the somnambulist

the somnambulist


Our regular somnambulist has met with a 'cat'astrophe ( you know sleepwalking can be really dangerous ). While he recuperates this is a feeble attempt at keeping the column alive. Let's all pray for his well-being.

"Numb"ers aren't called that for nothing. Not that I am scared of them, in fact when I have time to spare I quite like playing with them but the moment I lay my eyes on these creepy creatures in the examination hall my mind stops functioning and my hands get numb. Having been through such a "cat"astrophe just last week, I simply feel like eradicating the whole number-system from the present, past and future of all mankind!

What a wonderful world it would be...a world without numbers. A world where you won't be embarrassed by people enquiring about your age for no one would keep 'count' of the days, where you could gorge on all the food you want without having to 'count' the calories, where your team leader won't prod you on to deliver within specified deadlines - your deadline will be met as and when you complete the work! - and of course, no more stupid number-crunching exams!

Hey there's more to it! You wouldn't be worrying about your bank balance any more and come to think of it, neither about the 'number' of spouses you take! The world will be governed by nonquantifiable entities like love, compassion, ethics, values - things we are so used to discounting as being emotional folly - instead of the usual money and vote counts. Maybe that would be UTOPIA after all.

Strangely enough, the strongest case against numbers is being made by modern mathematics with its emphasis on fuzzy logic ( where 'ranges' of numbers are used to do away with the injustice of explicit cut-off values ) and fractal/chaos theories ( where it turns out that 'imaginary' numbers are more applicable to real world problems! ). Maybe the world is finally waking up to the fallacies of a dumb acceptance of numbers and counts as the guiding beacon of our lives; hopefully someday we will teach our children to use their precious fingers for playing the guitar 'before' we teach their use for counting.

Let's wrap up this session with a quote from the master himself, Albert Einstein, who said, "Not all that can be counted counts, and not all that counts can be counted."


Of Potatoes, Couches and Fields

Exotic places, colorful people ,delectable cuisine and a totally wonderful life. Oh!, the pleasures of being an anchor for a travel and lifestyle show on commercial t.v. "Rageh Omar, reporting from Baghdad .......". "Caroline Hawley, reporting from Gaza". "Lyce Doucet, reporting from Washington D.C". How exciting it must be to be a correspondent for an international news channel. Always packed, on the move, interacting with new people everyday, making a network of valuable contacts. The excitement just doesnt seem to end. Caught in a dilemma, as to what you want to be? Do not despair my good friend, for there is a new breed of humans, they who can be anyone they want to be. From war-correspondent or lifestyle anchor to style guru or adventure sports freak. Behold the Couch Potato, the final frontier of human evolution.

Comfortable on her lofty perch, in the most cosy of environs, munching mouthfulls of popcorn, drawing slowly on her glass of Coke, she watches the world turn. With a deft movement of her wand (remote), this high-priestess of the Information age can see images of the entire planet in her looking-glass, the fabled Televison. She devours terrabytes of information in the form of sights and sounds and all this at the touch of her fingers.

According to the Oxford English Dictionary, the term 'couch potato' first appeared in print in a December 1979 edition of the Los Angeles Times. Since then it has been used to describe a person leading a sedentary life. It still refers to someone who is slothful and obese. But I contend that in this information age this rather derogatory term can mean a highly aware and up-to-date individual whose general awareness is much higher than a contemporary human being. She sees more and thus consequently knows more. But I also contend that just seeing more and knowing more doesnt make you a more evolved and sound person. What's missing in the Couch Potato style of general awareness is the vital factor of human interaction. Thus there exists a possibility that such individuals may be socially inept, inspite of their higher GA. A contradiction in terms isn't it?

So my dear fellow, its better to be a Potato, part Couch part Field. Therein lies the secret to an ALL-ROUND (pun intended) personality.

