Friday, March 30, 2012

The Brute and the Maiden

The brute lived under the enormous tree, with the lines on his face and forehead etched as if his frame was made of that same wooden bark.

He was tall and extremely strong. He killed things with his hands, and had not known the softness that fire can create in hard meat.

He lived with his instincts, sleeping deeply but awake to danger. He had not known affection, and had never seen his mother, or another of his species. He had never tasted the warmth of milk, and had never felt a caress or a kiss.

He was alone, alone like an unknown island in the sea, alone like a mountain in a desert, alone like an eagle in the summer sky.

He was alone, more alone than the trees and the birds and the raindrops and the yellow leaves which made up his bed.


One day as he woke up before it was light, he saw a radiance at a distance, as if the moon had come down to earth.

He hurriedly stood up, and tip-toed to see where-from the light had descended on that land of the wild.

It was a naked maiden, with a body like his own but different in a strange way. The maiden was glowing from within, and there was a fragrance all about her.

Something stirred deep within him. A feeling that he had not known before. Blood rushed to parts of his body and caused sensations which were hitherto unknown to him.


He lifted the maiden in his strong arms, and carried her to his abode, beneath the enormous tree. He spent hours and days marveling at her body and her fragrance and her glow, and never for a moment left her side.


One night as he was sleeping, the maiden slipped beside him, held his hand softly, and kissed his lips. Every hair on his body stood up.

Their bodies intertwined, and it was hard to see where one body ended and the other began. He suckled at her round breasts, and the forest vanished around him.

From that day, he became her slave, her lover, and her protector.

Their days and nights slid into a comforting pattern, and he was no longer that afraid of danger. He no longer lived day by day, but had started saving food and supplies.


Many years passed.

One day the maiden was no more to be seen. The brute had lost his instincts for life in the wild and had grown soft and indolent.

Wild animals started threatening him with their howls and screeches, and he no longer slept on the ground, but was usually found up in tree.

He was alone again, but was incomplete. No longer was he the mountain, no longer the island, no longer the eagle.


Slowly the memory of the maiden left his brutish brain.

He started running again, his muscles became more pronounced as he again started killing things with his hands. He was again a wolf, alone again, but not of the same strength.

His eyes no longer focused, but flitted and were restless, looking for a light that he had once seen before dawn.

He became despondent and was not content anymore to come to his tree every night. He became a traveling hunter, homeless and without shelter.


Every night he dreamed of that maiden, now faceless, and was not sure anymore if his dreams were ever a reality. He no longer remembered her face but his organs never let him forget how he had felt.

He wondered how long he was going to be restless and discontented.

Gods finally had mercy on him and gave him an iPad. He went Lady GaGa over Kim Kardashian and spent the rest of his life in a hole in the ground, playing Angry Birds and Mafia Wars and tripping on Dubstep.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Ten Interesting Electronic/Techno tracks

I have been interested in techno/trance/electronica for many years now. These are some of my favorite tracks. Please share some of yours!

1. Genre: Goa Trance

2. Genre: Electronic

3. Genre: Electronic, slow progression

4. Genre: Vocal/Melodic

5. Genre: Trance/Electronic/Sci-Fi

This track has echoes in an epic scene from Valhalla Rising (Refn, 2009)

6. Genre: House Music/Dubstep

7. Genre: Ambient/Melodic

8. Genre: Electronic (Remix of a classical tune)

This is an interpretation of the famous Adagio for Strings, famously featured in David Lynch's The Elephant Man.

9. Genre: Electronic (this is an early world-famous classic)

10. Genre: Ambient/Gaming

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

On Corruption, part III

Part I and Part II.

Lawlessness is a vicious cycle. The more lawlessness one observes, the less one respects the law. If everyone is breaking the rules, it requires an almost silly amount of moral strength to follow the law. An average human being cannot be expected to be very strong, and as more and more people start breaking the law, gradually violence, community lynchings, and mobbing become common.

The Broken Windows Theory is relevant here. It is not without reason that "law" is frequently mentioned along with "order". If disorder is pervasive, then what does it do to one's inner faith in the rule of law?

