Author: iknowthemall

"Freaks my balance out..."

Footnotes on Soros

Reflexivity refers to the fact that if the investigators (tasked with finding the “truth”) of a system are part of the system, then their beliefs and learnings modify the system and alter the truth. Thus, the truth keeps moving out of reach and will always be unknowable. It is a practical formulation of the problem of understanding human societies because as we learn more about ourselves, new problems arise from the new learnings rendering the learnings overextended and failed. Unlike scientific theories, which have falsibility, social theories are inherently infalsifiable as they themselves introduce a bias in the system.

I think the theory can also be understood as a linear spectrum of the strength of influence the observations from the observers wield on the observed. On the one end of the spectrum you would have people trying to understand themselves, with their own observations about themselves altering their nature so significantly as to render their earlier observations incorrect; and on the other you have people observing the positions of the sun and the moon where the influence those observations wield on the participants of the study are miniscule, leaving the theory valid for longer. Note how I mention the theory is valid for longer. This is because if you imagine a scenario where humans learn enough about gravity to learn how to alter it on an astronomical scale, the prevailing theory would no longer be valid, and would thus be overextended.

Political and financial systems lie somewhere in the middle, with a lot of indeterminacy baked in merely because the observations of the participants would change the dynamics of the systems. Like Trump lying about Obama’s birthplace, or Bush lying about WMDs in Iraq, the manipulators influence reality in a significant way. In a lot of these cases, manipulation of reality is unintentional, but in a fair amount of cases, the manipulator seeks to pursue power more successfully by modifying reality. But due to the innate indeterminacy baked into the system, the reality that they seek to achieve may not arise at all, and the system can digress into a scenario that doesn’t serve its own creator.

In a case of unknown realities, how are we to identify if there is a real truth and its plausibility? I think the answer lies in thinking of this dynamic system as a system of infinite feedback loops and multivariate interactions. The best we can hope to achieve is a system that is internally consistent, and maximizes a function whose value can be as objectively determined as possible. Lowering worldwide deaths, for example, can be a good function to maximize when we are dealing with systems that aim to serve as the guiding principles. Obviously, it’s too simplistic, but it presents a framework within which we can try and make a system that has an internal structure at least. At the same time however, we need to be very cautious of the limits of such a paradigm when it comes to, say, improving human lives, as these things can get overextended really quickly. Communism sounds like a pretty sane theory, but if you establish it as the only version of truth then it can quickly devolve into something that no one intended. At the same time, pluralistic viewpoints can also lead to democracies of misinformation where opinions take priority over facts.

I decided to add some feedback loops to help easily visualize the cases I am talking about.
1. A market in equilibrium
This is oversimplified, as in a lot of genuine cases the loop should be positive feedback, but there was no simple system I could design on the website to show that. Ideally a check condition that would change value based on the disparity between value (reality) and price (assessment of reality). This check condition clearly assumes perfect knowledge, which as discussed, is unattainable in observer as participants systems.

2. A system with emotions interfering to dictate the prices can lead to unstable equilibrium affecting both the reality (value) and price (the assessment of the reality)
Any trigger throws this system out of whack. This is obviously not what happens in financial markets in most cases otherwise the system would be totally dysfunctional. This is a system based mostly on feelings (assessment) rather than reality. This does, however, happen every once in a while or on smaller scales, and value and price go out of whack and influence each other in weird ways.

Will edit as I think about it more. It may even be juvenile in hindsight, but that is the comfort reflexivity allows us. The past is real, and we can be objective about it, but the present and future are wholly uncertain, with a lot of room for maneuvering.


There are things I cannot influence in any meaningful way that occupy my mind to a troubling degree: how a moron in the government just cut off funding to the EPA, how no one is worried about climate change enough, why people don’t realize that bidets are a much superior option to toilet paper for cleaning butts, why solar stocks are constantly undervalued, why is marriage such a big decision etc. This noise occurs because there are some things I care about deeply and any overarching challenges to those things go directly to my head. I cannot do a single thing about it, so a strange frustration and rage swells up and I feel a lot of blood rushing to my head.

I call it a strange frustration because it feels like I am in a Kafka novel, where things happen to me that affect me immensely and yet I have no recourse but to go on and deal with the situation. There is no deliberate assessment of the situation, there is no choice, there is no escape, there is only time which moves in only one direction, and I feel like I am in a river, drowning, but not dying, just suffocating, all the while moving forward. The rage is impotent, it burns hard but destroys nothing other than me.

