Sunday, May 31, 2009

Sunfeast 10k run - second edition

The weather was gorgeous this year. I knew the contours of the route really well. Knowing which parts slope up and which sections slope down, I had imagined, would help me pace myself better. I thought I even had practised better this time. Which is why I was a little disappointed that I ran only slightly better than last year - 53 minutes. I kept good pace till the 8th km, but the energy I had hoped would be there for the last burst didn't show up. The sense of accomplishment that I felt after the race last year was missing.

This morning, however, when I woke up, all the muscles in my lower body registered their protest in unison. You might see me grimace when I climb down the stairs today, but trust me I'm not complaining. I've never felt more alive.

Friday, May 29, 2009

When I take over the world there will be Civil Uniform Code

I am browsing for a new pair of jeans. After just a short search I find the perfect pair. Before I can complete my celebration, C stops me and tells me that they are out of fashion. I say "But hey, they are comfortable, they are not too expensive and the crotch has just the right roominess!" and he tells me "but they are so 80s". He is not the kinds who thinks about invisible consensus-building cultural forces that make you believe that bell-bottoms are cool today but inexcusable tomorrow. He will probably never provide me a scientific explanation for why one thing is more fashionable than the other but he is so smug and secure that he knows better.

In this blog I take a lot of digs at institutions, such as Religion and Patriotism, that coax you into blind conformance. Fashion can be a mean beast too. Over the years I have done a lot of thinking on the topic of why we are so judgemental about people based on what they are wearing. At one point I was convinced that black t-shirts and cargo pants are the only articles of outer clothing that I ever need. They cover enough of my skin to not hurt anybody's fragile sentiments and they are comfortable and maintenance free. And black is better than white because the dirt doesn't show. However, I know I will never be able to bring this homogeneity to my wardrobe without being socially ostracized. I set about figuring out why the world is so obsessed with what everybody else is wearing.

Fashion is a leftover instinct from the times when, as cavemen, we imitated the most successful individuals among us in the hope that we too could replicate their social and sexual accomplishments. This explains why in Victorian England women wanted to be like the fat noblewomen or fatter, and these days girls want to be like Princess Diana or thinner. I know I'm trivializing here, but that theory combined with the structured analysis of the memetics approach can explain a lot of our behavior. Economics has a huge role to play. Models, Marketers, Advertising professionals, investors, designers and entrepreneurs all have a vested interest in making the obsolescence cycles shorter and shorter so that you get tired of your clothes before you've washed them twice. Clothes of course are a way to advertize our pedigree too. I don't have feathers that I can unfurl, so I'll get myself an Armani suit. That will be the topic for another post. In this one, let me just fret about the impact.

If people didn't feel the pressure to wear different shoes for different occasions and carry different handbags with different clothes, a lot of cows, alligators and deer would be saved. We probably wouldn't have girls dying from anorexia, if we didn't overestimate the penalties of being fat. If we didn't stand exasperated in front of the wardrobe every morning and not think about how repetitive we've started to appear, a lot of time would definitely be saved. A lot of money, needless to say. A whole lot of pettiness too.

I think about how Gandhi wore the same dress whether he was meeting the queen in London or a villager in Champaran. He must have cared a rat's ass about what the other person was wearing too. That's my idea of freedom! That's where I'd like civilization to go. We've gone beyond and conquered several of our genetic predispositions and I'm sure at some point in the next million years we'll stop letting fashion dictate so much of our lives too.

Meanwhile, C is trying out a really trendy shirt. I ask him to take a picture and show it to his kid 15 yrs from now. In all likelihood she will say "What were you thinking?". She probably will start laughing too. I must be far ahead of my time, because I'm already doing that.

Sunday, May 17, 2009


After this weekend nobody has the right to question my secular credentials. It started off when my nephew asked me for a donation to his church. They've convinced the poor guy that there will be more peace in this world if they expand that particular building. I did send him on a little introspection about why religious folks do what they do. Since I'm against indoctrinating kids into any particular belief system, I stopped before his head got too muddled. I gave him a 100 and told him to buy ice cream. He got the hint.

For reasons that are too complicated to explain I visited a temple in Ulsoor. The only temple my family normally visits is the Shiva temple in Sadashivanagar on Shivaratri. That tradition began when I was a kid and my incentive to go there was that I got to see Dr.Rajkumar who visited the place, like clockwork, at exactly 7:30 on Shivaratri evening. Veerappan, old-age and eventually death caused him not to come anymore, but I don't have the heart to break our little family tradition.

