Friday, April 29, 2011

When the King lost the jewel in his crown

"Long years ago we made a tryst with destiny, and now the time comes when we will redeem our pledge, not wholly or in full measure, but very substantially. At the stroke of the midnight hour, when the world sleeps, India will awake to life and freedom. A moment comes, which comes but rarely in history, when we step out from the old to the new, when an age ends and when the soul of a nation, long suppressed, finds utterance. We end today a period of ill fortune, and India discovers herself again." These were the words uttered by the first Prime Minister of India when British granted a dominion status to India and hence giving independence to its 40 crore people. But little do we about the detailed events that happened among the British in deciding to give India its independence. Alex Von Tunzelman in her book Indian Summer: The secret history of the end of an empire deals with, in detail, the lives of Nehru, Gandhi, Jinnah and the Mountbattens who are the crucial people in birth of India and Pakistan. These are the people who triggered various actions that led to the independence. And these countries endured a lot of struggle and suffering even after their birth.

The author, a history student at Oxford, starts with a startling perspective. There were two countries in 1577. One was a vast, mighty and magnificent empire, brilliantly organised and culturally unified, which dominated a massive swathe of the earth; and the other was an underdeveloped semi-feudal realm, riven by religious factionalism and barely able to feed its masses. Guess what! The first is India and the second is England. In 1857 it was the other way about! Now you know what alien rule does to the ruler and the ruled! But, the country divided by its diversity fell prey to the British who found a way to enter this land as traders in the name of The East India Company. And India became a prized possession in the King's crown.

It is difficult to make history an interesting read, but Alex overcomes this problem by making the text highly readable. Her research deals with treacherous politics and personal details of the key players and her presentation of the otherwise boring history, clear and restraint.

Of all the things this book had to offer, I was particularly disturbed after reading about the aftermath of the independence. The Indian summer of 1947 had witnessed the transfer of power by the British empire to the Indian Union and the Dominion of Pakistan. But, it had to also witness one of the worst tragedies mankind had ever seen. The tragedy in which about one million people were murdered in communal and religious clashes. Sad, we celebrate independence every year but fail to mourn the death of these countless civilians. Perhaps Stalin was right, 'Death of one man is tragedy; death of millions is statistic'.

And, these key players has achieved what had not been achieved in 130 years of Mauryan rule, 180 years of Mughal empire or 90 years of British Raj. A united India by bringing about 570 princely states together. But then, is India really united? I think Nehru's words during the hour of independence will achieve salvation only when India becomes united in the true sense!

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Awake thou wintry earth

Awake, thou wintry earth -
Fling off thy sadness!
Fair vernal flowers, laugh forth
Your ancient gladness!
~Thomas Blackburn, "An Easter Hymn"

We, in Minnesota, are yet to see Spring in full green. I think it is just a few more days of wait, after all no winter stays for ever and no spring forgets its turn.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Come What May

When I first watched Moulin Rouge movie nine years ago, I so cursed myself for spending my two hours odd trying to make some sense out of all the boisterous pomp and gaudy flamboyance. But today when I watched it again my reaction was "Magnificent, opulent, tremendous, stupendous, gargantuan bedazzlement, Spectacular spectacular, no words in the vernacular", exactly the words of the character Zidler. Not everyone might like this movie, but this certainly falls under the category where you either love it a lot or hate it. Fairly difficult to categorize since it falls under many genres unlike hollywood movies which follow a particular genre. And that is expected since the director of this movie, Baz Luhrmann was inspired to make it after watching a Bollywood movie which usually has almost all the elements in it. And just as the inspiration, Moulin Rouge has a bit of everything in it. It falls under musical, romance, comedy, tragedy and drama. And after this Indian connection it is only fair that the director included  an Indian play within the movie as part of the story.

Much like the story of Charudatta and Vasantasena (yes, yes! you guessed it right if the movie Utsav is running in your mind), this is a romantic love story between Satine, a singing courtesan played by Nicole Kidman and Christian, a story writer played by Ewan McGregor. Set in the year of 1899 in the village Montemartre, Paris where people celebrate living in Bohemian style following freedom, beauty, truth and love as principles, the movie is about telling a story as loud as possible. Narrated in emotions expressed through modern songs, the movie is a bold attempt to incorporate modern songs into a century old story. And the best part is that protagonists sing their own songs, and they do it really well with all those little imperfections which only add to the emotions of the song. I know its really hard for us Indians to imagine our actors and actresses rendering their own voices.

Never till now have I enjoyed English musicals as much as I did this movie. The songs are absolutely fitting, and they go perfectly synchronised with the vibrant colors on the screen. The adaptation "El Tango De Roxanne" based on the original by The Police is the best part of the movie with the intense music, passionate dance and piercing lyrics doing their best describing the plight of the male protagonist. I also liked the song "Come what may" for its lyrics. It is this song that sets the love story between the protagonists. 

