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Poetry

I’ve never really got what the big deal about poetry is. I have friends on facebook and google+ who share bits and pieces of poetry that they like, and shag about it. And most of the time I never get why it’s so hifunda. Yes, I do like some poetry. Like I think Vikram Seth’s The Frog and The Nightingale (which appeared in our 10th standard textbook) is an absolute classic. I can still recite the few stanzas of The Highwayman which I had mugged up for an elocution competition in school. I don’t however, get “modern poetry”, the kind without any rhyme or rhythm. And so, faced with a deluge of such literature, I have been trying to figure out what the big deal about poetry is.

Think about the ancient classics and texts. Think about the Vedas, the Ramayana, the Mahabharata, the Iliad, the Odyssey. All of them written in verse. Think about the hundreds of thousands of Vedic schools spread all across India, some of them functional even today, where students did nothing but just mug up to recite the Vedas. Think about the ancient Indian oral tradition, which has managed to preserve the Vedas and our epics in something close to their original forms even today. Can you imagine mugging up all the words of a modern classic, and remembering it well enough to deliver verbatim to your students? I guess you can’t, and you don’t need to, for we have the luxury of writing, and written records. But what in those days in ancient India, where there was no paper? How have such long and magnificent texts survived our oral tradition across centuries? The answer is poetry.

Poetry is a concept that dates back to the times when there was no writing. It was a means to make it easy for someone to memorize a piece of text. By introducing concepts such as rhyme and rhythm, of allegories and metaphors, the poets would make it easy for the transmitters to remember the poems. I’m told (for I haven’t read them firsthand) that the Vedas also have several built-in checksums, to enable easy rememberance, in case a part of a verse gets lost in memory. By this insight, poetry is basically a means to render text in a format that makes it easy for you to remember stuff. That, truly, is the sheer beauty of poetry. An ancient concept designed to transmit, across generations. A concept that was essentially rendered redundant with the coming of writing, because of which it had to reinvent itself. And I’m not sure how successful that reinvention of the form has been (though given the number of people who claim to love poetry, I must say the reinvention has been rather successful).

Now, think of your school textbooks, any subject. And think about how many lines from the prose you can remember verbatim. Exactly as it was in the text. I would guess the answer would be something close to zero, which is the answer in my case. And now think about the poetry you read back in school, and how much of that you can remember. I would assume the number is rather higher. I may not remember complete poems, but I remember at least stanzas from several of the poems I studied back then. For example, I can recite verbatim several of the dohas written by Kabir and Abdurrahim Khankhana, which were part of our school syllabus as far back as when I was in 7th standard. Now think about it – how is it that I can remember entire lines, written in a language I was hardly comfortable with back then, in a dialect I hardly understood, almost twenty years later? It is down to sheer poetry! The rhymes and rhythms and allegories and puns which all make it so easy to remember!

So what is poetry? It is essentially a form of writing which is easy for the reader to memorize, and remember ages later in order to transmit. So what is good poetry? It is a piece of writing, written in a form that sticks in the reader’s head, which possesses him, to the extent that he remembers the words in their entirety, and not just the essence. The thing with great prose is that it enables the reader to easily grasp the idea it is trying to convey. With poetry, it is not just the idea that is to be conveyed, it’s also the expression. And how good a poem is depends on how successful it is in making the expression stick in the reader’s head.

In general, I must admit, I still don’t get ‘free verse’. I think it’s just prose written with lines broken in random places that the “poet” fancies. While they might have some nice puns or allegories, in most cases it is impossible to remember the exact words, for there is little that ties sentences, that creates checksums, that enables readers to remember the expressions. I still like simple good old poetry, though, but few people write that any more. I’ll leave you with a stanza from one of my favourite poems which I still remember:

Once upon a time a frog
croaked away in bingle bog
Every night from dusk to dawn
He croaked awn and awn and awn

LJ

Today, maybe for the first time in over two or three years, I logged in to Livejournal. Nowadays, at my home, LJ is for the exclusive use of the wife, and I haven’t been there at all since moving my blog here. And the first thing I did was to look at my LJ Friends page.

