The pleasure of giving

It’s a yearly tradition now, where I go on about how the best part about being a moderator in Stack Exchange network of sites is when you get to donate to any charity of your choice from the short list.

Nothing has changed. Despite the many awesome things that I get to witness in the community, the one thing that gives me utmost happiness is when I click the ‘Submit’ button to the “Giving Back” Charity form after making my selection. The pleasure, I feel, is more with the person who is giving rather than with the person who is receiving.

And so, this year, I have chosen to donate my share of $100 to Doctors Without Borders (MSF – Médecins Sans Frontières) and feel quite good about doing so. Thank you Stack Exchange for giving me this opportunity.

Read more about Stack Exchange giving back 2016.

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Back to how it used to be

People were out of their houses. They were on the streets. They were waiting. Waiting like restless kids wait for their school bells to ring so they can scoot home. Waiting like it was the first time their houses were being powered up.

And finally, the power was restored. A collective sigh of relief could be visibly felt and the people dropped their time-filling empty conversations with their neighbours and quickly returned to their honeycombs, with puzzling purpose.

And I connected to the Internet right away, unable to wait any longer.

Just like that, the struggles of the past three and a half days were forgotten and I was ready to live in the present, ready to live the now. Now, which was how it used to be.


Cyclone on the cards. It was raining, cool and windy. The perfect weather for sleeping and sleeping I did plenty. Just enough to pass the first day.

What to do on the second? Or the third? It was hard passing minutes for power-slaved people like me, who thrive on power for everything. Everything.

Running out of water and running out for water. Fridge becomes a glorified cupboard. Day ends when the sun sets. Daylight saving needs no reminding.

People were out of their houses. They were on the streets. In the queues for some water and hoping things will be back to how it used to be.

We were back to how it used to be.

 

My little contribution to Doctors without Borders

It’s always an honour and a privilege to be a moderator in a Stack Exchange site. Every December, the company offers to make a $100 donation to a charity of our choice on the behalf of us moderators. It’s a touching gesture and one that I am proud to be a part of.

Some of you may remember my donation to Wikimedia foundation back in 2013 and I regret to admit that I missed the donation offer email in 2014 amid my inbox flooding. But no such thing shall happen again and I remembered to stay on top of my inbox this time around.

I made up my mind to choose Doctors Without Borders because of their selfless act of service, who don’t mind putting themselves in risky zones just to do what they love doing the most — helping people, regardless of their political stance.

Such compassionate people have to be encouraged and I will use this opportunity to do exactly that. So, thank you selfless doctors of Médecins Sans Frontières for your contributions to the humanity and thank you Stack Exchange for making me feel good about myself.

Read more about Stack Exchange giving back this year.

A month of blogging – NaBloPoMo

Heyo. This time last year I was prepping myself to give a try at cracking NaNoWriMo. NaNoWriMo is a novel writing exercise for the weak-hearted who don’t quite have the drive to get started on writing a novel without external motivation. I tried my hand at it and I failed miserably. Going through whatever work I wrote last year, I realised I have plenty of things to learn and figure before I sincerely start on writing a novel.

So I thought maybe I should take it a little easy this year around, read more novels, learn the art of telling stories and generally keep myself interested in writing. Which lead me to NaBloPoMo — the event which I hope will persuade me to continue writing regularly on a schedule, help me improve on generating and incubating ideas as well as hone my writing skills.

So here I am, promising to post once every day (starting with this one) for the whole of November — that would be 30 posts in just a month and hopefully will be the change that reinvigorates this blog and my interest in blogging and writing.

I’ll mostly write about topics that I hope are worth thinking about a little and maybe discuss with some of you if possible. Do stick around for the month and we’ll have a jolly good time together, surely.

Russian Acrobatic Dance Festival

Last Friday, I attended a Russian Acrobatic Dance Festival in Chennai. It was free and fun. It was also an opportunity for me to exercise my photography skills. Without further delay, let me now allow you to enjoy the dance festival at no cost! (And please do forgive my photography. Still at amateur level.)

