my Scribbling

Remember the time…

January 2018
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my Chirps

Its the most…

Its Saturday. The second one, for this December. After relaxing, or I must say rusting, almost the whole day, I decide to venture out. I need some eggs to add to the granary at home. Yes, thats it. I also had to get the usual weekend coffee, at my local Peets. I decide to finish the shopping before I relax with my coffee and a book (a new-found  toy).

So it is December. It’s there for all to see. There is also a dusting of snow today, the first this winter, a bit too early for the DC area. So there again if there was any doubt, that would clear it up. If it is December, then its time for the big festival in this part of the world. Its Christmas time. Most every year, since I have known it has fallen on the 25th of December, like clockwork, as some would say. You might wonder why I bring up this obvious fact, that everyone takes for granted.

Its simple. If everyone knows its Christmas time, then why do the stores have to remind me. In the mall, at the grocery store and even at the Peets where I am now seated, tapping this stodgy tale. Everyone is singing or playing the christmasy tunes. The most rankling of all, probably the favorite of many, is “Its the most wonderful time”. Oh my god, please save me from hearing that again. Todays trip to the mall, grocery store and the coffee shop, has so far spared me of this repetitive tune.

In the US, these tunes begin wafting through hidden speakers in the shopping places the day after Thanksgiving. Basically you cook most morning, gorge yourself to near death and then race to the stores, wearing your best running shoes, to get you in sooner than anyone. Well that used to be the norm, till the likes of Amazon and other online shopping killed the last of the traditions.

Then why? Why these songs? Why this repetitive tedium? Why oh why?

The answer is Christmas Carols. These songs keep alive the tradition of carol singing. While I have not yet seen carol singers, in all the many years I have lived in the US, I am sure there are many that go door to door in smaller neighborhoods. Growing up in India, I had the opportunity to witness and experience a few. It’s quite common in Kerala, and used to be so in Chennai, where I have lived. But these days I guess they only visit Christian homes, and so unless you have many Christian neighbors, you are unlikely to see any.

And so, I let my defenses down, let my soul soak in the music. But please spare me the “Its the most”, unless you want me humming and croaking it, at every spare moment.


Then they came for me..

First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Socialist.

Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Trade Unionist.

Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Jew.

Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.

– Martin Niemöller

Since 2014, when Narendra Modi and his BJP came to power, they have steadily worked towards eroding the ethos of a democratic society. Freedom of speech and expression, Freedom of religion and Right to equality, all guarnteed as part of the our own Constitution have been challenged, and with its Executive power and support of State machinery, these have been reduced to mere words on an old parchment in a library.

In this age of WWW, ie Whole Wide World, where nothing is a secret anymore, and where citizens are no longer bound by a geography, ideas circle faster than the speed of light, emotions unite classes, thoughts break language barriers, and it in this new brave world people have to expect different. Today basic human and civil rights are considered as important, if not more important than food and water. In this era, it is therefore impossible to accept and live with rules and norms as expounded by regressive governments and or their followers.

Followers? Yes! Through out history, no one has been able to impose restrictions or upsurp rights without support from a section of the populace. These people are common folk like me, lured by an idea, swooned by charisma or spurred by simple hate. If by hate, there is usually a personal bias that allows this emotion to gain an edge over empathy. Some people are influenced by past experiences, and probably justified in their actions, because of the private imprints on them. But many others are simply swayed by emotions, of fear of the unknown, what if the worst that happened to them, happens to me. Collective conscience imparts the most heaviest burden on most average folks. It is easier to succumb to this, and be at peace, rather than try to revolt and rationalise feelings.

But protest we must. Rationalise we must. We are humans only because we possess a sense, a unique sense of intellect that would allow us to discriminate; as in allow us to analyze a situation and take different action, that is required based on all information that is immediately available and those that can be discerned. It is important for sanity to speak, and must not be suppressed in all the din. Narendra Modi and his Bhakts (as they have come to be known on social media), may attempt to hijack prudence, but there is a duty upon those who are not influenced to stand up and speak up.

I am writing this, because many of my friends and family are in this realm of influence. Thankfully in varying degree. And so when i speak up, if it causes even one to stop and reflect, i have probably served humanity. I have felt intimidated by the overwhelming support sometimes, but more often it is the nagging question, of “why do you have to question everything?”. Then there is the narrative to compare and equate wrongs, and thereby silence my voice. People who oppose these thoughts are even branded, tagged and name-called. Subtly by friends, but with blatant abuse on the anonymous social media.

Wake up! Speak up! Let it not be too late!

Path of Totality

DSC05719 (1)I was there, in the Path of Totality on Aug 21st 2017, at Columbia, SC. All predictions for cloudy skies proved false and the heavens cleared up, to give me and many others around me, an unhindered view of totality.

