Merry Christmas: Celestial Conversations - XXVI

on Posted by Rajesh J Advani
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First: Celestial Conversation
Previous: Till Debt Do Us Part: Celestial Conversations - XXV
God: Hello?
Me: Hi!
God: Hello.
Me: It's been so long since we chatted!
God: Yes, I've been busy.
Me: Busy?
God: Yes, I've been doing two jobs.
Me: Two jobs?
God: Yes. Luci went on a long vacation and asked Me to take care of stuff at Hell while he was away.
Me: Oh. Until when do you have to do this?
God: Until Hell freezes over.
Me: What?! But that's never going to happen!
God: Of course it is. It'll only be another couple of weeks at the most.
Me: Really?
God: Yes. Luci hasn't paid the heating bills in years.
Me: Oh. Well how has it been, doing two jobs?
God: Oh being in charge of Hell is no big deal. All the chaps there are pretty well-behaved. It's the commute that's killing me.
Me: Really? How far do you need to travel?
God: Half around the world, at one time. Then I decided to move Heaven to Texas.
Me: Oh. Where's Hell?
God: Manhattan.
Me: What?! How can The Devil afford the rent?
God: Simple. He doesn't pay the rent. As The Devil, he can get away with it.
Me: Right. So what did you do for Christmas?
God: Oh, We gave Jesus a surprise party.
Me: Really?
God: Yeah. The guys over in Hell came up with the idea.
Me: Where was the party?
God: Hell's Kitchen.
Me: Makes sense. But you do know that Jesus wasn't actually born on Christmas day, don't you?
God: He wasn't?
Me: No. No one actually remembers when Jesus was really born. Some people think He was born in the summer.
God: Oh. Well, would you mind not mentioning that to him?
Me: Okay. But why?
God: Would you be thrilled to know that no one in the world could remember your birthday?
Me: I guess not. Well Merry Christmas to You, in any case.
God: Yes. And a Happy New Year.

Next: Gender Questions: Celestial Conversations - XXVII

Inexperienced: Two Months Later

on Posted by Rajesh J Advani
Labels: , , ,
Intro: Inexperienced
Previous: So Close, Yet So Far

(Episode 6. This is the final episode in a series about a couple that get married without the benefit of sex education. The nature of the series causes it to be a little explicit, even if this particular episode isn't, so if you're easily offended, you might want to read something else.)
Two months later, at a hospital.
"So, what did the doctor say?"
"I'm pregnant."


"So we really have been doing it right."
"You know that friend of yours?"
"The one I finally asked what goes where, you mean?"
"What about him?"
"Could you beat him up for me?"
"But why?! He helped! We should be thanking him!"
"I don't think so. If he really wanted to help, he would have told us about contraception."

Since this is World AIDS Day, here's some important information. So protect yourself, will you?

Insane Call-Center Conversation

on Posted by Rajesh J Advani
This is an actual conversation I had with someone they told me was a "Tech Support" person at Cingular, which is my cellphone service provider. And this was after I'd spent around 30 minutes on the phone with "Customer Care" and they decided they'd transfer me to someone who was "more equipped" to help me.
Support: Hi, and how may I help you today?
Me: Well, I'm calling because as of last Thursday, I've stopped receiving text messages from India.
S: You've started receiving text messages?
Me: No, I've stopped receiving text messages from India.
S: Okay, you've stopped receiving messages.
Me: Yes. People send me messages, but they never reach me. (Just in case she thought I was calling to complain that no one messages me anymore)
S: Okay. And what would you like to do today?
Me: (Speechless for a few seconds) I'd... like to know why I'm not getting messages from India anymore.

No, seriously. This is not a joke. That's one person who'd fail the Turing test. Or maybe she had a two-minute memory.

It turned out, by the way - another 30 minutes later - that I wasn't actually speaking to Tech Support, since Customer Care had forwarded me back to Customer Care.

Searches That Lead Here: Tagged

on Posted by Rajesh J Advani
So I've been tagged (If your office firewall blocks this because of the objectionable word in the URL, you can try this link. It's the top post).

I don't always do tags, but this is a post I've been wanting to write for at least a year and a half. So I've decided to give up on procrastination for just long enough to get this post done.

Basically, I'm supposed to write a post on the different words/phrases entered by people in search engines, that lead them to this blog. And because I started using Google Analytics a little less than a year ago, I have access to almost every search word used to reach this site since then. So I'll be doing this post as a series.

I'll start with one of the most common set of search terms that leads people to my blog.

Searches relating to Arranged Marriage - Long, long ago, so long ago, that I don't even remember how long ago, I wrote a post on Arranged Marriages. That's one post on the topic. And 8% of the hits on this blog, end up at that post. Here's a sampling of the kinds of search strings that people have used:
  1. Arranged Marriage Statistics - That's given me 242 hits in the last 11 months. And from the comments on that post, I believe that these are mainly sociology students. So the crap I wrote, has probably ended up being used in someone's research project! I don't know whether to be proud, or worry that my opinion from a couple of years ago on a matter that I have absolutely no knowledge about, just might be considered Expert Opinion!
  2. Giving up on love for arranged marriage - This one scares me. What if someone was trying to decide whether they should wait to find their true love, or just give in to parental pressure and have an arranged marriage? And what if it was my post that convinced this person to go in for an arranged marriage? What if they'd have found their true love if they had not read my post, and just waited for a few more months? What if I stood in the way of true love? How can I live with the burden of such a grave sin? My hair are turning gray from worrying.
  3. Is arranged marriage legal in the united states? - What???
  4. Arranged Marriages don't work
  5. Arranged Marriages are Bad
  6. Arranged Marriages are Evil - Okay, okay, I believe you!

Makes me wonder if I should have started a matrimonial site instead.

Update: I know I'm supposed to tag other people, but I'll make it an open invitation instead. If you feel like doing the tag, leave a comment, and I'll tag you.
Alternatively, if you want to know how to track search terms for your blog, or you want to get a counter that has that feature, let me know and I'll try to help out.

Update 2: Tagging Anwin and Deaths Head Roy.

Thank You, Santa Claus!

on Posted by Rajesh J Advani
Yes, I know the holiday season isn't exactly here yet, and Christmas is a long time away. But Santa dropped by this afternoon. No, really!

Remember that book-store I wrote about recently?

Well Santa just gave me two $50 gift cards to the store! $100 of books! I suddenly feel like a kid in a candy store. With mommy paying the bills!

Long live Santa!

Inexperienced: So Close, Yet So Far

on Posted by Rajesh J Advani
Labels: , , ,
Intro: Inexperienced
Previous: Fourth Night

(Episode 5. Read the previous episodes if you want to know what this is about. And be warned that it may not be suitable for children.)
"Listen. You have something that corresponds to this, right?"
"I do, but..."
"It can't be that!"
"Are you sure?"
"Well, it's too small!"
"Yes. That would be impossible. I know at least that much about my body."

Next: Inexperienced: Two Months Later

Inexperienced: Fourth Night

on Posted by Rajesh J Advani
Labels: , , ,
Intro: Inexperienced
Previous: Third Night

(Episode 4. You're still here, so I'll assume you don't need the "you could be offended" warning.)
"You're going to love me for this."
"I'm supposed to love you no matter what you do. That's what it's about, remember?"
"Well, you're going to love me even more, then."
(tries to look behind him, and suddenly smiles) "Diamonds!"
"Diamonds? No, no. I got a movie!"
"I'm supposed to love you for getting a movie?"
"No, you don't get it! It's an adult movie!"
"An adult movie?"
"Stupid, so we can figure out how to... you know!"
"Which movie is it?"
"Basic Instinct. I've heard a lot about it, but never had the guts to get it, before."
"Great! Well then what are you waiting for? Put it on!"

(a few minutes later)

"Do you actually want to watch the whole movie?"
"Not really. Well not tonight, at least."
"Then why don't we fast-forward until the... um... good bits come on?"
"Good idea."

(waiting impatiently)

"I can't believe it. We'll finally figure it out tonight!"
(both look at each other and grin)

(more waiting)

"Hey stop, stop, stop! He's kissing her! Rewind, rewind! Stop, stop, stop! You did too much! It's ok. We can wait for a minute or so."
(both grin again)

"So that's Sharon Stone?"
"I don't think so. I think Sharon Stone is supposed to be blonde. I think there are two women in the movie."
"Two women?"
"Yeah. Lucky guy."
"Oh nothing, nothing. I meant... I meant... See he's kissing her!"
"He's pushing her against the wall. Why is he doing that?"
"I don't know. Maybe he's... What happened? Is it over?"
"I don't know. Maybe the... the interesting part is with Sharon Stone."
"Oh. Ok."

