The deal with plays

I live near Basavanagudi in South Bangalore, hardly 6 km from the city’s best theatre Ranga Shankara. In the other direction, a (relatively) new auditorium which plays host to several promising plays (KH Kala Soudha) is even closer. There are times when we consider going for a play at one of these locations. To date, however, I’ve been to a performance (can’t call it a play) at KH Kala Soudha once. The only time I’ve been to Ranga Shankara was five years ago, back when i was in college.

I think one of the reasons for this is that I can never muster the necessary incentive to go watch a play. A large number of plays, as I understand, hold nothing much of promise in the stories that they tell. I’m not much of an actor, and don’t have an eye for fine acting which I want to discover. Yes, sometimes the way some stories are told is fantastic, and this is even more so when the play in question is telling a known story (the one play I’ve watched in Ranga Shankara was a Harivansh Rai Bachchan interpretation of Hamlet; where they use Yakshagana dancers for the play-within-a-play, and that was a fantastic way of telling the story).

Still, the thought of having to sit there in one place, without doing anything that might distract the performers, focusing all my energies on the performance, for the “option value” that there might be something really insightful in what the performers are trying to convey is daunting. With widespread sponsorship from governments and corporates, most plays are very reasonably priced, but the attention they demand can put me off.

And then I wonder if the reason I don’t like plays so much is because they’re rehearsed, that everything goes according to a particular script, that every move of the actor has been choreographed! The way plays are structured essentially requires discipline on part of all the actors, and the play could sometimes be seen as just an exhibition of discipline! I must mention here that I have even less patience for other more obvious exhibitions of discipline such as parades.

I read that the Rangashankara ¬†festival is coming up soon, and I do hope I can get myself to at least check out a few plays (especially since I’m now fairly rich in terms of time). However, I must say it will take a lot of convincing on your part to make me come watch your play. If you say “we’re performing Shakespeare’s Romeo and juliet” I’ll say “why should I come watch you when I can read the play?”. But if you tell me that there’s a story that you want to say, which you’re going to say in a particularly unique way, then I might be interested.

The Importance of Discipline

I’ve never been a fan of discipline. I think it is a major constraint and hinders creativity, and puts too many walls within which you need to live your life. Despite constant exhortations by my father, I never wanted to join the army. Hell, I tried my best (successfully) in order to even avoid NCC when I was at IIT. I pride myself on being some sort of a free spirit who isn’t held back by any arbitrary rules that I create for myself to live my life by.

A really nice article that I read today, however, makes me think twice about this stand. So this article is about “decision fatigue” and is not very dissimilar to what I’d read a long time back (again in the NYT) about the Law of Conservation of Willpower. So this article talks about how every time you need to make a decision it consumes some part of your mental energy. Irrespective of the size of the decision that is to be made, there is some willpower that is lost, and that causes you to be suboptimal in your decision making as the day progresses.

The article really struck a chord with me, and I realize I’m also heavily prone to decision fatigue. Sometimes the smallest decisions take away so much energy from me that I simply put NED. And yeah, on a related note, I’ve got the wife upset innumerable times solely because of my indecisiveness, a part of which can be attributed to decision fatigue. I even remember not going to a wedding reception some three years back because I couldn’t decide which shirt to wear! And no, I’m not making this up.

So on that note, here’s where I think discipline has a part to play in life. By putting certain constraints on your life, you are reducing the number of decisions that you have to make. And that implies your willpower and mental energy will be reserved for those things where it’s really important that you decide carefully. By making a schedule for yourself, you are outsourcing to you-the-planner all the trivial decisions of your life. Yes, you might feel constrained at times. But it saves you so much energy by way of saving you from several trivial decisions.

Of course, feeling constrained can also affect your mental energy in a negative way, and prevent you from giving your best. Nevertheless, this decision fatigue thingy implies that discipline may not be all that bad. Or maybe I need to think about it some more.

Life Update And Other Stories

So I got married. Oh, we made a wedding website also. Wanted to have a dating game at the wedding where people try chat up each other on the chat box in the website before they came for the wedding, but unfortunately the box wasn’t widely used and the wedding party (yeah, we did have a dance party after the “vara pooje”) went off “peacefully” without any one pairing up (as far as we could see).

The biggest pain point at the wedding was immediately after I had tied the thaaLi around Pinky’s neck. The stage of the hall (not very big, mind you – the stage that is, the hall was pretty big) was invaded by all and sundry. Random uncles tried to ensure some discipline and make people queue up, but to no avail. We were assaulted from several directions by people wanting to shake our hand and get introduced to the one of us that they didn’t know. I’m not sure if either Pinky or I actually got to know anyone during that process.

