Monday, January 31, 2005

The Roots of Intelli-Rank

My friend L and I recently realized that at some point of time in our lives we employed a similar mechanism to categorize our friends. The system was based entirely on a ranking of 'natural' intelligence as we perceived it. It took into consideration almost nothing else - no points for loyalty, similarity of interests or any of the other usual suspects. It seemed to work pretty well for some time, laying out clearly the boundaries of interaction with everyone I knew; helping me decide who between Marcel and Daniel got to know whether I liked Danielle or Gabrielle, whether I took the bus home with Ganja or Paddy, who I shared my idlis and grilled sandwiches with et cetera.

Clearly the system is fatally, tragically flawed; exactly the kind of character flaw (I imagine) Woody Allen would take pleasure in exploring. However, before I hit the doldrums of a Manhattan-esque Allen figure, some environmental factor kicked in to alter my outlook. The process was almost entirely subconscious - I do not think I ever sensed the change in any way while it occured. But it did. Quite naturally.

After some debate, L and I concluded that the roots of the system lay in our own insecurity about our intelligence. I further theorize that the foundations of this inecurity were cast in stone by the historical emphasis of Indian society on acquisition of knowledge. This bias is hardly a secret - the hierarchy of the Indian caste system, with the Brahmins at the top of the pyramid, is well recorded (I recently read Gurhcaran Das' opinions of the impact of the same in his wonderful book "India Unbounded"). For all practical purposes, the caste system has broken down, in urban India, in all spheres of life. Everywhere that is, excepting our education system. One of the hidden untold effects of the reservation policies we follow is the psychological fallout it has on blooming scientists, budding artistes and the rest of our youth.

The deadly link of graduate education forecloses employment opportunity and this results, quite naturally, in constant pressure to focus on one's academic achievements. Almost everything else is thus inconsequential in the minds of the typical Indian middle-class parent. Thus, on a class excursion to Ooty in the ninth standard, as we boarded the train, I was taken aside by mother and warned of the potential dangers of mixing with Nikhil, the acclaimed class trouble-maker. The fact that Nikhil was also probably one of the most creative and naturally intelligent persons in my year (and loads of fun besides) never got through to Mom. Or more likely it did, and was thrown aside assumed inconsequent. Thus, cousins Akshay and Rahul, the one a smiling giant at the tender age of sixteen and the other a diminutive but tenacious dance enthusiast, are together thrown together into the same JEE coaching centre and have to come to terms with the way their twelfth-standard world judges them - purely on academic achievement.

Is it any wonder then that L and I, doubtless like so many other Indians, developed this inane rationale for judgement? The creative freedom of IIT, I think, helped transform that part of me. And I'm glad. But one wonders about the thousands who haven't had the benefit...

Sunday, January 30, 2005

This however is by me. Let sleeping ghosts lie.


Today this rocket'll be my weapon of choice
Or maybe a silver bullet through the heart
I'll do it without the slightest noise
With strength and grace and samurai poise.
I suppose then I'll use a poison dart
For subtlety too must play a part!

Sheaake it uuup baby; twist and shout
Paint me red and call me Supertramp
You left no shadow of a doubt
That we could work it all out
I'll shoot and kill and gen-o-cide and stamp
Out the memories of yesterday's ramp!

Now; that Stryker's got his blood-scent on me.
But Pan and I and Fly'll form a nexus
And we'll have ourselves a jolly killing spree
And I'll have Stryker get on his knee
Dance and preen and do his trademark flexes
Before I reach out and kick him in the solar plexus!

Strange such bloodshed can end in peace
Of mind; all to free the demons chained inside
A balm to calm and slowly ease
The pain of a happy summer breeze.
Erase. Rewind. It’s time to move on, beside
Time that part of Me that I call You died.

Ok. This is NOT written by me - it's penned by my witty namesake friend Paro aka Julie.

Just had to put it here for posterity.

And now I hand over to the one and only Mr. Chandrasekharan of the Chennai Coastal Non-Prevention of Cat Cruelty Society.

A Dedication

To nobody in particular.

Shall I a witty poem pen
or a charming story write?
or an eight part invention in the style of Bach compose
and top it with a fugue?
What if I a Mona Lisa paint,
with an expression of mystery unsurpassed?
Or summon the finest architects
and build you a Moulin Rouge?

Shall I the depths of the Earth plumb
to find you a diamond rare?
That conveys forth, no less true than divine word,
your irradiance 'yond compare.
And would you care to have immortalized
your mellifluous maiden name,
by dedication in clear white marble, no less,
that would make the Buonarotti weep in shame?

And should not this poem have an interlude
that rhymes not with the rest?
For you will want, no doubt, times without
my usual cheerfulness and zest;
Should boredom strike, you can simply cry
"Rearrange!" and reorder or request.
And change will be done, fear thee none,
I am greater than or equal to the test.

What brand of philosophy should I make my own,
what branch of science create?
What primitive school of thought shall I help advance,
as yet inchoate?
What style of writing shall I adopt,
what delicate balance in tonality and prose?
What seraphic agent beyond human ken employ
to star in my metaphors?

What dangerous, death defying task must I accomplish?
(pardon my literary device)
Which unholy nexus would you have me exploit,
which nepotic string pull?
What fickle insight must I comprehend,
what greater truth realize?
And what earnestness in feeling achieve,
that I may convey all this to you in full?