Sunday, December 16, 2007

Random Blogging - Telugu Movie

I was flipping through television channels when I saw the final scenes in a Telugu movie. I do not know Telugu but could follow what happened. Recording it for posterity:

Scene is in a mine shaft - Chiranjeevi appears talking lots of dialogue abusing the villain, Appa Naidu. Appa Naidu looks like a rich gentleman - why is Chiru yelling at him? Because Appa Naidu has Chiru's Mom tied up in a pit. Chiru's Dad is tied up near the roof somewhere, ready to hang. Chiru is mighty pissed at this and nears the villain saying nasty things in Telugu (which still sounded sweet to my ears).
Villain laughs, takes a step back and from top of mine shaft a steel cage falls and entraps Chiru. This further enrages Chiru. Villain is still laughing. Mean-looking guys with Naidu are also laughing. One guy brings what look like fiery tongs. They all poke at Chiru and laugh at him. Chiru's shirt torn off. Chiru seems comfortable in the mine shaft without shirt.
Suddenly, the Mom who is tied up starts speaking to Chiru - she is urging him to beat the hell out of Appa Naidu. Chiru looks at her and seems to ask "Can you see that I am in a freaking cage in a mine shaft?". Appa Naidu now turns attention to Mom (She should have kept her mouth shut in my opinion). Anyway, tap turns on and water starts pouring into pit where Mom is currently situated. Yes, she should definitely have shut up.
Chiru gets all crazy at this and starts mightily pulling at the bars of his cage. Villain and all his employees are laughing. But, wait - the bars seem to be bending. Yes, Chiru is out. Chiru picks up the huge steel cage which he was imprisoned in a minute back - picks it up with one hand and throws at Appa Naidu's staff. Staff exit stage left.
Chiru throws something at Dad who, (let me remind you), was tied up in the roof in very awkward position watching the whole show. Dad freed immediately, jumps down and starts fighting.
Things are beginning to look rosy for Chiru and bad for Appa Naidu.

But, suddenly, camera turns to show the brave Mom; Mom under water.
When camera tuens back to Chiru, Chiru is caught by Appa Naidu's reserve staff. Dad also caught. Mom gone.

(Now, a Malayalam film would have ended right there.)

But, this was, thankfully, not Malayalam; as the Mom was soon to find out. Chiru yells, "Rajaaaaaaa....". I am looking for this entirely new character.

Raja is the friendly neighborhood...elephant standing right there in the mine shaft, watching proceedings with interest. I don't know how he got in, but he did nothing when Mom went submarine. On Chiru's call, Raja comes to senses; picks up water from Mom's water tub and blows it on Villain's people.
Mom is now out of water and is smiling and happy.

She has reason to be happy - the police are here. They have been brought by Radha. The police announce their entry by shooting in the air in an abandoned mine shaft. Clever.

For those of you getting up and leaving the theater, hold on, movie has not ended.

Villain Appa Naidu and his son get Radha and jump into a mine vehicle and race along a track. Sharp Chiru jumps in another mine vehicle and goes after them at top speed. Fights with them, gets Radha transferred to his vehicle and stops vehicle before it goes over hill.
Appa Naidu and son hanging from mountain top. Chiru above, police below. Appa Naidu finally says the magic words - "Chiranjeevilu Niraparadhilu" - which I understood as Chiru is innocent.

Everybody breathes a sigh of relief and Chiru and Radha get married.

I am not making fun or any judgement call of Telugu movies - I have seen some of them and I do not really think that Tamil movies are that different. I thought it was interesting that I could understand the movie without knowing the language and even get some back story (that Chiru had been charged by the police wrongly).
I later found that the movie name is Adavi Donga - which again I could understand - Adavi means Forest in old Tamil and Donga means thief. So it was some kind of native Tarzan movie.

Sunday, December 09, 2007

Does Web 2.0 exist or is it a buzzword?

Whenever I discuss Web 2.0 with a group of developers they are confused about what it means. I have referred to O’Reilly’s definition, but it is way too generic. I have pointed out that there is a Web 2.0 style in Graphic Design and that does not interest them. Every service vendor out there is talking about Web 2.0 and job portals have Web 2.0 specialists.
In spite of all this hype, it is still hard to explain what web 2.0 really means. One friend suggested content sharing between users; another mentioned Ajax based websites. There are still lots of technical people who are skeptical that there IS a "Web 2.0".

I have realized that the core fault is in asking if there is a web 2.0 to the wrong group of people – it is pointless asking developers or service providers whether they can code web 2.0 or they offer web 2.0. The true set of people to ask about web 2.0 are web users – not the builders.

Internet users have been using the web since 95. Many more begin to use it every year. These are the best people to ask – do you see a way in which your usage of the web has become different? Do you see a better web to call it web 2.0? We should be asking the political blog writer who writes commentary. We should ask the student who uses the web to research and collect information. We should even ask developers whether they USE the web differently.

Forget about Semantic Markup, W3C compliance or cross browser – what do the millions of web users see different?
As such an user myself, avid follower of political blogs and blog writer, I see such a change myself. (That change has nothing to do with Ajax).

The primary way in which the web has changed for me is in simple services that I am able to avail of and then link with other people around the world very easily. The ability to form a kind of community fast is the primary reason I feel the the web has changed.

One example is By storing links in, I can actually observe that other people stored the same links and so take a jump in to see if they have more interesting information and so on in a rapidly complex linking mechanism. These links that forms sits one layer above the hyper text linking at the core of web 1.0 itself. offers similar services – the ability to discuss within a community about an article.
Then of course RSS – that I can subscribe to feeds and pull information from the internet for my own content construction is amazing to me.
If I am a content author, if I want to take my content around to a community (flickr, youtube, blogger), , if I want to establish a community of like-minded people (Facebook, Orkut, MySpace), if I want to have the ability to combine this content with others effectively (Mashups and RSS), then the current web is way different from the original web.
Do not tell me that these facilities existed in some form in the original web - I don't care. These are much more available, visible and usable now and that is what I care about.

These features have nothing to do with the way the websites are built technically. They have to do with adding personal and social value.

I think Wikipedia and similar ideas are the greatest achievements in human collaboration – because they fulfill the original goal of the internet. The original goal was that all human knowledge, historical and otherwise should be available in an easily accessible, hyper-linked form. Web 2.0 adds the ability to form communities on top of this massive data and analyze it and parse it and add additional information.

Just for that, Web 2.0 does exist – it is not a phantom buzz word. It is a real phenomenon and we have to be proud of it.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Deepavali and Dogs

I live in a lively neighborhood with lots of dogs, cats, goats and hens around. My wife thinks cats are evil (or more accurately that they can "manage" life without outside help). But, according to her, dogs are innocent angels that just need to be protected.
Since I had been attacked by a dog when I was myself innocent and angelic, I had much less sympathy for dogs - and thus promoted cat welfare.
We saw some evidence for the cat tendency to "evil" the other day - near a grocery shop we found two kitten playing around. One of them was trying to attack a brinjal. The other kitty was picked up by a kid. The kid held the kitty in his hands and started petting it. The cat closed his eyes and seemed to be enjoying the whole episode.
After a couple of minutes, the kid let the cat go.
The cat sauntered off out of sight and then, started licking and cleaning wherever the kid touched. He thoroughly cleaned himself and then seemed curse the dirty human and walked away.
So, that is where cats stand with humans.
Now, Deepavali came around. The night of Deepavali I was returning back from work in an auto. Firecrackers were exploding all around.
The neighborhood dogs were getting scared as hell. I think the dogs have a short memory - they had forgotten last year's Deepavali. They thought the humans had gone crazy and started destroying the world with Lakshmi vedi. So as I entered our area, I saw that the dogs were barking their heads off. They obviously thought this would dissuade the humans from destroying the world. But none of the humans seemed to be listening.
A particulaly nasty firecracker went off - and a dog started fleeing the scene. He ran like he thought the end of the world was near - ears flattened, tail between legs.
After running for some time, he noticed that nobody else was running. The humans were just shopping as usual.
The dog seemed to realize that he was the only coward fleeing the scene. Or he began to think the crackers were exploding in his head. So he began to act brave. He slowed down. Took a casual look around - and tried to convince everyone that he was just running for the daily exercise.
Then a Oosi vedi went off next to him and then he started the crazy run again.
I reached home and the dog near my home had the same look - he was not running but he was resigned to his fate. I could see him praying for the end to be painless.
Now that Deepavali is over, the dogs are celebrating - I can hear them all night.

Sunday, November 04, 2007

Sidewalks and Pedestrian rights

(Updated below)
I am posting here a few pictures of the "sidewalk" between Ramco Systems in Sardar Patel Road and the Adyar Cancer Institute in Chennai. Someone higher up made the decision that in the interests of road users, pedestrians need to suffer. Take a look at the impossible to navigate sidewalk - it has lamp posts in the middle;the government uses the sidewalk to put junk material. Vehicles speed up on the wide road horns blaring and threatening anyone who steps out of this ridiculous sidewalk.
My question is this - who made the decision that this space is enough for pedestrians and thus consigned them to this position? Who decided that the roads are "owned" by private car owners?

Pedestrians navigating past each other

Meanwhile here is a busstop sharing the space for the walkers

This is the width of the sidewalk - one person can stand

The corporation also helpfully adds useless junk

There are lampposts that are part of the sidewalk

Update I
I thought Maheswari's comment below and my answer significant - so promoted here:
Maheswari said:

Guys you are right that pavement is narrow but is there any other better alternative than this???. Being commuting the chennai traffic for past 15 years i am really frustrated and tired. Candidly,after these flyovers i feel commuting better then before even as a pedestrain also.