Summer of '69 (revisited)

I got my first real six-string
Bought it at the five-and-dime
Played it til my fingers bled
It was the summer of '69
Oh when I look back now
That summer seemed to last forever
And if I had the choice
Ya - I'd always wanna be there
Those were the best days of my life
- B. Adams and J. Vallance

Thus immortalised in the words of Bryan Adams and Jim Vallance. Written in 1984 for Adams's Reckless album, the song became a major hit, and a must-perform at college rock shows. Interestingly, Adams was 10 year old in '69 and it would be another five years before he starts playing in a band. Christened "Best Days Of My Life" in the first draft, both Adams and Vallance didn't like something about the song, and Adams had even contemplated dropping it from Reckless. Fortunately he didn't, the song remained in Reckless, and the album went on to become number one at the countdown charts, and sold a whopping 12 million copies!

I have often wondered, what is so special about the song, that young adults identify so well with it? Is it the rendition, the music, the brand equity of the performer or is it one of those youth phenomena that we so often hear about? In my opinion, its neither. In fact, its because, each one of us, has a personal 'Summer Of 69' that we cherish so very much. Its that sepia colored period of our lives that we get nostalgic about. Its the time when our youth was innocent and we were able to savor it with gay abandon. High school, good friends, crazy ventures and puppy-love. Its a period that seemed so turbulent at the time, yet so serene and fairytale-like in retrospect. It was a time when friendships seemed so natural and guileless, when life wasnt as byzantine or banal as it seems now and when trying out new things seemed the natural thing to do.

Its with this youthful zest that we drifted into adulthood and found that life wasnt as easy as it was before. People were different now and so were their expectations from us. Relationships were no more easy and problems were graver than they were before. Slowly the youthful energy ebbed away and was replaced with a mature and pragmatic view of life and people, that seemed unthinkable of in the days of yore.

It is this metamorphosis that we secretly dislike and in the process cherish those days when life was simpler. Each one of us thus keeps a personal album of memories that reminds us that from that point onwards it was always downhill. I have my very own 'Summer Of 69' and its high time you started recollecting yours.

A Smoking Issue

A serious looking guy in a dark, smoke-filled room, draws deep puffs on his cigarette, while someone croons in the background "... with a cigarette in my hands, I felt like a man".The scene changes and the same man in the same dark, smoke-filled room is shown.But to one's horror, its not a hand to which the cigarette is anchored, its a human skeleton. And in the background someone croons "...with a cigarette in his hands, He felt like a man". Black humour and cliche's aside, what is it about this leaf filled strip of rolled paper that has made it the subject of intense debate? How has this seemingly harmless commodity gone from style icon to an incarnation of Satan?No one knows for sure.

The history of cigarettes has been a roller-coaster ride. After landing in the Caribbean, Columbus and his men noticed the natives' fondness for chewing and smoking the dried leaves of an aromatic plant. The Indians inhaled smoke through a Y-shaped pipe called a tobaga, thought by etymologists to be the origin of the name of the plant. While Columbus scolded his men for sinking to the level of the savages by mimicking their habit, he was reported to have said that, "it was not within their power to refrain". Much to the chagrin of my wife, I fully agree with Uncle Christopher. Tobacco use spread to Spain and Portugal. The ambassador of France to Portugal, Jean Nicot de Villemain, sent seeds of the tobacco plant to the Queen of France.The plant that grew from these seeds was christened Nicotina tabacura. The U.S.A was the biggest proponent of tobacco in the modern world. After the invention of the cigarette rolling machine in a project sponsored by tobacco baron James Duke in the late 1800's, cigarette sales surged. In the early 1900's smoking cigarettes was considered pedestrian and unmanly. All this changed with World War I. There was a huge demand of cigarettes at the front. The American Red Cross and the Young Men's Christian Association, previously opposed to the propagation of cigarettes, actively supplied them to the troops overseas. With the war over, opposition to cigarettes increased again. This time physicians started to correlate respiratory disorders with cigarette smoking.But not for long. The world got embroiled in war again, and cigarette consumption surged.Surprisingly, the first national campaign against cigarettes was run by the Bad Man of history textbooks, Adolf Hitler. He banned smoking in Germany and raised taxes against cigarette manufacturers. If Hitler had won the war cigarretes would have been a thing of the past. He would have killed fewer people than cigarettes did since WWII. The period after the war was the Golden Age of cigarettes. Everyone, from surgeons to hollywood legends, advertised cigarettes on TV. Cigarettes, formerly a male bastion, now found their way into the dominion of the fairer sex. It was not until early eighties that legislations were in place to prevent smoking in workplaces across the USA. But still cigarettes were the most advertised commodity in America. Americans did in 1988, what Hitler had done in 1939. They passed a resolution to increase the tax on tobacco companies. It was not until 1998 that non-smoking bars became the norm in California.

