Sunday, September 03, 2017

Tamil Nadu's Upper Funnel Education strategy and why its brilliant

Tamil Nadu has one of the best education strategies in the country. Let me start with an analogy that will help you appreciate this.

Imagine you are an e-commerce website owner. You have a webpage (like or that allows people to visit the webpage, prospect products, maybe add-to-cart and eventually buy. Think of your webpage as a funnel. The top of the funnel is people visiting the webpage. Mid-funnel is people prospecting products. Bottom funnel is people doing "Add-to-Cart". You have couple of important strategy options for digital marketing this webpage. Strategy 1: You adopt an upper funnel strategy. Your digital marketing efforts drives as much of the population to simply visit your webpage. It is prospected by many, and then a small subset will add-to-cart and a subset of that will complete purchase. Strategy 2: You adopt a bottom-funnel strategy. Your digital marketing efforts specifically targets people who are more likely to "add-to-cart". In effect - you only want those people who will take the "add-to-cart" action to visit your webpage. The traffic coming to your webpage is much lower, but those who come will most likely convert.

People pick from these two strategies based on their constraints and priorities. If you want to keep your server capacity cost low - you pick strategy 2; if you want brand awareness of your webpage to be high - you pick strategy 1.  Here is the key thing - the definition of traffic quality - depends on what you think of success. Strategy 1 could define quality as (number of people who know about my webpage)/(total population). This strategy focuses on more people being exposed to your webpage so that they have a habit of visiting when the need arises. Strategy 2 defines quality as (people who actually purchase)/(people who visit my webpage). There is no consistent definition of quality. It depends on what you, as the owner of the web page, want to do. It is dangerous to evaluate one strategy with metrics used by another strategy.

Tamil Nadu has an upper funnel strategy for college education. It wants as much of the population to either (a) get exposed to college education or (b) pass college and get exposed to professional career. It does not specifically optimize or even care about how many people eventually convert to great jobs in the end. It wants to make people going to college a habit, passing college a natural thing and hopes that this virtuous cycle habit formation leads to both direct and indirect positive effects. The definition of quality is more social - "what % of population get exposure to college education". Thats why it has a 12th pass % of 92%. Karnataka has a 12th pass % of 52%. It is adopting lower funnel optimization. Its definition of quality is (people who get jobs)/(people who get to college). Therefore, it is okay with a large chunk of its population not experiencing college or a professional career. While this is horrible for Karnataka's population, thats the state's strategy.

Tamil Nadu has consciously made passing 12th std easy, consciously allowed liberal centums and high marks in Math, Physics, Chemistry, Biology. It optimizes to put as many people in a position of applying to college. BITS, RECs, Delhi Colleges, and top colleges in other states have relied on 12th marks as a basis for admission. To help its students get into these non-TN colleges - Tamil Nadu has ensured that its students stand the best chance relative to students from other states. In parallel and quite obviously, it has increased its own server capacity in terms of number of colleges within TN to ensure the infrastructure support for its strategy. Now voila! - Magic. TN has not only pumped in its students into its own rapidly growing list of colleges but also into any available seat in non-TN colleges. Think of the virtuous cycle effects here. When BITS switched to normalization (which is (your mark)/(your state first mark)) - Tamil Nadu increased the "if you have to be above 90% its better that you be 96%" density to counter that strategy. It is a deliberate strategy to give its students the best chance everywhere. It has had flagrant success in exposing students to college education and embarrassing defeats to those exposed. But it has made sure getting to and completing college is as automatic a habit as brushing your teeth. It is quite a stunning feat. And it has taken all castes along in this journey - dalits, brahmins, thevars, MBCs, OBCs - the whole kitchen sink. Everybody has prospered. No one has been left behind. The country did not wise up to it until now. So we have NEET - a competitive move from other states to shut us down. Tamil Nadu's counter should have been "Fair enough. Bring it on". What it doesn't need now is a ill-informed intra-state caste war. That will only make it weaker. What it needs is a new game plan.

To conclude. In a philosophical decision of "Should I pass a person who is only semi-likely to succeed"  or "Should I fail a person who is semi likely to succeed" - Tamil Nadu has reduced false negatives (type II errors) and increased false positives (type I errors). It is morally and ethically the right strategy from a social justice point of view. This fantastic strategy has caused (a) a state with abnormally high self-esteem where almost all people have college degrees and most have professional degrees (b) the false positives - i.e. people who fail to secure professional jobs still be useful to society by finding other ways to survive as a college graduate and (c) a generation of highly valuable "graduate educated" parents to the next batch of TN children entering school. Lastly, it has allowed me, a late bloomer in education, to prosper later in a career. I could've been easily discarded as not good enough if I were a student in Karnataka. I owe my life to TN's strategy. This chance that I got is what is being assaulted by NEET. It stops the state from determining its strategy. Thats why NEET is poison and thats why TN should innovate a new strategy to get around it. 

Friday, April 07, 2017

Katru Veliyidai - The unusual Maniratnam man

This is a fairly decent movie. Certain interactions between the Karthi and Aditi - when the former behaves like a dick and the latter like a squirming worm - made you cringe on your seat and made you want to look away. These are powerfully well thought out and well written moments. Very subtle but the tension is like an elephant in the room head butts you. But they come with severe distractions. The jarring close-ups on Karthi was a strange vehicle. I understand that close-ups are used as some mood inducing vehicles by cinematographers. However, showing Karthi almost exclusively in close-ups  was just too much of 'why dont you step back from the camera dude' for me. I say this because a big part of the movie runs on his ability to charm and mysteriously smile his way into Aditi's heart and ours. The chemistry that makes us feel for them seems absent. Mostly because the love seems baseless and rushed. On either direction, it was hard for me to see why a person of that mind-set would pursue the other person so mindlessly. One can say "that is love" but somehow i feel it isn't.