My answer:

Let me explain the problem here:
When roads are being laid, it is a part of city planning. Now, there is a certain width of the road available. Of which you partition for traffic and pedestrians.
When you partition for traffic, you should remember that there are private vehicles as well as public transports. There is a measure called road space taken per person. That measure determines how much priority you allocate to vehicles and also how much space the road has to take.
The road space per person taken by a public bus is small - thus public buses, by carrying more citizens are performing an essential service.
On the other hand, a single person who takes a Scorpio or Bolero consumes LOTS of roadspace per person. There are estimates that they take 10 times the road space of a public bus.
So, when you lay a road, that does not discriminate between public buses and private vehicles, you end up penalizing pedestrians over PRIVATE VEHICLE owners. Because, your road's width is anticipated to accomodate all vehicles.
This is a major issue and ties up with the concept of PUBLIC COMMONS. The road is a public common and people who take up inordinate space in it have to be penalized. This is why in the USA, some cities have a separate carpool lane - because carpooling reduces the roadspace per person.
Now, imagine that Chennai has separate bus lanes. Then the question really is a tradeoff between multiple lanes for private car owners OR pedestrian safety. And the government SHOULD consider this.
What I have shown in the photographs is that the government has not even considered this.
Cities such as Shanghai which are similar to Chennai in terms of evolution, have very wide pedetrian space and considered safe for them. That is because pedestrian safety should be the concern of any city planner. The only reason it is not so in Chennai is because rich private car owners dominate the consciousness of the city and the government.

Sunday, September 30, 2007

Gym Gyan

In Chennai, most neighborhoods have a public gym - there is one in Chetpet, Nungambakkam, Besant Nagar beach and so on. They have a set of parallel bars and then some weights and dumbbells. The local students hang out there in the mornings or evenings discussing body building and so on.
In such places, there are always some people who offer wierd advice - advice that apparently shows their expertise. These are well-meaning people, but some of the bits you hear are pretty unusual.
When I was in college and used to hang out at the local gym, there was one guy who was always doing parallel bars. He told me one day that if you did parallel bars, muscles in your legs MOVE to your chest, thereby making your chest look big, while your legs are very thin.
That is, according to him there was a single muscle that went back and forth between the chest and legs - depending on if you were doing Squats or doing parallel bars.
It seems pretty stupid now, but I completely believed him. One of his suggestions to keep the muscle from moving was to keep the legs bent at knee level while doing bars. With the effect that you look like you are going to the toilet while doing the bars.

One of the people who used to hang out was a state baskettball player. He made knowledgeable comments on working out so we asked for his advice on how best to workout. He became enthusiastic and suggested that all of us gather early morning at 6 AM for a visit to the Chetpet gym.
We did. He got us to run towards Chetpet from Nungambakkam. While running he kept going back and forth, trying to make us run in formation. Unfortunately, most of us were not even fit for NCC; we kept talking to each other. I rememebr that one of us actually held hands with another WHILE RUNNING. And we ran too slow - we were basically walking.
The basketball player was getting increasingly annoyed - he yelled at us. We did not care. Suddenly he screamed at us and went running back. Left us, in the middle of the road.
We just walked down to a tea shop and then returned.

One other guy traded stories of his days of working out. He said they had a "Guru". He said the Guru's legs looked like Hanuman's. Now this Guru firmly believed that a good workout meant you have to sweat a lot. He accomplished that by having the workout in an asbestos shed and then CLOSING THE DOOR AND WINDOWS! I would sweat if I was in such a room, WITHOUT working out - but these guys believed their Guru was the greatest because he made them sweat.

Saturday, September 29, 2007

Are NRIs buying up all the houses?

In my house search I frequently come across realtors who claim that NRIs are willing to pay much more; and that is the reason why prices are going up.
There are several urban myths about the current rises in real estate prices in Chennai - you have all heard of them. Someone says that a friend of theirs went to book an apartment on the FIRST day of booking. The apartment was in Siruseri or somewhere in a 18 floor building. And by the time they reached the booking office all the apartments were sold out except for one in the 18th floor.
This kind of story is so common - 6 months back I was told that an apartment in Santhome costs 1.1 crores!
My wife called up a builder's office and she made the mistake of opening the conversation in Tamil. The immediate response from the builder - "You cannot afford it". No price quote, nothing - just you cannot afford it.
In my investigations to see if ANYONE is paying 1.2 crores for an apartment in Adyar, one group was always blamed - the NRIs. The realtors will talk to me with mournful faces and describe how the NRIs are able to pay any kind of money and thus us idiots in India can never buy these.
Unfortunately, I was an NRI till last year - to me it is obvious these people are bluffing. In the latest Tamil movie Shivaji, Rajni returns after 10 years in the USA with 250 crores! Is this really possible? Is it true that NRIs in the USA are so extremely rich, ready to blow their money on apartments?
(In this article I am analyzing NRIs in the USA alone - because they form one of the richest groups and thus I am safe analyzing them).
Let us look at the US census for 2000 and the American Community Survey. In 2005, there were around 2,319,000 Asian Indians in the USA. They form the richest minority in terms of median income. On an average, the monthly salary of an Asian Indian is $60000.
If you are in IT, your pay depends on your years of experience and the number of years you have been in the United States. Many MS students get around $60000 - $70000 when they start. If you are consulting your rates can vary from $35 (when you are starting up) to $70. Your rates also depend on the region you are in - if you are in New York City or in Bay Area, California, you are likely to charge much more. But your living expenses and the tax you pay are also very high in that case.

After taxes, you are likely to be saving around 6-7 lakhs per year - if you are living a normal life style. If you have kids, that savings rate will go down.

The emphasis here is that an Indian in IT in the USA is not super rich. Whether you are consulting or you are a permanent employee does not make a huge difference.
Of course, if you are an MBA from Wharton, the story is entirely different - you can earn a lot. But then you are stuck for 5 yeears or more paying off the student loans.
That is why the rate of savings I mentioned above is pretty much the standard for an IT employee - 5 lakhs if you are normal to 9 lakhs if you live shoestring and are a bachelor.

Now let us say I have spent 5 to 8 years in the USA. I have saving of around 25 lakhs to 60 lakhs. I plan to buy a house in Chennai. Would I buy the 1.2 crore one in Adyar or even the apartment in Siruseri?

Unlikely. The reason is that NRIs are as conscious about their investments as a resident of Chennai. For 1.2 crores, I can buy a good condominium in downtown Boston or Philadelphia. To imagine that Chennai as a city with no public infrastructure and no standardized property rates and even less security can command such a price is absurd. If I am an NRI and I see that I could be paying the same price for an apartment in Chennai as I am in Philadelphia, I would buy the one in Philadelphia.

I have always suspected that the NRI rationale given by realtors is a smokescreen to keep hiking their prices. None of my friends in the USA have bought property in India. If I was still there, I would not either. The problem is the realtors know that nobody is going to actually fact check their stories. Do people really believe that NRIs are ready to blow their money on crappy houses in Chennai?

The issue is also that as a very intrusive culture, Indians make it a matter of habit to be familiar with other people's pay. But, because of the prestige associated with being an NRI, nobody really reveals what their pay is in the USA. Even if your pay is high, you got to live there - and you got to spend money there. Thus people are completely unaware of the true savings. NRIs are not living in the USA JUST for the savings. There is also a quality of living that you pay for and enjoy.

This is ofcourse not true for everybody - there are a few who strike it rich. But if they do, they prefer to stay there.

One related issue is that people see a reason for this insane rise in real estate costs - they say, "Oh, this is India Shining, of course! When the economy grows, this is what happens!". That is, they say that we should all be happy about this because what is happening is a natural consequence of our economic growth. Is this true?
There is no direct correlation between a growth in economy and real estate prices - in the USA, during the recession from 2001 - 2004, real estate prices were actually going up! That is, even though the economy was down, property values were increasing. The reverse is happening now - even though the US economy is doing well, real estate is going down.
Even in India, the total growth in economy over the last two years is around 15% -meanwhile real estate prices have doubled - that is a 100% increase in costs for a 15% rise in GDP. What sense does this make?

The truth is that realtors are completely speculating and randomly pushing up the costs - while blaming the economy or NRIs. A speculation driven cost rise is nothing to be cheerful about. We need to understand that Markets require regulation - and the Indian state is really weak in regulation.

Sunday, September 09, 2007

Vettayadu Vilayadu and Shivaji

This is probably a late review; but it is prompted because of a discussion I had at work. I thought Vettayadu Vilayadu was a worse movie than Shivaji and it prompted some criticism. I will explain why I think so here.
I like Kamal Hasan - I think he is a great actor; my respect for him increased after watching Virumaandi. In this essay, I am not criticising Kamal - I am criticising Goutam Menon, the director of Vettayadu Vilayadu released in 2006.
In an interview to Vijay TV after the release of the movie, Goutam claimed that Tamil movies should go international. I had no idea what he meant by that - but it raised a red flag for me. He was obviously proud of his movie and he should not be.
Movie analysts say that a movie viewer gives 15 minutes to a director to make his case - the first 15 minutes of a movie a director has to basically get "buy-in" from the viewer regarding the theme.
Take the movie "Matrix". Extraordinary fights happen within the first 5 minutes. The viewer sees a woman killing 5 police men using unbelievable acrobatics. If the movie went on like that there would have been no difference between it and "Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon" and hundred other Kung-Fu movies. But in the next 10 minutes the viewer is introduced to "Mr.Anderson" and the white rabbit and it is clear that the movie involves something close to the super natural and that an explanation will be forthcoming. The director now has the viewer intrigued and following his lead.
Now, if you took the fights in "Matrix" and made it a part of a movie such as "Mudhalvan" ("Nayak" in Hindi) you are taking a risk - because there is no explanation for why the hero is able to fly around in a movie in which otherwise everything is normal.
I have seen people watch the "Matrix" and then justify weird fights in Tamil or Hindi movies - including Rajinikanth or Vijaykanth movies. In "Matrix - Reloaded", Keanu Reeves fights with a hundred Smiths. BUT, the Matrix has an explanation.
That is, a movie has to be "internally consistent". The challenge is not to apply some kind of universal logic to a movie story - the challenge is that you create an internal logic that can help the viewer appreciate a movie. This is why "The Lord of the Rings" can be accepted as a good fantasy movie - it has a very good internal logical framework. I could not accept the "Chronicles of Narnia" because the director could not justify the reason why the kids in that movie were special.
This is also why people can accept certain kind of movies from Rajinikanth and not from Kamal Hasan. But more on that later.
The argument about Vettayadu Vilayadu was that Goutam Menon had introduced the genre of serial killing in Tamil movies. Therefore, in spite of its flaws, we should accept it. My friend's point was that we cannot compare it with serial killer movies in English - as a Tamil movie it was good enough.
I rejected this argument. First, there HAD been very good serial killer movies created in Tamil before - "Sigappu Rojakkal", "Nooravadhu Naal" and "Moodu Pani" come to mind. Thus Goutam is definitely not "introducing" a genre to the Tamil audience. Plus, the Tamil audience judges a movie on its own merits - we do not need to extend our thanks to a director just because he decides to "introduce" something to us out of pity.
(As an aside, there is this director Sanjay Gupta who copies Korean movies frame by frame to Hindi. He wants to be known as India's Tarantino, but unfortunately he is just a copy cat. Some of his supporters claim that he does a favor to us by "introducing" Korean movies to us. But of course, he could have done that as easily by buying distributing rights and dubbing them. Instead, he is trying to make money out of somebody else's story. That is thievery, not altruism.)