Then we went to the Ulsoor Gurudwara. I love the sense of community that is so central to the Punjabi culture. The langar and seva are indescribably heart-warming, and their underlying principles might just be the formula that will save the human race.

I am secure in my atheism, but if there was a law that everybody had to pick a religion, mine would be Buddhism. The day wouldn't be complete without a trip to the Buddhist temple. I always knew of this unassuming buddhist place of worship near my house and yesterday was a good time to go there. Its a fascinating place. As A put it "I love places that make you shut up without anybody having to tell you to do it". The unhurriedness really lent some bizarre profoundness to the atmosphere. The rains lashed while we were inside and that made it even more surreal. If it wasn't for the noise of the traffic, this would be a great introspection sanctuary.

The mosque will have to wait till next weekend.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

No more visits to the hospital please

There must be a name that psychologists give to this instinct that I'm going to describe. You know you have a fear, or hope, but you don't want to frame it in words lest you jinx it. Like saying it aloud gives it a reality that then awakens the evil prankster in Murphy or Gabriel or whoever it is that drives fate with a sense of humor. I know the feeling is irrational, so I'm going to say this loud. I don't want to visit hospitals anymore.

It all began with that well-documented completely unsavory trip to the hospital for my medical test. And now it seems I keep having reasons to go there over and over again. Last week, A had to spend a night because she had an attack of Hyperventilation Syndrome. The knowledge that I was the cause was especially onerous. Last night S-man occupied a bed at the hospital because the doctor suspected Typhoid. The dude is an ambassador of sorts for all things dionysian. To watch him lie wistfully there was very skippable. Bounce back bro.

Health to all. Amen.

Sunday, May 10, 2009


S-di was the guest of honor this weekend and we decided to show her around this part of the world. Devarayanadurga was one of the chosen destinations. They say you don't discuss politics and religion with someone you just met, but that's exactly what we ended up doing on the drive. I had resisted talking about it till she unintentionally used Atheism and Anarchy in the same sentence almost implying that they were cause-and-effect. I'll come back to that in a while.

The weather was great at the top. We picked a random hill and decided to reach the top. We hadn't trekked more than a kilometer before we realized that it was a bad idea. The shrub jungle which we were drudging through was half burnt presumably in a recent wild fire. In no time, all of us looked like commandoes with black streaks all over our clothing. We chose to turn around.

Now, in these parts, every hill worth its bulge has a little temple on top and this one had a rather famous place of worship. Apparently, there was a special ceremony at 11 that day and a bunch of people had turned up from all over. It was bad news for us because our car was blocked by a dozen other cars and trucks all arranged in the kind of imaginative patterns that only divinity can explain. It was extremely frustrating to track down all the drivers in the crowd and carefully unravel the arrangement so that I could get my chariot out. It almost ruined the trip for us. The only saving grace was that we now know that not all anarchy is caused by atheism

Tuesday, May 05, 2009

Recession, Swine flu and other inconveniences

Both S and I are under mountains of debt and we have never been on more shaky professional ground, but yet I know, we both are looking at the recession and the swine flu and going "That might just be a good thing". The hamster was running so hard in the wheel that it was going to kill itself. Slowing the wheel down might just give the tired animal enough of chance to escape out without getting too hurt. Enough of the metaphor.

I believe that in our lifetimes materialism will become very uncool, probably even a taboo. Hoarding will too. I foresee my grandchild reading about Warren Buffett and asking "Really? Again, why did you guys celebrate him?". Changes like this work better when coerced by a benevolent dictator, but that can never happen at this stage in our civilization (and that's a good thing). Unfortunately, given our love of democracy and consensus, this change will happen when its rather late.

Lately I've surrounded myself with people who are considered freaks now, but I can see them clearly being the pioneers of a new set of socially enforced moral imperatives that will keep this planet usable for a few more generations. I've been influenced too. I've honestly stopped equating a comfortable life to a good life. I look at meat and I feel almost no temptation (I admit I still have a weakness for Koshy's beef burger). The other day my cab-mate was describing the new Honda Accord and I had zoned out. I almost felt a pity for him "The future will be hard on you, my friend". I cycle to work twice a week. I feel guilty almost every time I take my car out. My next vehicle will be on the other side of the oil economy upheaval.

And yet, I travel more than I should. In preparing for my retirement, I've contributed significantly to the real estate bubble. I still buy too many things that I don't need. I wrote this post on a piece of paper sitting at a coffee shop that sells at a ridiculous premium. When I pause my writing, I look at my Sheaffer admiringly. I have a long way to go.