It bothers me, and I begin to wonder what it means- have I lost the ability to deal with adversity? have I forgotten where I’m coming from? have I had my fill of the rain and I don’t want to get wet again? have I become so trapped in my own risk averse mediocrity that I don’t dare to do anything about my situation? have things really gotten so bad? were they not always this bad? how did I deal with them then? was I just ignorant? what good is this awareness doing to me? how do I become ignorant again? or how do I become hopeful again? have I lost the ability to take low risk high stake decisions when all I admire in a person is a fearless rationality? how do I get it back? The walls seem to be closing around me, and I feel like this bottle will pop anytime now. But it never does. Instead of being the bottle of soda I imagine myself to be, I think I am a chewing gum, thoroughly malleable, infinitely amenable, infinitely crushable.

I have always written whenever I felt a lack, because that is where my writing comes from. I feel a strong lack again, surrounded by a dense fog of uncertainty and confusion. Only this time, the problem I am dealing with has no form- it is a cacophony of conflicts calling for my help to be resolved, calling for me to identify little ghosts in a noisy signal, and then to wager irreversible decisions based on those ghosts.

Like always, I may have meandered…

But like always, the meandering has helped me understand where the lack is. In a small way possibly, but these little clicks on the keyboard allowed for a fleeting reflection on a pool of thoughts that is unusually murky in my head.

When you take a long time off from biking, you are unsure of yourself in traffic. And I think that is what is happening to me. Gone soft, like they say. The only way to be comfortable again is to take out that rusty bike, oil it up, and start riding.

See you around the corner, Pandit.

Thoughts after the 2016 US Elections

Smugness of Liberals

There are a lot of people who understand that there is way too quick a pronouncement of someone as a racist, sexist, homophobe, xenophobe if one even raises (sometimes genuine) concerns about the dismantling of status quo in each of these respective categories. Sam Harris shares this viewpoint, and a lot of academics would agree that there are certain types of research that you just can’t do these days and even if you did it and found something that goes against the egalitarian view of the world that non-scientific liberals have, you will be rather immediately put under fire. Research showing, for example, that men tend to have better spatial awareness than women and that there are genuine differences between genders. What most of fail to understand in the resulting hysteria of these results is that pointing out differences doesn’t imply discrimination, and that in some cases, going against nature to force fit a 50/50 gender ratio in some occupations can be counterproductive and actually discriminatory. And the feeling of being discriminated against, even though you are the majority, gets manifested in seemingly extreme ways through organizations like the Men’s Rights Activists etc. They have a lot of genuine points, but since the nature of such organizations attracts some actual bigots (who like in every situation scream the loudest), the whole movement gets discredited and maligned, and anyone taking their side on any issue leads to tons of strawman attacks.

Now, a few people have started to understand this, because each of us is a majority in one aspect or the other and we also tend to cry foul when we feel discriminated against in that sphere. Instead, I have been seeing a plethora of articles on NYT and other “liberal” sites that are now focusing on “understanding” the other group, understanding Trump supporters in this case. What they don’t realize is that there is again an implicit moral superiority that gets presented by taking such a position: conservatives aren’t 10 year olds with autism that have trouble expressing themselves. In a lot of cases, they are rich, educated, and have a lot of media to be heard. What is needed is a love for the truth, not a love for the “other side”. What is needed is a clearer understanding of complicated things and letting go of snap judgements and easy labels. 29% Hispanics supported Trump, more NYCzens voted for Trump than did for Romney, so clearly there is quite a variety of flavors that  makes up Trump supporters, and clumping them into labels like xenophobe, racists, idiots, rednecks, only serves to misunderstand them more. As a kicker, Michigan had more people voting for Obama (even in White counties) than had for Clinton. I feel what angered them was not the fact that she was a woman, but the fact that she refused to even address their problems head on. She only ever appealed to minorities and women. Not once did she acknowledge that letting immigrants in is a complicated topic and not a John Oliver video without repercussions, even though I am sure that a woman as smart and with as much experience as her will totally understand it. I would love to live in a world without borders and petty differences based on where you were born, but sadly that is the world we live in and moving away from it too suddenly creates a backlash.

So, in summary, fuck your feelings and fuck your beliefs, whether you are Bill Maher, John Oliver, Sean Hannity, or whoever. What matters is an understanding of the situation based on data, and having the highest resolution picture possible. Forming opinions based on the most relevant and scientific data possible, and then being open to having those opinions be questioned rigorously and sometimes crudely. Science advocates for a simple method to analyze the most complex of situations, but that does not necessarily result in the simplest possible answer, especially in dynamic system like humanity where there are tons of variables, some with a teeny tiny correlations and some with a lot of it. The best possible way to empathize is to understand, and the best possible method to understand is the scientific method.

Who’s the biggest victim here?