Internal Logic
The more important reason why I reject "Vettayadu Vilayadu" is because it completely violates any internal logic. Goutam shows his hero to be a completely normal person; shows very realistic shots; prepares us for a good detective story in the first 15 minutes; but then completely destroys it all by showing us the "Raghavan Instinct". This instinct lets Kamal find dead bodies buried anywhere. There is no explanation for his "instinct" - it is just hanging there.
The Raghavan Instinct is used repeatedly along with his sheer luck. In the final chase, Kamal just happens upon the bad guy while driving randomly around Chennai - what the hell?
Also, Goutam heavily depends upon shock value - I have never seen a serial killer movie in which they decsribe their whole childhood and every gory act they did. He overextends the shock value by casting the two bad guys as homosexuals. I could not understand why they were attacking women and raping them if they are homosexuals - Goutam should have had his facts straight. Apart from reinforcing the stereotypes about eunuchs and homosexuals, the movie did not enlighten us about anything.

Shivaji and the lack of logic
This whole thread is completely subjective of course.
Many reviewers have criticised the movie Shivaji for lack of logic. In the online threads there was heavy criticism of the movie and its fans.
Rajini movies are still very popular, I believe, for a good reason. I watched the movie "Anniyan" and hated it for its lack of logic. But, I could watch Shivaji and so could many people around the world. The reason is tied in with the "internal logic" I described above.
The director is trying to get "buy-in" from the viewers for a movie - but he has several resources for getting that buy-in. In the case of a Rajini movie, Tamil audience pretty much accept that Rajini movies show impossible, hard-to-believe fight scenes. They accept this even though they know that they will not accept this from other actors. What is the reason for this latitude given to Rajini? I believe it has been created over the years, mainly in the late nineties. It is also tied in with the several urban legends about Rajini - that he has more power and pull than Jayalaitha or Karunanidhi. he does have a larger-than-life image and people are WILLING to carry that into the movie theater.
I think Rajini himself understands this. He is humble as it is and has not bothered to hide his true self (unlike Vijaykanth).
So you see perfectly educated people walk into a movie hall and are able to buy a Rajini movie's story merely because he is in it. This is the fact and many movie personalities are clear about it. I am not sure that I am comfortable about this level of adulation for a person, but my point is that there is a perfectly rational explanation for the success of Rajini movies - an explanation that is common to every movie audience around the world.
If Kamal acted in a movie in which he moves his finger and a hundred people fly around, nobody will watch it. Does this mean Kamal is a lesser personality? I don't think so - the public image of Kamal as a realistic movie maker and actor carries forward when we watch his movies. He can be proud of that.

Sunday, September 02, 2007

A Nation of Perceptions

A few months back, I was in Bangalore. The city had decided to extend the timeline of bars from 11:30 PM to 1:30 AM. Times Of India had invited opinions on the extension. I read a letter supporting the extension thus: Bangalore was becoming a global city. That meant we have to behave like a global city - one of the characteristics is an active night life. So we have to encourage such a night life by keeping the bars open.

Over the course of the last few years I have seen this kind of weird arguments gaining ground. It was as if someone had suddenly given a title "Global City" to Bangalore and so Bangaloreans had to behave in certain ways. It did not matter that let alone Bangalore, NONE of the cities in India are truly developed or "Global" (whatever that means). To be considered devloped you need a measure of security; a good life for the citizens; truly accountable and representative city councils; vibrant community activism and so on. The writer of that letter, instead thought the other way round - if we behaved as citizens of developed cities do and we looked similar to them in costume and we spoke like them and ate like them, then we are automatically "Global".

India has become a nation of perceptions - our policy makers, media and intellectual elite have diverted our attention from true problems and focussed on correcting perceptions. For example, the concern about the state of our airports. The reason people worry about them is because white people land in them; God forbid they get the wrong opinion. So we try to erase slums near airports. Meanwhile, has anyone taken a look at the public busstands? Or train stations? Shouldn't some money be spent on them also? Yet everybody have raised the state of our airports to be a primary concern.
The whole India Shining campaign of the BJP Govt. is another example.
The belief is that we do not have systemic problems; that we need to do little other than rebrand ourselves. When you keep comparing a nation to a corporate structure, this is what happens - you focus on advertising and rebranding and not so much on the real issues facing us.

Bollywood is of course, a classic case study in this respect. Back in 2000 there was a big buzz about Bollywood going corporate and professional. They talked about how everyone now focussed on the "script" and how people expected Powerpoint presentation s on the script! 7 years later, Bollywood is in the worst rut it can be in. It is all style (that too cheesy) and no substance. The reason is that rebranding and marketing are not enough to correct the issues with Bollywood - they need a thorough overhaul. One of the problems (as in our political system) is the rise of the star dynasties. The other is that new talent never makes it in. And of course, they are focussing on the wrong audience (NRIs).

For a country as old and as new as ours, there are plenty of problems that need to be solved. We need to be debating why the educational outlay in our budget is so low (meanwhile our defense budget keeps growing). Instead, here we are discussing how long bars need to be kept open so that we can call ourselves "Global".

Saturday, August 18, 2007

Why I broke up with Ilayaraja

(Updated below)
Update I:
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Original post below:
I think it was the year 1994. The movie "Bombay" had just been released. There were thick patriotic feelings in the air. Rumors were that Mani Ratnam had "fixed" the movie to appease the Shiv Sena.
Around this time, in Tamil Nadu, there was another kind of fight brewing. I got the first inkling of this polarising divide that was splitting the unity of the Tamils in a barber shop.
There were four of us in the shop. The shop owner had the radio on. A song from an older movie (I think "Indha Minminikku") was being played. One of the guys just had his hair cut and was leaving. He stopped to enjoy the song and then said, "Ilayaraja is the best".
Another customer suggested that Ilayaraja's time was gone. To which the first guy said every music item EVER created was copied from Ilayaraja.
Soon the two guys were close to blows when the owner of the shop, a Keralite, got in and defended Rahman. He had the shaving knife and scissors in his hand - so the argument that day ended right there.
But the argument continued in millions of households and barbershops and tea shops around Tamil Nadu. Rahman and Ilayaraja themselves pretended the other person did not exist. I remember watching an interview in which Ilayaraja suggested that he was delivering a full feast while the public were going for fast food.

In the year 1992, during the Independence day special television show, I heard the song "Chinna Chinna Aasai" from the movie "Roja". That was the first time I was hearing it - I was completely enchanted. The next day, the whole college was discussing that song and Rahman. Over the next couple of years, particularly with the movie "Gentleman", we were all firmly in Rahman's camp.
I think whatever music you hear and like when you are in college sticks with you for the rest of your life. It is a wish for those heady days to come back. I still cannot countenance any criticism of Rahman, even though I myself see his weaknesses now - that his music is impossible to hum or repeat, with its multiple layers; that his music overshadows the lyrics so arrogantly; that he refuses to get rid of Udit Narayan; that his music rarely fits the mood of a movie and stands alone.
I like Ilayaraja a lot now, particularly after FM radio has rediscovered him. I sense a calm in his music that is inspiring. The movie "Bharathi" in the year 2000 was a turning point for him - his music for Bharathiyar's "Nirpadhuve Nadapadhuve" exctly reflected Bharathi's tragic life and the mood of the movie.
I tuned off Ilayaraja after college for a few years; that had nothing to do with his music or the arrival of Rahman. I felt that Ilayaraja had personally cheated me and my friends in college. This is the story of why I broke up with Ilayaraja.

Around the year 1991, the movie "Keladi Kanmani" was released. The promos for that movie were all ecstatic about a song, sung by S.P.Balasubramanian. The two stanzas of the song, "Mannil Indha Kaadhal" were reputed to have been sung by him without taking a breath (or losing a breath if you are a pessimist). We all went and saw the movie (after "taking permission" from college). It was True! He sang it without breathing and they mention that in the movie!
Me and my friends went to college the next day and could not contain our excitement. If SPB, who was atleast 50 kilos overweight could sing that, all of us young athletes should be able to, right?
Wrong, as it turned out.
Every afternoon after lunch all of us got together and one by one tried the stanza (starting with "Vennilavum Ponni Nadhiyum"). The first person to try went upto the third line and then exhaled loudly and started coughing.
While all my foolish friends were trying it I was secretly smiling. I had practiced breath exercises that morning and was confident of outdoing SPB.
My turn came; I drew a huge breath and then sang the way Vinu Chakravarthy speaks. Forget it, my goal was not to render a melodious song. My goal was just to blurt out the words, one by one by one of this awful...awfulll......
My friends were laughing their butts off as I rolled around in the grass drawing in huge gulps of Oxygen.
Thereafter we tried again and again. In a couple of weeks, Ilayaraja came on TV and said he had scored other breathless songs before such as "Kanmaniye Kaadhal Yenbadhu" from the movie "Aaril Irundhu Arubadhu Varai". This sent us into a frenzy. We started doing Yoga. Someone suggested we could sing it if we were doubled over, facing the earth. We tried that (we were all Physics students by the way). We tried closing our noses ourselves; had others close them. Someone suggested trying women's voice. We completely forgot the original goal and tried just SAYING the words without breathing.
We failed.
It scarred us permanently. (Actually we moved on - there was a new hottie in college).
Anyway after a couple more years of college, all of us went our own ways and we forgot all about that song that nobody could sing.

