Exams Over… Now What?

My first year university exams just got over and I feel completely blank. Null. Void. Zilch. Gaping black hole inside.  Over the past two months, all I wanted was for the bloody exams to get over as soon as possible. Now that they’re over, it’s like my life has lost all immediate purpose. I guess I hyped up this moment too much. But at the same time, I’ve got so much stuff that I want to do in the two week summer break that the Kerala University has so graciously handed out that I feel completely overwhelmed. There’s also this little part of me that yearns for college to reopen so that I can subject myself monotonous regularity of college classes.

It’s just that the past one year of engineering college has left me feeling stupid. A quarter of my engineering course is over and all that I did was mug up tons of crap like the constituents of paint and the IS specifications of cement and concrete. I have barely studied anything worthwhile. And it’s unlikely that I will, given our shitty syllabus and my complete lack of interest in engineering. So I’ve decided to spend as much time as I can on reading because free time is something you get in abundance as a Kerala University engineering student. I can’t even remember the last time I read a proper book… which is plain depressing. So here’s to reading, and the sea of knowledge that awaits me…

Any book recommendations, people? If yes, please do post in the comments section.
At the moment, I’m reading Graham Farmelo’s biography on Paul Dirac: ‘The Strangest Man.’ I felt the least I could do was to read up on the man who has been responsible for so much hardship (not to mention sleepless nights) through his contributions to my SSD (Solid State Devices) course. SSD has a rather colourful nickname here: ‘Sure Suppli Device/Disaster‘ by dint of the number of people who get supplis in the subject. ‘Suppli‘ meaning a back paper in college parlance. And just in case, Ben G. Streetman ever reads this: ‘Dude, you better change your name. You ain’t got no street cred here.

Note to self: Must keep phone away. Reading Whatsapp messages, 9GAG posts, Quora discussions and football transfer rumours does not count as reading…

All Roads Lead to Philosophy?

Every time I logon to Facebook, I’m overwhelmed by a deluge of links and shares. Most of which is sheer hogwash!! I’m amazed by how gullible people can be and how it’s so easy to trick people into believing absolute crap. This is, of course, the backbone of Narendra Modi’s election campaign. But I’ll leave that for another time. Anyway, let’s get back on topic. There’s this persistent claim that keeps popping up in my newsfeed: that the Indian national anthem has been declared the best in the world by the UNESCO. Now, stop and think for a moment. Why would the UNESCO go through all that trouble? On what basis would national anthems be judged? On the ability to invoke patriotism, antiquity, lyrical quality or their musical appeal? I hope the absurdity of the whole thing is obvious to you at this point. That’s why I treat all such claims with a great deal of skepticism. As Abraham Lincoln once wisely said, ‘Don’t believe everything you read on the Internet just because there’s a picture with a quote next to it.‘ Man, he was spot on!!

I recently read online that clicking on the first link in the main body of any Wikipedia article, and then repeating the process for subsequent articles, will eventually lead you to the article on Philosophy. I found the claim to be plausible because the first sentence in every article usually categorizes that particular article. All the same, I wanted to try it out to see for myself. Call it the spirit of scientific enquiry, if you must.

So I decided to start off with the article on The Beatles. Here’s how the link flowchart worked out:
The Beatles, Rock Music, Popular Music, Musical Genre, Music, Art, Human Activities, Organisms, Biology, Natural Science, Science, Knowledge, Fact, Proof, Necessity and Sufficiency, Logic, Mathematics, Quantity, Property, Logic.
As you can see, I got stuck in a recursive loop once I got to Logic.

So the hypothesis doesn’t hold in this case, at any rate. Let’s consider this as an anomaly and start over, this time with Chelsea FC. Here’s how it breaks down:
Chelsea FC, Association Football, Names for Association Football, Association Football.
Damn. Recursive loop again!! I’m seriously starting to doubt the validity of this theory now. Further googling has revealed that the theory holds true for 94.52% of all articles (as of May 26, 2011). I find it highly improbable that I picked two articles that belonged to the remaining 5.48%. Either that or I must be really unlucky. No wonder I don’t have a girlfriend yet…

As they say, perseverance is the key to success, so I tried again. This time with Salvador Dali:
Salvador Dali, Spanish people, Nation, Culture, Classical Antiquity, History, Umbrella term, Term, Word, Linguistics, Science, Knowledge, Fact, Proof, Necessity and Sufficiency, Logic, Mathematics, Quantity, Property, Logic.
Oops!! We’re back on the yellow brick road that leads to recursive loop of Logic that we encountered earlier. Mission Failure!

One final try. This time, starting off with the article on India.
India, South Asia, South, Noun, Part of Speech, Grammar, Linguistics, Science, Knowledge, Fact, Proof, Necessity and Sufficiency, Logic, Mathematics, Quantity, Property, Logic.
D’oh! On the yellow brick road to the recursive loop of Logic again. Yet again, no success…

Screw it! I hate this theory.

The Principle of Arithmeticolinguistic Equivalence

As I walked out of the exam hall yesterday, one of my friends asked me, ‘How did the exam go?’ To which I replied, ‘Not bad.’ The next question was a googly: ‘So you’re saying it was good? That it was easy for you?’ HELL NO!! That wasn’t what I was trying to convey at all.

