24 Dec 2004


Posted by Oblivion in General | 1:29am

For a long time, it had been among my interests to study what kind of blogs attract more number of visitors. Very few people follow blogs exclusively for either style or content. In such cases, the interest is short-lived, for it is not spontaneous but motivated - either to pick up a style or accumulate more information.

Majority of the visitors are attracted to blogs that give a good outlet for voyeouristic impulses. The tendency for gossip is so deep-rooted in human psyche that one is quite interested in knowing what other people think, the events in their lives, etc. In knowing that the other person's luck is better, one gets the opportunity to curse his own luck. If the other person's is worse, it makes one feel better. If the other person's ideas are contrary to one's own, it gives one a chance to indulge in an argument; if the idea is in agreement, one feels reassured of his own 'mature' thinking abilities. The motives for reading blogs are not at once obvious; they are more often subconscious. A good understanding of Freud would make it easier for one to appreciate the entire psychological mechanism.

Broadly classifying the blogs - entirely subjective classification, I must say - I found that they can be arranged in a descending order (with the number of visitors as the reference for ordering) thus:

1.Blogs that talk about people
2.Blogs that talk about events
3.Blogs that focus on ideas

Each of these categories can be subdivided for further analysis, but I would do that another time. For the moment, it does good to observe that the subconscious motives and impulses affect a person's preference for the choice of blogs - in exactly the same manner they affect choices in the world offline.

20 Dec 2004

PS: This is Obscene!

Posted by Oblivion in General | 10:36pm

'Caught in the act' were two DPS school-kids (Ok, not kids anymore), the 'fielder' was a mobile phone, the 'ball' was circulated among friends, enemies and strangers, and the 'fourth umpire' is taken into custody! His fault? A 'wrong decision' - so says Section 67 of the Information Technology Act: transmission of obscene material through electronic media.

I'm not trying to justify either the DPS kids or the IIT student or Avnish Bajaj - my justifying it or not doesn't make any difference, to be honest :) - I'm just trying to understand if logic and rationality has any place in Law.

Baazee's 'user agreement' mentions that items bought or sold "shall not be obscene or contain pornography", but it also mentions that "You are solely responsible for Your Information, and we act as a passive conduit for your online distribution and publication of Your Information". If a user exploits a service, is it the fault of the service provider? Apparently, Law believes so. And, one should not question the Law - all the gibberish about fundamental rights and democracy notwithstanding - for it amounts to sacrilege! So, bye bye Avnish.

It had been perhaps asked a million times but I'm asking yet again - what 'precisely' is 'obscenity'? In this case, it was two school kids indulging in a sexual act. This clip was circulated as MMS. The boy is 17, the girl 16. So, is obscenity in this case being referred to the act? Or, to the act in relation with the age of the kids?

It's absurd to assume that a 17-year-old boy and 16-year-old girl are not grown up enough to decide what to do. So, they obviously 'knew' what they were doing. If not for the mistake of capturing it on the mobile, and circulating it, in turn, their (mis)adventure would have remained only as a memory in their minds, and a huge real estate - print and electronic and psychological - has been saved. Why is it that we make such a big issue of a 'mutually agreed upon intimate moment'? (One may also remember the hullabaloo about Shahid-Kareena's) It appears to me that most people do not understand obscenity or vulgarity clearly. In a sexually-repressed society, anything to do with sex is taken to be obscene! God save such societies with shallow morality.

If selling pornography electronically is illegal, is it legal if one sells non-electronically? If so, how does one explain such dubious distinction? If selling non-electronically is also illegal, does that mean the adult VCDs, DVDs, books, magazines, etc do not come under 'pornography'? If they are 'porn' then why not put the owners of music/book/video stores as well behind bars? If they have different logic for these, then - if the school-kids recorded it on a video disc and completed it with titling, et al, and sold it as a short-film, would it then have been fine? If that is not fine, then why not also nail all those 'obscene' filmmakers and music video makers? What is the distinction? What is it that makes this particular act obscene? Is it because they are school-kids and so 'should' be only studying and not doing anything else? Fine, a valid point that! Now, in that case, why not arrest the principal and teachers of the school for having 'not taught' the 'right' values to children? Why not arrest the parents for having 'brought them up' with such distorted morality?

