Friday, March 30, 2007

What sucks?

Having an Indian passport. It just sucks. It's probably the most useless passport in the world. Because I have spent that last four hours trying to figure out the most cost effective way to plan my June trip. A bulk of my costs will end up being just visa payments if I take the route that I originally wanted to. I will never know what it feels like to travel without bureaucratic hassles, to just land up somewhere. Or to be able to travel over land in Europe without thinking about which countries come under the Schengen and which don't. And forget Europe. I even need visas to go anywhere in South-East Asia.

I am seriously considering changing my nationality.

Tuesday, March 27, 2007


Even before I have finished planning for my trip to here and here, I have another trip to plan for! I am going back to Europe end May and I am really excited!

I’ll be attending a student symposium in Switzerland and they are really nice because they will be paying for my airfare and the date of return is flexible. Last year I was interning so I didn’t have much time to travel after the conference. I just spent a week roaming around Switzerland. This year I will have graduated and plan to travel a bit around central – eastern Europe. I am already quite sure I’m going to Austria. One of my dearest friends is Slovenian and she made me promise that I would visit her in Ljubljana when I came to Europe next so I am most definitely going to Slovenia. And of course (squuuueeeee!!!) Turkey.

This is all that is certain for now (not bad I think considering I found out I was selected only last night). More plans need to be made and finalized. But in any case I am terribly deliriously happy. And I know it’s too early and everything and I don’t want to jinx my plan to finally reach Turkiye, especially considering last summer didn’t work out…but oh well. So much traveling to do. So many plans to be made. I will never be able to get through these last two weeks of school. But did I mention how happy I am?

Have been listening to Isyankar on repeat since last night. I am so sure I will scream out with happiness when I finally see the Aya Sophya, just like I kept squeeling the first day I walked around Paris. Ok enough. I don’t want my plans to get jinxed.

Saturday, March 24, 2007


So India are pretty much out of this world Cup. Well deserved kick on their backside, I must say.

Given the madness that’s gone on back home though, I’m wondering what kind of protection the team and especially Greg Chappell are taking now? I also wonder if this will make the BCCI and the team concentrate on cricket as opposed to sponsors and ads. I seriously doubt it. And Sachin – please retire. Really. It’s painful to watch you go on like this. And you would think some fifteen years after Jonty Rhodes burst on to the cricket scene and brought fielding to the forefront, the Indian team would have learnt something. Obviously not.

Oh well. I’ve been pretty indifferent to this World Cup. Back in the day however, I used to be a rabid cricket fan. Ummm….only that I supported South Africa and was pretty much indifferent to India (except in the case of the Indo – Pak matches, which are always awesome fun). Well, so yes, rabid fan and by that I mean woke up at five am when SA were playing in Australia and cried for two whole days after that god awful 1999 WC semi-final. This of course led to a lot of insinuations about how I was a traitor to the country and other random nonsense, but I was totally unfazed.

Over time the team disintegrated. The whole Cronje fiasco. The 2003 World Cup pretty much marked the team’s nadir. A whole bunch of players from the side retired. Then of course, a certain Zinedine Yazid Zidane totally converted me into a calcio lover. (Insert obligatory hot Zizou picture here. Le foot just aint the same without him). Anyway back to the point, I pretty much lost touch with cricket after that, though I still follow it on and off sometimes. And I still have a soft spot for the Proteas. So I’m happy they are doing well and hope they kick some Aussie ass tonight.

Also, just how bizarre has this World Cup been?? It’s even beaten the off pitch madness that goes on in Italian football. And that is not a good thing. I feel really, really sad about Bob Woolmer. RIP.

Thursday, March 15, 2007

Fat Talk

(Via Pandagon)

Researchers have found that when women get together, ‘fat talk’ is inevitable. And it’s mandatory.
Fat talk allows females to appear modest, a prized quality in a culture that shuns egotism.

“We tend to dislike arrogance and especially dislike it in women (‘bitches’)”, Martz explained. “Women are perceived as OK if they fat talk and acknowledge that their bodies are not perfect but they are working on it.”

As Amanda notes in her post, this just ends up reinforcing low self esteem. “Even if an individual woman can get past these obsessions and get out into the world in a manner like Martz describes, she can fully expect other people to refuse to go along with it and continue to act like her only job in life is to be a sex object and evaluate her solely in those terms.” I made the same argument to a friend of mine who was writing a paper on beauty ideals, it’s basically a vicious cycle and I’m not sure how you can get out of it.

Not that I should talk. I have the worst self esteem possible. And the whole being fat thing is only one part of it. (And it’s not helped by the fact that I am surrounded by tiny people. Shopping with one of my best friends is just painful. Even a ‘S’ is big for her.)
In most cases I don’t know how to react to compliments. I always end up thinking I am actually being mocked.

