The many spectacles of Jurgen Klopp

I haven’t been a big fan of my last  two pairs of spectacles. The last one, especially, was chosen carefully after a rather long search across several stores. Yet, within a week or two of purchase, I knew it wasn’t a great choice. Somehow it didn’t look as good on me as I imagined it would. And it’s been hardly four months since I bought it, but I’m already looking for a new pair.

While there are several people whose spectacle frames I’ve much admired, no one comes close to new Liverpool F.C. manager Jurgen Klopp. Not realising that he has several pairs of spectacles, I’ve tweeted on many occasions that I want “Jurgen Klopp spectacle frames”. And then somehow forgotten it when at the optician’s.

With Klopp scheduled to be unveiled as the new Liverpool F.C. manager today (he signed his contract yesterday), the Guardian has put out a nice graphic called “the many faces of Jurgen Klopp”. As far as I’m concerned, though, I don’t care about the faces at all. All I care about are the spectacles! Each one better than the other.

So I present to you, “the many spectacles of Jurgen Klopp”. Watch off!

And while at it, tell me where I can procure such spectacle frames – most stores in Bangalore don’t stock good big matte-finished frames. And don’t tell me LensKart or some such online seller – buying a pair of spectacles is like buying a pair of shoes – you need to feel them, try them on and feel comfortable in them before buying.

Why Europe should back Bashar al-Assad

This might seem like a nonsensical idea, but there are good reasons as to why European countries should back Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. This is because the most important thing now from their perspective is to bring some sort of stability into Syria.

The thing with the long-ongoing civil war in Syria is that there are no good guys. Initially, Western powers considered backing the rebels, who are mostly Sunni and hence enjoy the support of other Gulf countries. However, a part of the rebel faction turned into Islamic State and started unleashing atrocities not only in Syria but also in neighbouring Iraq.

al-Assad is no paragon of virtue, and his forces have not held back in unleashing atrocities. Yet the fact remains that he has successfully ruled over Syria (albeit as a hereditary dictator) successfully for a few years until the trouble started brewing. The other thing going for him is that he is a strong leader, and can possibly be convinced to talk, given that the only leadership on the other side is Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the self-styled “caliph” of the Islamic State.

The unrest in Syria has caused much trouble in Europe, thanks to heavy migration – much more than what Europe can normally handle. What this has achieved is in turning Syria’s problem partly into Europe’s problem, and it is in Europe’s interest to solve the problem in Syria if they are to address the problem at their own borders.

The fight in Syria is between two horrible regimes (or one horrible regime and one horrible non-regime), and the victory of neither will do good for the people of Syria. Yet, the steady state of the unsteady peace that will follow after the battle is significantly superior to the people of Syria than the current status of civil war. For this reason, there is merit in ending the war as an immediate goal, and then looking to stabilise the country in the long run.

And the best way for an interventionist power to end a war is to support the stronger side. al-Assad’s side has been officially made stronger with the recent intervention of Russia on that side. So now it is clear who the side more likely to win is. And so Europe should intervene to make sure that happens quickly.

There are other collateral benefits also – coming down on al-Assad’s side will earn European countries brownie points with Putin, which are important because they face off against him in other theatres, such as Ukraine. While it remains that Putin is a madman and the value of such brownie points is unknown, the option value of these points is surely strictly positive?

So Europe should act, and act now. The trouble is at their doorstep now. They need not commit actual troops. Some drones will do for a start. The actual fighting will be done by al-Assad’s forces with more direct help from Putin. And the civil war will hopefully be stamped out soon.

The problem of al-Assad won’t go away, and will need to be dealt with another day, but at least there can be some semblance of peace there. Which might stem the horrific flight of so many Syrians across the seas into Europe’s borders (where they are receiving a mostly cold welcome).

The Gulf countries will not be pleased, of course, but with oil prices dropping their bargaining power in the overall geopolitical sphere is dropping, that much collateral damage is okay for the benefit of putting an end to the horrific conflict in Syria.

vaDe for meat and tithi ooTas

The story goes that the humble medu vaDe was invented a couple of millennia back when Brahmins went veggie (to compete with Buddhism and Jainism), and needed a source of protein to replace meat. The vaDe, packed with urad dal and deep fried, can perhaps be described as the perfect keto snack, especially considering that it’s eaten with coconut chutney.