What is the message that the Law and media are giving to the people? Do they want to say - make 'proper' use of electronic devices and medium - mobile phones, websites, etc? What is 'proper' usage? Logically, anything that does not intrude another person's space - physical, psychological, spiritual, whatever - is 'proper'. In this DPS MMS issue, there wasn't any intrusion whatsoever. And, come on, when the boy himself records it and flaunts it, why catch the IIT student for putting it on Baazee and making some money out of it? And, Baazee is an online store that facilitates buying and selling of products and information. I'd have understood the validity of the issue if the whole thing was a planned attempt - if the boy and girl were administered drugs or were forced to 'do it' by someone who recorded it for selling online and making money out of it.

And what the big shit about 'obscenity'!? Is it any more obscene than the way politicians exploit their power and position?; than the way media joins hands with those crooked brats and fools public?; than the way police treats a common man in trouble?; than the way we gossip about our best buddies and worst enemies?; than the way US framed Iraq and waged a war while the whole world watched mutely?; than the way people make it to top by crooked means?; than the way traffic police 'frames' a driver and empties his pockets?;... it's an endless list!

How easily people make 'absolute' distinctions between 'good and 'bad, 'right' and 'wrong'! It will always confound me!

17 Dec 2004

Realism - Dead or Alive?

Posted by Oblivion in General | 3:59am

Cinema thrives on exaggeration. The recent list of blockbusters proves the point. Not a surprise, for cinema had always been so. The point that is bugging me is - from early nineties, cinema has shown a marked departure from 'realism'. Exaggeration in movies increased in direct proportion to the hype involved in promoting the product. As a result, the focus shifted drastically from story to secondary attributes - huge settings, sensational twists, double loads of mush, beastly indulgence in instincts, etc. These days, stories are written and scenes are shot with the promos in mind, and the actual film goes to the wall. It does, without doubt, reflect the psyche of the audience - lower attention spans, impatience, and ye dil maange more attitude for sensation. So, the more restless the society is, the more loud and mediocre the films will be. All this sound reasoning not withstanding, it makes me sad that unlike in other forms of art, the movement of realism lasted shorter in the art of filmmaking.

I'm not suggesting that out of the 900 movies made every year, at least 600 should focus on realism. I admit it is an unreasonable expectation. I'd be happy with as few as 10 such 'real' films. I understand that the richness of the medium and the craft of storytelling demand that the product appears attractive and not as just another stoty of the guy-next-door. Moreover, business as it is, and with the kind of investment involved, the entire packaging is done with the returns in mind. Naturally, films appeal to one's fantasies - each one in the audience knows, subconsciously, where the story is exactly moving toward. Each one of them knows that the hero would come out triumphant even from the most impossible of situations. Ironically, the more impossible the situations are, the more thrilling the triumph. Admitting that these are all guided by the very nature of the economic model that filmmaking is, I do believe it is not impossible to make compelling films portraying reality and yet doing good at the box-office. But again, what the fuss about box-office? These chaps have millions, and are supposedly talented. Can't they dare to risk making a good film without worrying about returns?

Mani Ratnam stands out. But he is, strictly speaking, not a realist filmmaker. I want to see Satyajit Ray's kind of masterpieces - that show life as it is. For every hundred KHNHs, I want just one Anand; for every hundred Gadars or Borders or Lagaans, I want just one Pratidwandi; for every hundred 3KGs, I want just one Apur Sansar. I agree Hero No.1, Ye No.1, Wo No.1 are all fine comedies, but I want one Jaane Bhi Do Yaaron too. For every hundred Karan Johars, I want one Satyajit Ray. I don't want to see fantastic stories of heroes, I want to see stories of people. Is there really a realist filmmaker out there, or is he an extinct species?

I don't know if anyone remembers the music video that Lintas made on Bombay when riots devastated the city in early nineties, but it was so brilliant that I still remember the visuals. It was about people - it was about you and me. At a time when kitsch is king, Rabbi's Bulla Shah music video came as a saviour. He didn't take the camera into studio settings, but he took it into the streets. May his tribe increase!

15 Dec 2004


Posted by Oblivion in General | 1:00pm

"Both in thought and in feeling, even though time be real, to realise the unimportance of time is the gate of wisdom."

