Thursday, July 22, 2010

Ordinary throws, extraordinary significance....

Nadzeya Ostapchuk, Natalia Mikhnevich and Yanina Karolchyk-Pravalinskayа are a bit wary these days. Just in case you think I have won the Eastern European Spelling Bee, and am practicing, let me hasten and clarify that these are the gold, Silver and bronze medal holders in the Olympic Shot Put Event.

It appears that throwing stuff around has existed as a valid sporting activity. During the siege of Troy, the soldiers had stone throwing competitions when they got fed up of hiding in huge horses and killing when outside. (Homer mentions that in his Epic).

The 16th century British King Henry the VIII, was known for his competence and championship in Weight and Hammer throwing at his Court; the Weight stuff is believable looking at his size, and I suppose the Hammer could have been the probable cause of a few of his wives dying out of sheer fright .

Sometime in the 17th century, British soldiers had cannonball flinging competitions.

Naturally, it would then be centuries and years before an Independent India came into existence, and another 63 years before an environmentally sound shot put event could be displayed to the world. I mean we have all seen hefty folks, male and female, wearing what look like one shouldered baba suits and boots, lumbering on to the scene, desperately failing at doing a dainty pirouette, and then mightily flinging an iron ball around, as people with tapes run helter skelter for cover.

But this, is what the Shot Put is all about .

Socially Relevant Green Shot Put, with 33% reservation for women athletes, particularly fearless types belonging to the ruling party and NOT favouring one shouldered baba suits

This has happened in Bihar, where clay pottery items are a , currently dying traditional village industry. They have a wonderful custom of drinking their tea in Kulhads or small oven fired clay cups , and then throwing the cups in a stirring display of "Dust thou art, to dust returnest" and they save water, washing labor, soap, everything.

It is only fitting , that in a state classified as a BIMARU state, agonizingly the leading member of the actual acronym (B= BIHAR) and BIMARU = SICK, a lady legislator in a white cotton saree and red blouse (purity, sacrifice but not peace and communists), expressed her outrage with the ruling state party, by actually picking up hefty clay planters with plants, outside the Assembly premises, whirled them in the wrong direction is an astonishing display of strength, and flung them at the cameramen representing the Fourth Estate, who dispersed to save their knees and lenses.

Notice, the choice of material for the shot. She selected recyclable green material. Yes, she destroyed several plants. But legislators in Bihar probably get huge gardens, cows and fodder free (I may be in error), and since we hear no reaction from the High Command it is probably safe to assume, that these resources are a dime a dozen, and that they are not worried.

In the meanwhile , inside legislative chamber, the unimaginative male legislators, were using energy intensive expensive material as shots, and throwing around chairs, tables, microphones, at the speaker and the opposition. It was instructive to see, several folks being carried out , four Martials to one person, sitting position, feet stiffly out in front, astonishingly similar to the legs of the tables and chairs they had just broken and flung. Probably suggestive of a knowledge deficit where male legislators are concerned.

But the organizing committee of the impending Commonwealth Games, now has something else to excite them. Promising athletes. Promising events to introduce. And all they have to do is have lots of potted plants around. Jyoti Singh , the enterprising shot put lady, belongs to the same party as the CWG Chairman.

But we need to have science on our side.

A joint USOC-USATF study (High Performance Plan or HPP) of the shot put at
Louisiana State University says,

Much research has been performed on the shot put. Typically these studies examined release velocity, release angle and release height. Unfortunately, these three parameters paint an unclear picture. They indicate what needs to happen but not what it takes to make it happen.
HPP research has indicated that for humans the release parameters are optimized when the angle of release is between 31° and 36°. This is considerably lower than the mathematically "optimal" range of 40° to 43° for elite throwers determined by using the projectile motion equation.

While it is impractical for coaches and athletes to aim for exact release angles, it is important to know that lower release angles are actually advantageous as long as they still permit elite-level throws-and that the mathematically optimal release angles will more than likely result in decreased throwing distances.

