Tell me not in mournful numbers,
Life is but an empty dream.
Life is real! Life is earnest!
And the grave is not its goal.

When I go from hence
let this be my parting word,
that what I have seen is unsurpassable.

Sunday, 29 June 2008

Epitaph to a dog

It is ironical that the most glowing epitaph known to man is that of a dog. It is perhaps because the dog in question was Lord Byron's. But I prefer to read it as an expression of Man's disappointment with himself, his follies and weaknesses. And a desire to reclaim those qualities which are so dear to him and yet so hard to acquire.

Extract from Epitaph to a Dog by Lord Byron

Near this Spot
are deposited the Remains of one
who possessed Beauty without Vanity,
Strength without Insolence,
Courage without Ferosity,
and all the Virtues of Man without his Vices.
This praise, which would be unmeaning Flattery
if inscribed over human Ashes,
is but a just tribute to the Memory of

The full text of the poem can be found in Wikipedia.
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Wednesday, 25 June 2008

…so tell me something about yourself

I have never been comfortable talking about myself. That is one (of many) of my problems. It is very inconvenient really. Every where I go - parties, dates, job interviews, chat rooms, social networking sites - everyone seems to want to hear me speak about myself. It has become standard filler in any conversation these days. I will be chatting merrily with someone I have recently met when suddenly there is a pause in the conversation and I know its coming. And sure enough, the other person will come up with some variation of “…so tell me something about yourself”. What do I tell anybody about myself? Which parts of my personality should I present? I have been in this planet for almost three decades now. There are a lot of parts to me. Which parts would interest you? Are you even interested? And above all, why on earth would I want to discuss myself with you? It used to be a lot easier when I was a kid. Back then they used to ask very specific questions like “what is your name beta?” followed by “how old are you?” followed by “which school do you go to?” and so on and so forth. At the end of the Q&A session I used to get a pat on the back. Now, people - polite and well-mannered as they are - will not even think about interrogating me like that. Its far easier for them to ask the vaguest question possible and let me handle the details. Believe me, I would take the interrogation any day over this. The opening sentence is the biggest stumbling block. How do I start talking about yourself? I can’t start off with “My name is…” because, obviously, the guy already knows that. After many missteps, I have come up with some strategies for the most common situations. Here are some openings:

Job Interview: "I am currently working on...". Start of with what you are doing now (proffesionally). Present the major points in your career in reverse chronological order, i.e., latest first. Stick to dates and numbers. Don't try analyze or explain anything. If the other person wants to know details, he/she will ask. Stick to your professional life only. You personal life is irrelevant here.

Social occasions: "I am from...". If you have already told him/her your name, this might be a good opener. You can then go on to mention you profession, etc. Stick to basics. If the other person is really interested, he/she will help you along with specific questions or comments. If not, you can throw the ball right back at him/her by returning him/her the same question. But in social occasions, it all really depends on the mood. I went to a meeting of car enthusiasts once. Everyone was introducing himself with the his car details - "Hi, one Honda, model xxx, yyy years old". It was funny.

Online chats: "Hi, I am xxx, from yyy". Always use your username, not your real name. Never offer anymore details. Don't even mention the area of the city you live in. You never know who is at the other end.

Most importantly, don't ever ramble. This is true for all situations. The person asking you this question does not know you. He/She probably wants a glimpse of specific aspects of you. Rambling will kill all interest he/she has in you.
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Monday, 23 June 2008

Bookmarks: The Flood by David Maine

I just finished reading a delightful novel called The Flood by David Maine. It is a funny and imaginative reconstruction of the Biblical Flood as seen and endured by Noah and his family. David Maine takes a simplistic god-punishes-bad-people story and a set of one dimensional characters from the Bible and infuses them with so much warmth and humanity that they start coming across as real people. Eight ordinary people who are faced with an extraordinary journey and must make it together. No one really knows what is happening. Even Noah is not certain of what God wants from him or why. He can offer no reasons for what he is asking his family to do. He only has an unshakeable faith in his God.
Each chapter of the story is told from the point of view of a different character. Each of them has a different take on the events. We see each character evolve as the flood changes him or her in unexpected ways and we leave them as very different people than we find them at the start of the tale. Maine injects just enough irreverence and humour to enable us to suspend disbelief and avoid getting bogged down by the fantastic events in the story. In his hands even God ceases to be a unidimensional all powerful entity and acquires motivations and intensions that can be questioned. Towards the end of the tale each character tries to answer the question: Why did God do it? They come up with eight different answers. Answers which reveal more about them than their God. Sample some:

