Saturday, March 31, 2012

Save the males! Sex has become too cheap for them

A topic that is not new by any means to this blog and, as a male, I am not sure whether it is my pleasure to add one more post to that collection, or whether I ought to regret this :)

Hanna Rosin, about whom I have blogged before, is getting ready to publish her book, which means, naturally, we can expect quite a few opinion essays like this one that she has authored in the Wall Street Journal.  Rosin writes there about how sexual freedom has transformed women's success:
In the 1970s the sexual revolution was really mostly about sex. But now the sexual revolution has deepened into a more permanent kind of power for women. Young women in their sexual prime—that is, their 20s and early 30s—are generally better off than young men. They are better educated and earn more money on average. What made this possible is the sexual revolution—the ability to have temporary, intimate relationships that don't derail a career. Or to put it more simply, to have sex without getting married.
If women are more ready than ever to have sex with men without forcing them to get married, then there is an important corollary: the evolutionary argument is that males have to work a great deal to have sex.  If they don't have to work hard to gain sexual favors, then, well, they don't have to, for instance, work hard for their grades and try to have successful careers, do they?
sex is clearly cheap for men. Women's "erotic capital," as Catherine Hakim of the London School of Economics has dubbed it, can still be traded for attention, a job, perhaps a boyfriend, and certainly all the sex she wants, but it can't assure her love and lifelong commitment.
Rosin writes that this lack of love or lifelong commitment doesn't hassle women all that much.  Their unhappiness comes from having way too many choices now, in the bedroom and on their way to the boardrooms!

Someday, the GOP, too, will begin to understand that we are way past the Eisenhower era :)

Photo(s) of the day: Maasai warriors playing cricket

Caption at the source:  
Maasai warriors from the Laikipia region in Kenya train before a cricket match at the 'Last Man Stands' championships in Cape Town, South Africa. Cricket is being used to 'empower the youth in Maasai communities', while campaigning against ills like child marriages and female circumcision. Photo: AP
The Atlantic has a wonderful collection of photos as well, of which my favorite is the one below:

But then, there is nothing without any controversy:
Trainer Steve Tikolo says he wants the novice players to wear cricket whites.
But they want like to wear sandals made from recycled tires, beads and bracelets and a traditional "shuka" wrap, which they wrap around the body.
The team, called the Maasai Warriors, is preparing for the Last Man Stands Twenty20 Championship in South Africa.
"It's not just a bunch boys going to play cricket, they will also be promoting Kenya's image by playing in their traditional attire, adding some African flavour to the tournament,'' Aliya Bauer, who established the Maasai Warriors in the Rift Valley Province five years ago, told the BBC .
In case you are wondering, yes, there is cricket in the US also, where the game was once "one of the more popular sports in America in the mid-19th century" until, in a typically American way, baseball marketed itself as less British and more American!  Anyway, in the latest tournament, which was a qualifier for a world championship, the US did win two of its matches!

Friday, March 30, 2012

Obamacare overturned in a 5-4 vote. Game over!

So, if the court does end up overturning it--partially or completely--in a 5-4 vote as projected by this team, will it affect the credibility, or even the legitimacy, of the Supreme Court?  But then (ht):
Who, after all, is going to lead the charge against the Court?  Liberal journalists like Linda Greenhouse and Dahlia Lithwick, whose human capital is invested in covering the Court?  The fraternity of elite liberal  lawyers who served as Supreme Court clerks, for whom undermining the Court’s legitimacy means undermining the value of their own prized credential?  Liberal constitutional law professors, who are as invested as anyone in the Court’s significance?  (It’s hard enough to get people to read one’s latest article on “A Kantian/Weberian Approach to the Fourth Amendment” when the Court is as important as it is now!)  Liberal activist groups and think-tankers, who still treasure the Court’s rulings on abortion, due process rights for terrorism suspects, term limits, and more, and who hope that a future Court will recognize a right to gay marriage?  Liberal Congressmen, when Congress’ popularity rating is well below the Court’s, and who have hardly shown themselves to be constitutional scholars? (Not to mention that journalists like Lithwick are on record suggesting that it’s “weird” for members of Congress to be considering the constitutionality of legislation.  “Isn’t it a court’s job to determine whether or not something is, in fact, constitutional?” wrote Lithwick.)
At most, a ruling against the ACA will have the same effect as Bush v. Gore or Citizens United, or Roe v. Wade and Boumediene for that matter; a fair amount of caterwauling, with the Court as an institution remaining unscathed.
I can't imagine any legitimacy issues even if the court overturns the entire act: most Americans don't ever seem to be bothered to understand that the court is the third leg of the government stool and, therefore, don't pay much attention to it anyway.  An overturning will merely translate to Obama's and the Democrats' electoral losses, and the Republicans look at enormous setbacks if the court ends upholding the law if both Kennedy and Roberts end up siding with liberal bloc.

No lefties and gays in India? Where are they?

Having lived in the US for 25 years means that I naturally draw comparisons based on what I might expect to typically experience here.  Thus, for instance, I felt rather strange to be amidst a whole lot of male passengers when in local flights in India--the passengers were overwhelmingly male, with very few female passengers, in contrast to the typical flight here in the US where there isn't that kind of a gender imbalance.  It was similar gender ratios in restaurants.  Of course, it does not mean that there are no women in India; it is just that they are not as "visible" as their numbers would suggest.

If females are flying under the radar (yes, a bad pun!) then could it be a similar situation with gays and left-handed people in India? 

I rarely ever met a lefty during the hundred days in India, and nobody I interacted with was any self-declared gay either.  Surely they do exist, no?

Even way back in my school days, left-handed students were rare.  One classmate, "K," I do remember favoring his left hand and he was so much an exception that even when we recalled him at the reunion, to brush up one's memory all we had to say was "remember, he was the lefty?" 

Using the left hand was considered gauche by many cultures and perhaps more so in India where eating was/is also with hands.  No utensils--no forks or spoons or chopsticks--means that there is a sensitivity to making sure that the the hand that delivers food to the mouth is not the same as the one that cleans one's bottom in the traditional ways without toilet-paper. 

That age-old shying away from using the left hand is understandable to some extent, particularly in olden times where many kinds of irrational beliefs prevailed.  But, we live now in a world that is very different from the past.  In India too.  Yet, even left-handed children were rarer a sight than a polar bear walking down the road in Chennai.

If that is the case with left-handedness, then what about gays and lesbians?  Surely not everybody in India is heterosexual! 

Of course, it is always possible that I have zero gaydar abilities and, therefore, was oblivious to the loud gay classmates at the reunion, for instance.  After all, I still remember that one funny episode during my second year in graduate school when apparently I was the only one who had no idea that another student in our group was bisexual. 

