apathy, a worse sin?

The media, and the social networks are full of discussions on police attitudes towards women, and rape, but what about the so-called aam aadmi?

At the very least, the cops got some sheets to cover them. I bet there were lots of educated people in that crowd, some would've even taken photographs on their phones. I bet, there were even women in that crowd. And yet, not one moved a muscle to help two obviously wounded human beings!

Something's very rotten in the state of India.

a call for statesmanship

* India tests Agni V. Most papers go ga-ga about India's pride and what-not
* The usual tabloids in China warn India against being arrogant (

Now, there are multiple debates on whether a country that has starving citizens, should be investing in missile technology or not. This is not a post about that. There are also debates about whether the Chinese are (rightly or wrongly) arrogant about their superior military prowess. Again, I do not wish to add to that debate.

Rather, this is a call to learn from history. Since, we're both old civilizations, we should be looking back to figure out, under what political, economic and social conditions, the greatest civilizational advances have come about. This is understandably difficult due to memories of the Indo-China war of 1962. But, if France and Germany after 2 centuries of war, could make peace, there's no reason why India, and China cannot.

It takes great statesmanship, to ignore the short-term political damage, to ignore the fears generated by the war-mongers, and take the first step towards establishing genuine friendship. It took Charles de Gaulle and Konrad Adenauer, to reach out and sign the Elysée Treaty. And then it took a further 10 years or so, for Willy Brandt and Pompidou to actually create bonhomie. But the silencing of the war-drums, and making a political commitment to friendship, has allowed their populace to interact, discover each other's culture, and establish relationships.

How much do we really know about China, their people, their myths, their taste in films, their familial structures, their traditions of birth/marriage/death? How much do they know about our literature, our art, our passion for food? Are we afraid of what we might find, if we knew them better? Would it be more difficult to mistrust them, if we knew that the commuters in Shanghai behave exactly like the commuters in Mumbai?

Perhaps the haiku by Iio Sogi captures it succintly:

morokoshi mo
ame shita to ya

Does not china also
lie beneath this selfsame sky
bound in misery

one of those scared witless days

I've decided that I'll submit my thesis, whatever shape or form it is in, by the end of February. For the most part, having a real deadline has been a good thing. It's forced me to work, with a purpose. Now, instead of endeavouring to make my thesis a literary masterpiece, I just want to push in all the stuff that I've done, over the years. There's always a fear of inadequacy, with doubts about whether someone else will trash it, or worse, just laugh at it. But usually, I shrug it off and just continue working.

But today, for some reason, all of the unspoken fears are flooding in. What rashness, this deadline? What foolish fancy, this thesis? A future uncertain, and gray.

So, I went in search of a poem to soothe my mind and came upon this one by Khalil Gibran. While I'm not uplifted or anything, it gives me the courage to plod on. Plod, plod, plod.

A Visit From Wisdom

In the stillness of night Wisdom came and stood
By my bed. She gazed upon me like a tender mother
And wiped away my tears, and said : 'I have heard
The cry of your spirit and I am come to comfort it.
Open your heart to me and I shall fill it with light.
Ask of me and I shall show you the way of truth.'

And I said : 'Who am I, Wisdom, and how came
I to this frightening place? What manner of things
Are these mighty hopes and these many books and
Strange patterns ? What are these thoughts that pass
As doves in flight? And these words composed by
Desire and sung by delight, what are they? What are
These conclusions, grievous and joyous, that embrace
My spirit and envelop my heart? And those
Eyes which look at me seeing into my depths and
Fleeing from my sorrows ? And those voices mourning
My days and chanting my littleness, what are they ?

'What is this youth that plays with my desires
And mocks at my longings, forgetful of yesterday's
Deeds, rejoicing in paltry things of the moment,
Scornful of the morrow's coming?

'What is this world that leads me whither I know
Not, standing with me in despising? And this earth
That opens wide its mouth to swallow bodies and
Lets evil things to dwell on its breast? What is this
Creature that is satisfied with the love of fortune,
Whilst beyond its union is the pit? Who seeks Life's
Kiss whilst Death does smite him, and brings the
Pleasure of a minute with a year of repentance, and
Gives himself to slumber the while dreams call him?
What is he who flows with the rivers of folly to the
Sea of darkness? O Wisdom, what manner of things
Are these?'

And she answered, saying :
'You would see, human creature, this world
Through the eyes of a god. And you would seek to
Know the secrets of the hereafter with the thinking
Of men. Yet in truth is this the height of folly.
'Go you to the wild places and you shall find
There the bee above the flowers and behold the eagle
Swooping down on his prey. Go you into your neighbor's
House and see then the child blinking at the
Firelight and his mother busied at her household
Tasks. Be you like the bee and spend not the days of
Spring looking on the eagle's doing. Be as the child
And rejoice in the firelight and heed not your Mother's affairs. All that you see with your eyes was And is for your sake.

'The many books and the strange patterns and
Beautiful thoughts are the shades of those spirits
That came ere you were come. The words that you
Do weave are a bond between you and your brothers.
The conclusions, grievous and joyous, are the
Seeds that the past did scatter in the field of the
Spirit to be reaped by the future. That youth who
Plays with your desires is he who will open the door
Of your heart to let enter the light. This earth with
The ever open mouth is the savior of your spirit from
The body's slavery. This world which walks with
You is your heart; and your heart is all that you
Think that world. This creature whom you see as
Ignorant and small is the same who has come from
God's side to learn pity through sadness, and knowledge
By way of darkness.'

