William Glassley’s A wilder time

April 21, 2018

William Glassley’s A wilder time: notes from a geologist at the edge of the greenland ice is about the field work that Prof. Glassley did with two of his colleagues over a long period of time in several lengthy stretches. The book is primarily about the geological aspects of the work. But, it is also about the reflections, meditations and ruminations of Glassley about wilderness and the greenland-ian (arctic tundra) landscape. For want of a better word, this is the closest one can get to “spirituality” in a science book.

Glassley’s writing flows lucidly and smoothly. He captures the sights, sounds as well as the feelings they evoked in him accurately and poetically. Here is an example passage from the book:

For the first time in my life, I felt as though I understood, to the extent I was capable, how utterly incomprehensible that world was for me. Nothing existed separate from any other part of the whole, and the whole was the entirety of the universe, from its very beginning. And there, in the quiet of the Arctic valley, one manifestation of that unity resided.

Time did not exist. The only difference between past and future is the interceding mind, which contemplates and describes and details differences, identifying species, speaking as though they are fixed in time and separate, when, in fact, they are incessantly, furiously changing — temporary, creative, individually unique and yet part of the indivisible whole. Humanity was simply one more experiment conducted by something so immensely incomprehensible that the outcome of the experiment had no importance.

And yet, in that great loneliness, the world was saturated by the beautiful. What surrounded me was stunning in its newness and harmony. Color, texture, form, and pattern flowed from one expression to another without incongruity. There was nothing familiar except the grossest of concepts (rock, water, air, cold); everything challenged comprehension.

Loneliness and cold made is uncomfortable to stay longer. As I stood, I surveyed the scene, trying to capture some pieces of it that I could share with Kai and John, but I realized I did not have the words to convey any of it.

Strongly recommended!


Anything is possible by Elizabeth Strout

April 8, 2018

A very good read. Picked up on Maureen Corrigan’s recommendation. I am happy I did. And, hardly ever I seem to disagree with Corrigan’s judegements!

An English Murder by Cyril Hare

April 3, 2018

Good read. Recommended. Found the book based on BBC 4, Good read podcast recommendation. By the way, I strongly recommend this podcast hosted by Harriet Gilbert for book lovers. In the past couple of months, I got at least a few good reading recommendations from the podcast.

How successful academic write

March 25, 2018

Successful academics write; academic success is measured in terms of the writing that is produced. Helen Sword’s book Air & Light & Time & Space: How successful academics write is a very good read – for all the academics and those who have academic ambitions!

The Sringeri-Kanchi holy wars

March 2, 2018

The passing away of Jayendra Saraswathi sets Sriram thinking about (the hilarious, in retrospect) holy wars!!


Political freedom and London

March 2, 2018

London supplied answers without asking questions. There were no restrictions on who could come into the country: no passports or visas required, no need to prove that you had means of support. Nobody could be forced into military service. Nobody could be jailed merely for saying or writing something against the establishment. Nobody got extradited on political grounds. Freedom turned London into Europe’s beachcomber, collecting refugees washed up by waves of political change: (…) Britons took patriotic pride in the country’s role as “an asylum of nations,” a beacon of liberty.

Maya Jasanoff in The Dawn Watch: Joseph Conrad in a global world. I am aware of the contribution of immigrant scientists to the growth of American scientific establishment during the second world war. I was not aware that Britain has its share of immigrants too.

Random thoughts — based on some newspaper reading!

March 1, 2018

Jacob Koshy in The Hindu  — today:

The common thread in these palliatives is that an enormous work load is the cause of stress among schoolchildren and halving the syllabus would translate into fewer hours of course work and cramming. This fails to acknowledge that the culprit is a system that encourages mindless cramming as the dominant indicator of ‘learning’.

Thus, Mr. Javadekar only seems to be the latest in the line of establishment figures signalling that the government will not work towards fixing the blood-sport that examinations are, where the loss or gain of a mark can mean children are forced into careers they have no inclination or aptitude for, and at its worst drive young people to suicide.

I do agree that mindless cramming is a problem and that our examination system does indeed need fixing. However, the criticism about the syllabus is equally valid. Some time back, when I happened to go through the +2 chemistry textbook, it looked more like an undergraduate textbook. In addition, if the portions are less, there is less to cram.

Shiv Vishvanathan writes an ode to dying languages — in The Hindu — today:

Development and the institutions of development like school mutually guarantee the disappearance of minority languages and dialects. A school generally teaches in a majority language. The pithiest critique of such schools was made by the Kannada writer U.R. Ananthamurthy, who said India is a country where the illiterate worker speaks five-seven languages and the convent schoolchild speaks one.

I think in India we can do so much more for maintaining lingusitic diversity. My favourite idea is the one about starting Indian Institutes of Languages — may be in one in every state / union territory, to begin with — and populate them with faculty members drawn from all over the country. The model of building one country based on one language is a western notion. We should strive for building one nation tied together by multiple languages!

Tamil: a biography by David Shulman

February 27, 2018

Recently, I have seen that Princeton university press has been publishing biographies of texts such as Bhagavad Gita and Patanjali yoga sutras. So, it is not surprising to find the biography of Tamil. If texts have a life of their own, so are languages. And, if anything, as the biography of Shulman shows, probably, languages have a more varied, interesting and complex lives.

The book has been reviewed by the other Tamil scholar I like and respect, A R Venatachalapathy; see here. Having read the book, I see that Venkatachalapathy is bang on. When it comes to Tamil modernity, even though some of the points that Shulman makes are valid and probably worth pursuing, the Tantric origins that Shulman tries to identify seem a bit far fetched to me too — even though, such Tantric colours can indeed be seen in some of Thi Ja’s works. Having said that, I do see why Shulman wants to structure his piece like a kriti; and his piece does indeed make marvelous music! And, like any good singing, more than once, I felt that Shulman could have elaborated a little bit more!!

Like any master piece, Shulman’s book is full of ideas and concepts and more than once made me go looking for some of the texts — especially, also because I hate reading Tamil in English with diacritical marks — in fact, if I have one suggestion for improving the book, that would be to give at least the poems quoted also in Tamil script — it would have made the reading experience so much more better. The book also derives its values in giving an hitherto unseen perspective and, at least for me, in introducing some texts that I have not known at all (such as the Tamil translation of Soundarya Lahari by Kaviraja Pandithar).

Overall a remarkable read and strongly recommended.



Ram Guha on John Dreze

February 17, 2018

An inspiring profile of an economist!

Bird by bird

February 17, 2018

By Anne Lamott is a book about creative writing. A good read! Recommended if you are interested in books, reading, writing and writers!