The entire crux of the movie is the surprise on seeing a new Manirathnam man. The Maniratnam man is usually a highly virtuous, likeable, principled and forceful personality. People like Baradwaj Rangan exagerrate that all Maniratnam men are neither black nor white but superbly grey. I don't necessarily agree. From a perception point of view, they are always likeable. They are the people's man. And the law cant be a basis for grey if your men are always likeable.  This movie was different because the hero came off as genuinely unlikeable. I simply loved that subtlety. The heroine came off as a confused person and very unlike Maniratnam's girls who are usually independent, decisive and never abused. Here she is the opposite. Which was also interesting even if a little bit anachronistic. I wish the suffering of his journey was brough out better. He looked as smug and as much of a jerk as a POW as he looked in his airforce base. It was hard to believe he had changed his attitude by the end of the movie.

Overall this is not as bad as Kadal or Ravanan (his worst) and not in the class of Iruvar (his best). It rests firmly as his 50th percentile movie. It is a reverse portrayal of GVM's Nee Dhaan En Pon Vasantham but much less boring. The pretentiousness of "oh! we sleep together before marriage, have babies before marriage, family drinks saarayam, we are so cool" was weighing down on me. Those show pieces of fake rebellion could've been avoided. But I am coming to terms with the new Maniratnam. One of us has changed. I don't know if its me or him. But the relationship with my boyhood adulation has changed in the last 15 years.  

Wednesday, February 01, 2017

Nirmal Shekhar

Some news items make you sad. Nirmal Shekar passing away is one. I had this article cut and stuck on my bedroom wall for many years. I have read it and re-read it countless times (as I recollect here). Nirmal Shekar is a sports writer I grew up reading and the best sports writer I have ever read. I was so sad to hear the news of his passing away. Reading his version of the extent of grass and wind chill in the Edgbaston pitch made you want to wear a sweater in 40C Madras sun. Stefan Edberg arching like a bow while serving, Becker flying parallel to the ground to get that unreachable volley, the years of Pete Sampras worship and then the magic of Federer were all special if you saw it through the eyes of Nirmal Sekhar. His writing was more flair and more poetry than sports but then who cares.

Link to my favorite article of his is here

Wednesday, November 09, 2016

On The Extreme Lack Of Self-Awareness

I usually have never written about politics much less US politics on this blog. However, the egregious lack of self-awareness by the "holier than thou" set of people made me want to write something after a long time. Today, the people who associate with Democratic party of the US and who are self-proclaimed liberals are putting a level of oppari that is unheard of even in kannamapettai circles. They are mourning as if someone died, as if someone *else* they were dependent on to do the 'right thing' failed. As if they are staring at a future that is so terrifying that they have to be 'afraid' of it. Of course none of it is true. We are looking at a bright and prosperous future. The country has elected a great leader who will surpass the existing one and there is absolutely nothing to worry or be scared of. What is really happening is that - these so called democrats were just wrong. Their exam results just came out and declared that they were completely and utterly wrong. They don't know how to deal with being wrong because their self-awareness is, well, non-existent. So instead of looking inwards they are blaming someone else who is not them. Here is a list of reasons why they (a) were wrong and (b) have only themselves to blame.

Desensitizing the Undecided: Democrats weren't fair on what issues to outrage on. They outraged on everything republican. For 5 years they were 'crying wolf' on trivial issues, first with Mitt Romney (he was a honest man with impeccable personal integrity vilified for just being financially successful) and for constantly hyping trivial flaws by Trump. This caused a neutral audience to believe that Dem-bhakts will cry wolf for everything. The 'undecided' became deaf and blind to the outrage machine. So they didn't notice it when the outrage was for genuine reasons (Trump and the women thing). I frankly stopped believing anything about trump in the last 6 months.

Alienating Undecided/Republicans: Have you seen in your Facebook feed, someone who is openly republican? I am willing to bet none of the readers of this blog have a republican friend or even a republican FB friend. Do you think you or I can make a FB post that is overtly republican in nature? We'd get burnt alive for it. By dehumanizing republican supporters by calling them bigots, xeonphobhes, islamaphobes etc - Dems eliminated a forum where open dialog was possible. There was one lady (Tamil origin, big shot types) in my FB circle and twitter feed who used her children in a FB post to campaign for democrats. Apparently, the situation is so grave that her children are worried it seems. She asks people who are her FB friends to unfriend her if they were Republican leaning. That is the level of arrogance these democrats have. She is actually saying that a person with an alternate political view cannot even be her Facebook friend. This is the reality with most democrats. This basically meant that undecided/republicans who are already desensitized now are making their decisions without ground level debate.

Assumption of intellect: The worst offense by Democrats was this 'Assumption of Intellect' fallacy. This fallacy means that person A knows what is best for person B's life much better than person B. Thats not true. But the dems kept saying "How could you be so stupid and vote for trump?". As if they were the sole guardians of intellect in the world and they defined whats stupid and what wasn't. The right argument would have been to point out the flaws of the candidate and then allowed person B to arrive at his own conclusion. What dems did was simply order person B to vote for dems or be called stupid. Is that a way to convince an undecided voter?  Show. Dont tell.

Women Abuse & Personal Ethics of Hilary: Apparently Trump is bad towards women and so deserves condemnation. This is my personal ethic. I think in Mahabharatha 'Karnan' was a bad person. There is no way to justify or glorify him. He was jealous of arjuna, plotted and attempted to kill the pandavas, humiliated Draupadi in front a large crowd by disrobing her. He was on the side of evil when he had a choice to be on the side of good people. Senjotru kadan is not such a great virtue to trump it all. Hillary by enabling and associating with Bill after it was well known that he was a serial abuser, lost any sort of moral high ground. period. If she had divorced Bill instead of sticking with him for political mileage, its different. She sold herself to the devil.

None of the Democrats have a high moral ground. They don't represent greater good or absolute righteousness by any stretch of imagination. Yet they act if their defeat is equivalent to dharma dying. Hubris.