It was a sight to behold. I had a camera, to help capture the moment, and it did, but only a fraction of the the image i witnessed. Typical, i’d say of how camera sometimes fail to impersonate a vision. Maybe before i curse my camera so much, i might as well direct some or more than required indignation towards the photographer. Me! A camera is only a tool, and best held by someone who knows a thing or two about photography.

I had planned this trip almost a good month and half before today. I had barely witnessed one or two partial solar eclipses before. And so, when i knew i would be in the US around the date, i had to be there. Never a person who plans travel in advance, i did this. And it all worked out, every step of the way. Till this moment at least. I am sitting here in Columbia Metropolitan Airport, waiting for the inbound aircraft, so i can leave here, and be back home. Usually this would have made me grumpy, but today my mind is in a better place. And to think, darkness had some good reasons for this heavenly feeling. [Update: We departed late, but arrived home safe, and soon enough to get a good night’s sleep.]

All this happened in the shadows of some sad events around the world. Splitting my life between the US and India, i track events here and there very closely. But it wasnt just here, but in Spain and also the ticking clock being constantly jiggled by an idiot in North Korea, who was responding to the rat-a-tattle by spoilt brat here in the US. All these were somehow small. The vision i held, dwarfed all these for a good few moments.

If only it could last longer. The Moon sure knew a thing or two. To cover up the Sun for a good two minutes. There is a lesson in it for us, size, intensity, volume and power sometimes dont matter as much, perspective does. When events around us, disturbs peace and sanctity, remember it will pass. Other times it is delight and exhilaration that overcomes us, lest we forget that it may not linger around. Hopelessness, deserves exactly that.

Let me end this with “tamaso ma jyotirgamaya“, meaning “lead us from darkness into light“.

Rightside Up

What if everything we knew till now, is actually not the truth, or the whole truth? History has shown, or we now know, that several facts have been proven wrong, as we uncover new facts and or get a better understanding. A few hundred years ago, we believed that the earth was flat. Of course, there were people who knew it wasn’t, but the vast majority thought it was so. That’s what mattered. Because truths known only to a certain few is easily confused with conspiracy theories. Physical-Map-of-India.png
A recent news article got my gray cells cranking to write this blog. The news story talked about, the RSS, and students from the ABVP taking objections to a certain publication and or a presentation to be anti-national, only because the presenter showed a picture of the map of India the wrong way. I can understand if the map displayed national boundaries along wrong lines, and or included or excluded parts of the country. Well, it didn’t.
We are all used to seeing India, and the rest of the world represented in atlas like the here. And that’s how it has been right from the very first time when you and i were introduced to the concept of India, the US, and for that matter any other country in the world. Why? What is the right-side up? Is there a correct way to represent the planet and its land mass and water bodies?
Why? What is the right-side up? Why is it always north on top, and east on the right? Where is north, and which side is east? I can understand the relationship between North and South vs East and West. But which is up, and which is the left, and what is right? Is there a correct way to represent the planet and its land mass and water bodies?
This is the view of the Earth and its planet Moon. This view is from Mars. See it?
Don’t see anything? Look again. Here below, i have presented the same picture and labeled the location that Earth appears, as seen from Mars.
Here is our blue planet from as seen from our close friend in the galaxy, the Moon.03-Earth-from-Moon.jpg
Here is a closer view.
 And in this context, here is a view of India, in form of a map, with all the labels and tags.
Go figure!! Are we up? Are we down? Are we left? Are we right? We are but a speck in the galaxy we live. And yet, we fight about how our land is represented in a map the right-side up and or down.
For people interested here is a map of the world as published from the World down-under.

Never, Ever, Give Up!

