Monday, February 28, 2011

My first momentus decision

A paragraph from Kafka's Investigations of a Dog has stayed with me. The gist of it was - Dogdom came to a fork. They chose one path believing that they could turn back if needed. Then a time came when it was no longer possible to turn back.

I have often thought about why I took certain decisions. One major decision I took was at the age of 10.

My uncle came to stay with us. He was an engineer. He worked in a factory and had to leave for work even before I woke up. My father left for work after I left for school. And I made my decision. I was not going to be an engineer!

When the time came to go to college, it never even occurred to me to consider engineering as a plausible option.

Sunday, February 27, 2011

Why do I believe weird stuff?

I have a vivid memory of an elder cousin telling me that bubble gum was made from rats! He had seen it in the basement of a bubblegum factory.

Now, this cousin was known for bluffing. Yet, I around 10 at the time, seem to have believed him. I think I had dreams or nightmares about the manufacturing of bubblegum.

Decades later, I once casually talked to my cousin and he did not have the faintest recollection of the rats and bubblegum story! May be I had just had the nightmares.

What I find weird is that for years, I did not eat chewing gum or bubblegum. Even today, any time I eat it, I am reminded of this story.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Kafka's letter to his father

My father was a very lenient father. I do not remember him getting angry - at least not often and never for long.

I inherited my love for reading from him.

I decided to share the Franz Kafka's letter to his father. I was greatly affected by Kafka, especially Metamorphosis and Letters to Felice.

I was certain that my father would appreciate the logic of Franz and empathise with him. I was surprised to find him sympathising with Franz's father.

I suppose I had the illusion that I knew my father!

From one of my evergreen favourites - "Both Sides Now" by Joni Mitchel and also sung by Judy Collins:

But now old friends are acting strange,
they shake their heads, they say I've changed.
Something's lost but something's gained
in living every day.

I've looked at life from both sides now,
from win and lose, and still somehow
it's life's illusions I recall.

I really don't know life at all.

Monday, February 21, 2011

False affidavits will not be accepted: HC

I was delighted to read the above headline. My father had wanted to sue his tenant for perjury but his lawyers had advised him - Don't! You will be running to the courts for years and nothing will come of it. It is the norm. Be thankful that you have got your house back.

My happiness did not last long. The real story was that the court opposed the  "prevailing practice of getting affidavits attested without appearing before the oath commissioner".

It does not matter whether you tell the truth or not. But you must follow the rules!

Come to think of it, why do courts, at least in movies, need to make the witness swear to tell the truth. Shouldn't that be the expected default? Suppose I am an atheist and swear on a religious book, can I claim that my swearing was not valid. Or, like children, claiming that I had kept my fingers crossed?

"I wish I had been born in Finland"

My year-long stay in Helsinki was coming to an end. I wrote to my parents that I wished I were born in Finland!

Wasn't the wisest thing to write. After India and the US, I had really liked the Finnish society. Somehow, I felt that it was a humane society in which I felt at ease with my colleagues but with a very modern, comfortable lifestyle.

It was not like the US - where a fellow grad student had once commented - "Least of all your wife" in response to a discussion on whom should we trust. I realize that his comments were not exactly reliable as he was in the process of being divorced!

I had not intended to migrate to Finland. It was meant as a praise for the society.

When I returned to India, my father had mentioned to me - Your mother was very upset that you did not want to be born to her!

I am sure he was talking about himself and using my mother as a cover. I was affected possibly quite hurt that I had been misunderstood. I did not try to explain. I probably could not have put my thoughts into words and, probably, would have made matters worse.

I took solace from a discussion with a Dutch colleague when I had told him that I was returning to India. He had said - What! You won't be able to survive there.

Surprisingly, my relations in India were very proud that I had not changed!

My personal view - I was a misfit in the west and in India. Except possibly, Finland.

Friday, February 18, 2011

Recalling my first application for an IPO

By mid-1980's, even I was influenced by a desire to participate in the stock market. I decided to apply for an IPO. IPO's were quite common at the time.

