Ijazat

न थी इजाज़त, जो देखने की,
कुछ ऐसे सपने सजाये मैंने,
जो चाहता हूँ, भुला दूं उनको,
बिना इजाज़त सता रहे हैं

न थी इजाज़त, जो बोलने की,
वह बात दिल में बसाई मैंने,
जो चाहता हूँ, निकालूँ उस्को,
बिना इजाज़त बसी हुई है

न थी इजाज़त, जो चाहने की,
वह चाह दिल में जगाई मैंने,
जो चाहता हूँ, न चाहूं उस्को,
बिना इजाज़त जला रही है

Update: Rough translation for my English readers

The dreams that were forbidden to me
I dreamt such dreams.
Now that I desire to forget them,
they haunt me unbidden.

The idea that I was forbidden to speak.
I let it reside in my mind.
Now that I desire to root it out,
it stays on unbidden.

The desire that was forbidden to me
I encouraged that desire in my heart.
Now that I desire to not desire,
it burns me unbidden.

Rape – and what we can do about it

tl; dr version: Learn to defend ourselves.

Another rape. Nationwide outrage. Full page newspaper reports. Condemnations by celebrities and ministers. Promises of justice. Candle marches. Protests. Demands for tougher laws. Better implementation. Tighter security. And then?

Another rape…

This is the reality we live in. But it hadn’t really sunk in. At least for me. Not until today.

Never mind the complexity of the problem. Leave it to the sociologists to discover the causes. Knowing the causes is not going to help the victims be safe.

Justice, however swift, can only follow the crime. Preventing the crime in the first place is primarily the responsibility of the potential victims. I don’t leave my house open and then protest if I get robbed. I understand that it is my responsibility to ensure the safety of my belongings. If a couple of ruffians were to accost me, I doubt if I could do anything to save myself, let alone protect anyone else. Why have I never realized that it is the same issue? Rapists – and other small-time crooks – are bullies. And bullies are cowards. A little bit of competent resistance is all it would take to put them in their place. Why am I incapable of producing that resistance?

In times gone by, it used to be considered a man’s job to protect the women he cared about. We have outgrown those times. And that is good. So, can women protect themselves today? No. And neither can men! In both of the highly publicized cases in recent memory, the rape-victim was accompanied by a male, who couldn’t even help himself. Huh? Is this progress?

Dependence on state machinery has emasculated us. We think we can delegate all our responsibilities to the state and cry foul when the state doesn’t deliver. We are right to delegate the responsibilities of justice and investigation. But the responsibility of self-defense – like many other responsibilities – cannot be delegated. It is pointless to blame the state for not delivering on the responsibilities we delegate to it when we shirk our own.

It is ridiculous that we who call ourselves educated, have the time, money and inclination to buy gadgets, take holidays, and vent our feelings on social media, who cherish our freedom to do all these things, allow ourselves to be victimized by a bunch of ruffians who have none of these comforts. How difficult can it be to learn a little bit of self-defense?

No self-respecting able-bodied person (male or female) who cherishes his independence should tolerate such a state of affairs. Throughout history, whenever people have been called on to defend their country in a time of crisis, there has never been a lack of volunteers. Don’t we have enough self-respect to defend ourselves?

Death

My uncle died today after having seemingly recovered from a fall, with less than a week left for his son’s planned marriage. I didn’t know what to say when I went to visit my cousin. Instead, I spent a long time listening to others attempting to console him and my aunt. And thinking about what was being said.

My cousin was blaming himself for giving his father some medicines, wondering whether they had an adverse effect. I listened to people consoling him by talking of fate, how people die when their “time comes”, and how nothing that he did or did not do would have changed that “time”.

My aunt was mourning the tragic timing of the death. I listened to people consoling her by telling her that one’s entire life is determined when one is born, but we don’t know it and have to live through it.

I listened to people say that one should not grieve over the dead because it causes anguish to the dead man’s soul.

I listened to people say that my uncle would be reborn as my cousin’s child.

Inevitably, the occasion brought back memories of the time when I lost my father almost 10 years back. I was 19 then. Nowhere as mature in my thoughts as I am now. But I didn’t believe in fate, souls or rebirth then. I knew that the loss was permanent. I remember refusing to pay tribute to my father’s body saying “That is not my father”. For weeks, I was aware of the loss in every conscious moment. Thanks to Ayn Rand, I held on to one thought: I will not allow this to affect me. I succeeded.

Sad as it is, the death of one’s loved ones is a part of life and all of us have to deal with it at one time or another. Death always gives us a rude shock, it shows us that our plans can be overturned in an instant, that we are not fully in control of our lives. To deal with that, one needs to find some way to reduce the anxiety one feels when one is not in control. And fate is the way people have invented to do that. Instead of serenely accepting a world where there are many things over which they lack control, people prefer a world where everything is out of their control. Perhaps it helps them. I don’t know. It wouldn’t help me.

Sad songs

I was listening to the song “Lagi aaj sawan ki…” and wondered why I like sad songs inspite of the fact that I get over things quickly and so, sadness for me is hardly a persistent emotion. Thinking about it I realized that to get over sadness one needs to accept the fact that one is sad, face the reality, experience the emotion in its full intensity and only then can one move on. One can’t move on by denying either the facts or one’s own emotional state. A sad song is an exercise of experiencing sadness in its full intensity. It is therapeutic.