- Bertrand Russell

What kind of a mind can chance upon such insights? Is insight dependent on intelligence, or experience, or a chance combination of both? I vote for intelligence, because assuming an experience is quite affecting, yet it is intelligence that determines how one takes it and comes out of it. And, what determines intelligence in turn? Education? Genes? Or various factors else? Or is it independent of everything? If it is dependent, we come back to the point - it's all a game of chance, for there is absolutely no way in life to choose 'determinants'. Interesting anyways... need to think more...

14 Dec 2004

11/09/04, 5.12pm

Posted by Oblivion in General | 5:35pm

“< ?xml:namespace prefix = st1 ns = "urn:schemas-microsoft-com:office:smarttags" />Feb 16, ’00, 11.24am”, Banya scribbled on her notepad as she picked up the phone. “Asha Jyothi. How may I help you?” she asked in a concerned tone. Both Banya and Sarat studied at IIM, Calcutta where they excelled as an invincible team in debating and quizzing. Coming from affluent families, neither had to worry about money. Banya spent two years abroad with a consulting firm before she joined Sarat again when he started Asha Jyothi, a befriender’s organization. Banya didn’t readily agree and expressed the doubt if, in doing so, she would not be wasting management education. Her doubt soon disappeared when Sarat told her, in a firm tone that echoed conviction, she would, on the contrary, be putting it to use in the most challenging and rewarding domain – adversity management.

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“Adversity is a bog that pulls each and every person, at some point in time or the other, and renders him helpless. We have to lift the person up and alight him on the flight of hope”, he would jest frequently. Four more people work at Asha Jyothi that operates out of a sprawling apartment. A large poster in bright colors of blue and yellow hangs on the wall behind Banya. The poster is a combined effort – Banya designed the logo and Sarat wrote the caption.


As she put the receiver down, Banya wiped her tears. Whenever she does so, Sarat reminds her that a befriender should just be an objective listener with a very alert mind that would not lose the ability to reason even amid a hopeless situation, and that crying is an absolute no-no. “When a person decides to commit suicide, his perception becomes paranoid, and in such cases, empathy only makes him go deeper into his shell. He does not construe your empathy as a gesture of understanding his feelings, but just as your own feelings of despair. So, you are actually posing him a problem instead of helping solve his”, he says. He believes this so strongly that you find the following lines right above his signature on the first page of his notepad:


“Lend him your words and ears

And keep to yourself your tears”


These lines are also among the first that the new recruits are advised to learn by heart. To make it easier, they refer to it as Asha Jyothi’s Commandment – “Thou shalt not cry.”  


Banya doesn’t always receive his reminders with a cool head. “Not my way. I do not agree with your twisted logic that the proof of befriending is in becoming a robot with just an active listening faculty and dead to emotion. I cannot pretend to be unmoved when the person on the other side of the phone is not yet twenty and is going through hell, and concludes that death is the only solution. Imagine! Hardly twenty, with all his life ahead! And he has already given up!! Well, it could’ve been my brother, it could’ve been your brother. When someone is down and is on the fringe of giving up on life, it is not his problem anymore. It is a human problem. Adversity is a human problem, damn it!, and it doesn’t yield to intellectual explanation or logical comprehension”, she would scream.


Occasional outbursts notwithstanding, Banya and Sarat understand each other quite well, so everybody knows that her anger would not last long. Sarat would soon say some nice consoling words with good wit and the calm returns. Sarat is a good listener and has amazing restraint over his feelings. Banya reaches out to people and doesn’t hesitate in taking that extra step to help. She finds it queer that Sarat is a man of few words. And, whenever she asks him to explain the reason he would say, “The deeper one’s insight, the more silent he becomes. Talking is easy; touch any person on the street and he’ll start talking. Listening is tough because it demands sensitivity. People, in moments of fun and frivolity, enjoy the company of those who talk, but when hope is gone from life, they hanker for a listener. It’s tough to find listeners in this world. So, I’d rather be a listener.” She finds it impressive every time. It’d be obvious even to a casual observer that they complement each other perfectly. It should be surprising if at least one of them is not aware of this.