(more waiting)

"Hey, they seem to be dancing. Let's watch this part."
"So that's Sharon Stone?"
"I think so."
"Ok. And that other girl?"
"No idea."
"Sharon Stone looks good, doesn't she?"
"Yes. Quite."


"But not as good as you!"
"You learn fast."

"Hey see they're suddenly in the bedroom!"
"Finally... What? What happened? It's over?"

(both stare at screen)

"You know..."
"I think this DVD is the censored version."
"You mean..."


"You know, years later when we look back, this is going to seem funny."
"If we ever figure it out, that is."

"I'm going to give our kids sex education at the age of ten."
"Ten! Anyway. At this rate we'll probably end up having to adopt."
"Maybe they'll learn about it from their friends and tell us."
"True. Let's adopt an older kid, so that we don't have to wait too long."

Next: So Close, Yet So Far

Inexperienced: Third Night

on Posted by Rajesh J Advani
Labels: , , ,
Intro: Inexperienced
Previous: Second Night

(Episode 3 of a really tragic story. Read the previous posts in the series for context. The posts are beginning to get somewhat explicit, so if you're easily offended, consider yourself warned.)
"Hey, I'm sorry about last night. I shouldn't have said what I said."
"No, I was equally at fault. This is so frustrating."
"Yes, it definitely is. My friends have been congratulating and teasing me all this time. So I can't even ask them."
"Same here."
"What do we do?"
"I don't know."
"Well, see we know this goes somewhere right?"
"So all we need to figure out is where, right?"
"So, let's do that."
"Go ahead."
"Go ahead what?"
"Figure it out."
"I don't know! It's your idea."
"Can't you try to help?"
"(sigh) I don't know. How do we begin to figure it out?"
"I don't know. Okay, let's try to analyze this."
"See, this needs to go somewhere, so that somewhere needs to be able to accommodate this, right?"
"So I guess we are looking for a part of you, where this would fit."
"So, any ideas?"
"Even less than before."
"Can't you think of anything?"
"Nothing. Until now, I thought I knew my body."
"Hmm. Do you think it, sort of, appears when needed?"
"I think you've been reading too much Harry Potter."
"Harry Potter?"
"Yeah, the fifth book."
"No idea."
"You haven't read the Harry Potter books?"
"No. I don't read much."
"Um, could we concentrate on the current problem?"
"Okay. But tomorrow we're going to the library and you are going to
start reading."
"Can't you think of anything?"
"We're going to die virgins, and we don't even know what that means!"
"Oh stop being so melodramatic. I'm getting tired. Can we sleep now?"
"Good night."
"Good night."

Next: Fourth Night

Inexperienced: Second Night

on Posted by Rajesh J Advani
Labels: , , ,
Intro: Inexperienced
Previous: First Night

(Episode 2 of the plight of newlyweds lacking education. Read the previous posts in the series for context. These posts are probably R or PG-13 rated, depending on who is doing the rating.)
Hug, kiss, cuddle, etc.

(both look at each other)

"What next?"
"Um, I don't know."
"Didn't you ask someone?"
"No, of course not! Did you?"
"No, I didn't."

(both thoughtful)

"See, I'm sure this goes somewhere."
"I can see that, but where?"
"I don't know."
"This is so stupid."
"Hey, I know what to do at my end. You should know how things work at yours."
"What? How dare you! That's such a horrible thing to say! You're sleeping on the
couch tonight."
"What?! Why?!"
"Because you're an insensitive boor."

Next: Third Night

Inexperienced: First Night

on Posted by Rajesh J Advani
Labels: , , ,
Intro: Inexperienced

(This is the first episode of the story of a pair of newlyweds seriously short on sex education. So if you're easily offended, you probably don't want to read any further.)
Hug, kiss, cuddle, etc.

"Okay let's do it."
"Yes, let's."



(more silence and staring at ceiling)

"I think we should take our clothes off."
"Right. Right. Let's do that."
"Yes, let's."

(fumble around with clothes, ending up partially undressed)

More hugging, kissing, cuddling and etc-ing.

"Okay, let's do it now."
"Yes, let's."


"I think we need to undress... um... all the way."
"Er... yes, I think that too."

(more fumbling around with clothes)

(deep breaths)

"Okay, let's do it now."
"Yes. Let's."


(both together) "You know what to do, right?"
(both grin)
(both) "Yes, of course!"
(both sigh in relief)

"Okay, good".
"Yeah, good."

"Well, then..."


"Err... Umm... Do you know where I should put this?"
"Don't you?"
"Actually no. I'm new at this."
"Damn! And they told me to let the guy do everything!"
"Well, now what?"
"I don't know."
"We could go back to cuddling."

(some more cuddling)

"I'm sleepy."
"Yeah, me too."
"Okay, good night."
"Good night."

(both) *phew*

Next: Second Night


on Posted by Rajesh J Advani
Labels: ,
Those who complain about the effect of Western culture on Indian Tradition (whatever the two terms mean), tend to use incidents like the Delhi Public School MMS video in their arguments. I mean, sweet innocent school-going kids should have no business making pornographic videos of themselves, right?

The other camp, blames high teenage pregnancy rates, and the uncontrolled spread of sexually transmitted diseases like AIDS on the lack of sex-education at an early age.

In both cases, the section of society being talked about, are kids. No one seems to care much about the other section of people in India that are affected by the lack of sex-education.


I mean even where people pay attention to them, it seems to be limited to handing out contraceptives and mumbling stuff about AIDS and family planning. Ok, it's a start. But from what I've heard, there are never any instructions about exactly what to do or how these contraceptives should be used for maximum effectiveness. Very rarely are there warnings that no form of protection is 100% effective, or stuff like the fact that condoms can burst if you don't take care to get rid of air bubbles.

It was recently brought to my notice, though, that the lack of information is worse than I thought. Apparently, there are people in their twenties in our cities, and educated people at that, who -
  • Think that pregnancy is caused by kissing. (I wonder what they think The Pill does in terms of avoiding this. Give you bad breath?)
  • Get pregnant because they didn't think they needed contraception, since they were only having sex during The Safe Period. (There's no such thing as a "safe period", but how many days of their honeymoon did these people waste?)
  • Don't consummate their marriage for days after their wedding, not out of shyness, but because they don't know what to do!

I'm not kidding. I wish I was, of course. (I've actually heard that people sometimes spend weeks and even months without knowing what to do, but I refuse to believe that. I mean at some point, nature's going to take over.) The idea of a couple sitting on their wedding bed without knowing what it is they need to do next, is no laughing matter.

Ok, so maybe it is. In fact I think the idea is so hilarious, that I've immensely enjoyed writing about the experience about just such a couple. The story is completely fictitious of course, and is purely the result of my overactive imagination. I hope you enjoy reading it as much as I enjoyed writing it.

I'll be publishing it here as a series of posts over the next few days, so watch this space.

If you're one of the people I'm talking about, apologies in advance for having a laugh at your expense. I just couldn't resist.

Next: First Night

Disaster Just Struck

on Posted by Rajesh J Advani
As of this week, there is a brand new Borders bookstore on the ground floor of the building I work in. And along with a very large collection of books, they've got at least 40 shelves full of science fiction and fantasy. While they don't have every Discworld novel ever written (but then that's ok, since I do), they do have difficult to get Terry Pratchett titles like Nanny Ogg's Cookbook and Where's My Cow?.

And they've got offers like "Buy 2 books and get the 3rd free" and "20% off".

I'm so screwed.

Update: It's worse than I thought. Their SFF section is not just 40 shelves. It's 139 (yes, I counted). And that's not counting the 30 shelves filled with extra copies of the bestsellers. And the store occupies at least two floors.

I'm so so screwed.

Cinema - Censorship

on Posted by Rajesh J Advani
There's a new film out called This film is not yet rated. (If you're reading this at work, you might want to be a careful before clicking on that link. The poster for the movie is a little explicit, and forms the background for the website.) The makers of the film have tried to bring out the dissatisfaction of moviemakers and movie-goers with the way the MPAA assigns ratings to movies released in the US. There's also a petition on the website that aims to fix this. Below, excerpted from the website, are the salient points of their issues with the MPAA's functioning.