"Because He wishes to cleanse the world of sin and punish the unbelievers"
"Because He can"
"Because He wants to encourage us to do better"
"Because, like most males, He loves destruction for its own sake"
"Beause there is no limit to the suffering He makes available to us, for reasons only He understands"

The Flood is ultimately, the story of a family, its trials and tribulations and individuals who, inspite of all their differences, love and respect each other. Its humour and irreverence hold more lessons in life and love than is readily apparent. But what stands out above all is the humanity in the novel. Its refusal to come to a tame happily-ever-after ending only enhances its humaneness. Blessed with a thousand year life and cursed to out live all his family, Noah's fate is far from being what we would expect.

The Flood is David Maine's debut novel.
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Saturday, 21 June 2008

Obama, Clinton, McCain

Looks like Hillary Clinton is finally out of the presidential race. Good. Never liked her. Pundits say that President Clinton will be better for India than President Obama but I don't care. Political alliances are driven by need. If America needs us and we need America, any president will fall in line. I would rather choose the guy who I feel has greater personal integrity. Clinton totally compromised hers when she condoned her husband for Monicagate. I can't help feeling she has a "you scratch my back, I will scratch yours" kind of a relationship with her husband. That she supported him in his presidency so that she could use him to get into the senate and then the president's chair. I just don't understand why women go ga-ga over her. I mean, this is the woman who humiliated every self-respecting woman by her conduct during her husband's scandals. Now she is using his name to get what she wants. How is she an inspiration to anybody? A feminist is someone who earns what she deserves by her own merit, not by using her father's or husband's name. Thats why neither Indira Gandhi nor Sonia Gandhi are celebrated as feminists in India, even though both of them were/are the most powerful persons in the country in their own times. I have heard a few of her speeches. They are so rhetorical and jaded. Her favourite line seems to be "It took one Clinton to clean up after the first Bush, it will take another Clinton to clean up after the second" or some such variation. That one sentence tells us all that is wrong with her. It's witty but it says nothing and it proves nothing. All it does is invoke her husband. Compare her with Obama. The first thing that struck me about him was how fresh he seems. The answers he gives to questions are well thought out and consistent. True, he seems a little long winded sometimes but thats because elaborating on some issue takes more time than simply coming up with a witty quip. And more than anything else, the stands he has taken on various issues have been consistent with what he has said and done in his entire political career and not changed with swings in public opinion. For example, he has been against the Iraq war from day one. Thats more than can be said about Mrs. Clinton. Now all I hope is that Clinton stops waiting for him to be struck down by lightening (cause that's the only way she is going to win) and gets out of his way as soons as possible. Let him and the party focus on taking on John McCain and the Republicans.

The Obama vs. McCain battle will have a far more serious impact on the world than Obama vs. Clinton. McCain seems like an older version of Bush, just more pig-headed. He reminds me of the war mongering general from Mars Attacks ("we must nuke 'em, nuke 'em, nuke 'em"). He plans to send in more troops to Iraq. Honestly, you would think that after Vietnam, Afganistan and now a decade in Iraq, Americans have learnt that you cannot crush ideologies. No matter how sick or pervert it is. Force is not the answer. People like John McCain do not understand it. They do not have the balls to stand up and say that what they did was a mistake and it will go no further. And when someone like him becomes the president of the most powerful nation in the world, it can only mean trouble for everybody. I am keeping my fingers crossed.