Tuesday, July 26, 2016


I liked Kabali. First, a disclaimer on my biases to help readers quickly decide whether to abandon this post after reading the first para. I fundamentally dislike glorification of cinema actors. My theory is the movie's story should organically bring out whatever coolness an actor supposedly has and not be made with the express purpose of showcasing some perceived coolness. It is one thing to party and have fun on FDFS of Rajini movies but it is also one of the least desirable human behaviors to consider someone 'thalaiva' and then go watch his movies just to see him move his body parts in slow-mo.  In the last 10 years upper caste/class douches (especially women) have suddenly discovered the coolness of being a Rajini fan and have tried to get on the bandwagon like an unwanted nerdy kid trying to get into a swimsuit party. Most upper class/caste Rajini "fans" remind me of Kumudha's IT colleague nerd boss in 'Idharku Dhaan aasai pattai Balakumara'. Given all these - I have mostly disliked Rajini movies that moves away from his traditional 'convey a simple comeback from behind story' platform and descends too much into hero worship (with Baasha ranking as his stupidest movie and worse than Naattukku Oru Nallavan, Pandian etc). However, this general disdain towards his movies hasn't stopped me from (a) watching all his movies and (b) liking him more than Kamalahasan in the recent past.

Now to Kabali. I wasn't planning on seeing the movie any time soon. But the fact that Rajini fans didn't like the movie gave me confidence that the movie might actually be good. I liked that the movie took its time to say things. I actually wished that it took more time to say the story fully well. Once Ranjith decided to make a slowish mood piece, I wish he'd done full justice to that choice. The class of the movie is evident in the way it makes Rajini search for his wife in a semi-prolonged way. It primes the situation up and builds pressure for a nice emotional release. Very similar to the build up to the Viswaroopam scene where Kamal reveals himself as a 'fighter'. This was the best part of the movie for me.  If they had abandoned the non-linear way of story telling it would have helped me appreciate the movie much better. This movie didn't need the slices of flashback to tell us about Kabali's rise and his love for Kumudha. It needed to start with it and spend a good 45 minutes on just that. In the first 30 minutes I didn't understand the extent of animosity between Rajini and the half dozen characters that are introduced in quick succession. There were so many of them that I stopped caring after a point. I also wasn't aware of how much Kabali loved Kumudha. I can't help but think that a powerful and detailed flashback (similar to the one in Ghajini) may have helped a lot. This movie is basically Nayagan and should've simply played out in a similar linear format. If a bunch of time is spent on establishing a character *before* an event then a whole lot of time does not need to be spent to explain the character's emotions *after* the event. I felt a trick was missed there.

The dalit undercurrent was as fascinating in Kabali as it was in Madras.  The dialog in the beginning where Kabali says (in the context of caged birds but obviously referring to boxed in humans) "Saava vida un karunai kodumaiyanadhu" was mind blowing. The reference to clothes, Ambedkar etc all provides a fascinating set up. Its just that Ranjith fails to cash in on this set up because (a) he hasn't spent time telling what made Kabali who he was and (b) he spend inordinate amount of time doing some stupid 'rajini style' scenes in the climax (the sequence at the top of tower where Rajini does a come back on the Chinese guy was plain nonsense). In the rest of the movie - the powerful dialogs were there but the situation wasn't there because Ranjith had not spent time setting it up. This actually significantly diminishes the impact of the dalit subtext Ranjith wanted to say. And this was a recurring theme of the movie for me - it would have worked much better had more screen time been spent on the rise and falling in love of Kabali as opposed to a retrospective look at his life in slices. At the end of every Rajini movie, I imagine if I would've liked the story had it been acted by a unknown actor. Most Rajini movies fail the test. This one sort of ended as a just pass.

Thursday, December 31, 2015

Agassi, Sampras on Ramesh Krishnan and Paes

November’s Thanksgiving holidays gave me an opportunity to read autobiographies of two great tennis players; I followed very closely in the 90s; Andre Agassi and Pete Sampras. Among players of that generation, I was a huge fan of Sampras and was so-so about Agassi. However, I’d rate Agassi’s autobiography Open among the best books I have read. It is certainly the best autobiography I have ever read. Reading both the books back to back in a space of week allowed one to contrast the same event as viewed by two different people. I’ll post a couple of anecdotes about this book that I liked across two posts. The first one is regarding the experience of both Agassi and Sampras with a tennis player from my hometown. Madras has been a decent enough factory for tennis players (Amritraj brothers, Ramanathan & Ramesh Krishnan and to a some extent Leander Paes) – of which Ramesh Krishnan was a personal favorite (although my father constantly criticized him whenever we watched him play).
Agassi’s mention of Ramesh Krishnan of was heartening to read – “MY FIRST TOURNAMENT as a pro is in Schenectady, New York. I reach the final of the $ 100,000 tournament, then lose to Ramesh Krishnan, 6– 2, 6– 3. I don’t feel bad, however. Krishnan is great, better than his ranking of forty-something, and I’m an unknown teenager, playing in the final of a fairly important tournament. It’s that ultimate rarity— a painless loss. I feel nothing but pride. In fact, I feel a trace of hope, because I know I could have played better, and I know Krishnan knows.”
Interestingly, Sampras made a decision to turn pro after beating Ramesh Krishnan “At Indian Wells, I beat Eliot Teltscher and Ramesh Krishnan, who were top-twenty players. Things were really starting to click, and people were taking notice. Tournaments began offering me wild cards…..The die had been cast, and now it was just a matter of exactly when I would turn pro. We decided to make the leap right then, after I beat Krishnan, even though it meant setting up a whole new lifestyle for me. Who would travel with me? What contracts would I sign? Where would I play next—“
It was hilarious to read Agassi’s description of Paes and the comparison to Brad Gilbert during their encounter at Atlanta Olympics “In the semis I meet Leander Paes, from India. He’s a flying jumping bean, a bundle of hyperkinetic energy, with the tour’s quickest hands. Still, he’s never learned to hit a tennis ball. He hits off-speed, hacks, chips, lobs— he’s the Brad of Bombay. Then, behind all his junk, he flies to the net and covers so well that it all seems to work. After an hour you feel as if he hasn’t hit one ball cleanly— and yet he’s beating you soundly. Because I’m prepared, I stay patient, stay calm, and beat Paes 7– 6, 6– 3.”

