Saturday, November 30, 2013

80. The bald and the beautiful

It is no breaking news that the 'bold' becomes 'bald' sooner than the 'beautiful'. Loss of hair on the temples and vertex with a rim of hair retained along sides and rear of the head is common, termed the 'hippocratic wreath'. I doubt if this has got anything to do with the Greek philosopher Hippocrates, though he too had lost hair early.    

The question that begs attention is: why do men lose hair at a faster rate than women? It is not that women don't lose hair but they do hide the exposed turf with their long hair. I have reliably learnt that the theories on baldness that apply to men do not necessarily relate to women. Blame it on testosterone hormone, they say!

Curiously, the hormone that makes men 'bold' turns them 'bald' too. While genetic make-up and diet does play some role in delaying the process, baldness is a syndrome that most men can hardly avoid. Hair restoration or transplant has come handy for those who can afford it. For the ordinary mortals, wig remains a vulnerable option.  

Many of you may have already run your soft hand over your head to check the ground conditions. Still others would have been at the mirror rotating their head on its axis. While some may have been relieved for now, many others have lost so much that they have thrown caution out of the window. For them, it is hair today gone tomorrow! 

All said, mystery of hair fall must be resolved. A new study blames it on the law of gravity - 'the force of downward pull caused by gravity on the scalp skin is a key contributor to progressive hair loss in men'. Wonder, why did it not work on Issac Newton? Much like women, Newton supported long hair and a dense canopy!

Let's not split hairs on the issue any further. A friend offers a comforting but amusing suggestion to those who are victims of receding cover on top.  Says he, 'when the (bald) head is held high, the hair can only fall behind'. 

Monday, September 9, 2013

79. What is not in a name?

'Bhawani Singh couldn't be anything but 'old'   
A rose by any other name would undoubtedly smell the same. Any attempt at equating it with humans is unlikely to work, therefore when it comes to us 'name' does matter - an 'identity' for existence and even beyond. Imagine, if our ancestors had numbered us instead - someone's 'mobile' could have been other person's 'girl friend'. If that were to be so, legendary mathematician and astronomer Aryabhatta would surely have been named or numbered 'zero'.      

Whether short or long, names through the ages have had profound influence of prevailing cultures....gods, deities, creatures, colors, emotions and aspirations featured heavily in varying combinations in giving structure and meaning to names for the newly born. Not all names carry a 'meaning' though. While introducing herself, a little girl had told me that her name 'Ashnoor' was meaningless. It does seem so! 

Meaningful or inert, in each generation a set of names get the hype that we end-up having many persons with similar first names floating around. I had three 'Anil' and couple of 'Pritam' in my graduate class. There was a time when 'Sanjay' were in plenty and so on. Given the generational emphasis on certain 'names', it is indeed possible to figure out the 'age' without having seen the person. In the classic comedy Gol Maal (pic), Laxman seeks to meet the old man 'Bhawani Singh'. When accosted why did he refer to Bhawani Singh as 'old man' without ever seeing him, Laxman quips 'anyone named 'Bhawani Singh' couldn't be anything but 'old'.     

Length of names is another aspect, the genesis of long names has been distinctly acknowledged. Almost like 'geographical indicators', such names harbor multiple identities of individuals - family lineage being an integral part of it. Pronouncing such names might give you a slipped disc but length of names like Vijayendra Kasturi Ranga Varadaraja Rao or Villupuram Chinnaih Pillai Ganesan have had their justifications. Despite names having shrunk in size in recent times, more like brands, some cultures have yet to compromise on the length of 'names'. 

Whatever be the conditions or influences under which new born get their 'names', the Kabalarian philosophy strongly believes that an individual's character is strongly influenced by its name. One may not easily believe it but the order of letters in a name are interpreted as numbers and added up to  get a sense of one's character. 

In an interesting incidence, a local woman read the character of a person much the same way. The story goes like this: to escape from sudden rain showers, a traveler knocked at the door of a house. A female voice from inside questioned: 'Who is there?' The traveler was quick to respond: 'It's 'Julius Nagendranath Wilfred Singh'. 'Sorry', came the reply, 'there isn't enough space for four persons! 