And that got me thinking… Good is the opposite of bad. And not is a word that is used for negation. So not bad should mean good, right? I realized that it wasn’t that simple and that there can be varying degrees of negation in language. That it isn’t like Boolean algebra: it’s not just about the zeroes and ones. All the numbers in between also matter. So on a scale of zero to one, with zero being really easy and one being insanely tough, I’d rate my exam as being a 0.42. In other words, it wasn’t half bad. Notice how even though I used the word half, it didn’t exactly signify a difficulty that corresponds to 0.5. That would be best described as an ‘okay exam.’ It’s precisely this: this non-equivalence that makes language beautiful. There might be poetry in mathematics and there might be mathematics in poetry, but I don’t think you can equate the two and call it ‘The Principle of Arithmeticolinguistic Equivalence.’

And this crazy beauty isn’t just confined to language. It extends to life as well. Everything isn’t just plain black or white. There’s plenty of grey in between as well. Fifty Shades of Grey, according to EL James. That’s why every cloud has a silver lining. It’s why what doesn’t kill you, makes you stronger. It’s why you don’t know who you sympathize with, when you watch a movie like The Prestige. One moment you’re rooting for Hugh Jackman’s character and the very next, you realize you feel sorry for Christian Bale’s character. I felt the same while watching Rush. My loyalties kept switching from James Hunt to Nikki Lauda throughout the course of the film. It wasn’t just about the acting, it was also about the writing. In both films, the rivals had plenty of grey in their characters that ensured that it wasn’t just a simple case of good versus evil. It wasn’t a Ramayana, if you will. Both sides were right, and both sides were wrong. Simultaneously. The definitions of good and evil might seem mutually exclusive but the reality is far from it. And now suddenly we’ve crossed over to the realm of quantum physics. It’s why light can simultaneously considered to be both a particle and a wave.

That’s all the philosophy I’ve got for today… Peace out.

The First Time You Were Really Happy?

Do you remember the first time you felt happy? Not just ‘normal happy’ but rather, insanely happy? That feeling when you’re absolutely sure that you’re the happiest person on the planet? I do…

I must have been around four or five years old then. Those were awfully trying times. We had just learnt the nursery rhyme, ‘Georgie Porgie’ then and I became the laughing stock of the entire class, because of my surname. I used to feel downright miserable about it and I was constantly on the lookout for redemption.

Georgie Porgie, Puddin’ and Pie,
Kissed the girls and made them cry,
When the boys came out to play
Georgie Porgie ran away.

It came in the form of a game we used to play in class. The game was awfully simple. While music was being played, you had to run around the classroom and as soon as it stopped, you had to sit at a table of your choice. All the tables in class had coloured tabletopsThe teacher, who would have her eyes closed all this while (obviously), would then call out a particular colour. All the kids sitting at a table of that colour were knocked out and the game would go on, until only one person remained. Pretty soon, I figured out a way of beating the system. I noticed that the teacher never called out the same colour twice in a row. So as long as I headed to the colour that had been knocked out in the previous round, I’d be completely safe. This tactic worked perfectly and it felt devilishly good to wipe the smirk off the idiots who had laughed their heads of while singing ‘Georgie Porgie’. That was it: happiness. I felt on top of the world then. Unstoppable. Unbeatable. But it wasn’t meant to last…

After a couple of days, the teacher caught onto my trick and began to mix up the colours that she called out, making it completely random. My winning streak came to an abrupt end but hey, it was amazing while it lasted!

Do you remember the first time you felt like this? Please do share in the comments section…

Paper Boats

Rain used to be about making paper boats and setting them afloat. Rain used to be about playing in the mud and jumping in puddles. Cricket matches at my neighborhood pitch were never canceled because of rain. The Duckworth-Lewis rule never had to be invoked and yet the matches would always have a result. Running between the wickets became a comedy of errors. Catches were dropped, more often than not. ‘Eda pothaa, catch pidichuude ninakku!’ And while bowling, full tosses were your only option because the ball adamantly refused to bounce in half an inch of mud. Football was even more fun. It was only when it rained that I could even attempt a sliding tackle. My victim and I would both end up in the mud. A free kick would eventually be taken. It meant coming back home drenched and my parents asking me to towel my hair and take a bath immediately. It meant my sister screaming and running down the stairs every single time lightning struck or thunder was heard. Those were simpler times altogether.

Rain also inevitably means a power outage here in Kerala. Power transmission is mostly through the use of overhead cables and it doesn’t take a particularly strong wind to bring down coconut leaves and snap the electricity lines. And whenever that happened (which was and still is pretty often), my parents would make me call up the KSEB (Kerala State Electricity Board) helpline. An obnoxious pre-recorded female voice would inform me that, ‘You are in queue. Please wait… Thaangal queue-ilaanu…‘ After registering the complaint, the power would be back from anywhere within a couple of hours to a day later. Nowadays there’s no fun in a power outage. No candles. No sitting on the doorstep. Thanks to digital sine wave inverters, it’s hard to even know that current poyennu.

Today as it rained, I felt a sudden and inexplicable urge to make a paper boat and set it afloat. I was pleased to find out that I hadn’t forgotten how to make one. And I felt a tingly sensation of happiness in my heart as I watched it float. Maybe, we don’t grow up that fast after all… But one or two generations down the line, will children still be making paper boats or will they be playing paper boat simulation games on their phones and tablets? The answer is becoming increasingly obvious. And it makes me shudder just thinking about it…