Centuries of oppression have taught Indians that the rule of law is a tool of the state to oppress its citizenry. That law is arbitrary and whimsical, and that courts and police are to protect the rulers and the rich, not the ruled. No wonder we have internalized lawlessness and opportunism.

A relevant article here: Kill the Indian first.

To travel a short distance in India is a depressing exercise in observation of disorder. From throwing garbage on the street, to breaking traffic rules, to arbitrary number plates, to not wearing seat belts, to encroachments on the sidewalk, to spitting, to taking u-turns when not allowed, to drive on the wrong side, to burning garbage, to urinating by the roadside, to overcrowded buses, busting-at-their-seams 3-wheelers, riding 3-up on two-wheelers, honking, high beams, defaced walls, illegal billboards, medicine shops selling drugs without prescriptions, stray dogs, cows on the road, and so on and so forth.

More than that, a vacuum of moral role models has established itself in our current psyche. There is nobody to look up to in the public arena, and optimism is hard to sustain when everyday one more bastion of our socioeconomic arena is exposed to be rife with corruption.

And if the rich and powerful are breaking the law with impunity, their exhortations to the lowly masses to follow the law ring hollow. Why should a middle-class or a poor man follow the law when the lawmakers and the beneficiaries (in the form of taxes) of his labor are lawless goons?

I once asked an official in the ministry of external affairs if it was possible for an Indian national to revoke his faith in the constitution of India and for him to be allowed to leave this country? He laughed at me and said that that man can probably exit India, but the only countries where he can go and not be an illegal alien are probably worse off.

The goons and politicians have imported guns and trained commandos on their side, and for a common citizen to even carry a hunting knife has been made illegal. It is mafia peace and state oppression maintained, literally, at the point of a gun.

In my daydreaming, I sometimes wish that India be treated as a war-torn zone, like Rwanda, and all Indians must be treated as potential refugees and asylum seekers by developed countries. But then sense dawns, and I have the opposite wish. That Indians be quarantined and not allowed to infect any one else.

(to be continued)

Monday, March 26, 2012

The Village, the Town, and the Cave

Once upon a time, a young man, uneasy at heart, unsure of his road, asked a few elders in his village as to what was the greatest pursuit for man?

The elders had made a mess of their lives, there was garbage all around in that village, but they had answers to every question.

They told him that there was an island, far from the shore of the ocean - far from the shore on which the village had formed over many hundreds of years. That to reach that island was the destiny of man. But they pointed out that it was almost impossible to reach, and only one in many thousands found the courage and strength to swim through the ocean and reach that island. That on that island there existed a life of such bliss that no man ever came back. That the island was green and full of orchids and flowers and chirping birds and it was spring-time on that island throughout the year. They didn't know anybody who had been there, but as they said, nobody ever came back anyway.

The young man instantly started preparing for that journey. He burned down his house and gave away his belongings. When he was ready, he swam for three days and three nights, and on the fourth day, he had a glimpse of the island.

To his horror, he saw that the island was deserted, lifeless and there were carcasses of dead animals and bones of dead fish all over it.

He, despondent but certain of his vision, turned back towards the village. When he reached the village and told them of his journey, people laughed at him. They said the scriptures and traditions could not be all wrong, and that his vision must be faulty.

But he trusted his vision, and he left the village for the big town.


In the big town, as he was roaming, aimlessly, around in the market one day, he came across an old man with a strange, glowing face, who nodded at him with understanding.

The old man invited him for a cup of tea, and as the young man narrated his journey and his vision and his exile, the old man kept nodding.

The old man told him that the young man's vision was not wrong, that all the scriptures were indeed only fairy tales for making people believe in justice and goodness and a meaning for all their travails.

The young man was inordinately happy that his eyes were not faulty, and that he could finally believe in himself again.

The young man repeated his query of what pursuit was most worthy and meaningful for a man like him. The old man told him of the ugliness in all the world, and of a mountain from the top of which there was an absolutely breathtaking and beautiful view. He said that to die without perceiving that beauty was an utter waste of one's life.

Unlike the young man's village elders, this old man proclaimed that he had been on top of that mountain, and that he was not quoting any scripture.