Screencast from the movie Moulin Rouge showing an Indian play.
I am really happy I gave this movie a second chance. Better late than never, and it paid off really well. I have been listening to the songs ever since. All in all its a deeply involving musical tale of deceit and love with comedy and tragedy.

As the voice of the children of the free Bohemian revolution says in this movie "The greatest thing you'll ever learn is just to love and be loved in return".

Friday, April 15, 2011

Google's Video Logo

It all started with colour doodles in 1998, and went upto animations. Later, we were all impressed with interactive doodles and games. Today, it's a video. Google inspires us all by paying respects to famous personalities and wonderful innovations with innovative doodles on the popular clutter-free search page.

Commemorating Charlie Chaplin's birthday, the search giant came up with a video as logo on their page. Their first video logo, also their second interactive logo, is a silent movie paying respects to the great comedian just the same way he entertained us all for years. The first doodle was created by Google's founders itself.

For all of you who haven't seen last year's Google logo for Indian Independence day

I hope Google comes up with many more doodles telling us their little stories and bringing back memories of great past.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

I will sue you for the heck of it

One of the few things that amused me when I first came to US was the nature of lawsuits filed in this country. People here mockingly use the words "I will sue you". But, I understood the gravity behind these words only after I heard the story behind the caution on the paper cups in which coffee is served in the American coffee shops. I was having my first cup of Starbucks coffee in the US, and could not help noticing the warning "Careful, the beverage you are about to enjoy is extremely hot". Of course it has to be, it's a cup of coffee. Who guessed, accidentally spilling coffee could lead to product liability litigation and fetch 640,000 dollars. In a country where warning signs on hair dryers read "Do not use in shower" for the fear of getting sued, it is totally sensible to have a caution on coffee cups reminding people that it's content is hot.

According to studies by the Economic Journal, Americans spend a lot more on civil litigation compared to others. In year 2002 alone, there were about 16 million civil cases filed in the courts. The fear of lawsuits has changed the way people do even the simplest of things. No longer can lives of people be the same when frivolous lawsuits are filed on a family owned restaurant for serving not so hot soup, or on a weather channel for not predicting rain, or on a school management when a kid gets hurt while playing.

Bizarre and funny lawsuits is a common case. One such instance happened in the 90s after a Michigan man watched advertisements by Budweiser beer company. In the advertisement, beautiful girls came across a man's way while he  was drinking the beer, but unfortunately for him it didn't work out. He went ahead and sued the beer company and the court dismissed the case. I wonder how the courts tolerate such junk and useless cases and waste their valuable time. There is no bound to creativity when a prisoner filed a legal litigation on himself for a few millions for the crimes he committed. Had he won the case, the government must pay him since he is in jail and not earning and could not pay himself for the legal lawsuit filed by himself. I don't really understand what exactly happens to common sense?

The sue-for-everything mantra became popular in America, when the legislators  in 1960s decided to give the people of this country a right to demand monetary compensation for any ill treatment meted out by them. Sadly, this "right" is very rarely put to use in the right way. Doctors suffer the most in this country, because a significant number of medical cases which lead to failures end up into a lawsuit - doctor getting sued, or the equipment manufacturers, medicines or even the hospital as such. This leads to a huge increase in cost of healthcare and hence costs of medical insurance.

Glad we did not have such a suing culture in India, else it would have been another source of free money people will be looking for, like lottery!

Wednesday, April 06, 2011

Secret life of computers as spam soldiers

Spam Mails in GMail (Source)

Did you know that 9 out of every 10 emails exchanged on the Internet are spam? And, the year 2007 went through its worst phase with spam exceeding 95% of email traffic. Spam emails which just started as another way to advertise products now turned to deception and fraud. And your computer might as well be a participant in bringing down a company's network through DDos attack, or in sending out infinite number of advertisements on viagra. It is like PCs having a secret  life because not even owners of the computers are aware when they are effected by spam.  Everything happens so discretely. However it is not the case always!

Sometime ago, my windows laptop was completely taken over by malware. To my shock, I could see spam emails being sent from my laptop by those spam processes which got installed. And all my antivirus and security software could do was try to block all those spam emails sent from my laptop in vain. It's quite scary when you cannot control those spam bots on your laptop, and the best possible solution in that case happens to be deleting the operating system and formatting your hard drive. Thankfully I shifted to Linux which doesn't pose problems with malware and viruses. But email spam cannot be avoided by anyone at all.

With spam being such a pain, Microsoft was lauded as a hero when it brought down Rustock. Rustock is a bot net which is supposedly responsible for more than 40% of spam emails. Any computer effected by this spam bot could send about 2 lakh emails per day. And, most computers effected by this malware had Microsoft's operating system. Which is the reason why Microsoft invested so much in bring down spam bots that are responsible for degrading their brand name. But, do we have a day when all the resources are put to best use by totally destroying spam? Lets be hopeful, and the next unbeatable Internet giant will be the one which can provide spam less email service.

Are you aware of your computer's secret life yet? Keep your Windows OS and security softwares upto date. And make yourself familiar with the help available around.