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Monday, December 18

25 or no 25

The cake has been cut, the Orkut messages are raining, phone has done its own share of ringing and I am writing a blog post. In few hours from now, I would complete my 25 years of existence.

Although 21 is the age at which you become adult in India for all practical purposes, 25 seem to be a landmark in its own right. So in Indian tradition, I am officially out of Brahmacharya part of my life and in US, I can now rent a car everywhere. Hardly sound like things to care for !

When we were young, we all dreamt of growing up. I think 25 is closest to the dream age to which every child wants to grow up. This is the point when you are supposed to have grown up and ready to take on the world. I feel like the life till now has been spend in a kind of preparation and now is the time to go ahead and do what you want. Irony is that in the last years of all the preparation you realize, you have taken the wrong road may be ! But as the Led Zeppelin said,

Yes there are two paths you can go by
but in the long run
There's still time to change the road you're on

And so 25 or no 25, It doesn't matter. How long have you walked the road, doesn't matter. How many walk beside you, doesn't matter. Where does the road go, doesn't matter. There is always the time, there is always the chance and there is always the courage, to walk the road you want. Just look into your heart.

Somebody taught me a beautiful thing in this last year. Here it goes.

"There may be thousand reasons for not doing something but there is always one reason for doing it - because you want to !"

25 or no 25, Dream on !

Saturday, December 16

Language Digest - 3

Sorry for the long delay but somethings in life just cannot wait and semester end seems to be rather full of them. but back we are and here we go.

Madras HC sees little use for Tamil without proper infrastructure being in place. This is in responce to Govt's move to make Tamil as the court language.

In the education field, Kannada and Marathi are now compulsory in their respective states for 10th and 12th standard kids. It is not very clear is this is for state boards only or for ICSE and CBSE also. In Kashmir also, efforts are on to introduce Kashmiri in the private schools.

Urdu medium schools in Delhi are not able to find Urdu speaking Science and Maths teachers and so students are having problems.

Central Institute for English and Foreign Languages has been accorded University status. I hope now the research section on their website will come out of being "under construction".

After schools, it is sign boards in Karnataka.

The national association of the Deaf wants official status for Indian Sign Language.

Even the strong opponents of missionary activities will have to concede that their work in native languages has been phenomenal. The whole SIL and Ethnologue is the result of years of Christian missionary work in the field. The gospel for Asia is now broadcasting in 11 new languages. These guys know how to talk to a man, literally.

In news from the center, independent India is going to conduct its very first linguistic survey. The last one was 100 years back commissioned by the British.

Delhi cops brush up their English skills and learn foreign languages for coming Commonwealth games.

In technical news, C-DAC is launching its software tools package for 7 more languages, Webduniya content becomes available in 2 more languages and ByIndia launches search in 5 Indian languages.

There is more but I think I will end now with two items. First one about how mother tongues and love marriages are getting along and second about how Jharkhand is having problems with its linguistic diversity.

Friday, December 15

Gareebi me aata gila !

Though it looks like there was no damage, it has left me feeling utterly insecure. Before entering any password I think twice what if he left a backdoor or Trojan or keylogger and would be back later to pick up all the goodies nicely stored in a file somewhere on my disk? Anybody having any ideas about detecting a Linux keylogger running, please get back to me.

The only good part is that I actually saw it happened and so was able to get in the damage control mode immediately. When we came here, we were told that computing environment here is extremely hostile and that any vulnerability will be exploited within a day of being exposed. My VNC server could survive may be 10 hours. A look at the /var/log/messages shows consistent attacks on ssh every 4-5 hours. Living in the famous parts of IP namespace has its own disadvantages.

And this happened when I was still trying to recuperate from the yesterday's misadventure with new Airtel call home service. I tried to register at their website and they did a Air Deccan to me i.e. charged my account but said that there had been an error ! I don't mind this very much what with the huge traffic and unreliable network connections but what annoyed me was that the 24x7 phone number advertised boldly on the website is *not working*. And no replies whatsoever from the customer care email address also.

And as a follow up, I discovered that out of the two solutions to a problem in a final on Tuesday, the one I chose to pen down is the wrong one ! I thought the other one was elegant but not necessary but turns out that was the right one. Should I say karela vo bhi neem chada or Sone pe suhaga or may be icing on the cake !

Sometimes it is just too much fun !

Thursday, December 14

Lucknow University crackdown

There are several interesting news stories from back home today, some of them good, some of them bad and depressing.

