Panic Attacks of a Returning Indian

Panic attacks, not Paris attacks. Although my condolences and solidarity is with them. I know I've been writing some really serious stuff on my blog almost exclusively, and that it's been a while since I wrote something lighthearted from my everyday life. In the desperate attempt to keep my blog relevant, I have sought refuge in promotional posts, movie reviews (which is worth it) and global issues. A panic move, perhaps. I have really been busy off late with work and otherwise. But as I am gearing up to spend most of December with family back in India and Christmas with my dearest friends, I might have found something to write about.

So, here goes.

I got a message from my sister a few days back. I read it while I was half asleep - 'I have emailed you a list of things you have to get me when you come home'. Alarmed, I woke myself up frantically and tried to get hold of the nearest gadget to view the email in it's full resolution. Reading emails from my sister on the cellphone just don't do justice to the temerity of her demands. The list didn't disappoint.

Reading such lists from my sister makes me uncomfortable. You suddenly feel vulnerable, like someone has kidnapped your dog and has demanded for your dirty underwear as ransom. Reading down the email, I gasped at the repeated occurrence of pop culture couturiers like Victoria's Secret (perfume, but does it matter?) and Chanel and Michael Kors. I closed the email. Turned the power off on the tablet and burned it. I must leave no evidence that I have read and acknowledged this email. Only till a few days ago, her stance was a pleasantly surprising "I'm happy you're coming home for Christmas, what more can I ask for?" - It did sound too good to be true! I should've grabbed the moment. Damn.

The Golden Age of Internet and Television

Remember the days when watching TV was associated with a looming guilt? 'Mumma-Papa are not home yet, let's steal some minutes of TV' - I bet I was not the only one to get such cheap thrills back in the late 90s. "Go play outside" they'd say. We were frequently reminded of the idea that watching TV is a lazy and time-wasting investment. We tend to associate with that idea time and again, when we say we 'binge-watched' something! As if to say that we have something better to do with our lives.

And to be realistic, they were correct. We did have better things to do than to watch TV. If you ask me, the last time we were glued to a TV set, it was when we had 'Hum Paanch', 'Sarabhai vs Sarabhai', 'Dekh Bhai Dekh', 'Office Office', 'Disney Hour', 'Small Wonder' and 'F.R.I.E.N.D.S' among many others. And then suddenly, the idiot box got corrupted with scripted soap operas that focused less on the script and more on Numerology and Vastu. Not long ago, the only reason I had the TV was to watch cricket and watch the news while I eat a mundane dinner. Rarely, movies too.

And then, if you turned out to be like me - a self-proclaimed TV connoisseur - Tony Soprano died (or did he?) to the tune of "Don't Stop Believing" and the world of TV watching changed forever. Albeit it had already changed in America, it took it's sweet time in India.

Danny Boyle's 'Steve Jobs' - A REVIEW

"Set backstage at three iconic product launches and ending in 1998 with the unveiling of the iMac, Steve Jobs takes us behind the scenes of the digital revolution to paint an intimate portrait of the brilliant man at its epicenter.

Steve Jobs is directed by Academy Award® winner Danny Boyle and written by Academy Award® winner Aaron Sorkin, working from Walter Isaacson’s best-selling biography of the Apple founder. The producers are Mark Gordon, Guymon Casady of Film 360, Scott Rudin, Boyle and Academy Award®winner Christian Colson.

Michael Fassbender plays Steve Jobs, the pioneering founder of Apple, with Academy Award®-winning actress Kate Winslet starring as Joanna Hoffman, former marketing chief of Macintosh. Steve Wozniak, who co-founded Apple, is played by Seth Rogen, and Jeff Daniels stars as former Apple CEO John Sculley. The film also stars Katherine Waterston as Chrisann Brennan, Jobs’ ex-girlfriend, and Michael Stuhlbarg as Andy Hertzfeld, one of the original members of the Apple Macintosh development team."

After the 1 theater play, 3 feature films, 3 graphic novels, 9 documentaries, 14 books and a few other sources that probably deserve more mention than I'm ready to offer right now, the world couldn't have been more prepared for Danny Boyle's cinematic take on the iconic Steve Jobs. And while the other 3 feature films couldn't dig into the legendary figure to make any difference, it took a great cinematic team and their extremely unconventional form of storytelling to make a dent.