A few months ago, India's courts declared that homosexuality is not a crime.  While the legality has been cleared, I suppose there is very little public acceptance of homosexuality. Not surprising, given that even a divorce is spoken of in hushed tones as if it is the "d" word.  After a few instances when I joked about my divorced state, I realized that the jokes were simply falling flat--not something to be joked about.  If that is the case with the "d" word, then perhaps it is a long way to go for the "h" word?

Imagine then the complicated life for a left-handed lesbian in India!

Thursday, March 29, 2012

I will transmit this information to Vladimir ...

FP has a collection of eight hot-mic political moments from around the world

Republicans are under the shirt and over the bra?

தயிர் சாதம் explains how the US doesn't get the confidence in India and China

Way, way, back, once during the annual trip to grandma's home, I met a distant relative, then in his mid-twenties (I was barely into double digits!) who had spent a year or so working in West Germany.  To write that I was impressed would be a terrible understatement.

I returned home when the holidays ended only to discover from a conversation with my father about this German-returned guy that he had worked as a waiter there.  The balloon was quickly deflated.  But, still, in Germany!

Whether it was waiting tables in Germany, or engineering work in Nigeria, or petroleum-related jobs in Saudi Arabia, or university teaching in the US, there was a distinct deference to the ones with foreign flavors.  There was something they had that we locals did not have.  They had seen places that we had not.

More than anything else, they seemed to walk about with confidence that we did not seem to have.

That was then.

Now, with every visit to India, I sense a level of confidence that is infinitely more than whatever little that prevailed years ago.

Rare is a middle-income family that does not have immediate foreign connections.  But, even more than that, the middle-income households like the one in which I grew up have generated children and grandchildren who lead remarkably successful and remunerative professional lives even while living in India.  Yes, without having to go to Germany to wait tables, or to toil away in the harsh Arabian desert.

A foreign tag is no longer magical, and has become quite pedestrian.  As a matter of routine, these descendants of the old socialist India jet around the world for professional reasons, and to have family vacations.  Who woulda thunk that, forty years ago!

A friend "R" explained to me a simple parameter he uses to gauge how things have changed, and how India's confidence levels have transformed.  The parameter is nothing but "தயிர் சாதம்"--the good ol' yogurt rice, which is all things Tamil!

In the early years of the IT outsourcing business, visiting clients were be provided with accommodations at the most expensive hotels in Chennai, said "R," who is a senior executive in that field.  The clients almost always patronized only the European continental cuisine there.  Meanwhile, it was quite common for the local IT professionals to hide and consume their தயிர் சாதம் at lunch.

In the IT evolutionary process, big firms started to build their own large campuses.  Visiting clients from abroad were offered continental food catered by those expensive hotels in town.  தயிர் சாதம் for locals continued.

The campuses then introduced cafeterias.  Continental food was prepared in-house for the foreign clients.  But, along with that a small window offered தயிர் சாதம் also.


தயிர் சாதம் and local meals are mainstream offerings in those cafeterias.  Visiting clients eat a lot more local food, including தயிர் சாதம், than their more familiar foods.  When the Indian IT professionals go abroad, they feel at ease to mix rice and yogurt at restaurants and make their own தயிர் சாதம் at the table!

The transformation of the mental approach to தயிர் சாதம் is, to "R," a measure of how far the confidence levels have shot up: from practically hiding it to boldly broadcasting it.  Indian professionals are singing their own version of "anything you can do, I can do better."

I have never been to China, and even if I did, I doubt whether I will be able to understand the confidence boosts they have gone through within their cultural framework.  I am able to fully appreciate the தயிர் சாதம் metric only because it is a part of my DNA. (As my parents know all too well, I rarely eat தயிர் சாதம் anymore!)

Most politicians and news people in the US--at least in their public statements--don't display a sense of their understanding of this phenomenal confidence levels in India (and China, too.)  They seem to think that regular people in these countries are like the old stereotypes in movies: impressed that the White man has a magical device that produces fire when flicked.  If only they understood sooner than later that it is a brave new world!

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

The age of aquarius, er, innocence. No, the age of ignorance!

How about the following list as evidence that we are well into a brave new age of ignorance?
Christians are persecuted in this country.
The government is coming to get your guns.
Obama is a Muslim.
Global Warming is a hoax.
The president is forcing open homosexuality on the military.
Schools push a left-wing agenda.
Social Security is an entitlement, no different from welfare.
Obama hates white people.
The life on earth is 10,000 years old and so is the universe.
The safety net contributes to poverty.
The government is taking money from you and giving it to sex-crazed college women to pay for their birth control.
Stranger things have happened!

Think about this: Science is only a small part of human capability

One of my favorite living intellectuals, Freeman Dyson, yet again delivers an essay in which he so easily weaves his polymath nature and his interactions with many remarkable people in his long life.  All in what one would expect to be a dull and boring topic of physics at the fringe, when pursued by amateurs.  In a book review essay in the NYRB, Dyson places science in its place:
[Science] is only a small part of human capability. We gain knowledge of our place in the universe not only from science but also from history, art, and literature. Science is a creative interaction of observation with imagination. ... Imagination by itself can still enlarge our vision when observation fails. 
"creative interaction of observation with imagination" ... Isn't that a lovely description?  If only most science teachers would keep that in mind when they teach their students, from elementary school to college.

Dyson reminds us that there are limits to imagination, and goes after string theorists who conjure up visions that seem to be no different from those offered by highly creative amateurs without solid scientific backing:
The fringe of physics is not a sharp boundary with truth on one side and fantasy on the other. All of science is uncertain and subject to revision. The glory of science is to imagine more than we can prove. The fringe is the unexplored territory where truth and fantasy are not yet disentangled. Hermann Weyl, who was one of the main architects of the relativity and quantum revolutions, said to me once, “I always try to combine the true with the beautiful, but when I have to choose one or the other, I usually choose the beautiful.” Following Weyl’s good example, our string cosmologists are making the same choice.
What is wrong with string cosmology?
String cosmology is a part of theoretical physics that has become detached from experiments. String cosmologists are free to imagine universes and multiverses, guided by intuition and aesthetic judgment alone. Their creations must be logically consistent and mathematically elegant, but they are otherwise unconstrained.
The disconnect from "observation" is sometimes the case even when I listen to faculty colleagues or politicians, whose imaginations simply run amok :)

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Minimalist economics posters: The Invisible Hand

Pretty darn good!
More here

(Mis)Reading history: North Korea v. South Korea, and India v. China

As a graduate student in the late 1980s, which feels like a lifetime ago, I came across quite a few studies that contrasted two pairs of countries for their development trajectories: India and China, and the two Koreas.