I still can’t believe US chose one of its top idiots to run the country, who will clearly assemble a team of choice idiots. But what I am more interested in now is understanding the areas that it will set us back the most. This article helps a little, but since no one understands how strong a resolve republicans have to move the country backwards, I am not sure if it will actually take more or less time to make these changes. One thing that is for certain, and the most frightening, is that climate is going to suffer terribly. The US hardly does enough to migrate to cleaner sources of energy, and it is something I don’t think I understand why. It will only create more jobs, can involve a lot of semi-skilled laborers and is only going to make electricity cheaper in the (slightly) long run. As of now, solar is cheaper than coal anyway, and there are plenty of great solutions to move away from the grid. The only reason I understand is that there is a strong lobby from companies who don’t want the energy mix to shift to areas that they don’t have much expertise in.

Social change anyway is slow and helical, so I am not too worried if gay and women rights get set back by a couple of decades, it is a smaller price to pay compared to what is going to happen to life on Earth in the case of irreversible CO2 increase. Yet this is the most difficult to foresee issue here (despite scary evidence getting ever closer), and will probably face the least amount of resistance. I hope people lead the government here by creating a market that has no choice but to migrate to more sustainable sources of energy because that is what sells. In other words, please save us, Elon. But people have repeatedly been shown to be utterly hopeless, myopic and resistive.

What can you do? Or will you please do this at least?

If you live in a house that is completely your own, can you please invest some money in getting a solar roof? Even more importantly, if you are planning to renovate a roof, go for solar. If you are planning to replace your car or buy a new one, can you go electric? There are plenty of great options: Tesla, Leaf, or even Prius. Read this blog to understand how by making simple tweaks to your life, you can actually increase your happiness, financial and actual health, all the while being a less mendacious version of yourself for the environment. Spend a little money for your kids and the kids of the parents who can’t afford to, instead of (or in addition to) giving them frivolous things like piano lessons, cookies and love, give them a sustainable future.

Through Kundera’s eyes

For those who know me, and most of those reading this blog are among those, know that I have a few authors I am very fond of, and the reason I give is that they talk about the human essence, about ideas that will take millennia to be outdated, and then I throw some names around, like Dostoevsky, or Camus, names hard to argue with. I think I lie. I think the real reason I like who I like is not because they talk about things that will outlast humanity, but because they are kindred, because they have a deeply cynical view of the world, yet they choose to embrace it, make sense of it, and love it. They are not general, they are specific, they are specific to me, in shaping my world, explaining it and then expanding it.

For a long time, I thought Kundera was an Indian author, and I refused to even read about him, filled with a petty jealousy as I myself harbored writerly ambitions, and anyone similar enough was a threat. After I let go of my ambitions, and after I realized Kundera was Franco-Czech, I picked up The Unbearable Lightness of Being. It was at a time when I was not reading much, but the stunning beauty of thought in that book made it a ride that felt too short. It is a book that talks about levity and seriousness, through characters that are fighting against themselves in love. But it is not the book I want to talk to you about, although this should be the first of his books you should read.

I want to talk about another masterpiece, that talks about Identity, Memory, Nostalgia, Absurdity (Laughter): The Book of Laughter and Forgetting. It instantly became close to my heart because these are the only things I think I care deeply about (maybe Mediocrity is another one, but I won’t know till I meet a kindred who talks about that). I don’t want to describe the book to you, for I will only do it a disservice, rather I will list some of my favorite quotes from the book, and maybe annotate them.

On Idealism (in a communist world, specifically):

“All human beings have always aspired to an idyll, to that garden where nightingales sing, to that realm of harmony where the world does not rise up as a stranger against man and man against other men, but rather where the world and all men are shaped from one and the same matter. There, everyone is a note in a sublime Bach fugue, and anyone who refuses to be one is a mere useless and meaningless black dot that need only be caught and crushed between thumb and finger like a flea.”


“[Mirek] rewrote history just like the Communist Party, like all political parties, like all peoples, like mankind. They shout that they want to shape a better future, but it’s not true. The future is only an indifferent void no one cares about, but the past is filled with life, and its countenance is irritating, repellent, wounding, to the point that we want to destroy or repaint it. We want to be masters of the future only for the power to change the past.”

This may seem like an overarching poetic statement, but this is in context of explaining the desire of a man to change the future in a way that affects the past, the struggle against memories that won’t cease to exist.


“But are tanks really more important than pears? As time went by, [Karel] realized that the answer to this question was not so obvious as he had always thought, and he began to feel a secret sympathy for Mama’s perspective, which had a big pear tree in the foreground and somewhere in the distance a tank no bigger than a ladybug, ready at any moment to fly away out of sight. Ah yes! In reality it’s Mama who is right: tanks are perishable, pears are eternal.”