5 years later
There was an interview by SPB in TV. I was watching it. SPB said the song "Mannil Indha" was NOT sung breathless - it was edited to sound that way.
I got enraged. I threw the TV remote to a remote corner and called up my only college friend in contact - Veera Raghavan.
I yelled, "Dude, they cheated us"
Veera heard my screams patiently and then said, "I knew all along"
"What? You knew and did not tell me? Why were we trying all that time?"
"It was fun".

I was in shock for a few days. When I recovered, I decided I would not sing Ilayaraja songs in the bathroom anymore.
We were SO over.

Sunday, July 22, 2007

Corporate Idiocy

I have always believed that corporations are no less infallible than individuals. In this post let me cite an instance.
One of my friends (a graphic designer) who is looking for work received an email from a company. Let us call it company V. The email was courteous (although somewhat commanding). It said they had seen my friend's resume in a job portal. They wanted him to send in his work samples and resume. Everything is fine till this point.
Then they go nuts - apparently they want to make sure that by supplying the work samples, the candidate cannot claim Intellectual Property later on. In the world of software this is not a problem - but, for Graphic Designers it is - because they supply actual image samples.
So, to protect themselves, the company sends a legal form of incredible complexity for EVERY candidate who is even thinking about applying.
I quote a few excerpts from this monstrous legalese:

You acknowledge and agree that any and all controversies arising out of or in any way relating to the Material submitted by you to “Company” shall be settled by final and binding arbitration, which will take place in Bangalore pursuant to the Indian Arbitration Act, 1996. At the request of either party, the arbitrators, attorneys, parties to the arbitration, witnesses, experts, or other persons present at the arbitration shall agree in writing to maintain the strict confidentiality of the arbitration proceedings. The arbitration shall be conducted by a single, neutral arbitrator, or, at the election of either “Company” or you, three neutral arbitrators, appointed in accordance with the applicable rules referred to above. The Laws of India Any proceeding that you may choose to bring shall be initiated within six (6) months after the date of first use by “Company” of the Material. 8. You shall, at your own expense, indemnify “Company” from and against any claim, suit, or action brought against “Company” by third parties for infringement or misappropriation of a third party's copyright, national or international patent, or trade secret right by any Material provided by You to “Company” and shall pay any damages or settlement assessed against “Company” under such a claim.

Most of us cannot even understand words such as "misappropriation" or "indemnify" - these people are seriously expecting potential candidates to sign this and return it.
Me and my friend had a hearty laugh over this. He chose not to apply - he thought they would get worse if he got selected, requiring him to sign his property over.

A Dacoit named Dadua

Rediff says here that the UP Police (best Police in India, as Vijaykanth would say) has killed a dacoit named Dadua.
Dadua was based somewhere near the Chambal, is my guess. My first reaction was:"Aren't they building apartment complexes there?".
Second was "His name was Dadua??!" Whatever happened to the really scary names such as Gabbar Singh? All that Dadua reminds me of is milk powder.
Upon further research I found that his real name was Shiv Kumar Patel - he was a Patel! Apparently disillusioned with the stock market and the hectic life in Mumbai, he stepped out to UP and became a dacoit. That is still a career option over there.
The first thing he did was rebranding - whoever heard of a dacoit named Shiv Kumar Patel? So he hired KPMG who ofcourse came up with "Dadua".
The UP police have caught him after 35 years of searching; he was close to dying of old age.
He is apparently the worst dacoit after Veerappan - now we can have a North-South fight over who was the better dacoit.

Thursday, July 19, 2007

Civil Liberties and the State

I just got an email that a magistrate has ordered this:
Companies in the Chennai IT Corridor are required to issue ID cards to all their employees. Intelligence Bureau will do surprise checks. Anyone not having an ID card in an organization will be questioned.

Let us pause and think about this: IB apparently has the rights to walk into private property and question people not wearing an ID.
Doesn't it seem to the magistrate that this is a gross violation of civil liberties? We are NOT at a state of internal emergency. I am a peace loving citizen more in danger from being killed by one of the crazy drivers of Chennai than by a terrorist attack. Why am I being questioned at my work place??

Why does just the threat of terror attacks make us cower in the basement and abandon our rights to a free life - when we drink poisoned water, pesticidal cool drinks and breath the incredibly polluted air of IT corridor?
None of the companies in IT corridor are going to protest this - yet such violations are frequent by the Indian State. We require ID and address proof for Pre-Paid phones - because apparently terrorists use pre-paid phones. Meanwhile getting an address proof in this country requires multiple rounds of bribery. Or you got to "know" people.

The problem is, the rights of a constitutional liberal democracy have never permeated the minds of Indian voters - particularly the educated class. The standrad argument is that we need protection. My question is, how much of your liberties will you sacrifice for that protection? And what exactly are we protecting here? Isn't it supposed to be our freedom? Or if we are convinced that protection of our lives overrides every other consideration (our constitution and its writers think otherwise) - then let us declare martial law and live under perpetual fear.

If someone paid attention to the spiralling rise of traffic related deaths, it may cause more security, than these measures.

Friday, June 01, 2007

Psychology 101

A few days back I was sitting in Hotel Sangeeths. I noticed a girl with a weird hairdo behaving oddly. People were sitting in a corner chair and she would walk past it again and again. Someone went to wash their hands and she tried to take their seat. She would not look at anybody and the hotel staff had to tell her to wait.
I was irritated by her behavior and initially thought she was rude. Then I saw her again another day, again trying to take that seat. Slowly I realized she must be suffering from some mental disorder.
Now, when I say this, I do not mean any disrespect. I feel sorry for her and hope people understand her behavior. Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) or other such mental disorders ruin the lives of a good percentage of a population at any time. Most of them affect young people (15-35). They take away the productive years of a young person.
I had always been interested in psychology as a discipline - ever since I read about Freud and the science of psychoanalysis. I have some information I have accumulated over time and I would like to share it with you. I assure you that I am not a "psycho" myself; and I am also just an amateur.

The Subconscious, Ego and SuperEgo
Freud's theory (refined later) postulates that humans develop a subconscious very early in their lives. We are NOT aware of it in our adult lives. But, our experiences (in childhood and later) filter down, like water through earth and become stored in the subconscious. Our actions, much later in life, get subtly influenced by the subconscious (although we are not aware of that influence).
For example, in your childhood, let us say you have been abused by your father. He beats you up regularly for trivial reasons such as not doing homework or asking for some candy. This filters into your subconscious. Later on, in life, you will likely not able to negotiate with anybody. Let us say you board an autorickshaw and try to negotiate with the driver. Your subconscious will cower at the sight of any adult and prevent you from negotiating a fair price. You also may not be able to negotiate with your boss about your salary.
Now, the suggestion that there IS a subconscious is revolutionary - it is similar to Pasteur's discovery of germs invisible to the eye.
As you grow up, religious and other social rules take over and form another layer in your mind called the Superego. The Superego forces you to obey certain rules and behaves like a parent. In between the Subconscious and the Superego is the Ego - this is your identity (Id). The Ego is the true adult and it is buffeted on either side by the Subconscious and the Superego.
Frued also went on to explain the sexual desires and influence of primal instincts on the human psyche but that is out of scope here.

How to know the subconscious
For a well-adjusted life, there is not much need to explore the subconscious. But, unfortunately, most of us do not get the chance for such a life, thanks to experiences during childhood or adolescence. Psychologists use different methods to tease out the subconscious.
One of them is shown in the movie, "The Sixth Sense". This is the technique of free association. Basically you cannot consciously explore the subconscious. There is a barrier built in the mind - for your own good. Sometimes, that barrier breaks.
In free association, get some pen and paper and start writing randomly without thinking of anything in particular. As you proceed, certain words and sentences may appear - and these offer hints to the trained doctor about your subconscious. Do not try to interpret this yourself. There is no need to do this unless a doctor asks you to.

Another technique described in the classic novel "Flowers for Algernon" is interesting. The patient is asked to lie down and just allow their mind to wander. As it keeps wandering, it reaches a point where the mind goes blank - completely. That blank is the mental wall in your mind. You are standing before the wall and beyond it is the subconscious. Normally at this point, nothing happens - you turn back. But, rarely, the wall breaks down. The subconscious allows a peak within. When that heppens, a flood of thoughts from long back, deep down flow to the top. Sometimes they help you understand the real motivations for your actions.

Directions in Psychology
Psychology originated primarily as a study of the subconscious; and its "cures" were performed through therapy. But mental disorders such as OCD and schizophrenia are treated by administering medicines. The reason is that over the last century these problems have been associated with certain chemicals in the brain. You CANNOT treat OCD or schizophrenia or Somatic disorders merely through therapy or "positive thinking" although they show up as problems in thoughts. For example, somatic disorders cause recurring, uncontrollable thoughts about inflicting pain on oneself. To a normal person, these seem like an issue of the mind than the brain. But more and more such disorders are treated using medicines and only such treatment can cure these disorders. Modern medicine has reduced the side effects from these medicines largely. It is no use trying to cure OCD or somatic disorders by meditating or such "mind control" techniques.