But first, I must say that this movie might not have been possible without the making of the 2010 biographical drama 'The Social Network' by David Fincher. That movie opened doors to the idea that even the most nerdiest of tech giants are worthy of a profitable storytelling. A key takeaway message from that movie was it's pacing and the award-winning music (by Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross) that provided the movie with a false sense of an edge-of-the-seat thriller while not actually being one! It must've been some kind of a breakthrough because the moviegoers really seemed to like it - the edgy, up-beat contemporary music and fast pacing of the movie seemed to go well with the retelling of one of the fastest growing industries in our lifetime.

Oscar winner director Danny Boyle might've have kept this in mind before making this movie as you find the similar ingredients in his depiction of Steve Jobs.

Why India would miss Kalam

I had two absolutely polar, but extreme reactions to the same news today.

I had just started working on the day's work-plan in the lab, when I got a text message from my dad - 'APJ has passed away'. Unlike half of other Indians (or perhaps much like them), I sighed, put the phone back in my pocket, turned up the volume on some Audioslave and quietly resumed work. I had a long day ahead of me and I definitely needed to get on with it. Moreover I had skipped coffee today morning as I was late to work.

I'm not much of an amiable person without coffee in the morning.

There are a lot of designations and honors that apply to Dr. APJ Abdul Kalam. President of India. 'Missile Man'. Scientist. Writer. MTV youth icon (twice, notably). Bharat Ratna. Many many more. This eminent personality passed away yesterday, owing to a massive heart-attack, while giving a lecture to the students at IIM Shillong. Poetic, one would say. He passed away doing what he much loved doing in his later life - inspiring the youth of the country.

I've had two instances at least, as far as I can remember, where I met Dr. Kalam face to face - one, at my school for an occasion I don't remember anymore. It would be sometime in 2008 or earlier. He might have been the President of India still, or had just stepped down from office. Next time I met him - and this time, I was much closer to have even touched his feet (something I do not much do naturally, much to my father's ire) - I was in IIT Bombay and he had come to inaugurate the new Biology Research building.

I do not know if I did that out of respect as the Indian-ness took over me overwhelmingly, or I just did it to feel some kind of an awe-inspiring connection with this charismatic figure. One thing that I could tell this last time was that he was really comfortable among students, who thrived to catch a glimpse of this 80 year old man. To us, this grandfather of a man was the coolest dude alive in India! (Ha-ha.. there's a weirdly healthy irony here). I stopped working for a while and smiled at myself as these thoughts passed my mind. The only Indian in my lab stepped in and asked me if I had heard the news of his passing away.

"Well, he was old. So it shouldn't come as a surprise, right?" I said, very much nonchalantly.
"I guess you're right.." she said quietly and returned to her work.

I don't get so touchy with natural death. The 'circle of life' philosophy runs deep in my understanding, since The Lion King still is my most favorite movie of all time. But something told me that I was borderline rude about my nonchalance, which mildly surprised me.

'Merica, 4th of July and Sexy Eyes

And suddenly the mundane fourth day of July isn't as mundane as it used to be.

All these years around this time, I'd be sitting through this hot summer day wondering what else to do except finishing that painting I started but never completed, except that holiday homework of 'writing an incessant essay on the second war of Panipat' in at least 120 pages and except practicing for the gymnastic classes I had been coaxed into signing up for. Really, this day had no meaning for me when I was a kid. It was usually the beginning of a very long summer holiday. We'd be collecting our WWE trump cards and taking the neighborhood up by a storm as we'd ride on our bicycles (and/or tricycles) and race against each other to songs of 'Eye of the Tiger' and 'Final Countdown' right around this time.

Why was Tim Hunted?

The legal system back home in India has gone bonkers over the recent furor raised by some lame sexist comments made by a supposedly sexist scientist at a conference in South Korea. Taking cue from the swift judgment in this case, lawmakers are seeking to sign MOUs with the respective CEOs of Facebook, Twitter and Tinder to fast-track the much needed improvement in the justice system of the country. Bright days ahead for the states, won't you say?