So the humble vaDe is a fixture at lunch during death ceremonies. A standard feature of Kannadiga Brahmin death ceremonies is the “feeding of the brahmins”. These are no ordinary brahmins – they are special brahmins who are part of the ceremony where one represents God and the other represents the deceased in whose name the death ceremony (colloquially called ‘tithi’) is being performed.

Given that these brahmins have fasted before the meal and will fast the rest of the day (this is all in theory, of course), they need to be fed nutritious meals, and what is a better source of long-lasting nutrition than the humble vaDe? The vaDe has become so synonymous with tithis that in Karnataka it is symbolic of death ceremonies, and not prepared on auspicious occasions. The phrase “I’ll eat vaDe in your name” can be considered as a mild death threat, for example.

Right from childhood I’ve always wanted some crunchy stuff to eat with my rice. Back then, my parents would ensure that our house was well-stocked with crunchies such as Congress peanuts, nippaT, mixture, etc., which I would eat along with my rice. Occasionally my mother would make happaLa (fried paapaD). Back when was at IITM, I would make the decision on whether to eat chapati or rice for lunch based on the availability of happaLa – I’m such a sucker for crunchies with rice.

Death ceremonies being solemn occasions, however, crunchies aren’t made. It’s taboo to serve happaLa during these kind of ceremonies (despite the protein that packs, too). The occasional lunch can be eaten without crunchies, but if you have to eat tithi ooTa on a regular basis, some “adjustment” has to be made?

The epiphany happened on the 13th of April 2007, at Paschimavaahini near Mysore. My father had passed away two days earlier after a prolonged illness, and after having cremated his remains, we had gone to Paschimavaahini to dunk his ashes in the Kaveri. This was my first exposure to performing death ceremonies, and I found it so unpleasant that I only performed a limited subset of them when my mother passed away in 2009, and gave up altogether on performing my parents’ annual death ceremonies in 2012 after a series of unpleasant experiences.

That day in 2007, however, was when I discovered the utility of the vaDe as the crunchy during tithi ooTas (ooTa is Kannada for meal). Chutney had also been served, and some vaDes were served at the beginning of the meal along with the rice. You break off a piece of vaDe, dip it in the chutney, and then pick it up with a morsel of huLianna (sambar rice) or saaranna (rasam rice), and you get both crunchies and enhanced taste. And that has formed my template for tithi ooTas (which I’m forced to occasionally attend, though I don’t perform tithis myself) ever since.

Yet another epiphany happened last month, when I was at one such tithi ooTa (in memory of my cousin’s grandmother). Sometime between the initial epiphany and this, I had started eating meat, and this was a key component going into this epiphany.

As I was polishing off huLianna with vaDe and chutney at my cousin’s grandmother’s tithi, the process seemed rather familiar. Considering that I don’t eat too many tithi ooTas, this was surprising. And then it struck me that the way I was eating was exactly the same as the way one eats meat with rice (while eating with fingers in South Indian style). You break off the piece of meat, and pick it up with a morsel of rice (mixed with whatever), and put them together into your mouth.

That was when I got reminded of the vaDe replacing meat in the Brahmin diet. It all seemed to fit in now. Even the way it is traditionally consumed (nothing gets more traditional than a tithi ooTa) is the same!

Tailpiece: Speaking of tithi ooTas, there’s a saying that goes “tie up the cat and perform the tithi”. So I was quite amused when I saw a cat polish off a rather large mound of rice outside a “tithi hotel” yesterday. The rice had been put out on a plantain leaf, evidently deliberately for the cat. From getting tied up during tithis to getting mounds of rice, the cat has come a long way.

Tasting Gods’ food

The norm during festivals and other “happy occasions” when food is “offered to the Gods” is that the food is not tasted during preparation. For tasting thus would contaminate it, and make it impure for the God. Thus, the first time a human will taste such food is when it is offered as “God’s offering” after the rituals are over.

While there might be good reason for doing so (food thus prepared is distributed to a lot of people and you don’t want to contaminate it and so on), the problem is that if the food is not accurately prepared, it cannot be corrected. By the time someone figures out something is not right, “the God would have tasted it”, and if the food hasn’t been accurately prepared, you would have ended up serving the Gods bad food! Which can only bring ruin upon you.

Let me draw an analogy. Instead of food, let’s assume that you’re offering God a computer program that you’ve prepared. You’ve got the best team of programmers in the world and written a kickass algorithm and got these programmers to code it, and you offer the program to God. And what happens when he tries to “consume” it by running it? Most likely, a stack overflow or some such error.