But behavioral therapy for many problems of behavior are still used effectively.
That is, although there are many disorders that are cured by medicine, there are also problems that can be cured by exploring your past and your responses to situations. The determination of which problems need medicine and which do not can ONLY be made by a trained doctor. When the doctor suggests medicine, there is no point in resisting it.

Behavioral Therapy
ALmost everyone in the world can benefit from psychotherapy. Large corporations in the West have inhouse therapists with whom an employee can discuss their personal and work issues at any time.
The former Chief Minister of Tamil nadu, J.Jayalalitha, at one point hired a psychotherapist for members of the legislature. This led to some protests. The fact is this was a very progressive move.
It has become common practice to measure the number of mental health professionals per thousand people in a country.
Seeing a therapist does not:
1. Make you crazy.
2. Make you dependent on them.
The science of behavioral therapy basically says that "errors" in thinking lead to errors in behavior. It does not try to stop you from thinking thoughts. Working with a therapist, you can realize how these errors crept in over time and deal with it by being aware. The purpose of psychotherapy is to make you self-aware.

For example, let us say that in your childhood, you were beaten up by a drunk parent regularly. Let us say these beatings had no reason and did not follow any pattern. Over time, the child tries to relate a cause to these beatings. But, there is no real cause. Therefore the child loses the thread between cause and effect; and also starts ascribing a false cause - that he is so bad that he can be beaten without reason.

When grown up, this person may feel insecure and may not have self-worth or an identity. Working with a therapist can make them aware that their father was the original cause and thus restore self-worth.
Restoring and building up an identity is a major job of therapists and the surprising fact is it can be done even after you are an adult.

Childhood and the effects of Parenting
Please note that I have given multiple examples of mistreatment as a child. This does not mean that any minor childhood incident will destroy a child. Different people have different responses. If abuse is consistent, it will have an effect.
This also does not mean that you cannot constrain a child in any way. Being aware of society and its rules is a big part of an identity. Your child's psyche will not suffer just because you denied him/her permission to go play in the sun.
It is the parents' responsibility to make sure a child is well-behaved and that can be done without abusing. Whenever you discipline a child, make sure that he/she understands the causes of censure.

Psychology and Religion
Psychotherapists do recommend meditation sometimes. But the relationship between religion and psychoanalysis is tense.

One of the main ways that religious thought differs from modern psychology is this: All religions emphasize that you should control your thoughts; that you should root out bad thoughts and channel your thoughts.
Psychology says this is impossible to do and an absurd goal to attain. There is no need to feel guilty about your thoughts.
This, of course, is glaring when you come to sex. Suppressing sexual thoughts is unhealthy. Celibacy during adolescence, which many religions advocate, is pointless and can lead to problems in your mind, according to psychiatric theory.
We also have to realize that many people cannot worship or meditate at all because of disorders such as OCD. Their brain prevents them from concentrating. There is no reason to feel guilty about that.
Psychotherapists view a strongly religious childhood or adolescence as not healthy.
Just as religion stepped away from a theory of origin or of a theory of evolution, it should also step away from mind control and a theory of the mind.

When a close relative died a few months back, I experienced a lack of motivation for some time. I was not enthusiastic about work and felt there were deep questions about "Life and Its Purpose" that I was missing. At that point I spoke with a friend of mine. He had a background in psychology and actually had gone through a brief period of depression.
He explained that whenver you get questions about Purpose in Life - do not think you have suddenly become wise. Our mind is wired to ignore such questions for a reason. If you do get such persistent questions, it is more likely you are under depression.
Depression is a word we use commonly to mean we feel blue - but it has a specific meaning in psychology. It is normal to feel depressed when you face a setback or are ill for some period. It is NOT normal if this continues over 2 or 3 months. If it does, you need help. Clinical Depression is a psychological condition that can be treated with mdeicine. You can stop the medicine after a few months usually.
There are a list of symptoms for depressions such as appetite change or not feeling motivated.
I was fine after a month and got back my motivation.

Psychotherapy and Indian Society
As I said earlier, a healthy society recognizes the need for mental health. And proactively provides therapy. For juvenile delinquents and young offenders, a program of building self-awareness and self-worth is key. Research has proved this.
In India there needs to be better awareness of mental health as essential as physical health. Depending on "positive thoughts" to cure is pointless.

Psychotherapy and the Workplace
We often deal with aggressive people at work. We face conflict situations. We may not get promotion at a certain time or may be denied a raise. All of these are unique problems that we face at the workplace. There have been known instances of an employee attempting suicide after having been passed over for a promotion.

The core idea in psychotherapy is to follow natural behavior. It is natural to be upset about a promotion. If you feel very upset, talk to someone in your family or at work.
One of the common cliches is that you should forget about work when you reach home. This is absurd. Your spouse is your best friend and there is nothing wrong in ranting to your husband or wife.
It also helps to have a person at work whom you can confide in. If you have a superior whom you do not like, and you have a colleague who is a friend, feel completely free to discuss the superior with your colleague (provided you trust him/her). It is a very good practice to have a support system at work - a network of friends.
In a corporation it is common for management to expect very high fidelity or loyalty. I have always felt that much of management logic is contrary to human nature. Remember that loyalty should be deserved.
If someone is over aggressive at work, keeping in mind that they could be insecure will help. Make sure you do NOT enable over-agressiveness. Be aware of where you draw a line. For example, there is no need to smile and nod to a superior who uses swear words.

Remember the Tamil movie "Kaadhal Kondein" in which the final line is "everyone has a psycho within them"? Although that movie was good, the final line spoiled it for me - there is nothing called a "psycho" and it is definitely not in everyone. There is a much better treatment in the movie "Analyze This". A ganglord develops psychiatric issues and a therapist successfully treats him.
If you have a relative who has a mental disorder, be aware that they are probably suffering from a problem similar to a wound in the physical body. It is not fair to laugh at them or to insist that they are just "arrogant" and need some smacking (I have actually heard people say this).
Also be aware that visiting a therapist once a month is a good idea in case you have problems in your personal life or professional life. If your boss upsets you and workplace is unbearable or you are not motivated at work - go talk to a therapist. They are your best friends.

Friday, May 11, 2007

My trip to Coorg

When me and my wife discussed going somewhere far from civilization, we did not expect that all our wishes will be answered this fast and this accurately.
The Coorg district of Karnataka is north-west of Mysore. We reached there by taking the train to Bangalore and then catching a bus from there to Madikeri (6 hours). The buses are easily available, even during peak season. Madikeri is the biggest town in Coorg and is also known by the English name - Mercara.
The district is in the middle of the Western Ghats; does not have any railway tracks in it; and is also known as Kodagu Nadu. The region has a rich history (of kings fighting other kings mostly) and is the first area in India where Coffee was planted. It still is known for its coffee estates.
General Cariappa was from Coorg - the region is known for its military service. The indigenuous people of Coorg are a minority now in their own district. At one point they had their own country, requiring a visa to get in from Karnataka, apparently. Then God punished them by making them a part of Karnataka.
Their way of life is fast disappearing.
Anyway, it is better to reserve a hotel before getting to Madikeri. Even in peak season (summer months) Madikeri is not very crowded - yet reserve your room just to be sure.

Where to Stay
There are a number of hotels -
Hotel Coorg International - rates vary from Rs.3000 to Rs.4500 per night. You do not need AC in Madikeri - it is cooool, even in summer.
Orange County Resorts - This is 5 star and somehow charge Rs.12000 per night! They are nuts.
I stayed at a resort recommended by one my friends - Capitol Village. The rates are Rs.1200 per night.

How long to stay
The one question you may have is how long to stay in Coorg. Now that depends on your goal in life. Let me explain:
Basically in life, there are two kinds of people - those who go to vacation areas and want to SEE everything. They get a kick out of dragging their spouses along and SEEING. They don't want to miss a single notable place. When they come back after vacation, they hate it when someone points out they have not visited the place where the King went to toilet. They are thorough - they get a guide book and tick off items with marker pens.
They also cannot stay at any place after they have SEEN everything.
For such people, the entire Coorg district can be covered in a couple of days. Start at breakfast and by 7PM you can come home deeply exhausted but satisfied that you did not miss the King's concubine's horse stable.
Now the other category involves people like me - I like to go on vacation and SLEEP. That is my idea of a good vacation - a nice bed. I would travel hundreds of miles and spend thousands reaching that bed; but that is what I look forward to - a bed.
Whatever unique places are near that bed (such as the Niagara Falls) are purely incidental. They just happened to be close to the bed and I may peek at them. But only if I had enough sleep.
So, I can stay at Madikeri for 4-5 days because it is the best place to sleep.

Our Adventures in Coorg
Capitol Village is 6 km from Madikeri. I was sure that the auto guy was going to kill us and take our belongings when he turned off the dark road into a darker non-road. But deep in that path lay the resort of Capitol Village.
Our room was facing a valley - we could barely see it in the night; but early morning, it was obvious - it was a deep valley, surrounded by hills. The hills had mist on them. Our room was in the middle of a jungle. The consequences of this unfolded later.

On the first day we went to Abbi Falls. On the way we were taken to the Raja's Tomb. This Tomb has a weird architecture. Actually, the Omkareshwar temple also is weird. Basically because the Coorg was ruled by Hindus, and these Hindus were heavily influenced by Muslim architecture, the temple and the tomb both have minarets - like a mosque. I thought this could be a great scene for some future Maniratnam movie, where everybody joins their hands together and proclaim love for India.
By the way, it seems the Raja fought Tipu Sultan. That is right - he is one of the bad guys in the television serial.