There was a post about ubuntu by randomwalker, which I put well left to. And then there was a friends-only post by al_lude  (no use linking that here since you won’t be able to read it unless he’s friended you on LJ). And now I know the one thing I’ve been missing about LJ ever since I moved here. The friends-only post!

I realize that in the last couple of years or so, I’ve been writing less because all those posts that would’ve been written as “friends only” posts on LJ are now not written at all. I do intend to re-start writing that kind of stuff. I’m thinking of Google Plus as a medium for doing that. For that one reason I really hope G+ takes off and more people begin to use it, so that it becomes more meaningful.

Google Plus – Initial thoughts

Hareesh sent me an invite for Google Plus early on Wednesday morning. Thinking it’s another stupid thing like Wave, I ignored it. But feedback from twitter revealed that the product did show some promise, so later that evening I joined it. I’ve got some 150 friends already (god knows how long it took me to get to so many with either Orkut or Facebook), though I haven’t started using it yet. Some initial thoughts:

  • I like the concept of circles, and that it’s so easy to segregate your friends. This has become a huge problem in social networking, especially after all uncles and aunties got on to facebook. So far I’ve made an attempt to classify all my contacts into disjoint circles of “friends” “family” and “acquaintances”. I also like it that circles need not be disjoint, so I can make an exception to my rule and put the wife in both “friends” and “family”
  • I like that it’s a directed graph. That you can follow the public posts of someone without them having to follow you back. I don’t know why but I simply like this. I hate putting friendship requests and waiting endlessly for responses and stuff. So this directed stuff makes a lot of sense for me.
  • I need to find out how to import my blog there. Then I can close my blog feed on facebook which is infested with uncles and aunties. On Plus, they’ll be safely tucked away in the “family” circle which won’t be able to see much.
  • I don’t like being the “cut-vertex”. I don’t like being the one guy who links two subgroups of a larger group. On a similar note, I don’t like to go out simultaneously with disjoint sets of friends (i.e. two groups that didn’t know each other previously). I feel too tense trying to make sure everyone’s comfortable and clued in on what’s happening. Similar with conversations on facebook. So yeah, I’ll probably segregate my circles further and have more cliquey groups.
  • Again, directed graph means I can peacefully put ignore to people, without appearing rude. On FB, if some uncle comments and I don’t respond, he might take offense, and I’ll be cognizant of the fact that he takes offence. And I force myself to reply. On G+, if i”m not following him, I can peacefully put well left. Like I sometimes do to @Replies to me on twitter from people who I don’t follow

So seems promising. Too early to say if it’ll make me give up both twitter and facebook. I’m sure I won’t give up twitter for sure. Let’s wait and see.

Moron the corruption issue

Following my previous post and comments and countercomments and discussions on twitter and facebook and google groups and various other forums, I’ve been thinking about this whole corruption thing. Random thoughts. The kind that comes to you when you’re traveling across the city by auto on a hot summer day, watching the world go by.

Ok so this is for the people who claim that the supporters of Anna Hazare are a large enough group that they probably represent “most of the people”. If this were the case, we have a simple solution to corruption – all these worthies can band together in the form of an “anti corruption party” (when was the last time we had a political party being formed on a solid ideology?) and contest the next elections. And if they can work hard, and ensure that they keep up the kind of efforts they’ve started, they’ll soon be ruling us. And hopefully they’ll continue with their zeal and be actually able to eradicate corruption. (on my end, I promise that if a credible party gets formed with an anti-corruption stand, I’ll get over my NED, get myself registered as a voter and vote for them).

But there are reasons to doubt something like this will happen. A look at the list of nominal supporters Anna Hazare got suggests that a lot of people were there just to be seen and get footage, rather than really wanting to weed out corruption. Again, given the political spectrum across which Hazare’s supporters last week came from, it might not be that easy an idea to form this “anti-corruption party” that I suggested.

Thinking about it further, there is a scary thought – that a large part of our population is actually pro-corruption. And looking at the political parties across the spectrum, it doesn’t sound implausible. So if a large number of people are actually pro-corruption, what are we to do?

Let me put it another way. How many people do you think are really anti-corruption? On all fronts? How many people do you think exist in India who haven’t paid or received a single bribe, however small that might be? Basically I want to estimate the number of people who are against corruption of all kinds, and my sense is that this number is likely to be small indeed.