  • MPAA ratings are ill-defined, subjective and inconsistently-applied. This makes them confusing for both film-goers and film-makers.
  • The rules of ratings determinations and the details of the deliberation process are secret, as are the identities of members of the Ratings Board and Appeals Board.
  • Raters have no special qualifications and receive no training. Professionals from fields such as education, media studies, sociology and psychology are not involved in the process and may even be intentionally excluded.
  • Film ratings are not applied uniformly regardless of content and viewpoint. The disparity in treatment is especially apparent with regard to films dealing with sexual orientation.
  • The NC- 17 rating deprives individual parents of their right to make choices for their own children and dramatically limits the ability of adults to see films.

The last statement refers to the fact that films with an NC-17 rating find it extremely hard to get screened in cinema theatres in the US. Many reputed stores will not stock DVDs of a film rated NC-17. This film is not yet rated was initially given an NC-17 rating by the MPAA. The filmmakers later surrendered the rating. As a result, it's now being screened at a very limited number of movie halls across the US. The filmmakers recommendations to fix these problems (as mentioned in the petition) are excerpted below.

  • Objectivity: We ask that the MPAA develop and publicize objective guidelines for rating films.
  • Transparency: We ask that the MPAA publicly identify all participants in the rating process and their qualifications, background or experience.
  • Professionalism: We ask that the rating and appeals board be comprised of qualified individuals representing a broad cross-section of views and experiences, and that they receive training in the objective criteria for rating films.
  • Fairness: We ask that the MPAA develop fair procedures for rating films and hearing appeals, which includes the right to be heard through a representative of one's choice, the right to present relevant evidence and arguments, the right to a majority vote and the right to a written decision specifying the grounds for the rating determination.
  • Personal Choice and Responsibility: We ask that the NC-17 rating be replaced with a category that describes content fairly and accurately, but does not restrict the rights of individual parents to make their own decisions about what their minor children may see or limit the ability of adults to see films.

I recommend reading the comments of people who've signed the petition to give you an idea about public opinion on this matter. A good number of parents seem to feel that the rating system is arbitrary, and reduces their capability to make good decisions about what they should allow their children to watch. There are apparently a good number of movies that are rated R when they could have been just as easily rated PG-13, and if parents allow their children to watch these, then it's hard to justify not allowing them to watch other R rated movies.

Now read this interview (link courtesy Selective Amnesia) of Sharmila Tagore (Chairperson of the Indian Censor Board). The article is about the fact that she's in favour of allowing adult scenes in movies in India, and also getting rid of the ban on airing adult content on television. However, to quote her from the article, she

"... wouldn't endorse [her predecessor's proposal to permit pornographic films in the country]. I don't think society or the Indian people are ready for it. There's a cultural difference between India and the rest of the world."

"Indian people are not ready for pornographic films". I'm trying to understand what that statement means. Maybe the local VCD/DVD library owner will know. I wish I was back in India. I'd be able to ask him.

As to the obvious comparison between censorship related issues in the US and India, I'll let you draw your own conclusions.

Train Ride (55)

on Posted by Rajesh J Advani
Labels: , ,
He woke up. He was on the train, going home. The coach was empty, except for him. And the little girl across the aisle. She looked at him, her eyes red with tears. She looked scared. "I want to get off," she said...

He woke up. He was on the train, going home...

Motorcycle Ride (55)

on Posted by Rajesh J Advani
Labels: , ,
A glorious day for a motorcycle ride. Clear skies, the shining sun, cool winds, chirping birds, and flowers in bloom. "This," he thought, "is what paradise must be like." Lost in his thoughts, he didn't see the light turn red before he crossed it. A truck driver in a hurry ran him over.

Censorship and Incompetence

on Posted by Rajesh J Advani
I could choose to be angry about this. I could choose to find it irritating. Or I could just choose to find it funny. But it's not really funny. And I'm tired of being angry or irritated. So let me just be philosophizing.

I'm sure most of you already know what I'm going to say, but let me make it a little clearer.

First there were the 7 bomb blasts in trains in Mumbai. (Full coverage here) A lot of people died, a lot more were injured, and everyone around the world knew about the blasts in a couple of hours. That's the kind of thing the internet and satellite TV makes possible in this information-hungry world. There was no censorship at the time. In fact, some people felt that news channels should think twice about the content they choose to broadcast. That was on the 11th of July. Tuesday.

Then there was the amazing work done by the World Wide Help group at the Mumbai Help blog in coordinating relief efforts, as well as just simply providing information to those who needed it. There's that word again. Information. Remember it. I'm going to use it again.

Fast forward a few days. It's the 15th of July. A Saturday. (Not Sunday - which is the day to drink before sunset.)

Reports are coming in of people not being able to access blogs on Blogspot - which by the way, is the domain that hosts the World Wide Help and Mumbai Help blogs (and of course, in case you forgot, this blog too). People wonder if it is a couple of ISPs specifically blocking the * domain. At this point, all there is, is a lack of information. See? That word again. I told you I'd use it. But wait. I'm not done yet.

Time passes, more domains (including but not limited to * and * appear to be blocked, and the problem spreads to most ISPs around the country. There are rumours that this is the result of a directive from the Indian government to ISPs. This is confirmed on speaking to the customer service departments of various ISPs. A number of bloggers cover the issue and suggest workarounds. Even the mainstream media jumps in. And the issue goes international.

Soon, it starts to appear that the Indian government didn't ask to block or any of the other domains. Apparently the list of sites that should have been blocked numbers 18 specific URLs. Some of these may be specific blogs, and some of them may be other websites or pages. Not entire domains.

Then what's wrong? Why can't people reach Mumbai Help? Or India Uncut?

Well, apparently the ISPs couldn't figure out how to block specific subdomains, and so ended up blocking the entire domain in each case.

Yes, I was tempted to laugh too.

There are two important aspects to the problem here. One is Censorship, and the other is Incompetence.

Let's tackle Censorship first. As Neha says (and she says it very well; you should listen to her, there's a very smart brain in that head), let's not use euphemisms. Let's call it censorship. Because that's what it is. It's not "balanced flow of information" as CERT-IN wants us to believe. What it is, is "an infringement on our right to information". Even if that information is an instruction manual on building your very own hand-grenade.

Censorship is based on the idea that there are two kinds of information. Good information and Bad information. Bad information is the kind that puts the wrong tools in the wrong hands, spreads fear, doubt, and all those other things that your average government worries about. Most people wouldn't argue too much against censorship of Bad information. And that is where the problem lies.

Too many people try to keep their children away from information about sex and contraception, because they believe that doing this protects their children. A lot of people now believe that early sex education is the only solution for tackling problems like AIDS and teenage pregnancies. What parents do, is censorship. They deny their children information, when the only real solution is to supply even more information.

And that's what the government does. It provides the wrong solution. A solution that does more harm than good. Which brings me to the second point, Incompetence.

I'm sure a number of people out there have shifted the blame from the government to the ISPs, who don't know enough to do their job well. A block on a specific blogspot or geocities site becomes a block on the domain. Those network engineers just don't know their job, do they? They're all a bunch of fools. No?

Don't deny it. There's at least a small part of you that thought this, at least for a small amount of time.

Well, yes, not being able to block specific sites does seem to be a sign of incompetence, at least to us geeks who think we know more than we actually do. I can't imagine why it's so impossible to block a specific sub-domain. But then what do I know about the how their servers are set up?

No, I wasn't referring to the incompetence of the ISPs, though I'm tempted to. I was referring to the incompetence of the government.

Let's make an assumption, which starts of giving all the credit to the government. (For the record, I'm not making all this up. It seems to be the gist of the speculation about the government's motive behind blocking those sites.) Let's say some terrorist group has been using some blogs and other web-sites to pass on information to their cell networks. This mode of communication must be cut. Or we could be looking at another set of bomb blasts in some other part of the country. So the government identifies 18 specific URLs that are key to stopping this mode of communication. It then uses the word "government directive" to enforce a block on these URLs, which is eventually implemented by most ISPs in a couple of days.

Let's say that the ISPs had not botched up. Let's assume that the block had been only on these specific URLs. What exactly would that have achieved?

When trying to control the exit of a felon from a city, all the exits are monitored, and every vehicle passing out is checked. When terrorist groups are using cell-phones to communicate, lines are tapped. What the police doesn't do, is revoke the felon's driver's license. Or disconnect the terrorist groups' cellphone subscriptions. Because the police knows from experience that this is not really going to work. What is required is to use even better technology to beat the criminal at his own game. If the bad guys have information, then what the good guys need is to get even more information.

