“Let them know you’re thinking about them”

You’re familiar with that – it’s one of Facebook’s birthday reminders. Until some time back, I used to religiously wish folks on their birthday. But I have stopped that, it felt like cheating. To me, this sort of wishing reduced the significance of the event and the wish, and almost brought it to the level of an already degraded currency on the network – the ubiquitous ‘Like’. I know, this can be argued quite a bit. At a very simplistic level, wishing someone on the birthday could be like a little shot of dopamine for them, and easy for you to provide too.

But I have at least two perspectives against this. Call it over-analysis if you will. The first is where I draw a parallel with travel. In the case of places, increased access and convenience tend to bring in people with motives different from an earlier set. From travelers to tourists. Right or wrong is subjective so let’s just say that the character of the places, and their residents change. Arguably, the first set of folks had a deeper bond with the place and more of an interest in its well being. And so too, with the wishes on Facebook. My birthday is off Facebook and I know that those who wish me now really have me in their thoughts.  More

Sunset Club

Khushwant Singh

This was the first time I actually read a Khushwant Singh book. It was the blurb that got me. The idea of three octogenarians in Delhi discussing everything from the weather to sex to politics was intriguing. Not because of the topics themselves, but because I have wondered about the lives of old people, the daily rituals they hold dear, and their perspectives of a changing world. Khushwant Singh was 95 when he wrote this (!) and therefore this would be very close to the real thing. I wasn’t mistaken because I would be very surprised if the character of Boota Singh wasn’t at least semi autobiographical.

Pandit Preetam Sharma and Nawab Barkatullah Baig make up the remainder of the trio, called The Sunset Club, who meet at Lodhi gardens on the Boorha Binch. The book captures a year in the life of these gentlemen, with occasional rear view looks into their past. Through their discussions, the reader gets a sense of the pluralism and the contradictions that make up India. It finds a parallel in their own lives, which are themselves a showcase of many contradictions.  More

612 East

Being in the vicinity of two favourites – The Fatty Bao and Bombay Brasserie – meant that 612 East, even weeks after it had opened, got a bit of a stepmotherly treatment from us whenever we visited Indiranagar. But one evening, we resolved to go. Since we planned to reach around 6 and leave before 8, we didn’t bother to reserve. Quite a mistake, especially if you want to sit in the terrace section. We were offered a regular table which we would have to vacate by 8, but chose to sit on stools closer to the edge, with our backs to the giant screen – for the view and the lovely evening breeze! This was easily the best part of the experience. In the cab, we had been discussing how in a few months, it would be 15 years since we first got off the bus from Kerala. The setting was perfect for rumination. :)

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The Moral Animal

Robert Wright

The last book I read in 2016 was “This Explains Everything: Deep, Beautiful, and Elegant Theories of How the World Works” where leading thinkers share their favourite deep and elegant theory. An overwhelming number of them cited Darwin’s theory of natural selection, and though I have not been asked, I’d say rightly so. As someone rightly pointed out, the beauty and elegance is when one theory explains a lot of diverse phenomena, and is almost a gift that keeps on giving.

Robert Wright uses Darwin’s theory to explain exactly what the book’s title says – why we are the way we are, using Darwin’s own life to illustrate several facets of classic human behaviour. I have thus far viewed the brain as a product of evolution, and feelings and emotions as a vague result of biochemistry triggered by the environment and the brain. My views have been shaped by some excellent and diverse books – Sapiens, Scarcity, Finite and Infinite Games – to name a significant few. This book, in many ways, is an amalgamation of the best insights that those have to offer. But the brilliance of the book is in how it goes beyond, and draws the connection between mental organs and behaviour in the modern world.
The book throws light on the various behaviours we exhibit in our day to day life, many of which have their origins in the hunter-gatherer stage of our species and before. In fact, we even share some traits with our nearest relatives- chimpanzees and bonobos. Almost all facets of our life are addressed – relationship with parents, siblings, spouse, and society in general, politics, sex, friendship, religion etc.

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Mahe

Our first dose of Seychelles’ main island was in the form of Eden Island – a transit midpoint between a flight landing at 10.30 and a ferry leaving at 4.30. The cab from the airport got us there in 15 mins. Though it’s hyped as a major shopping destination, it’s actually quite a small place with a few eateries and shops. On a Saturday afternoon, the place had quite a lackadaisical feel to it. It seemed to be quite a yacht docking location though.

We had earmarked a couple of lunch options earlier, but ended up in a different place called Tamassa, which looked to be more lounging-friendly than the others. Our first lunch in Seychelles was excellent – mussels in a thick coconut milk based gravy, and some delicious octopus! Then, after some Tiramisu ice cream, D did quite a bit of window shopping as I people-watched. A cab dropped us off at the ferry to Praslin, another 15 minute ride away.