At Asha Jyothi, work usually ends at 5.30. Sarat drops Banya and two more of the team before he reaches home. Banya isn’t a keen diarist, but finds some minutes after dinner to write statistics and one-liners. “12 calls – one saved, eight hopeful, three gone. Tough day, but very rarely do days end with a smile at AJ (Asha Jyothi)”, a typical entry reads.


Sarat takes pleasure in writing in diary. A rather introspective kind of writing, but, at times, profound tread of reason gives way to dexterous dance of rhyme, and verse dissolves into poetry. More often very impersonal about life and events, yet, rarely though, very sensitive and intimate accounts of the same. But, of late, entries of romantic poetry have become more prominent and Banya is slowly taking the place of his beloved, who has thus far been eluding.


Sarat picks up Banya and the two members at mornings as well, while coming to AJ. Tough schedule as it might seem – what with working six-days-a-week, with no holidays – they have as much fun on Sundays. So much so that they refer to Sundays as Fundays. For all his composed temperament and exceptional knowledge, Sarat is admired as a great boss by all.


Every morning, Banya talks with the two juniors and gives them more insights about handling calls. She makes one of the members make a dummy call and demonstrates by example. “And do not forget to make an entry of the date and time before you pick up the call”, she would insist, “and, more importantly, do not forget to complete the entry after you finish. Remember? ‘Saved’, if you are sure the caller felt better at the end of the call and so would certainly choose to live, ‘Hopeful’, if you are sure that he felt only a little better and so might choose to live, and ‘Gone’, if you are sure the caller is not going to change his mind.”


All is not dreary at AJ though. It has a wonderful collection of books and music, besides a sleek TV set. There are moments of fun and surprise too – as when one of their friends called up Banya, threw open a deal that he would slit his throat if she fails to identify him within twenty minutes, and then disclosed his identity when she just began to cry; as when a businessman sent a load of bouquets on Diwali as a gesture of gratitude for being there when he needed hope and company most; as when a man called up, read out his unfulfilled dreams and Will, and ended up proposing the girl attending the call because he liked her voice. A birthday is celebrated with much fervor, and issues – political or otherwise – are debated with equal passion. And it’s a law, unwritten but mutually understood and agreed upon, that a team member should avail of AJ’s services when he is in difficulties himself.  


Sarat decided he would not delay any longer in letting Banya know of his intentions of marrying her and felt her birthday to be an appropriate day for the confession. Although an element of doubt troubled him, yet he was confident that she would accept. He always felt she belonged to him. After all, it was he who shortened her name Lavanya and rechristened her Banya. He played with the idea for two days and convinced himself that ‘Mrs Banya Sarat Chatterjee’ sounded better than ‘Mrs Lavanya Sarat Chatterjee’.


When the day came, and after they had cut the cake and sung and danced, he took her out. He gifted her his small collection of poetry. The whole event did not take her by surprise though. Besides being intellectually sharp and emotionally sensitive, Banya has the gift of reading other people’s minds with remarkable precision. When he dropped her at home that night, the drive ended as the longest and the most poignant for both. The reason for her disappointing Sarat was not that she disliked him, but because she had already decided to marry Amit, with whom she had been in love for five months.


It was not the pain of her rejection that haunted Sarat, but the fact that Banya confided in him about every important event in her life but kept him a complete stranger to what he feels the most important one. He felt utterly alone, rendered helpless by the imperceptible yet sudden slice of the dagger of Fate, thrown out of the stage of the world, thrown out of her life. But he handles such states of mind very well and comes out of them soon. This time he came out sooner when he remembered that he also had concealed something very important from her after all.


After graduating in management, Sarat worked for two years as a Rural Management Consultant with a new energy company in Mumbai, earning a hefty pay. If not for an event that occurred on August 24, ’98, he would not have given up that decent job to return to Calcutta and start AJ. Sarat’s father retired as a commissioner of police, his mother runs two schools for the poor, and his elder brother Satyajit who studied at Oxford heads a publishing company. On that day, Satyajit returned home late, watched TV, had a light dinner with parents, locked himself in his room and shot himself dead. When the dawn broke and they broke open the door, they found Satyajit lying in a pool of frozen blood, a hole in his head and a pistol in his right hand. On his writing table was found a small note –


“From that endless road begins the sojourn

And to that endless road does one return

The road of life is long and tiring

With only illusive hopes in its offering

Liberation in life have I sought

But deliverance in death have I found


Life is a lender of pleasures, pains, dreams and hopes; at the end, everyone owes it a death.