The young man, re-energized, again prepared his rucksack, bid farewell to his few friends and to his dainty fiancee, now heartbroken, and started on the new journey.

As he started ascending the mountain, he met many who were ascending along with him, they all condemned the ugliness of the world below, and they all encouraged him and made him feel he was finally on the right path.

As he reached the top of the mountain, and saw what was there, he stopped dead in his tracks.

He saw that there was a big pile of mud in which one could see broken egg shells, feces, and long, slippery insects which almost didn't move.

A few pigs were resting in that filth and licking each other and themselves.

The young man collapsed in horror, and rolled down the slope of the mountain, conscious but indifferent and oblivious. He rolled down many hundreds of feet, silently, with nothing but the sky and the tress as the witnesses of his fall.

As he was rolling down, his clothes started getting ripped apart, and he got bruised and wounded. The terrain became more rocky, his body was tossed around, and suddenly, his head smashed against a rock, blackness engulfed him, and he slipped into a deep coma.


When he woke up after many weeks, he saw that the sky and the soil looked very different, and that he could neither see the valley below nor the peak above.

Clouds had formed and it seemed that a storm was coming.

He started looking for his belongings and found most of his clothes and supplies.

His head had healed somewhat, and presently he found a very large cave in which he could shield himself from the elements. He went inside the cave, and he was happy to see a few peaceful parrots who had their nest there.

Strangely, as he looked out, all he could see from that cave were trees and rolling hills. No human settlement was in his view.

It is said that he was never seen again, and it is believed that he lived the rest of his days in that cave, chatting with parrots.

Friday, March 16, 2012

On Corruption, part II

First part here.

Summary of part I: Seeking an advantage is inherent for survival. Corruption is to seek an advantage which is contrary to rules and laws and is therefore "unfair". Laws can be unfair and provide a rationale for corruption. More and more formalization and computerization can reduce discretion and breaking of rules but also make the system more dis-empowering.


Let's distinguish between two kinds of corruption: illegality, and unfair discretion.

The former is to explicitly break a law or a process of decision making without suffering adverse consequences. Laws and processes are relational. Their breakage usually hurts someone and benefits the criminal. To commit an illegality without suffering adverse consequences is to have gained an unfair advantage.

The latter (unfair discretion) is to exercise discretion in a way which betrays a position of trust and responsibility by hurting the majority of entrusting population.

Discretion in decision-making introduces the possibility of corruption. But discretion cannot be done away with. Everything cannot be easily formalized, nor it should be.

To tackle the latter form of corruption is not easy, and it can only be slowly chipped away at through transparency, public availability of records, and some form of accountability for one's decisions.

It is the former kind of corruption (the willful evasion of rules and laws) which is by far the larger chunk of what we call corruption in India.

Let's assume, for the sake of argument, that the laws are fair. It is not that easy to create blatantly unfair laws (though unfair laws do exist: gender-biased laws for one example) since the process is generally transparent in democratic societies and the laws must be constitutional.

What makes people follow rules and laws? Obviously, incentives and disincentives. If we want people to follow rules, we must ensure that the law-abiding are rewarded and the law-breakers are punished. Explicit rewards for being law-abiding are usually absent in modern societies. Nobody gets a medal for being a good driver who follows lane discipline or for not taking a bribe. Following the law is an implicit mandate.

The only way therefore to encourage people to follow rules is to have an effective mechanism for punishing the lawless. That is the responsibility of the law-enforcement, the prosecution, and the judiciary. In India, all three institutions are broken in massive ways. It is not my purpose here to go over the ways in which these institutions are broken, but there is broad agreement that they are.

However, there is one aspect of upholding the law which has escaped the notice of all commentators that I have read on this issue.

To create a law is to make a wish for a certain state of affairs. The wish must be financed for it to be effective. Without additional funding to go with each additional law, the law will only further burden an already over-burdened law-enforcement machinery. No wonder more laws are not going to solve India's problems.

Each law creates a burden for its enforcement and adjudication. We should carefully look at the cost of each law and then determine whether the society benefits more with or without that law.


If we assume that the criminal law is a contract between the individual and the state, then upholding of contracts and punishment for breaching them should be paramount on our list of priorities.