Back then, the divergence between India and China--at least on the economic scene--was just about emerging.  The Korean situation, however, was very clear: North Korea was rapidly falling behind South Korea's success.

That divergence between the two Koreas is clear in the chart below, which I picked up from Daniel Drezner's blog:

The divergence was obvious to us grad students only because we were looking at it after the roads had forked.  Drezner quotes Nicholas Eberstadt,
Around the time of Mao Zedong's death (1976), North Korea was more educated, more productive and (by the measure of international trade per capita) much more open than China. Around that same time, in fact, per capita output in North Korea and South Korea may have been quite similar. Today, North Korea has the awful distinction of being the only literate and urbanized society in human history to suffer mass famine in peacetime. 
and then wisely suggests that we keep such charts in mind:
whenever anyone confidently asserts the obvious superiority of a particular model of political economy.  Because, I assure you, there was a point in time when such superiority was far from obvious.
One of my professors from grad school, Peter Gordon, notes in his blog post, which is also on very much a similar point:
It is a cliche that you can never know enough history.  Picking up on Smith, North, Acemoglu, Lal and others, we see that economists can never know enough history. 
Yep. In many posts, like in this one, I have explored the contrasts between India and China.  Yes, there is enormous divergence now.  But, imagine if there is one heck of an unraveling of the Chinese social contract, and the Communist Party loses control, leading to economic declines similar to what happened to Russia after the collapse of the Soviet Union ... Looking back in time after such a situation, will the divergence be that obvious?

Monday, March 26, 2012

Who shouldn't go to college and end up with huge debt?

Judith Scott-Clayton asks over at Economix who should not go to college:
While college may be a great investment, it’s not like investing in the stock market: a prospective student can’t just fork over some money and let someone else worry about how to make it grow. For college to have any payoff, students must participate in the process by going to class and engaging with course materials, peers and instructors.
The cost of college includes not just monetary costs but psychological costs, which are highest for those who either strongly dislike classroom instruction or have to work particularly hard to get anything out of it. Individuals with high psychological costs who enroll anyway because that is what they believe they “should” do may end up with the worst of both worlds: forgoing income (and possibly accumulating debt) without accumulating skills. 
The downside to all this?  Student debt that now has hit the trillion dollar mark, and worse:
we've reached a point where two-thirds of college seniors now graduate in debt, where a total of 37 million Americans now owe money on their education. Sixty-seven percent are between the ages of 18 and 39, but recent research suggests the fastest growing group of borrowers may be in middle age -- people who have been laid off from jobs or are afraid their professional skills aren't fresh enough to keep up with a changing economy. [...] For young graduates -- or dropouts, for that matter -- the debt will drag on their finances well into adulthood. For the adults, it's an investment they may not have a time to recoup. Many are already being overwhelmed by what they owe. The NY Federal Reserve believes that more than a quarter of all borrowers with due loans are now delinquent on some of their payments.

My climate has changed!

The following cartoons are a neat way to follow-up on this blog post:

It is just about sunrise time where I am and at a crispy 36 degrees F, while it will be nearly a 36 degrees C high at where I was less than three days ago!  Extrapolating from this, perhaps the solution to global warming and climate change is for humans to seek a cooler planet, and then start warming things up there, eh!

Thursday, March 22, 2012

From the frying pan in one part of the world ... to the freezer at the other side!

Mentally getting ready to head out from 95+ degree high to 50+ degree high. .... Hoping to see daffodils and tulips, even though the weather news indicates that it ain't spring yet :(

It is difficult to dismiss such freakish unusual weather systems as unrelated to global climate changes.  Back in Nagercoil, a common remark that I heard from from taxi cab drivers to relatives was that the rainfall patterns have changed and that increasingly they feel the unbearable heat of April even at the end of February and early March.  A friend in Central Europe remarked about the lack of the usual snow this time around.  A Chennaite quoted her sister who feels that they practically had no snow this time around in New Jersey.

Oh well, perhaps some day soon the climate change skeptics will begin to see the world for what it is.  And, at the same time, we will also invest wisely to prepare for a future that, if the trends continue, will be very different from what we experience now or experienced a couple of decades ago.

Ultimately, it all depends on our fellow-humans.  As Einstein noted,
How strange is the lot of us mortals! Each of us is here for a brief sojourn; for what purpose he knows not, though he sometimes thinks he senses it. But without deeper reflection one knows from daily life that one exists for other people -- first of all for those upon whose smiles and well-being our own happiness is wholly dependent, and then for the many, unknown to us, to whose destinies we are bound by the ties of sympathy. A hundred times every day I remind myself that my inner and outer life are based on the labors of other men, living and dead, and that I must exert myself in order to give in the same measure as I have received and am still receiving.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Photos of the day: World Water Day

It is not any painting here .... the river is polluted. The caption for the photo at the source:
A worker looks at a photographer from the door of a factory that manufactures screws and nuts, next to a polluted river inJiaxing, Zhejiang province, China, on March 15, 2012. China's continuing reliance on heavy industry meant it failed to meet its own targets for cleaning its air and water in 2011. (Reuters/Stringer)
Even more dramatic and terrifying is the following one, also from China:

So, how much more are you willing to pay for the cheap goods from China, in order to make sure that the precious water will be better managed?

Will Obama win a second term?

That is a question I fielded a number of times during these one hundred days in India.  "Or, will the other guy win?" was a typical follow-up question.  The other guy, it always turned out to be Mitt Romney :)

I am all for Obama winning another term, not because I am any fan of his but because there are simply no alternatives: anybody-but-the-other-guy!  John Cassidy reminds me about one of the traits of the then candidate, Senator Obama:
Obama was a moderate young technocrat, whose first instinct was to seek the middle ground. The moment power beckoned, he tilted instinctively toward the establishment, and, in the Democratic Party that Obama had grown up in, the establishment was pro-Wall Street.
I don't care about the pro-Wall Street Democratic Party establishment.  But, in his rhetoric during the primaries, Obama pretended to be against that very establishment that Hillary Clinton represented.  I way preferred Clinton's honest position of being pro-Wall Street, as was Bill Clinton during his presidency.  This was merely one instance of a fakey candidate Obama ...

