Monday, July 8, 2019

Travelogue: London could be falling down

I just came back from a ~ten day trip to London, which is my first in this part of the world. The following are my impressions of UK from this visit. 

1) London reminded me of a bit of Melbourne and a bit of Auckland, both places that I have seen up close for awhile. After all, that should not be surprising given that both Melbourne and Auckland have fashioned themselves as the London of the East. London is most definitely a multi-cultural city in its truest sense. Pretty much everywhere I went, I saw whites, blacks, browns, as well as people of all colors. No wonder it voted overwhelmingly for Sadiq Khan (an immigrant) as well as against Brexit in the fondest hope of a multi-cultural Europe. 

2) Much of London is a tourist heaven. Every major spot of interest saw a horde of tourists (American as well as otherwise) making for long queues and nightmarish planning. It is almost impossible to make justice to a hop-on hop-off bus tour when you cannot see a damn thing and the bus is fully loaded with tourists to the brim. For sightseeing, there is a famous "London pass" that allows one to see many of the worthy spots such as the Tower of London, Tower Bridge, the Shard (controlled by Qataris nonetheless), Kensington Palace, London zoo, etc. Unfortunately, this pass does not include other interesting places to see such as the London Eye, the Lord's, Big Ben, etc. My general impression is/was that most of the places are worth visiting once, but nothing specifically stuck out as either a sore thumb or as an underappreciated spot (which is often the case for most spots in India). And then there is also a call to the London bridge, which is not really famous or worthwhile except for being a part of a nursery rhyme. 

3) While most of Central London is coverable by walk, beyond that, London is well connected by underground, buses, trains and even the odd ferry (less said the case about much of the non-Northeastern US). I just bought the 7 day travel pass for 34.10 pounds, that allowed unlimited travel on underground and bus. And to be fair, that was good value for money. One weird thing that I realized is that you can get a pass for the underground that also works for the buses, but not in a reverse manner. You tap in and tap out of the underground, but in the bus, you just tap in once. We did get checked for tickets once on the bus, but that was pretty much it. Of course, in most underground stations, you cannot head out without tapping your card on the way out which is indeed a good check. The cost of a single fare is 1.50 pounds on the bus and 2.40 pounds in zones 1-2 on the underground (most of Central London), which makes the use of a single fare option an expensive affair. There are a large varieties of fare options (beyond the 7 day travel pass), so it can take a bit of getting used to (of how to use these options as well as one's footing in London). 

4) London food is similar in flair to American or Australian, but with a much better quality (as is much of European food) than the American fair. There are a gazillion McDonald's and Starbucks of course, but also London peculiarities such as Nando's, Slug and Lettuce, etc., as well a gazillion fish and chips outlets. Most of the "Indian" curry joints are run by Sylhetis. Even eponymous Indian sounding places such as "Rajasthan-IV" are run by Sylhetis, which makes it hard to feel good. 

As a side point, Sylhetis came to the UK in the late 60s and 70s as a part of the mass migration that cannot be really explained (even though I did see the explanation of Bhola, Liberation War, etc.). That brings me to the odd history of Sylhet (aka Srihatta) when it was initially part of the Assam province in British India (despite Sylheti being a dialect of Bengali). Gopinath Bordoloi and most of the Assamese elites were happy to get rid of Sylhet from Assam province and unify Assam under a "Assam for Assamese" model. Most of the Muslim Sylhetis were also keen on joining the then East Bengal/East Pakistan/Bangladesh than to remain a part of Assam/India. So there was a referendum in 1947 (one of the few actually held) and much of the Hindu Bengalis voted for India, and most of the Muslim Bengalis/Sylhetis voted for Pakistan. A lot of water has flowed down the Barak since the referendum and within Bangladesh, there is still an uneasy truce as to the distinct Sylheti vs. Bengali conundrum, which keeps popping its head every now and then. More here: 

5) Historically, London has seen its fair share of violence. Every historical place that I went to such as the Tower of London was described as "xyz was hanged here, abc was hanged there" + a lot of this was built in 1066 after Charles-I came in from France etc. Pretty much the whole of Westminster Abbey is a cemetery to the rich, famous, influential and politically connected + a scene for coronations and marriages. 

That said, modern Britain borrows a lot of history from France and more recently Germany. The latter should not be surprising since German and English are cognate languages. But the French connection would be missed given how the popular meme of France vs. England/Britain is peppered all around us. The surest way to observe this is via the Lion heraldry that makes the British lions ( The Lion came into popular usage as a sign of valor and chivalry from the Count of Anjou, who in his own way had borrowed it from the lion of Judah (an early Christian symbol, perhaps used even before that). In fact, much of Western Europe shares the lion heraldry with the UK. And then there is the fleur de lis ( that is a uniquely French symbol, which exported it to James-I and Scotland and via this approach to the UK. 

6) And then there is the colonial period. Unlike what Indians (ought to) think, the white Britishers are not ashamed of their colonial past, period. Colonialism in their eyes was their duty to "civilize the natives," period. And 100+ years of post-modernism does/will not make them feel ashamed at their past. The parrying aside of a request for an apology of Jallianwala Bagh ought to be seen in that view. In fact, for any sort of contrition to happen, they have to gnaw at their very cores which valorizes the "unknown and forgotten" soldier in the corner of the earth doing his fair duty of holding the Union Jack flying high. They have to rub down Westminster Abbey or the many churches around London and UK which memorialize the forgotten soldier (see four pictures below). 

As much as Shahshi Tharoor or a Madhusree Mukherjee can scream at the top of their lungs, the stiff upper lips in the elite class will not get it and will remain oblivious of their offenses. There is no way to shame the unshameables, and that is a sad lesson for all! That said, most of the white Brits I saw (that did not belong to this elite class) were mostly ok. I did not encounter any sort of racism or anything even remotely close. 

7) An odd thing I noticed is that it is hard to find elevators (except in airports, underground stations, train stations, etc.) as well as air conditioners in London. Along with France and Germany, this seems to be a general theme in Western Europe. I was told that it hardly ever gets/got hot in these places that an air conditioner was ever needed. And then there is the German theme of Durchzug (, which is a different category altogether. While most days in London were pleasant, one awful day made the lack of an air conditioner a painful experience. Plus, the buses and underground without an air conditioning/circulating system makes it a hot boiler plate. Slowly, as the heat waves and wider variations made possible by global warming make their way into Western Europe, one would hope that fans and air conditioners/coolers will make their way into normal Western European lives as much as they are in Asia and the US. Also, for someone like me who has seen the 5 AM - 8 PM sun out period, the 4 AM - 9 PM sun out period in London was surreal. Surely, I would be freaked out by places such as Norway or Finland. After checking out the latitudes of London and NYC, things became much clearer to me. 

8) And then onwards to what I went to London actually for... Wimbledon, which is quite an oddball tournament primarily because it has some strange customs that make life excruciatingly hard (and quite unnecessarily). In the garb of tradition, they do make life more messier than it should be. As a comparison, I have seen the US open quite a few times (up, close and center), so I can indeed make a fair comparison between the two events. At the US open, one can buy "grounds admission" passes online (from Ticketmaster, for example) and just walk into the Billie Jean King NTC on the day of your choice. At Wimbledon, unless you are willing to pay a huge price and buy tickets from an official seller or are just lucky to get the debenture tickets (perhaps cheaply), it comes down to queuing at the AELTC. This means waking up early/late and walking in to a loooooong queue. 

If you arrive at the AELTC at 6 AM, you are sure to meet a whole bunch of stewards and honorary stewards and the famous yellow flag, and be presented with a queue number around 2000-3000. Walk in at 9 AM and expect to see a number around 9000. At 11 AM, perhaps 15000. In any case, if they do give you a queue card, you are expected to get in "eventually." With a seating capacity (of a guesstimated 39000), I am not sure if anyone will not get a queue card at all! But then, ask the stewards about the wait time, and you will get a blank, "it is supposed to be a state secret!" pithy response. That is baloney, even by English standards!! 

I walked in at 9 AM on two days, picked a queue card number around 8500-8800 (quite consistent) and walked in to the arena at 12+ish (as consistently). That is a miserable waste of 3-4 hours waiting in a queue for what is a simple grounds admission pass (all in the name of tradition). But then, I also heard of people who had tented themselves for days on end to catch a Center court ticket (one of 500 perhaps) opened on the day of interest. That is clearly not tradition, but one of joblessness. At BJK NTC, I would have walked in at 9 AM and hoped to be inside by 9:45 AM for a 10:30 AM start. I would have parked my derriere in a half decent seat at either Louis Armstrong or the Grandstand and hoped to see a decent match (even though I might have been galled at the self-pity and propping up of classless/relatively talentless American tennis players only because they are well, American - cue in on Madison Keys, Coco Vandeweghe, etc.). 