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The survival value of a brain

Why did Nature give us more brains than is absolutely necessary for our survival? All She had to do was give us enough brains to be able to invent a few stone tools to make up for not giving us claws. That would have been enough to ensure our survival. What makes it more amazing is that Nature generally is very stingy with her gifts. Chimps have just enough brains to survive and procreate. On a good day, the deer can only run fast enough to out run the tiger. So why indulge humans?
A chap named Snell proposed a standard called encephalization quotient (EQ) to compare the brain to body weight ratios among various species. I found the following chart showing the EQ for a few mamals:

Man 7.44
Dolphin 5.31
Chimpanzee 2.09
Dog 1.17ut
Horse 0.86

It basically means that man's brain to body weight ratio is 7.44 times the average ratio for mamals. This really is over kill. 3 would have been sufficient. Look at the state Nature is in today. There is not a single part of her that is not fighting for survival today. And it is all due to the "extra" few ounces of brain matter she granted Man all those milenia ago. The first things man discovered that were more than just survival tools were fire and wheel. That was around 40,000 years ago. Since that day, Man has not done a single thing which has not upset Nature's equations in some way. He has made a mess of whatever he has touched. He is the only species to have single handedly brought the threat of total extinction upon himself. And not just himself, but all of Nature. None of this would have happened if Nature had stuck to her policy of giving just enough resources to enable a species to survive. That one mistake has effectively sealed her fate.
I found a nice article called What is intelligence, anyway? Its discusses the definition of intelligence and explores the relationship between brain and intelligence. The Wikipedia entry for human evolution is here.
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Friday, 20 June 2008

When aliens do attack

Disclaimer: Any offence to any alien who might be reading this post is completely intentional. I just didn’t think you would read it. Any offence to any human reading this post does not matter. You are going to be dead when it happens any way.

What will really happen if we are actually visited by aliens? Last weekend three different alien invasion movies were aired on three different channels at the same time. That was probably a coincidence, but it set me pondering on the issue of alien visits and their likely fallouts. What will these aliens be like? I don’t mean their looks. That’s impossible to guess. It would be great though, if they are not green and full of tentacles – just to spite Hollywood. I am talking about their psychology. What will have motivated them to come to earth? Will they even want to destroy us? Or will they just be curious about us? I would assume that any race that comes to visit us from across space will be technologically superior to us. After all, if we were superior, we would have found them first. Assuming that they are technologically superior, we come to three possible scenarios. First, a very superior race might turn out to be a very benevolent one too. They could be so enlightened that have all become Buddhas. In that case we don’t have to worry. Such a visit will be the best thing to happen to us. But, I don’t think that is possible. For one, philosophers do not make great space travelers. Secondly, any enlightened species will know that meddling in a foreign ecosystem can only harm it. If they are enlightened they will act on the knowledge and stay away from earth. The second scenario is that they will be actively malevolent. In that case we will all be annihilated and earth will be conquered and there is nothing we can do about it. This is the scenario, Mars Attacks presents (somehow, I don’t believe we will live up to the standards Independence Day set for us). It’s possible, but I do not believe it is the most probable scenario. Why would any race travel all the way across space just to destroy an alien world it has had no previous contact with for no reason? The third scenario, and my favourite, is that the aliens will be neither benevolent nor malevolent. I believe that any alien race that finds us would have evolved in their attitude towards space very like our early explorers who set out to discover new lands. They will have set out, at least initially, in the spirit of scientific enquiry, eager to explore the universe. That motive may or may not have been replaced by a less altruistic one (search for new lands to settle in, perhaps). Their attitude towards us will not be very different from our attitude towards, say, the burying beetle. When they find us, some of them will want to destroy us for whatever little profit it will get them, a small minority will want to preserve us and a staggeringly vast majority will be totally indifferent. Our survival will be decided by the fight between the first two groups and not by us. The pessimist in me believes that the outcome will be no different than it has been for the burying beetles. I am inclined to believe that if an alien race does find us and comes to visit us on our own planet, we will eventually come into conflict with it and when we do, we will lose. And the real tragedy will be that they will probably not even realize it.
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Sunday, 15 June 2008