Had Shakespeare been born in this part of the world, he would have ended up saying 'there is lot in a name'. 

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

78. Give me a break

And there she was, engrossed in reading a book on the deck of the houseboat, oblivious of the exquisite beauty of the Dal lake. Second time in as many days, one could not hold back from intruding: 'Aren't you on a vacation?' Violation to her privacy notwithstanding, she was candid in her response, 'No, I'm on a sabbatical.'  I must confess it took time for me to get the essence of her response and hence our conversation was truncated then.   

Years later I discovered the subtle but profound distinction between a vacation and a sabbatical. The young lady on the deck was on a trip to unwind, explore and regenerate herself. Whether it was employer-supported or not, sabbatical for her was a desire fueled with fantasy. And, all fantasies carry a shadow of uncertainty for which she seemed reasonably prepared over the next three months of her sabbatical.

Sabbatical is considered a Biblical act, when God rested after creating the universe. Present across ancient societies, the idea was to not only ‘take a break’ but allow nature to take a break too. Agriculture activities were given a break for the land to rest and recover, what in modern parlance would be considered an ‘unproductive phase.’ Majority of our present day problems are precisely borne out of over-stretching everything, from the living to the non-living. 

Many forms of sabbaticals have been invented. In some, absence from service is fully paid, whereas in others some companies offer unpaid sabbaticals. Universities do encourage their faculty to avail sabbatical and so are some government offices. In practice, very rare! Given the immense pressure of deadlines and targets, employees run out of steam for randomness, spontaneity, and serendipity — all of which are crucial to creativity and innovation. But rarely do employers acknowledge the need for employees recuperation and regeneration! 

India's youngest Prime Minister, Rajiv Gandhi, is credited for not only cutting a typical week to five working days but for introducing 'leave travel concession' for employees to escape from their daily ordeal to explore the country. It is no secret that the opportunity has been squandered (or misappropriated) to such an extent that a month's basic salary is what most employers currently offer, whether or not one travels! No wonder, a recently retired acquaintance does not know 'what worth he is after relinquishing his desk job at the bank'.  
Indians love predictability and continuity, and so are their employers! Rarely if ever, they inspire themselves or the others, status quo suits them the most. In contrast, a `sabbatee' is a different beast, ready to 'go away to assess whether or not s/he still likes thyself'. Ready to explore and reinvent, a typical sabbatee returns home a 'new person' after re-discovering oneself. 
Indians often go on vacations, capturing pictures of themselves against important landmarks. but rarely submit themselves for sabbaticals. Rarely do they challenge themselves and hence are bereft of any inspiration. Going out of their comfort zone is a big NO. Consequently, neither do they discover themselves nor the world - remaining somewhat like a lost society.

Wonder if Vasco da Gama had not been on a sabbatical we may have been discovered at all!

This piece was first published in Deccan Herald on Oct 10, 2016.

Sunday, June 2, 2013

77. The physics of irrestible chemistry

It is intriguing how things work. Certain things you pay to learn while quite others are up for grabs, literally for free. Don't stretch your imagination too far, just smell the air around you to make a guess. I'm referrng here to the weekly chemistry lessons which neither refresh what you may have learnt at school nor enrich you with something you have little inclination on. No wonder, these lessons neither refer to John Dalton's atomic theory nor discuss Linus Pauling's chemical bonds.  

Chemistry, we are told, is what chemists practice! But what has chemistry got to do with Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor or Dilip Kumar and Vyjayantimala or Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet or for that matter Ranbir Kapoor and Dipika Padukone. Without any disregard to their impecabble on-screen performances, it can still be safely argued that none of them would know who Joseph Priestley, Henry Cavendish or Robert Boyle were and hence may not have qualified any of the school-leaving exams! And much to our surprise, these on-screen couples have dealt in 'chemistry' at one time or the other.