But, hey, any day Obama was infinitely a better candidate than his GOP rival.  But, this time, the other guy will put up a better fight.  The question remains: will Obama win a second term?  Again, over to Cassidy:
With oil at a hundred and twenty-five dollars a barrel and likely going higher as the sanctions on Iran take hold and the Israelis keep up their bellicose rhetoric, the U.S. economy is effectively facing an election-year tax hike. (The effects of a rise in gas prices and a tax increase are virtually identical.) Although this shock probably won’t be enough to bring about a recession, it could well knock a point or two off G.D.P. growth and cause the unemployment rate to stall above eight per cent, which would give Mitt Romney an opening. (According to some polls, Obama’s approval ratings have already fallen.) But one can’t say for sure. It’s all in the timing.

Monday, March 19, 2012

"Im horny baby r U???"

Damn spammers!!!!  Even at my Meebo window .... aaaaaahhhhh!!!!

I use Meebo to chat with students, who way prefer it over meeting me in my office has worked very well, and no horny spammer can make me dump it, for now :)

Can the art of conversation be taught? I think not!

As the sabbatical comes to an end, mentally I am beginning to get ready to return not only to my own little corner of this planet, but to the professional life as well.  Naturally, my web-surfing, too, is returning to some of the established habits from which I had taken a break and it included checking with A_L_Daily.  From there, off to this piece, which is about the art of conversation. 

I have no idea how awful or tolerable my company is at conversations, and I can only hope that people don't run away when they spot me five miles away, afraid that I am a terrible bore :)

Over the years, I learnt from a few people a couple of key traits: be genuinely interested in what the other person has to say at a party; lob others questions right up their alley because people think that we are good conversationalists when they have a good time talking about their favorite topics; always have a bunch of jokes and groaners in the metaphorical back pocket that can be appropriately interjected into conversations; judge what contexts are serious and which ones are on the lighter side; and, of course, resist every bloody temptation to talk about how great I am!

It turns out that what I have understood from over thirty-plus years of observations was always available for the taking, from Cicero!  Yes, Cicero of the old Roman times!  The FT piece quotes the statesman:
Speak clearly; speak easily but not too much, especially when others want their turn; do not interrupt; be courteous; deal seriously with serious matters and gracefully with lighter ones; never criticise people behind their backs; stick to subjects of general interest; do not talk about yourself; and, above all, never lose your temper.
So, if I had been presented with Cicero's advice, say, when I was in my early teens, would that have made me a better conversationalist?

I am confident that the answer is a no.

This is not the same as teaching science; such aspects of life have to be experienced, and reflections on our experiences then make us better students, I suppose.  It took me a while to understand that I might be able to score some cheap laughs at somebody's expense, but that makes me neither a good conversationalist nor a better human.  It is not that this golden rule was never clearly laid out for me, but understanding through experiences is immensely profound.

I tend to think that every class meeting I have is nothing but conversations with students.  No class meeting is about me and, instead, the meetings are always about the students.  I invite them to join the conversations, and try to draw in the quieter ones in particular.  I have a stack of groaners and anecdotes ready, if the situation warrants.  What I learn in the classroom, I apply elsewhere, and what I experience in the "real world" I teach in the classroom.

Here is to hoping that I have learnt a lot more about conversations, over this sabbatical and that I am a better conversationalist in the classroom.

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Images of the day: Iranians and Israelis for peace

I can't imagine a better follow-up to this post about public opinion on warmongering: ordinary people in Israel and Iran "love-bombing" through the web and Facebook.  A couple of images from this Israeli website:

and an Iranian response:


So, ... the greatest threat to the world is ...?

It depends.

The answer depends on whom you ask.  In the Arab world (ht)?
73 percent of respondents believe that Israel and the US are the two countries presenting the largest threat to the security of the Arab world, with 51 percent believing that Israel is the most threatening, 22 percent believe the US is the most threatening, and 5 percent reporting a belief that Iran is the single country most threatening to the security of their countries. 
Reminds me of the time that when I was introduced as one coming from America, an Arab immediately said that I was coming from a terrorist country and I was guilty by association!


Saturday, March 17, 2012

Email of the day: (mis)use of class time!

In an email from the provost:
In the past week, a parent of a currently enrolled student called to complain on behalf of his daughter.  The complaint was directed at a faculty member who used considerable class time to espouse a personal opinion about the Presidential campaign.  The class and course were unrelated to political policy or current events and the student complained that class time was being spent on topics irrelevant to her learning and the stated course objectives.  Please remember the following statement from The Faculty Handbook (p. 11):
As citizens, faculty members have every right to become involved in the political affairs of the nation, state, and community.  The campus and its resources, however, being a state institution, cannot be used to support any specific candidate or cause without offering the same opportunity to anyone else who might wish to do so.
I would think that we faculty cannot misuse the class time even if the campus were not a state institution.

BTW, what an awkward sentence structure that is:  "The campus and its resources, however, being a state institution"  Shouldn't such a document drafted by PhDs have impeccable grammar?  Oh well, perhaps I am  asking for too much--after all, I have seen one too many horrendous usages, like, "sweat shops" instead of "sweatshops" :)

Friday, March 16, 2012

St. Patrick's Day in Chennai?

Oddest sighting yesterday while walking around in Pondy Bazaar here in Chennai: a young woman, with South Indian looks and perhaps in her early twenties, with a t-shirt on that read "Irish Girls Rock."

Was that an accident, or was she really celebrating St. Patrick's Day?

I tell ya, India is way too complicated!

So, ... sustainable or unsustainable?


The Hindi kolaveri continues on in Tamil Nadu. No "veri" for Tamil, however.

Way, way, back when I was a kid, I thought it was exciting to hear all about how Hindi was being imposed on Dravidians and the Tamil Nadu politicians all worked up against it.  The natural inclination to join the fight against anything imposed started, as far as I can recall, from this absurd promotion of Hindi as the national language. 

As a teenager, when I was associated with a political movement about which I am not at all proud of--perhaps the worst sin I have ever committed--I asked the leader why he was often talking to us in Hindi.  He replied that English is an European language, which did not belong to this land.  I told him that Hindi did not belong in Tamil Nadu.  He did not like it.  In any case, soon I was off that political movement as well.

A lot has changed over the decades.  But, after all the travels within this country, it does seem like there is very little Hindi usage in Tamil Nadu even now.  It is not that there is a whole lot of love and affection for the Tamil language; after all, as my experiences with the Mozhi t-shirt showed, while there is a great deal of rhetoric about love for Tamizh, in reality, however, kids and teenagers in Chennai seem to converse more often in English than Tamizh, while adults don't seem to worry about the language all that much.

Walking around in the busy shopping streets of T-Nagar, very, very rarely do I hear any Hindi.  A lot of English and Tamizh, and a good smattering of Telugu, Kannada, and Malayalam--all South Indian languages.