All that said, there are a lot of differences between the two Grand Slam events. Unlike the US Open, Wimbledon-ers do not make an ass of themselves regulating the size of your water bottle or the backpack you carry. Or the food you can carry inside the arena. They do whine if you try to bring in your tent inside though! You go through security at both places and reasonable items are fine at Wimbledon (not so with the glorious US open). 

At the end of the day, the event in itself was uneventful. As in, you get to see what you came to see (slower grass notwithstanding). You also get to see stranger things in life: strawberries and cream, white vs. colored clothes, ryegrass vs. asphalt/concrete, food style differences, Henman hill/lawn vs. flat ground of Queens, roofed vs. roofless courts, Middle Sunday vs. both Sundays, Southfields vs. Mets-Willets, etc. Overall, it might have been far pleasant if only I could get grounds admission online instead of having to suck up with the cold breeze and then a heat wave and basically crawl my way in after wasting a good 4-5 hours.  

9) Speaking of life beyond tennis, as far as I know, London has two famous cricket grounds: Lord's and the Kia Oval (aka Kennington Oval). The latter stadium was the scene of the spin triumph of Ajit Wadekar's team in 1971 (India's first in England), as well as the scene of the Pakistan team forfeiting their test match for delays taking to the field after being accused of ball tampering. It was also the scene of the first test match in England (2nd overall after the Melbourne one in 1877). I could not get in and see the ground tour itself due to the odd ball timings of the tour, but a weird thing one notices as one enters the neighborhood of Lambeth (around the Kia Oval) is the suburban ethos in contrast to how London and Lord's are like. Then, there are the huge gaslighters outside the Oval itself which makes it look like an old-school industrial town surreal-ly suspended in real-time. In any case, if it was not for the colored's interest in cricket, much of the English cricket scene would be like the attendance in their churches - sporadic and falling with time. 


Saturday, June 15, 2019

First-world problems

I thought I will get started again, but then, there should probably be a reason :). Perhaps something has changed, perhaps not! But in any case, before I go to think of Nepal or Bangladesh or Sri Lanka, let me disabuse you (the reader) that I only think of profound neighborliness. Here is an anecdotal display of fortitude! 
I am not big on competitive sports, even though I track and follow pretty much every worthwhile sport out there. 

The reason being: Victory is too over-rated and defeat is too sullying and degrading. One of the least analyzed aspects of life is defeat. We all get defeated, often enough to write tomes on it. Yet, we do not and also, defeat (that is not complete) does not stop us from living life. Such defeats themselves are never a major real problem even though they are made spectacular than what they are. In fact, defeat is the overarching theme of human civilization and evolution. A defeat that does not kill makes one strong (assuming that someone is a rational person and takes the implications of the event rationally) and has the tendency to teach us a lot about ourselves, what we are made of, and what wrongs we make. In fact, even in the case of an irrational being or entity (such as Pakistan), a defeat that does not kill makes it strong because it has survived to fight another day despite the enormity of the bets against it notwithstanding the sillyness of being beaten black and blue. 

And a victory usually does not teach us that much. Victories lead to lethargy and mistakes that lead to defeats. 

Despite all this, I am a big believer in competition against oneself, against one's reluctance (self-imposed or otherwise), against one's innate ability to assume that something is not possible, and so on. And I am also a big believer in competition against time, that nemesis we all face and yet cannot stand to put our fingers to it as the nemesis of life. 

I competed today against myself and I learned a few things. I found those lessons too profound (at least personally) and to have a bearing on my outlook on life. Which is why, I decided I will write this out. Even if it is a bit embarrassing to write this ... 

I started a run at 6:16 PM and the gym was expected to close at 7:00 PM. I typically do far longer than 45 minutes and the gym always sharply closes at 7:00 PM on Saturdays and Sundays. I am not a high speed runner trying to outmarathon a big armada in 3-4 hours flat nor am I an endurance freak. I just care about my health, period, without screwing up my legs and knees. So dont ask me about pace, dont ask me about weightscales, etc. Running is for the heck of it, for no good reason in itself! 

Given this, I typically run at anywhere from 10-12 minutes a mile, with a 6-7 minute warm up of walking where I cover perhaps 0.3-0.4 miles, which would have placed me at somewhere 3.3-3.9 miles covered in this time (6:16-7:00) depending on which side of the coin I faced while I pursued this. The scenario here does not count for any running breaks or cooling down breaks in the middle which could be a 2-3 minute cut that could bring down the numbers further. I was quite reasonable in terms of expectations and did not plan for anything extraordinary. 

The first 15-20 minutes went uneventfully with me being around the 1+ mile mark. Somewhere along the way, a bright light shone before my head (does not happen often!) that asked me if I could get to 4 miles in the time I had. That would typically mean racing away to glory in a hifalutin fashion, but given the limited time I had for the gym to close, it was not impossible. At least, it did not sound impossible. This is the T20 of running, slam bam thank you mam! So I accelerated, slowly in steps of 0.1 mph speed increase every 2 1/2 minutes to the point I left the "comfort zone" of sub-6 mph and left to pushing the aerobic thresholds (which I usually do not tend to unless really necessary). That jump increased to 0.1 every 1:15 making it even harder on the body. Initially, I thought I would coast along till the 3 mile mark and then speed up in a T20 fashion. However, that rarely, if ever happens since it gets too close for comfort and one usually gives up in their objectives at that close stretch. So at the 2.5 mile mark, I decided to go for broke and start the T20 anyway. 

Slowly I was at the 7 mph mark increasingly huffing and puffing beyond my comfort zone. I reached the 3 mile mark with around 7-8 minutes left and for the gym to close. Somehow I mentally calculated that if I could be steady at 7 mph for a good 8 minutes, then I could somehow easily reach the 4 mile mark at 7:00. My mental calculation was 7*8 = 56 which should allow me to somehow make it. Lo, the blasphemy!!  
Lesson 0: When you are in time trouble, even simple math is hard! It takes close to 8.5-9 minutes to get to a mile at 7 mph (60/7) and not 7*8 :). 

As I progressed at the 7-7.2 mph mark, I see the clock ticking by, but only 3.2-3.3 miles covered. That is when panic sets in and I realize something is off. So I speed up more, because this is T20 after all and what point it is to do a Ravi Shastri in Australia. I up the speed by 0.2 mph every time I cross a 0.1 mile threshold. There you go. If you need a lesson in how to tire yourself out, here it is. The better strategy may have been to up yourself a 0.3 mph step for a fixed/finite time allowing your muscles to learn the pain before you jump the hoops. 
Lesson 1: Bad strategies are easy to come up with, good strategies need experience and thinking. There is no way one can come up with the best strategies at the get-go especially when one is new to something! 

As anyone who is a slow runner can vouch, the moment you give it a fight, the body fights harder! At the 3.5 mile mark, I am in a big amount of pain to decide to call it quits in my quest and slow down my speed to 4.1 mph to recover! And quit, I kinda did. I slowed down to 4.1 mph for 30-40 seconds losing precious time and almost irreversibly getting defeated. 
Lesson 2: Fundamental difficulties have a good way at getting back to you, no matter what! Perhaps knowing one's limitations can reasonably set expectations?! 

In those 30-40 seconds, I think of South Africa in cricket. I recall the choking article by Malcolm Gladwell (, sadly behind a paywall now. I think I have epitomized past experiences and I know what it feels to be South Africa. And then comes the morbid thinking which is hard to explain. You know you have suffered, mentally and physically. Physical pain is easy to recover, but mental agony is harder. You have attempted to get at something personally, even though it is against a faceless nameless enemy (like time or yourself). And you know you have been defeated in your quest. The sadness of that feeling is hard to explain. It feels disgusting, it feels debilitating, it feels excruciating.

You wonder at lightning speed, if it was due to bad calculations, or whether nature conspired against you, or whether you are just not good enough. At least South Africa can name and shame someone (a villain of sorts, may be rain, may be butterfingers, may be West Indies, may be ... AB MIA). I can name and shame no one but myself, I am the villain, I am the victim. What blasphemy is this illogical exercise in idiocy! 
Lesson 3: It is normal to feel angst and pain as you go through reverses. It is normal to feel like the world has ganged up against you, even though the world does not care about you at all! People have better jobs in life than to conspire against you. It is just an illusion and the dash of irrationality that makes one think the way they do. 