Haven't all these couples offerred 'irrestible chemistry' on celluloid screens, week after week for decades at length? Howsoever it might be justified, such inference defies what we have known of chemistry as  the 'scientific study of matter, its properties, and interactions with other matter'. Should chemistry not engage at least two molecules in a quest to produce a new composition? In this light, what went between Bill Clinton and Monica Lewinsky, by latter's own admission, was indeed 'chemistry'. Imagine if Monica would have been invited by universities to offer lectures in chemistry! 

Without getting any further into the naughty stuff called chemistry, let the onus of questioning the use of 'chemistry' in such matters solely rest with the chemists. Interesting would be to check what physicts have to say on the matter. Since 'chemistry' under reference involves attraction between two bodies and occurs within a given time and space, Albert Einstein and Issac Newton would have termed it as 'irrestible physics'. Not without reason had well-known radiochemist Frederick Soddy referred to chemistry as the messy part of physics! Einstein thought physics, and not chemistry, could be easily taught to a barmaid. 

Thursday, May 23, 2013

76. I am in a 'fix'......and you?

Some of the recent events have cast an ominous shadow on my toilet. Sounding reticent, the plumber has refused to 'fix' the leaking cistern! Firm in his resolve, he has asked me to go in for 'repair' instead. What if repair doesn't 'fix' the problem? None of his concern but he assures me that the municipal guy will not come knocking at my door for leakages. They only come snooping down when things are 'fixed'! Couldn't argue any further with him! 

Things have suddenly gone weird this past week, plumber being one amongst the many. A friend who was seeking my date for a bash the other day has suddenly gone silent. When I accosted him for not 'fixing' the date, he hung up and has gone on 'switched off' mode since then. In return a text message popped up on my mobile, which reads: 'the bash is being 'arranged'. How unlucky, nothing seems to be getting 'fixed' for me these days! Much to my displeasure, things are either being 'repaired' or 'arranged'.        

Better that things are not getting 'fixed' for me, I'm told, else I will in league with the cabinet minister who has been stripped of his portfolio for 'fixing' plum positions and a cricketer who is sweating it out in prison for 'spot fixing'. Thanks for their defiant actions, all acts of 'fixing' have come under the scanner. But wasn't the government tryng to 'fix' all acts of pilferages and leakages? They were but not any more, so it seems! The so-called long-hands-of-law are being over-stretched to 'fix' those who are 'fixing' the problems else nothing will ever get 'fixed'. But what about my cistern, who will 'fix' it? God, save me!                

God is busy in the heaven, 'fixing' marriages! But if marriages can be 'fixed' in heaven why can't my cistern be 'fixed' on earth? Because marriage is not a cistern and apparently cisterns don't exist in heaven! Further, 'hand-of-God' applies for 'fixing' celestial affairs only. Anyone for 'fixing' terrestrial leakages?

I am in a 'fix'! Oops! 

(written in response to tge match fixing in the game of Cricket)

Sunday, April 21, 2013

75. Forget apple, try mango instead

For most of us, entering into a conversation is akin to getting into a restaurant without a wallet. Stepping-up and sustaining conversation is even more daunting. Adam and Eve must have encountered such difficulty because they had nobody to talk about. Good for us, else the apple would have long been rotten! Without doubt, the forbidden apple launched us into the world of conversation!      

For Oscar Wilde, weather was the most unimaginative refuge for getting into a conversation. It indeed is but just don't knock it out as yet because nine-tenths of the people couldn't start a conversation if weather didn't change once in a while. But one is advised to jump on the drawing-room furniture only if one could hold his own in the conversation. Else, try painting your drawing room 'red' and watch the heat it generates!

If that doesn't suit you, try wearing a  hat instead! I have tried it. Whether I wear it or take it off, either way it has been a conversation piece. But amazing are those guys who can neither initiate a conversation nor can contribute to it and yet hang around! Quite often, such characters nod their way through it. Though it is better than 'nodding off', such irritants stick around to avoid being rejected. But can Madame Tussads wax statues be comforting in any drawing room?

Even Steve Jobs would have agreed that gone are the days that 'apple' could start or sustain a conversation. After frequently flying into the country for over two decades now (and holding a 'apple macbook' now), a friend has struck with a novel idea to push the 'silent lambs' into conversation. Says he, 'to support a flagging conversation bring 'mango' into conversation'. Layers of experience get peeled off in a short span, everybody (at least in India) has something to talk about 'mango'!