Then why does the government not seem to understand this in matters of technology? Why didn't the government instead, decide to monitor access to these URLs instead, and try to find people who were frequenting these sites. Or why don't they try to identify cities, towns or villages where there seems to be a higher probability of hate-fuelled unrest? Why does the government opt for the simpler and less effective solution when it comes to the internet?

The fact is, that however much we may wish to claim that India is playing an important part in the technology revolution and that every important new technology has at least one Indian behind it, back home we're still struggling to use technology to solve problems. Whether it be stopping terrorism, or irrigating our fields.

It all comes down to information. We need it. A lot of it. And we need it a lot more than we realize.

Staying Safe

Posted by Rajesh J Advani
For a couple of hours after I found about the recent blasts in Bombay, I was in a boiling rage. "They've attacked my home", I thought. "They've attacked my family". I wanted to get back at them in any way possible. For a couple of hours, I understood why so many Americans gladly supported bombing out Afghanistan and Iraq after 9/11.

I've always had this talent for being stoic about bad things that happen around me, as long as they don't actually happen to me. Of course I worry about them at times, and try to think up solutions to some of these problems, but I generally don't get too worked up about them. Call me selfish. Or call me a guy with a short attention span.

But this time, they struck too close for comfort. As soon as I found out (11:00am EST, 8:30pm IST - the world really is growing smaller isn't it?), I remembered that my brother takes a train between Andheri and Borivali everyday to travel to and from work. I got through to him on his cellphone pretty easily (considering that people even locally were having trouble reaching each other), but the first words he said to me were "Rajesh, I can't reach Daddy."

Apparently, my father had gone to South Bombay for some Annual General body meeting. He's retired, spends most of his time close to home, and usually drives wherever he needs to go. The last thing I'd expected was for him to be using the trains. After about an hour of telling each other that he never travels by first class on the trains, and that he'd never travel by train during peak hours, and that he usually takes the bus, and that the fact that his phone was ringing, meant the phone was okay, and if the phone was okay, it meant he was okay, and that he never answers his cellphone anyway, my father reached home safe. He'd spent three hours in a bus trying to get home.

The simple fact is, that when you hit the mode of transport that is used by a majority of the city's residents, and you hit it at peak time, those 186 dead and 714 injured, could be anyone. They could be your brother, your aunt, or that guy you went to school with, that friend you made last year at a conference, the girl you've been wanting to ask out for weeks, your Maths teacher... anyone.

I work in Manhattan these days, and the blasts were immediately noticed by New Yorkers who've been hearing rumours about terrorists targetting New York's subway system. Suddenly those rumours seem a lot more possible.

Of course, in India we have the additional worry that an incident like this could be used by political parties and/or jobless youth to spread even more fear and kill/injure even more people. Even though our cities generally tend to show solidarity rather communal disharmony in such situations, the political climate in the country tends to give rise to fear anyway. A few hours after the blasts, everyone was expecting riots in the city.

Anyway. The important thing is to ensure that it's a lot tougher for terrorists to do something like this again. But what?

While I don't think that it is feasible for the police force of any city to keep an eye on every single spot where a bomb could be hidden, I think the statements by bloggers and journalists that indicate "it's impossible to stop such terrorism", are too simplistic.

After 9/11, every train station, and every airport in New York asks passengers to be vigilant and "report suspicious behaviour". These messages are broadcast on public announcement systems, and seem to be more frequent when intelligence reports indicate a higher risk of attacks. The police force has only so many eyeballs. What we need to do is get the public involved. And by that, I don't mean beating up the next guy you find wearing a turban, a beard or just unwashed clothes.

We need hotlines that people can call up to leave reports of people doing suspicious things, or suspicious looking packages in public places. We need to confiscate every bag left unattended for more than 30 seconds in a public place. We need a police force that can work hard enough to look into at least 80-90% of these reports for the first couple of weeks. Initially, the number of false reports will be very high. Paranoia and the general excitement of having a forum to voice your suspicions to, will cause that. But soon that will die down. And we will need to repeatedly broadcast messages for people to keep their eyes open, and to tell someone about anything that might seem important. God knows how many people die in terrorist attacks, because the few people who did notice something ignored it because they had to get to a meeting, or catch a train, and didn't think it was important, or didn't know how to let someone know.

We need to go to every school out there and tell children to keep their eyes open. Any parent will tell you how observant children can be. And how much smarter than us adults.

Make it easy for people to drop a report. Ensure that any cellphone can call that number. Let it get recorded on voice-mail. Allow people to send SMSes. It might help if the person making the call thinks they won't have to waste time "speaking to someone". At the same time, give them the choice of a human interface.

You never know what someone might notice next.

No More Coffee

on Posted by Rajesh J Advani
Labels: , ,
Government Bans Coffee Shops

Reuter: After shutting down Dance bars throughout Maharashtra last year, the state government has now turned its attention to Mumbai's espresso bars. In yet another controversial decision, the state has passed a bill banning coffee shops based on the theory that they are breeding grounds for prostitution.

"Young men and women spend hours at these places," said a minister. "Are they under the impression that we don't understand what they are doing? If they want coffee, they can make it at home. What do they come to these bars for?" Another claimed that the youth of the nation "should be at home studying or praying at a temple. Such behaviour is spoiling our culture."

When asked what they would do once the ban came into effect, some coffee shop owners said they would start selling tea instead. "But what will I do?" cried BJ, owner of the internet-cafe-cum-coffee-shop BlogLand. "Most of my customers don't like tea!"

After this latest ban, observers are wondering what will be next on the government's agenda.

Well, it could happen.

Who Can You Blame?

on Posted by Rajesh J Advani
Update: Great. The BJP supports communalism, and the UPA supports casteism.

First there was the announcement of an increase in reservations in the premier educational institutes of our country.

Then there were students protesting the hike in reservations.

As it generally happens in our country, things didn't go very well.

And today there doesn't seem to be much of a solution in the offing.

I've been against reservation in principle, since 1990, which was when I stepped into this country as a student for the first time. My education until then had been in an Indian School in Kuwait, where I'd read the word "caste" only in Social Studies textbooks.

I've asked myself over the years whether pro-reservationists are really all that unreasonable, and whether reservation does achieve anything more than keeping caste-differentiation alive in the minds of our youth, who are the first ones to be affected by it in modern society.

Affirmative Action has good intentions, and reservations are an implementation of that idea, but is it the right implementation?

It has been my belief that Indians as a people, are intelligent. Maybe my belief is just a kind of patriotism. Who knows? Still, I have believed that even if we are not any more intelligent than the people of other nations, we are nonetheless intelligent. And if we are intelligent, then the people we vote to power must be intelligent too. (What are you laughing for?)

Still, more than 50 years after the provision for reservation was made in the constitution, why is it that only a tiny segment of SCs (Scheduled Castes), STs (Scheduled Tribes) and OBCs (Other Backward Castes) have benefited from it?

I'm sure that the number who've benefited can't be large enough, because if it were, that large number of people would be interested in getting rid of the "backward" tag, don't you think?

Going by surveys, at the very least, 29.8% of India's population are OBCs. At the most, the number is 52% - that means there are between 300 to 500 Million people in our country who are considered "Other Backward Castes". That's one in every 20 people on the planet. 50 years after our leaders wrote for us a constitution guaranteeing Equality, this huge number of people in our country are called "Backward".

Aren't our politicians intelligent enough to know when a solution to a problem isn't working? Or do they simply not care?

Who has been voting this chap to power over the years? It's not the first time that he's won an election, right?

The answer seems quite simple. The average Indian, is stupid.

That includes me, of course. And you.

Not The Same Thing

on Posted by Rajesh J Advani
Yes, yes, I'm alive. Against all expectations to the contrary. I guess you'll need to pray harder.

And we break our silence (No, it's just me. The plural is just for the heck of it) to disagree with a man who is probably the most popular Indian blogger on the planet. As the Tamil saying goes, I think I've got horns on my head. (Yes, I've been in Chennai too long. No, I don't know the Tamil saying itself. I only know what it translates to. Don't ask me to explain. I'm blogging after two full months. I'm supposed to be incoherent.)

Amit Varma's got a post linking to the results of a new scientific study. While I agree with the intent of the post in general, I completely disagree with the title of the post.

Being gay, is not like being left-handed. Which hand you use to write or eat with, isn't dependent on biology. It's more a matter of luck. And, of course, on whether your mother made you hold the pencil in your right hand when you were learning to write.