Hindi being rare a sound is such a contrast to my experiences in the places I traveled.  Even in the busy Connaught Place in New Delhi, even youngsters were mostly talking in Hindi--though they often did say "hi" to each other.  It was quite common an experience for me when I attempted to chat with auto and taxi drivers to find out that they knew even less English compared to taxi drivers in Ecuador!

At the IIT campus in Delhi, when I asked the taxi driver to stop at a roundabout so that I could ask a gentleman who was formally attired about the directions to my friend's office, I was quite shocked that he first replied in Hindi.  When I asked him again, he decided to address the taxi driver instead--in Hindi.  Yep, that was the case even at a campus of a leading university.  Now, of course, one swallow doesn't make a summer.  But, hey, I can't discount this experience either.

In train compartments and at airports, when in Tamil Nadu, children seem to be excited to talk to their parents in English.  But, in the other places north of the state, kids and parents conversed mostly either in the local language or in Hindi.

I do not assume that there is a conscious effort to keep Hindi away from Tamil Nadu.  It is not anything like the 1960s and 1970s when there were systematic efforts to drive Hindi out because of a real worry that it was being imposed.  Personally, the kid and the teenager in me who actively sympathized with the anti-Hindi emotions continues to be happy that Hindi has not become the lingua franca.  And, the fact that the younger population gravitate towards English is also an asset when it comes to the global economic marketplace. 

But, ... if only the youngsters were equally passionate about Tamizh! 

While I may have lost the fluency I once had in the language--the fluency and interest that drove me to read a whole lot of Tamizh literature even though I did not formally study the language in school after the primary years--there is, I suppose, always an emotional attachment to the language that we first learnt.  But, more than mere emotions, I am afraid that by not having a passion for Tamizh, the youngsters deprive themselves of a phenomenal opportunity to gain a little bit of understanding of the oldest living language with a rich literature past and with a very, very long history. 

A few weeks ago, dad gave me an article to read in which the author lamented about having watched a television show in which they went around asking people who Bharathidasan was.  The author seemed to be livid with the the ignorance on display, and I agreed with his feelings.  One, he wrote there, even replied that Bharathidasan was a former governor of the state!  That is a reflection of how much there is scant interest in Tamizh.   

I hope the tide will change. Soon.

I am a rock. At least, here :)

You see me?  Or, has the dark tanned-me merged with the stone sculptures in the background?  If so, then the punchline will be, "I am one with the Buddha"

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Oh, Jon Stewart: How I miss thee! :(

Will catch up soooooon :)

Visitors come to my blog searching for ... "Tamil Penis" ... WTF!

Three visitors reached my blog because of that search keyword?  Whatever did they find in my blog, right?

Maybe ... just maybe ... this post somehow enlarged the scope of the topic of interest and visitors, I imagine, found it hard to comprehend how and why that boring narrative on a hermit and monkeys was supposed to be exciting.  But then, enough with pounding on this silly topic is what I think :)

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

"Driver Chacha" and I, and the cosmos. All about life ... and death

The cellphone text message informed me that I will be met by "Driver Chacha" at the Aurangabad station, and that he will carry a sign with my name on it.  Another bit of detail about him: doesn't speak English.

Over the years, I have gotten used to having delightful conversations with taxi drivers who speak little to no English. (But then perhaps my students also think that I speak little to no English, eh!)  Even after all these years, I can still picture in my mind the taxi driver in Italy who took us to a quaint restaurant outside of Florence.  I knew no Italian, while he at least knew a few words in English through which he described "beautiful California."  I was excited he had been to California, which is where I lived back then.  "No, saw on TV" he replied.

I got off at Aurangabad after the train stopped there at pre-dawn hours.  There was an older man, a couple of inches even shorter than me, holding a piece of paper that said "Mr. Sriram."  Aha, this was Driver Chacha!  He had on a white Islamic skullcap, and gave me a polite smile as I stopped beside him.

Over the two days, we "talked" a lot as he drove me to the fantastic destinations that I had planned on visiting.  Sometimes, Driver Chacha suggested we go to a certain touristy place, and we did even if I told him I was not keen on it.  He was hell bent on making sure I had a great time. 

"Ellora ke paas ek mandir hai (near Ellora is a temple)" is all I understood before he added a lot more in Hindi.  I told him that I didn't want to go to Shirdi--I worried we were going to make some serious detours and end up skipping things from my list. 

He smiled big time.  "Shirdi nahin. Ellora se dho kilometer ... (Not Shirdi.  Two kilometers from Ellora.)

It was quite an interesting scene: a Muslim driver keen on taking an atheist to a Hindu temple. 

I left my shoes and socks and backpack behind in the car, and walked with my camera to the temple entrance.  Of course, there was a board that made it clear that taking photos was not allowed.  "Can I take photos from the outside?" I asked the security guy there and invited his scathing look and a harsh negation. 

I wanted to head back to the car, but went in only because Driver Chacha was so keen on me going there.

Am glad I did, though.  For the first time in my life, I saw devotees performing the puja themselves, without going through an intermediary--the priest.  Even more fascinating it was to see that it was mostly women doing the puja, while the accompanying men stood or knelt down with folded hands. 

I didn't go inside into the inner sanctum because of the requirement that men had to remove all clothing from the upper half, and I was not ready to be a topless tourist there.  Once was enough for this trip--when I went with my sister and brother-in-law to the temple at Sucheendram :)

I reached the car after chugging down a cold soda to rehydrate myself on that hot and humid afternoon.  I handed Driver Chacha a cold Coca Cola I bought for him.  "Thanks, sir" he said.  And then added in Hindi that he would have that later with dinner at home, with the kids.  It was yet another reminder to me that drinking a Coke can be a special event to many here in India.

As we started driving back to Aurangabad, we passed what seemed like a couple of huge tombstone memorials.  Driver Chacha observed me staring at them through the passenger window. 

He gave me a long detailed explanation in between a couple of sarcastic chuckles, which I understood as: "they are the grave sites of a father and son, one of whom worked as the Regional Transport Officer.  They made money (illegally) and had built these for themselves.  While the Emperor Aurangazeb lay in a simple tomb, these small people want such huge memorials!"

Most people, be they small or big, seem to walk around with a mistaken notion that they are far too important, not understanding that the cosmos couldn't care.  As for my end, I visualize that the remains after my cremation will be scattered in the Willamette River. I will become one with the cosmos.

Qutb Minar, as seen by father and son ... 57 years apart!

It is a typical warm afternoon in Chennai, and I am way too wiped out to roam around in the heat anymore.  So, I was looking through another set of photographs--my father's collections that are from his professional life.

There, I see his photo of the Qutb Minar from 1955 or so:

I, too, had taken a photo from almost the same spot, when I was there a few weeks ago:

Pretty neat, eh!