Oh well.

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Das Leben der Anderen

The Lives of Others is Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck's first film. I found this out only after I had seen the movie and while I was a bit shocked, I was also very humbled. The feeling was similar to what I used to feel when watching a match in which Zidane was in particularly good form [1]. You are in the presence of genius, you feel absolutely talent less and useless and yet you feel lucky that you are seeing that kind of brilliance. Watching The Lives of Others was a similar experience. Of all the movies I have seen that came out last year, this one is by far the best. (And yes, I thought it was better than Pan’s Labyrinth).

The movie is set in East Germany circa 1984, a time when the East German statsi operated in full force (at the time, the movie informs us, it employed more than ninety thousand personnel). It dwells not only on the lives of those observed by the state machinery but the observers as well. Gerd Wiesler (Ulrich Mühe), is a statsi official. A good one at that. He fits the ideal of such a secret service policeman – unflinching in his belief in the state, unmoved by torture, unwilling to trust anyone.

So unwilling to trust, that on attending a performance of a play by Georg Dreyman (Sebastian Koch) he suggests spying on the playwright. This despite the fact that Dreyman enjoys state patronage and in the words of an official “is the only non subversive writer we have”. It is thus, then, that Wiesler becomes exposed to each and every aspect of Dreymans life, art and relationship with his girlfriend and the actress of his plays, Christa-Maria Sieland (Martina Gedeck).

It’s a scary picture of life in the Orwellian world. Dreymans credentials don’t put him beyond the grasp of surveillance. As a woman, as an actress even more so, Sieland has her own bargains to make. And despite his devotion to the state, or rather because of it, Wiesler lives an utterly lonely and miserable existence. They are similar in that they are all vulnerable at their core. In a sense they are all at someone else’s mercy, they can never be in full control of their destiny.

A number of themes run through The Lives of Others, most importantly (and subtly) the incompatibility between art and an authoritarian state and the disillusionment that ensues. Circumstances eventually push Dreyman towards dissent. Wiesler’s commitment to the state starts wavering. As a result of some kind of Stockholm syndrome from listening in on the conversations of the artists or a slow reaction to reading the copy of Brecht he has stolen from Dreyman, one can only guess.

The most hauntingly beautiful scene in the movie, and its turning point, is when Dreyman on learning of his friend’s suicide plays a composition called Sonata for a Good Man on his piano. He tells the story of Lenin, who refused to listen to Beethoven’s Appassionata because he feared it would stop him from carrying out the revolution. No man who has ever listened, truly listened, to such music could be bad [2], says Dreyman. Wiesler, listening in, weeps silently.

The scene sets the tone for the rest of the movie, and it somehow connects you to the characters you see on the screen. Twenty minutes later, I was the one who was weeping silently, watching the events of the movie unfold. There is such humanity, beauty and bitter sweet poignancy to the story that one would have to be made of stone not to be touched by it. Wiesler is the centre of the story and Ulrich Mühe’s fabulous, fabulous turn is one reason why the movie works so well. Gabriel Yard’s wonderful score is another. If Lenin is Wiesler, then the Appassionata becomes Yard’s Sonata for a Good Man. The movie however, tells the story that might have been had Lenin listened to Beethoven. The reference to the Appassionata is particularly apt; The Lives of Others encompasses all the emotions of Beethoven's Sonata No.23. The story it tells is about the people who are trying to fight and overcome the terrible and despairing circumstances they find themselves in.

[1] Bad analogy I know, but watching Zidane in form is watching true grace and beauty.

[2] This I truly, truly believe.

[3] The movie reminded me of something my piano teacher used to say. Mozart was pure genius and Bach’s works are the embodiment of baroque but nothing compares to Beethoven in pure, simple heartbreaking beauty.

[4] Interestingly, Mühe’s wife spied on him for the Statsi for the entire period of their marriage, supplying them with hundreds of pages of information.

[5] The topic of the authoritarian state has been recurring over the last week. Not just in The Lives of Others, but also in Tahar Ben Jelloun’s This Blinding Absence of Light, which I just finished reading. Jelloun won the 2004 IMPAC Dublin Award for the book and its one of the most stark, simple and disturbing books I have ever read. (The only other time I felt so claustrophobic while reading a book was when I was reading Andre Gide’s Strait is the Gate.) I wanted to write about the book but I’m not sure I can. I am still quite disturbed by it; especially by the fact that it’s based on a true story. I really don’t know why I continue to be shocked by the barbarity of the human race.