The throws by this legislator, Jyoti Singh, are clearly inspired Elite level throws.

Bihar Bhushan , anyone ?

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

The Call of the Fibres

The mind simply boggles at the immense possibilities.

Professor Yoel Fink and his associates at MIT's Research lab of Electronics, have just announced the possibility of manufacturing "acoustic" fibres with flat surfaces. While we may skim over the complicated processing that happens to make these fabrics just so, it is exciting to note that this means that these fabrics, when worn , will be able to act as sound sensors and detectors.

The fact that the swishing noise of blood flowing in your femoral artery (in the leg) can tell whether you have a clogged artery, brings to mind several scenarios where you wear "intelligent" pants; at some point in your life, they buzz - and you rush to get an angioplasty of whatever. Same goes for blood supply in the brain, though I suppose the sensors will be a bit different; but it would be very useful to get a warning of an impending stroke , say, through a hat or scarf.

While all these medical diagnostic things will happen in due course, it has occurred to me that we will shortly be bombarded with various mini amplifiers installable in such clothes. Sometimes without our knowledge, which should make things exciting. And of course, like the black box in airplanes, these things need to be destruction proof.

Wedding finery for brides, would now include 21 acoustic sarees with grade 1 amplifiers, as well as some salwar suits and jeans embedded with the same. For an extra payment, you could have microchips installed where the nada is, which store all the detected acoustics. Hardware miniaturization companies will get a new life. Brides being troubled by senseless rotten in-laws, will now have proof of their wrong doing. And courts will now have a proof when theyinvestigate dowry deaths.

Khadi clothes will take on a new hue. I am not sure the ministers will, though it is entirely possible that they will go red in the face, followed by an angry purple. It will be interesting, to say the least, to browse through the acoustic downloads from the ministers' khadi kurtas. I recall an erstwhile union home minister (later replaced), who continuously changed into different kurtas for different press conferences, during the Mumbai 26/11 carnage, and now I wonder !

It might reveal a lot about who comes to meet them, who promises what, who threatens what and who quietly gives in. Particularly before important events like the Budget.

Prisoners in jails will have special fibre embedded striped uniforms, with inverse wi-fi capability built in. (Don't ask me how). Authorities will be able to download conversations and stuff happening in jail rooms. This might even get a bit dicey for unscrupulous staff, and it will be difficult to deny things.

Installing this capability in Bollywood will be strangely resisted. Lies will be difficult to separate from what is being touted as the truth. Tweeting , of course will be then studied for its ability to provide supporting proof for what the person is actually up to, as opposed to what he is saying.

Will we have an IPL is those times ? Will Lalit Mody and the BCCI have specially treated acoustic outfits ? Will cricketers have to wear these fabrics on the field ? Will their swear words show up automatically on the huge screen which shows up the referrals today ?

The possibilities are endless. Just like we pass through metal detectors today, there will now be acoustic detectors, particularly for those in power, no matter how small. Police, ward officers, bureaucrats, even some journalists. The detectors will simply download whatever is stored in your outfits.

The problem , as always, will be in the implementation.

The more innovative, will purposely say things , get recorded and get other folks into trouble. Entrepreneurs will come up with acoustic jammers, which they will install in offices, clothes, shawls, scarves etc. Guys from Bulgaria or someplace will excel at creating viruses, that attack these installed devices, and mess up the data, and generate raucous laughs and messages like "Kya Fool hai hum ?" (="What a fool am I") on screen, when important people gather to peruse messages.

Dhobis and Laundrys will suddenly become important people. There will be fellows who will provide special dhobi attachments, where dhobis can download stuff from important peoples' clothes. It will basically be a spyers market .....

It is really a question of who is how techno centric . For every electronic thing, there is something designed to either bypass it or garble it.

But this will probably lead to a reduction in talk. People will not indulge in useless talk, unless they verify it and have proof. Maybe sign language will be popular. Folks will practice gestures. Kathakali experts will hold classes for the general public. Smiling and frowning will be popular.