Saturday, November 07, 2015

Swan Song

Recreational cricket played during weekends in Seattle's really beautiful summer has been a major part of my life over the last 8 years. This cricket and associated practice sessions has led to great friendships and some of the most joyous moments I have experienced in Seattle. All good things must come to an end - and as the story of my life goes, I swim against the current and decided to move to bay area when most people my age moved away from bay area. That brought to end two things I cherished the most in Seattle - cricket and my prabhandha ghoshti.

I had been playing the 40-over a side leather ball cricket with the same team for 8 years and for the last four out of the 8 years, I played it with almost the same set of XI guys (the team is part of a club that rotates its players across teams to encourage club wide bonding). The moment I accepted my bay area job offer and the timelines of the move crystallized, I knew that the next weekend's game was going to be my last one with this team. Sadly, a sinking feeling inside me was also telling me that my life was changing in a big way and the next game was possibly my last ever in leather ball - league format. In the context of the league, it was an important match as we had to essentially win all the games non-stop to qualify for a division promotion. The next game was against a very strong King County CC boasting of super fast pakistani + afghani pace bowling line up that gave opening batters the chills the night before. It also boasted the super fast bowling sensation Naseer Jamali who was playing for US national team at that time. I have played against Naseer since he was 19 year old kid. Naseer is left handed, bowls like Akram but with a Shoaib Akhtar like run up and a nasty inswinging deliveries at 85+mph. The team has enormous rivalry with my team and the sledging gets really bad when I, a known troll, am at the wicket. I don't tell my team that this is going to be my last match with them as this is an emotional group of boys and instead decide to wait until the game is over. It maybe some small time useless league. But friendships are very real. The peace of mind and release of life pressure this small recreation provides is immeasurable.

We are set a target of 141 and I walk in with my opening partner of 4 years knowing fully well that their bowling attack is going to make this target very tricky, especially on a ground as large as Marymoor. Ever since I was a small boy playing cricket, I opened the batting but always took the non-striker end. This was a result of idolizing Sunil Gavaskar in my formative years.  This time, I decided to take first strike much to the surprise of Sriram, my opening partner, who in the four years had given up all hopes of trying to convince me to take first strike. Javaid is their opening bowler and bowls one of those banana outswingers at reasonable pace. He can bowl a straighter one without a change in action and essentially preys on the batsman's doubt whether to leave the ball or not. I have hurt this team badly in the past by moving around the crease so much and spoiling their line and length. The team is super charged up and greet me with a lot of 'nice' comments. As Javaid runs into bowl the first ball he totally expects me to walk down the pitch and so pitches a pre-emptive short one. I am rooted to my crease as a counter bluff and simply duck under the ball. He patiently walks up to me and tells me what he thinks of me with 10 other people chirping their 2 cents. This is exciting. The kind of last match I wanted to play.

Next over Sriram faces Naseer Jamali, who begins to square him up and bounce him in alternate balls. Sriram has a great technique, solid defense and is very compact. Unlike me in almost every sense of the game. In Naseer's second over, he bowls a perfect inswinger at a speed that feels like 90 mph and gets Sriram LBW. I still haven't faced Naseer but can see that he is bowling really well this match. On the other hand I can instinctively feel that I am trying too hard and not really seeing/timing the ball very well. The voice inside my head is telling me I wont last. It is always a battle with that voice inside your head isn't it? The voice tells me to go for it every ball and temperament is about shutting it down. I usually shut the voice down by focusing on the ball all the time. When it is being passed from keeper to slips, to cover fielder to  mid off and then to the bowler. Then I watch the ball all the way through the run up.

The first time I face Naseer, I remember why it is so difficult to bat against him. His long run up with the ball semi hidden both (a) makes it hard to focus on the ball and (b) tests one's patience in waiting for the run up to end. When the first ball is delivered I realize how quick he is as the ball takes an inside edge before my bat has landed fully. Steal couple of runs and am still on strike.  The fielders and egging me to have a go at him. Javaid walks up to me and says "if you are really a man, take him on" and I burst out laughing. These guys are dead serious when they say shit like this. Next Javaid over, I take him on the first ball. I walk out during his delivery stride giving him less time to react. But I mistime it and sky the ball. As I run towards the other side resigned to my fate, Javaid is not looking at whether the fielder would take the catch but instead is staring at me and says "I told you I'll fucking get you bitch". The fielder drops the catch. I troll Javaid. Troll the fielder even more. The game gets paused for a while as fielders try to have a word with me and complain to the umpire at the same time. This is fun. I love this.

I face a full Naseer over without losing my mind. The mental patient which is the voice in my head seems caged. Its a struggle every ball. Meanwhile Neeraj, our 1-drop batsman falls to Javaid's classic in-swinger that takes the inside egde to the keeper (Neeraj Bats left). Next over Naseer is bowling to me again. As he is going through this his long run up, I am battling with the voice again - should I walk down the pitch hoping for a short ball. When I want to make the bowler to bowl short, I walk down the pitch when the bowler is a couple of strides away from delivering the ball. This way he gets a chance to see me moving, has the opportunity to do a brain freeze and then bowl short in panic. If done selectively this technique fetches me some easy runs. This time I walk down and Naseer bowls short. However, I realize that he has added a few yards to his pace and my reflexes weren't what it used to be. In 2010 when I did the same thing to him, the ball easily cleared the rather large Magnusson cricket field in a big way. Cleared by so much that my team mates were jibing Naseer to rent a taxi to get the ball. This time the short one is really fast. the ball hits my glove, lobs to no man's land in backward square leg. 2 runs. The next ball, during the agonizing wait for Naseer to finish his run up, I keep telling myself "Behave yourself. See him off.". Naseer bowls a beauty. He cuts one into me at great pace. The ball is through the gate before I can say 'boo'. Naseer is a nice guy. We have had a nice rivalry over the years. He doesn't sledge. He smiles and says 'got you' as he runs past me. I nod saying 'good ball'. Game, Season, Phase of life over for me.

King County thinks at 29/3 they have the match in the bag. Lucky for us Parthu - our newly minted #4 batsman - finishes the game. At the end of the game, in our team huddle. I tell the guys. My voice shakes. It hits me that I will never play with these guys again and will never play in these grounds again. We all walk off the ground much later than usual but I will never forget that day.

Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Saturday, November 15, 2014

Exam Preparation

There are four stages to exam preparation

  1. Freak out about the extent of preparation you have to do when the exam dates are announced
  2. Slowly recover and build confidence that you can ace it.... to the point of becoming complacent
  3. Realize that you have procrastinated too much due to complacency and get back to totally freaking out about the the number of things you need to prep in the last minute
  4. Give up and reconcile to doing what you can in the time that is available to you.

Saturday, March 01, 2014

Single Serving Friends

Consider the relationship between your first cousin from your father's side of the family and your first cousin from your mother's side of the family. Unless they are married to each other (which turned out to be true in my family) or they know each other outside of the link my family provides them, chances are high that these two people only meet when there is a major event in my family. So they meet only a few times in a span of 20 - 25 years. They would've met during my parents marriage, meet again when I was born but after that they would only need to meet when I get married. Imagine the convenience this single-serving relationship offers. But wouldn't be awesome if the frequency was more than once a decade but not as suffocating as once every other day?

Friends who you only meet in kids birthday parties are true single serving friends. These are people you know because your kid goes to school with their kids or they are your friend's friends from a different circle of friends.  That common friend is the only intersection between you and this single serving friend. And you only need to meet this person only when this common friend hosts a birthday party or a house warming party.

If occasional sex with no strings attached was considered the holy grail of man-woman relationships. Then conversation with no friendship attached is the holy grail of random person in birthday party -> another  random person in birthday party relationships. You are standing there watching your kids run around and have extreme fun. 2 hours to kill before they serve you lunch and its terribly boring. This is when the prototypical desi male takes out the smart phone and pretends they actually have serious stuff to do on the phone. In reality they have no life and nothing special is going on. They are probably browsing twitter or reading some FB comment. But they make it appear as if they are really busy. It took the world some time to wise up but now everyone knows that the guy staring into his phone with a dumb smile is a dork. How does one avoid this kind of an awkward situation?

Here comes your single-serving friend to the rescue. This dude could be South Indian, North Indian, Italian, Latin american, Caucasian - it does not really matter. You could have a solid conversation, kill two hours and there is no day-after phone call or weekend-after meet up with the family.  You could say anything you want. Here is what is awesome. Once you get introduced, you cross the awkwardness once and for all. The next time you meet you can actually pick up exactly where you left off. I have some single serving friends who I meet only once a year. But it seems like we pick up a conversation from a year ago like it was yesterday. Its like a stage play. The moment we actors enter into that milieu we remember the lines, the plot and all that crap. We just continue the conversation. There is no awkward introduction etc. You can straight away jump into a conversation. I actually have 4 separate sets of single serving friends. I can actually choose a topic and have a conversation on the same topic with these 4 sets of people. Its very interesting. Like enacting the same drama with different set of actors.

Tyler Durden assumed that single serving friends were single serving because you met them in a airplane ride and then never met them again. But that isn't how single serving works. I can go to a restaurant exactly when I choose to and have single serving of a dish and feel no obligation to either (a) have a second serving or (b) visit the restaurant again. That is what is called a true single-serving meal.

Saturday, November 30, 2013

Madras Crowd - 4

In Irandaam Ulagam there is this scene where Arya cleans the backside of his paralyzed father (sitting in the commode) with hand wash. As he starts spraying the hand wash the father says "dei romba koosudhu da". Someone from the crowd shouted "engalukku eriyudhu da".

Friday, October 11, 2013

Tendulkar Sattrumurai

Strangely, I was reminded of this match today. As a little boy I vividly remember watching this entire series with my uncle. A boy called dindi kept stepping into my house and commented "that selfish guy is only looking for a century. not a win". On a pitch where Kapil opened the bowling with Maninder singh, Gavaskar opened the batting in 4th innings and was playing a knock similar to Tendulkar's Chennai 136 against Pakistan. It was one man battling against 1 bowler who was making the pitch spit snakes. It was not a team against another team. It was 1 man waging a war. After Gavaskar got out my uncle was like "I am never going to watch cricket again".  The cleansing process of life is fascinating. The old are washed away and replaced by the new in no time.

As Tendulkar sets aside his last two paasurams for a Sattrumurai before he sings his mangalam, I stand depressed. Not only because of the cliched childhood dying. It is.  I am also sad that I am not as sad as I thought I would be. I enjoyed a particular brand of Tendulkar. I didn't watch him because of an 'Indian' spirit or for the "for love of country" nonsense. I didn't think cricket was a team game where 11 people do a coordinated attack to topple the other 11. I switched off the TV when Tendulkar got out. It really didn't matter to me what happened after that. I'd take a Tendulkar 100 and an Indian loss any day thrice on boxing day. I saw the game because it was a 1x1 battle between a supremely talented batsman and an attacking bowler.  Here was a batsman who rose above the mediocrity surrounding him. Throughout the 90s when he walked in at nothing for 2 wickets which quickly became nothing for 5 wickets, he demonstrated the difference between mediocrity and class  when facing high quality bowling attacks. For that we have to thank the reasonably good batsman who played for India in the 90s who played their part in showing why the bowling was difficult so that Tendulkar could show us why he was special. These other players do include Dravids, Azharuddins Laxmans, Manjrakars and Gangulys of the world. 

I didnt think his skill was waning. This was just another challenge he would have outgrown in due course. I watched Tendulkar for the moments he created. He scored 10 or 12 runs against Donald in Durban but there were a couple of 4s there that I would rather watch as opposed to several centuries of other batsmen put together. He made 12 runs in Perth against Wasim and Waquar but the two or three 4s he hit was worth the $200 I paid as a stipend earning student and the fines I subsequently paid for illegally installing a dish antenna in a student apartment without permission. I watched Tendulkar the batsman. Salivating at the possibilities. He did what no other batsmen could do in the art of batting. That he was a cog in the wheel for a team to win some trophies was a distraction. It was tax that I had to pay to watch him bat.