On the unwritten rules of relationship constructs:

“Every love relationship rests on an unwritten agreement unthinkingly concluded by the lovers in the first weeks of their love. They are still in a kind of dream but at the same time, without knowing it, are drawing up, like uncompromising lawyers, the detailed clauses of their contract. O lovers! Be careful in those dangerous first days! Once you’ve brought breakfast in bed you’ll have to bring it forever, unless you want to be accused of lovelessness and betrayal.”


“Really as Sisyphus? Wasn’t it Sisyphus Marketa had compared herself to?

Yes, as the years went by, man and wife became twins, with the same vocabulary, the same ideas, the same des-tiny. Each had given the gift of Eva to the other, each to make the other happy. Each had the impression of hav­ing to push a boulder uphill. Each one was tired.”


On the difficulty of listening:

“But is she really listening? Or is she merely looking at them so attentively, so silently? I don’t know, and it’s not very important. What matters is that she doesn’t interrupt anyone. You know what happens when two people talk. One of them speaks and the other breaks in: “It’s absolutely the same with me, I …” and starts talking about himself until the first one manages to slip back in with his own “It’s absolutely the same with me, I…”
The phrase “It’s absolutely the same with me, I …” seems to be an approving echo, a way of con­tinuing the other’s thought, but that is an illusion: in reality it is a brute revolt against a brutal violence, an effort to free our own ear from bondage and to occupy the enemy’s ear by force. Because all of man’s life among his kind is nothing other than a battle to seize the ear of others. The whole secret of Tamina’s popularity is that she has no desire to talk about herself. She submits to the forces occupying her ear, never saying: “It’s absolutely the same with me, I . . .” “


On the feebleness of Memory, and the need to preserve it:

“She knows, of course, that there are also quite a few unpleasant things in the notebooks, days of dissatis-faction, arguments, and even boredom, but that is not what matters. She does not want to give back to the past its poetry. She wants to give back to it its lost body. What is urging her on is not a desire for beauty. It is a desire for life.
For Tamina is adrift on a raft and looking back, looking only back. Her entire being contains only what she sees there, far behind her. Just as her past con-tracts, disintegrates, dissolves, so Tamina is shrinking and losing her contours.”


On Self:

“That night Tamina dreamed about the ostriches. They were standing against the fence, all talking to her at once. She was terrified.

Tamina will never know what those great birds came to tell her. But I know. They did not come to warn her, scold her, or threaten her. They are not at all interested in her. Each one of them came to tell her about itself. Each one to tell her how it had eaten, how it had slept, how it had run up to the fence and seen her behind it. That it had spent its important childhood in the important village of Rourou. That its important orgasm had lasted six hours. That it had seen a woman strolling behind the fence and she was wearing a shawl. That it had gone swimming, that it had fallen ill and then recovered. That when it was young it rode a bike and that today it had gobbled up a sack of grass. They are standing in front of Tamina and talking to her all at once, vehemently, insistently, aggressively, because there is nothing more important than what they want to tell her.”


On Love:

“They got into a conversation. What intrigued Tamina were his questions. Not their content, but the simple fact that he was asking them. My God, it had been so long since anyone had asked her about any­thing! It seemed like an eternity! Only her husband had kept asking her questions, because love is a con-tinual interrogation. I don’t know of a better definition of love.”


On reconciling with the unknowable around you (the infinity in your grasp):

“Man knows he cannot embrace the universe with its suns and stars. Much more unbearable is for him to be condemned to lack the other infinitude, that infinitude near at hand, within reach. Tamina lacked the infini­tude of her love, I lacked Papa, and all of us are lack­ing in our work because in pursuit of perfection we go toward the core of the matter but never quite get to it.
That the infinitude of the exterior world escapes us we accept as natural. But we reproach ourselves until the end of our lives for lacking that other infinitude.”


On the hatred borne out of a love for your kin:

“Her misfortune is not that the children are bad but that she is beyond their world’s border. Humans do not revolt against the killing of calves in slaughterhouses. Calves are outside human law, just as Tamina is out­side the children’s law.”


On choosing the “best progressive idea”:

“As I have said, the Clevises were forward-looking, and they held progressive ideas. There are many kinds of progressive ideas, and the Clevises always supported the best possible progressive ideas. The best progres­sive ideas are those that include a strong enough dose of provocation to make its supporters feel proud of being original, but at the same time attract so many adherents that the risk of being an isolated exception is immediately averted by the noisy approval of a tri­umphant crowd. If, for instance, the Clevises were not only against tops but against clothing in general, if they announced that people should walk the city streets naked, they would surely still be supporting a progressive idea, but certainly not the best possible one. That idea would be embarrassing because there is something excessive about it, it would take too much energy to defend (while the best possible progressive idea, so to speak, defends itself), and its supporters would never have the satisfaction of seeing their thoroughly nonconformist position suddenly become everyone’s position.
Listening to them fulminate against tops, Jan remembered the small wooden instrument called a level that his grandfather, a bricklayer, would place on the top layer of a wall under construction. At the cen­ter of the instrument was a glass tube of liquid with an air bubble whose position indicated whether the row of bricks was horizontal or not. The Clevis family could serve as an intellectual air bubble. Placed on some idea or other, it would indicate precisely whether or not that was the best progressive idea possible.”