Monday, March 12, 2012

Will pay gazillions for linsanity. But, not a dime for CEOs?

I have ranted blogged many times about the ridiculousness in the supersized payouts for athletes, actors, singers and other entertainers (like here).  And pointed out the irony in the ardent supporters of these gazillionaires being vehement critics of corporations and their CEOs.  But, who cares for what Sriram says, right?

But, what about when the eminently qualified Ken Rogoff makes that same point?  Will you listen to him then?  If so, here is what he writes:
What amazes me is the public’s blasé acceptance of the salaries of sports stars, compared to its low regard for superstars in business and finance. Half of all NBA players’ annual salaries exceed $2 million, more than five times the threshold for the top 1% of household incomes in the United States. Because long-time superstars like Kobe Bryant earn upwards of $25 million a year, the average annual NBA salary is more than $5 million. Indeed, Lin’s salary, at $800,000, is the NBA’s “minimum wage” for a second-season player. Presumably, Lin will soon be earning much more, and fans will applaud.
Yet many of these same fans would almost surely argue that CEOs of Fortune 500 companies, whose median compensation is around $10 million, are ridiculously overpaid. 
The US values entertainment way too much for its own good.  But, hey, that is the story within academia too--football and basketball rule, while the liberal arts get flushed down the dirtiest toilet :(

Oh well ...

Facebook blocked in India

So, ... it finally happened.  The federal government that was annoyed with the freedom to criticize political leaders, especially Sonia Gandhi, went to court against Facebook.  As a result, no access to Facebook as of this morning.

One web site offers this explanation:
I wonder what will happen now to those forty million users; I remember all too well Tunku Varadarajan's tongue-in-cheek report a while ago:
Social media was invented for Indians, says Sree Sreenivasan, a digital media professor at Columbia and co-founder of SAJA, the South Asian Journalists Association. "They take to it naturally and with great passion. It allows them to do two things they love: Tell everyone what they are doing; and stick their noses into other people's business."
If I see a few people walking around saying "like" or searching for a "comment" ... well, FB-detox awaits :)

"Arre, what is the मज़ा (fun) when you travel alone!"

As the train picked up speed, the conversations also slowly picked up.  Naturally, the first question I tackled was "you are from?"

Over the past few weeks, I have come to understand that Indians immediately see me as a foreigner who once grew up in India, while foreign tourists are sometimes even surprised that I am a foreigner.  One Australian couple, who seemed to be in their late sixties, thought that I didn't have even a little bit of any American accent to show for the twenty-five years I have been in the US.

So, when the older Indian fellow passengers asked me that question, I promptly said "from America."  And then added after a pause "my parents live in Chennai."

"Do you speak Hindi?" was his follow-up, perhaps calculating that he might find conversation in that language easier than to continue on in English.

"Very little."

"So, only English and Tamil?"

"Yes" I replied with a smile.

After a few minutes of a lull period, he began "Chennai was good until Kamaraj Nadar.  MGR was ok. Even the lady now is ok.  But that other fellow, Karunanidhi was bad for Tamil Nadu."

I agreed with him.  I didn't want to qualify my agreement with how much I think MGR was also bad for Tamil Nadu.  I recalled the Nagercoil taxi driver strongly declaring that the state went to the dogs ever since the rise of the DMK and ADMK.

He then switched over to talking in Telugu with his relative, and from the names of people used, I understood that they were discussing Tamil Nadu politics.

He turned to me again and wanted to know where I was going.  "Aurangabad.  I want to see Ajanta and Ellora" I replied.

"I am very happy you are going to those places even though you are now in Amrika."  He appeared to be genuinely happy over the fact that I was going there.  "We are going to Shirdi" he added.  I suppose we were on our own versions of pilgrimages.

"Your family?"

I was very happy he asked the question as "your family?" as opposed to "your wife?"  With this question, I didn't have to deal with any lying, and I simply said "in America."

"You traveling alone?"

I smiled and nodded a yes.

"Arre, what is the मज़ा (fun) when you travel alone!" he remarked.

I merely smiled.  I didn't want to tell him that such traveling anymore is a reflection of my single status, and not something I had worked towards.  And, internally, I know that there is a lot less मज़ा when alone, and a lot more anxiety as well.  But, we play with the cards we are dealt with.

As long as the मज़ा is more than the stress, my travels will continue. And, of course, until there is money in the bank.  No money, no मज़ा for sure :)

Strangers fed me. At my dinner time. May their tribe increase!

"X" and "Z" came with me all the way to the railway station platform to see me off.  I was immensely happy they did, because I have no idea when I would see them again.  Waving one's hand as the train leaves friends or relatives behind seems like a real goodbye, which no airport experience can duplicate.

We reached the designated spot for my coach just as the train's engine made its appearance.  Right on time we were.  Even before the paranoid me could get to the chart to ensure my name was there, "X" and "Z" spotted it, where all the passengers' names were listed in Hindi.  "They have your last name as "खे" instead of "के" remarked "Z" prompting an explanation of how I ended up preferring "Khé" over "" in changing to the identity that is now almost twelve years old. 

After dropping off my bag, I stepped out of the coach to spend the remaining minutes with X and Z.  "There are two older women there, and my lower berth seat has been taken" I told them.  It seemed like the coach was full of older people, perhaps all on their way to Shirdi.  After a few minutes of chit-chat, I jumped back into the coach and stood by the door as the engine's horn tooted, and the train started moving.  I waved out to "X" and "Z" until I could see them no more.

When I returned to my seat, the two older women had now been replaced by three older men.  One asked if I could trade my lower berth for his upper berth on the side.  "No problems" I said.  Perhaps he expected some other response; he started explaining his problem with his knee.  "I will take the upper berth" I interrupted him.  He expressed his appreciation through a firm handshake.

As I settled into my seat, and into the journey, it occurred to me that I hadn't brought anything with me to quieten my stomach at dinner time, which was only a couple of hours away.  I decided to merely sleep it off.

It was just about my usual dinner time when one of the older women, who was originally at my seat, offered me a plate full of lemon rice and a bonda.  "Oh, no, thanks.  I am fine" I politely lied.  She insisted I take it.  The man with whom I traded berths said in his loud voice that they had lots of food and that I ought to eat with them.

From the chit-chat, I knew that they were from Rajahmundry, and I worried that the lemon rice would be hot, hot, chili hot.  I carefully took a spoonful of that rice and ... no chilies at all.  Just the way I like it!

"Perhaps the bonda would be hot" I thought as I bit into it.  Surprise of it all--the filling was sweet.