.....And somewhere, amidst verdant green fields, thousands of miles away, a farmer , after a days hard work, will return to his modest home, ensure that his cows are comfortable, will wash up and settle down to a simple meal, lean back, and wonder , about how he is going to provide for his second daughters marriage.....the monsoon was so unpredictable....

They still had to find out a magical contraption to listen to what the monsoon was be or not to be...

Saturday, July 10, 2010

How green was the valley....(edited to add sound effects )

The Presumptuousness of the Privileged.

The idea that one can demand and supply must happen. Here and now. That Time, is Money. That you can scream and abuse if things do not happen immediately. That your life and the neighbor's, run on parallel lines, never to meet. And if you get ahead, to the hell with the slower ones, and your win is all that matters.

I live in an environment, where we constantly look at our watches, or, today, our phones. If the traffic signal turns green and the car ahead has not moved, we honk continuously. The crowd at one end of the road gets restless before the pedestrian sign comes on, and we push ahead , unwilling to wait. And the default look at the neighboring car is a glare, except when you are busy with a phone , solving the nations woes. With no idea about the nation, or woes , or both.

I saw a different world recently.

My father's family hails from a part on South Konkan (Western Coastal part of India), but comparatively inland. The oldest memories of visiting here , that I have, , are almost 52 years ago, when I vaguely remember traversing through some verdant green fields in a valley, accompanying my folks to the local school, wearing a black parkar polka.

Konkan has a very rich history and culture, native to my state (Maharashtra), and this was to be a car trip, which would pass through various famous temples on beaches, one (Velneshwar), particularly being the root place, of folks, bearing my maiden name, and another 2 which were important and much loved temples of Ganesha on two famous Konkan beaches.

We avoided big highways whenever we could, and took the back roads, which were literally roads with a 1.5 car width, and this being the monsoon, the roads were occasionally slushy and muddy, but by and large, tarred and good, as they meandered for miles on end, going up and down heavily forested mountains, and across tablelands studded with mango plantations, occasional signs of some upcoming factory , in the middle of nowhere, maybe a board announcing a proposed educational institute, and sometimes, a small temple, standing by itself, across centuries, in solitary splendour, like a beacon, for the new traveller...

A sudden opening up down an incline and you could sight the gushing backwaters of rivers straining to reach the sea, turbulent in the monsoon, and you stopped on the bridge across that river to wonder at the strength of nature....before carrying on to another mountain and another carpet of gren...

Time and again, we would see canopies after canopies of green, completely dwarfing the mountains, with young children in uniforms, walking miles and miles to school, sometimes coming down sharply inclined mountain steps, jumping back with alarm, on noticing an unfamiliar car. There would be long uninhabited stretches of road, on a high plateau, with high winds and rains, and there would be suddenly be a group of people waiting for a bus at some intersection. There was no sense of urgency, tension, injustice, or anger. The bus would come. You would reach your destination. And if you were late , they would understand. We asked directions, and got detailed instructions, although sometimes convoluted, but the sense of pride in their land shone through. Amazing number of girls going to school. And six hours of electric load shedding in all these areas daily, but I hardly heard a crib; they worked and studied despite it.

My ancestral place, way down in South Konkan, where no one stays anymore, is far inland, and away from the coast and main roads, in a hamlet of , maybe 10 houses, mainly tilling land. The houses are situated down the side of a very hilly area, and a single state transport bus appears on the main road at the top of the hill daily. You can entirely miss that hamlet as you drive by, so well is it placed amidst the stupendous green and slivers of brown in the forest.

I have written earlier about "D" who came to our family as a help, 64 years ago. D hailed from the same village, and now his brother's family stayed there. A windy, rainy, slushy noon saw us approach the specified turning, to see an old gentleman sitting at the bus stop.