A left-handed person can learn to write with his/her right hand, if the necessity arises. Right handed people can teach themselves to do things with their left hand. All it takes is practice.

But no amount of practice can turn a gay man (or woman) straight. Or vice-versa.

In fact, I think the biggest problem that people have with homosexuality is the fact that they believe it is like being left-handed. That you can change it if you try hard enough. That it is something that can be fixed if you catch it early enough. That not letting your kids know that there is such a thing as homosexuality, will keep them straight.

Being gay is more like being black. Or brown. Or white. Or yellow. Or red. Except that it's not hereditary. (How could it be?)
You can't change it any more than you can change the colour of your skin.

It's NOT Teasing!

on Posted by Rajesh J Advani
Labels: ,
I've seen this point mentioned on other blog posts written for the Blank Noise blogathon, and it's got me thinking. I believe that the first step to getting any closer to safer streets in our country, is to stop calling it Eve Teasing. It's not "teasing". It's the violation of the modesty of a human being. A violation of the exclusive right of a human being to their own body. A violation of one's right to peace of mind. A violation of the right to be in a public place without fear.

It's Harassment. Sexual Harassment. It's time to call it what it is.

Unfortunately, This Is Not Fiction

on Posted by Rajesh J Advani
Labels: ,
Updated with links. Look at the bottom of this post.

I almost didn't write this post.

Procrastination is one reason. A genuine lack of time is another.

But the most relevant reason, really, is that I didn't really know.

When I was around fifteen, a cousin of mine from the US who was visiting India took a train ride with her father from Churchgate to Andheri. My uncle had not lived in Bombay for a decade and a half and simply remembered the Virar Local as being "a little crowded" at peak hours. Now you don't leave a thirteen year old girl alone in a strange city, so of course she rode with her father in the general compartment. Needless to say she was sobbing uncontrollably when they got home. When I landed there, all the women in the family were crowded around her trying to offer comfort. The men of course were berating my uncle for using the "Viral Local of all trains".

Now despite my claim that I'm from Bombay, I've only lived in that city for a little more than four years. And I've been inside a Virar Local just twice. So on that day the only reason I felt bad for my sister was because she had to ride squished up inside a train compartment full of men, for a journey that must have lasted almost three quarters of an hour. It wasn't a big deal. Girls cry over anything.

You see, I didn't really know.

A couple of years later, again in Bombay, I was walking down a lane, my college bag slung on my shoulder, probably whistling a tune on my way to the bus stop. There were a couple of girls walking a few yards ahead of me, who must have been around fourteen or fifteen. I noticed them when a tall boy of around my age walking in the opposite direction, bumped into them quite hard. He'd apparently been pushed by a couple of his friends with the sole intention of crashing into the girls. As you would expect, the boy simply walked back to his friends laughing away to glory, while the girls quivering with shock held on to each other and walked on without a word.

For a second I felt like I should teach those boys a lesson. But I've never been very brave. One of me. Three of them. I walked out that lane ashamed of myself. Ashamed for not trying to right that wrong. What's the point of good intentions if you don't have the guts to carry them out? As I walked past the girls, I even considered apologizing on behalf of men in general. I don't know if it would have made a difference, but the fact is that I felt too guilty to do even that. My inaction had made me an accomplice. I wasn't any better than those boys.

It's not easy to forget such moments of weakness. But I walked out of that lane still not really knowing.

Yes, I'd heard about eve-teasing. I'd heard about guys on the street singing songs like "Choli ke peechhe kya hai" to harass women. I knew it was the right thing to do to escort a female friend home at night. I knew it wasn't a safe world for women. But I didn't really know what women have go through in the streets of this world. I had heard about "bottom-slapping" but had never really seen the point of it. Surely it didn't happen very often?

I read about incidents like what happened to Hemangini Gupta on a train to Chennai, and lauded the efforts of victims who tried to ensure that the molesters got punished for their acts. I know a girl who beat a guy with her sandal at a bus stop. Another kneed a man in the groin once. But really, I didn't think of these as anything more than "one-of" incidents.

So when I heard about the Blank Noise project, I nodded my head about how sexual harassment was a real problem in India and thought I should try to write something about it for their blogathon.

I'd probably have forgotten all about it, though, if not for this post. Annie has written a powerful account of what a woman has to go through in our cities. It hits home the fact that these things are not "one-of" incidents. That women suffer this harassment throughout their lives. That there is a real problem out there. It's a post that we men need to read more than the women. Because we need to know.

Two of my cousin sisters grew up in Bombay. Two more are still in their teens. It makes me shudder to think what they must have gone through or what experiences life still intends to show them.

And I feel ashamed once again. Just as ashamed as I was in that lane almost a decade ago. Ashamed that I represent a gender that knows no limits. A gender that perceives a woman as weak, and then proceeds to take advantage of that weakness. A gender that goes on to blame the women for attracting the attention in the first place, when their only fault is that they were born female.

This post is for those two girls in that lane. I just wanted to say that I'm sorry.

Update: As part of the blogathon, Neha Viswanathan has written a powerful post about harassment in India.
Megha writes about child abuse, and lists helpline numbers in the US and India.

Update 2: Megha Krishnan writes about sections of the penal code under which harassment is an offense.
Thalassa_Mikra proves that it doesn't matter to the men what a woman is wearing. Even a burqa isn't enough protection.
Charu points out that no place is sacred. Men seem to know that God is blind.
Incognito shows that it doesn't matter if you are in a crowd or not.
M. gives tips for retaliation. Use them with care.

Till Debt Do Us Part: Celestial Conversations - XXV

on Posted by Rajesh J Advani
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First: Celestial Conversation
Previous: Sound of Music: Celestial Conversations - XXIV
Me: Hello?
God: Hi
Me: So how have You been? Not hiding anywhere I hope?
God: No, no. I haven't even spoke to Luci in a long time.
Me: Doesn't he hate You calling him that? After all he's the most evil being in the universe, and You call him something that sounds like a little girl's name.
God: Of course he hates it. But that only makes it more fun!
Me: Ah. Never thought of that. But how come You are taking so long to respond to each of my messages?
God: Sorry. Can't type very fast.
Me: Oh? What happened?
God: Carpal Tunnel Syndrome.
Me: What?! How?
God: Oh, I had to write one hundred cheques.
Me: A hundred cheques? To whom? And why?
God: The bank. They wanted four years worth of post-dated-cheques. Two for every month.
Me: That's only ninety-six.
God: They thought hundred was a nice round number.
Me: But why did the bank want so many cheques?
God: For the payments for My home loan.
Me: Home loan? Why would You need to take a home loan?
God: They told Me it would help Me save tax.
Me: Who told You that?
God: Oh, some guy I met near an ATM.
Me: But You don't need to pay tax anyway!
God: I don't?
Me: Of course not! It's not like You have an income!
God: That's a good point. Why didn't you tell Me that before?
Me: I never knew You were taking a home loan!
God: That's another good point.
Me: So You bought a house?
God: House? Who says I bought a house?
Me: But You signed up for a loan, yes?
God: Yes. And?
Me: Why would You need a home loan if You're not buying a house?
God: I told you. For the tax.
Me: But the bank wouldn't give You a loan if you weren't buying a house.
God: You don't need to buy a house to get a loan.
Me: You don't?
God: No. Buying land is enough.
Me: Oh. So You bought land, then?
God: Yes.
Me: How much?
God: One square foot.
Me: What?
God: I couldn't afford any more than that.
Me: Oh.
God: Yes. Real estate is quite expensive.
Me: That's definitely true. Hey, God?
God: Yes?
Me: This is the twenty-fifth episode of me chatting with You. That makes this a silver jubilee episode.
God: Twenty-fifth? I think you have it wrong. Can't have been that many.
Me: But it is. Look at the number above.
God: But in some of these episodes weren't you speaking to other people? Like My secretary, for example.
Me: It's still celestial conversations, even if it was just Your secretary.
God: But what about episodes where you only spoke to the Devil?
Me: God!
God: Yes?
Me: Just be happy for me, won't You?
God: Oh, okay.
Me: I'm waiting.
God: Umm... Congratulations?
Me: Thanks!
God: You're welcome. So how are you going to celebrate this joyous occasion?
Me: Let's not overdo it, okay?
God: Spoilsport.
Me: Hey, it's also Valentine's day!
God: You're not going to ask Me to be your valentine, now, are you?
Me: What?! Of course not!
God: Thank Me.
Me: Bye, then.
God: Bye!