Would you let that happen? Even when you’ve got a kickass algorithm and a kickass team of coders to code it in, it’s not guaranteed that the code will perform as it should on its first running. Irrespective of how good the code is, it needs to be tested, to make sure it is doing what it’s doing before the user sees it. Especially if it’s an “all-important” user such as a God.

If you were to do that for code, why should food be different? Why would you want to “cook blindfold” by not ta(/e)sting it adequately, and making sure that it’s as perfect as you want it to be? After all, you’re offering it to a God!

Bah, these silly rituals!

Tinder and Arranged Scissors

For those of you who have been following my blog for a while know, I was in the arranged marriage market for a brief period in 2009, before Priyanka magically materialised (from the comments section of this blog) and bailed me out. I may not have covered this in any of the Arranged Scissors posts that I wrote back then (ok I alluded to this but not really), but I had what I can now call a “Tinder moment” during the course of my time in the market.

So on this fine day in Bangalore, I was taken to this Marriage Exchange called Aseema. The name of the exchange is quite apt, since based on two data points (my own and one acquaintance’s), if you go there your search for a spouse is literally endless.

My uncle, who took me there and who was acting as my broker-dealer for that brief period, told me that they literally had binders full of women (note that this was three years before Romney), and that I could search leisurely if I accompanied him there on Saturday morning.

My uncle didn’t lie. This place did have several binders full of women (and men – I too ended up in one such binder after I signed up) and four binders that said “Smartha (my subcaste) Girls” were pulled out and handed over to me. My uncle probably expected me to spend a few hours ruminating through the binders and coming up with a shortlist.

It was nothing like it. Each profile in the binder followed a standard format. There was this 4 by 6 full-length photo. You knew where to look for educational qualifications. And professional summary. It was like LinkedIn meets Facebook profile picture. And that was it.

I remember having some criteria, which I don’t remember now. But once I had gone through the first few pages, it became mechanical. I knew exactly where to look in a particular profile page. And quickly come to a judgment if I should express interest.

Thinking back, I might have just been swiping (mostly left – I came up with a grand shortlist of one after the exercise) on Tinder. The amount of time I spent on each profile wasn’t much more than what the average user spends on Tinder. Except that rather than looking only at the photo, I was also looking at a few profile parameters (though of course whether I would want to sleep with her was one of the axes on which I evaluated the profiles). But it was just the same – leafing through a large number of profiles in a short amount of time and either swiping left or right instantly. Talking to a few other friends (some of it at the now legendary Benjarong conference) about this, my experience seemed representative (note that I’m still in anecdata territory).

Maybe there is a lesson in this for all those people who are designing apps for arranged marriage (including the venerable and That even though the stated intent is a long-term relationship, the initial process through which people shortlist is no different from what people follow on Tinder. Maybe there surely is a market for a Tinder-like arranged marriage application!

Finite and infinite stories

Recently I started reading a book called “Finite and Infinite Games”. I’m barely through the Kindle sample, so can’t comment much on the book, but I want to talk about a related concept – finite and infinite stories.

An important feature of the story is that it is “finite”, and has a fixed ending. For example, if you take Lord Of The Rings, the story is primarily concerned with whether Frodo can destroy the ring by taking it to wherever it came from before Sauron can get his hands on it. Once either the ring is destroyed or Sauron gets his hands on it, the story is essentially over, and doesn’t concern about any subsequent events.

Thus, as you plough through either the books or the movies, you condition yourself to the story “ending” at one of these two finalities. And in this particular story, considering that both of these are epochal events, all characters have a horizon no longer than the time required for one of these two events to happen. In other words, most books and movies are “finite stories”, and efforts in those stories are optimised for such finiteness.

Real life, however, is different, in that it is “continuous”. Whatever happens, in most cases, life simply goes on, and hence you need to optimise for the long term. Let’s say, for example, that you are going through a tough time at work and want your current assignment to end. And while you are at it, you look upon your life as a story, where the success or failure of your current assignment is an epochal event. Consequently, you will use a strategy that optimises your performance until this epochal event.

And then this event happens. Let’s say the assignment is a success. Then, life has to move on and another assignment gets thrown at you. Except that you’ve thrown all you had at the previous assignment, and now have no energy left to deal with this one.

In that sense, real life is like an “infinite story” (though death adds a degree of finiteness to this). However epochal certain events seem, unless they are life-threatening, one ought to think for the long term and plan for beyond the event. For unlike in the books or the movies, the story never ends.