He was D's brother, and he had been there for 3 hours, simply waiting. We wished him, introduced ourselves and the children, and accompanied him. Low tiled houses, made of the traditional Konkan red stone ("chira") . Lots of wood had been used, but the environment never looked like it had been denuded ravaged, or grabbed and made poor. We went through all kinds of slushy field paths, and flowing water, to reach , what was my father's ancestral house since almost a century. The roof had gone, wooden fixtures were in disarray, but railings in iron were unaffected. It looked like a house from a movie.

Many years ago, when it looked like everyone was busy with life in the city and beyond, and not likely to return, my father had donated the house to the local primary school, and they had classes there. Many years later, the school expanded, was granted newer and better premises by the side of the main outside road, and it became a high school. Leaving the house abandoned once again, to the onslaught of a yearly wild monsoon, a very fertile soil, and a slow rotting of historic wood...

Right in front of the house was the samadhi (memorial resting place) of my ancestor, eight generations before me, who was a "vaidya" or Indian medcine doctor of his time. We cleared the place and lit a lamp in a little alcove at the samadhi, and paid our respects. The whole place looked across a vast expanse of green fields, where rice was being cultivated, with a coconut tree copse in the distance, mountains all around, different shades of green blending with each other. People in the small houses we passed would come out and ask about us, smile broadly on hearing my father's name, comment on my resemblance to my mother. The women would shyly smile from the door.

And I wondered, how, in the days before roads were made, could folks have travelled across the difficult , untouched, almost virgin terrain we so blithely covered in a car. What gave them the strength to make the trip to big coastal cities, against all such natural odds ? Did they not fear animals ? How did they carry food? Did their mother worry about seeing them again ? How many months did it take them to get to a big city like Mumbai ? Walking, occasionally getting a bullock car ride, sleeping under trees ? Did they meet dangerous folks ? Thieves ? Did they worry about and miss their people back at home in the hamlet ? How many years was it till they saw their homes again ? (And shame on us for cribbing that the seat in front doesn't recline more ....)

D's brother insisted we eat lunch at his place, a small traditional house, with a place for the two head of cattle. Some sons and daughters worked in the fields. The younger children were at school, near the main road. The old man proudly told us about their school which now had classes up to 12th grade. There were 3 sons, 3 daughters in law , and a total of 9 grandchildren there, staying in that little house, with D's brother and his wife. One daughter-in-law worked at a government centre in the neighboring village, which could be anywhere up to 10 kms away. She wasn't there that day. But the children came running home running down the hilly slope, just as we were leaving. And they again ran right back up the slope with us, as we walked back to our car, in the drizzle.

Technology had made inroads there. Electricity had happened. But there was load shedding , 3 hours at a time, twice a day. Cable television had come. But the old man, D's brother, had decreed that it be kept off, as the children were neglecting school because of it. And everyone listened. Cell phones had arrived. I was trying to call D in Pune, and was amazed to hear from the old man's son, that if I had Vodafone, I would not get a network signal, and that I could use his phone which was a Tata Indicom network, which showed "two sticks" network, as a minimum, at any given time ! (There were no shops around, no banners, no buy-one-get-one-free, and nobody was standing around with a cell phone glued to their ears, or fooling around with screens and keyboards, as folks in AC cars and sneezing buses lumbered around making a mess of the road.....)

A lot of people go delirious over the scenic coastal routes in Konkan, the wild monsoon sea, the angry crashing waves, looming laden clouds, and mists sailing in at mountain tops, already scrumptiously covered with greens. Commerce has inched closer to temple outskirts, and life is very organized when there is quick money to be made. And folks prefer AC rooms at resorts on the seaside, that serve non native food, and zoom around in cars with 2500 cc engines, roaring around the place, drizzling hydrocarbons.

But this visit to the hamlet, was an eyeopener . It was the story of how the real India lives. The spirit and the simplicity, and belief in solid things like working hard, sharing your rewards, respecting elders, being curious about and encouraging education, and way back there, in the back of beyond, encouraging your granddaughters to attend school, and your daughters-in-law to work, while the sons worked the fields to put simple food on the family table. The daughter-in-law who was not there that day , had a previous social commitment with her colleagues, and nobody pressured her to stay home, as the rest of the family mobilized for our amazing visit.