As my muscles recovered, I decide to give it a go again. After all, what point is a silent defeat? Somehow I accrue one more burst of energy to get to 8.5 mph (now that time is really ticking) to see what can be done. I may not get to 4 miles, but even a 3.8 is fine and respectable. It may not be a PVC, but it is perhaps a Mentions in Dispatches. That is my only thinking. So I go for bust and I run down time at 8.5 mph. I think I have run long enough, only to be halted by a repeat of the lactic acid induced slowdown. A look at the distance and no more than 3.65. There you go, 0.12 miles at a high speed for basically nothing. Even the MiD looks far now. So I slow down yet again to blow another 30-40 seconds. 
Lesson 4: Dont count your chickens till they hatch. It is always easy to talk long and hard in terms of strategy when the hard work is done by someone else (here the legs)! That may be a lesson in management, but then what good is it when we have psychopaths around us? 

Another recovery prompts to turn on the adrenaline to a higher level. So this time I go to 9.5 mph even if it is only for perhaps the same time as before. Somehow magically I am at 3.8 and may be I should actually call it quits. In any case, that is what my knees tell. That is what my legs scream. In any case, the clock is ticking and the 7:00 mark is a minute (if not seconds) away. You have fallen short, but at least can go home with some reasonable fame (even if it is the stupid-est attempt at vanity). 
Lesson 5: Whether it is 8.5 or 9.5, the effective suffering is the same. So you might as well push yourself to the limits, if at all you choose to push it. 

It is at this point greed kicks in. As the Wall Street aficionados say, greed is good. Minus greed, half (or more of) the things we have today in this world will not have existed. I decide to go on till the "get the hell out of the gym" buzzer sets off at 7:00. May be it is a 3.9 and I fall short only by 0.1. May be only 0.15. I want to know how much more I can kick in. So I continue... in this first-world problem of mine. And the buzzer does not come in at all. And I cross 4.00. I check the time and it is 7:01. Just a minute (or so) longer than I wanted to do it in, ah, not so bad. 
Lesson 6: Every minute and every second counts. I am not talking in the sense of trying to maximize the utility of every second in a day. I am just talking in terms of the differences between getting something done on time and not. There is usually no more than a minute or a few minutes of difference between the two. That in itself should not be surprising for anyone taking the NJT here. There is usually a minute or two difference between catching a train and waiting for the next one 15-20 minutes later. 

Now that the deed is done, and I decide to stop right away! On a normal day, if I have set myself an x mile mark, I tend to push myself to x + 0.2 or some obsessive compulsive claptrap target that is beyond x. But today, it was a firm no ... 
Lesson 7: Whatever it is, when you are done after many odds, you are done. You just quit quite quick. There is a difference between enjoyment of a journey and a journey completed because you had to for whatever reason. The latter happens a lot (ask the PhDs around to begin with), so that explains the difference between the quitting and the returning. 

At this point, I am still stuck on the treadmill hoping to make a winner's pose, but with no one to give a rat's behind for! The buzzer is still not on, which of course is odd. I check around and people are streaming out one by one, on their own. I cannot but wonder: May be someone at the gym had a bigger vanity problem than me. May be the world actually did stop and threw him alone off course. May be someone saw the irritating me in action and decided to throw in a piece of pity rolled into a sliver of sympathy. May be I should feel gratitude for this guy?! May be I should declare myself the oppressed who did see the sun out at the end of the day?! After all, is it not always fashionable to cast the world as a fight between the good and the bad, the subalterns and the superior beings, the mainstream vs. the Others? 
Lesson 8: Reality has nothing to do with oppression and suppression. Things are often far simpler than any complicated conspiracy. (In this case, perhaps someone got stuck with something random and they could not come down on time at 7:00 to ring people out.) That does not mean that there are no Bilderbergs or Freemasons or the Eye of Providence or the Dajjal. It just means that Occam's Razor is still a good yardstick for many things in this world. 

As I march out of the gym, one sordid reality hit me. I could have quit at 3.50 or 3.80, but I did persist with unclear outcomes till the very end. Even when the buzzer was supposed to have rung and thrown me out. This is life. Sometimes, we are lucky. Sometimes, randomness kicks in and we end up unlucky. Sometimes, there are no good reasons. Sometimes, we are the reason, perhaps the only one out there. Sure, not every event is as prestigious as finishing a 4.00 miler in 45 minutes (take that, you sub-4 minute milers, eat humblepie now, can you?). 
Lesson 9: But that is that ... Or as a non-fan of Hegel, this is what aufhebung probably is. Victories and defeats are self-contradictory. There is always a time-scale at which a (not-so Pyrrhic) victory looks like a defeat and another time-scale at which it looks like a masterstroke! How one deals with that is why we have such a wide latitude in terms of interpretation of the past (something that is clear and well laid out). 


Sunday, August 12, 2018

The problems that maketh Tamland

It has been a long time of vanvaas, but it has been probably worthwhile to remain silent. But then they also say, "don't speak ill of the dead." And if we follow that maxim to the hilt, we would never talk about anyone or life in itself, since we are all eventually dead anyway. So I will ignore such maxims perhaps to my own peril.

1) Mu Ka was a great Tam litterateur and no one can take that away from him (not even Lord Yama!). He also ably contributed to nation-building by putting his foot down for the devolution of what were then Central rights more to the States --- a principle accepted much later by the Sarkaria Commission for the stability of modern India in contrast to a million mutinies in our extended neighborhood. Foremost amongst these was making a common cause with a wide base on issues of Tam pride in times that mattered the most, a much needed succor from the onslaught of the Congress-i/Jan Sangh-i/Samyuktha Socialist Party version of intolerance in the bygone era including those from the Nehru family, Raj Narain, etc.,  as well as many stalwarts from Tamland such as Rajaji, Satyamurti and Bhaktavatsalam. It may have been a mere coincidence that he and the other DK/DMK stalwarts took to protest on behalf of Tamil for what he/they felt, but in ensuring the version of the Official Languages Resolution, 1968 in the way it did (, he/others ensured that there was a lot less misery for a large section of the Indian population over time.

2) More to his credit, following his own misrule from 1989-91 and JJ's misrule from 1991-96, he did not get too bogged down by details in terms of who/what affiliation ran/wanted to run a certain business or how they ran it, as long as he/his family/party got his 5-10% cut (a precursor to the infamous Jayanthi tax or the Mr. 10% jibes at one AA Zardari across the border) letting Tamland march towards industrialization and progress in its own way, independent of whether it was an ADMK front or a DMK front ruling/misruling it. Both ADMK and DMK ensured continuity in terms of policies as long as they got their choicest porterhouses (no pun intended).

3) Much of DK/DMK's rise to fame is/was correlated with the meticulous use of the newly arrived propaganda medium in the form of films to social messaging whether it be caste affirmation in the form of self-respect/suya-mariyaadhai and non-Brahminism, Tam language pride, or social evil eradication. And in that segment, a lot of credit goes to people such as Mu Ka and the atheist-turned-theist of "Arthhamulla Hindhu madham" fame Kannadhaasan as well as brilliant orators such as Sivaji Ganesan, SS Rajendran, KR Ramaswamy (who is conveniently forgotten today), etc. all of whom could sting a bee like no tomorrow, let alone like one Ali. The imprint of the Soviet/Communist revolution on all that propaganda as well as social messaging cannot be ignored, as well as the deep reasons to rename oneself from a Dakshinamoorthy to a Karunanidhi, all the while going for a Muthu, an Azhagiri and then a Stalin instead of a planned Ayyadurai (a morphed version of Periyar 'Ayya' and an Anna'durai'). What that says about what he valued the most is left to one's own imagination!

4) That said, Mu Ka knew which side of the bread was buttered the best and played both BJP and Congress masterfully, as the time of the day demanded it. Like CBN in 2018, he sided with BJP and Vajpayee in 1999 and then dropped out of the coalition when BJP/NDA suited his needs less (that movement began as early as 2002, but nevertheless). He then sided with Congress/UPA and then dropped out of that coalition when he got sucked into inaction over the death of LTTE and more so, the 2G spectrum scam. He had like-minded friends, well-wishers and advisers on both sides of the aisle and kept his rhetoric primarily for the gullible electorate, especially as he aged, mellowing down fast, but not fast enough to witness some beautiful dung droppings such as, "Is Ram a civil engineer?"

5) Mu Ka was also a man of masterful guile in converting pawns to queens on the political checkerboard. If being a No. 3 in CNA's Cabinet to sidelining Naavalar Nedunchezhian with MGR's help first and then planting himself firmly as the CM/Party President face was not enough evidence of this, realizing the gullibility of the electorate that only appreciated the face behind the versatile oratory (and not the playwright) in putting up a Mu Ka Muthu against MGR and when that attempt flopped miserably primarily due to the ineptness of Muthu, to totally removing MGR from the party when MGR demanded the election finances for the 1971 hustings be audited was one too many for even the Frank Underwood's of Tamland.