Sunday, September 01, 2013

Happiness & Context

People will fundamentally agree that happiness is one of the chief things they seek from life. There is a upanishadic ultra short story on how a person meets and experiences the state of happiness.

A hunter after a long day's chase decides to spend the night under the tree. Upon waking up in the morning he hears the roar of a lion. He quickly climbs up a tree and sits on a branch. In a few moments he notices that a poisonous snake is approaching him from the bark of the tree and as he slowly recedes away from the snake he is pushed to the edge of the branch. One more step and he falls down. Right below the edge of the branch is a pond with an alligator waiting to devour him. He can swing and fall on the ground beside the pond. But the lion awaits him there. As the snake slowly slithers towards him and he is considering all his no-win choices, drops of honey from a leaking bee nest above falls on his face and mouth. He licks that and feels the sweet taste of honey. He experiences happiness. [1]

This was meant to illustrate in a 'there is no day without night' kind of way on the context in life in which happiness can be felt. The story is a metaphor and could represent the kiss of a small child when you are in great sorrow or a 2 hour gettogether with old friends in a marriage when you are going through a lot of stress. It could be a metaphor for why people read and reminisce olden day epics, ithihasas and puranas. On why Sri Thyagaraja or Sri Krishna Premi melt in tears when they talk about Rama or Krishna. People reminisce about epics, gods, saviours and puranas because these stories are like a drop of honey sweetening their mind when it is full of tials, tribulations and challenges. Recursively the epics and puranas themselves were not without the snakes, lions and the alligators. They were anything but nostalgic utopia  filled with happiness, clear blue skies, peace and joyous dancing. Those epics were about how in moments of great trials and tribulations man was touched by a moment of happiness. Those stories may have been about other things. But in all of them there was certainly an inspiring story about how it was darkest before dawn. That is why people read them and reminisce about them

[1] from an oft repeated anecdote in Velukudi Krishnan's lectures

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Manidha Manidha

One of my favorite Independence Day songs during the DoorDarshan days

Thursday, August 08, 2013

Shakunthala & Dushyantha

अभिज्ञान शाकुन्तलम् represents the best of  Kalidasa. It is his magnum opus. In this work he interprets the Mahabharatha story involving the falling in love of Dushyantha and Shankunthala. This great love story was a particular favorite of my father. His fascination with this love story led to a couple of things - my name and of course a constant telling and retelling of this tale and its beautiful layers as I was growing up. 

Shakunthala was this stunningly beautiful daughter of Vishwamitra and Menaka. Dushyantha was the king of Hastinapura. Dushyantha happens to meet Shakunthala, falls in love, impregnates her :-) and then has to leave back to Hastinapura due to certain circumstances. Shakunthala meanwhile earns the misfortune of being cursed by - who else - the eternal angry old sage Durvasa. As a result of this curse Dushyantha completely loses memory of ever meeting Shakunthala. How circumstances led him to remember her forms the rest of the story.

My favorite interpretation of this love story is how this separation and reunification happens across life and birth cycles. Each husband and wife pair is a version of Dushyanthan and Shakunthala story. A man and woman in love and united in marriage play out the Dushyantha and Shakunthala in an infinite loop. The live a fulfilling life of marriage and die. The next birth makes them forget each other for a while but at the right time the man's thoughts are sparked off the way Dushyantha's was when he saw the ring. Ultimately the man searches, knocks door after door until he finally finds his Shakunthala and asks her in marriage. Almost always it feels like they were meant to be united. That they had known each other for several years but for some reason had forgotten. In every birth Dushyantha and Shakunthala may wander, may get lost, they may even get married to the wrong person. But come the moment their destiny leads them towards each other. This story is so fascinating that even the gods love to participate in this game. This is why Meera meets her Krsna. Andal meets her Rangamannar.

p.s: I am not the most romantic person. But this story does intrigue me.
p.s2: The image is Raja ravi Varma's painting of Shakunthala looking longingly at Dushyantha

Saturday, July 20, 2013

Mariyan = (Nee Dhaane En Pon Vasantham) ^ Kadal

Disclaimer: The dude who acts as the heroine's father. I think his character name is thomas but they call him thommai or bommai or some such shit. He needs to be given an Oscar or a BharathRatna for his emoting, diction, tamil and accent. Temples must be built for him for people to worship. Where did they find him?

Among the people who like the smell of their own fart, Bharathbala likes the smell of his own fart the most. This is quite an extraordinary achievement considering the fact that his competitors include Gautham Menon and Manirathnam who, with kadal, locked himself up in a closed air-locked chamber for 3 hours to smell his own fart. Which might've been alright if not for the fact that he locked in the audience with him as well. You can at least forgive Mani & Gautham as they've given us a few hits in the past. But Bharathbala! First movie and all this indulgence. Really?

There is a very bad song by A.R.Rahman early on in the movie called 'Sonapareeya'. If ever there was a badly done song that did not fit the situation or the movie. It is this song. That song is the point where you kinda begin to fear this movie may not be good. It kind of tells you that something is badly out of synch. And then its all downhill. There was so much time in the movie where nothing really ever happened that I had time to think what was exactly wrong with the movie.Firstly, Bharathbala does not have the skills to translate a thought on paper to images and sound on screen. Secondly, Bharathbala has a total about 3 ideas that would be worth about 45 movie of movie time. All 3 ideas are very uninteresting. But in Bharathbala's mind these ideas are like gold. So he shows us these ideas repeatedly. Each idea is shown in such a slow place that it loses any effect whatsoever. And then its repeated a couple of times again even more slowly.

Dhanush has acted well. But in this movie its like running a marathon in a treadmill. Lots of hardwork but you are still in the same place. AR.Rahman has done 1.5 good songs. Nenje Ezhu was good. Kadal Raasa was so-so (althought both arrive at a time when you are "chopping off your fingers with car keys" level bored). The other songs are all nonsense and don't fit the milieu. I don't think ARR is competent to handle fisherman subjects. Not just ARR - the entire crew seem to be unable to add any sort of native flavor or originality to the fisherman backdrop. Its like some rich Oxford, peter, guy trying to portray fishermen to us. Fish out of water.