It had started to drizzle, the sky was overcast, and at the end of the day, this was the heart of Konkan, where the monsoon was NOT the time to visit, as the rains were torrential. We had a steep climb on to the plains to Kolhapur, through mountains with narrow roads and possible rock slides, and it was prudent to try and cross that in daylight.

We did. Passing through many villages with many schools, children in uniforms, women working at transplanting rice in verdant fields, occasionally someone flaunting a mechanized tiller which the government made available on rent by the hour. (It is not economical to buy something so expensive for such limited time usage (as for rice), and so the local goverment authority buys it and rents it out to those who can afford it. ) Small medical clinics managed by doctors, who grew up, graduated, and came back to their villages to practice. Yes, such people existed.

As we were unloading our stuff in Kolhapur, the phone rang. It was one of the daughters-in-law from D's house in the village. Wanted to know if we had reached safely and in time. Soon there was a call from D himself in Pune. He had been worried about the monsoon rains, and was relieved to know we had reached well in time.

We were back to gas stations, honking, cars with flags and sirens, rich farmers with richer farmhouses, and gas guzzling cars, people going the wrong way on one way roads, and glaring at you. Occasionally giving voice to their rage, and asking, "Kya, ye aap ke bap ka raasta hai ?(= does this road belong to your father ?)....."

Makes you speechless.

I had just returned from a place where you created roads by walking on a road, again and again, together.

Here's something else to get you speechless : Play both together :-)

Saturday, July 03, 2010

Lunching under the stars.....

We lunched under the stars. (It's possible).

With a star .

I think bloggers get a 7 month itch. They have to meet. And eat. Last time it was December. And this time we beat the Bharat Bandh (recently announced opposition sponsored nationwide total strike) by 2 days. Which is good, because we had folks coming in all the way from Indore and Pune, and they need to get back home safely.

We've never met in such an upmarket place before.

I started out early, with visions of rain, bad roads, traffic, and water logging, none of which had happened by then, and I ended up reaching much before time.

There was this beeping entrance thing through which you walk and they check if you are carrying dangerous things. My stupidity or patriotism must have shone brightly on my face, because as I ventured to pass through the contraption, two guys hurriedly signalled that I needn't, and that I could simply make a normal entrance. I found myself sitting in solitary splendour in the deserted lobby of this four star hotel, half and hour early, with fellows in suits and ladies in chic sarees giving me looks as they bustled around. The only excitement was provided by a young girl who looked she just stepped out of Femina, with a really short denim miniskirt, silver gladiator sandals, carefully arranged tousled hair, a fancy phone and a desperate expression on her face as she paced back and forth .

Couldnt be a blogger ....

I had this book about Zebras and Ulcers , some ongoing reading, that I had brought along just in case I had to wait, but it didn't fit in with the overall ethos of an impending lunch, and I gave up. Made some calls to bloggers. And settled down to wait for folks.

Like the retired one who suggested this place.

Followed by someone who normally used to come with luggage to catch a bus later to places 200 kms away, except this time he was staying.

The professorin, and the lady lawyer, all slim and svelte , arrived shortly.

Followed by our marathon person. I always watch with interest when folks arrive with heavily laden bags.

The 2 out of towners arrived next.

One of our group , was not going to make it this time. But we would call her between the salad and the dessert .

There were to be three new people this time. Two young ladies, who had heard about these meets and were delighted to join, and a young chap, who probably reads more blogs per week, than all the rest of the bloggers combined, and also has a blog of his own, besides twittering.

The young chap soon arrived, and was immediately put to a test of figuring out who was who. He knew a couple of us, and it was fun watching him mistakenly identifying folks as someone else.

In the meanwhile, the rains had started in earnest, and we worried about the whereabouts of the two new young ladies who were coming from some distance away, almost as if from another town. Took some time off to call our blogger friend who had been unable to come, and everyone spoke to her.

