissioner, Mr.Sreepathi IAS from the commission. The TN state information commission is, in general, doing a really bad job.
Anyways, at the end of it the activists decided to proceed with a lock to symbolically "lock" the office of the Information Commission. Police were there in massive numbers.
I stood in a corner, gaping at the spectacle, while my head was swimming from the 8 hours fast. I have no idea how people do this for many days. I wanted, craved, sambar idli for some strange reason.
Suddenly the police came marching in our direction, asking all of us to get into the van. I stayed still, hoping they could not see me. But there was nothing to hide behind, and an Inspector who looked like a Software Project Manager came in my direction with a few constables.
He said, "Why are you standing here?"
I said, "I came here for the fast."
"Do you want to get arrested or leave?" he said, like Bruce Willis.
I said "Leave" without ANY hesitation.
"Then go," he said, as if a massacre was about to happen.
But as I ran to one side of the road, it was blocked! I run to the other side and that is blocked too! So I run from one to another like a caged rat, thinking, "That Inspector WAS a software PM, because he gave me a command and closed all ways of executing it."
By this time everyone was in the vans and they were all basically watching me go from one end to another. So, with as much dignity as I could muster, I went into the van.
We were taken to the Chepauk guest house through a circuitous route so that nobody could follow us. This place is like a open air jail. I think they call it "guest house" as a joke, because the MRTS train passes right above you every 20 minutes. No man could survive there.
We all sat in plastic chairs. There was a nice breeze.The walls were high and i thought my only chance of escape was to time the MRTS trains over the next 10 days and get on the last car somehow, like Papillon.
But then they asked us to sign something and leave. The signing sheet said "Arrest detail" so then I understood I was actually arrested.
My only advice to you is to get arrested with 60,70 people - that too pumped up activists, because then nobody cares about your sorry, timid self.

Monday, June 16, 2014

தந்திப் புரட்சி - ஒரு ரகசியப் போராட்டத்தின் சரித்திரம்

My Tamil short story in, தந்திப் புரட்சி  - ஒரு ரகசியப் போராட்டத்தின் சரித்திரம்
ஆறு மாதங்கள் முன்பு தான் திருநெல்வேலி கலெக்டர் ஆஷை வாஞ்சி ஐயர் துப்பாக்கியால் சுட்டுக் கொன்றிருந்தார். அதைத் தொடர்ந்து இன்ஸ்பெக்டர் வீரராகவன் தூத்துக்குடியில் நடத்திய அதிரடிப் புலனாய்வில் பதினாலு பேர் மாட்டியிருந்தார்கள். எல்லோருக்கும் பின்னால் சூத்ரதாரியான  நீலகண்ட ஐயர், ஒரு ரகசிய சதிக் கூட்டம் நடத்தியதாகக் கேள்வி. படிக்கப் படிக்க மர்மக் கதை போல இருந்த இந்த சதியைப் பற்றி நாலணா நாவல்கள் கூட வந்து விட்டன. கேஸ் முடியும் தருவாயில் இருந்தது. பதினாலு பேருக்கும் மொத்தமாகக் தூக்கு என்று என் அப்பா சொல்லிக் கொண்டிருந்தார். அவர் அவ்வப்போது பிரிட்டிஷ் விசுவாசி. ரிப்பன் கட்டிடத்தில் சில அறைகளுக்கு வயரிங் செய்ய காண்டிராக்ட் பிடித்து விட்டார்.
“ஆஷ் துரையை வாஞ்சி ஐயர் கொன்னதுக்கும் நமக்கும் என்ன சம்பந்தம்?” என்றான் ஆறுமுகம். நம்பியார் மேல்துண்டை வைத்து விசிறிக் கொண்டார்.
“சரியான கேள்வி அது இல்லை,” என்றார் வாசு. “துரை கொலைக்கும் காங்கிரஸ் கட்சிக்கும் என்ன சம்பந்தம் என்பது தான் கேள்வி.”
- See more at:

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

The Exorcism of Sathish Kumar, MBA - my novel

My first novel, "The Exorcism of Sathish Kumar, MBA" has been published by Tata Westland publishers. The book came out in ebook format this week. The Print edition will be out next month.

Brief Introduction
The novel is a thriller/fantasy set in Chennai. The hero, Arjun Palani, is an young man, fired thrice from IT companies in a career of four years. He is asked to join a strange team of top managers as the IT company, BSD Technologies, is collapsing. A set of tasks are assigned to him (the first one is to get ganja, btw), while he starts suspecting that a crazy man is held in the top floor of the building. 
The novel takes us through Arjun's adventures, while unravelling a plot by the hedge fund company, PH Capital. It involves drones, Wikileaks, Anonymous India, a dangerous computer worm, sorcery and finally, to top it, a trip across the Vaitharani river to the world of the dead.