Saturday, March 10, 2007

If there is paradise....

Amir Khusrau wrote:
اَگر فِردؤس بر رُو-ائے زمین اَست،
ہمین اَست-او ہمین اَست-او ہمین اَست۔

Agar firdaus bar rooe zameen ast,
Hameen ast o hameen ast o hameen ast.

If there is paradise on earth; it is here, it is here, it is here.

I haven't been home in almost a year. I think home sickness might be setting in. The couplet seems particularly poignant these days.

I don't know Persian. But the script is so beautiful, I had to put it up here. It's one those things I have to do one day - learn Persian.
Also, all the photos have been taken by me. Just clarifying. Lest certain people (you know who you are) insinuate I am scanning postcards. Back handed compliments much.

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

Science and Feminism

One of the courses I am doing this term (arguably the best course I am doing this term) is on the Philosophy of Science. I have wanted to write a post on feminism and science for a while but haven’t had the time. Most of the data of the post comes from Kathleen Okruhlik’s Gender and the Biological Sciences[1]. I thought it would make for interesting reading. (That apart I really have nothing to post about. Life is as dull as dull can get).

Traditionally the philosophy of science has placed a very limited premium on the role social and psychological factors play in influencing the scientific process. (The most revolutionary work in this vein was Thomas KuhnsThe Structure of Scientific Revolutions[2])

The traditional view of science is of a process that aims at objectivity and achieving a better understanding of reality. In the context of discovery or theory generation how one comes up with a hypothesis is irrelevant[3]. What is important is having a strict and rigorous process of falsifiable experiments and tests. This process will naturally act as a filter to separate the good theories from the bad[4].

The problem with this view of the scientific process arises when we consider the fact (as Okruhlik points out) that in actuality science doesn’t work like this. A scientific theory is chosen as the best available explanation of a certain phenomena over other theories, not necessarily because it is the best explanation of reality per se. This makes sociological influences at the level of theory generation particularly important.

Take for example theories the aim to explain female behavior. The theories may be different from each other in many respects but if they all arise in a deeply sexist culture, they will all be contaminated by sexism. Non sexist rivals will not be generated at all. Thus having a rigorous, objective scientific process does not automatically eliminate the sexist or androcentric bias from science.

I reproduce just two of the many examples Okruhlik gives to support her case.
One example is nineteenth century craniometry’s attempt to explain inferior female intelligence by appealing to brain size. It was suggested that the true measure of intelligence lay in the proportion of brain to body mass. But this index favoured women and the hypothesis was discarded. It was then suggested that frontal lobes were the seat of intelligence and men have bigger frontal lobes (women have bigger parietal lobes). However when research pointed to parietal lobes being the seat of intelligence the data was evaluated to argue that in actuality women have smaller parietal lobes. The one underlying assumption that scientists were unwilling to give up was that women are biologically less intelligent than men.

In another example, take the case of the lab rat. An ideal healthy lab rat is by default male. Female hormones and their effects are taken simply as nuisance variables that prevent experimenters from getting at the pure, clean, stripped down essence of rat hood as presented by the male model. (This held true for human experiments as well. Until quite recently the default archetype for medical research was a (white) male). The female species is thus covered by research on males; if she is not included it is because she is not an archetypal member of her own species.

The question that arises therefore is this: Do we simply accede that science is not as rational and objective as we want or think it to be, or do we attempt to alter the process of science so that it takes into account the normative aspects of theory generation?
To achieve the latter it is important, Okruhlik argues, to recognize that there is a bias present in the social arrangements that govern the scientific process and to try and control for these. Secondly, it is important to note that the traditional rationality of the scientific process is a simple summation of individual rationalities. It is only the inclusion of diverse standpoints that can lead to a questioning of certain underlying sociological biases and pave the way for change.

It is for this reason that the feminist standpoint and critique of science is so important. It is not that this view is more holistic, intuitive, objective or nurturant. It is important because it comes from a social and political view point that is different from the one that has dominated science. That said, real change in the scientific process will be possible only when theories are developed by scientists who not only have a solid grounding in their own disciplines but who are also open and committed to questioning the sociological biases that seep into science.

[1] From Biology and Society, Canadian Journal of Philosophy, Supplementary vol. 20 (1994): 21 -42
[2] Kuhns fundamental argument is that all normal science essentially works within a given paradigm and is thus constrained by the boundaries of the very paradigm it works within
[3] The method of Conjecture and Refutation as well as the notion of ‘falsifiability’ were put forth by Karl Popper.
[4] In Popper's opinion theories are not true or false, but rather good or bad. Once a theory has been corroborated it is accepted as the ‘current’ best theory available.