“At the beginning of one’s erotic life, there is arousal without climax, and at the end there is climax without arousal.
Arousal without climax is Daphnis.”


Kundera segments men’s erotic history, in his usually incisive manner:

“Every man has two erotic biographies. The first is the one people mainly talk about, the one consisting of a list of affairs and passing amours.
The other biography is undoubtedly more interest­ing: the procession of women we wanted to have but who eluded us, the painful history of unrealized possi­bilities.
But there is also a third, a mysterious and disturb­ing category of women. These are women we liked and were liked by, but women we quickly saw we would never have, because in relation to them we were on the other side of the border.”

He talks a lot about this border, and I think paragraph would maybe explain the meaning of the border best:
“Only a few millimeters separated physi­cal love from laughter, and he dreaded crossing over them. Only a few millimeters separated him from the other side of the border, where things no longer have meaning.”
This border is the line where serious ideas and objects are reduced to laughter, to an absurd position where they are naked and dumb.


“…midway through his very long journey as a virgin, he already knew what it is to be bored with the female body. Even before he ever experienced climax, he had already arrived mentally at the end of arousal. He had experienced its exhaustibility.
From childhood on, therefore, he had lived within sight of that mysterious border on the other side of which female breasts were merely soft globes hanging from the chest. That border was his lot from the very beginning.”


“”We’re all characters in Barbara’s dream,” said Jan.
“Yes,” replied the bald man. “But it never quite works. Barbara is like a clockmaker who has to keep moving the hands of his clock himself.””


” Jan remem­bered Daphnis. He is lying down, spellbound by Chloe’s nakedness, aroused but with no knowledge of what that arousal is summoning him to, so that the arousal is endless and unappeasable, limited and interminable. A great yearning gripped Jan’s heart, a desire to go back again. Back to that boy. Back to man’s begin­nings, to his own beginnings, to love’s beginnings. He desired desire. He desired the pounding of the heart. He desired to be lying beside Chloe unaware of fleshly love. Unaware of sexual climax. To transform himself into pure arousal, the mysterious, the incomprehensible and miraculous arousal of a man before a woman’s body. And he said out loud: “Daphnis!” ”

“…their bare genitals stared stupidly and sadly at the yellow sand.”

EPL vs La Liga: Which league is better?

After numerous subjective discussions (heated arguments) with friends of mine comparing EPL to La Liga that could only serve to break friendships and bruise throats, I decided to actually do some work and analyze the quality of the two leagues.
Disclaimer: I really like La Liga, and I really like Barcelona.

There are two main equally important components of the quality of a soccer league:
1. Strength of the top teams: There may be soccer leagues in India and Egypt with fierce internal rivalries and healthy balance in strength, but if the top teams itself are weak, the whole league is weak. To paraphrase Radiohead, the best they can ain’t good enough.
2. Competitiveness: This is the reason there is no Bundesliga in this discussion. A league is fun only if the day to day is exciting.

Intuitively, point 1 goes to La Liga, while point 2 goes to the EPL. But let’s allow stats to join the discussion.

I collected the final season tables for the two leagues from 1997-98 to 2013-14 in order to study the aggregate over these 17 seasons. Now some people may say that this is not recent history, but if you really want to talk stats, you need to have more data points. Otherwise the point of this article is moot and we can all go back to arguing relentlessly.

Also, I defined something called Nu Points, because I don’t like the current point allotment for WDL (3:1:0). I either want to make it more balanced (4:2:0) with every match getting 4 points (Nu Points), or more win heavy (4:1:0) with every win adding more weight in case of an imbalance (Wh Points).

So here is the aggregate table, and it is a counter intuitive curveball:

Counter-intuitive poop

Aggregate Table

Standard deviation is a metric of competitiveness, the lower it is the tighter the league and fiercer the competition. And by the cock of Zeus, it is a result we did not expect to see! La Liga has a lower standard deviation compared to EPL. But we all know that EPL would be more competitive, so what the hell is going on?

The answer lies in the details, and how aggregated statistics can sometimes obfuscate the story than reveal it.

Here is the breakdown of the team wise statistics for the Nu Points and Wh Points for the top 20 teams in each league (top teams defined by the number of seasons played, followed by average points).

