Yearly Archives: 2016

Néih hóu Hong Kong! (Day 1)

My introduction to Hong Kong beyond just a name was thanks to James Clavell and Noble House. But that was more than a decade and a half back. As we were making the arrangements for the trip, I finished reading Flood of Fire, the final book in Amitav Ghosh’s Ibis Trilogy. It makes references to many real life characters, one of whom is William Jardine, of Jardine Matheson & Co., most eminent among Hong Kong business conglomerates from the time of the First Opium War to this day. The final pages of the book deal with the auction of land lots in Hong Kong, and the origin of what is now one of the most important nerve centres of the system of the world. Reminded me of the Amitav Ghosh book connection during our Penang trip in 2014, and set up the trip very well.

We ditched Meru for Uber this time and it did turn out cheaper. Surprisingly Malaysian Airlines had worked out better than Air Asia in terms of time and cost, and given the chances of adventure with the former(!), we took the midnight flight to Kuala Lumpur, which was delayed. We just about made the second flight and finally reached Hong Kong almost an hour later than scheduled. The good news was that we weren’t lost in transit, the bad news was that one of our bags was – the one with the clothes for the first couple of days! The delay also meant that our special lunch plan was sabotaged. We made peace with that, and after getting the currency exchanged, proceeded to make the first and most important transaction – the Airport Express Octopus Card. The Octopus is a payment card with tentacles everywhere – restaurants, transport, shopping and so on. We chose this particular card because our plans included a lot of MTR (mass transit rail, not South Indian dishes!) but you could buy a card of lesser value and use buses, trams etc too.

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First published in Bangalore Mirror

Given the dearth of seafood options in Indiranagar, it shouldn’t be difficult for a restaurant serving coastal cuisine to mussel its way in. That’s perhaps what prompted a Sadashiv Nagar original to seek new shores. (map, this is above Beer Cafe) The fabulous décor does a fantastic job of reeling you in as soon as you enter the place. The elegant and comfortable chairs and benches, the photos in distressed frames, the wall art, the tastefully selected floor tiles and lighting, and my favourite, the tiled roof that recreates the charm of an old world home, are all elements that provide the perfect ambiance for the cuisine being served. Given that we had a lot of ground, and water to cover, we began in right earnest.

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The Shadow Lines

Amitav Ghosh

“People assume that time is a strict progression of cause to effect, but *actually* from a non-linear, non-subjective viewpoint – it’s more like a big ball of wibbly wobbly… time-y wimey… stuff.” ~ Steven Moffat. This probably best describes the narrative structure of the book – it moves forward and backward in time, sometimes seeking parallels, and sometimes closure, it would seem.

Many books in one, that’s a way to describe this work. It is Tridib’s life and relationships, seen through the eyes of the narrator. It is the narrator’s own story – in Calcutta where he grew up, in Delhi where he studied and then in London. It is his view of the world he lives in, the people who inhabit it and his changing relationships with them. It is also the relationships within the Datta Chaudhari family and with their friends – the Prices. But across these, I could see at least a couple of common threads. One, the aspect that gives the book its title (I assume). Places, events and people have lines connecting, and sometimes disconnecting them, but these lines exist only in some perspectives. Hence, shadow lines. In this book, I felt the focus is largely on places – the boundaries between nations are lines, and the connection between Calcutta and Khulna seems much stronger than between Kolkata and Srinagar though the latter pair exist in the same country. The second aspect that offers a connection is the end of the story, it is something that brings closure of sorts to all the three narratives I mentioned earlier. More

Cult of impersonality

Koramangala rarely disappoints. This time, it was the Uber ride, and the thoughts it sparked. From Whitefield to Koramangala, I repeatedly watched the driver refusing to learn from his mistakes. e.g. sticking to the right lane and getting stuck behind cars waiting to take a U turn, when we had to go straight. Advice was futile. This (the behaviour, not the driving!) took me in a couple of directions.

First, our species’ (generalising, of course) refusal to rethink belief systems even when new data presents other possibilities. In the last few weeks, I have seen two levels of this. One is at a (public) personality level – from Modi to Tata. While I have little reason to doubt the Prime Minister’s intent in the entire demonetisation exercise, I see the absolute lack of empathy (no, crying and listing one’s sacrifices doesn’t count) and the failure to course correct as arrogant and cruel. When multiple sources indicate that Ratan Tata’s governance wasn’t really spotless, shouldn’t he be attempting a better route than allowing the spat to be drawn into something as silly as Twitter hashtag wars, especially when the claim is that the organisation’s legacy (and not his own) is paramount for him. In both cases, ego could be the barrier. More

Farzi Cafe

Such was the hype around the opening of the place, that it seemed like our farz to drop in. Given that it meant going to Bangalore, we delayed it a bit though! meanwhile, bad wordplay aside, somehow, the word farzi had come to denote ‘fake’ in my mind, but in this context, I had connected it to Persian. However, as per their website, the connotation here is “creating an illusion”. Gotta say that with it being perched on the top floor of the UB City mall, the connect (illusion – UB – Mallya) was rather funny.