For completeness, here are the lyrics of the song with an attempt at translation. Lyricist: Anand Bakshi

lagi aaj saawan ki phir wo jhadi hai
lagi aaj saawan ki phir wo jhadi hai
wahi aag seene mein phir jal padi hai
lagi aaj saawan ki phir wo jhadi hai

That same incessant monsoon rain has started again (2) [saawan is the season of love]
That same fire in my chest has flared up again
That same…

kuchh aise hi din the wo jab ham mile the
chaman mein nahin phool dil mein khile the
wahin to hai mausam magar rut nahin wo
mere saath barsaat bhi ro padi hai
lagi aaj saawan ki phir wo jhadi hai
lagi aaj saawan ki phir wo jhadi hai

Those days too were the same, the days when we had met
Then, flowers had blossomed not in gardens but in our hearts
The weather is the same, but the season [of love] isn’t
Along with me, the rain is crying too
That same…

koyi kaash dil pe bas haath rakh de
mere dil ke tukdon ko ik saath rakh de
magar ye hain khwaabon khayaalon ki baaten
kabhi toot kar cheez koyi judi hai

If only someone would lay a hand on my heart
And hold together its broken pieces
But these are vain dreams and thoughts
Has anything once broken ever been mended?

lagi aaj saawan ki phir wo jhadi hai
lagi aaj saawan ki phir wo jhadi hai
wahi aag seene mein phir jal padi hai
lagi aaj saawan ki phir wo jhadi hai

That same…

And finally, because I can’t resist it, the line “Has anything once broken ever been mended?” brought the second law of thermodynamics to mind! With a mind like that I can’t remain sad for long, can I?

When a person becomes a statistic

I woke up today morning, picked up the newspaper and read the headline “Yet another Andhraite shot in US” or something like that. I browsed through the other headlines before reading the report itself. The face staring back at me was that of a former colleague – a person who worked for my company for over  an year.

After the initial shock, I turn to Times of India’s website for more details. There is a video on the page. Clicking it plays an advertisement before the actual content. I scroll down to the bottom of the page for other linked reports. There is a link saying “Do you like this story?”

Story. Yes. Story. That is what it is to us. That is the state of the world we live in and the extent to which we are de-sensitized. Everyday we see reports of crimes – murders, rapes, whatnot. We read them, sigh, and move on. These reports stay in our minds for not more than the few seconds it takes to read them. Not even enough time to think: “It won’t happen to me or to someone I know”. And then one day it does. And it is only then that the mind pauses to think.

After all the progress we have made over the centuries – and I don’t mean to belittle it, we have indeed made progress – a human life still does not mean to us what it should. A human life is sacred. It is the very source of the concept. And yet the loss of a human life is just a statistic, an abstract event that fails to move us unless the event hits home. As the headline goes “Yet another…”.

We have come a long way from the insane violence that used to be commonplace. But we still have a long way to go.

Questioning the “markets” – part 1

Over the past three and a half years, I have had a ring-side view of the finance industry. I have been involved in developing a market risk-management software product targeted at banks. This product has now morphed into a far more mundane corporate treasury management software. In the process, I have developed a great distaste for financial modeling and all the elaborate math that goes into modern finance. I have come to question the role of the finance industry and its foundations – the currency, equity, credit and derivative markets. Note that I am not questioning the role of the finance industry in the recent “crisis” or any such thing; I am questioning the very existence of the finance industry in its current form; I am questioning the role of the finance industry in the free market system as such.

What led me to ask such fundamental questions? Here are some observations/experiences in no particular order.

Banks vs Corporates:

  • It is a lot easier to make money in the finance industry by catering to banks.
  • Banks are a lot less concerned with the accuracy or soundness of the results produced by our software.
  • Banks are interested in far more complex analyses than corporates are. However, unlike the people at corporates, people at banks do not necessarily know what they are doing or how the analyses are to be interpreted.

Money:

  • There is far more money to be made in the finance industry as compared to other industries.
  • Many engineering graduates from IIT have some certification or the other related to finance (NCFM or some other acronyms that I don’t care to remember). These were unheard of when I graduated in 2006.

Math:

  •  Highly sophisticated math is required for any non-trivial analysis. Very few people have the capacity to understand the math.
  • A lot of the math is circular. Mathematical models are often calibrated to market prices of assets. The market is made by people who use mathematical models to price assets.
  • A lot of the math is essentially unfounded. Correlation trumps causality because the causality is too complex to model mathematically.

It is clear to me that the finance industry is sick. What made it sick? How long has it been sick? Can it be cured? If so, how? I will consider these questions in future posts. (I have a history of starting a post with part 1 in the title and failing to follow up. This time however, I am sure there will be more posts on this theme.)

Validating theories

After more than a month of architectural redesign in the software product I am working on, I reluctantly took a couple of days off to attend a cousin’s wedding (which was interesting enough to merit a post of its own… coming soon…). The last pieces of the redesign are left and this morning, I intended to resume and finish them off. Instead, I just ended up sitting in front of my computer for several hours staring at the screen blankly. Surprised at this, I constructed a theory that being the introvert that I am, the two days of social interaction had taken so much out of me that my mind had hibernated and needed to reload all the stuff needed to think about work from the hard disk. (Perhaps, as a programmer, I can’t help thinking about everything in computing related analogies) The theory tied in nicely with what programmers call being “in the zone” (Look for Paul Graham’s essay on the topic – if I am not mistaken).

A few hours later I discovered that I had an upset stomach and a slight fever. So much for my theory! I need to be more careful.

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