I slowly ate this delicious meal, which was a wonderful surprise.  I was barely done when the woman appeared again to offer me another helping.  "Oh thank you so much" was all I said.

After dumping in the trashcan the well-cleaned out plate, I thanked the women once again for sharing their tasty food with me.  I then walked over to the gent to whom I yielded my lower berth.  "Thanks for the food" I told him.

When my travels began, I ran into wonderful people and hoped that I would meet only good people along the way.  It has been nothing but the best.  What an awesomely reassuring feeling it is to know that there are such folks, eh!

Yet again, I am reminded of Abou Ben Adhem:

Abou Ben Adhem
By James Leigh Hunt

Abou Ben Adhem (may his tribe increase!)
Awoke one night from a deep dream of peace,
And saw, within the moonlight in his room,
Making it rich, and like a lily in bloom,
An Angel writing in a book of gold:
Exceeding peace had made Ben Adhem bold,
And to the Presence in the room he said,
"What writest thou?" The Vision raised its head,
And with a look made of all sweet accord
Answered, "The names of those who love the Lord."
"And is mine one?" said Abou. "Nay, not so,"
Replied the Angel. Abou spoke more low,
But cheerily still; and said, "I pray thee, then,
Write me as one who loves his fellow men."
The Angel wrote, and vanished. The next night
It came again with a great wakening light,
And showed the names whom love of God had blessed,
And, lo! Ben Adhem's name led all the rest!
May their tribe increase, yes!  Here is to hoping for more such stories when I meet "X" and "Z," whenever that might be.

High tension in Indian cities doesn't matter as it does in US cities?

By high tension in cities, I am not referring to the commonly held belief that life in cities is stressful and that it is all peace and harmony in the rural landscape.  "High tension" as in high voltage transmission lines.

As we drove, I heard "X" say "this is high tension road." I thought I misheard--after all, the traffic was flowing really well, and the road was relatively ok.

I knew it couldn't be my faulty ear either, given that the passenger seat is to the driver's left.  So, when I asked for clarification, "X" said, "this is called high tension road."  Turns out that is the name of the road, because of the transmission lines there.

In the US, people freak out about being anywhere near high voltage transmission lines.  A few years ago, there was all that worry over the hyped up electromagnetic radiation.  The risk calculations in the US are very, very different from how risk is assessed in India by individuals and society as a whole.  

Driving under high tension cables, or living right by a distribution transformer, is, therefore, nothing out of the ordinary in India.  A few weeks ago, the directions "S" gave me included the location of a transformer as a landmark.

In Mumbai, my uncle led me on a short hike up the hill by their home in a suburb.  It was absolutely pretty, and I imagine that soon with all the spring blossoms the hill will come alive with greenery and colors.

In between all that are high tension cables, which run right by the housing development too.

Risks of different types are part of the daily life here in India.  When I climbed up the fort at Aurangabad, I was worried about safety aspects in so many contexts that it will be a lengthy post all by itself.  In the US, not one person would have been allowed past the outer walls of the fort because of the potential legal liabilities when things go wrong, for which there is immense scope.

Risk minimization is a reflection of affluence in a country, and by that measure India has a long, long way to go.  In a way, the controversy over the Kudankulam nuclear power plant is also nothing but a discussion over risk minimization.  The protesters seem to be using a US-type standard in a country where most activities are not governed by US-type safety standards.

The cab driver in Nagercoil put it this way: "the tsunami killed thousands and destroyed many homes, sir.  Abdul Kalam says that Kudankulam going wrong will be the tsunami kind of a very rare event.  But, think about the electricity this will generate, sir.  We have ten hours of power cut now every day."

The tension the cab driver had while offering his strong opinions seemed to be a lot more than the tension in the high voltage cables!

Later, as the full moon came up on the Holi evening, I forgot all about tensions of every possible kind!

Sunday, March 11, 2012

I turned a few heads and eyes towards me. Because of a t-shirt. Yay!

Consistent with my sartorial (non)sense, I have been roaming around in shorts and t-shirts, so much so that dad told me once, "if you don't mind, I will buy you a few decent shirts to wear so that you can be presentable."

We now laugh about that remark :)

Perhaps dad was under the impression that I might wear a dress shirt at least to a formal event to which I had been invited.  It was for an "upanayanam," which is (used to be?) an important step in a Brahmin boy's life.  Like the bar-mitzvah of the Jewish traditions.

He was partially correct in assuming that my attire would be different--I didn't wear shorts, but wore trousers!

No dress shirt though.  Instead, I wore the t-shirt that generated good buzz at least once before, and bad buzz even before I wore it!

At the event, I noticed people looking at the t-shirt.  There is a probability that they wondered about the appropriateness of such a casual attire at a formal, religious, ritualistic gathering.  It is also probable that they looked at it with appreciation because there is practically no t-shirt sold with Tamizh lettering, and that too such a quality t-shirt.  

I was so tempted to poll the people at the event about their views on this unique t-shirt.  Thankfully, I refrained from getting into any serious discussion on this topic.

Later in the evening, I was at a local restaurant with my parents.  The waiter who took our order kept staring at my t-shirt.  A few minutes later, another waiter swung by the table under the pretext of asking whether we needed anything but in reality was merely reading the letters in the t-shirt.

I thought to myself that if a large-chested young woman wore this Tamizh t-shirt, it might be quite a challenge to figure out what the viewer/voyeur was focused on :)

As we were getting ready to leave, two more waiters came by.  One said he was very happy to see a t-shirt with Tamizh letters.  "I have never seen one like this, sir" he added.  The other waiter who came with him seemed ecstatic with the words he read, and commented "that is a wonderful phrase, sir."

"Yes, a profound phrase indeed" I replied.

The phrase, "தமிழ் எங்கள் பிறவிக்கு தாய்," translates (in my crude translation) to "Tamizh is the mother who gave birth to us."

Language and poetry continues to stir passion, which is a healthy sign that people haven't completely fallen hook, line, and sinker for everything that is not good for the soul.  At least, not yet.

On watching an Indian movie in an Indian multiplex. After 26 years!

A few months ago, my cousin "V" recalled a movie experience and asked if I remembered it.  I, of course, drew a complete blank.  She was surprised that I didn't remember how "we went to watch a movie in thiruvalam and came out because of bedbugs in our seats!!!!!!!"

Perhaps that is why I never went to movies in India that much :)

The bedbug experience was before I left for the US.  To the best of my recollection, over the last 25 years, I haven't been to any Indian movie--neither in the US nor during my visits to India.  Of course, I don't count films by people like Mira Nair as truly Indian.

This time around, I thought it might be a fun experience to watch one.  A friend, "S," recommended a Tamizh movie.  But, I chickened out at the thought of three-plus hours of movie watching.