Then Wisdom put her hand on my burning brow
And said:
'Go then forward and do not tarry, for before walks Perfection. Go, and have not fear of thorns
On the path, for they deem naught lawful save Corrupted blood.'

-- Khalil Gibran

A poem for the day

’T WAS such a little, little boat
That toddled down the bay!
’T was such a gallant, gallant sea
That beckoned it away!

’T was such a greedy, greedy wave
That licked it from the coast;
Nor ever guessed the stately sails
My little craft was lost!

-- Emily Dickinson

End of a journey

Ted Hughes is finally getting a plaque in Poets' Corner of Westminster Abbey. I felt like I should post the poem from which most newspapers are quoting, in their reportage.

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carrying an idea through

There have been numerous instances when I've had ideas that, I think, would've helped people. Rarely have I ever carried them through. From impracticability to sheer laziness, there has always been some excuse, not to go the extra mile. This once, however, I did push it through. The results predictably, have been less spectacular than I envisioned, but there's a feeling of stillness and calm, that's quite nice.

I've always had this feeling that Computer Scientists work in a bubble. Although computational techniques have made it out to the general scientific world, we, the actual practitioners, don't spend enough time listening to people who apply our research/techniques. There are researchers out there, that apply search techniques/agent-based modelling/neural networks/image processing algorithms to real problems in their domain. However, if they get stuck or need help choosing between three competing algorithms or (worse) work out which technique to avoid, they have no one to turn to. Save a chance meeting in a pub, or with a mutual friend, they have no way of asking a Computer Scientist for help.

I thought it would be nice if Computer Scientists, who borrowed all of their really cool problems from other domains, sat down in a room and invited researchers from other domains to talk about their computational problems. A 2-3 hr event would suffice, with 10-15 minute talks each. The amount of infrastructure needed for this is a room, a projector and some tea/biscuits! So I wrote it up as a one-page proposal to a something-or-the-other funding committee, and secured funding for poster-printing costs and tea for 30 people!

Of course, once it got approved, I was left holding a promise that I had to keep. Worked though getting posters, sticking them up on various walls in various departments, inviting people to talk, etc. The worst bit was getting Computer Scientists to sign on. Unfortunately, the event clashed with a faculty interview day, so most of the senior faculty couldn't legitimately turn up. What really disappointed me was that, barring about 4 friends whom I had personally talked to about the day, none of the PhD students or postdocs or junior faculty turned up! Most couldn't see any benefit in helping someone else!

Now, if it weren't for these friends who did turn up, the whole event would've been an embarrassing flop. As it turned out, they were probably just the right people for the event. Open to listening and making others feel at ease, they did manage to give pointers and make suggestions to the presenters.

Asking for help, even when one is invited to, is a difficult process. Not only does one have to translate one domain vocabulary into another, but one also has to overcome the hesitation involved in exposing one's ignorance. It it this that many in CS fail to appreciate. My faith in my own department is a little lesser now.

I don't feel bad for having organized an event, that depended on the kindness of others (in some sense). But I don't feel great either. I guess, this is good learning for when I carry through my next idea.

Dear Mr. Bukhari of Jama Masjid, Delhi

Dear Mr. Bukhari,

When your neighbour's kid has an accident in front of your eyes, you either help or you don't. When the blind man next to you on the bus totters, you either help or you don't. You help because you feel a part of a community; if you don't you're detached from it. Either way, it's your conscience, nobody else's.

Our society's foundations are rotten and there's a clamour to fix it before it collapses into anarchy. In typical Indian style, for every two persons, there's three ideas and four opinions. There's a lot of shouting, attention seeking, and multiple people trying to fix things in the way they see fit. It's haphazard and chaotic. None of us knows for certain whether anything substantial will change, but we'd still rather clamour and shout than be silent. For to be silent, is to acquiesce.

If any part of you has chafed at having to lie for a gas connection; if a little part of you died when you got your driver's license without really taking a test, then this is your fight too. Join in, if you feel like it; reflect and withdraw if you don't. But for heavens' sake, don't wait for a stamped invitation letter.

homosexuality and playing it 'cool'

Just came across an article ( by a student from IIT-Madras, chronicling his attempts to 'come out'. Saddened by the amount of hypocrisy that exists in Indian society. Most teenagers today would claim to be 'cool' with it and make lots of jokes about it, but when someone from their own tribe 'fesses up, equations change. This is the problem with 'cool'. Everyone wants to be cool and therefore lies/misrepresents themselves, in clothing, in attitudes, in habits they claim to have. One of my friends, doing her PhD on a related subject, called it "Impression Management". I hate it, but I do it too. Everybody does it, but some people let it take over their lives. And this, I believe, is the real barrier towards opening your mind to ideas/concepts that you don't agree with.

When one expresses an honest disagreement, there is scope for debate and there is scope for reconciliation. But when you profess to be 'cool' with it, no one really knows if you really agree with it, including yourself. Because, when you have a mask on for a long time, the mask merges with the real face and soon, it's difficult to take it off.

When you're really cool with something, you don't think about it. You really don't spend any time or thought deciding on how to react. When was the last time your decision about a person, to be friends with or not, to marry or not, to respect or not, hinged on whether they were left-handed or not?