Links you can download the ebook from:
Google Play

My notes to publicist
The computer worm in the story, named "Blaze" is named after "Flame" an actual worm that infected Iranian computers. Most evidence points to the United States and Israel government as behind Stuxnet and Flame.
Link below is the Wired article on Stuxnet:
"How Digital Detectives Deciphered Stuxnet, the Most Menacing Malware
in History"
A normal virus affects computers and steals or destroys data. Stuxnet, on the other hand, tries to control physical machines, such as the huge centrifuges in nuclear reactors. These machines are controlled these days by software instructions. Stuxnet then messes up the instructions and causes them to malfunction. If these grow, then companies can use them against rivals for industrial sabotage. Similarly drones are controlled by an operator far away from the battle field. These are cheap and small - so they can be used by police forces and by companies to spy on a large number of people. The two more weapons not mentioned in the book are pervasive surveillance and fighting robots. Taken together these show a frightening future, which is countered by other technical successes such as the internet and community bonding in this age.

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Who is Scared of the AAP? - The Pelican Brief in India

Recently Arvind Kejriwal was reported to have said "Do not pay electricity bills". That is, this is what the headlines said. What Kejriwal actually said was, "We would do an audit of the power companies. It will take a few months. In that time, people who want to pay their bills can pay. But others have the right not to pay until this audit is done".
What is this audit he is talking about? To find out the details, follow me below:
Delhi has privatized electrical distribution companies (discoms). These have been given licenses, by the Delhi Electric Power Regulatory Commission (DERC) based on the Delhi Electricity Reform Act 2000. Currently BSES, which is a Reliance subsidiary and NDPL, which is a Tata subsidiary hold these licenses. So, they supply electricity in Delhi, not the government.
Now, Sheila Dikshit claimed in August that Delhi residents pay the lowest among metros. She "fudged" the truth here - Delhi power tariff IS actually high - but the government has tried to "subsidise" this cost for low unit users. But note where this "subsidy" goes - the government still has to pay the raised cost from taxpayer money to the private discoms. In other words, Delhi power situation is a corporate windfall for Reliance and Tata.
Per se this may be fine - but AAP (and the BJP) believe that the power companies are gouging the customers. There have been steep hikes in the past two years, with the companies wanting more January 2014. 
Now here comes the crux - AAP wants a public audit of these companies, and has suggested that with this audit's results they can cut down the cost of power.
The corporations do not want that audit. Please read BSES FAQ on this issue (item 8 below).
So the power companies are claiming that they CANNOT be audited. 
And they are wrong. They are hoping you won't notice, but the license agreement they signed AUTHORISES the government to audit them using an independent auditor any time the government wants. Here is the license agreement for BSES (clause 7, page 20):

What is amazing to me is the audaciousness with which a company that handles public resources, can claim that they cannot be audited! As an example, this is similar to telcos that handle 2G, 3G spectrum claiming they cannot be audited!
In other words, the AAP is actually asking for something that the government has the right to ask. And the companies (Reliance, Tata subsidiaries) do not want that. They have millions to lose if the AAP implements the audit.
So, suddenly you have scary screaming headlines and PR campaigns on social media smearing the AAP.

Sunday, December 01, 2013

Commercial and Literary writing - Jeyamohan's Q&A

Very happy news - attended Jayamohan's Q&A at Panuval book shop. I like his writing very much. Unfortunately, asked a question and got him angry. It seems to be my "raasi". I still think his answer was not correct, but I learnt not to argue with a guy holding a mike. Whole exchange is below. I should write it in Tamil, but computer problem:

