a view into the sordid life i lead

Thursday, January 31, 2008

a better school than most

I think I just read about the coolest school in the world. Schooling in India was a pathetic, moronic and altogether blighted endeavor. I think I learned almost nothing at most of the schools I attended, except for The School, part of the Theosophical Society, or the Krishnamurthy Foundation of India. The open nature of the education was really what made me realize what a school is supposed to be about: learning. Not proving that you're not as stupid as the teachers think you are. Or beating other students out and getting recognition for knowing the 10 use of dry ice. Or getting better grades so that you can prove that you're sufficiently qualified to join the teeming workforces that consider a job to be more important that seeing different aspects of their own country.

All that aside, I just read about a school that better The School in every way. I just read about it here: » The School that “Anna” built

Here's just a taste of the purpose of the school. In order to be admitted:
the child has to be a juvenile delinquent with a police record and
relevant papers or some one who has failed more than once in the same
class. The idea is not that children who are excelling should be
enrolled and the institution’s stature elevated but that children whom
society in one way or the other has discarded should be taken in hand
and reformed

My kind of place! I unfortunately don't qualify for any of these requirements, but without a doubt the graduates of this institution are going to change the world. The tried to in their own way, and managed to break "traditions" and "customs" to such a degree that attempts were made to rectify them.
I laud their work, and wish there were more institutions like it to help our society (especially the Indian one) become better.

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Saturday, January 26, 2008

Dressing in Code

Dressing in Code

I had the pleasure of visiting the Gymkhana Club of Chennai thanks to a good friend of mine who is a long-time member (who shall remain nameless to protect the innocent), on Jan 25th 2008. They had a very entertaining Republic Day celebration of talented modern dancers in a quite pleasant outdoor setting. Apparently the Gymkhana Club always does their celebrations one day prior to the actual event. So in this case the Republic Day celebration fell on the 25th for the anticipated 26th event. And those of you who know the place know that it's pretty nice. And those of you who don't, you'd better go down your rolodex and find a Gymkhana-member so that you can be their guest and go experience the place. It's a historical Chennai institution.

Unfortunately, as a prefix to said nice event, I managed to cause my host a minor (and he says truly minor) embarrassment by unintentionally infracting one of the club's rules right at the get-go. As we were entering the main building, one of the [presumably] managers accosted us with a "sir we have a dress code". This individual unapologetically stated that they required collars on all guests. I obviously made the assumption that his mis-statement really applied only to those of us blemished with an XY chromosome since the fairer sex generally dresses better in spite of the lack of a collar.

Now I'm a naturally argumentative person. I'm the sort of guy who'll argue with a clerk for telling me that I can't take photographs in a department store or a museum (I was thrown out of both for this infraction). But given that I had been invited by someone for dinner at a pretty swank place I decided to just throw in a cursory question. I asked the aforementioned Gymkhana Club Manager (alleged) if Nehru collars did not count. I guess I should now provide some details on my attire for clarification's sake. I was dressed in standard-issue Bata sandals (damn comfy at Rs. 250), a pair of excellent Just Casuals linen pants, and a white short-sleeved Nehru-collared Khadi shirt from the Khadi Gramodyog Bhavan next to Ritchie Street. This latter accoutrement was, as you must have astutely gathered by now, the offending item.

I've been accused of being an idiot on several occasions (actually pretty much daily), but my questioning whether the Nehru-collar did not qualify as a collar was not because I thought it might. As a collar at least. Rather the question really came up because I thought the manager might see the irony of his statement about their dress-code about a Khadi shirt (and it's a very obvious Khadi shirt since nobody else makes these white shirts except the KGB - hmm, interesting abbreviation that, but we'll ignore it for now) in light of it being worn to their Republic Day celebrations. Republic Day ... transitioning from British Dominion ... freedom from the oppressor, etc. Yeah, I know, you get the picture.

So I asked the question and got the standard issue "we've got a dress code and collars are required", upon which some unfortunate individual was made to run off and find a suitable shirt that would cover my embarrassment. If you've never been in this position, let me give you a taste. The Gymkhana club offers a fine selection of collared golf t-shirts available to wear atop your offending apparel at either a nominal laundry fee (charged, of course, to the member host), or available from their store (or so I've heard - but this is entirely hearsay). It's a wonderful piece of couture that looks like it came out of a used-clothes store. For the record, I'm not bad-mouthing used-clothing stores - I bought the best suit I've ever owned at a used-clothing store. But I was delighted to don a somewhat beaten-up, but duly collared t-shirt over my locally hand-spun and hand-made (or so they claim) nationalistic clothing.

By the way I didn't want to mention the fact that Gaultier is visiting India because of it's amazing indigenous (and arguably collar-free) textiles, but what the heck - I'll throw that bit of tangential mirch into the larger masala.

There's a saying I've heard often that it's a good thing that we kicked the Brits out so that we could govern ourselves and have our own freedoms and decision-making authorities. I used to be very sad about that since the great British institutions of dress and etiquette and food had been lost by my hapless desis. But I'm very glad to know that the really important rules, such as the dress-code which ensure that Western-style clothing is given the credit it deserves when contrasted to Indian clothes, is still maintained dutifully by such venerable institutions as the Gymkhana Club. And obviously I'm entirely humbled that a worn-out t-shirt albeit with neck accoutrement is "plus couture" contrasted against indigenous garb.