The movie fails because, none of the events shown touch any sort of emotional chord with us. It doesn't matter. You are not engaged. The challenges to Dhanush's love story seem trivial if not nonsensical. The kidnappers look like circus clowns and you really can't take them seriously. The whole escape portion has no drama in it. Its all just a bunch of pretty images collated together.

Sunday, July 07, 2013


I wrote briefly about Kamban in the 4 part Ramayana series of posts. A couple of people have helped me learn more about Kamban in the past few days and I wanted to point them out. One is a blog on English translation of Kamba Ramayanam and the other is an audio "blog" in sound cloud.

Kamban, as many know, wrote his version of Ramayana based on his interpretation of Valmiki's text. I was told that when Kamban travelled to Srirangam requesting permission to start this work, he was first asked to compose "Satagopan Andhadhi", which would give him the sense to distinguish right and wrong. This "andhadhi" was in praise of the foremost of the 12 Aazhwars - Kaari MaaRan Satagopan, whose ThiruvaiMozhi is considered to be on par with Chandogya Upanishadh..The seers in Srirangam felt that writing this andhadhi would allow him to comprehend Ramayana in the appropriate context. Kamban wrote Kamba Ramayanam after composing "Satagopan andhadhi".

Chenthil writes the English translation of Kamba ramayanam (called அலகிலா விளையாட்டு – Endless Game )without being asked to compose something else. I recommend readers check out this blog on english translation of Kamba Ramayanam.

Sushima Shekar  aka amas32 and a few others have a series of audio posts on Kamban in SoundCloud. I have to say this (and my mother said the same thing as well :-) ). Amas32's voice resembles Jayalalitha's voice strongly.

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Blog Ula - III

Here are some interesting places I'd like to recommend to the internet youth.

Sangeetha Abhyas: If you are a carnatic music aficionado and want to listen to a wide variety of canatic singers, know the raagams, swarams and about legendary singers - look no further. Introducing Sangeetha Abhyas. This website focuses on the fundamentals of music and is a great site for someone who is not trained musicians but are eager and enthusiastic to know more about it and its mechanics.

All that's in my head: My cousin has decided to say all that is there in her head. There is definitely a lot on Shwetha's head. She is severely youth based and so has youth type views on topics. Her blog reminds me of how I used to feel about things in the cretaceous period when I was idealistic and hadn't been kicked by someone on my chin. Read introductory paragraphs of previous blog ula on what I mean by this.

Wednesday, June 05, 2013

House Husband Training

I am eating channa daal (or a mashed up something that contains channa) that my wife made for the kid but kid didnt like it so she threw it in my plate before she left for work. When my hand touches the plate - Kid 1 walks to me and says "appa poopy". This generally means I have a few milli seconds before a horrendous in-underwear detonation. So with a Jack Bauer like alacrity, I carry the plate in one hand and kid 1 in other hand and run to the toilet seat. As I am running kid-2 comes and says "appa poopy diaper". So I keep the plate on top of the commode tank, kid 1 on toilet seat and rush towards  kid 2 before she removes it and starts swinging it around like a whip. As I make Kid 2 lie on the floor and begin removing the diaper, kid 1 walks off toilet seat in middle of potty. In the process she eeshifies poopy on the toilet seat, the wall, carpet and sits on a flight of stairs next to me. There is no purpose as to why she has done this. I think she just felt like talking a walk in the middle of pooping.

So in panic I make an error removing kid2's diaper. I eeshify poopy on her leg and some poop falls on the carpet. I rapidly rush for flushable wipes,  clean kid 2 bum, collect poop with wipes and in process some eeshifies on my hand. I throw wipes into the diaper and diaper into the bin. I then clean up kid 2 bum and turn to focus on kid 1. I use the flushable wipes to clean the wall, the carpet, the seat, and flush toilet. Only to realize that the poop that eeshified my hand is now eeshified on the flush handle. So I clean the flush handle with flushable wipes, clean my hand, flush the toilet and put on a underwear for Kid 1. As I start calming down and start searching for my plate, I realize something horrible might have happened.

I haven't cleaned Kid 1 bum.

In panic I remove kid 1 underwear and find poop eeshified on underwear and now her leg. I remove underwear, use flushable wipes to wipe off poop from her leg, throw her underwear, wipe off her bum and put on a new underwear. After a sigh of relief, I search for my plate for 5 minutes and then realize its on the top of the toilet tank, pick it up and make a move to eat. But as I stare at the channa and the color of the whole thing - I am stopped on my tracks. I know its channa. Its color may resemble something else but its still channa. Nevertheless, I am unable to put it in my mouth. I am psychologically scarred after having seen so much poopy in such a short period of time. I sigh. I hesitate. Then I sigh even more. Then I throw the food into the dustbin and walk away.

Post Script: This post was written by a maanasthan called chandru. He is now no more.

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Dei Hindhi Boy! Why you no write Hinglish very well?

When I first saw Hindhi people write the words 'Seetha' and 'Geetha' as 'Seeta' and 'Geeta' I used to get very annoyed. They wanted to write सीता and गीता in roman script but ended up writing सीटा and गीटा. Then later I realized that these hindhi people used the roman alphabet 't' to represent the Devanagari alphabet 'त'. But when learning basic English phonetics I always thought the roman alphabet 't' sounded closer to 'ट'. All English words pronounced 't' with a ट sound. I can't think of an English word that would pronounce 't' any different (e.g. tank, took, take, toon, taunt, eat, mental, cut, put, butteach, torture). They all use a sound closer to ट when pronouncing these words. Which means if you wrote all these words in Devanagari script you'd be using ट to represent 't'. So why would I pronounce 't' as त ? So what do Hindhi people do when they want to write ट in Roman script? To my horror, I found out that these Hindi people used 't' to represent 'ट' as well (for e.g. when they wrote 'tamatar' we should know to pronounce this as टमाटर and not तमातर).  Damn it!. So these people use the roman letter 't' to arbitrarily represent 'ट' or 'त'.  And they expected every one who does not know Hindhi to know about this.