When so many blogger types converge around a buffet, filling plates with single minded devotion in between dedicating themselves to Pani Puri and Amiri Khaman, the other customers just stay away for a while. You never know when someone with Chilly Paneer may turn around and collide with you and crush the Farmers Pie in your plate, or spill some Dal Fry.

We kept looking at everyone who entered the place. This seems to be a permanent feature of all our blog lunches. Some people get lost and arrive later.

We were finally rewarded with the sight of two new members, none of whom we had met before. (a few folks had.) And with them came the littlest surprise member of the blog lunch, like a fresh ray of early sunlight in a dull and rainy cloudy day.

He was promptly established at the head of the table, and he proved to be a role model to certain gluttonous folks, by having a lunch of tomato slices, cucumber slices, carrots, a bit of rice, watermelon pieces, and would you believe, just a pinch (and what a small pinch of a small hand it was) of chocolate pastry , exhaustively licked off his own index finger!

A large group means there are conversation pockets. Everyone cannot talk to everyone all the time. But there's technology to the rescue.

Because, secretly unknown to us, the outside world was slowly being informed of things happening in the bloggers lunch. (I must hasten to add that we dont know Shashi Tharoor or Sweat Equity. All we know is Khana Zaroor and Net Activity)

In a terribly hi tech way, by a phone as follows :

"The blockers meet ! "

"I mean...the bloggers meet..."

Desserts sink in with no trace !"

"In the midst of blogger babble and excitement!

"The best things in life are edible."

And then after sufficient eating ......

"Bill payment ! Time flies.."

"The blogger meet ends.. Just about !"

"Do you have extra fifties please ? Small change comes in big time handy ! "

"Photo sessions done !"

"Bloggers meet disperses"

"Wonderful conversations in the bloggers meet. Can't believe this was the 5th meet !"

And I thought this person was a bit quiet and looking down at his phone, as a way of surreptiously guarding a big bag carrying several great containers of marathon-special payasam, kept under the table at his feet.......

One of the young ladies got a call from family folks coming to pick her up, and she came around with some wonderful packets of teekha sev for us, a speciality of the place she lives in; and this had been carefully carried around from place to place as she travelled the entire previous week across two states and several cities.

The tangy and spicy was followed by the sweet and creamy, and we were all suddenly recipients of wonderful containers of payasam, prepared for us and carried to the lunch by the marathon man, of course, inspired by his wife.

Several photographs were taken, some of which would probably delight toothpaste companies as wonderful ads for teeth. The staff at the place was so impressed that they took some photos for us.

A wonderful curved staircase , like in the movies, had some of us posing holding the banisters, while the others congregated on various steps. Most other hotel guests had long since given up on us, though I thought we were being greatly courteous allowing them to pass down the stairs.

Fortified by some totally unnecessary trips to the buffet, and with a sense of wellbeing , imagining a rainy afternoon with tekha sev and payasam, to be followed, in our imagination by adrak/ginger tea, we relaxed, leaning a bit back in our chairs, and were rewarded with the sight of a dark sky studded with stars, on the ceiling.

Some clever lighting , that.

Outside, the rain was pouring down. Forays into traffic beckoned. Waterlogged roads, Splashing. Folks going in the same direction decided to travel together, and so many of us got rides home from those going to those areas. It was almost peak traffic time, with folks driving in a frenzy, avoiding potholes, cursing darting ricksahws and pedestrians suddenly trying to cross the road, and pizza delivery chaps taking inverse U-turns.

It didn't really matter.

We had met after a long time....We had had a wonderful Bloggers lunch.

A great afternoon , with lots of laughs, ribbing,food and friends.....

Under the stars.

And with a young star.

Possibly a future blogger learning the ropes .

And he is just two years old !!!!

P. S. One of the new lunch members burst into verse on gmail later.....:-)

Jo kal tak bas ek naam the, unhe chehre ki aaj pehchaan mil gayi
Khayalon se hum jud gaye is tarah, ek anokhi si dosti ki shuruwat ho gayi

Wah ! Wah ! Wah !