6) The typical stick to beat Mu Ka is with the epithet bestowed on him by the MGR-demanded Indira-instituted Sarkaria Commission (a different one) report: "the man who institutionalized scientific corruption in Tamil Nadu politics" (not a paraphrase from the report, but the tenor of it). But a more realistic assessment of him is more of a man who institutionalized family politics in Tamil Nadu. All others from that era have mostly fallen wayside except his family. The numerous episodes in which the DMK leadership were sidelined to ensure the pre-eminence of the Mu Ka family starting with the Maaran-Mu Ka tag-team to promote Mu Ka Muthu over MGR in the late 60s and early 70s, followed by the vanvaas as the Ram-loving Mu Ka called it (the 1977-1989 interregnum with three ADMK governments), and the early 90s' sidelining of folks such as VaiKo when he became too big for his boots in being more-Tamil-than-Tamil, or those actions that sidelined K. Anbazhagan, Arcot Veeraswami, and even the scions of the Maaran family and Azhagiri, all in favor of one Stalin.

7) As much as Mu Ka moved away from the literary Brahminical Tamil dialogue delivery that was common during the 40s with a more colloquial and mass understandable Tamil dialogues that could easily reach out to the vast majority of the people, one could also accuse him of failing to move with the times as his screenplays bombed in the 90s. While his 80s renditions such as "Paasapp paravaigal" and "Paalaivana rojakkal" were still reasonably connected to the audience, his final film screenplay for "Ponnar shankar" was one distasteful and badly mangled version of what would be a pre-eminent story of the Gounder community. As expected, the movie miserably bombed at the box office.

8) A lot has been written about Mu Ka not losing a single election from 1957 to his death. But not much has been said about the 1991 scraping in the Harbour constituency (an 890 vote win) coming as it did in the wake of the Rajiv Gandhi assassination and the disrobing of JJ in the State Assembly by Durai Murugan. The other winner in that elections on behalf of DMK was Parithi Elamvazhuthi, someone who was tom-tommed to be one of the DMK greats that defied a sympathy wave in the Egmore constituency in those days. But if one looks 25 years later, Parithi is spending his time in the ADMK vacillating between OPS and TTVD gangs/camps, further bolstering the credentials of Mu Ka for sidelining everyone in the party except Stalin. Stalin, by the way, lost in the Thousand Lights constituency to KA Krishnaswamy (a family member of KA Mathiazhagan, one of the Five Founders or Aimberum Thalaivargal when CNA left DK to form DMK).

9) The other less talked about event is his skipping of the 1984 Assembly elections when he more or less knew that he would be ousted in the aftermath of the sympathy wave following Indira Gandhi's assassination, MGR's reasonably ok governance from 1980-84 despite his kidney failure, the sympathy in Tamland for MGR and the beaming videos from Brooklyn, as well as the charisma of Rajiv Gandhi. In some sense, Mu Ka had a good premonition of the whacking the DMK alliance would take in the polls (195/234 won by ADMK) and quite easily skipped the elections. MK Stalin had again lost to KAK in the same Thousand Lights constituency in 1984 also (in what was his debut fight at the Assembly level).

10) All this said, Tamland's pre-/post-independence electoral period can be neatly delineated into three or four eras depending on one's biases.

The first era from approximately 1940 to the mid-60s witnessed populist Congress governments carrying over from Gandhi's messages, with often incorruptible and clean leaders, only mightily burdened by their philosophical and ideological inclinations as they came from elitist Brahmin/forward caste/well-to-do families. Even the Opposition in this era could not find corruption or personal animosity against the likes of T. Prakasam, Ramasami Reddiar, Kumarasami Raja, Bhaktavatsalam, Rajaji and Kamaraj. In fact, the handing over of the baton from Rajaji to Kamaraj took the sting out of the likes of EV Periyar quite quickly.

The second era began a bit earlier in the mid-50s and continued through the mid-70s with the rise and popularity of the Justice Party/DK, social reform, anti-Hindi agitations, a transformation from a "vengaayam/kattumiraandi" religious/linguistic depictions to one of "ondre kulam, oruvane devan", and the rise of film icons such as Sivaji and then MGR to prop up the DMK to power. A lot has been written about whether the 1967 win of the DMK could be attributed to the shooting of MGR by MR Radha, but most likely even if this event had not happened, the social/linguistic churn would have meant a rise of the DMK at some point in this period.

The mid-70s to mid-2010s (a really long period) is basically the era of bipolar disorder in Tamland (pardon the pun) from sun-rise to son-rise, the demise of ideology and the natural reversion to the mean in the form of compromises, nepotism, money-making/corruption and caste re-affirmations in the form of petty and fissiparous outfits such as PMK, VCK, PT, DMDK, MDMK, IUML, etc., support for pan-Tamil causes across the globe with no heed to Tamil causes and issues in the state (e.g., VaiKo), and basically vindictiveness and melodrama that has often no parallels anywhere else in India (perhaps!). This is the period that completely drove away any space for nationalist/reasonable parties in Tamland, much to their own detriment, but perhaps reaffirming faith in the idea of India (in contrast to what the current Opposition dispensation would have you believe in) that one can start with a demand for a Dravida Naadu and end up with a demand for a Bharat Ratna instead! But then Periyar is in a thidal, Anna in a samaadhi, MGR in a mani-mandapam, may be that explains the trajectory that is Tamland, perhaps!!

With the passing away of both JJ and Mu Ka, we have a giant vaccum that cannot be filled in by the likes of the 4-5 percenters (aka Vijayakanth, Ramadoss, VaiKo, Thirumaa, etc.). Nor can they be filled by the likes of PC and the essential jokers in Satyamurti Bhavan. Completely out of picture are the nationalists in Kamalalayam. Just because that name sounds similar to Arivalayam or Anbagam, the BJP cannot overnight replace the Dravidian front with its own agenda. In fact, what is the agenda of BJP in Tamland, one wonders. May be nothing and that is not too bad in a way! This vacuum that corresponds to the fourth era sees the likes of Rajnikanth and Kamalahassan trying to wade into.

In fact, I did witness a surreal event before Vishwaroopam-II that was played out in the movie hall in the US --- an in-your-face petty propaganda clip for Kamal's party, MNM. Gone are the days when subtlety used to be an art-form with phrases such as "Anna, nee naalai aaluvaai" to "thalaivare" or movie titles such as "Kaanchi Thalaivan", or even Rajnikanth's quasi-political dialogues couched as real movie dialogues in such movies as Padaiyappa and Bhaasha. This in-your-face propaganda and the distancing of the party name itself by calling it a Maiyyam or Maiam (however that is written in English), instead of a Kazhagam or a Katchi (loosely translated as either an Organization, a Grouping, or a Party) + a more South-centric focus rather than a Tamland-centric focus (not quite sure what exactly would come out of it though) just stands quite opposite to what used to be status quo. Not much good is likely to come out of such ventures, especially if one has to see Vishwaroopam-II as the first-post MNM movie to showcase a new-Kamal, if there really was one who indeed needed a rebranding.

The continuing strong anti-Shaivite stand in some form or the other starting with Anbe Shivam and continuing through Dasavatharam and now Vishwaroopam + a world where all establishmentists speak a Brahminical Tamil (laughable even it were only a fraction true) + a confused stand on terrorism (with dialogues such as "religion does not cause terrorism, but people do" quite like the NRA's stand on gun violence) does not portend an intelligent yet unintelligible Kamal who is trolled by all and sundry. This is more of a useless idiot (in contrast to the useful idiots) wanting to be a do-gooder who is probably just the wrong pressure valve in a state filled with an enormity of confrontations, complications and confused histories.

The other side sees Rajnikanth's political fantasy-world with an always ueber-correct hero now having to confront political quagmires where one does have to make a significant compromise, and can and does get trolled ceaselessly in such ventures. This front is also not likely to see a great future ahead even if it presents a mirror to the hypocrisy of the state and its erstwhile/current crop of self-declared leaders (unabashed anti-Brahminism/anti-Hinduism, but with the reality of someone who cannot skip a yellow shawl for decades + need to pull the plug on an Ekadesi and a quick burial on Dwadasi so that one can attain saranagati at the lotus feet of the same venerable God who one can veritably question as if one is a Nakkeeran-lite just because they have read Tamil well + a clamoring for a burial site despite having pretty much a good chunk of Madras in one's possessions + a corrupt regime that is tolerated and accepted as lawful/reasonable/forgivable, let alone a bigamy + countless other accusations). Primary reasons for Rajni's failure would be the strong pulls and conflicts that he has to handle + the unrealistic expectations that he has already projected (real or imaginary) + the poor health he will have to confront in building an organization from the ground up despite the presence of enough of his rasikar mandrams + a changing reality of a significantly aspiring middle-class where there is no unquestioned loyalty to anything ideological/to any person, even if reality seems otherwise, etc.