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La Digue

La Digue is only 15 minutes from Praslin by ferry, and we had chosen one that left at 11.45. We had asked for a cab by 10.45, giving us a half an hour buffer. We grew fidgety when our clocks showed us 11.10 and the driver still hadn’t arrived. We reminded the hotel owner and she asked us not to fret. He arrived at 11.15 and we got to the ferry in 20 minutes. The boat was docked but we left only half an hour after the departure time. We got time to exchange some currency, and comment on the guts of an Indian couple who arrived 20 minutes after the scheduled departure.

Our cab driver from the Anse Lazio trip had told us that La Digue had all of 4 cars, though the Palm Beach hotel owner said it was slightly more now. But the driver hadn’t exaggerated much – this was cycle country! Made sense, the place is tiny. We walked along the main road to Le Repaire, our destination.

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Praslin

Seven years since the (first and) last time we visited Lanka. Things didn’t seem to have changed much. The already horrendous start time of 3.30 AM was extended to 5 AM thanks to a flight delay. We knew this because we got a call the previous evening, but nothing on the web could confirm it. After multiple calls, we finally got through a Mumbai number, but decided to hedge our bets by reaching slightly earlier anyway. We took a Meru after a long time, and I wondered how their drivers were coping with the Uber/Ola onslaught.

The flight was indeed delayed, thankfully we had some buffer time for the connecting flight. The airline definitely seemed to have upped its game in terms of the flight interiors at least. The rest of the journey went without incident, perhaps because I snoozed, even as D watched a movie on the 4hr+ flight. We landed in Mahe around 11 AM, and after exchanging some currency at the only available option at the airport, took a cab to Eden Plaza. Going by the exchange rates we saw there, we seemed to have surprisingly gotten a good deal!  The ferry to Praslin was only at 4.30, so we had quite some time to kill there. (more in the Mahe post next week)  We reached the ferry and got our first sighting of many honeymooning Indian couples! Rains arrived soon after with almost Yash Chopra like timing and delayed the ferry a bit.

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The Smoke Co.

During our last couple of visits to Koramangala, we had noticed a Windmills Craftworks – like structure coming up on the Koramangala Club road. Once I even thought I saw vats, and assumed a microbrewery. Alas, it wasn’t, turned out to be The Smoke Co. But then again, among Bangalore’s big picture problems, the reduction of eateries serving beef is a graver issue than the number of microbreweries per sq km. So good news it is.

We had been postponing the visit because visits to Koramangala these days meant carrying trunks – both the traveling accessory and the swimwear. The first for the traffic and the second for the rains! But during the Diwali weekend when Bangalore got itself an 80s throwback and the rain gods were taking the week off, we landed up for lunch, with B & N for company. ‘Blackboard’ specials meet high ceilings meet rich brown decor elements to create a classy and contemporary feel. The scaffolding and tarpaulin are hopefully temporary “accessories”. A zesty amuse-bouche was offered while we decided on what we would eat, and drink.

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Things That Can and Cannot Be Said

Arundhati Roy, John Cusack

Given that Ms.Roy is one of the authors, it is only fair to expect a fair amount of radical thought in the book. In just over a hundred pages, it does just that, helped by John Cusack, Edward Snowden and Daniel Ellsberg, who is described as the Snowden of the 60s.

The content is in the form of observations and conversations with one another. Arundhati Roy is in great form as she articulates thoughts that are not only profound but also vastly out of line with the propaganda that we are so familiar with. After all, even the resistance, as she says, has been quite domesticated. I found some of her observations quite astute. e.g. how “non violence is radical political theatre” and effective only when there is an audience. Or how “human rights are fundamental rights” and should be our minimum expectation, but they have become the maximum, whereas the goal really should be justice! My favourite though was on patriotism – how a country is just really an administrative unit but we end up giving it an esoteric meaning and protecting it with nuclear bombs!  More

The Gatekeepers

To quote Robert Wright from Non Zero: 

To stay strong, a society must adopt new technologies. In particular, it must reap the non-zero-sum fruits they offer. Yet new technologies often redistribute power within societies. (They often do this precisely because they raise non-zero-sumness- because they expand the number of people who profit from the system and so wield power within it.) And if there is one opinion common to all ruling classes everywhere, it is that power is not in urgent need of redistributing. Hence the Hobson’s choice for the governing elite: accept valuable technologies that may erode your power, or resist them so well that you may find yourself with nothing to govern.  

I consider the ruling class as gatekeepers because they control the access of the remaining populace to prosperity. Across time, different entities have played the role of gatekeeper by controlling different facets that can change society’s general prosperity. To name a few, religion by controlling behaviour, government (aristocracy to democracy) by controlling the central currency and freedom of all sorts, media by controlling information,  and the wealthy, by the sheer ability to control deployment of capital, and thereby job creation.   More