Monthly Archives: September 2015

Hey Siri! Who is going to advise me next?

There is this incredible surge of ‘advise’ that I suddenly see all around me. Random things have started communicating and want the world to pay attention to their advise. Why?

As a child, my parents did their best to correct me continuously and guide me on a path they thought was best for me. In school, my teachers played their part in laying out the tools and thoughts that enabled the development of my intellect. Post marriage, every day has been¬†a new day of corrections ūüôā As my girls started growing up,¬†they started correcting me too. As I compare notes with my friends, this is pretty much the pattern that most of us blokes share! Sometimes I feel that I know how ‘not to do’ a whole lot of things in life! To be honest I have enjoyed this journey and I do believe that we all become better every day if we listen to and act upon well meaning advise from people who truly care.
But of late things have changed. Apple has started correcting me. My spellings are constantly getting a new meaning. I am constantly getting checked by Google – enquiring if I would like to do an alternate search. Various fitness apps remind me that my fitness regime needs further attention. My car advises me as well -“objects in the mirror are closer than you think”! How does my car know what I am thinking and how I may interpret it? Why assume something and advise somebody.
What’s with this advise business? Who is behind this? Why can’t people let others be? Is this a global advise conspiracy?
There are a lot of tech and analytics investments going behind making our world full of random acts of advise. In the¬†earnestness to be helpful, things are going a bit too far. My advise to the nameless advise merchants is that let me be! I do not want your automated advise that’s built on a presumption that you understand what I am going to do and my motives behind it.
Maybe advise could shift narrative. From the mundane to things more profound. What can we do make the world happier, healthier and peaceful. I wonder what my mirror will advise me tomorrow?

You are responsible for the pothole next to you

The clay paths in times gone by were a favoured hunting ground for the potters. They would raid the paths in the middle of the night for clay and leave behind holes that got to be known over the years as ‘potholes’.

This phrase evolved to represent a global phenomenon. Across the world they appear like a rash  and represent a combination of human inefficiency, poor quality, corruption and institutional apathy. Every year potholes cause accidents, mechanical destruction as well as create roadblocks that result in higher fuel waste and resultant pollution.

Good governance is the logical remedy for potholes. However the activation of governance is often a bigger roadblock. Some artists have used their ire very creatively to awaken the conscience of such institutions. Here are some interesting examples from around the world.
Street art Images of Russian politicians

Street art Images of Russian politicians

I feel that voter apathy manifests itself physically in the form of pot holes. Next time when you exercise the right to vote make sure that you vote wisely. Else potholes will continue to alter your way. The road ahead is clear…As the old adage goes ‘You will always get to enjoy the hole that you dig’!

Will your legacy be a selfie?

The existence of a human being in the past was limited to his physical form or extended through his legacy of talents, memories or to an extent the relationships that were left behind.  Expressions in the form of paintings, books or crafts were limited to a few enlightened individuals and find a place in our history by a combination of luck and talent. Legacy left in the form of wealth, architecture or institutions was the privilege of the rich and the powerful. In any case there are very few examples as such that have survived the test of time. In essence the average person in the past had very little chance of recording and leaving his footprint for times to come.
However with our generation this has changed.

We have a proliferation of digital imagery, video and audio that will outlast us. Available through a smart phone that two billion of us shall possess in the next twelve months. All of this in addition to all the tools that our ancestors could access. I was struck by this thought recently when I was listening to music on the radio and most of the singers had moved on leaving their musical legacy for us to cherish. This is really a staggering testimony of our times and an important point of inflection in human history- footprints in the sands of time replaced with silicon chip enabled impressions for posterity.

We are all a mere speck floating in a continuum of time. For the first time every spec has a chance to record its presence! Go the meantime take a selfie!

It’s not fair

A popular South Indian star is taken to court since he featured in a TV ad for a fairness soap.
Apparently the claimant used the soap for a year and nothing changed for him. He claims that the fairness soap does not work and the star is misleading the public.
The star claims that he is just an actor and is not responsible for the delivery of the product. “It’s not¬†fair to blame the actor”, his lawyer exclaims and his plea to the claimant is that he should take up the issue with the manufacturer.
A concerned citizen agrees¬†that “it’s not fair” to blame the star since the star has nothing to do with it. Another citizen immediately retorts that “it’s not fair” for a brand to make a claim that it cannot deliver.
But in all fairness¬†the star should have checked before endorsing the brand. He cannot wash his hands off it.¬†It’s evident that the facts are not black & white yet and the poor judge has to figure out what’s fair here! The fact is that the great Indian obsession for fairness is a never ending pursuit.
This important soap opera gets national media attention. Is that fair?

The joys of gelato

I had the pleasure of having the most outstanding gelato recently in Milan. The smooth and creamy rich dark chocolate was sublime. The cone in which it was served was a perfect accompaniment and I was in heaven! I even had an ice cream burger- two scoops of delicious ice cream in a freshly baked bun with a merengue and dark chocolate sauce topping. A delightful example of human craftsmanship. Nowhere else have I had ice creams that have tasted better. The Italians have a rich history of gelato making and every town has its own traditions and flavours. There is a gelato store called GROM that’s opened recently in Dubai. Their cappuccino ice cream makes a frequent appearance in my dreams!