The state is mostly a disinterested actor in our courts - in other words, prosecution is lethargic and apathetic - so the failure of criminal adjudication in our country may be somewhat explicable. Let us see if we do any better at promptly correcting breaches of contract where both parties are interested (civil litigation).

In a survey of 183 countries, the rank of India when it comes to enforcing contracts is ... 182. Only Timor-Leste (or East Timor), a war-torn country with a population of just about one million, is behind us.

This is the real, horrific, state of our country, which many people consider the next super-power.

We are a lawless land, and corruption is therefore a way of life in India.

(to be continued)

On Corruption, part I

Corruption is simply to seek an "unfair" advantage over others.

To seek an advantage over others is such an intrinsic part of life that an individual or a species which fails to do so, dies. Resources may not be scarce now, and therefore seeking an advantage may not be essential at present. But the necessity of seeking advantage for future battles for resources still exists.

Altruism is always limited. Unlimited altruism is death. Beyond that limit at which altruism stops, the seeking of advantage and superiority must reign.

Seeking an "unfair" advantage is punished, at least theoretically, both in the animal kingdom and in humanity. But "unfair" in the eyes of others generally co-exists with the attempt to "push one's luck" in one's own eyes.

Enterprise, entrepreneurship, risk-taking, being aggressive and ambitious, seeking a better life than others, waging a violent or non-violent war for resources (those resources may be television TRPs, or the love of a choosy woman) is inherent in the game of survival.

When does an enterprising individual become a "corrupt" individual? When does seeking an advantage pass into the domain of seeking an "unfair" advantage?

Is using a celebrity in one's advertising a form of seeking an unfair advantage over one's competitors? Is modern advertising a form of corruption?

Is sending flowers and an expensive piece of jewelry to a girl, because you can afford them, an "unfair" advantage over another suitor?

Is hiding your failures on your resume, and glorifying your successes, a form of corruption?

Is withholding information, and being diplomatic with one's words, a form of holding an advantage over one's conversational partner? When does it become "unfair"?

The difference between a "fair" advantage and an "unfair" advantage is therefore a very important one. Someone who has the power to define this difference, via media, legislation and appeal to tradition or morality, is therefore very powerful.

Unfair advantages will be punished by law, by violent public approbation, and so on. Fair advantages will just be submissively tolerated. The former will arouse real consequences (prison, fines, violence), the latter may just result in resentment, jealousy and envy.

So what separates a "fair" advantage from an "unfair" one? This is not an easy question. Assuming for the moment that following the law is "fair" and everything else "unfair", is the legislative process itself "fair"? Isn't lobbying, rhetoric, appeal to sentiment, a part of the legislative process? In short, are the laws themselves "fair" to begin with?

The laws that we follow definitely affect the animal kingdom and the environment; were their interests considered? Aren't humans always seeking an "unfair" advantage over other species and the environment?

More specifically, are the immigration laws and economic policies of a country fair to other, poorer, countries?

Something being fair or not is therefore not a simple question, but requires extensive analysis of what "fairness" means. We might say we want to treat people equally in the eye of the law, or give them equal opportunity, but that is all nonsense. Inequality exists at every moment of our lives. Nobody is equal to anybody else. There are innate advantages and disadvantages that one possesses over others, and no system can make two people two instances of swappable CPUs in a computer.

"Do what you say", "fulfill your duty", "don't lie" all these are exhortations which assume a framework which is sensible to begin with.

Some responses might be:

"Why should I do what I say when I said something just to please someone who was otherwise a threat and was going to fly off his handle whereas now he is no longer a threat?"

"I don't agree that this is my duty to die for my country when the war itself is unjust."

"When the price for speaking the truth, say whether I believe in God or not, is unbearable to me, I have a right to want to evade that heavy cost."

"When I regard the immigration law of USA as unfair, I believe I have a moral, ifnot legal, right to lie on my visa application and to submit false documents."


The only way to make an act or a decision undisputed (whether it is fair/allowed/just or not) is to formalize it in such a way that a machine can adjudicate on it. Then, and only then, there is no dispute and allegation of corruption.