Having tried it a few times, mangoes easily trigger a conversation. Try it, it works! 

Monday, April 1, 2013

74. The 'solutionism' of our times

Within hours of its invention a few years ago, the phrase had gone viral with denizens in Bangalore. Like a multi-utility vehicle, its strength lay in its convenient application across situations: those violating traffic rules use it; those short of civic sense use it to excuse themselves; and those teasing girls get away using it. Just say Swalpa Adjust Maadi and you could be cool about your action. It is a Kannada remix for saying 'adjust to the situation'. wherein 'swalpa' means 'a little' and 'maadi' stands for 'do'.

Why would it spread so thick and fast? With 'solutionism' being the new belief or ideology amongst youth, perhaps the idea has been to identify those 'tools' that could offer instant 'solutions' by presuming to be intrinsically creative. For the carefree youth, the world and our relationship to it are puzzles to be solved. Complexity, ambiguity, uncertainty and disagreement are all confused renditions of problems. If one phrase could strike all such puzzles than let that be! And, why not?

Though novel in its approach, Swalpa Adjust Maadi offers a non-contentitious 'fix'. It compromises on the situation by taking a status quo position. It is more about adjustment than transformation, an approach that emerges from a generation mistrustful of government and the state, but enamoured by its own capacity to manage its well-being. A tech-savvy generation which surfs information and searches solutions at the click of the button has only gone by the entrenched notion that 'convenience' and not 'contention' is the solution. In the face of all the array of major problems confronting us, Swalpa Adjust Maadi could indeed help slip past numerous small problems at hand!      

The worrying side of this invention, according to 'Citizens Against the Swalpa Adjust Maadi', is that it helps settle for anything 'less than hundred per cent', justifying the widely held notion that we are as a nation more 'satisfier' than 'maximizer'. Our roads may be clogged; our infrastructure crumbling; our public institutions decaying but we should take pleasure in the small things and be content with it. If Swalpa Adjust Maadi is what the youth find comfort in than those hoping for an Arab Spring in India must go on a long vacation! 

Sunday, January 13, 2013

73. Nothing makes sense

New year resolutions are about doing 'something' which is different and better compared to the previous years. Isn't it? But my new year resolution has been to do 'nothing' because I have been made to believe that 'nothing' (alone) succeeds like 'success'. Since I have yet to hear anything on the contrary, I've no reason to doubt that 'nothing' will finally 'succeed'. 

Said Oscar Wilde, to do nothing at all is the most difficult thing in the world, the most difficult and the most intellectual.   

Ever since the industrial revolution, when the work ethic as we know it was formed, people desirous of doing 'nothing' have been ridiculed as freeloaders, good-for-nothings, loafers and loungers. To avoid being ridiculed, every somebody ends up doing 'something' as if doing 'nothing' is worth 'nothing'. There is little realization that there is no such thing as 'nothing'. In every 'nothing', there is a 'something'. In fact, there could be everything in what we consider 'nothing'. 

If you are getting somewhat convinced that 'doing nothing' could be a way of life then it must also be understood that 'doing nothing' is more than avoidance of a daily routine. It is an intellectual exercise in going beyond the usual and the obvious. No phone, no texting, no likes and no dislikes, just introspection and reflection. Mark my words, it will save you from the contagion of a rotten society. Read the crime reports and you will find that most evils in the society stem from the compulsion of doing 'something'.       

Watch Buddha, he is doing nothing and yet transmits knowledge that inspires millions. The world of labor ought to change, else it will bury humanity under its workload of 'doing'. Without doubt, to survive as a civilization we need those who stretch and yawn while the rest of society worries and sweats (to reach nowhere, literally)! To borrow idea from Benjamin Franklin, I have volunteered to take more 'air baths' this year, with an innate desire to prove that jo kutch nahi karte vo kamaal karte hein meaning 'those who do nothing, do wonders'!

Join me in my quest to prove that 'nothing' not only works but makes sense too!