The good news comes from my home town Lucknow. Lucknow University (LU) has long been a den of criminals of all kind of hues. There are student leaders there who are always in the jail. Due to the strong backing of the political parties, administration is hardly able to do anything. LU has gone down steadily in the quality of education. Now the current VC of LU has decided to take the bull by the horns. He has closed the university sine die and has suspended around 135 students with criminal records. This despite the hoopla in the assembly against him. No wonder a majority of the suspended students belong to SP, the ruling party and that head of SP, Mr. Mulayam Singh Yadav was the most vocal critic of the VC, Dr. R P Singh. Anyone who knows the situation in LU would have to admire the courage required to do such a thing. You can read about it here, here and here .

Specially amusing is the old rant of politicians this time coming out from Mr. Yadav bemoaning the death of democracy. I have two comments. One is that politicians have become a self appointed guardian of democracy in the country. Anything against their wishes happens and it goes against democracy. Second is I fail to understand why University has to be a model of democracy? I agree that being socially aware is good for students and that many of the future leaders emerge from the student politics but essentially universities or any other institutions can only be a sandbox democracy, a demonstration system. And these setups will have to play second fiddle to the primary function of an education institute and that is providing education. They can play a important role in the education but should never be allowed to overtake it. This theme has come up in IITK also in the past and I have said it there also. The assumption that the institute should follow the democratic principles in its dealings with students has to be a qualified one. So just saying that AIIMS director has become a dictator or LU's VC has become a dictator is not enough. A dictator may very well be what the place needs right now !

Also I can see the recent AIIMS fiasco coming into play somewhere in the background. If we set aside the reservation issue for time being, the fight there was essentially between a academician and a politician, both had their own agenda and either may be right and wrong, I am not gunning for anybody here. But the the way it unfolded, it demonstrated that it is possible to take on politicians and stick to your stand even if the politician happens to be a cabinet minister at the center and in fact a very well connected one. The message coming out was very clear, if you have a problem with political interference, go ahead and fight it and you have a reasonable chance of success. I sincerely hope that this message becomes even strong after LU incident and more heads of our beleaguered university system stand up to face the politics. What is needed is ample media coverage because the dangers in this process are very real and they would need all the cover they can get !

Good Luck Dr. Singh ! Even if you go down fighting, you have shown that fighting is still an option !

Welcome back?

Well, I must admit that I am given to the vice of over-dramatization but I take care to always have a premise !

So the question is, are you at a new blog or are you at the old blog? Should I welcome you or should I welcome you back? Is it "nayi botle me puraani sharab" ya "puraani botel me nayi sharab"? Nevermind as Kurt said, we have labels now and we will be putting them over everywhere so that nobody gets lost in this basket case ever again. But till that is done, you are advised to tread cautiously and heed to what I said in the first paragraph. I am given to over-dramatizations !

The track will be back in a short while !

Sunday, December 10

Before change !

This post is the last one on this blog. Blogspot has been a pretty good host but now it goes to where it belongs, hall of fame.

Here comes Blogger 2, just in time for the new year party with all the new goodies ! Let's party !!

Sunday, December 3

Faces of Democracy II - Your name is Justine

"Where is love? Where are dreams? Where is the bloody justice?"

These are tough questions, questions which lurk just around the corner but we avoid asking them. Because facing them means questioning the most basic assumptions of our lives and then everything threatens to just fall apart. Not something we can afford to. Right?

But what do you do when life forces you to ask these questions and refuses to answer? This is the point in the life of Mariola when we leave her at the end of the movie. The life has turned a full circle for her, she is back in her familiar surroundings, among friends and well wishers but what has changed is her. She is no longer the little princess who just wanted to be happy. The movie is the story of how that happens, how the psych of a simple polish girl is damaged beyond repair, how the heart is hurt beyond healing. A story that is not unique to Mariola but to thousands of girls all over the world who are pushed into flesh trade by those very hands whom they choose to trust.

The pattern is repeated all very often. A girl embarks on a journey with his lover/boyfriend/well wisher and ends up in flesh trade. But this seemingly one line story contains inside it a frightening journey from that first moment in which the whole world suddenly collapses to the moment when she finally "gives in". That is the journey that is chronicled in "You name is Justine" , Justine being a possible allusion to sade. It records the violence in enough detail to shock you but stops before becoming too gory.

But the main challenge in such an effort is to bring out the psychological violence, the destruction that is happening inside victim's mind. The movie succeeds in that but there is definitely room for improvement. Some scenes really stand out, like when Meriola realized what is happening to her and when she just sits near a small opening in the apartment talking all by herself to the people traveling by train passing underneath. The movie starts in a ham factory showing how a pig is pickup, dazed, killed and converted to ham. This is a very strong allegory to everything that happens in the movie afterwards, that small sequence in the first 2-3 min is played out in its full gory details in next 90 min albeit with human victim this time.