Eventually, I took the plunge when "X" and "Y" seemed enthused enough. They assured me that it would be a good one, especially because Irfan was in it.

I had no idea about Irfan.  And it was a Hindi movie at that.  But, I was game for it, and off we went.

The movie was Paan Singh Tomar

As we walked into the hall, the larger seating capacity itself was a reminder that I was not in the US.  I made sure I didn't lose my footing in the dim lighting.

When the movie started and Irfan appeared on the screen, I recognized him from The Namesake and Slumdog Millionaire.  I liked his acting in both those films, and I could now sense why "X" and "Y" were confident about an Irfan movie. 

As the story developed, I got even more excited.  Not because I followed the dialogs.  The excitement was because a good chunk of the story is set in the Chambal Valley, where I was only a month ago.  A sense of "I know this place" made me sit up even straighter.  I recalled driving over a river a little outside of Gwalior and wondered aloud whether that was the Chambal, and it was.  I hurriedly took a photo:


And then I thought that perhaps I might even get to see men walking around with huge shotguns on their backs.  Sure enough, soon there was one.  He was pedaling away on his bicycle, with an automatic rifle tied around his back and a magazine across his shoulder.  I didn't dare to take a photo of him, however, lest he unloaded a few bullets on me.

Anyway, in the movie, in one context, a character referred to the place Bhind.  I couldn't control my excitement; I turned to "X" and said, "Oh my god, Bhind!"

My thanks to "X," "Y," and "Z" for all the excitement related to this movie, and for the experience of watching an Indian movie after all these years.

Oh, about the movie itself?  It was definitely not your stereotypical Bollywood product, with mindless singing and dancing and running around in the Alps.  There is, of course, a lot of melodrama, which could have been easily eliminated for a much tighter storytelling at within 100 minutes.  I would rate Paan Singh Tomar a B+.  And an A- it will be if I factor in all my excitement :)

"Stop crying now, ... or do you want me to smack you?"

The train was a half hour late.  By the time the "express" started moving, it was five minutes past ten at night. 

The three people across from me were already in their beds.  Next to me was a kid, perhaps about eight or ten years old.  And then her mom and dad.  They too had boarded the train at the same station and we were all settling into our seats, and were waiting for the ticket inspector. 

The kid and the mother were all decked up.  The kid asked for her book.  The father hemmed and hawed, and the mother opened up the bag and took the book out.  The kid seemed excited.  So excited that she merely held the book in her hand, and didn't bother to read it.

Soon the ticket inspector came by, and we were all clear to hit the bed.

The dad told the kid it was time for her to climb up to the top most berth.  The kid dragged herself, like the kids when they sing "so long, farewell" in The Sound of Music.

She took the book with her.  And that is when her problems began.

The dad told her it was way past her bedtime and that she had to put the book away.

It was sad to see the kid's reactions.  The excited, happy, joyful girl started crying.  Without big sounds.  Her shoulders started shaking and tears rolled down.

It is so bloody difficult to watch a kid cry.  And that too a young girl who only a minute earlier was such a radiant bundle.  But, parents need to do what parents need to do, I suppose.

The father sternly told her to stop crying.  She simply couldn't.  Which is when he issued an ultimatum:"Stop crying now, ... or do you want me to smack you?"

The mother tactfully whispered something to her daughter, and then asked her if she wanted to go to the bathroom before bed.  And off they went.

When they returned, the kid wasn't crying at all.  She was normal. All ok.  Kids are awesome that way.

She climbed up to the berth where her father had already done up the bed.  She lay down.

Meanwhile, we put up the middle berth where the mother was to sleep.  I got my stuff organized in the lower berth.

The kid called her father and said in English, "a cockroach is here."

"Not roaches again" I thought to myself.

But, she didn't cry about it.  Now, that is one brave girl!

There is another Taj Mahal in India? Ahem, yes. And, ahem, no :)

Ok, first the original, which is at Agra:

And now the second one, which is at Aurangabad:

The original is the "real McCoy" ... there is the Taj, and then there is everything else ...

Saturday, March 10, 2012

"I hope you find your peace. And then move to Oregon."

The insane heat and the blinding brightness of the sun did not keep me away from going to the caves at Ellora.  After all, this is something I had been looking forward to since my middle school days--ever since we read about Ajanta and Ellora.  I did wish, though, it were significantly cooler. 

The previous day, I was at Ajanta.  It was beyond the wildest of my imaginations.  Thus, to some extent, I was worried that Ellora might be a letdown.

But, it wasn't. 

In fact, visiting Ellora at the end of it all was a wonderful bookend to these three months of learning experience, which began with Mahabalipuram.  But, wait, I am getting ahead of myself!

I saw quite a few familiar faces at Ellora. I don't mean the Buddha statues, but the tourists--American, European, and Japanese and Koreans.  The senior-citizen Japanese tourists seemed to be a lot reverential at Ajanta and Ellora, perhaps thanks to their Buddhist faith.

As I walked around, feeling humbled for the nth time, I paused to make sure I was not in the way of the young woman who was focusing her camera on a certain spot, while her significant other smiled at me as if he recognized me.  This couple was one of the tourists I had run into earlier at Ajanta.

Here, too, I felt that the couple was American.  When the woman was done clicking, I remarked, "hey, looks like our paths cross again."

They nodded their heads.  "Where are you folks visiting from?" I asked them.  My American instincts were correct after all--they were from Ohio!  She had spent a few years in California as well, in my old territory of the Central Valley.

"I have been in India for a month now" she added, "but he came here a month before me."  They were spending their time at an ashram at nearby Nasik.  "Being here is so peaceful compared to our professional lives as nurses.  We will be here in India till our money runs out."

I told them I went to the US for graduate studies and stayed back, and have been only a visitor to India since then.  They were all too familiar with such Indian stories.  "It is amazing that when we tell people we are from Ohio, so many Indians seem to know about Ohio State University and its engineering program."

"I was at USC, lived in California for a while, and now am in Oregon" I said.

"We used to drive down to USC for football games when we lived near Sacramento" she said.  

The guy, who was bald and with a well-trimmed beard, replied that he had been to Portland and liked it.

"I hope you find your peace. And then move to Oregon" I wished them as we parted.

Photo of the day: me at the Buddha's feet ... sort of

It was way, way back in middle school that we learnt about Ajanta and Ellora caves.  I have wanted to visit them since those years .... and finally it happened.  I was blown away and humbled by the phenomenal art in a location that 1,500 to 2,000 years ago would have been far from human-friendly.  Yet, the monks/artists worked away religiously and produced such art .... awesome!