I hold nobody or no event responsible for my taking this decision. Please do not disclose the news of my suicide to anybody.





That was Sarat’s first experience being the target of the dagger of Fate. He loved Satyajit very much and the family was close-knit. It was impossible for Sarat to imagine that Satyajit could feel so lonely and shattered, no matter what. That event prompted Sarat to start AJ and study the mechanism of suicide in depth. And being honest to Satya’s last words, he concealed this important event in his life from Banya too. He instead coined the phrase ‘adversity management’ to persuade her to join AJ. He uses the pistol in his cache – the same pistol that Satyajit shot himself with – to get a first-hand insight into the feelings that run in the mind of a person contemplating suicide. He does so, however, only on those days when Banya is on leave and he stays back after everybody has gone.


He rationalized that Banya too must have had an equally compelling reason to conceal that fact from him.


Equally compelling or not, Banya too indeed had a reason to have not told Sarat about Amit for all these days. Amit too studied with Sarat and Banya. So, when Amit and Banya decided to marry, they thought they would break the news as a surprise to Sarat. And the idea of surprising her dearest friend was a matter of delight for her. That night though, after dinner and that long, painful drive, it troubled her with poignant feeling of guilt as she wrote in her diary – “One birthday, nine hours of happiness, twenty SMSs, five bouquets, one broken heart, one shattered girl.”


As days fleeted past, Sarat and Banya tried hard to restore the same bridge of intimacy between them. To make Banya feel better, Sarat would refer, in a lighter vein, Tagore’s Farewell My Friend and tell her that Banya and Amit are the best pair. But the harder they tried, the more uncomfortable the distance between them became. The dagger of Fate, it appeared to Sarat, was more unrelenting this time, pulling apart each other with every word, just as water pulls apart two ice-blocks with every slight movement.


But before it became any wider, Banya’s wedding came as a savior. Sarat knew that even if it takes away his beloved, it would still leave behind his dearest friend. So, he was not entirely unhappy. Nor was Banya. A week after wedding, she would leave for US along with Amit. However, to save themselves from feelings of discomfort, she and Sarat would not communicate with each other for a good time. They would e-mail, in brief at that, only twice every year – on New Year’s Day and on each other’s birthdays.


October 27, ’00, 11.15am – Banya left for US.


“10/27/’00, 4.36pm”, Sarat wrote on his notepad as the phone rang. “Asha Jyothi. How may I help you?” he said. He heard no voice in response, but Sarat felt the immensity of the burden in the other person’s heart. He held the receiver closer to him as he listened to the sound of heaviness in his own heartbeats. Shortly after, the stranger began to make sounds of weeping. The sounds became more frequent and when he could not contain himself anymore, he broke down. After crying his heart out for ten minutes, he put the phone down. Sarat held the receiver for a minute more, softly uttered “Thank you” and put it down. He looked at Banya’s seat, now empty, and got back to finishing the entry on his notepad. “10/27/’00, 4.36pm – saved.”


Almost four years have passed since that day. Sarat wrote Banya eight times and she wrote him seven times. His birthday is just days away and he would hear from her for the eighth time. AJ now has ten members in the team, the collection of books and music has only increased with time, and now they handle online queries as well. Sarat has written two books – a work of fiction and another on insights into the roots of suicide. He now writes for international journals on psychology, serves as a visiting faculty at his mother’s schools and other colleges, and is also writing a script for a short-film on ‘Depression – The Serial Killer’.


Ever since marriage, Banya has been taking care of Finance operations for Amit’s software development company. Owing to immense work pressure, typical of a young software venture, they believed it’s a good idea to not think of having children for at least another year.


On his birthday, Sarat arrived at AJ a little earlier than usual, for he expected to begin the day with reading Banya’s wishes and replying her. He was neither surprised nor disappointed when he did not receive any mail yet. He is quite aware that Banya would write rather later than on time. But, sceptic as he is, he checked his inbox ten times before he was made to cut the cake at evening. No matter how many times he checked, the result wasn’t any different. As traffic restrictions were being imposed, due to a foreign official’s arrival, from 5pm that evening, all the team-members chose to leave. Before leaving, they agreed upon meeting Sarat at the Chinese restaurant at 8pm.