My experiments with food: Methi Chicken

I was feeling pretty bored from watching TV all afternoon. So I decided to cook something different. I could not think of anything simple and yet different from regular dishes. Called up my ever dependable mom and asked for recipe which "would be different from what I regularly make but simple enough so that I can finish it in time for an early dinner". She suggested methi chicken. It seemed simple enough to make. It required lots of garlic and methi, both of which I like very much. I thought they would give the dish a pungent aroma - a happy change from the bland burger from McDonald's I had for lunch. And, its very light on the stomach. I decided to go for it. It took me one trip to the local super market and less than an hour of cooking time to make it. Needless to say, it was a huge success. It tasted as good as I hoped it would and better. I have written down the recipe below.

Recipe: Methi Chicken

Ingredients (serves 1):
  1. Chicken - 250 gms. (medium to small pieces)
  2. Red tomatoes - 250 gms. (same quantity as chicken)
  3. Kasoori Methi (dried Fenugreek leaves) - 50 gms. (depending on how strong you want the aroma to be)
  4. Onions - 100 gms.
  5. Garlic - 10 cloves (I used more than that - told you I like garlic)
  6. Red chili powder (for colour only)
  7. Green chilies (depending on how hot you want your food)
  8. Ginger to taste.
  1. Soak the methi leaves in water for about half an hour.
  2. Cut the tomatoes, the green chilies and the onions into very small pieces.
  3. Heat oil.
  4. Put in the tomato, onion, ginger and chili and a pinch of red chili powder.
  5. Stir till the the mixture becomes soft and light brown.
  6. Put in the chicken pieces.
  7. Add just enough water so that all the pieces are completely submerged.
  8. Add haldi and salt to taste.
  9. Cover it and cook till the chicken pieces become soft. Stir it from time to time so that all pieces cook uniformly.
  10. Add the methi leaves and the water they were soaked in.
  11. Cover it and let it cook till you get a thick gravy. You must stir it from time to time so that the leaves blend uniformly.
About Methi
I looked up methi on the internet and found quite a few interesting facts about it. Its called Fenugreek in English. Its scientific name is Trigonella foenum-graecum. The leaves are used as herbs and the seeds as spice. It was first cultivated in the region near modern day Iraq in around 4000 BC.
In India, methi seeds are mixed with yogurt and used as a conditioner for hair. In Ethiopia, it is used as natural herbal medicine in the treatment of diabetes. In Egypt, methi seeds are prepared as tea, by being boiled then sweetened. Methi has a lot of medicinal properties. It mainly used as a digestive aid. It has been shown to reduce cholestrol and is a potent antidiabetic. It also helps in reducing heat in human body. The Wikipedia entry on Methi is here.
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My experiments with food: Bhuna Khichuri

Last night I experimented with one of the very typical Bengali dishes - Bhuna Khichuri. It is also my favourite vegetarian dish. Khichdi is a popular dish all across India. I know Kadhi Khichdi is a rage in Maharashtra. But like every other pan-Indian phenomena, every region has developed its own variant. In Bengal it has morphed from a simple, healthy, easily digestible, good-for-all Khichdi to Bhuna Khichuri, the ultimate in rich, hard to digest, eat-at-your-own-risk food. I can write a volume on how Bengalis never seem to be able to make simple, healthy food. We cook on the premise that if it doesn't make you sweat when cooking and doesn't make you burn when eating then it ain't food. In fact, Shukto seems to be the only Bengali dish the uninitiated can have without risking repeated visits to the toilet. However, I am digressing.
This experiment did not turn out very well. I am not used to cooking very rich food. I habitually hold back on adding too much oil or spices. And I am always afraid of over cooking. These attributes are definitely not what you want when cooking Bhuna Kichuri. To start off, I roasted the dal a little too much. That by itself, would not have made much of a difference. But then, I used too little oil which made the rice stick to the bottom of the cooker and burnt some of it. I had used very little garam masala and the burnt rice spoiled the aroma. To crown it all, I burnt my thumb on the steam rising from the roasted dal. All in all, a very disappointing result. I haven't lost heart though. I am going to make Bhuna Khichuri again and again till I perfect it. Here is the recipe.