Next: Merry Christmas: Celestial Conversations - XXVI

KGAF FF Contest - My Entry

on Posted by Rajesh J Advani
Labels: ,
I got my entry into the Kala Ghoda Arts Festival's Flash Fiction contest late on Saturday night (or early on Sunday morning, depending on your point of view). Since it seems to be permitted by the rules to post my entry on my own blog, I thought I'd do so without further ado. So here it is. The theme/trigger was Black Horse.

"I can have my lawyer draw up the papers," he told her as the horse trotted away with their daughter.

"Whatever," she replied. For months she'd stopped looking at him when she spoke to him. But now she looked him straight in the eye. He looked away.

"Do you think she'll understand?" he asked as he looked at the child. They could hear her laughter tinkle through the air as she rode. "Black Beauty!" she'd called the horse, when she first saw it.

"No," was the reply. He could feel her eyes bore into him as she spoke. "But she'll learn to accept."

"I'll visit her on weekends," he said. He hoped she wouldn't refuse.

"She won't stop being your daughter," his wife said. But in a short while she'd stop being his wife. Would she find someone else? Would she get married again? He felt his knees go weak.

He couldn't bring himself to say anything more. So they stared silently at their daughter who was riding slowly back towards them. She'd stopped laughing and looked more scared than excited.

The joyride was over.
The End

Of Art Festivals

on Posted by Rajesh J Advani
Labels: ,
I just found out from the The Unknown Indian's blog that Vasantahabba has been cancelled for the second year in a row. Vasantahabba, is a festival of dance and music that runs from sunset to sunrise on the first weekend of February, on the outskirts of Bangalore. It is usually held at Nrityagram, the dance school founded by the late Protima Bedi. 2005 saw the organizers canceling it to pay respect to the memory of the victims of the December 2004 Tsunami. This year though, the festival was cancelled due to lack of funds.

I attended Vasantahabba on a visit to Bangalore in 2001 and have been aching to go back ever since. It was definitely one of the best experiences I've had, ever. To find out how to make sure there is a Vasantahabba 2007, check this post.

I'm in Bombay for the weekend on some personal work and have been seeing huge billboards all over the place advertising the Kala Ghoda Arts Festival. From coverage at the official blog it seems to be an event that no art lover in Bombay should miss. Now I don't consider myself to be one of those artsy/intellectual types, but I'm still not happy that I'm probably not going to be able to take advantage of my trip to Bombay to see some of the events, like for example "Prayog" - An experiment in Bharatnatyam at Rampart Row.

But if you can, do check out the schedule and take advantage of this once-a-year amalgam of art. There's an HTML-only version of the schedule here if you have any trouble with the PDF link.

Update: Do check out the contests hosted at Caferati as part of the fest. The deadline for the Flash Fiction contest is gone (unless there's another extension) but the SMS Poetry contest is still on. So get your entries in quick!

Baby Talk: The BlogLand Chronicles - 4

on Posted by Rajesh J Advani
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First: Beginning: The BlogLand Chronicles - 1
Previous: Republic Day: The BlogLand Chronicles - 3
Anil and I were discussing the different love songs King Kong could have sung had he only bothered to learn Hindi, when Prakash walked into BlogLand.

"Hey, Prakash!" I said. "How's the baby coming along?" Prakash's wife had given birth to their first child a couple of weeks before. Ever since then, that was the only thing he could talk about.

"Oh, don't even ask," he replied as he sat down at our table, holding his head in his hands.

"Why, what happened?" I asked, concerned. Until the last conversation, which was only a few days ago, talking about the baby was what made him happiest.

"She sleeps all day, and stays awake all night."

"Sounds like my kind of kid," I said.

But he ignored me and continued. "I've hardly slept the whole of last week! Half the night she's up and crying for no apparent reason. Then other times, she needs to be fed, or changed. We've decided to share the chores, and since Sarita does the feeding, I'm stuck with changing the diapers. Have you ever changed a baby's diapers?"

"No way!" said Anil. "And thank goodness for that!"

"Me neither," I said. "It's bad, is it?"

"Trust me," he replied, "you don't know what shit loads of something means, until you've seen the inside of a baby's nappy."

Both of us roared with laughter, and even Prakash grinned. "That was a good one, wasn't it?"

"Priceless!" said Anil, still laughing.

"Why doesn't she bottle up the milk so you can share both the chores?" I asked.

"Oh, you think I didn't try suggesting that? You see, changing diapers is one of the ways I compensate for not being able to share the pain of child birth."

"I can see that being married is a lot of fun," grinned Anil. "Shit loads of fun, to be precise!" And he started laughing again.

"So," I smiled, "the wife and kid are coming along fine, I take it?"

"Oh, wonderfully. If it hadn't been for the lack of sleep, I'd almost say this was the most fun I've ever had!"

"Can't be more fun than your honeymoon," Anil pointed out.

"True," said Prakash. "But that was a different sort of fun. And the joy of looking at that little bundle of flesh knowing she'll call you Daddy one day, is unbelievable. It's even worth changing diapers for that. Just wait till you have one of your own."

"I'm in no hurry!" Anil looked horrified.

"You're definitely a long way from even worrying about that, if you ask me," I teased. "By the way, how's your girlfriend?"

"Friend who's a girl. Not girlfriend. She's fine. We might watch a play next week. You've finally decided to stop bugging me about meeting her on the internet, have you?"

"Let's just say I'm tired of preaching to a deaf ear."

"Why can't you accept that you were being unnecessarily paranoid?"

"Being paranoid keeps you safe."

"And single!"

And he started laughing again. "Hey Mike!" he shouted at the man sitting a few tables away. "Read anything funny lately?"

Mike looked up from his book and said, "As a matter of fact, I just started Terry Pratchett's The Wee Free Men, which is quite funny. After all, it's Pratchett. But I can't say the same about the last three books I read."

"Which ones?" I asked.

"Philip Pullman's first two His Dark Materials books, and Nathaniel Hawthorne's The Scarlet Letter."

"Are they any good?"

"Oh, they're fantastic, all three of them. I'm aching to read the last in Pullman's trilogy. He's got one fantastic imagination. But the bookstore was out of stock when I last checked. And Hawthorne takes you back to the 1600s, and compares the life in the US then, with life in 1850. You get a trip to two different time frames, in the same book."

"So the English used in the Scarlet Letter isn't giving you any trouble?" I asked. Mike had complained about that when he read The Pickwick Papers.

"Well, for one, The Scarlet Letter is much shorter. And I guess it's a little easier once you get used to it. Just like reading Shakespeare." With that he returned to his book.

"What's so difficult about reading Shakespeare?" asked Anil.

"I don't think he was referring to the condensed shorter versions you read in school when you were ten," I pointed out.

"You mean those weren't the originals?"

And we all laughed.


on Posted by Rajesh J Advani
"Don't leave me!" he screamed, sobbing, his cheeks wet with tears.

He was on his knees, tightly holding on to her hand, trying to stop her from walking away. She was sobbing too, as she pulled her hand away.

"Please don't make this more difficult," she cried, freeing her hand from his.

"Don't go! I'm begging you!"

But she turned around and left anyway, running out through the open door to the taxi that was waiting for her - a shameless witness to their grief.

"Please! he cried through the open door, as he collapsed on to the floor. Please!"

But the taxi sped away. And he lay on the floor, curling up into a ball, sobbing against his knees, as even the setting sun disappeared over the horizon, leaving him alone with only his tears, just like she had.

Republic Day: The BlogLand Chronicles - 3

on Posted by Rajesh J Advani
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First: Beginning: The BlogLand Chronicles - 1
Previous: Going South: The BlogLand Chronicles - 2
"Hi!" said Manish as he came in to BlogLand and sat down with Anil and me.

"Hello," I replied. "And Happy People Again Day."



"Ouch!" he groaned. "That's the pits."

"Oh, come on," I said. "Anil didn't like it either. I thought it was a good one."

"Well, in that case, your sense of humour is probably dead," said Anil.

"Anyway," he continued. "Guess who I'm taking to see King Kong tonight."

"You have a date?" asked Manish, surprised.

"You're going out with that internet girl again?" I said.

"Why do you have a problem with her, anyway?"

"You're going out with someone you met on the internet?" Manish had a lot of catching up to do.

"Yes he is," I replied. "And I don't have a problem with her personally, but I just don't think it's safe."

"Man, you're paranoid. I'm not a five-year-old!"

"How did you meet her?" asked Manish.

"In an internet chat room," I replied for Anil.

His eyes widened as he looked at me and then at Anil. "Cool!"