We also went to the Raja's Seat. I was puzzled by the name of this landmark. I expected that the Raja had some kind of huge chair and I did not want to waste time looking at furniture and the Royal bottom's impressions on said furniture. But, it turned out this is a scenic park which overlooks a beautiful valley encircled by the Ghats. We sat in a bench looking at the valley for a long time and left when I started expressing interest in sleeping in the Raja's Seat.
When we were in the park, we noticed some Tibetan monks around. They wore the distinctive red and orange robes. Then we went to a hotel to have lunch and the monks were there too, munching on Aloo Parotta. I was curious about this invasion of the Monks until I found that in KushalNagar (a town on the way to Madikeri), there is a Tibetan Golden Temple. We never saw it but have it marked for the next time.
Madikeri also has a Fort. We unforunately took the wrong way into the Fort and landed by the Central Jail of Madikeri. We were turning back and I saw a few very old iron vessels lying around and commented to my wife about the historically antique material in the fort. She pointed out they were rusted cement mixers and probably were only as "antique" as fifty years.
Abbi Falls did not have much water because of summer - but the pathway to reach it was beautiful. I wish they had provided an easy way to get down to the falls. You have to slide down a steep slope to reach it and by the time you are down there, you are forced to bath because you are all dirty.

The fauna of the Tropics
That night we lost electric power. The room was closed and hot and we came out and sat in the verandah overlooking the balcony. It was raining outside, with lightning and thunder. It was pitch dark and we heard sounds very similar to the ones you hear in Jurassic Park. I was convinced that a Ty Rex was heading our way.
We found that there were different insects and birds that like to scare the hell out of humans. One of them, for example, liked just knocking the tree branch next to us. He would knock all day and all night.
There was also the weird, guttural "Khooooo Khoooo" insect. This guy pretended he was looking for his mate, but it was obvious he was doing it just to keep us awake.
One of the insects sounded like my grandfather's snoring.
This is the extent of my naturalist knowledge.

So, I had always been excited to see the place, the very source from which the river Cauvery originates. The idea excited me a lot - and I had seen the river Thamiraparany's origin in Vaana Theertham (Tirunelveli).
We hired a taxi and went towards TalaCauvery.
We travelled along very quiet, narrow Ghat roads and reached, on the way to TalaCauvery, a town called Bhagamandala - the town that they said had a Thriveni Sangam (where three rivers meet). Now the term Thriveni Sangam is heavily abused because Hindus just flock to these places and start praying and pleasing their ancestors. The famous Thriveni Sangam is in Allahabad where the Ganga, the Yamuna and the invisible Saraswati meet and then flow forward as Ganga. Thriveni mania has gotten to such an extent that now if three small canals meet, people call it Thriveni Sangam.
Now, I hate to break it to the dear residents of Bhagamandala - but what you got is not a Thriveni Sangam. At best you got a TwoVeni Sangam (ha ha). Because there are three branches ONLY - that means two of them are combining into another and that is definitely TwoVeni.
The three "rivers" are:
Cauvery, Kannika and Sujyothi. Either Cauvery is formed by Kannika and Sujyothi (which means TalaCauvery is a scam) or Cauvery disappears into one of these rivers, in which case we got a major naming problem.
After successfully mathematically explaining this to my wife, I went to explain this to the brahmin priest who was handling the ancestors. My wife intervened and dragged me away.

Then we started climbing the road to TalaCauvery. TalaCauvery is 8 kms from Bhagamandala; and you can take a bus from Madikeri to Bhagamandala and then take a taxi from there. Hiring a taxi directly from Madikeri to TalaCauvery and back cost us Rs.1200.
As we climbed, at around 3000 feet, I saw this sign that showed a monkey and said "Do not tease the animals".
I was excited to know there were animals around and informed my wife.
Then at 3500 feet, there was a sign that had a bison in it and said, "Sanctuary".
I was still more excited, and I told my wife that Karnataka was very environment conscious.
Then at 4000 feet, one km from TalaCauvery, I saw a sign that showed a Tiger and said "Protect the Tiger" and I freaked out.
I was like, "Let us just turn back and leave. There are tigers around".
I mean, they should have put these signs in reverse. If I had seen the tiger sign in Bhagamandala, I would never have come up. These Kannadigas are crafty.
And then we saw the temple of Cauvery. It was beautifully situated and was white with marble. Unfortunately the Karnataka Tourism department has decided they want to "enhance" the tourism "potential" and so they are there with heavy earth equipment spoiling the whole area. The tank where Cauvery is born had very little dirty water and I thought that was construction water. The priest there said that was Cauvery.
Right behind the temple are a steep series of 400 steps going up to a peak. We climbed up there and found the climb enchanting. Mist and clouds were moving in and we were actually standing among clouds. The temple was far below and the whole basin of cauvery was beautiful.
On the way down the steep steps, we saw some dung. I cannot imagine that a cow climbed all the way up there -I think that was tiger dung and the tiger was probably coming back to cover it up.
You should definitely visit TalaCauvery.

The Decision
I was enjoying coorg immensely. I could write, read a lot (I finished a classy book called "The Remains of the Day" there). It was all good, and I planned to spend two more days there.
But then we were walking along this small lake in Capitol Village and enjoying the peace, the unification with the Soul of the World..when something broke next to us and THOUSANDS of little insects started swarming towards us. These were hatched by the rain the previous day.
We reacted as the Marines did in "Black Hawk Down" - I screamed "Go, Go, Go" and we ran like crazy with our eyes closed and hands slapping the insects crashing into us. My wife was trying to cover both her ears and at the same time slap the insects and run - it was hugely comical and any person from a distance (who could not see the insects) must have thought we were released from the local asylum.
We ran and then reached the door of our room, ready to burst in and stopped short: There was a HUGE BLACK SPIDER sitting on our door.
I screamed. My wife stepped up and aimed a wild kick at the spider and fell down. I caught her and by the time we recovered - the spider was gone. That is, it disappeared.
We had no idea where it went. It could have gone into our room, and even now could be plotting its way out from our bags in Chennai. Or, as we prefer to think, it got scared on seeing our lack of enough legs and went back to Mordor.
Anyway, the next day we were out of Coorg. We will go back there definitely, though.

Thursday, April 19, 2007

Rats like my books!

A few days back, I was working in my home. It was midnight and the clock below struck twelve. I felt an eye on me...basically a "presence". You know that creepy feeling.
I turned suddenly to catch what I expected was a ghostly apparition floating around. Instead there was a small rat staring at me. The rat was not particularly upset at being caught redhanded. He just twitched his moustache as if to say, "Whazzup", and then turned leisurely and walked away. I am serious - I have always seen rats running around like crazy but this guy was a well-adjusted rat.
I yelled for my protector, my wife. She woke up; said she had seen the rat a couple of times walking around. I was mad at her for not killing him; she said if I was brave enough, I should do it myself.
Now, this was a taunt - the last time a rat visited my home, my solution was to lock the bathroom (because he was in it) and not go to the bathroom for an entire day till the maid came in.
I ended up treating her taunt as an authentication issue and tried to close all our windows every night. But this rat apparently (like the velociraptors in "Jurassic Park") was engineered by a mad scientist - he could open windows. I saw him continously take his walk at 12 midnight. I basically gave up trying to convince him to stay outside. We just started locking our room in, so that he could take his walk undisturbed.
Now what has this blog post got to do with technology?
I have a pretty good collection of technical books - books that I collected in the USA. I keep them all in a store room and keep loaning them out to the team in Photon. Many of these books do not seem to be returning. I was beginning to get concerned - I generally forgot which books were loaned out to whom.
Anyway, I walked in to that room to get a book and found a weird smell assaulting me. It had been some time and I was sure the smell was coming from the book collection.
I took a book out and found what made the rat take his walk.
He was "marking territory"; doing the same thing most Indian males do when they see a nice wall; to put it crudely, he was using my book collection as a very private, custom built designer toilet.
I was outraged by this travesty - I mean any self-respecting rat could have torn my books to shreds or other wise leave them with a shred of dignity. This rat, as my wife put it, was using it as a septic tank.
As I held my nose and stared at my poor books, an idea suddenly dawned in me - as Buddha said, this could be used an opportunity. I saw the sunny side of the rat menace.
I plan to email the staff tomorrow at work and point out that my books are "polluted". I am going to narrate the story of the rat.
I am confident that all the books will be nicely packaged and returned.

Thursday, April 12, 2007

My post in DailyKos

This post on different narratives between the "West" and the Third World got 83 comments. The link is here: A Third World Perspective for Kossacks

The content is below:

Reading about foreign policy diaries in DKos and debating American foreign policy with some AMericans has led me to write this diary - it is obvious your narrative of world history is vastly different from a citizen of the Third World (as you call it). I have been called radical by some of my friends - but my opinions are shared by many millions around the world. I read counterpunch, and most Americans and Israelis writing in counterpunch express the same views. I will start with the difference in narrative and then address some talking points.

In the views of most Americans (trained by History as taught in American text books and popular history books), there is no better way human society could have evolved than the stage in which America and the "West" find themselves in. The frequent use of the term Western democracy implies not that another form of democracy is present in the east - but that democracy is a Western invention. The use of this term is aligned with a repeated emphasis on Greece as the birth place of democracy and any democratic ideals that the "West" currently follows. This is stretched to such an extent that books have been written about the Battle of Thermopylae (as shown in the movie "300") as the pivotal event that "saved" Western civilsation - meanwhile, Alexander's invasions of the East are themselves considered positive efforts in spreading civilsation. I think you can see the discord here - one invasion is termed evil while another is glorified. This is NOT unusual, different sides in a war always provide different versions of history. What IS unusual, is the extent to which present day "Westerners" identify themselves with Greeks and Romans. See quote below on the movie 300 (from this link )
That freedom of expression explains why we rightly consider the ancient Greeks as the founders of our present Western civilization - and, as millions of moviegoers seem to sense, far more like us than the enemy who ultimately failed to conquer them.