This year, the Australian Open created a record of sorts. I am still researching, if this is indeed, can be declared official or not. But irrespective of the stamp from any official record site or recognition from a sports body, the achievement nonetheless stands out.
The win by both Roger Federer and Serena Williams, and not to talk of the people who lost to them Nadal, but more importantly Venus Williams. Both these winners are aged 35 years, and Venus, Serena’s elder sister is 36 years. Never before in Grand Slam championships has a person of this age won the tournament.
It is commonly held in Tennis and in most other sports that require high amounts of physical endurance, agility and speed, a person is considered aged once they cross 30. And then it is usually downhill, because the younger generation takes over. And it becomes tougher and tougher for a person of this age or older to hold ground. Well, now we will have to redefine these norms, won’t we?
While I haven’t been watching a lot of TV, and therefore that goes for sport too. I do follow Tennis, and Football (the real kind, the one where they kick the ball with their foot or feet), field hockey, and of course not to forget Cricket. I am sure this rule or rather norm holds good for all these sports, atleast in the era since TV started covering these live. TV coverage meant, more speed, agility and fan following. All of which meant the older you get, you have one option; retire gracefully.
In cricket recently Dhoni, decided to step down as Captain of Team India, but presented himself as a player in the short form of the game, one day and T20s. And when everyone thought he too would slowly disappear from the scene, he instead had other ideas. And today he is found on the top lists maintained by ICC. Dhoni is 13th in the list today as a ODI batsman. And then again, ranking or not, just watch him run between the wickets; and then lets discuss age.
Three of the people I talk about today are all 35 years old. It is not a strange coincidence. All born in 1981; July, August and September. Prime age, in their fields to possibly retire. But yet they are each scoring new records and establishing new boundaries. Why? Shouldn’t these people just retire and let the newer crop take over. This might hold some sense for cricket which is a team sport, but for tennis, its all fair and open. No one is, in anyone’s way. Well of course, if Roger Federer had called it quits, theoretically a younger Nadal could have won the game. Just theoretically. Then again, why? And more importantly how?
One thing this will teach us, that these games, while they depend a lot on physical attributes of a person, is also mentally challenging one. And then if you are person who exercises regularly, you too would agree physical endurance is more a mind game. Because scaling the mountain, running a marathon or swimming across an ocean, all requires grit. And that comes from somewhere deep in your body. It is always so easy to give up.
Never! Never ever! Give Up!!

Tale of Two Americas

Its been many years since i have lived in the US, also commonly referred to as just ‘America’. For the most part what i love about America, is its uniformity and what i dont, is its lack of diversity. From east to west, north to south, anywhere, the US is literally the same. Be it food, clothing (subject to changes in weather), housing styles, cultures or any of the major characteristics of a society, it is all relatively the same. I have moved around and lived in many cities in the US; Racine WI, New Orleans LA, Indianapolis IN, Atlanta GA, Chicago IL, Washington DC, NY or Jersey City. My travels have taken me to nearly every one of the contiguous states of the US. I didn’t have to learn a different language, develop a taste for a different food, deal with newer customs, and or understand and comprehend a different culture of people in these places. Any diversity if any, ran along racial delineations, or maybe more pronounced based on class.
But in the recent years a stark divide, mainly on philosophical lines is visible to me. Philosophical is an appropriate word because that is the root cause of the divide, that is projected onto the politics of the US of A. People are divided, along political lines, leaning right or left; or let me bluntly say Republican or Democrat theology.
This division was always there, and has contributed in a very healthy way to growth and stability of the US. Coming from a multi-party democratic state, i had grown to appreciate the nuances of a dual party system. The process of electing a President directly, and the power of the Congress and Senate, that are not bound by party politics were all very appealing and fascinating. The principles upon which the two branches, legislative and executive, were constructed to form the government here, is simply altruistic. However the differences that seem to divide the nation today, has it genesis from this same strain that supposed to be its backbone. And since i started following the elections here, thats almost from the day i landed here, the political beast that i am, the divide seems to have deepened. The very last one, that we saw wind down, well almost wind down i should say, a few days back reached the very epitome. The protests after the election of Obama, and now after Trump, are testaments. It is like people live in two different America, support a different philosophy, swayed by different emotions, watch different news, and want two completely different end results. And it appears, the twain shall never meet.
I lean left, and i cant comprehend the right. And those that lean right cant comprehend the left. Gun control, abortion, LGBT rights, public spending on social causes, taxation, and the list goes on. On each of these issues, the positions are extreme in each camp, leaving no room for compromise, or so it seems. From the time Bill Clinton won the elections, with one of the lowest margins, thanks to Ross Perot, the people have revolted vociferously against the sitting President of time. Bill didn’t help his case or that of his party, with his sexual antics in the White House, and some of his past sexual escapades catching upTom Toles Cartoon to him. When the Democratic party closed ranks to support him, this set the stage for party (read philosophical) based posturing. It didn’t matter if we had a devil in the chair, as along as he was from my party, all else was irrelevant. Suddenly the very fabric of these two branches in this democratic system were being ripped and gashed, resulting in the usual, a lesser of the evils political system. Very similar to the rest of the world.
I have lived one half of my life in India, the largest democracy in the world, and the other half in the US, possibly the greatest democracy in the world. And my experience has led me to believe that the concept of democracy, is highly overrated in its ability to guarantee individual rights and freedom. I have held for sometime now that the best form of government is that of a ‘Benevolent King or Queen’. Hey why should you limit yourself when you are dreaming up an utopian world.
America today is divided between the dogma of these two parties, and has little room for another. In the past few elections, the options thrown up in this dual party system, has been unpalatable to the other side, that they refuse to accept. They also reject any third party influence, just to avoid the scenario of votes being pulled away, and causing the victory of the least acceptable option. The clout enjoyed by these two parties amongst the general populace is excessive, and hampers any third party or ideology to become credible option. Ross Perot was the only one in recent times to attempt to break this cast, unsuccessfully tho’. And unfortunately he didn’t bother to keep the momentum going, and simply gave up and retired to his business of making money. The stated objective to elect individuals to the Congress, Senate and White House. have all fallen prey to this two party system. Every election and choice is viewed from this narrow lens of the two party system.
Two countries within one state. One red, one blue. Equal and separate. If it weren’t for the Electoral College, every Presidential election would seem almost gridlocked. In most countries, the executive is controlled by the legislature.  However in the US, thanks to its nature of election, the executive and legislature can be at loggerheads; with the President from one party, and the Congress from another. And because of the stated differences, any and every action is delayed, and or compromised in its implementation and execution, that is almost guaranteed to deliver less than promised. The ideological separation, it appears, is complete and final, with no room for any compromise.
US Elections 2016
The current elections saw how angry and frustrated the republicans were with the two terms of the Obama presidency, and voted to outst the democrats. So, for sometime we will continue to swing from red to blue, and from blue to red, simply based on how angry one group is. So now we have a Trump in the White House, with a republican Congress and Senate. And in two years when the Congress seeks re-election, the now angry democrats will vote and create a different outcome to balance the situation. Maybe! If not, it will take the full four years of Presidency for the next round of changes in Government. And then the circle continues.
However the most interesting point to note is that of the 235 Million eligible voters in 2016 election, only a little more than 130 Million* voted in this election. So maybe there is yet another America? The one that votes for ‘Pizza’!