"So you don't think there's anything wrong with meeting someone you know only through a chat room?" I asked.

"Of course not," he replied. "People have been making friends without meeting them for a very long time now. First there were pen-friends, then phone-friends, then email and chat friends, and now people meet through blogs and SMS. The medium may be changing, but the concept is the same. There has always been an element of risk involved, but as long as you take the usual precautions, it's no big deal."

Anil smiled. "Okay, you win," I sighed. "Hope you enjoy your evening."

"How come you're taking her to an action movie, though?" asked Manish. "Shouldn't you have picked a chick-flick or something?"

"Oh, the movie was her pick. I was going to suggest Chicken Little. But once she suggested King Kong, I thought I'd keep my mouth shut."

We all laughed. That's the problem with stereotypes. Lots of men like poetry, and lots of women prefer sports. But while women are free to display masculine interests, the reverse can get a man laughed at. A man who knows how to knit a sweater will probably pretend he doesn't know how to hold a knitting needle.

"Ugh!" came a voice from the next table. Mike was slowly closing a book and putting it down on his table with a disgusted look on his face.

"Was it that bad?" Anil asked him.

"Extremely," said Mike as he turned to look at us.

"Which book?" I asked.

"One Night @ The Call Centre," he replied. "Chetan Bhagat. The guy's first book was quite readable, even if it wasn't spectacular. This one is the pits. Some parts are nice, but the rest..."

He obviously was finding it hard to put his feelings into words.

"How about that other book your were reading," said Anil. "Inscrutable Americans, I think it was?"

"Oh, that was really good," Mike said immediately. "Wonderfully written. Anurag Mathur is extremely funny most of the time, and can get quite serious too when he wants to." He turned to look at the book he had just finished reading. "But this..." He looked like he had been forced to bite a live frog.

"Well," I said. "Hope you have something better to read next. You shouldn't have to end People Again Day with something that makes you look like that."

"People what day?" said Mike. "Oh. Republic. That was pathetic."

Manish and Anil laughed. "I really think you should give it up," said Anil. "It really is a bad joke."

"Fine!" I shrugged.

Next: Baby Talk: The BlogLand Chronicles - 4

Sound of Music: Celestial Conversations - XXIV

on Posted by Rajesh J Advani
Labels: , , , ,
First: Celestial Conversation
Previous: One of Us: Celestial Conversations - XXIII
God: Hmm hmm hmm hmm hmm hmm hmm.
Me: Hunh?
God: Hmm hmm hmm hmm hmm hmm hmm.
Me: God?
God: Yes?
Me: What are You doing?
God: Oh, I'm humming. Couldn't you tell?
Me: Well it's not like I can hear anything.
God: Oh, I'm so sorry. I didn't know you were deaf.
Me: I'm not deaf.
God: But you just said you can't hear anything.
Me: I meant I couldn't hear you humming.
God: But of course I knew that. It's not like this is voice chat or anything.
Me: But... but...
God: Oh forget it. By the way, can you read music?
Me: Actually, I can.
God: Oh, good. Ting ting ting ting ting ting ting.
Me: What are you doing now?
God: Playing the piano. Guess which song this tune is from. Ting ting ting ting ting ting ting.
Me: How am I supposed to do that?
God: You just said you can read music.
Me: Yes, but I can't read that!
God: Excuses, excuses. Anyway. It's Joan Osborne's What if God was one of us.
Me: Ah.
God: Yes, Lucifer played the song for me, and made Me believe people knew I was living right here on earth.
Me: So how did you find out he was lying?
God: Oh, he told Me, of course. He always does in the end.
Me: Oh, I didn't expect that. Considering he's the Devil, I must say it was pretty nice of him.
God: Don't say that in front of him. He'll probably burst into tears. I think he's been getting a little soft.
Me: You do?
God: Yes. He delegates most of his work these days. No more stalking the world to grow the kingdom of Hell. No more promising people riches for their souls.
Me: Yes, he was telling me. He said most people weren't truly evil, and you can't really change that.
God: Oh, he's just making excuses. He isn't really looking for truly evil people. What he really wants to do is buy as many souls as he can, just like he's been doing for millennia.
Me: Oh. But then doesn't he have a real estate problem to deal with? And I thought there were only around two hundred people in Hell anyway.
God: Oh, Luci's too smart for that. He buys the souls, but charges them rent if they want to live on the premises. The two hundred odd souls in Hell are on a scholarship program. You see, souls can't earn any money. So the rest have no option but to stay on Earth.
Me: Oh, that story.
God: Yes. But anyway. The truth is he can't afford to buy souls anymore.
Me: Can't afford to?
God: Yes. He lost a lot of money when the dot-com bubble burst.
Me: Oh. He invests in stocks does he?
God: Of course. Well, he used to, at least. Where do you think his unending piles of money came from? But he's too scared after the last crash. And extremely poor too. I only came to know a couple of months ago when Hitler told me that Luci hasn't been able to pay wages for the last few years. Though if you ask Me, I doubt if he's ever had a paying job in Hell in the first place.
Me: Why were you speaking to Hitler?
God: Oh, Hitler's the current receptionist at Hell.
Me: Hitler's a receptionist?
God: Yes. Luci believes in maintaining appearances, you see. At one time he'd hired James Earl Jones. Then he switched to Richard Roxburgh. That man learned how to really affect the evil look from Luci himself. He got picked to play Count Dracula in a movie! But after that he upped his rates, and now Luci can't afford to pay him anymore. So he's got one of his own boys to do the job. Because you always need a receptionist.
Me: If You say so.
God: Anyway. I've got to go now. I need to speak to Joan Osborne.
Me: Why?
God: I want to make sure she doesn't really know I'm here on earth.
Me: Oh. But how will You know for sure?
God: Oh, that's simple. I'll go and ask her. She won't be able to lie to Me.
Me: So You'll tell her who You are, and ask her if she believes You are on earth?
God: Yes... Oh. Good point. So you think I shouldn't meet her?
Me: I guess not.
God: Hmm. Okay. Thanks. Bye then.
Me: Bye.

Next: Till Debt Do Us Part: Celestial Conversations - XXV

Candle In No Wind

on Posted by Rajesh J Advani
All the controversy with the design awards at the Indibloggies reminded me that I'd made updates to my own blog's design more than four months ago, and had been sitting on them since September. So here it is.

I did make a few minor tweaks between going live with my previous template and now though, so the following is a summary of all changes since June 2005.
  • The most obvious change, of course, is the new template theme. The candle in the background is a public domain image I got from PD I used The GIMP as usual for all image manipulation.
  • The second most obvious change if you're not using Internet Explorer is that the blog seems to float over the background (which remains fixed). The effect is based on the Complex Spiral demo by Eric Meyer. The effect breaks quite badly in IE because of a bug in Microsoft's implementation of CSS, so I used special styles to override it for IE 6 and below. The result isn't especially great to look at, but there's no other way out without using JavaScript. So if you want to see how I envisioned the design of this blog, please use Firefox. Any other standards-compliant browser should work fine too, of course.
  • You should no longer have a horizontal scrollbar if you're using Firefox at a screen resolution of 800x600. Other browsers seem to have a broken implementation of min-width and max-width, so if you're not using Firefox, you'll still need to scroll horizontally. Firefox users at a higher resolution will see a wider layout.
  • You can no longer make the Sidebar disappear, though sidebar sections still collapse (try clicking on the section title). I have the feeling most of you weren't even aware that this was possible before, but with the fixed background, IE made the effect difficult.
  • Haloscan trackbacks are gone. I wasn't really using them anyway, so I replaced them with Blogger's back-links (This was done a couple of months ago).
  • The blog should look better on machines without Verdana if you have the Bit Stream Vera Sans font installed. I had noticed that browsers without Verdana made this blog look quite ugly. (This change was made in July or August last year)

The change took between 24-30 hours to implement, more than half of which went into creation and tweaking of the images. The rest was mostly spent tracing and getting around different browser bugs (most of them IE of course, though Opera did give me some trouble).

Barring some minor html layout tweaks, this is mostly a CSS update, and a pretty simple one at that. If anyone is interested in using or modifying this template for their own blog, let me know and I'll be glad to share it with you.

This blog template was tested on Firefox 1.5, IE 6.0 and Opera 8.5 on Windows XP. I tested it on Linux a long time ago, and I'm hoping nothing's broken since then. Of course, I could easily have missed something (and I know that 2-3% of you use other browsers like Safari and Konqueror), so if you see something breaking, please let me know.