Then, despite a lot of thought and prior planning (a long time back), the inevitable happened. There was a long queue at the reception. Thankfully, there were large groups of people so the queue cleared out fairly quickly. But it was still painful looking at so many people wasting time there when they could have spent their time at the wedding more usefully, scouting, networking, flirting, eating and the works.

A large proportion of the guests have given us gifts. It seems like we’ll have a very festive 2011. Ganesha Chaturthi will be grand at our house, given the number of Ganesha idols (in various positions) that we’ve received. Dasara (navaratri) will also be grand, given the number of other sundry dolls we’ve got. And a large number of (mostly really pretty) candle stands means that Deepavali will also be grand next year.

One thing we fail to understand is why someone cares to give us something when they don’t put their name on it. I mean, what is the use of gifting if the gifted doesn’t know who the gifter is? Is the gratitude for the wonderful gift to be directed to the general public that attended the wedding? Why would someone want to let go of the good karma that they get by giving some nice gift?

During our honeymoon at Sri Lanka, we realized that both of us are package-tour kids. That when we were young, most of our vacations were “package tours” where you were made to wake up early in the morning and taken to a thousand different places with a really busy schedule. We realized this when we kinda got bored halfway into our day-and-half stay at a beach resort in Bentota. I think the most boring part of staying at a resort is that you get bored of the food! How many times can you eat out of the same buffet, irrespective of how large it is?

I take this opportunity to apologise to my readers for not writing in the last one month. I hope to be more prolific in the future. Given that my wife and I met because of this blog (technically, due to it’s predecessor on livejournal), she quite appreciates my blogging and is very encouraging and supportive. And as I’ve been writing this for the last ten minutes, she’s been busy in the kitchen making what I think will be delicious sambar.

The impact of Rs. 2/kg rice

In the supplement of yesterday’s The New Indian Express (one of the six articles is here: http://epaper.expressbuzz.com/NE/NE/2009/07/12/ArticleHtmls/12_07_2009_412_002.shtml?Mode=1), it was argued about how the combination of NREGS and cheap rice (most states provide or promise to provide 25 kg of rice per month per poor family at Rs. 2 per kg) is destroying the rural economy.

One day of work under the NREGS gives a person Rs. 100. Half of that will go into buying rice for his family for the ENTIRE MONTH. Extending this argument, twelve days of work under the NREGS will feed his family for the whole year. Given that the staple is taken care of,, there is little incentive for the villager to work to earn more. And so there is a severe shortage of farm labourers, other rural workers, etc.

When the NREGS¬† came about, some people applauded it saying that it would ensure that minimum wage laws would now be met. Given that people were now assured of a certain sum (say Rs. 100 per day) for doing meaningless stuff like digging and filling holes, they would go to do other harder and more meaningful work only if they were paid more (and you need to take into account that “real work” takes more discipline, hard work, etc. than it takes to wrok for a welfare program – so the NREGS actually pushed up the minimum wage for farm labour to much higher than Rs. 100).

Now, with various states coming up with cheap rice schemes, the whole thing has gone topsy turvy. Given the subsidized rice, it is now possible for the worker to earn enough for his staple food by just doing a few days of work under the NREGS! The only need for him to work elsewhere, and possibly harder, is to pay for his “luxuries” (considering the price of subsidized rice, requirements and NREGS pay, it can be shown that 100 days of NREGS work can pay for all the essentials).

Given that the essentials are taken care of by the combination of NREGS and cheap rice, the only reason that the worker will need to do actual (i.e. non-NREGS) is to help him save, or for “luxuries”. Yes, some workers will have special needs for money at different points of time because of which they will take on the extra work, but if you aggregate the supply of work, you will realize that the ‘hurdle daily rate’ for the worker to accept “real work” becomes really high.

Since the worker doesn’t absolutely need the money, he can now become the price-setter in the job market rather than being a price-taker. So what this effectively does is to push the “minimum non-NREGS wage” really high indeed (I can’t intuitively put a number on it, but it could be as much as Rs. 200). My bet is that a lot of rural-economy-produced goods will turn out to be really expensive next year since a lot of producers might choose not to produce them given the high cost of labour.

Quite a few commentators have said that the NREGS is a noble scheme for empowering the poor, and given that most of the ‘work’ done is meaningless, it can be replaced by simple cash transfers. The problem is that if that is combined with yet another welfare measure such as cheap rice, it can create severe distortions in the market.

The moral of the story is that if you want to help the poor, please go ahead and do so. What you shouldn’t do is to help them twice over – that can result in severe market distortions like the one that the express article talks about. What is needed is greater coordination between the centre and the states in the welfare measures.