As those connected to my Facebook profile and worldwide Twitter feed know, life took a darker turn recently for celebrated biochemistry researcher and failed stand-up comedian, Dr. Tim Hunt. But considering that he has bagged a Knighthood and the Nobel Prize in this lifetime, they say that this dark turn is perhaps only a couple shades darker in the array of all the 50 different shades of Grey. He would now retire and dedicate the rest of his life to growing quince trees in his backyard English garden. Or gingers, for the much-needed piquancy in his Earl Grey, of course.

"Let me tell you about my trouble with girls," the Nobel Laureate reportedly said last Monday at the World Conference of Science Journalists in South Korea. "Three things happen when they are in the lab. You fall in love with them, they fall in love with you, and when you criticize them, they cry." Sadly the report did not further state what the professor was smoking at that time or where can one acquire the same.

The Language of Science

English, the lingua franca of modern world, has definitely done it's share in improving our knowledge of science. But does it also draw a divide and restrict those who do not have access to it? In this post, I'd like to sum up few interesting things that I've come across, on the topic: numerous POVs, a TED talk, a few scientific letters and a couple of articles, a few lessons in history, but mostly my bit of some loud-mouthed thinking as usual.

At the heart of this chain of thought is actually a trivial conversation in my office, where Andrew - who was peering into his laptop otherwise - made a comment on how easy we have it with most research papers being published in English. Me and Stefania chimed in, in agreement. To my knowledge, this group of casual chit-chatters had a cumulative knowledge of at least seven languages: Hindi, Bengali, French, Spanish, Italian, Sanskrit (at least in principle) and of course, English. (But even though we mutually tease each other's accents time and again) I and Stef were, in no doubt, supportive of Andrew's sense of relief in our being able to read most of the relevant research articles in English.

But why is it indeed, that most (all) of the scientific literature we refer to, are actually in English? Why is it that English has been chosen as the prime language of the free-thinking contemporary world?

Hacking, Paving and Pulling the Plug

I've had a few realizations in the last few weeks (that's two few use of the word few)!

The first realization, is that I have no time to actually sit down and write down things on this blog. And there's also the fact that I almost killed this blog. I downloaded all the data and pulled the plug on it unceremoniously, for a few days. It lost a couple of images (as you'd have noticed already, if you had visited earlier). But anyway, looks like it didn't want to die and just like the most famous zombie of the world, it remained dead for 3 days and woke up to life on the third. It was a Sunday.

Happy Easter, everyone!

The other realization is that my gaming account got hacked. No big deal, just that after slogging in the lab for awhile, I suddenly inferred that I have not been putting the $59.99 game of FIFA'15 to good use. I should be playing on it, trying to up my Ultimate Team, trying to defeat Brazil playing with India, and trying to beat the crap out of Chelsea in the English Premier League by customizing the CPU settings to set the settings for injury frequency and injury severity at their highest. So, Hazard, Diego Costa and Terry were all in the hospital the last time I was playing the game. Manchester United is 7 points clear on top of the table. Taking Terry out was an accident though. He didn't really matter in the whole scheme of Chelsea's now erstwhile plan of European domination.

Anyway, it so happened that I suddenly couldn't log in to my account anymore. The whole security and privacy settings seemed to have been modified and it was rerouting me to some page that required me to enter a security code that was supposedly delivered to my cellphone. Except that, it wasn't. I panicked and called up the customer service guy.

Various Cult Movie References in Shriram Raghavan's 'Badlapur'


I'm mildly surprised that not one movie review of Shriram Raghavan's neo-noir story, 'Badlapur' has mentioned the various apparent, some not-so-apparent, others subtle and the vague cult movie references hidden in this gem of a movie.

To associate this beauty with Bollywood is perhaps the ultimate masterstroke. Because no one will expect what's going to happen in the very next scene, which you rather expect from even an average Hollywood production. You know it in the back of your head, but if what you know happens, that'll be outrageous to pull off in Bollywood! The movie was a simple revenge-crime drama, and it is only the direction, editing and acting behind the execution of the movie, that has turned the table back on against the simplicity of the story. If you've been watching a lot of Korean serial killer movies, you'd perhaps have understood where this was heading. Yes, even the climax, I believe.

