Monday, August 29, 2011

The Anna agitation

The arrogance of power on one side and the arrogance of sanctimony on the other side makes for an unedifying spectacle. A reality check is required. I was surprised to discover some tidbits about Anna Hazare in this post in a well-kmown blog.

One persistent thought watching huge numbers of people calling for 'a corruption-free India' was that a majority of them would have had no qualms about paying a small bribe at a million places to get their things done. All of us have been in such situations where paying some 'speed money' helps to move things along and nobody bats an eyelid. In fact if you refuse, you will be ridiculed by those around you as being 'impractical'. Will such a culture change if a new law is introduced? I don't think so.

Changing such a culture will be beneficial but it entails a lot more time, effort and inconvenience than attending candle-light vigils. Small actions do have an impact. It remains to be seen how many will walk the talk. (I am in the rare position of being able to comment without having to act!)

PS: Writing about current affairs (granted I don't read much about it) is a dicey proposition for me. By the time I manage to dictate a few lines, the news would have changed. But I am reluctant to flush all the effort down the drain so I publish it anyway.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Three feeds per day

'War doesn’t determine who is right, it decides who is left', said Bertrand Russell. It is a nice quote no doubt but the problem is that it has nothing to do with the rest of this post. It seemed a shame to ignore the quote so I decided to put it here. Adds a bit of class to an otherwise ordinary post, don't you think? (I wonder what the half-life of 'think' is.)

Once while examining me, an Ayurvedic doctor asked about my feeding. He was informed that the hospital had provided a chart specifying the contents and quantity of liquid feeds to be given to me approximately every two hours beginning at about 6:30 a.m. The Ayurvedic doctor said that this procedure was wrong and that I should have just 3 meals a day like other people - breakfast, lunch and dinner. Accordingly my feeding timings were fixed at approximately 8 a.m., 2 p.m. and 8 p.m. and the quantity of each feed was increased (I don't remember by how much).

Since I don't feel hungry, I did not feel any discomfort due to the long gap between feeds. I seemed as energetic as before so everyone thought that the new diet was fine. But after a couple of weeks visitors started saying that I was looking thinner than usual and that my bones seemed to be sticking out. The general consensus seemed to be that I was, like, disappearing. Bit by bit like the Cheshire Cat of Alice's Adventures in Wonderland. Soon people may have started saying that they have seen a person without a smile but never a smile without a person.

Folks at home did not wait that long. They decided to revert to the hospital mandated feed timings and quantity. In a few weeks, I seemed to be looking normal. I was of course unaware of all these changes, knowing about them only from the conversations of people around me.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Thanks for the memories, Shammi

One of my favourite actors, Shammi Kapoor passed away a few days ago. I don't watch too many movies but I am a big fan of the songs of Rafi, Kishore, Mukesh, Lata and Asha - the Bollywood Fab Five. The Rafi-Shammi combination produced plenty of splendid songs. Here are a few of my favorite 'crazy Shammi' songs:
There are a zillion more songs (I am allowed a bit of exaggeration sometimes) but these will do for the moment. The songs will ensure that Shammi Kapoor lives on in memory.

He was the only Bollywood star I have seen in the flesh. Apparently he was a big computer buff. At an exhibition by Wipro Infotech, I saw a massive guy who looked familiar sitting in front of a computer. I asked some friends and confirmed my suspicion.

PS : Uh oh. How can I forget? I also once saw aamchi mulgi Madhuri Dixit.

Friday, August 12, 2011


In How the Mind Works, while discussing the importance of food, Steven Pinker quotes from Miss Manners’ Guide to Excruciatingly Correct Behavior:
There are three possible parts to a date, of which at least two must be offered: entertainment, food, and affection. It is customary to begin a series of dates with a great deal of entertainment, a moderate amount of food, and the merest suggestion of affection. As the amount of affection increases, the entertainment can be reduced proportionately. When the affection is the entertainment, we no longer call it dating. Under no circumstances can the food be omitted.
Food doesn't seem to be important for me. I have never felt hungry since my stroke. I am fed every two hours but even if the feeding is delayed, there is no problem. I have no idea what exactly has happened but I don't think it has anything to do with the bacteria.(Talking of bacteria, have you heard of the two bacteria that went to a bar?) It is as if the communication lines between my stomach and brain have been cut so my brain does not get any signals of hunger or satiety.

I remember one doctor saying in the hospital that since I was on a liquid diet I will feel hungry very quickly so my feedings should not be delayed. But exactly the opposite has happened. My feedings have at times been delayed by a few hours mainly because I was travelling but I did not feel hungry. I would have liked to go without food for a couple of days to see if I get any hunger pangs but nobody will agree to this proposal.

The time for such an experiment is probably over. For the past year or so, I have asked for feeding, sometimes before it is time but it has nothing to do with hunger. Many times, before it is time for feeding, my gastrostomy starts leaking and paining. The pain subsides only when the feeding is given. Sometimes the pain is there and sometimes it is not there. It is a bit of a mystery.

Aside: According to this TED talk, there is a second brain in our gut. How cool!

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Absence of pressure to conform

Much madness is divinest Sense
To a discerning Eye
Much Sense- the starkest Madness
'Tis the Majority
In this, as All, prevail
Assent-and you are sane
Demur-you're straightway dangerous
And handled with a Chain

-Emily Dickinson

One major factor that strengthens religion is the pressure to conform. (The post at that link is in response to this interview.) Perhaps that is why Napoleon said, “Religion is excellent stuff for keeping common people quiet”. When you are among a group of believers, all of whom tend to think and act in similar ways, it is easier to go along with them than to rebel even if you feel that it is all weird. Going against the group is not easy. If you don't follow the crowd, you face questions like, 'What will the relatives say?'

In Bad Science, Ben Goldacre writes:
'Communal reinforcement' is the process by which a claim becomes a strong belief, through repeated assertion by members of a community. The process is independent of whether the claim has been properly researched, or is supported by empirical data significant enough to warrant belief by reasonable people.

Communal reinforcement goes a long way towards explaining how religious beliefs can be passed on in communities from generation to generation. It also explains how testimonials within communities of therapists, psychologists, celebrities, theologians, politicians, talk-show hosts, and so on, can supplant and become more powerful than scientific evidence.
One of the influencers of conformity to beliefs strengthened by communal reinforcement is group size:
One of the most important factors affecting whether or not people conform is the size of the group around them. Maximum conformity is seen when groups reach between 3 and 5 people.

Add more people and it makes little difference, less than 3, though, and conformity is substantially reduced.
I have a tendency to drift away rather unconsciously when I don't find the conversation gripping. Most people, even when they are not really interested in a conversation, will feel compelled to keep making some polite noises. This is not expected from me and most of the people will not be speaking directly to me. So no one will notice it if I am not all there. Thus even if I am in the midst of a lot of people, I can be thought of as being alone.

Such a situation is conducive to pondering over various subversive thoughts. As I became used to looking different from other people, I became more comfortable thinking differently from those around me.