We tried to reserve for Saturday night a day before, but apparently the tables were all reserved, so we shifted the plan to Sunday. The place was packed by the time we got there, and folks were being turned away. Lesson – make a reservation. Most of the tables are around the large bar, and that’s where  we got ours. High tables, with bar stools. If you don’t like those, it might be a good idea to specify that when you reserve. They have more standard seating too, but these are mostly with a higher seating capacity. Speaking of illusions, there is quite a lot of mirror play, giving the illusion of size, and with those lights, it must make a pretty picture at night.

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Dealing with the revolution

At the end of last week’s post “Understanding the revolution“, one of the points I wanted to emphasise was our individual role in dealing with it. I had mentioned two factors that I believe have led us to this point – rising inequality, and intersubjective realities. An attempt to fix also needs to begin here.

When demonetisation first hit us, I tweeted this


The Consolations of Philosophy

Alain de Botton
“Helping us live our lives” is the purpose of philosophy, says the blurb on the book cover, attributed to Independent. I vaguely remember Plato saying that the purpose of philosophy is to teach us how to die, but let’s assume that Independent is talking about the purpose of philosophy in the context of this book. The intent of the book, therefore, cannot be faulted.
The author, both in terms of content and style of writing aims to make the works of the masters accessible to us. Content both from what he chooses to share from the works as well as the packaging. The human conditions that are addressed are universal and what keeps us up at night – unpopularity, not having enough money, frustration, inadequacy (that’s probably not that universal), a broken heart, and difficulties. In each of these contexts, the author draws from not just the philosophies of Socrates, Epicurus, Seneca, Montaigne, Schopenhauer and Nietzsche but their lives as well. He also uses snippets from his own life to give it a contemporary flavour and wit to make it relatable. So far so good.

Understanding the revolution

No, I don’t think I am exaggerating when I call it a revolution. Relatively, it’s not a bloody one yet, but we’ve only begun. As individuals who are part of it, it is difficult for us to acknowledge, let alone grasp its consequences now. (read for perspective)

To deal with something, I first need to make an attempt to understand it, and this post is just that. To begin with, I have noticed at least two parallel forces that have worked to get us to this point. The first is privilege and increasing inequalities in society, on which I have written quite a few posts. The second is a subject on which I’ve only written a couple of posts – intersubjective reality, but its influence is equally important. Let me elaborate.

“But that’s the truth!”, I often hear, and for a while now, my response has been “Whose truth?”  For an absolutely mind bending perspective on it, read The Case Against Reality. (thanks Gautam) To massively paraphrase, we build “realities” based on the stories we tell ourselves, and this is completely shaped by our perceptions and biases. Everything we perceive is a mental representation and there is nothing objective about it. The closest we get to reality is by experiencing something ourselves, and that is inherently subjective. As Scott Adams brutally but succinctly put it, “Humans did not evolve with the capability to understand their reality because it was not important to survival. Any illusion that keeps us alive long enough to procreate is good enough.More

Delhi Highway

My first brush with the restaurant was more than a month ago, when I noticed its construction happening on 12th Main, Indiranagar. The style immediately made me think of Mughal architecture, and thanks to the jam I was stuck in, I had this morbid thought of a memorial for someone who had given up on life while waiting for the traffic on the road to clear! Because c’mon, there was no way another restaurant could be opening on this road! But I was wrong, a few weeks later Delhi Highway opened its doors, (map) and promptly deceived me again – the smile on my face as my mind conjured up the vision of a Butter Chicken was wiped off when I saw the green dot next to the name.

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Prisons of happiness

I read a few articles recently debating whether the purpose of life is happiness or usefulness/leading a worthwhile life. The Aztecs as well as contemporary thinkers favour the latter. I am not convinced though. For starters, I think ‘purpose’s is something our consciousness insists on. The world will go on without us, it is for us to derive a sense of meaning for ourselves. And since it is subjective, I’d optimise for happiness/avoiding discomfort (I’m bunching it together for now) simply because my usefulness/being worthwhile to others around increases when I am happy.

This is a topic I have been circling for a while now – There is no middle path? was a take on happiness vs avoiding discomfort, for instance. A favorite line of thought from “And the Mountains Echoed” has been coming back to me in various forms from various people in the last fortnight. “..but most people have it backward. They think they live by what they want. But really what guides them is what they’re afraid of. What they don’t want.” That is essentially avoiding discomfort. More