Here's a list of all the movie references I found in the movie:

America, Valentine's Day, and the Greatest Show on Earth!

A positive result in the lab was all I wanted on the day preceding the opening day of the ICC Cricket World Cup 2015, which for me, was on the day before the Valentine's Day. And boy, the Western Blot didn't disappoint me - a little nerdy moment there.

And in the wake of the good result in the lab, I realized that I could suddenly leave earlier than usual. I reached home at 5 and quickly tuned the TV to the streaming of the first game of the tournament. Sri Lanka versus New Zealand. And the first innings of the game was a good example to teach a fellow American (and also the average Indian armchair critic who has never played cricket beyond his own batting in gully cricket) of how a long format of the game can be exciting and extremely dynamic. The game shifted sides so easily, swaying initially towards the hosts in the beginning and rather extremely, towards the end. While Herath and Lakmal tried to wrench it back in the visitor's favor during the middle overs. Aah well, the point is, I called Jason over and he immediately developed a likening for the game, which I was totally delighted about!

After the first innings we headed to Proof (our backyard brewery, where the whole department hangs out on Friday), where the rest of the gang were already schmoozing. We joined in late and the conversation mildly drifted to cricket, which is really a big deal because hello, this is the United States of America where cricket is chugged down like the worm larvae in the mescal. They immediately draw parallels with baseball, which itself is an endemic sport in this country.

This is the explanation that Marina gave me at the pub:

"So.. cricket is like baseball, played on a strip in the park.."
"Pitch. Ground. And no, it's not really like baseball.. but go on.."
"Okay, so there are two sticks, that two hitters guard.."
"Stumps. Wickets. And batsman.."
"Okay, so the batsmen try to hit the ball with their sticks.. or is it called a bat?"
"So, the pitcher throws the ball at the batsmen, who try to hit the ball around the park.."
"Bowler. Bowling. Batsman.. yes, go on.."
"And then you score points, God knows how.."
"Runs, not points.. but.." and that's when I stopped and transfigured into Amitabh Bachchan, only to shout out the famous Kaun Banega Crorepati (the Indian version of 'Who Wants To Be A Millionaire') dialogue, "Miss Lauck.. you have created HISTORY!!!"

Who the Fuck is Charlie?

Seriously, who the fuck is Charlie? And why the fuck am I being asked to be him?! I think I'm offended. You want me to say je suis Charlie.. ├ža me fait chier!

The journalists at Charlie Hebdo - cartoonists, artists, media, idealists, provocateurs, obnoxious, anarchists and say what, in some ways - extremists? As the publication is now being celebrated as heroic, and the slain journalists as martyrs on behalf of the apparent freedom of expression, the whole world rallies behind them in solidarity. One thing is factually clear in everyone's mind:
"Cartoonists at Charlie Hebdo published some piece of art, however beautiful or enraging, and that they were brutally murdered for precisely that."
Before I actually write about it, I should clarify one thing - there is no speech so hateful, no piece of art so offensive, no tweet so provocative and no music so enraging that it somehow would legitimize or justify the use of violence against them. And it also stands the other way around. Fear of violence also, should not determine the moderation of art and aesthetic human endeavor. People - human beings - lost their lives, and before we scramble to brand them as heroes or martyrs or artists or provocateurs, the act itself should be condemned.

It raises certain questions regarding the socially accepted standards of expressing one's thoughts publicly. The first thing that I now realize is that however we promote 'freedom of speech' or 'freedom of expression', for all practical purposes, we're actually unsure of where we stand ourselves. In solidarity to those who lost their lives at Charlie Hebdo, we launched the hash-tag protest #JeSuisCharlie or #IAmCharlie. But are we, really? Do we really have to become them to convey our solidarity? Do we really have to conform to those standards? Were we 'them' before this whole incident happened or are we just being fair-weather friends? And lastly, even though we're shaken to the core, are we really Charlie Hebdo, ideologically?