Before the main movie they showed a short film from Poland that was an entry in the short film competition organized along with the film fest and I was really amazed by the quality of cinematography and the wonderful narrative structure in a small 5 min short ! I hope it wins something :-)

Friday, December 1

Language Digest - 2

Let us start by 3 statements all coming from different conflict zones, typical of the role languages play in such scenarios. Manipur, Nepal and Kashmir.

Taking forward the theme of conflict, here are some other effects of language antagonism: Asaam. In his new book, Subramanian Swamy asks Hindu's to vow to learn Sanskrit. Look towards the end of the review.

And contrary to what I said, here is this blog post from Bangalore in which police refuses to help since the complainer was not able to speak Kannada.

To bring back some cheer, efforts to promote languages: Bhutan and Konkani

UT Austin launches Hindi-Urdu program and Cambridge recently closed its Sanskrit Dept. But academicians speak up for Sanskrit.

Sindhi Language is doing fine and so is Dakhani in India.

In Hindi Literature, translations are in vogue these days.

On technology side, Tegic released predictive text for Hindi.

To end, here is Pratap Bhanu Mehta on lessons from 1956 linguistic reorganization of states.

Faces of Democracy - I

Having an isolated office at the fringe of the campus has its pros and cons. So while I just need to walk about 50 meters from my office to catch the escort back home, being a corner graduate student place, not a lot of notices make it to the notice board of the building.

This isolation had almost insured my missing the CMU's very own film festival, that is being called "Faces of Democracy" this year. It has a wonderful collection of documentaries form across the world relating to the theme of democracy and the best thing about it is that is the outcome of a semester long course taught here ! Imagine that ! Getting academic credit for designing and organizing a Film Festival ! Bliss !

So having already missed the opening yesterday, I made it to Avi Mograbi's Avenge But One of my Two Eyes, a look at the ongoing Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The festival broacher told me that Avi is known as Israel's Michael Moore and is an ardent critic of Israel's policies. No need to say that this movie is yet another strong statement.

However contrary to what you may think, even after watching the movie, this is not a movie about the Occupied territories, about the plight of Palestinians and Israel's handling of them. This was my first time of seeing a docu on this topic and I kinda remained absorbed in the extremely heart breaking incidents unfolding on the screen. The desperation of the situation is overwhelming. The sheer humiliation faced by the Palestinians, by ordinary civilians everyday is enormous. What do you do to a tank or a jeep that just says no through a speaker without listening to whatever you have to say? Where there is no leeway of any kind to help adjust the problems of daily life? So in Bangalore when a ambulance comes, everybody leaves the road for it, traffic is stopped. How do you handle a situation in which a ambulance is returned back, not allowed to pass, not allowed to reach to those who need it?

And for a moment it is not about taking sides. Not about thinking who is correct and who is wrong. It is about a urge to defuse such a situation. If this continues, there is only one way for it to go, to disaster. As the friend of Mr. Avi talking to him on the phone says that he wants to live but the line between life and death keeps getting blurry with every passing day. After a point, it doesn't matter anymore. When Avi tries to ask him what can be done about solving this, he replies that he cannot see anything to be done on his side. It is something that has to happen in the Israeli society.

Which brings to me the point of the movie. Yes, it is a movie with scenes of ground situation but the main point of the story is more inwards and it achieves that through contrasting the treatment of the legend of Masada and Samson the hero in today's Israeli society with the actual ground situation. People do not seem to realize the irony inherent in celebrating the myth of Samson on one hand who can be called the first suicide "bomber" of the world and calling Palestinian suicide bombings as a crime against humanity on the other. The footage from the ground brings out the situation perfectly. How the Arabs are humiliated by making them stand on a stone just like how Samson was put on stage for the amusement of his captors. Or how the fence put up by Israel resonates with the wall built by Romans to besiege the zealots at Masada.

Bringing out this irony of popular discourse is what Avi is trying to achieve in the movie and in this way doing his bit in response to his friends statement that the realization has to start from within Israeli society. It is by scrutinizing and questioning our own believes that we can begin to understand others. True for Israelis and true for everyone of us.

Another aspect of the movie is worth mentioning. At many points in the movie, Avi takes a provocative stance against the Israeli soldiers. In fact in the very last scene of the school children, he starts abusing the soldiers who just listen quietly and remain very restrained and for a second even I felt that he is messing up all the good work. But on second thoughts it seems more deliberate and not an act of desperation. It is clear that he is safe and is treated rather well by the soldiers even when he is openly provoking them because he is a Jew. Any Arab in place of him would have had a very different fate. And the harmless school children standing across the closed gate provide the strikingly contrasting background. As I read somewhere, it is irony with capital I.