In Jeyamohan's website he has a link - here:
You can read the link and see that he is saying how he selects stories by others for his website. He says there are different kinds of stories - one is commercial model. Then he proceeds to clearly diss this model - he says they are "taken from other stories". He compares them with Kodambakkam (Tamil film) stories. He proceeds to say a lot of different things. Then he compares it with literary stories, which he says, have structural flaws but are, clearly "better".
A month back he wrote an article in Tamil Hindu, where he said we need more commercial writers in Tamil, because only then overall reading will increase- and that this space has been taken by English commercial writing (very true). If overall reading goes up, literary reading will also goes up.
Now, I had a vague question, but I already knew he was not very correct in his comments. I mentioned these two articles, and I said, "The split between commercial and literary exists in every language's lit. Therefore much work has already been done on this space. Why do you have to redefine it in the above form?"
What I should have asked is, "if you have such a low opinion of commercial writing, then why would any one write it? Why should someone do it just so literary writers eventually get readers?"
But clearly I phrased it wrong, and got caught.
He started telling me about Harold Bloom and mentioned a lot of different Western authors who have said the "same thing". I made a comment about Harold Bloom which irritated him. He said, "Only after reading all this I am coming and sitting here". He said, "Therefore, the distinction between commercial and literary fiction exists"
I tried to say something and he said, "Accept what you said is wrong and then we can proceed".
I said, "I can accept, but that was not my question at all".
He immediately softened and said, "I am sorry I am being harsh".
I said, "That is fine. After all, I have been reading you for some time".
People laughed and he seemed to relax. But I persisted.
I said, "I did not state that the split between commercial and literary fiction does not exist. My question was why would you say writers of one of those forms is not very sound?"
He said, "That is not what I said. I said commercial stories may have better structure." (He is correct there, but anyone can read the above link and decide if he is positive or negative about such writers. He actually talks about good form as if it is something writers "use").
Then he proceeded in making a series of claims. He was entertaining, but I thought all of those were pretty wrong statements. You can decide for yourself.
First,he said we may read something in New Yorker etc (somehow he got that I had been "abroad"), but real literature is in small literary magazines in English too. In other words, he was conflating writing in counter culture style magazines with literature. While they may be, saying New Yorker etc are not the place for literary stories is shocking. It means his definition of literature and commercial is already completely at conflict with what most people accept. 
Second, he said writers of commercial stories decide what their audience wants and then write. Pretty major claim and not true. He mentioned how Hollywood market research works - which is true, but we were not talking about movies. Even in movies, he was talking about James Bond.
Third, he said for many commercial English fiction, the editors decide a major part of the story. Again, not true. Editors do not have the time anywhere to sit and baby sit an author through his book. 
Then he started talking about Kodambakkam again. At this point, I realized I had to shut up when another person has a mike.
I think what happened was he decided to choose extremes of commercialism and literature.
To me, it still seems odd that he would claim this. What he means when he says "commercial" seems not to be an accepted form of writing at all. If all that he says were true, popular writing cannot be a valid form of creative expression or art at all. He keeps comparing it with the situation in movies, which is doing a disservice to popular-fiction writers.
But, he still wants commercial fiction to be written, so that more readers come in!
But I still liked him in the meeting, since he has a very deep intellect, very sharp, excellent debater. He is still great, but I may not communicate with him much.

Thursday, July 04, 2013

Fantasy writing in Indian English

Indian English commercial fiction has been tapping somewhat into Fantasy territory for the past few years. The Immortals of Meluha, for example, belongs to the fantasy genre. Along with it have come novels such as "Govinda" which offer different varieties, that border on fantasy.
Many of these books currently seem to use the mythological sources of Mahabharatha and Ramayana.
But I believe the real sources of myth writing in Indian English should go farther back - to the myths of Ashwini Kumaras or Vritra. These are parts of more ancient memory, and can be more effective than working with the Mahabharatha.
J.R.R. Tolkien, who is considered the early father of Fantasy writing, did not use Biblical myths for his Lord of the Ring series. Instead he went to the Scandinavian and Icelandic myths. This is because they are more ancient and serve an excellent setting.
Try to recall your earliest childhood memory. For me, it was a memory of a boat, going across a small lake. Into the lake a small stream was feeding as a tiny fall.Whenever I recall it, I have a sense of loss, as well as the feeling that I am looking at it through a curtain. It has a vague, hard to catch sense.
Now, look back at our history and myths. The Ramayana and the Mahabharatha are great stories, but they are similar to our memories from, say, teenage. They are clear and easy to recall.
Go further back; in the case of our culture, the Rig Veda period, early Vedic myths appear more ancient - as if we were in our infancy then. These myths have the same vague, hard-to-catch sense, because our culture was at its infancy then. Rig Vedic hymns seem magical. The Gods of those times, Mitra, Soma, Varuna, Indra - these gods are very old. They say these gods appeared even before Indo-Iranian culture. The earliest references to them are in the Mitanni kings of West Asia, in an invocation.
I think our mythical writing and fantasy material should go back to this period - and not rest with the Mahabharatha or Shiva Purana.