I think one needs to think about this further before actually figuring out how to weed out corruption. From what I’ve read so far the Lok Pal bill simply adds one extra protective layer, and am not sure of its effectiveness. More about this in another post.

Punjabi Muslims

So earlier today I was reading this profile of a Harvard professor that Chan had shared on Google Reader, and I came across this name called Iqbal Dhaliwal. The name immediately rang a bell, and I realized I’d come across this name long long ago in the Competition Success Review (yes, I admit I used to read that ) when he topped the civil services exam.

So one of my hobbies is to try find out about a person’s origins and ethnicity given his/her name. Like I once figured that this colleague is of Danish descent because his surname ends with -sen while the more common spelling of that name is -son. And so I was trying to figure out where  Iqbal Dhaliwal came from. It was clear from the first name that he’s Muslim. And the last name, I thought, sounded Punjabi.

And then my thought process went something like this:

First name Muslim, last name Punjabi-sounding… So is he a Punjabi Muslim? But then, I don’t know any Punjabi Muslims. Do there exist any Punjabi Muslims at all? Hey, wait a minute, I remember reading somewhere that the majority of people in Pakistan speak Punjabi. So there must exist Punjabi Muslims. But I don’t know any.. I don’t know any Punjabi Muslims but there are lots of them in Pakistan. Yeah, I don’t know any because all of them are in Pakistan. Yes, all of them are in Pakistan, most of them at least!

I know Kannadiga Muslims, Bengali Muslims, Gujarati Muslims, Kashmiri Muslims and Muslims from UP. But I don’t know any Punjabi Muslims. Because there are no Punjabi Muslims in India. Because ALL of them went to Pakistan. Tells you how much of an impact partition had in the Punjab,  compared to anywhere else in India.

Temple Towns

Someone (a friend’s friend I guess) had written in the comments of a shared post on Google Reader about how he generally feels safe in tourist places. Locals there have an incentive to be nice to tourists, he said, since they depend upon the latter for livelihood. And so elements that would make the place unsafe for tourists would be weeded out.

While I agree with this hypothesis (in general) I realize that the same need not hold true for temple towns or other similar places where people go for religious reasons. There the locals have no incentive to be nice to tourists, pilgrims rather – the Pilgrims will come no matter what, and the place will continue to Progress.

So if you are evaluating holiday options from a safety perspective you are likely to be better of choosing the secular option.

Making guest list

So last night I sat down to do the presumably fun task of preparing my wedding guest list. This was just the first cut, where I just put down the names of people I want to invite in an excel sheet. In the second cut, I’ll parse the sheet and figure out how each person on the list should be invited – personally, or on phone, or email, and so on.

So there can be two kinds of error while making such a list – errors of omission and errors of commission. The probability of error or commission is quite low. After all there aren’t too many people who you explicitly don’t want at your wedding. And if there exist any such people, you will remember that only too well while putting their names down in the invite sheet.

Errors of omission is what I’m concerned about. There have been times in the past when people have gotten married, and I haven’t had a clue. It’s a different matter about whether I’d’ve gone or not, but I know that there is scope for hurt feelings if certain people are left out of the list. So one must be careful.

The problem is that I’m currently not in touch with a lot of these people. I would’ve been good enough friends with them at some point of time in life that I’d want to invite them to my wedding. But the fact that I haven’t kept in touch means I may not remember their existence, but when eventually they see my wedding pics on facebook it might result in a kinda hurtful “congrats” message.

The other question I must ask is that if I’m prone to forgetting about someone’s existence, if they are worth being invited at all. That I’ve forgotten about them means that obviously they are quite low in my list of people I want at my wedding. So am I generally paining myself by trying to remember people who I wouldn’t normally remember?

So far the easiest list I’ve made is from my batch of people from IIMB. We have a google doc with everyone’s names and personal details. So one parse through that meant I wouldn’t forget anyone’s existence. Much peace ensued. The problem is similar lists don’t exist for my other social networks. Anyway I’ll try my best.