After checking the inbox yet again and not finding the mail he had been expecting, he resumed reading Tagore’s collection of stories – a book that the team gifted him earlier that evening – when the phone rang. He waited, as he usually does, for the second ring to ensure it’s not a wrong call. He put the book down and picked up the notepad. He looked at the watch and noted the date and time – “11/09/’04, 5.12pm – “. The fourth ring was about to start when he picked up the receiver and answered, “Asha Jyothi. How may I help you?” After moments of silence, a female voice answered, “Hello”. Sarat responded and waited for the next words. But no words came. He repeated “Hello?” with intervals but it failed to persuade her to speak. After three minutes, she cut the line.


Sarat sighed deeply as he put the phone down. He is used to answering such calls, but he had little patience left at this moment. He was just about to strike off the entry when the phone rang again. He decided against striking off and answered the phone after the third ring. “Asha Jyothi. How may I help you?” This time, the response was quick. “Hello”, said the woman on the other side.


He reckoned it was the same woman who cut the line a minute ago, and he noticed no obvious strain in her voice. “Hello, how are you?” Sarat asked as he waited for her to speak.


She started in a low voice, “I have always believed that suicide is an act of cowardice and that no reason, however sound and convincing, can justify it. I believed life follows a pattern, and by analyzing the causes one can eliminate the effects. I thought there can be only two reasons why a person thinks of suicide – loss of hope as in majority of cases, or obsession with an irrational ideal as in the case of suicide bombers. One either gives up on faith in life or gives up himself for the cause of his group. And I believed one can come out of that state of mind if he is patient for some time. But I have realized it is not so in all cases. Adversity makes life itself a quicksand and neither time nor words of hope can bring one out of that. Its cold stare breaks all the anchors with the known and throws one into the abysmal unknown. Today, as I find myself giving in to death, it neither surprises me nor makes me feel guilty. There are times when life proves a bad sample and is worth giving up. So, I believe my decision is sensible. But before it is curtains down on life, I thought I would confess this most important decision in life to my most precious and dearest friend.” Her voice quivered as she said, “Sarat, happy birthday. Forgive me for offering no gifts, but only the sorrow of death.”


“Banya!” Sarat exclaimed as he controlled his tears and held his head in utter disbelief. He collected himself and said, “Banya! …but I always thought you are happily married, and enjoying work. What is it that has gone wrong? Whatever it is, Banya, it can be worked out. Believe me. No problem is strong enough to warrant giving up on life. And there is nothing wrong in cutting off all needs or attachments, however strong they may be, for the sake of the most important need of life – survival. There are no dead-ends in life, Banya. One can always take a u-turn and choose another lane. Please! No matter what your problem is, I’m certain it can be worked out. Please don’t take any decision out of impatience. Just give me five days, two days, one day, at least one hour time. I will solve your problem. Please!” Sarat pleaded and broke down.


“Sarat, I know you will. And if it’s my problem, I know you will do whatever it takes to solve”, Banya assured. “But it’s all beyond that now. It’s all over. I’ve taken the sleeping pills and I’ve barely few minutes left.”


“What!!” Sarat yelled in anger. “You stupid, adamant girl! Will you ever listen to me!” he cried out loud as he admonished her. This time, he realized, the dagger of Fate is planning a fatal cut and has chosen him for witness while mocking at his helplessness.   


“Forgive me, Sarat. And remember our commandment, ‘Thou shalt not cry’. Take care of yourself. Bye”, Banya put the phone down and the last drops of tears rolled down her cheeks. The cut was complete.


The heaviest burden is not that of ignorance, but that of knowledge. To know of the loss after the event is sad, but to know all along what you are losing, and that you are bound to lose is pathetic. And life doesn’t give a second chance.


Sarat shouted into the mouthpiece, “Banya! Banya! Banya!” But he could hear her no more. He yelled and cried at the top of his voice and collapsed on the table in tears.


A minute later he opened the cache, took out the pistol, pointed it at his temple, and pulled the trigger.


The deafening noise splattered blood on the floor, and made the receiver, hanging loose from the table, swing. And on the notepad read the unfinished entry –


“11/09/’04, 5.12pm -         


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