A machine can never be corrupt, because it does not seek an advantage. Hence, most anti-corruption crusades seek to mechanize and formalize human and business interactions. Discretion is inevitably going to lead to allegations of corruption.

As long as train reservations were at the mercy of a human, there was corruption. When the process was handed over to computers, corruption dramatically went away.

When house allotments were at the discretion of a public body and its officials, there was corruption. When there was a computerized auction, corruption became impossible.

When tax reporting and calculation was discretionary, there was corruption. When automated flow of information regarding financial transactions became prevalent, corruption went away (to that extent).

From relatively trivial phenomena like restaurant reservations, movie tickets, to weightier issues like land acquisition, IPOs, communication spectrum pricing, the more the process is process-mapped and translated to an algorithm, the less corruption there is going to be.

A law-abiding land ultimately has to become a land which follows algorithms and formal rules of engagement in most spheres of life. In which people, if they disagree with someone, are tied down and allowed to point fingers, but not raise their hand.

And therefore, a law-abiding land gives great power to its legislature and its state machinery, which decides on the laws and punishes the violators. If the legislature is corrupt, and the laws unjust, and the enforcement discretionary, should we ask for less corruption (i.e. more following of the laws), or should we ask for something else? What is that "something else"?

You may say you want less corruption in India, but have you pondered over the consequences?

(to be continued)

Friday, March 09, 2012

Love in the time of Me

In less individualistic times, people were more conforming and their responses to situations were more-or-less similar. They shared common beliefs, taboos and impulses.

In those times, to commit oneself as a spouse to someone wouldn't have been much of a gamble. Yes, there are idiosyncrasies in people but as long as they are within the framework of a larger system of beliefs and values, and as long as more than two people lived in a house, it would not have been excruciating to live together.

Today, relationships are a minefield. Let me explain why.

In the absence of tradition and history, and due to the increasing influence of short-term trends and media sensations, the mind does not develop in depth. One has an encyclopedic knowledge of shallow matters, but a startling ignorance about the wider or deeper ones. Attention deficit on the outside translates to shallowness on the inside.

Tradition is unfashionable today. The speed of cultural change has become hyper-sonic. Anything more than a few years old is old-fashioned.

In these times, there is an absence of depth in anything one comes across, including people.

And in the absence of depth and of solidity in one's foundations, can relationships be long-lasting? Can they even be expected to last? What is one relating to, if not to someone's depth of character and his/her values and a pattern of behavior which is expected to continue long in the future?

Relationships between shallow entities cannot be expected to last. Gears which mesh with each other only lightly will slip. A depth of engagement requires a depth of the cogs in the wheel in the first place. If you are not deep, your relationships will revolve around shallowness.

And since relationships are no longer strictly required (given the advances in civilization and civic institutions and merging of gender roles), to form a long-lasting pair-bond with someone can only be due to a deep sharing of values and passions.

Remove the pragmatic need for relationships, remove the ability to engage deeply with each other (since there is nothing there to engage with), celebrate freedom and choices, and is it any wonder that people are complaining about a lack of deep feeling for anything or anyone?

Without there being any external needs or pressures, can you commit five decades of your life to someone who you know only superficially, who you CAN only know superficially because there is nothing there except superficiality?

Maybe love was always of the superficial, maybe beauty was always skin-deep, but when traditions were still strong, when the super-ego was still functional, you knew that statistically speaking, you were committing to someone you intimately knew. Because you understood what made that person tick, where that person derived their values from.

Not anymore. Today, the general relationship advice is to know someone for at least a couple of years before you commit to them. And why such a long time? Because it takes that long for all the idiosyncrasies and individual morality to come into full view. You cannot trust that the person is a product of a certain kind of society, except if by "certain kind of society" one means a society where there is a chaos of values and everything is just a matter of being cool.

How can there be anything more than infatuation, attraction, satiation, and eventual boredom in these times?

It is dangerous to commit to someone if when you look into his/her depths, you see nothing, or worse, if you see chaos.

Love and courtship leading to a lifelong commitment will be remembered as a twentieth century phenomenon in human history. There will never be a mythic love story, say something like Heer Ranjha, in the future.