* Votes are still being counted, but is not expected to sizably alter the total percentage.

Made in Germany

I am a frequent flyer. Every month, i am flying half way around the globe, if it from Chennai to the US one month, then it flying back again the next month. My work requires me to operate in India and the US, splitting my time to about 3-6 weeks (usually 30 days) in each place. Anytime i arrive at a location, the usual questions are “Hey! When did you arrive?”, quickly to be followed by “When are you going back?”. My family also calls me a frequent flyer; in a different context, i.e. flying away or running away from stuff. I cant blame them. But i am eternally thankful to them, as they spare me from constant nagging, which would have had a serious effect on my work.

As i fly so often, i tried many different options, and finally settled on Lufthansa as my flagship carrier. A few good reasons for this. First, it is a Star Alliance partner, and since i am a United Airlines mileage member, this helps me accumulate miles for every flight i take on Lufthansa. Now this is also a question, i am often asked “So you must be having millions miles?”, and my response is “Yes! I do. But i don’t get to use them.” Second reason for Lufthansa is the convenience factor, 7 days a week, one stop over, two flights of about equal time to get me from Chennai to Washington DC. And the third the incredible German efficiency – almost always on time, in almost 14 years of flying Lufthansa, they are yet to screw up with my baggage.

On my recent flight from Chennai to the US, as i was being served my meal, i observed a small fact. The cotton cloth napkin i was given along with my silverware, had a small tab, showing the details of the place of manufacture. Knowing the manufacturing world, i straightened the tab to read the text, convinced that it will have the magic words “Made in China”. Well, i was astounded instead by the words “Made in Germany”.


Made in Germany!

Why would a cheap cloth napkin be made in Germany? Let me first explain, it was not a cheap piece of cloth. It was fine well made cloth napkin. But still this is a low value item, and offers no economic bonanza for Germany to manufacture it, when it could have easily imported this from China. I have noticed in the US, it is difficult to find items that are ‘Made in USA’. Today if you enter a store in the US, other than local food produce, most items are manufactured from China. To the extent that in stores in and around the DC metro area, where they sell paraphernalia like the American flag, miniatures of the Washington Monument, Capitol, and the White House etc., are all ‘Made in China’. And hence my surprise in seeing this on a simple cloth napkin on this German airline.

It is also evident when you are in Germany, to notice the class of engineering in everything you see and touch. Be it a simple faucet, a door knob, a hinge or a draw handle. They seem perfect. They work, and very seamlessly. The fit, the joint, and the physics of it all, simply seems and feels superior. I am of course comparing to what i have seen mostly in the US, India, Canada, a bit of England and isolated part of SE Asia. It appears that the German engineering machine is made of a different breed.

And so it must be, that the Lufthansa thought they must use German products on their planes. The pride of this national carrier in everything German, is so evident. It is not cheap to make these products here. And so i wonder, how and why they choose, and manage their finance and profit. But like their love for their mother tongue, there must be a love for their own. I am sure Germany import goods, and considering a country like China, they must be importing quite a lot from there too. But i wonder if they would import their national flag, that is made by the Chinese.

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