EPL Nu Points

EPL Nu Points

La Liga Nu Points

La Liga Nu Points

EPL Win Heavy Points

EPL Win Heavy Points

La Liga Win Heavy Points

La Liga Win Heavy Points

And now we see what is going on. FC Barcelona and Real Madrid are dominating the Liga at the expense of the other teams (this is even more stark when you consider the Wh points), but the competition among the rest is very fierce and most of them are even. This contrasts with the EPL, where the top 4 are much stronger (in the vein of RMA and FCB) and there is an unmistakable steady decline in the quality of the other teams. This leads to the higher standard deviation in EPL compared to Liga.

So clearly, with similar coefficients of variance, statistically speaking, both leagues are imbalanced. And no sane person should disagree here. This is a general problem with football leagues as the distribution of funds happens to be in a positive feedback loop which can only be broken by the infusion of big money (Chelsea / Man City) into some of the lower teams. What gives EPL the perception of being more competitive is the closeness of the top four compared to Liga. All of the top four in EPL (now five with Man City joining in with a gorgeous Upper Limit) are quite close and are offered decent shots at the pole position. This is completely unlike Liga where RMA and FCB are thoroughly dominating the minions. Since competition for the top is what matters, EPL is clearly more competitive.

From 1997 to 2013, I would say that the best of EPL has been as good as the best of Liga on average (key here being on average, maybe Liga narrowly edges EPL). If that is an assumption we can agree upon, then clearly EPL offers more in terms of competitiveness than Liga.

Point 1: Tied (Liga edge)
Point 2: EPL wins where it matters

Overall winner, EPL.

Congrats EPL! But trust me, if you want to learn how to play good and enjoyable football, watch the current majesty of Barcelona. I just had to fucking say that.

Sad Saturday Soliloquy

Druggies have dreams
and lovers are alone
we all are mourning
what we never had
what we never will

My veins silently carry
a slag of broken
hopes desires
the residue of highs
into the throbbing void
for a refill of forgiveness
cast into forgotten pits

That is the stuff
my friend
you and I are made of
the lies we project


This is the story of a boy named Po
And how he was born and how he did grow.
I will not tell you how he fell
Into the land of stink and swell
Po laughs,
Po never cries,
Po dances with delight,
Po is caged in his might.
Po plays with the wind, with the sea
Po goes out to the shallowest creek.
Never know the great falls,
Never know the trees tall,
Never knows Po
Where Po is coming from,
Where Po is headed to.

The music that lived in everyone,
Belongs to none.

The Importance of a Title


How I got to writing captions to earn myself a living is another story in itself. During college, the time when I wasted myself on drugs and ensured that my future would not be what those oblivious of my present thought it would be like, I used to scribble funky lines for the college magazine, the deterioration of my grey cells prevents me from remembering the name of which, initially and later smeared the walls of the college with, though the authorities did not see them as such, very cool graffiti. I was expelled from college for the later act.

My parents, and consequently me, are Kashmiris and they belong to the “Holocaust generation” as they put it. The ghosts of the exodus still haunt them and so they live under clouds of paranoia, fearing death, of anyone they give two hoots about, lurking at every corner. The second generation, to which I belong, is what they pin their hopes of a stable life on and as far as they knew it till the time I was expelled, I was headed for one- brilliant at studies, clearing top exams, and landing and going well at the best college in the country. What they were oblivious of was what was going wrong: happenings inside the college hostel walls and my journey towards disillusionment.

Though I consciously avoided the bad things, I guess there was always in me a predilection to fall for the evil side of things, the alluring evils at least. I remember having forced tears into my eyes to avoid drinking beer during ragging and then, three months and a paradigm shift later, buying my first can. I still can’t hide a proud grin when I’m reminded of the fact that I took cannabis before alcohol. So, even though the overuse of drugs has made my past hazy and anachronistic, I know that it was not more than two months since I’d been granted freedom from my overprotective parentage that I first took marijuana, in the form of a ‘bhang ka laddu’ (I didn’t smoke then). The rest of the evils followed.

For the first two semesters, I wrote for the college magazine the naïve but funny stuff that a stoned philosopher would write. After a banal summer at home I decided to make the next year count- I was out to have fun. My hedonism reached heights- I gave up academics, I gave up all organized activity, I started spending day after day, week after week, simply getting high in my room, which had a bed, a computer that played the usual songs to create a psychedelic atmosphere other than Pink Floyd which I hated then, an almirah which had not a single piece of fabric for all my clothes were strewn on the floor and the bed, and a table in the drawer of which lay my new staple diet- pot.