Tangentially, another issue is about how “forcefully” I invite certain people who don’t live in Bangalore and have to fly down for my wedding. For a variety of reasons I happened to bunk their weddings, and now it’s a little embarrassing to insist that they be there.

PS: This old post of mine, I think, is pertinent.

Happy Birthday 2

So today this blog (on this website, not the earlier avatar on LJ) celebrates its second birthday. I request you to join me in wishing this blog a happy and prosperous second birthday.

It has been an interesting journey since I moved my blog to this website exactly two years ago. Initially, readership just took off, but for a combination of reasons I had to slow down the pace of my blogging sometime late last year so you don’t see this blog as prosperous as it used to be last year. Oh, talking about monetary prosperity, this blog has to date earned a sum total of two dollars in Google Adwords earnings.

I have a resolution to celebrate the second birthday of this website. Starting today, I’m going to make an effort to set aside at least ten minutes every day and write one post on this blog. I must warn you that the quality of writing might go down, that there might be occasions where I might be forcing myself to write which might compromise on quality and stuff, but at least there will be stuff to read. It saddens me looking at the amount of NED that I’ve been putting (on a website of the appropriate name) over the last few months resulting in a fairly barren blog, and strong resolutions like these, I think, are necessary to take this blog back to its glory days.

I still stick to my promises – no more posts here either on arranged scissors or on studs and fighters. Another disappointing thing I need to mention is that I haven’t really been able to do much work in terms of those two books. I hope to start some positive work in that direction towards the end of this year, I hope.

I must take this opportunity to thank you people, my readers, for helping me make this blog successful. I hope you continue to enjoy reading the stuff here and that my readership will grow.

Coffee in America

I could have finished this post in one word  – “horrible”. But for the sake of blogging and detailed description, let me sacrifice brevity, like I usually do. I’m writing this after having drunk a cup of absolutely atrocious self-made coffee. Yes, it is proper traditional filter coffee made using Coffee Day Ultra Rich powder, but somewhere I seem to have messed it up. And the quality of this coffee, the first time I’ve made the brew after returning from America, reflects the general quality of coffee they make in America!

I think I can count on the fingers of one hand the number of times I had good coffee. One was at a friend’s place in New Jersey, where I had traditional South Indian filter coffee out of a steel tumbler. Another was the Turkish coffee at The Hummus Place in Greenwich Village which I’ve talked about in my previous post. That is it! Maybe the odd capuccino somewhere but I can’t remember anything else specific.

The funny thing about America is the size of the coffee lOTas. The average coffee cup in my office was some 400 ml, and each time I would put it under the machine and ask for capuccino it would get filled up! It was extremely disorienting for someone like me who is used to several small doses of coffee during the day. There was another dispenser which dispensed decoction but that was horrible, too. But later on I started drinking from that since I could then control the volume of each dose!

I think I have mentioned this in some other post but another problem in America is they give you hot black coffee and COLD milk. Again extremely disorienting for someone who is used to coffee made with boiling milk. I’m told that the typical American puts such little milk in his coffee that the temperature of milk doesn’t matter. Just that I found it hard to digest (not literally).

Then there was this coffee maker in my apartment. I had to google to figure out how it worked and then realized that an essential part of making it work was to buy filter paper (the first time I’d come across this thing since high school chemistry lab). Since I didn’t have enthu to buy the said paper, I just made do with the two complimentary sheets that had been kindly provided in my apartment. Needless to say the coffee came out to be horrible and I didn’t use the machine again.

One of my regrets of my America trip is that I didn’t order coffee post my several Italian meals. Maybe the Italian restaurants would have made coffee much better than what was available in the rest of the country. And one of the amusing things i remember from the trip is the length of the queues at the Starbucks outlets! That made me realize that people actually go to Starbucks for coffee unlike us here who use Cafe Coffee Day as a convenient hangout location!

Yesterday I did my bit to make up for all the horrible coffee that I’d endured during my America trip. Had two awesome cups of filter coffee at a friend’s place, and then three doses of “sugarless strong” at three diffferent darshini-level places. Unfortunately this morning’s mess-up (now I realize I put 2 spoons of powder into the filter instead of the usual 4) has taken me back to square one, of American quality coffee.