This is unusual particularly because there is little evidence that ancient Greece or Rome were in any way similar to present day United States or England. Greece and Rome were not even unique in social structure compared to other civilisations of that time.
The narrative for Western civilisation starts with Greece, moves onto Rome and claims exclusivity and identification of the term Western as a single homogenous group. I think this is historic revisionism. This claiming of a 3000 year democratic value system for the West has enabled (to some degree) politicians like Bush to wave it around while following a colonial mission.
The narrative for the West, in the 20th century focusses on the Second World War and the rise of fascism. The extent to which this narrative is distorted can be seen in present day America in a couple of issues:

1. The identification of the Second World War as the primary just war of the 20th century.
2. And the consequent glorification of Britain and Winston Churchill.
I see this in DailyKos also - when Iran seized the British sailors, many of the diarists considered Britain as the mature power (compared to the USA).
Let us consider the following quotation from Winston Churchill about the Palestinians (in 1937):

I do not agree that a dog in a manger has the final right to the manger, even though he may have lain there for a very long time. I do not admit, for instance, that a great wrong has been done to the Red Indians of America or the black people of Australia. I do not admit that a wrong has been done to these people, by the fact that a stronger race, a higher grade race, a more worldly wise race, to put it that way, has come in and taken their place.

The narrative for the West, thus, justifies the current patrolling of the Iraqi waterways by Britain; the sanctions against Iran for exercising her rights under the NPT; and the existence of the UN Security Council.
This is because the narrative for the West does NOT consider the primary just war of the 20th century - the fight against colonialism and exploitation by the peoples of the Third World.

Alternative Narrative
Now consider an alternative narrative:
Conquering other nations and exploiting their resources was not new in history. What is different about the slavery in the USA or the colonies of Britain and France was its coupling with Industrialization; the mass scale of exploitation; and the xenophobia surrounding this evil enterprise.
Nationalism did not exist in the countries of the East or the South. So they were fair game for drawing borders in the sand.
Colinialism and its effects have been blunted in the Western narrative - one American asked me, "Don't you think you would have been better off with Britain ruling you?"
That is, colonialism's effects were interpreted as purely benign - this is so surprising in the USA. The USA went through colonialism and overthrew it - the length of time the USA was under colonial rule roughly equals the time that India was. Yet Americans obviously consider their own colonial struggle as a brother-against-brother fight - primarily because of race.
As an example, during the late Victorian famines in India it is estimated that 30 million died. India's last famine was in 1942 - when a million Indians died in Bengal because the British government diverted food grains to the war effort.
The fundamental misery of slavery or colonialism is lost on Americans and most Westerners.

In the narrative of the Third World, there is death, destruction in the 20th century in a war between colonial powers. Meanwhile, a greater fight for self-determination and freedom from oppression was being fought by the citizens of the colonized world. This was the just war for us; and our greatest generation fought violently and non-violently against Britain and France and Portugal.

This difference is vital, because most rhetoric that Americans employ sound familiar to us - we have already heard enough spin from the British. When Gandhi was working to create non-violent agitaions, he was still called a trouble maker and arrested and beaten up multiple instances. The British accused Indian freedom fighters of terrorism; tortured them in prisons; claimed a civilisng mission; cited that we were never really a nation. Note that the Palestinians are now in same plight we were in. It never stops.
In one famous instance, in the Nothern state of Punjab, General Dyer of the British Army shot a thousand unarmed protesters to death in a massacre at Jalian Wala Bagh. The peace-loving, democratic, brave citizens of Britain collected money to defend him.
Colonialism is never benign.

At the end of the Second World War, when the UN was created, UN Security Council was formed with former colonial powers as members. In the Western narrative, this was to make sure nobody does what Hitler did earlier. But from the Third World perspective, the composition of UNSC was unacceptable - because our fight was against colonialism and the colonialists still decided which invasions should be sanctioned.

Now consider an alternative narrative:
Conquering other nations and exploiting their resources was not new in history. What is different about the slavery in the USA or the colonies of Britain and France was its coupling with Industrialization; the mass scale of exploitation; and the xenophobia surrounding this evil enterprise.
Nationalism did not exist in the countries of the East or the South. So they were fair game for drawing borders in the sand.
Colinialism and its effects have been blunted in the Western narrative - one American asked me, "Don't you think you would have been better off with Britain ruling you?"
That is, colonialism's effects were interpreted as purely benign - this is so surprising in the USA. The USA went through colonialism and overthrew it - the length of time the USA was under colonial rule roughly equals the time that India was. Yet Americans obviously consider their own colonial struggle as a brother-against-brother fight - primarily because of race.
As an example, during the late Victorian famines in India it is estimated that 30 million died. India's last famine was in 1942 - when a million Indians died in Bengal because the British government diverted food grains to the war effort.
The fundamental misery of slavery or colonialism is lost on Americans and most Westerners.

In the narrative of the Third World, there is death, destruction in the 20th century in a war between colonial powers. Meanwhile, a greater fight for self-determination and freedom from oppression was being fought by the citizens of the colonized world. This was the just war for us; and our greatest generation fought violently and non-violently against Britain and France and Portugal.

This difference is vital, because most rhetoric that Americans employ sound familiar to us - we have already heard enough spin from the British. When Gandhi was working to create non-violent agitaions, he was still called a trouble maker and arrested and beaten up multiple instances. The British accused Indian freedom fighters of terrorism; tortured them in prisons; claimed a civilisng mission; cited that we were never really a nation. Note that the Palestinians are now in same plight we were in. It never stops.
In one famous instance, in the Nothern state of Punjab, General Dyer of the British Army shot a thousand unarmed protesters to death in a massacre at Jalian Wala Bagh. The peace-loving, democratic, brave citizens of Britain collected money to defend him.
Colonialism is never benign.

At the end of the Second World War, when the UN was created, UN Security Council was formed with former colonial powers as members. In the Western narrative, this was to make sure nobody does what Hitler did earlier. But from the Third World perspective, the composition of UNSC was unacceptable - because our fight was against colonialism and the colonialists still decided which invasions should be sanctioned.

Let us try an exercise here:
Islamic women banned from wearing burqa in France - seems a natural, right thing to do. But from our perspective (I am not Muslim), it is merely another attempt to acquire hegemony over cultural minorities. With what moral right does France, the occupier of Algeria, (and the French people who have enjoyed the rich fruits of colonialism) even talk about what Muslims should do?
You see? This is how we think, when we hear any attempt by "Western" powers to acquire the moral high ground.
Iran seized British sailors, and then Britain said they were in Iraqi waters. My immediate reaction was that Britain had no business to be in Iraqi waters. This will be the reaction of most citizens of the Third World.
The argument that Britain used, of course, was that it was on a UN mandated mission. So that becomes the second issue:

Modern Nations and the UN

One commenter in one of my previous diaries argued that aerial bombing was not terrorism - because the people who do it wear uniforms. This and a variety of other arguments are used to justify military action by the powers.
The problem is that modern nation states and their rights were not created in an equal world. Not all of the peoples of this world are organized into nations. That does not mean they do not have rights. They do have the right to struggle for their freedom in violent or non-violent ways. We should note that the USA and Britain do not respect sovereignty of other countries - they have tried to pretend that countries ruled by dictators are not really soveriegn nations. Thus the whole system of international law is not respected by colonial powers themselves.
When I hear Bush complaining about Saddam - I want to ask, "How are you any different?" America or Britain have no right to talk about democracy or exporting democracy - their democracy has not prevented them from violating international law and launching aggressive war.
Who has the right to talk about democracy? Nobody.

We have to realize that the current state of the world is not ideal - it is not ideal for citizens of the Third World; it is not ideal for citizens of "Western democracies" either. We need to have a clearer goal - for example a world without immigration laws should be the goal; no set of people should suffer from lack of resources.

Let me finish with a note on Israel and Palestine:

Frequent rants by pro-Israelites talk about Israel's right to exist.
I do not think Israel has the right to exist - mind you, I am talking about the nation not the race. It is useless going into UN resolutions to seek justification for the creation of Israel.
There is constant pretense by the Western media and pundits that only radical Islamists are against Israel. Let me inform you - I am not a radical Muslim. I have no connection with Israel or Palestine - but I AM a Third World citizen and I can assure you that most of us do not think Isreal should exist as a nation. The reason is the whole narrative I described above - Israel was created by a movement hat considered Paletinians as "the dog in the manger". Palestinians did not have a nation, so anybody can take over their land. The Jews do need a nation - how about giving Scotland? Or Utah? Why was Britain's generosity unbounded when giving away Palestine?

Every news report, every speech by Bush and Blair remind us of the fight ahead against colonialists. Bush has served a purpose though - he has helped pulled the veil of the whole setup.

Saturday, March 31, 2007

Are native languages "unprofessional"?