I found friends, like moths find near light-bulbs, and we smoked together, caring not for the light of the sun, caring not for the light of the moon, nor for our grades, nor for, I think the treacherous smoke of the holy grass must’ve blinded us for we could not see it, our future. Admonitory letters from the professors changed into official letters of warning and finally, an academic probation. That was at the end of my second year and it was that time that I found an unguarded box full of spray cans at the Fine Arts Club.

Rahul Roy, son of a Punjabi father and a Bengali mother who insisted that they adopt her surname for the child to which the acquiescent father agreed, was one of my fellow hedonists who believed that Deep Thought should have said POT instead of 42. He and I decided to use that box of colours to create ‘real art’, not the fake outside-art the Fine Arts Club was so fond of creating, by colouring the grey, depressive walls of the institute with the colours of truth. And colour them one night we did!

When your heart is full of rebellion, your head full of alcohol, freedom, the euphemism for Satan, finds a way into your mind. Though we’d initially decided to not write any obscenities, but truth was free that night, no censor could stand in its way, and naked truth (like truth, our graffiti hardly made any sense) rained on the walls. We exhausted nearly twenty cans of spray paint among us two that night, coloured the academic buildings, hostels, roads, roadsides, water tanks, and whatever we could find, and exhausted we slept on the roof of the Dean’s Office, sore-thumbed, bare-chested and blue-nippled. With dawn revealing the extent of our carnage a gloomy premonition dawned on us: we were going to get expelled.

We’d definitely changed the institute, but what we’d actually done was to disturb a sleeping demon. We were both going to get expelled, confirmed the rumours that were running amok about the punks who’d coloured the lair of the dragon. The rumours found feet a week later when the fact-finding committee asked me and Roy for our names and roll numbers. I was squarely in danger, following a not-so-brilliant academic record, and now the act, which I regretted as one regrets having sex with a school-girl. I decided to save Roy’s degree, and claimed sole responsibility for the act. The authorities accepted my confession, lauded me for saving Roy’s ass, and kicked me out.


I will avoid the details of what happened next, for time will not allow me to. In short, I did not, for I could not, break the news of my expulsion to my parents. I stayed in Roy’s room, he owed me this bit, looking for options. I submitted my resume to various sites that promised me some future: as a freelancer, website designer, call-centre operator, etc. I had to support myself now, I was in dire need of employment somewhere away from home- I’d already decided to never go back there. The expulsion had already shaken me out of my pot-heady haze and cured my myopia as far as my future was concerned: I was going to be a writer, for stories to fill books I had enough.

During the immortally long summer holidays, which I was going to survive in Roy’s room, and on mess food, (the mess workers still considered me a brilliant student of the institute) I started reading newspapers looking for some opportunities in the vicinity. And it was then that I first saw the picture that was going to change my life.

Under the big bold letters saying CAPTAIN COOK CAPTION CONTEST, the unique name because it was sponsored by Captain Cook table salt, was a picture of a leaky, rusty tap and drops falling off it onto a rupee coin on the ground. It was a beautiful picture: the wet edges of the rusty tap, the dusty brown background, two drops caught in mid-air, one crashing on the shiny rupee coin- a circle of silver in a bad red and brown world- all that remained was a name for it. Fortunately, you could e-mail them your caption, so I was not prevented by laziness from sending an entry. The contest was a daily contest, with a first prize of five hundred rupees. On the right side of the picture was a column carrying the name of yesterday’s contest winners with the thumbnail of that picture on top.

The next day’s newspaper carried in the same corner another picture to the right of which was a column with yesterday’s picture and the winning captions below it. The first prize had gone to Rohit Bhat, for the caption ‘The Penny Drops’. I had won.

The other captions lacked imagination, and I pitied the poor souls with average IQ, for I now knew that I was going to win every contest from then on- I hadn’t been expelled for nothing. I mentally calculated my monthly income, assuming correctly, that I’d win every day, and it was a sum enough for a lone hoodlum like me to live off on. I began sending entries regularly, winning as regularly, though I was disappointed that the Sunday newspaper didn’t carry the contest. By the end of the three-month long summer vacations, I’d earned myself money enough to move out of Roy’s room into a rented accommodation in the city. I looked for similar contests in other newspapers, and now had myself earning a decent income, saving some, spending some. I took Sundays off.

It was now three months that I’d left Roy’s room, and the picture that had changed my life once was going to change my life once again.


I was bouncing between random web-pages when I stumbled upon a familiar picture of a leaky rusty tap and a penny wet from the leak. It was titled, suitably enough, The Penny Drops. This was the icing on the cake. The cake was that it had won the Picture of the Year contest, in the ‘A Message to Deliver’ category. The prize amount was a hundred thousand US dollars, the amount of money that if translated into rupees could fill my bureau, requiring, possibly, another one. I wanted a piece of the cake, the piece that was rightfully mine, the piece with the cherry that you get because you’ve named the picture. I decided to sue the winner, a man that went by the name of Lucky Pant.