Of late my social conversations have  been a bit gelato obsessed as you may have gathered by now. I was gushing about gelato with a rather knowledgeable foodie friend the other day who after hearing me patiently evangelising about the great Italian tradition of ice cream making had the following to say:

“The Chinese invented the ice cream in 300BC. As for the cones, they were invented¬† in America by a Syrian immigrant who was a street hawker selling pastries. One day he came to his neighbours rescue who had run out of plates while selling his ice cream. He just folded a pastry in the form of a cone and gave it to his friend who placed a scoop of ice cream on it and the rest is history. The Persians had an ice cream culture too and so did the Romans. In those times it was a privilege of the rich until the industrial revolution in America enabled the commercial scale production of ice. The Italians have learnt well!”

So the journey of the Italian gelato has a Chinese origin and an American/Syrian/Roman influence. All I can say is that it’s an absolutely delicious consequence. I am a fan!


Stop living a stereotype!

We all live our lives navigating through a series of stereotypes of our own creation. I must admit that I had a recent experience that made me aware of my severe limitations.
I have always been vary of a certain profile of individuals. The ones who look slick, dress sharp, drive fast cars and generally talk glib. I tend to be very guarded with these type of characters and somehow there is no specific rationale for my reservations with such individuals.
There is one such individual who I have interacted with over the years and have boxed him into the cage of my prejudices. I had an accident recently that has taken me over a month to recover. Given the nature of the head injury I drew an outpouring of concern and sympathy from friends and acquaintances. I noticed that this person was keeping a constant tab on my health and expressed a keen interest to meet me. My stereotyped self kept on postponing this interaction until one day I had to come face to face.
He earnestly inquired about my health that I summarily described. He complimented me on how positively I had responded to the crisis that I shrugged off. He asked me to take good care of my health that I reluctantly accepted. Then he mentioned to me something that hit me in the gut. He said that he wanted to tell me something that he had told very few people. My antennas were immediately alert.
“I almost died three years back”, he said. I was all attention now. “I suffered from a massive heart attack while driving. My kids were with me in the car and I was lucky to drive myself to the nearest hospital. As a result I have three stents in my heart. It’s in my genes. My father died at the age of 41 from a heart attack and my mother at 50 from a heart attack too. I am sometimes reminded by my doctor that it’s a miracle that I am alive. I believe that if I am living a miracle then I will make each day a miracle as well for my family and me. It’s the attitude sir which makes all the difference”.
“May the force be with you sir and do recover quickly” said this character as he bid me farewell.
“May the force be with you as well”, I muttered, crushed under the weight of my debilitating stereotypical self.

Notes from the past – sound travels!

In my travels, I have come across acoustic creations which have left me baffled. The ancient world was full of unsung sound engineers who produced absolute marvels without the access to technology that our designers enjoy today. How could they reach such levels of sophistication? How did they process the complex maths as well as materials that are essential for this art to flourish?

I have no answers but here is a list of my favourite acoustic experiences:

Piped music at Lake Palace Hotel, Udaipur
The Taj Lake Palace Hotel is one of the most exquisite hotels I have stayed in my life. A 200+ year old heritage property set in a beautiful lake is a dream! No two rooms in this intriguing palace hotel are the same. As I closed my eyes lazing in my bathtub overlooking a beautiful part of the lake my attention was drawn to the gentle strains of flute. As I was getting dressed and subsequently heading towards the magnificent dining hall the notes seem to magically surround me wherever I went. I looked out for the music system when I was told that the engineering of the palace is such that the artist plays in the central courtyard and every corner of the hotel gets to enjoy the music! Apparently the sound waves travel through the channels carved out in the walls to every nook and corner of this ancient construction. Sublime!

Having a rock conversation at the Citadel at Amman, Jordan

Our guide took us to the ruins of an ancient roman theatre at the foothills of The Citadel in Amman. I have been to Roman theatres before and was happy to see the fact that this is a reasonably well maintained monument. All was well until the guide made me walk 100m away and asked me to turn away from him and speak into the stony walls of the theatre. To my utter surprise I started hearing my guide as I held my ear close to the walls. The engineering of this ancient construction (1000+ years old) was so intricate that the sound waves would travel through microscopic channels in the stone walls and carry across with complete clarity across a 100 meters distance and allow us to have a perfectly audible conversation. It is beyond my understanding how they could do this a thousand years back!

Clapping at Golconda fort, Hyderabad

images-2The Golconda Fort in Hyderabad is amongst the biggest forts in India. It’s an ancient structure as well which was build almost a thousand years back. The fort runs along a mountain and hence has several levels to it. The sentry posts were at a distance and constructed such that the canopies work like the curvilinear base of our speaker systems and amplify sounds so that the sentries could warn each other incase of any danger. As we entered a sentry post we could hear the tourists in the other posts. While our guide clapped his hands to demonstrate this phenomenon I clapped too in sheer astonishment.

I have also enjoyed the musical pillars of Taj Mahal in Agra. Listened to the sounds of the Hindu Arti at the ghats of Benaras, a mystic experience that has layered chants and cymbals and bells that take you into a different world of trance. Not to mention the experience of a orator in Terragona Roman theatre where I delivered  a grand speech to my family without a mike! I am not sure if they enjoyed my random afternoon sermon but I certainly felt like a Roman scholar!

I feel that sometimes when we have that breathless moment when we see a new technology we should not forget the notes from our past. The hills were always alive to the sound of music. It’s just that the tunes have evolved over time.