(By the way, just in case it's not clear, that's sarcasm.)

There's a reason the British (and the French and Dutch and Portuguese and Spanish and [insert your favourite colonialist here]) colonialists stopped people from wearing their own clothing to places of business, then extended it to other realms of life where people had to go regularly for socializing and networking. It's a simple and yet incredibly effective way of devaluing a national identity. I'm not suggesting that this is still the case, at least not at the Gymkhana. However to continue a tradition that was specifically designed (in my humble opinion) to diminish the value of the indigenous identity is distressing, to say the very least.

As I stated earlier, I'm the sort of guy who'll argue at the drop of a hat. As Bugs Bunny would say (if you're a Looney Toons fan) "This means War!". So I'm on a mission to ensure that my every visit to the Gymkhana Club henceforth is Khadi-shirt'ed (unfortunately my veshti skills are deplorable). But in all probability (and very unfortunately) I'll not have a chance to grace their grounds anytime soon.

In any case I'd be interested in hearing about others' experiences with the Gymkhana's policies, and of course opinions on this one.

Friday, January 18, 2008


every day there's a coffee guy who shows up with a scalding hot cup of saccharine-sweet caffeine in a demi-tasse sized paper cup. he shows up at 10am and 3pm.
initially i hated the coffee - i'm an all black sort: no sugar, no milk. this coffee is about 60% coffee, 20% milk, and 20% sugar.

today i realized that i was actually craving the coffee - i had to step away from my desk for a while and the coffee guy decided not to leave a cup in case it became too cold before i returned (now *that's* care for a product). i fortunately saw him in one of the hallways and before i could say anything he said (in tamil) - "i didn't want to leave your coffee to get cold, so i was trying to find you. if you are going back to your office i'll bring it there.".

btw, when i said this is scalding hot, i'm really not exaggerating - it's hot enough that it'll peel skin. i made the mistake of taking a rather big swig the first time and ended up with cap'n crunch mouth for a couple of days.

anyway, this is just a very nice perk to have, and i guess it's pretty standard in india, but nevertheless i'm thrilled :-)

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Sunday, January 13, 2008

blogs sex and india

it's interesting to see that blogging is getting the sort of attention that i did not expect in india. i'm right now watching ndtv "the brave new world of blogs". it's probably a regular talk show, since the host looks very talk-show hosty. i think the name of the show is "we the people". come to think of it the episode might be about whether to regulate blogs in india.

what catches my attention is the fact that there's frank discussion by bloggers, ON TV, about homosexuality, sexuality, and many other topics generally taboo in indian "proper society" (whatever that means). i'm concerned for the bloggers to some degree, but am also very very proud that indian media is representing the borders. one thing to note is that homosexuality is illegal in india, per the constitution. obviously it's not enforced, but it's still interesting to see that people are willing to come forward and talk publicly about this.

an interesting thing that the host asked is whether this whole blogging this is just
an angrezi, chic, gen-next thing to do
strange question, but i've asked the same of many of my guests - whether blogging and free-culture translate beyond the western world. here's the answer!

most of the bloggers being talked to are young - probably late teens or early twenties at the very most. the gay guy, maybe around 20, says his parents know he's gay, but that he talks about a lot of things on his blog that he would not talk to his parents about. i suspect this is true of most bloggers. says something about blogging being cathartic, more than informative.

a question i've had for a while is whether bloggers are only the english speaking masses. the topic just turned to this, and the blogger being talked to has a blog named qarba (or garba maybe) in hindi. i could not find it doing a google search, so maybe i'll have to look again in a bit. the combination of english with hindi and other indian languages for the purpose of blogging is very cool.

the hindi blogger just said that the act of blogging is never personal. since it's in the public domain (and not in a license sense) it's by definition not private. i agree, but it's a dichotomy that needs to dealt with. due to the impersonal nature of the internet (and arguably also because of the one-directionality to some degree, ignoring comments for a sec) i suspect people are going to be more apt to port personal feelings and opinion (i know i do). but simultaneously i wonder if people ever consider just how much of their public posting might come back to bite them in the ass (question for will - have you ever had negative repercussions from blogging, aside from the whole vivo's incident?).

blogging is obviously a means to gain attention. and as the gay guy says:
what's wrong with wanting to be famous?

what indeed :)

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Saturday, January 12, 2008

good ole hatin of the unix

i'm reading what's probably the most entertaining vitriolic invective-laden diatribe that has not been leveled against the behemoth in redmond: the unix-haters handbook. it's got such choice sentiments as:
“Two of the most famous products of Berkeley are LSD and Unix. I don’t think that this is a coincidence.”
“I liken starting one’s computing career with Unix, say as an under- graduate, to being born in East Africa. It is intolerably hot, your body is covered with lice and flies, you are malnourished and you suffer from numerous curable diseases. But, as far as young East Africans can tell, this is simply the natural condition and they live within it. By the time they find out differently, it is too late. They already think that the writing of shell scripts is a natural act.” — Ken Pier, Xerox PARC
With quotes like that what's NOT to like? This is MUST reading for anyone with any sense. And probably for everyone without, who's still not completely on the unix-hater bandwagon also.

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