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The festival was organised by Indo-Russian Chamber of Commerce & Industries as an exercise of friendship and cultural exchange. The event was decorated by the presence of late actor Shivaji Ganesan’s son Ramkumar as well as the Russian Consulate General stationed in Chennai, Nikolay Listopadov.

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The event, predictably, began with the classical display of Bharathanatyam. And then a lot of peppy music and Russian acrobatic dance!

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It seemed the Russian girls were just too happy to be performing that you could almost never catch them not smiling.

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I probably wouldn’t mind attending the event again next year or so. It was a fun filled Friday evening after all. 🙂

The Hindu Lit For Life – Day 3 Reflections

I know it’s a little late to post about Day 3. I took a little break before I could get myself to write about it. Anyway, let’s get on with this.

Moral policing in Cinema

Possibly the highlight of the three day event, which was well illustrated by the bulging crowd at the start of the session (and not so at the end of it). Kamal Haasan was there, taking jabs at anything and everything that bothers him, from the redundant CBFC because of social media, educated intelligence being an obstacle to cinema, the populist game of the Tamil Nadu state government by capping the movie tickets and the commercial cinema that has no interest in civic responsibility.

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In his conversation with K. Hariharan, he remarked ‘Allegories are not present in (Tamil) cinema’ and that they use characters from life. And he has useful advice for a wannabe dictator — “Voices should be heard, not suppressed’. He clearly is not fond of the protectionist reaction, which he claims is ailing the industry.

The point of travelling

Travel writers Colin Thubron and William Dalrymple indulge themselves in the joys of travel writing and why it persists as long as it has. Colin was convinced travel is ‘one culture looking at another’ and this ignorance of the newcomer and their sharp eye towards minute details gives a vivid picture of the inhabitant, who most often takes these details for granted and wouldn’t have paid attention to it if not for the newcomer.

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Colin was also wary of using humour as a tool in travel writing. While humour can be a very useful source of entertainment, it can be dangerous if not used properly and comes across as condescending to the host culture.

Thoughts on sex and female sexuality

I must say I am lucky to have been in this session and getting a wealth of information about female sexuality, which would have remained inaccessible if not for the generous session from Naomi Wolf. Thank you for that, Ms. Wolf!

She has great concerns about how the sexual revolution, which involved an unleashing of pornography and the abundant sexual discourse, has not greatly benefited female sexuality. Her discomfort with discussing sexual pleasure among other things only made the session realistic and engaging — instead of a more harmful robotic delivery of a very sensitive topic.

There was a question put up by one of the audience – What’s the point of all these new info if she can’t exercise her right?. I think the answer possibly comes from Kamal Haasan’s session, where he is adamant a sudden overdose of freedom (relaxed censorship in movie making) would only have a detrimental effect — similar to children in a confectionery. Putting it in context, granting sexual freedom to the Indian women completely would negatively impact the feminist movement. Instead, this process should be carefully crafted, especially since our society is very conservative.

And a quote to remember:

Pleasure empowers women. Psychologically, intellectually and politically.

The majestic tigers of India

Valmik Thapar was angry (and I am saying that in the nicest way possible). He was calling for a way to end the bureaucratic, incompetent mess that is our Government. From the outdated laws in the constitution to the absurdly useless Red Tape, he was very happy to be tearing at them.

His call for including the passionate stakeholders at various levels of decision making only makes sense – but of course, the Government wouldn’t just agree with things that make sense!

The Writing life (or the lack thereof)

It is always exciting to get a little snoop into the personal lives of others (much less celebrities). And here I am, hearing Jim Crace plays solitaire instead of getting on with his damn work!

More seriously, both Jim and Samantha Shannon feels this prerogative of being writers is a burden — occasional feeling of not deserving to be a writer. They grew into realization that reviews and reviewers should be given their own space and that everyone has different opinions and be acceptable of the fact that not everyone likes everyone else’s writing.