Recipe: Bhuna Khichuri

Ingredients (serves 1):
  1. Moong dal - 1/4 cup
  2. Rice - 1/2 cup
  3. Refined oil - as oily as you want it. (ghee is used traditionally, risk it if you want to)
  4. Onions - 2
  5. Green chillies - as hot you want to make it
  6. Ginger - a pinch
  7. Garam masala - ?? (how would I know, I used too little remember)
  8. Couple of whole red chilies .
  9. Haldi - 1/4 teaspoon.
  1. Dry roast the dal uniformly till they are light brown.
  2. Soak it in water for some time to soften it. Take care you don't burn your thumb in the steam. Wash dal when it gets cold.
  3. Wash and clean the rice.
  4. Heat the oil (or ghee if you were brave enough to use it) in a pressure cooker.
  5. Add the red chilies.
  6. Cut the onions, green chilies and ginger and add them to the oil.
  7. Fry till the onion turns light brown.
  8. Add the dal and the rice and stir so that all of it is uniformly fried. Take care that you don't over fry it. Stop frying just before it starts turning light brown.
  9. Add water. Don't flood the rice. Just add enough so that the level of water is about 1 cm above the level of rice and dal.
  10. Add the haldi for colour.
  11. Add salt to taste.
  12. Close the pressure cooker lid and let it cook.
  13. Take the cooker down from the fire after 3 whistles. Let it cool before opening it.
About Khichdi/Khichuri
Khichdi is one of the very few Indian culinary dishes which developed indigenously in India rather than being brought over by armies, traders or monks from other parts of the world. In Bengali tradition it is customary to cook khichuri during rainy days. It is also traditional in Bengal to cook khichuri as lunch at most of the popular pujas. Non-vegetarian versions of Khichdi are also popular. Prawn khichdi is popular in Maharashtra, while mutton khichuri is popular in Bengal. This dish has been exported all over the world in many forms - Kushari (the Arab equivalent), Congee (a type of rice porridge eaten in many Asian countries), Kedgeree (the Anglo-Indian version), etc. The Wikipedia entry for Khichdi is here.
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Friday, 6 June 2008

On finally having a single blog

I used to have three different blogs. But that was proving to be difficult to maintain. So, I have finally decided to delete all of them and move to this one. I wanted to use a custom domain name I had registered some time ago. But unfortunately, to do so I either have to use my own FTP server or pay the guys I registered my domain with to make it point to this blog. I don't want to do either. Well, will have to do for now.
The reason I had separate blogs for each of my interests was that I wanted to organize all my posts by topic and not by date. A bit like a website where you have one page for one topic, another page for a second topic and can navigate between topics using hyper links. Blogger, then, did not have supports for tags and so all that was not possible. Now that it does, I have found a neat trick to do the same. This is how it works:

  • Label each post according to its topic.
  • Create a linked list page element in the side-bar for links.
  • For each topic you are interested in, create a link with the url http://blog_url/search/label/label_name. This is the query Blogger creates when you search on a label.
  • Click on the link to view all posts on that topic.
I have created a section called LINKS on my side-bar. It contains links to my favourite blogs, etc. I have added three links called BookMarks, Cuisine and Movies. Clicking on any one of them will give you all posts on that topic. It works like quick search!
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Wednesday, 4 June 2008

Being Rajorshi Ghosh

I am made of the same dust as the stars.

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Monday, 2 June 2008

About The Blog

Once upon a time long long ago...I used to keep a diary. I hope to revive that habit with this blog. It is not a daily account of my life but rather a scratch pad where I can scribble whatever is on my mind. Movies, books and food are my three passions in life. So I expect most of my posts are going to be about them. I do have the habit of coming up with totally mundane and unremarkable insights about life from time to time. Some posts will doubtless be about those. In any case, whatever I put down here will probably be too personal or too insignificant to be of interest to anyone but myself. If however, you, who are currently reading this, decide to glance through what is in here, I hope you enjoy it.
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