With a similar age class as Modi and MK Stalin, these two film stars have probably 5-10 years (if at all!) of good/reasonably healthy life before all their vices start taking a real effect on their well-beings. This chasm is not likely to be filled by the different power centers in ADMK and its splinter-ist outfits corrupt as they are, nor is there an alternate hope when the reality of DMK's family-centric agenda comes up to the forefront. Whether such chasms get filled up by pro-leftist anarchist outfits that supposedly emancipate marginalized outfits or worse, pro-Tamil outfits with an axe-to-grind on every Tamil problem in this vast wide world, or whether they get pushed back by caste re-affirmation fronts, or whether there is a space for moderate yet nationalist forces would be an interesting problem to witness, if only one was an outsider peering in. For an insider peering out, these are bound to be eternally uncomfortable events where one lays low, watches the surreality of modern Tamland and its various actors get played out in real-life Big Boss type events, and possibly troll away to one's merriment!

Sadly, we may not have to witness anyone asking for a plot near the Cooum in a long time to come! That may be the only comforting reality in the short while!!

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Thursday, April 7, 2016

New paper draft on terror monitoring

Sometimes, a day can feel like a month. Sometimes, years can feel like pfff. And sometimes, decades cannot be felt :).

In any case, it is time to announce the follow-up to my prior work on terrorism monitoring. Linky to the paper for those who are interested.

This is a long overdue work (as are most things in my life) on non-parametric approaches to terror monitoring. It builds on some reverse majorization theory to generate functionals for monitoring terror signatures. The good part of the deal is that the scheme is "practical," within the confines of keeping things real and simple. The bad part of the deal is it can be used for monitoring all things under the sun, and hence can be easily misused. The ugly part of the deal is whether it will ever be used, anywhere. But in any case, the job is done, well or not!

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Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Know your Nepalese leaders

A placeholder for all kinds of influentials from Nepal... with more to follow over time.

Maoists camp aka UCPN (Maoist), associates and splinterists 
1) Pushpa Kamal Dahal aka Prachanda -- Chairman
2) Narayan Kaji Shreshtha -- Vice Chairman
3) Krishna Bahadur Mahara -- General Secretary
4) Matrika Prasad Yadav -- Coordinator and also leads United Madhes National Movement (not to be confused with former PM, Matrika Prasad Koirala)
5) Lila Mani Pokharel, Haribol Gajurel
6) Futuristan (:P): Prakash Dahal (Son of Prachanda)

7) Dr. Baburam Bhattarai -- Ideologue and JNU graduate, formed a splinterist outfit Naya Shakti, to the right of UCPN(M)
8) Hisila Yami-Bhattarai (Wife of Baburam Bhattarai)

9) Mohan Baidya Pokharel 'Kiran' -- Formed a splinterist outfit named Nepal Communist Party (Revolutionary), further to the left of UCPN(M)
10) Ram Bahadur Thapa 'Badal' -- General Secretary
11) C. P. Gajurel
12) Dev Gurung -- Secretary

13) Netra Bikram Chanda 'Biplav' -- Former a splinterist outfit called Nepal Communist Party Maoist out of UCPN(Maoists), further to the left of NCP(R)
14) Kiran Ghimire
15) Kamal Majhi
16) Sabitri Dura
17) Bil Bahadur Gurung
18) Narayan Kunwar
19) Bharat Bam

Congress camp aka NC and associates  
1) Sher Bahadur Deuba
2) Ram Chandra Poudel -- Acting President
3) Arjun Nara Singh KC
4) Krishna Prasad Sitaula -- General Secretary
5) Prakash Man Singh -- General Secretary
6) Mahesh Acharya -- Member of Working Committee
7) Dr. Ram Sharan Mahat -- Former Finance Minister
8) Sujata Koirala -- Former Deputy PM and Former Foreign Minister, Daughter of Girija Prasad Koirala
9) Shekhar Koirala (Son of Keshav Prasad Koirala and cousin of Sujata)
10) Shashank Koirala (Son of Bisheshar Prasad Koirala and cousin of Sujata)
11) Gopal Man Shrestha, Nabindra Raj Joshi -- Central Committee Members
12) Futuristan: Gagan Thapa, Gururaj Ghimire, Pradeep Poudel

Sushil Koirala -- now deceased, Former NC President and Former PM

Marxist-Leninist camp aka CPN(ML) and associates 
1) Khadaga Prasad Sharma Oli -- incumbent PM
2) Subas Nembang -- Deputy Leader of Party
3) Kamal Thapa -- Chairman of Rashtriya Prajatantra Party (Nepal), Deputy PM, Minister for Foreign Affairs and Local Development
4) Bijaya Kumar Gachhedhar -- Chairman of Madhesi Janaadhikar Forum (Loktantrik), Deputy PM and only Madhesi in the current government
5) C. P. Mainali -- Deputy PM, Minister for Women, Children and Social Welfare
6) Bhim Rawal -- Deputy PM, Defense Minister
7) Chitra Bahadur K. C. -- Deputy PM, Minister for Poverty Alleviation, Chairman of Rashtriya Janmorcha Nepal

8) Bishnu Poudel -- Finance Minister
9) Bishnu Rimal -- Chief Political Advisor of KP Sharma Oli
10) Radhika Shakya -- Wife of KP Sharma Oli
11) Sher Dhan Rai -- Minister for Information and Communication and Official Nepal government spokesperson
12) Devendra Karki -- Minister of Physical Infrastructure
13) Top Bahadur Rayamaji -- Minister for Energy
14) Shakti Basnet -- Home Minister

15) Jhalanath Khanal -- Former PM of Nepal
16) Madhav Kumar Nepal -- Former PM of Nepal
17) Khil Raj Regmi
18) Mohan Shrestha -- Aide of Kamal Thapa
19) Narayan Man Bijukche Rohit -- Chairman of Nepal Majdoor Kisan Party (Nepal) 
20) Ananda Prasad Pokharel -- Minister for Tourism and Civil Aviation
21) Agni Sapkota -- Minister for Forest and Soil Conservation
22) Satya Narayan Mandal -- Minister for Youth and Sports
23) Shankar Pokharel -- Standing Committee Member
24) Bhanu Bhakta Dhakal -- Party Whip
25) Rajan Bhattarai
26) Futuristan: Yogesh Bhattarai, Rajan Karki

Madhesi camp, associates and splinterists 
1) Madhesi Janaadhikar Forum (Loktantrik) -- Bijaya Kumar Gachhedhar (Chairman, Deputy PM and only Madhesi in the current government), Jitendra Dev
2) Sadhbhavana Party, part of the Samyukta Loktantrik Madhesi Morcha -- Rajendra Mahato (Chairman), Laxman Lal Karna (Co-chairman)
3) Tarai Madhes Loktantrik Party, part of SLMM -- Mahantha Thakur (Chairman), Mahendra Rai Yadav (Co-chairman), Hridayesh Tripathi (Vice-chairman), Mahendra Sonal
4) Tarai Madhes Sadhbhavana Party -- Ramnaresh Rai Yadav
5) Federal Socialist Forum (Nepal) aka Sanghiya Samajwadi Forum Nepal, part of SLMM -- Upendra Yadav (Chairman), Rajendra Shreshtha (Vice-chairman), Pradip Yadav
6) Rashtriya Madhes Samajwadi Party -- Satat Singh Bhandari (Chairman)
7) Federal Sadbhavana Party -- Anil Kumar Jha (Chairman)
8) Madhesi Janaadhikar Forum (Republican) -- Raj Kishore Yadav (Chairman)
9) Jay Prakash Gupta -- Head of Federal Inclusive Alliance
10) Jai Krishna Goit
11) C. K. Raut -- supports secession of Madhes

Assorted set of people 
1) Bidya Devi Bhandari -- President of Nepal
2) Nanda Bahadur Kishore Pun -- Vice President of Nepal
3) Deep Kumar Upadhyay -- Ambassador to India
4) Tirtha Wagley -- Counselor at Nepal's embassy in New Delhi
5) Rajendra Chhetri -- Army Chief
6) Tulasi Dangi -- Personal Joint Secretary of VP Pun

7) Ranjit Rae -- Current Ambassador of India to Nepal
8) Jayant Prasad, Rakesh Sood -- Former Ambassador of India to Nepal
9) Arun Kumar Sinha, Akhilesh Misra, Abhay Thakur