I was greatly delighted when Jim noted Writing a bad novel is hard enough. It put a pleasant smile on my face. 🙂

It’s a wrap

At the end of the day (forgive me for the cliché), I was longing for more. I didn’t want this event to end and yet it did. I wasn’t presenting a tearful departure but it was awfully close to that. Wishing to take part in Lit For Life next year!

The Hindu Lit For Life – Day 2 Reflections

Let’s hear me talk about the second day of The Hindu Lit For Life. This time, I brought my classmate along with me for extra comfort and companionship. And it helped — I believe — to some extent — surely — it really helped, I am not kidding!

So, anyway, I grew smarter and wore a long sleeve shirt just to prevent myself shivering through most part of the event. And I am going to imagine that helped me fall asleep pay careful attention to the sessions.

I am going to make this reflection short and sweet because, well, I feel exhausted after two long days of intellectual exercise and I am missing out on some helpful sleep. And, Kamal Haasan is making his presence tomorrow!

History of the ancient India

Romila Thapar, quite evidently a veteran in the field, wasn’t in agreement with the colonial scholars’ opinion that ancient India (especially Indus civilization) was ahistorical and Indian past was oriental despotism. She said the question of whether there were any historical records is irrelevant and I am going to agree with that.

She also commented that Mahabharatha was an Ithikasa and was believed to have happened (with layers added onto it over time) whereas Ramayana was a Kavya and has had more literary aspects to it. She being an expert in this field should very well know about this more than I do but that particular comment was quite surprising to me. I imagined both these Indian epics have a grounded real version and I am only partially correct.

Adding onto that, she remarked epics are ‘repository of recording consciousness’ and not historical text. However, I do think epics give a general idea of the way of life in the ancient India. For example, the practice of polyandry by Drowpadi and the clan system in Mahabarath and importantly kingship politics that existed several thousand years ago — the current day politics don’t even match to that.

Despair for mega cities?

There was an unison agreement that the cities ought to be crucibles of democracy yet they are turning out to be crucibles of inequality. The advent of xenophobic vibe in Mumbai was a genuine cause of concern.

I however am not sure which camp I would find myself in if there was a similar movement going on in Chennai. The lack of effort from the urban migrants to culturally merge into their destination cities irks me occasionally. I am glad these irks are temporary — but only at the moment. I also find myself in a dilemma — because everything I hate about the migrants of my city was what I was doing in my four-year stint in Singapore.

Travelling in Tibet

Colin Thubron did well to tingle my senses for travelling. I feel I am missing out on a huge part of life and what it has to offer to me simply because I am not travelling.

Colin reminded me something I had known before – Tibetans leave the dead bodies out in the open to be consumed by the vultures. It is very much a unique exercise in the entirety of the human race, where people prefer and wish to be buried, cremated or even martyred. But not Tibetans, who manage to stay not larger than life and continue to show modesty and dignity, in their true ways.

Tall tales

Aswin Sanghi defined mythology as ‘a touch of truth with several layers on it’. He also touched on a point that I have been labouring for quite some time. That divinity are things that are yet to be explained; that it is an element of unknown.

Samantha Shannon seemed uninterested in censoring books, especially to children. She makes it a point that books are a safe place to experience what the children would experience later in their life. In a world that makes a ‘spectacle out of violence’, she thinks there is thrill from danger without needing to experience it first-hand.

Revisiting the history books

William Dalrymple made me re-realize what it feels to get back to the history books. Everything of value comes right from it and it is almost surprising how we manage to get away from it despite having it right under our eyesight. I am going to begin by grabbing the nearest copy of ‘Freedom by Midnight’ and hopefully finish it within the next month (February).

The great lie that is fiction

“Fiction is the great lie that tells the truth” claimed Dorothy Allison. Or so claimed Abraham Varghese that Dorothy claimed so. Whatever. The point was, Abraham showed what true passion can do — make you really mad that is.

He also left this gem about finding one’s voice when writing:

When you’ve written something that your spouse finds deeply disturbing, you have found your voice.

And I took his little advice for wannabe writers to the heart: Read, read and read. I hope to update my little reading wish-list and keep to it at once.