My annoyance was not with the fact that they had a quirk of their own. Every language does. My annoyance was with their assumption that every Indian should 'just know'  this quirk. And the constant 'why you tamilians are writing like this'. It was their quirk. How did it suddenly become my problem? My annoyance reduced a little bit when I found out about San Jose or Jungfraujoch. In these words the 'J' is not pronounced as the regular phonetic affricate /dʒ/. But more like a 'H' sound in the former and a 'Y' sound in the latter. This is not immediately obvious to someone who sees the combination of these letters written for the first time in Roman script. And my very own local parties the damn thamizh folks used 'zha' to represent the retroflex approximant 'ழ'. This is so not obvious to non-thamizhs and non-malayalis. The good thing is thamizhs, mallus, spanish people don't look at non-speakers of that language and go "hey you are writing wrong man. we are always writing correctly". We know its our quirk. For example I met a guy whose name was spelt 'Jorge'. The way he wanted others to pronounce his name was 'hore-hay'. He was like the bizzaro world equivalent of Hindhi people using 't' to represent two sounds - in the same name he used 'j' and 'g' to mean the same sound 'ha'. At least he was humble about the quirkiness of his spelling.

To understand this better -  Hindhi inherited Sanskrit's language system where some consonants can be combined with a 'ha' sound to create a whole new set of consonants.. For example if Hindhi people wanted to represent sounds क, ब, ज in roman scripts they'd use  ka, ba, ja. But Hindhi people have a parallel set of words ख (क + ह) , भ ( + ह), झ ( + ह) which other languages don't have so when they want to represent them in Roman script they add the 'ha' sound to roman script that represents the root letter - such as Kha (K + ha), Bha (B + ha), Jha (j + ha). This is fine and dandy. There are no native Roman script sounds 'kha' 'bha' 'jha' that conflict so we get it. We don't care. But we get it. The point where I really get confused when roman script has a well defined frequently used sound that these hindhi people hijack for their own purpose. They not only do that but also have poor self-awareness to know that its their own quirk. Take for example the sound 'th'. This is used very frequently in English.  The words that use 'th' are for e.g. 'this', 'that', 'then', 'thy', 'them', 'thus', 'therefore,' 'third', 'the', and 'those'. All regular english words use 'th' to sound something like 'त'. 

But Hindhi people have ignored this logic. And to show remarkable haste to add the 'ha' sound to every consonant that can walk the Hindhi people do something as crazy as the following. Here is some simple Hindhi sound arithmetic ट + ह = ठ. So these people try to replicate the same arithmetic in roman script as well. So they do 't' + 'h' = 'th'. So now 'th' represents a sound called ठ that no non-hindhi speaker uses or knows about or more importantly cares about. It is roughly pronounced 'tah' in roman script. And so when they write their words in roman script a non-hindhi speaker is supposed to 'just get it' that it represents ठ. So when i see the word 'this' should I pronounce it 'tahis' ? No? Why not?  'Meetha' is pronounced 'meetah'. Its seems arbitrary and everyone is just supposed to get this. The craziness doesn't just end there. They have another arithmetic: त + ह = थ. Remember they use 't' to represent त. So they do 't' + 'h' = 'th'.  So now 'th' also refers to this new sound थ.  Now if a hindhi guy uses 'th' he could either be referring to थ or ठ. Go figure!

Now we haven't even begun on the word 'd'. This roman script is used in English words such as donkey, dick, dam, damn, dirty, douchebag etc. In all English usage of this word it resembles the sound ड. But a hindhi reader is already getting ready to type a comment "hey! its Hindi and not Hindhi". Oh yeah? So now you are using 'd' to represent the sound 'द'. So what do Hindhi people do when they want to to write the sound ड in Roman script? Well - they use the alphabet 'd'. So 'd' can mean both ड and 'द'. So what do they really mean when they use 'dh'. Because in regular english words the 'dh' softener is used to refer to a sound close to 'द'. But when Hindhi people write 'dh' they actually mean the sound ध. You already know why because of the arithmetic 'द' + ह = ध. But then one is wordering about the other arithmetic ड + ह = ढ. How does a Hindhi person write 'ढ' in roman script. Wait for it. Wait for it. they use 'dh'. 

You gotta be kidding me!

So to sum up in a table. This is how one should translate when a roman script is used by actual English words Versus what these Hindhi people mean.

Roman Script
Sound that script indicates in actual English words
Weird possible sounds that Hindhi people can mean when they use script
ट (tank, take)
त, ट
त (this, that)
थ, ठ 
ड (Do, donkey)
ड,  द
ढ (sometimes द)
ढ, ध

What really gets my goat is the way hindhi people differentiate between the अ and the आ sound. Do you know how they differentiate? That's the trick. They don't. बलं is 'bal'. बालं is written as 'bal' as well. I met a person who had this surname 'Bhagwat'. I pronounced that as भगवट. Because I wanted to pronounce it the way it was actually written. But the person corrected me and said "but its भागवत". So the अ in in the second syllable 'वत' (which is theoretically व+अ+तं) gets one 'a' in the roman script spelling. But the  'आ' in the first syllable 'भा' (theoretically भ + आ ) doesn't get two 'a's. It gets one 'a' as well. So a unsuspecting non hindhi person must somehow magically find out that the 'a' in the first syllable corresponds to  'आ' and the 'a' in the second syllable corresponds to अ . You are deemed horrible if you didn't.

Every language has its quirks. Especially so when it is transliterated to roman script. One would assume a certain amount of humility in the speakers of the language to know that it is their own unique quirk and not act all "this is the correct way" when non-native speakers of the language don't get these quirks. Somehow hindhi people have gotten into their head that Thamizhs are the only people who feel the urge to write 'Seetha' and 'geetha'. *Most* non-hindhi people who are familiar with the roman script will logically write it that way. When Canadians, Australians, Brits, Americans and Kiwis  see the word 'Sita' they will probably pronounce it as सीटा. Thats what the 't sound means.

Two years ago, I cried a little when I landed in திருநேல்வெலி and saw the name spelt in the railway platform as 'Tirunelveli'. They're spreading their stupid. Damn you!. Damn you!.