10) Wang Yi -- Foreign Minister of China
11) Wu Chuntai -- Ambassador of China to Nepal
12) Chang Fang -- Deputy Minister for International Affairs of China

13) Laxman Tharu and Lahu Ram Tharu -- Part of the Tharuhat/Tharuwan Joint Struggle Committee for the formation of a Tharu state in Nepal
14) Ramesh Nath Pandey -- Former Foreign Minister

Journalists, Litterateurs, Activists and Others  
1) Rishi Dhamala -- Journalist
2) Basant Basnet
3) Prashant Jha
4) Subina Shreshtha
5) Kanak Mani Dixit

6) Manjushree Thapa -- Writer
7) Khagendra Sangraula
8) C. K. Lal
9) Kishore Nepal

10) Subin Mulmi -- Activist
11) Anubhav Ajeet

12) Prashant Tamang -- Winner of Indian Idol Season 3

Monarchists, pseudo-monarchists and the like  
1) Gyanendra Shah -- Former King
2) Sagar Timilsena -- Personal Aide of Gyanendra
3) Paras Shah and Himani Shah -- Son and Daughter-in-Law
4) Devyani Rana (Daughter of Usha Raje Scindia and purported bride of Dipendra before his killing spree)
5) Kunwar Aishwarya Singh (Spouse of Devyani Rana and grandson of Arjun Singh)
6) Karan Singh (Son of Hari Singh of J&K and spouse of Yashodhara Rajya Lakshmi, granddaughter of Mohan Shumsher Jang Bahadur Rana)

7) Rashtriya Prajatantra Party --  Kamal Thapa (Chairman), Lokendra Bahadur Chand (Co-chairman), Buddhiman Tamang (General Secretary), Rajeev Parajuli (Vice President), Prakash Chandra Lohani

Track 2 people aka "intellectuals" 
1) Sukh Dev/Deo Muni -- From JNU and purported mentor of Baburam Bhattarai
2) Sridhar Khatri
3) Ananda Swarup Verma
4) Nishchal Nath Pandey
5) Kul Chandra Gautam -- Former UN Representative
6) Dinesh Bhattarai -- Former Ambassador of Nepal to India

7) Ram Madhav -- BJP General Secretary

Eminent Persons Group (reviews the 1950 treaty among other tasks) 
1) Bhekh Bahadur Thapa -- Former Foreign Minister, also a royalist
2) Rajan Bhattarai
3) Surya Nath Upadhyaya -- Former Chief of CIAA
4) Nilamber Acharya

5) Bharat Singh Koshyari -- BJP Vice President
6) Mahendra Lama
7) Jayant Prasad -- Former Ambassador of India to Nepal
8) B. C. Upreti

Blast from the past 
1) Former PMs -- Manmohan Adhikari, Kirti Nidhi Bista, Girija Prasad Koirala, Krishna Prasad Bhattarai, Surya Bahadur Thapa
2) Former Kings -- Prithvi Narayan Shah (first King), Mahendra, Birendra, Dipendra (committed suicide), Gyanendra

And here is an older version: India, its peoples and its neighbors: Nepal update (July 2, 2010)


Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Nepal update

Sorry for the long absence, but life is a-churning, as is Nepal....  Please excuse the lack of complete sentences aka social media-type rambling. Take it for what its worth... 

... the passing away of SuKo aka Sushil Koirala (the vanguard of the Koirala dynasty) has opened the flood gates of a rapprochement... of sorts.... Seems like the IB had intel on his impending demise. Plus the fact that the UDMF was splitting away and folks like Rajendra Mahato of the Sadhbhavana party were saying "get the hell out" to the threesome in UDMF (that is, Mahendra Thakur, Upendra Yadav and Mahendra Raya Yadav). Looks like despite the blockade, illegal trade/smuggling was going on (which would always be the case --- happens anywhere there is a border crossing) and Rajendra Mahato might have been pissed or not making enough cash relative to the threesome. So Rajendra babu loosened his hold of Birgunj and he was the one holding the forte at the Birgunj-Raxaul border crossing (70% of Indian imports go through this route, not Biratnagar, not Sunauli, definitely not Nepalgunj, not nothing)...  

So the Indians/IB must have been seeing all this tamasha and forced the UDMF to call off the blockade... And of course nothing moves in the Raxaul-Birgunj sector without the South Block saying ok... This is reality, however one would like to deny it. 

So here is my story, rumor-mill sourced or otherwise... SuKo bulldozed through a Constitution as a mission that cannot wait for the next hour, let alone tomorrow... Why I dont know... Was it the fact that he knew of his near/impending-death... wanting to be the Messiah of a new Nepal, a republican Nepal, a 21st century Nepal?... No idea, but this tamasha was easily bought in by the CPN(ML) and CPN(M) cabal... Was it just a case of entrenched Pahadi elites holding forte for eternity?.. I dont know... but does not smell right to me... 

But there was/is a vertical divide inside the CPN(M) camp.. with the ideologicals (aka useful idiots) led by Baburam Bhattarai saying, "what, what, why so urgent?".. and the Prachanda gang sitting opposite to the ideologicals.. There was already a split with the now not-so-healthy Mohan Baidya Kiran camp going wolf on "People's war is not over yet, we need to torch more buses, torch more thanas, recruit more thugs, fight more battles, till then laal salaam, laal salaam"... Now that Baburam-da has quit CPN(M) and started his useless party of sorts (which had been long time coming btw), Prachanda and MBK are making up... They will make up given that MBK is nearing his saranagati days and he needs the army of Prachanda cabal to sing along, lest he be consigned to the trashcan of history... Prachanda too needs MBK to shore up his wing as the real CPN(M) given that Guru Dronacharya is out of the ranch now :))... 

But still... how did CPN(ML) and CPN(M) buy this SuKo drama all along?.. This is something I dont see a good answer to.. its not just the anti-Indian of sorts, Jhalanath Khanal, but also the old aspiring PM-lot (aka Madhav Kumar Nepal) and that dreg who is the PM now, KP Sharma Oli... All were seeking bread crumbs??.. Makes little sense... the Indians/IB/South block/MEA/foreign office seem to have been caught up in surprise given the quick movement of things... and the quick sabaash-waa-rewa (1-2-3) from the Chinese, the Americans and the Pakistanis meant that Indians said "Start the moosik, pronto." Of course, the Nepali establishment had to retort with "We will seek the warmth and embrace of our birathers up north," but even an IQ-deficient person knows that this is just claptrap. The Bangladeshis, Sri Lankans and Dhivehis do this too, but in the case of Nepalese, it is utter claptrap. China cannot supply beyond a certain point to Nepal and only the poor will suffer (as it is the case now). Even the Nepali establishment (visceral in its hatred of the Indian establishment is) knows it. All they want is for the Chinese to supply their party offices so that they are not using firewood to light up their offices, aamchi Gorkhali be damned. Anyway.... 

One major thing was a few amendments were made to please the Madhesis.. the kicking of the bucket of SuKo + wanting a face saver + things quickly spiraling out of control and losing the face of not holding the border to ransom meant that Indians called things off at that stage... now people (aka Singha Durbarians) will forget the remaining Madhesi demand for re-drawing provinces... none will happen, yes you heard that right. If they did not happen for so long after 4 1/2 mths of crippling blockade, none will happen with 4 1/2 yrs of People's war... So we have 6 provinces now, or was that 7?.. I lost count already. Also, plus, the person who is going to run riot in NC now (Sher Bahadur Deuba - the other pole of the NC) does not want to split one of the provinces despite the Tharu demand or inspite of it. So status quo it is. Each province shares a border entrypoint with India (is that good or bad, even that Pashupathinath will not know!)... the Madhesis get their amendments... the Nepalese get their fuel and supplies.. India gets its face saving withdrawal... now does it mean that the Nepalese will go back to normal or will people remember this blockade for far longer?... Of course, time will tell... but most likely people will remember.. they remember the 1990 blockade.. Why wont they remember this given its so immediate pain?... This is also a yug where every dog and his uncle needs to have an opinion, so yes, the blockade stings/stang/whatever. 

Now what can they do if they remember?.. Nothing... Nepal is landlocked, period... You can euphemistically call it any way you want, go to the UN or even a bigger body, sing dongfang hong or pak sar zameen, but that is what it is.. But did it (the blockade) help for India?.. Probably not... So I am confused... What is the grand strategy to all these tactics?.. What am I missing?.. It is idiotic to assume that the South Block decided to blockade because they woke up on the wrong side of the bed one fine day... South Block is legendary in its deep elephantine memory and things do not move up quickly unless they are serious, important and worse, painful. 