The legalities were not easy, and if I had to have a decent chance of winning the case I needed to have a lawyer. With the money that I’d saved for the past half year, I hired a man to be my voice in the court of law. The wily resourceful man named Laxman persuaded me to write a speech to be said in the court showing the importance of a title. He asked the court for a whopping twenty percent of the prize money, and was very sure that I’ll get it and kept on chaffing me with irritating names like kismatwala, chaapu, Lucky Singh (he was no poet, he didn’t even notice the pun the name was carrying) et al. I wrote my best essay, on my most favourite part in any essay, all the while going unabashedly against Shakespeare crying out ‘what’s in a name’.


Now that I am down to doing all this stuff, I’ve lost track of the caption-writing contests that are going on, and thus, my income has dropped drastically. My savings are almost exhausted by now, and the case has been running for six months. The next hearing is scheduled for the next month. Laxman assures me that he can pull off a result (‘It will be a win, sirji, definitely,’ he says) at the next hearing, but that he needs his fee. So, I’m in a desperate need of money, and since I’m emancipated from my family I cannot ask them for it.

This memoir, other than acting as a remedy for the imminent depression, is written with a hope that it’ll earn me some money quickly, by selling it to some magazine. Yeah! you’re right, it’s as inane an idea as my idea of colouring the walls, but writing is the only thing I’m good at, or even if I’m not good (some humility would not be inappropriate for someone who is literally begging) at it, it’s the only thing I can do.

Treat it with an indifferent derision if you want, but on the kinder, more humane side, if you liked this piece and happen to know a publisher, and perhaps be credited as the discoverer of the Tobias Wolff of India, I advise you help this text go into print, and help me with some money for it.

The Death of David

Sometimes I wonder if you’re a mere figment of my imagination, for only beauty imagined can be so perfect, so uncompromising. I have been a dreamer, an actor in those dreams, a self-conceived hero of extraordinary comedies, but I had to yield to your magnificence, I could not help but dream of you, you who made me a dreamer in my dreams. I would be lying if I said I’m going to accept your frailties. No, I’m not. Yet I’m going to accept you, oh Abishag, my perfect queen.

For centuries I have been cold, the loveless winter refusing to relent, my world a foggy morning and my heart a drumbeat, waiting, ticking, for your warmth. You are the moon of my night, the wings of my flight.

You make me a fool, you make my past a careless indulgence, but for the dreams of a future with you I will kill the soul of my past. I have no cushions to rest my head upon, no bed of roses, no past so sanguine, but I sleep now in the sky upon the clouds of your breath. You have made me immortal.

Lie next to me, let me praise your beauty, awful, distant.

Let me drown in the sea of your hair, each thread worthy of my life. Let me live in the shadow of your eyes, cool and moist as a pacific breeze, protect me from the cruel harsh sun. Let me breathe in your breaths, and make me yours to the bone. I tremble to think of your lips, concealing a voice so criminal, breaking hearts as you break a tone. The light of your eyes petrifies me, my sight a slave to your wishes.

Why, my queen, can I not see anything but your face? I will not defile you, not even in thought, you who I enshrine.

Oh my king, your orders my fate-line, I protect you from the devil, from the stygian cravings of lust.

No, Abishag, I dare not the fire of your beauty, give me back my freedom, it is my humble demand.

You had to but think of it, my lord, here are your eyes, your thoughts no longer mine; but I warn you again, the flesh is a well full of waters of crime.

I dare not look into your eyes again, but my world is you, you are my vision, you are my choice. I choose to die in the desert of your body, drink myself to life at the oases that are your breasts. Marry me, queen, I beseech, I beg.

Oh king, against your blaze I cannot stand, but I cannot bear the wrath of the Gods, the scorn of the eighteen to whom you have been sworn.

Let them marry the blade of my sword, mightier than the bolt of Zeus. Between your thighs lies my salvation, and I won’t spare the Gods that come between us. Come Abishag, resurrect my desires!

Order of the lord I cannot contravene, but the fires of consummation are the fires of hell, they will engulf you, they will cauterize your soul, brand you a sinner, and repent you will alone.

I care not, I wish to live the future that killed the soul of my past. Come to my embrace, these ephemeral pleasures are the reasons of my life, of a game well played, of an end that breezes into a new start… Alas! The sting was too harsh, the heat of lust a heat too hot. I’m not immortal, but the seeds of life I have cast.

Oh my king, lured and lost, fated to the same end, chasing a foolish cause. But the seeds will live, and the throne will be mine, my son a weapon of vengeance, a slave forever, performing a pantomime. Just like his father.