So, how did I decide? We had a small bank in our office building. I was surprised to find that this branch was accepting IPO applications for one company.

The company was making some acids. I had no clue about it. Even more important - no interest in it! I applied simply because it was easy.

Not surprisingly, the stock price languished for many years. About a decade later, I found that the Rs. 10 share was selling around Rs. 60. This was the one time I made a little effort and sold the shares. I was lucky. The price had gone high because the promoters were fighting for control!

Anyway, I regard this memory as fascinating as it is indicative of many decisions I have taken in life. Even important ones. Choosing the path of minimal effort or even sillier reasons.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

No place for old people

My mother does not like to go out. Yesterday, she went out after a long time.

As we passed by the local market, she wondered why the extra rush. We told her that double parking, chaotic parking was now the norm. She had been driving till she was 75, a little over 6 years ago. She was horrified at the idea of driving like this now.

Driving conditions have been deteriorating rapidly. And I wonder what will happen to us.

I recall hurting my father years ago when I said that retirement homes are the ideal solution and we should have more of them even in India!

In the last couple of years of his life, my wife or I would drop him to the Rose Garden nearby. He would slowly walk back. In the last year, he would take a rickshaw back.

His last public efforts were to get traffic light installed at the crossing between Rose Garden and Shanti Kunj garden. It was an inner road. He got a polite response from the police that they would look into it.

He was very happy about having pursued for a toilet in Shanti Kunj and getting it done. He had also persisted in getting lights installed on the pathway behind our home leading to Shanti Kunj. However, he did not succeed in getting the traffic lights installed.

Often, it can be hard to cross that road even for us. Our drivers have no patience or courtesy. I wish we could genetically alter people for these characteristics.

Where will we be? I am inclined to trust the advice I was giving my father. Fortunately, this need has become more common and facilities for retired people to live peacefully and comfortably are becoming more common. Who knows by the time I need one, there may be a home for retired computer programmers!

Friday, February 11, 2011

Becoming a Conservative?

A couple of discussions in the last week has me worried. Am I becoming a conservative with age?

I sent a link to the planning commission's site for ideas to my sister. I was optimistic about the possibilities. She was surprised. She had expected me to be cynical about their intentions.

I was supporting the national UID project and did not think that it was a waste of money.

I am wondering if with age, I have become aware of my failings and am less likely to reject projects which I may have questioned in my younger days.

I thought that color tv was a waste of money for a poor country like India. Satellite tv with the devastating 'Bold and Beautiful' on Star Plus was going to destroy whatever was left of Indian languages. Little did I know Star Plus would become a Hindi channel and we would be exporting Saas Bahu serials to the world. Boy, was I wrong in my fears.

Abroad, sales of computers and software were driven by cost savings led by reduction in manpower. Hence, I was not very enthusiastic about computerization in Indian companies, e.g. banks. The private banks also seemed elitist. The signals seemed, 'Don't come to us unless you have lots of money'. And, yet the combination of computers and private banks has led to remarkable improvements in the quality of the banking experience of the middle class.

A third elitist step which troubled me a lot was the mobile phone. I recall the early days when talking on the cell phone was a symbol of showing off, especially at the airports. It seemed such a waste. Money should have been used to bring phones to more people. Yet, today it is the indispensable tool for me to contact my plumber or electrician. I am embarrassed by my ignorance at the time.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Karel Capek and 'hurting' my father

My words used to bother my father - at least some of them.

I recall being deeply affected by a fable by Karel Capek (I think) and wanted to 'educate' my father. The story, if I recall correctly, was that an eagle carries only that offspring to safety who says that when the parent eagle is old, the offspring will have his own family and will not be able to able to look after the parent!

I suppose it wasn't the best tale to give to my father! Fortunately, my father's view was that I made statements to shock but my actions are different.

I recollected this memory today. I am still affected by the tale and believe in its message. For me, everlasting life or reincarnation or whatever is only possible through the perpetuation of my genes and I would like see their perpetuation as being the most important task of my offsprings.

However, I am not sure if I would have liked one of my sons to ask me to read this story!