Did the SuKo Messiah mission ruin a carefully built decade of work, albeit moving at a glacial pace??.. the Constitution work was going on from 2004 since the 8-point agreement was signed. There was one 6 year mis-rule of CPN(M) followed by another elections (which was long time coming when I was waiting for that) and Constitution writing was going nowhere... and within a few days/weeks they promulgated one.. Even for miracles, its weird... how.. what.. wtf.. This is exactly what must have happened at South Block... So here are a few questions that make no sense (at least to me) now: 
1) How did the Constitution come up overnight? 
2) Who orchestrated it?
3) How did all the three parties buy into it? How did the greasing/convincing happen?  
4) Why did the Indians get surprised? 
5) Why did they blockade? 
6) What do they want as a face saver? 
7) Did they get one? 
8) If so, is all well now? 
9) If not, what can be done? 
10) What is being to address the colossal intel failure that was? 

Here are more questions that can be asked, but wont be: 
1) Did the INC ruin the India-Nepal relationship by cosying up with the Pahadi elites for so long, across party affiliation? 
2) Is the change from embracing the Pahadi elites and ignoring the Madhesis for so long get a U-turn with the arrival of Modi? All this roti-beti tamasha make no sense with the Pahadis, it started with Modi. Innit?! 
3) Why did India let the mudslinging at the "Indian-origin" Madhesi take traction when the Madhesis are Nepalis? 
4) Are we preparing for a demographic shift in favor of the Madhesis? 
5) Are we seeing a Pahadi (which is euphemism for the upper class partisans of the Brahmin-Kshatriya varna) vs. Madhesi (which is euphemism for OBC/more comfortable in Hindi than Nepali) fistfight in the name of something else? Or is this a regular fight of the entrenched vs. usurpers? How much of this is caste, class and status?  
6) All policies get the imprint of the man in-charge, but does the current change in policy have an imprint from Nagpur? 

Of course, remote controlling happens across party-lines and not that one can do much if Nagpur does frame policies. But one is indeed curious as to if there is a grand strategy and if so, have all things been considered properly? 

In general, I am more confused with time than not... 

Did that non-partisan line-up (of Anand Sharma, Sitaram Yechuri, Sharad Yadav, Sushma Swaraj + Ajit Doval) cremate a SuKo type Messianic effort for good?? Did it?? I will always doubt such certitudes... Will KP Sharma Oli stop barking at the wrong tree now? While the Burnol will take a few days/months to heal, I dont expect the visceral garbage to go down any time soon. Nepal establishment is not a bosom friend of the Indian establishment, period. It never was, it never will be, and one should not even expect anything close to that. Period... 

So what is our strategy now? How exactly is a strategy supposed to be defined? What are the parameters, what are the contours of the optimization? "Do nothing" is loser-talk and I dont buy grand visions and strategies hinged on inaction ... So what exactly is going on in Nepal?! 


Saturday, September 12, 2015

Impressions from watching Leander's 17th Major win

We went to the US open yesterday and watched Leander and Martina win the US open mixed doubles title. This was Leander's 17th win in a doubles event at Grand Slam events. Some of my observations from yesterday. 

1) The best access to Flushing Meadows from Central Jersey is to get to NY Penn and then take the Long Island Railroad to the Mets-Willets station and walk from there. It is worth buying the LIRR tickets from a ticketing station (one has to stand in the queue to do this as the stations dont automatically show Mets-Willets) than to buy it in the train (a steal usually of $6 per ticket). The alternate possibility of taking MTA-7 subway from Times Sq and 42nd Street (or elsewhere) is not the best access from NY Penn. Plus, MTA subways while cheaper than LIRR ($2.75 vs $6) end up being less cleaner, longer with more stops (but more frequent at less than a 30 min wait) and more crowded. 

2) Before the mixed doubles event began, there was an ongoing women's doubles semi-final match. This match ended up being a close call, but a good chunk of the people (including us) were egging on the match to finish up faster. That was because of the coming Leander-Martina match-up. 

3) The mixed doubles' final was initially scheduled for the much bigger Arthur Ashe stadium, and as luck would have it, got pushed to the much smaller Louis Armstrong* stadium. Unlike AA, a good view of everything (including the grunts, the moans, the whines, the screams and the chest thumps when they do happen) can be had from even the far corners of LA. We sat 3-4 rows behind the reserved seating area (which in itself is pretty small), so that gave us a pretty darn good view of Leander and Martina as well as Bethanie Mattek-Sands and Sam Querrey (the runner-up).

4) While Bethanie and Sam are Americans, and the match itself was on 9/11, the Indian/Indian-American crowd was far more behind Leander. For every "Go Bethanie" or "Go Sam" crowing, a "Go Paes", "Go Leander", "Go Martina" cry crowded it out. While noone was disrespectful of/to the Americans, surely the Indian crowd was behind Leander. Why not? After all, Leander has been the most nationalist** of all tennis players ever seen on the Indian circuit, far more than anyone else I have ever seen or watched or read about.

5) Leander is really old, at 43. And it shows. Every serve of his is accompanied with grunts leaving everyone with a sad reminder that age catches up with everyone, even good people. Leander's super-quick reflexes are all but a distant past. He actually made a number of errors going the opposite way of the ball many times (I counted 4), calling balls that were in long (2-3 times), and catching the net on a weak second serve a few times. This is not the Leander I have seen before, nor the one I expected to see. (That amazing acrobatic 6-3, 4-0 lead against Agassi in the 1996 US open seems a distant past.) His still decent serves took him to hold the game many times here though and therein lies the rub.

6) But it was Martina's day and she kept it going. She took a majority of the return serves (inspired or conspired). The number of points Leander pulled out could have been counted, no disrespect that. But when it mattered the most, at 7-all in the match tie-break, he pulled a clutch shot on the line. With 2 serves to close out the match, and after one "dam lagaa ke aisha" (yes, it happened), we had a winner. Martina and Leander had closed out the match 6-4, 3-6, [10-7].

7) That brings us to the scoring system. The USTA uses one of the most non-puritanical scoring systems in doubles events. At deuce, the first point winner wins the game (the no-Ad rule). If it is 1-set-all, the system moves to a "first to win 10 points with a 2 point gap" tie-break scoring scheme (the super tie-break rule). These belong to the class of innovations introduced by the Hall of Fame founder, James van Alen, primarily with TV scheduling in mind. Unlike the other three majors as well as Davis/Fed/Hopman Cups that employ a tie-breaker only in the non-final sets and an Advantage set (remember the Isner-Mahut scoreline of 70-68 in Wimbledon 2010) in the final set, the USTA prefers a tie-break set in all the five/three sets of men's/women's events. In the mixed doubles, pushed by an aggressive TV schedule, only the Wimbledon runs the best of three set event with the other three following a super tie-break. However one debates it, a super tie-break is a super cop-out, as is a no-Ad rule. If I am paying to see the match, I would rather have a fighting game bringing me value for the cash I am spending than a quick cop-out, esp. if I have a good view of the match. Why not? If I am watching the game on the telly, I would rather have a quick game with who I like as the winner. These two benchmarks are potentially conflicting and the USTA in its grand wisdom of who brings the most profits for them has decided on optimizing over one goal than the other. While this is always the reality with anyone, it is worth noting that.

8) All that said, of all the 4 players speaking after the match was over, Leander was the most gracious. He was gracious to Martina, Bethanie as well as Sam (with whom he played in the World Team Tennis event). He was the most jovial and most articulate. And at the World Team event, he had given hints to Sam on playing doubles. While Leander did not give explicit credit to his horde of "Indian" supporters, that is understandable in this time of having to wear an American flag on one's lapels or empathizing with one doing such raucous stuff even if that statement/act is undeserved and unnecessarily in-your-face. After all, either one is with Americans or against them with no middle ground in place and life is all black or white (did not MJ say that?).

9) On the other hand, Bethanie and Sam had put up a team like 30 minutes before the sign-up deadline for the mixed doubles event. That speaks volumes on how disorganized this whole doubles scene is and how "easy" it is to come up trumps relative to the singles scene. Leander and Martina were richer by $150k, and compare that with the women's singles winner Flavia Pennetta's paycheck ($3.3 million). So Leander's take home of $75k, after due diligence to Uncle Sam and his set of trainers/coaches/physios and travel budget, etc. etc., comes to around $25k (for two weeks of hard work). Surely, singles is a more physical game, but the 40 times mark-up is deserved? For pure interesting-ness, doubles games are far more capable candidates than the walkovers we saw in the men's singles scene (an injured Cilic winning three games against Djokovic, or another cakewalk by Stan Wawrinka against Federer). That also explains why Leander is still playing at 43. In addition to his interest in the game, he has a grave need to win more events to retire peacefully and in economic safety. Whatever the case is, it makes for a sad little side story on prize money. And all that equal prize money etc. etc. is perhaps only for singles events, one assumes. Looking at the official prize money list (see pic below) shows how skewed this whole charade really is.