The old design is still available at Geek Whorled - my dormant technical blog.

Now, back to regular (or should I say irregular?) programming.

One Of Us : Celestial Conversations - XXIII

on Posted by Rajesh J Advani
Labels: , , , ,
First: Celestial Conversation
Previous: Stop! Thief! : Celestial Conversations - XXII
Me: Hello?

The Devil has logged in.

Devil: Hi!
Me: What the ...!
Devil: Oh, please continue. What were you going to say? What the Devil? What the Hell?
Me: What are you doing here?
Devil: Is there a problem? It's a free world isn't it?
Me: Where is God? I haven't spoken to Him in almost six months!
Devil: Oh, Him. He he! He's in hiding.
Me: Hiding?
Devil: Oh, yes. Ha ha! Ho ho ho! He he -
Me: Will you stop guffawing like a hyena? Why is God hiding? And where?
Devil: If I told you where, there would be no point in Him hiding, would there?
Me: But why does God need to hide?
Devil: Oh, that's my fault! He he he!
Me: Your fault? Why would God need to hide from you?
Devil: He isn't hiding from me! He's hiding from the world! Ha ha ha!
Me: And why exactly is He hiding from the world?
Devil: I told Him... he he he... I told Him... ha ha ha... I told Him that people were on to Him. That they knew that He was right here on earth living like He were a normal human being. I told Him that His cover was blown! Ho ho ho!
Me: And He believed you?
Devil: Of course He did! I gave him proof!
Me: What proof?
Devil: I made him listen to that song by Joan Osborne. What if God was one of us? That convinced him!
Me: You know, you are really...
Devil: Evil? Thank you!
Me: And why have you come here to bother me? You looking for another convert?
Devil: Oh, no no! I'm just here for some fun. And anyway, you don't convert people to evil.
Me: What about devil-worshippers?
Devil: Oh, them. Those guys are an embarrassment, really.
Me: Embarrassment? But they worship you.
Devil: Oh, come on! I'm not looking for people to worship me!
Me: No?
Devil: Of course not! I only want people to be evil and do evil things. Not draw stuff on the ground and light candles!
Me: Oh. But they do a lot of bad things as part of their rituals.
Devil: Kids stuff, actually. But the worst thing is that people are actually beginning to recognize Satanism as a religion!
Me: A religion?!
Devil: Yes! Which would make me a God!
Me: Uh...
Devil: The ignominy! Me, a God! I'll never live it down! So many centuries of hard work, and what do I get? They're calling me a God!
Me: So what is it you want, then?
Devil: For people to do evil, damn it! To spread hate. To cleanse themselves of all good thoughts. To do bad things not because they thing it's the right thing to do, but in spite of knowing that it's the wrong thing to do! You have no idea how many people out there steal, lie, and commit murder and adultery, justifying it to themselves as the right course of action given the circumstances, or because they think they have no other option. And so many do all these things only out of stupidity!
Me: But it's all the same isn't it?
Devil: No, it's not! The means doesn't justify the end. You humans define Evil as actions and thoughts that are "morally bad". In my books, you're not truly evil unless your actions defy your own morals.
Me: But you don't think that these people out there committing murder are good, do you?
Devil: Of course not. There are just as few truly good people out there, as there are truly evil people. But I'm getting tired of this argument. I'd come here to enjoy myself. Not to realize how badly I'm doing my job. Goodbye.
Me: Bye.

Next: Sound of Music: Celestial Conversations - XXIV

Going South: The BlogLand Chronicles - 2

on Posted by Rajesh J Advani
Labels: , , ,
First: Beginning: The BlogLand Chronicles - 1
"You should meet my new girlfriend," said Pankaj, as I tried to concentrate on putting my latest blog idea to words.

"Mm-hm," I responded, trying not to get distracted, and at the same time also trying my best not to seem rude.

"She's a Saudi babe," he went on.

Maybe I'm prejudiced, but the sound of those two words in the same sentence somehow didn't seem right, and as my blog idea evaporated, I turned to look at him. "A what?"

"A Saudi babe," he repeated. "You know."

I had an image in my head of Pankaj dating a woman in a black burqa but somehow the image didn't make sense. Pankaj's girlfriends tended to be women who were interested in the latest fashion trends. They looked at my three-year-old straight-fit jeans with disgust. "They're so nineties," one had said. "They're so out of fashion, if you hold on to them a little longer they'll probably come back." That was good advice. Jeans don't come cheap.

"No I don't know," I said to Pankaj. I don't know why people say "You know" like that. As if saying that will make it come true!

"Man, sometimes you're so dense it's infuriating. Oh, here she comes."

"Hey honey!" he shouted in the direction of the door, and a very Indian looking girl walked in. And she was not wearing a burqa either. Instead, she was dressed in jeans and a T-shirt that must have made it extremely difficult to breathe. And her name was Mohini.

As Pankaj made the introductions and headed towards the counter to get their coffees, Mohini sat down at my table. "Pankaj told me you're a blogger," she said.

"Yes, I am," I replied, wondering if she thought it was a job description. "And you're from the middle-east."

She seemed stunned. "Not at all! In fact I've never been outside India."

"Oh?" I replied, completely confused. Pankaj changed girlfriends practically every week. Was he confusing this one with someone else?

"I'm from Kerala," she said. "I've lived there most of my life."

"Like I was telling you," said Pankaj coming back with two glasses of Cold Coffee in his hands. "A total Southern chick."

She must have liked being called something that's just hatched from an egg, because they both grinned widely at that. I was wondering why Pankaj equated South-Indian women with Saudi women when I realized that he'd being pronouncing the 'th' in 'Southie' like the 'th' in 'Southern', so I just smiled.

"Mohini is a terrific singer," bragged Pankaj.

"Oh, that's nice," I smiled. In that T-shirt? Talk about breath control.

"Yes, she's performed on Radio too!"

"Oh, Pankaaaaj!" she drawled. "You're embarrassing me!"

Ugh! Why do women say things they clearly don't mean? Pankaj knew she was clearly enjoying the bragging, so he went on to talk about how she'd trained as a dancer for years and sung professionally, and won medals for gymnastics, and...

I have an uncle who claims he can sleep with his eyes open. It was very helpful in college, he's told me. I wished I could do that right then.

After what seemed like an eternity, they were done with their coffees (Mohini only had half of hers because she had to 'watch her figure', even though I thought that was Pankaj's job) and the two of them left.

I thought I'd finally be able to get some blogging done when my friend Anil walked in with a girl who must have been his "internet date". She was extremely beautiful and Anil was looking triumphant. If she didn't end up robbing him by the end of the week, he was going to make me eat every single word I had ever uttered against the idea of looking for women in internet chat-rooms.

Luckily for me, he didn't bring her over to my table to brag. I watched them as he pulled out her chair for her, trying to be the perfect gentleman. Relieved, I returned to writing my latest blog post, and reading a dozen others.

After around an hour, Anil sat down at my table. I looked up and noticed that the girl seemed to have left. Anil was grinning ear to ear.

"So?" he asked.

"She looked quite beautiful," I said honestly.

"See?" he beamed. "I told you that you were wrong!"

"Fine," I replied. "So she's probably not a truck driver. But you still don't know anything about her."

"You're such a pessimist!" he laughed. "Don't worry. I'm in no danger of being murdered in the near future. Or being robbed, either. I'm not giving her my address until I have some more background. I'm not stupid, you know."

I was quite surprised. I'd expected Anil to have proposed marriage on the first date. He usually came across as quite a desperate character. I realized it was probably all just an act.

When I didn't say anything, he smiled. "Ah, you don't know."

I smiled too. "I must say that I seem to have misjudged you."

"Yes, you did," he said. Turning to look at Mike the book-lover, Anil shouted, "Mike, my man!"

"Do you have to shout?" muttered Mike who was sitting only one table away.

Anil grinned. "New book, I see? So you finally finished that Pickwick book?"

"The Pickwick Papers. Yes. Finally finished it last night." It had been the first instance we'd known, of Mike taking a week to finish a book.

"And what's that you're reading now?"

"Anurag Mathur's Inscrutable Americans," Mike replied. "I realized that I'd never gotten around to reading it."

"Tell me how you like it when you're done."

"Why?" said Mike. "Don't tell me you actually plan to read the book!"

"No way!" said Anil. "I just want to sound intelligent the next time someone talks about Indian authors!"

I sighed with relief. Now that was the Anil I knew.

Next: Republic Day: The BlogLand Chronicles - 3