Mary Douglas: A very personal method — Anthropological writings drawn from life

August 10, 2015

A very good read — most of it (though I had to plod through some of the essays).

Here are a couple of samples of the writing.

On Levi-Strauss:

He thus claims to have answered the sphinx, unscrewed the inscrutable and effed the ineffable.

On her grandmother:

Sometimes I see her, unexpectedly in a crowded street. I turn a corner and there is someone coming towards me, someone very familiar, someone I am glad to see. I smile, and she smiles back — it is my grandmother! A split second later I realize it is my own reflection in the polished glass of a shop window.

A good one!

Battle with bottle…

August 9, 2015

And history of drinking in Tamil society — starting from Sangam times: A R Venkatachalapathy’s piece is a must-read:

Europeans have their first drinks in public and when tipsy move into the confines of their homes; Tamils, on the other hand, drink under cover and once drunk are out on the streets rolling in the gutter with scarcely a vestment on them, or so C.N Annadurai once observed with characteristic insight. Historically, societies across the world have consumed alcohol. But, following Annadurai, we can draw the conclusion that societies handle drink in their own way. As the groundswell of anti-liquor sentiment gains support across Tamil Nadu, we need to understand the history of drinking in Tamil society if we are to succeed in the battle with the bottle.

Here is the bottmline:

Yet, the call for total prohibition is misplaced. Its champions little realise that the social and economic costs might actually be higher. Banning liquor in the cultural context of a globalising India is not an option. The moral argument against drinking simply doesn’t work. Its killjoy attitude recalls what Macaulay said about the Puritan objection to animal-baiting: they objected not because it caused pain to the animals but because it gave pleasure to the spectators.

The state, in consultation with civil society, needs to work out a plan to contain the genie that is out of the bottle. Regulation, overseen by civil society, should be accompanied by a campaign of education. The anti-tobacco campaign and the polio-eradication programme can teach us much. As demanded by some peasant groups, the state ought to seriously consider legalising toddy tapping.

Machine learning and materials design

July 5, 2015

Doug has a nice post at Nanoscale Views.

Another great concert

June 6, 2015

This time, it was Dr. Ashwini Bhide Deshpande. Enjoyed a lot! She sang from about 10:45 pm or so till about 12:15 am. Reminded me of all those Gururao Desphande All Night Music Mehfils (minus the bajji and chai at the gymkhana cafe) at IISc.

Heaven on earth

June 4, 2015

It is the week of musical extravaganza at IIT Bombay with the Spic Macay Third International Convention. Yesterday, I heard Prof. T N Krishnan on violin followed by Pt. Venkatesh Kumar. Majestic is the word to describe Pt. Venkatesh Kumar’s music; it was so calm and unhurried and yet packed so much of energy — a remarkable and memorable experience.

Atul Gawande’s Being Mortal

May 30, 2015

In Mahabharata, in Yakha Prashna episode, to the question as to the most surprising thing, Yudhisthtra answers that it is people living as though they are immortal even when they see death everyday. And, there is a Thamizh poem from Thirumoolar which also echoes the same sentiment: “The entire village — got together and wept loud; stopped using the name and referred to “dead body”, took the body to the burial ground and  burnt it there; took a dip in the water and forgot it”.

Atul Gawande’s meditation on being mortal is equally profound and deeply philosophical and at the core an attempt to address some questions of medical ethics. It asks hard questions about the way modern medicine is being practised — specifically, whether we can prolong life without worrying about the quality of life or without paying heed to the wishes of patients themselves. For a book that discusses death and pain on almost every page, it is a surprisingly affirmative and positive book. With his wonderful prose and great writing, Gawande joins Sacks and Ramachandran as one among the must-read medical writers and Being Mortal is a must-read book. Strongly recommended.

On solving real world problems

May 23, 2015

Most of the details in this post can be better understood only by those who work in cryptography, probably. However, there are some general lessons in the post and in the comments that are worth paying attention to about the role of theory and practice in solving real world engineering problems.

Gripping and disconcerting

May 16, 2015

Read Yanagihara’s The people in the trees. Here are some of the reviews: NYTimes; Guardian and Independent. Here is an interview with Yanagihara about writing the book. I am looking forward to reading her next, “A little life“, which unfortunately not available on Kindle till mid-August.

Economist son of a metallurgist father

May 6, 2015

When called upon to comment on the world we live in, I had no alternative but to fall back on the Marxist tradition which had shaped my thinking ever since my metallurgist father impressed upon me, when I was still a child, the effect of technological innovation on the historical process. How, for instance, the passage from the bronze age to the iron age sped up history; how the discovery of steel greatly accelerated historical time; and how silicon-based IT technologies are fast-tracking socioeconomic and historical discontinuities.

From here; link via Swarup.


April 20, 2015

Prof. G N K Iyengar (GNKI) as he was known; I have three distinct memories of him. First: in one of my interviews he asked for a phase diagram and when I made a mistake, he was very gruff in his follow-up question and helped me correct my mistake. Second: when I was standing on the Tata Auditorium side to cross the road, I was a bit closer to the road than the footpath for GNKI. He grabbed my upper arm, pulled me away from the road, and released it only after crossing the road. Third: he was a regular contributor to Samskrita Sangha and always had time to ask about our activities when we met him for prescription fees. I think his wife is a Veena player and GNKI used to be very active in organising the cultural programmes for the Sangha — but that was well before our times. On his retirement meet, I remember this statement from Prof. Ranganathan: “When I joined IISc, I understood that Iyengars from Mysore are very different from the Iyengars from Cuddalore”!

I have received an email from Prof. Murty of IITM  that Prof. GNKI passed away. Even with my very limited interaction with him, I could see that he was a soft man with a very hard looking exterior. May his soul rest in peace.


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 410 other followers