The history of Tobacco in India is as old as the history of colonialism. Tobacco found its way in India through the Portugese as early as 1600. It quickly esatlished itself as a industry by the 1700's. Having flourished under centuries of colonial rule, tobacco found its way into independent India. Post liberalization, major global brands invaded India and there has been no looking back since. Ironically, Goa, a former Portugese colony, now the smallest Indian state, was the first to pass legislation against tobacco use. Following this, the awareness of the harmful effects of tobacco has increased , with several states passing similar legislations. The center has banned all promotions of tobacco and related products. Recently, it banned any tobacco company from sponsoring any sporting event. In India, tobacco is still a legal agricultural product, and there is a long way to go before it is classified as a narcotic. Global brands, facing tough legislation in developed countries are targeting developing world markets.An estimated 1 million people in India die from tobacco related diseases annually.

The issue of cigarettes and tobacco is not a social one. It is chiefly a political and financial one. Cigarette companies have tremendous clout among the political elite. The Government of India has put 33% of its investment in securities in tobacco related companies. Most of the insurance companies in India invest in tobacco companies. As long as cigarette smoke drifts in the corridors of power, a tobacco free society is a far fetched notion. As for the masses, who is complaining? As you sit and wonder about the evils of cigarette smoking, and try to figure out how you can curb this menace, I will slunk off for a quick smoke.Ciao!

Lets GO!

"Yeah sure, heard of it. The punchline of an ad run featuring a young couple with a manic obsession for mo-bike riding". Well, that's the creed of the 20 something, techie, urban youth; denizens of India's cyber corridors who are living the Indian Software Dream. Young, single, well heeled, these yuppies live their lives in gay abandon where each day brings with it new experiences to be gained and new vistas to be explored. And what better a place to practise this belief than Hyderabad, the city of Pearls, the land of the Nizams and more recently India's Cyberabad.

A veteran go getter myself, I too enjoyed the joys the city had to offer to the hilt. After a long day spent at office (10 hours normally), my evenings would begin pretty late. The best way to start the evening would be to catch the 9:45 p.m. movie. The first step in the preparation for the movie would be to call all the like minded junta and inquire about their whereabouts. The next step would be to try and coax as many of them into seeing the movie as possible. The theatre being a stone's throw away from office, the best time to start out for the movie would be 9:30 p.m. Purchase the tickets, park the bikes and file into the theatre just as the last advertisement is being screened. The movie finished by 11:45, the next question that would pop up is "Khana kahan khayen yaar?"."Lets go for a midnight buffet at Central Court". "No yaar!, lets go to Golconda instead". "No way! I want to have the midnight biryani at Aditya Park Inn". Amid the tirade of alternatives, the final venue would be decided with a show of hands."Ok. So we are going to Central Court for the midnight buffet". After a sumptuous meal of biryani, a choice of rotis, chines and a rather heavy dessert, it would be the time to decide what to do next. "Lets go to Hussain Sagar. We can sit for a while, and I can light a cigarette in the meantime [sic]". After a satisfying 30 minutes of 'smoke on the water', banter and some serious reflections on life, it would have been the ideal time to cal it quits when suddenly out of nowhere comes, "Hey what about some late night ice-cream at Famous?". Again there would be a show of hands and the majority would be for it. Its 1:00 a.m., but hey theres a huge crowd at Famous. We too join in and bite into bars of ice-cream sold at throwaway prices. Its 1:30 a.m. and the yawns are getting a bit too frequent. Guess its time to make a move. Drive home at breakneck speeds, manage to rouse the watchman from his slumber, jump into bed and doze off without as much as turning over once in bed.

Narrate this to a parent and a typical reaction would be, "What's come over the youth of today. Never lived so irresponsible a life when I was your age". Wake up call dear parent. Things have changed drastically since you were last in your bell-bottoms. The youth of today work hard and play hard too. Changing lifestyles, work environments and pressures call for a change in the way in which people entertain themselves. Don't call it hedonism, call it adaptation.

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