Early on in Photon, we went to a party and the discussion came around to talking in Tamil at work.
One of the drunk developers felt passionately about this - he said in a meeting we should NEVER talk in Tamil. He said it was unprofessional.
I was surprised by the vehemence of this comment - I said if even one person who spoke in another language is present, this is true. But if a meeting consisted ONLY Tamil speakers, I do not see why it should be unprofessional to speak to each other in that language.
I also argued that if this was true, how far do you take this? Is it okay to speak Tamil in casual corridor meetings or is English mandatory for this? What if two people are talking business by the water cooler - can they talk in Tamil? Or does the English rule apply only when you walk into a conference room?
My point was that this rule was unnatural - and I was not objecting to it because I am a "fanatic" - but because it is contrary to natural behavior.
But, of course, the drunk guy veered completely away into how "even China" was switching to English. And how the whole reason India had succeeded in the IT industry was because of English.
This is a digression here -
China is not "switching" to English - Chinese are learning the English language as a language. They are not learning every subject out there in English - that is, there is no English medium in China; they are learning English as a second language.
This is vastly different from India where the middle and rich classes have lobbied for learning everything in English, taking things to such an extent that kids are actually being punished for talking to each other in their native language during recess. Some schools fine you for talking in the native language.
Whenever somebody raises this, he is branded a cheap fanatic or someone brainwashed by the politicians. I respect Tamil politicians for making this an issue.
Secondly, Indian success in the IT industry also happened because of many, many thousands of studnets who learnt in the native medium but learnt English as an additional language. By claiming English medium as a reason for Indian succcess in IT, I only see the usual attempts of Indian urbanized upper middle classes to corner credit for the IT boom.
Digression ends here
Anyway, that argument was fruitless because the guy ended up blaming Tamils for this "unique" behavior - and I had seen most Indian linguistic communities talk to each other in their language at work. By bringing race into the argument, he lost the argument.
This was an year back - I was thinking about this last week and asked another friend of mine this question - say you went to an interview in a company; the interviewer ascertains your native language; say you are Telugu. The interviewer is also Telugu and proceeds to interview in Telugu.
Would you join that company? Would you consider that unprofessional?
His answer was yes - he would consider it unprofessional and he would reconsider joining that company.
This friend of mine is far more reasonable so I could argue with him. My points were:
1. We use English as a common communication medium. That is the sole purpose. If there exists another common communication medium and if it is your native language, then doesn't it make sense to use that? It will probably relax both of you.
2. What makes English professional and Telugu unprofessional? What causes that judgement? Mind you, I am not talking about an artificiallly constructed "pure" Telugu conversation. If a normal conversation you have with a friend at work can be in Telugu, why can't it happen with a candidate?
I believe the one good reason to not ask the native language of a candidate is because it could result in discrimination. But then HR should not ask for age either (you should not discriminate based on age either). Most candidates will gladly mention even passport numbers in their resumes in India - so why is asking for and conversing in a native language such a bad idea?
I do think my friend is accurate about this - I think most people would react the same way. But I am not able to understand why such an opinion about our native languages exists. I would appreciate if readers can share their views.

Sunday, March 04, 2007

The Human Development Index (HDI)

This essay is meant to counter the views of many middle and upper class Indians who believe that India is exceptional; those who believe that India should try and will become a "super power"; those who believe that we are a mere generation from attaining a developed country status; and those who believe that India is simply a better country to live in than what they call "Muslim" countries such as Iran or African countries such as Namibia.
The United Nations Development Program (UNDP) introduced the Human Development Index (HDI) in 1990. here is a link to the Human Development Report (HDR) home page:
The HDI was introduced principally based on Nobel Laureate Amartya Sen and Martha Nassbaum's principle that "human capabilities" had a role in defining well-being of humans. They defined ends (such as liberty) as more important than means (having money). They defined some parameters to measure such ends, such as bodily health and control over one's environment.
In India, we focus a lot (in the past few years) on GDP growth; GDP as a measure of a nation's health has been criticised for a long time, because it focusses on the means. For example, if oil is spilled in our seas often and we clean it up often, the GDP includes the amount aspent on cleaning up those spills as a measure of growth!
The most common reason why GDP is confused with the well-being of a society is because of 2 reasons:
1. People believe that growth "trickles down" to poorer people.
2. When it fails to trickle down and causes income disparities, governments wiill correct that situation.
Both these assumptions have never been proved true, although most educated people in India take it for granted. hence the exclusive focus on GDP in India over the past few years.
What we have in India is called by Sen and Dreze as "unaimed opulence".

A partcularly crude version, consists of attempting to maximize
economic growth, without paying any direct attention to the transformation of
greater opulence into better living conditions.

The UNDP says:
People are the real wealth of a nation. The basic objective of development is to create an enabling environment for people to enjoy long, healthy and creative lives.

The definition of HDI
The HDI includes three components of human capabilities:
Health, Education and a decent Standard of Living.
Health is represented by Life Expectancy
Education by Literacy and School Enrollment
Standard of Living by GDP per capita

Where do nations stand in HDI?

In 2006, Norway, Iceland and Australia ranked in the top 3.
India stood at 126; above us at 125 is Namibia.
Iran is at 96. Indonesia is at 108. Almost all Arab countries are better ranked. Lebanon is at 78 (50 ranks ahead of us).
China is at 81. Oman at 56.
Cuba (oh, those communists) is at 50 (70 ranks ahead).
Almost all Western European countries (which are generally socialist) occupy the first 20 ranks. the USA for all its power is at rank 8.
Over the last 10 years of "development" in India, India has gone from 128 to 126.

So the next time someone goes prattling about how backward Muslim countries are or about how developed we are, quote the HDI at them.

Sunday, February 25, 2007

Sambar and Other Recipes for Hapless Indian Bachelors

Ye Tamils stranded in foreign countries, here is your beacon of hope - the holy grail for bachelors: a Rainman Recipe for simple Sambar online:

Sadha Sambar

1. Keep Puli (Tamarind; not Tiger) in water soaking

1a. Cut Capsicum ( That is the only kind of Sambar I know)

2. Boil Toor Dal in cooker

3. After cooker whistle,

4. Take a vessel and put Puli water (filtered) with Kuzhambu podi flat 3 spoon, turmeric, LG Perungayam (very little), Salt (2 spoons typically) and the cut Capsicum

5. Ready heating vessel, with 2 spoons coconut oil,

6. Put mustard in it and heat

7. After mustard blows up in your face, Add Vathal chilli(1), Dhaniya(little) and fry light

8. On this boiling oil, pour Puli water with all that you mixed in step 4; pour fast and run

9. Let it boil for 15 minutes

10. Pour Puli water second time (that is make some more)

11. Boil again for 10 minutes

12. Take Toor Dal from cooker and pour into the almost ready Sambar

13. After 2 minutes stop heating (that means switch off the gas - not pouring water on the fire) 14. Add Karuvepilai for flavor. You got yourselves some Sambar. Now if you only had some poriyal..
I. Plantain Curry1.Cut two plantain - cut in half, remove skin, cut each half into 3, then cut more.
2.Boil plantain, with turmeric and salt in vessel with 3 times water - till is looks thoroughly defeated (at least 20-30 mins)
3. Cut some green chilli into small bits
4. Put oil, mustard in a vessel and after mustard gets angry at being so treated, add Urad Dal (Ulultham Paruppu) and wait till Dal brown.
5. Take some cut coconut
6. Put plantain (after filtering out water) in oil and run.
7. Fry somewhat
8. Add more salt(2 spoons typically)
9. Switch off
10 Add some karuvepilai
11. Add the coconut
That finishes plantain.
You can make poriyal with cabage the same way - except that cabbage is a green vegetable. So no need to boil it in water first or even add lots of water while it is boiling.
If you are in the mood for Koottu:
1. Cut cabbage (into little pieces - don't cut in two halves and wait for me to call you a moron)
2. Wash
3. Fry Paasi Paruppu. no oil
4. When it is light brown, pour water.
5. Now add turmeric, salt and cabbage
6. Take Green chili - 4, cut coconut, cumin (Cheerakam), LG perungayam, little water, put in mixie and grind
7. When Cabbage "looks" glassy (this is my wife's term)
8. Pour ground items from mixie
9. Boil - till bubbles come.
10.Add milk 1/2 cup (don't ask me why; I have no idea)
11. Light boil - 1 minute
12.Add little Coconut oil in top(not on your top; on the boiled cabbage) and Karuvepilai

Now, if only we had some Rasam (Amma used to make it; I miss hooo)
Hold on cry baby - it is not so difficult. Here is Rasam:
Refer to the Sambar recipe if you do not understand some stuff. Rasam is really Sambar (according to the Sambarites) and Sambar is really Rasam (according to the Rasamites). Come to your own conclusions:
1.Soak Puli in water
1a. Cut tomato
2. Boil Toor Dal, turmeric in cooker - 2 hand fulls of toor dal - double water
3. After cooker whistle,
4. Put Puli thanni with Kuzhambu podi or Rasam podi flat 1 spoon, turmeric, LG Perungayam, Salt, Cut Tomato
5. Keep Vessel, with ghee, mustard and heat
6. Add Jeeragam, Vathal chili after mustard goes bananas; fry light
7. Pour Puli thanni
8. Boil - 10 minutes
9. 2nd time Puli thanni
10. Boil light (5 mins)
11.Pour Dal from cooker into rasam
12. After 1 minute stop boiling
13. Add Coriander (Kothamalli), Karuvepilai
With Rasam, if you got the smell you are done - who cares about how it really tastes.
Now, how do you cook Aracha Sambar, a special version of Sambar that only the most superior cooks know and pass on from generation to generation?
Refer the Sambar section for some details;
1. Soak Puli in water
1a. Cut Sambar Onion without skin.
1b. Get some drumstick ready
2. Boil Toor Dal in cooker
3. After cooker whistle, -- take Kadalai Dal, one red chili, Dhaniya, small amount Toor Dal and fry without oil
4. Take cut coconut and fry Mix with the above

5. To Puli thanni add Kuzhambu podi flat 3 spoon, turmeric, LG, Salt, drum stick
6. To vessel, add 2 spoons cocnut oil, mustard and then wait for mustard to express its displeasure

7. Add the cut onion- fry well

8. Pour Puli thanni

9. Boil - 15 minutes

9a. Add the above combination from 3 and 4 and mix in the mixie.

10. Add 2nd time Puli thanni

11. Boil well - 10 minutes

12. Pour Dal from cooker into Sambar

13. Boil 1 minute

14. Add the above Mixed stuff

15. Boil one more minute

16. Add Karuvepilai

You are done!!!

A few notes to cokking poriyal - as you have seen I have not delineated how to make potato fry and other poriyals. They all follow the same logic of plantain - except that with cabbage, Lady's finger etc you should not boil them too much in water (except if you want to do it for fun and that is your idea of fun). With potato:
1. Cut potato
2. Put oil and mustard in vessel and heat
3. After the noise dies down, add potato, turmeric, some sambar podii, salt and water
4. Let potato boil
That is it - very poor man's potato poriyal is ready!
I think most of the above should work - if you had some common sense. For example, the LG is meant to be added in little bits. I know of people who added lots for flavor and then almost passed out eating the result.

Also watch other cookers (I mean people who cook) carefully until they get uncomfortable. Ask stupid questions. That way you can learn more.