10) In any case, after the match was over, Leander went around the stadium (small as it is) twice to sign autographs on any damn thing (cap, ball, t-shirt, paper, anything). I must have seen him up close for a long enough time to see no airs, the banter and all. Sad that I forgot to wish him good luck to get India into the world group stage at the Davis Cup in a week's time. He needs all the luck, as does India given that the Czech Republic (even minus Tomas Berdych) are a strong team. But the match-up is in Delhi and all seedings calculations are off. As far as the Indian crowd that missed the Davis Cup thing entirely, I dont know what to make of the brave "Go Leanders".

11) This win makes Leander a winner of three major mixed doubles event this year barring the French, where he and Martina lost in the second round. At age 43, winning 3 on 4 is not just great, it makes for some fun scenes where you make up a majority of your team age (43/78). That said, the last time Leander won at Flushing was in 2013, when he and Radek Stepanek (who will be in Delhi the coming week) stopped the Bryan-Slam (another time when the Queens' crowd was as maddening as it was yesterday waiting, hoping and praying -- mostly braying -- for the Serena Slam). The guilt of a prior racist history that runs amok at the neo-liberal USTA is hard to miss as well as the in-your-face patriotism (wanting minority singers rendition 'America the Beautiful' or 'God Bless America' and illustrating the melting pot that it would nt be otherwise), what with James Blake getting a serious round of applause when he came on the jumbotron at AA later in the evening. Surely, some of that guilt could be fired at the mistrial in Alabama, or better yet, to actually help the African-Americans get ahead in life without institutional blocks rather than do lip service to them by honoring Arthur Ashe, Louis Armstrong, Serena Williams, etc.

* I really never understood why the LA stadium was named after Louis Armstrong. Sure, LA was a great jazz figure (perhaps the greatest) and he lived right next to the NTC, but other than that, what are his connections to tennis? If this is meant to appease the predominant African-American residents of Queens, well, that is a point worth noting.

** I dont know how long Leander will play, but having watched him from 1989 or so, from his winning the Junior Wimbledon in 1990 to slaying the French at the Frejus clay in 1993 (aye-aye sir to the Ramesh Krishnan ambling to win the 2 games on the 4th day to finish the miracle against who was that Rodolphe Gilbert) to the Indian Express thing that was still-born to the assorted set of partners from a Martina he idolized to a Martina who was named after her to having the sort of respect on the Tour that he is seen as a good bloke to be with, and to actually have nice words from everyone else except the touring club of Indians (ouch!), it will be sad to see him go, whenever that is. Sure, there will be Grounds Admission next year on, and I hope to catch him still, again, hopefully winning more major events. Yea, sure, Leander is no saint, no god, no vodka, no turn-on that you get when you finish up that badass paper, but he sure will always be the most Indian of Indian tennis players on the circuit. That gets him something more than the bronze he won at Atlanta beating who was that Fernando Meligeni. And that something does nt come from wearing your two-bit Stars and Stripes on your lapel, but comes with knowing and acknowledging that you are neither with them nor against them. After all, Galatians 6:7 rescues us all, amen to that.


Thursday, August 27, 2015

2011 religion census and comparisons with 2001

I broke down the data into 35 States and Union Territories (AP and Telengana treated as one state as was the case in 2011) to parse the trends in each State/UT separately between 2001 census and 2011 census. All numbers in the above table are percentages of each religious denomination in the State/UT's population.

Main conclusions: 
1) Most states appear to have reasonably stable religion figures, modulo small fertility differentials between Hindus, Christians, Sikhs and Muslims.
2) Two major states (Maharashtra and Uttar Pradesh) saw the Hindu percentage drop below 80% for the first time, even though Buddhists' numbers have been historically high in Maharashtra courtesy of Ambedkar. It is indeed surprising that the land of Mayawati has barely any Buddhist numbers.
3) Kerala, Assam, West Bengal and Jharkhand seem to be slowly in the path of religion-driven turmoil of an existentialist kind that comes with instability and differentials across religions.
4) Goa appears to have stabilized due to constant migration from Maharashtra.
5) Northeastern states are a seething cauldron of changing affinities, often quite dramatically as in the case of Arunachal Pradesh. Almost always, Hindus appear to be losing out to Christianity. This does not lead to any form of transactional stability and soon Arunachal Pr. could have its own religion-driven terrorist outfit apart from NSCN(K).

6) Evangelical money networks could only keep the Christian numbers stable in Andhra Pradesh, Tamil Nadu, Karnataka, Delhi, Maharashtra, it could not prop these numbers up dramatically. One could argue that the very fact that their numbers have held stable is because of the moneys pumped in. In any case, someone who is pumping the cash from foreign shores has to wonder about the value for his/her money.
7) Modulo conversions to Christianity, Sikhs, Jains, Buddhists and Christians are decimating themselves proportionately via family planning.
8) Bangladeshi immigration seems to have had a major impact on Assam alone, but not on West Bengal or Tripura like I would have expected. Either this must mean that the West Bengali Muslims do not enjoy a fertility differential that their counterparts elsewhere in the country do not enjoy (more unlikely) or that West Bengal must be seeing Bangladeshi Hindu immigration in proportionate numbers to compensate for the fertility differential.
9) The rise of tribal affinities in Chattisgarh is probably a direct effect of the Maoist menace.
10) Of course, all of this is based on gross numbers and not based on localized data. So the reality could be far different on a microscopic scale, across districts and tehsils.

Approximately stable states in terms of religious figures modulo small religion-based fertility differentials 
1) Andaman & Nicobar Islands
2) Bihar
3) Dadra and Nagar Haveli, 1.2% Christians down, 1.2% Muslims up
4) Daman & Diu, 1.2% Christians down, 1.2% Hindus up
5) Delhi, 0.5% Hindus down, 0.5% Sikhs down, 1% Muslims up
6) Goa, 0.4% Hindus up, 1.5% Muslims up, 1.6% Christians down
7) Gujarat
8) Haryana, 0.7% Hindus down, 0.5% Sikhs down, 1.2% Muslims up
9) Himachal Pradesh
10) Jammu & Kashmir, 1.2% Hindus down, 1.3% Muslims up
11) Jharkhand, 0.7% Hindus down, 0.7% Muslims up, small changes from tribal affinities to Christianity

12) Karnataka, 0.5% Buddhists down, 0.5% Muslims up
13) Lakshadweep, 1% Hindus down, 1% Muslims up, small base
14) Madhya Pradesh
15) Maharashtra, 0.5% Hindus down to less than 80%, 0.5% down from Christians, Buddhists and Jains put together, 1% Muslims up
16) Orissa
17) Pondicherry
18) Rajasthan, 0.6% Muslims up, 0,45% Sikhs and Jains down
19) Tamil Nadu
20) Uttar Pradesh, 0.8% Hindus down to fall below 80%, 0.7% Muslims up
21) Uttarakhand, 2% Hindus down, 2% Muslims up
22) West Bengal, 2% Hindus down, 1.7% Muslims up

Unstable/Outlier regions: Part I 
1) Assam, 3.5% Hindus down, 3.5% Muslims up -- most likely due to Hindu-Muslim differential and Bangladeshi immigration
2) Chandigarh, 3% Sikhs down, 2% Hindus up, 1% Muslims up -- Hindu-Muslim vs. Sikh fertility differential
3) Kerala, 1.5% Hindus down, 0.9% Christians up, 0.6% Muslims up -- Christian-Muslim vs. Hindu fertility differential
4) Punjab, 1.5% Hindus up, 2.2% Sikhs down -- Hindu vs. Sikh fertility differential

Unstable/Outlier regions: Part II 
1) Arunachal Pradesh, 4.5% Sanamahi down, 5.5% Hindus down, 1.5% Buddhists down, 11.5% Christians up 
2) Chattisgarh, 1.5% Hindus down, 1.5% tribal affinities up -- probably propped by the Maoists
3) Manipur, 4.5% Hindus down, 2.5% Others down, 7% Christians up
4) Meghalaya, 1.7% Hindus down, 2.8% Others down, 4.5% Christians up
5) Mizoram, 0.75% Hindus down, 0.5% Buddhists up
6) Nagaland, 1% Hindus up, 0.7% Muslims up, 2% Christians down
7) Sikkim, 3.1% Hindus down, 3.2% Christians up, 0.7% Buddhists down
8) Tripura, 2.2% Hindus down, 1% Christians up, 0.3% Buddhists up, 0.6% Muslims up

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