Friday, June 19, 2009

The way to see by faith is to shut the eye of reason
-Benjamin Franklin

NOTE : My post about the London trip that i promised in my previous entry will be continued later so as to accommodate this post.

At the outset let me tell you that the following reflect my opinion about religion and science. I am of the opinion that religion and science are contradictory and while they can definitely coexist in society, the same person cannot be religious and at the same time scientific. I do not have any political affiliation and my views have arisen out of being a researcher of biology alone.

Why are we here? This is the question that any sane human being would like to see answered. I am invoking the sanity of human beings here just to allude to the fact that even in the 21st century, we are still surrounded by hypocrites, charlatans and preachers of falsehood that don’t want man to question, to know why he is here and what he is doing here. I would like to use this forum to give my views on the science versus religion debate and I am going to talk briefly about how and why it was a magnificent experience for me to transform myself from being an ‘agnostic’ (not a true agnostic as you will come to know by reading below) to an atheist.

Till a few months back, I was not being true to science. For a very long time now, I have been skeptical about religion. My questions about the various rituals and ceremonies that I had to grudgingly be part of were usually greeted with indifference and sometimes open mouthed horror. I was told to accept god on faith and here is where I had trouble with religion. While I always knew that God was not probably a very good explanation, I did not have the courage to talk about it and hid under the cloak of being an agnostic (a cloak under which a lot of my friends and close relatives stay hidden even now). Then, an atheist friend indirectly questioned my integrity towards science and I started thinking about it. I came across "The God Delusion" by Dr. Richard Dawkins and it was truly a momentous 19 continuous hours that I read it front to back. I started reading his other works and also books by the famous physicist Dr. Steven Weinberg and the transformation was complete. I am now an intellectually satisfied atheist but I am far from being a fundamentalist atheist. Give me logical evidence for the existence of god and also subject it to rigorous double blind experiments. If your God hypothesis is able to pass the experiment, then I will be the second person to start believing in your god, the first person being Dr. Richard Dawkins. All sane atheists that I know of are actually agnostic because we are just trying to tell that the existence or the non existence of God is like any other scientific hypothesis except for the fact that you have no evidence to actually prove the hypothesis. While religion asks you to accept things based on authority, the scientific approach promotes questioning and finding your answers and accepting them based on logic rather than based on fear or coercion.

Irrespective of the religion that you follow, the basic principle is the same: there is a supernatural being far more powerful than we can possibly imagine and perhaps that power had a hand in creating each one of us. This concept when propagated from the point of unqualified and untestable spiritual superiority, few people can actually question. Well, science has a problem with this. Our job as scientists and more importantly as curious human beings is to find out whether we actually need such an explanation. Scientists have demonstrated that every species that exist on this planet as of now have arisen out of a well documented process of slow and DIRECTED evolution termed evolution by natural selection (For the millionth time, Evolution by natural selection is not a random process so don’t ask me “OK so you think all of the things around us came by chance?”) and this is where I think we contradict ourselves by thinking we can be scientific and at the same time religious. If you are a strongly religious person, you expect thing s to be accepted based on faith and reason has no place in faith. If this is YOUR belief system, I am fine with it. On the other hand we are the skeptics who believe that logic and reasoning is required for any concept to be accepted as a fact and faith has no place in Science. If you think you are able to balance both well, you know who you are deceiving.

There is the age old argument that religion has morality written all over it. The religious argue that religion helps to build morality and character. I think we as a species are pathetic if our only source of being moral comes from the fear of punishment as laid out by books and arcane anecdotes. As Einstein (incidentally an atheist and not a true believer) said, if religion is the only reason we are moral, then our species is in a sorry state of affairs indeed. Ask yourself: will you stop being good if your religious book said you didn’t have to? If yes, then you are among the most immoral of all of living beings and you will go to ‘hell’ (assuming such a place exists) :)

Though I am an atheist, I still am a cultural Hindu. I firmly believe that religion has contributed very much to literature, architecture, poetry and music. Some of the best musical compositions have been religious. Our epics are also strongly rooted in religion. I am an ardent fan of the Bhagavad Geeta and I think it is one of the best self improvement books that man has ever written. Having said all that, I am also aware of that fact that all religions are based on untested and possibly ludicrous beliefs. Religion might have some inherent good but overall it has succeeded to do just the following: Divide people, Control people and Delude people. A few of my religious friends say I am proud to the point of being arrogant when it comes to science over religion. My answer to them is this: We provide you with evidence and ask you to interpret them for yourself and then come to a conclusion about the truth and you call us ARROGANT. Whereas YOU ask us to belive something just because your parents and their parents before them were taught to believe in something based purely on faith and without any evidence whatsoever . Are YOU not arrogant??

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

“When a man is tired of London, he is tired of life” ...

...Screamed the poster at the Heathrow airport. The 10 hours of flight punctuated by yes prime ministers and free food was surprisingly quick and did not give my back as much of a beating as I had expected it to. Flying over Europe, across the English Channel into the island country was pretty uneventful except for the rapid staccato of in-flight announcements by the possibly disgruntled pilot. Descending below the clouds, I was given a breathtaking view of London from the skies. It was love at first sight.

Watching the neat row of identical buildings streaking below kept me peeled to the glass windows. I could make out the Tower Bridge, the Big Ben among the other buildings and it was stunning to see the Thames winding across the city. Landing a brief 10 minutes later at Heathrow, I expected the place to be cold enough to persuade me to take the next flight back. However, it was comfortably warm and it was refreshing to give out puffs of smoke (minus the risk of cancer). Being detained at the immigration counter for having failed the first visa application, I was let off by the officer after a brief delay. It is quite ‘fun’ to be detained actually. It gives you a lot of ‘respect’. People in the immigration queue give you either a sympathetic nod of the head as if saying “oh you poor thing” or they just stare at you as if saying “Look! An illegal immigrant”

Coming out of the airport, I was received by a friend. Bright and sunny, it was the first in a number of days that London was having a pleasant weather. After a quick wash up, I set out to explore. Eager to travel on my own, I took the first tentative steps into the famous London tube. I was truly amazed by the complexity of their underground railway system. In Singapore, we have 3 train lines and I thought it was a big thing. London has around 10! Hopping from Uxbridge to Kings Cross and then to Victoria was a breeze. Catching a bus to Leeds from the famous Victoria coach station at the last possible instant, I hoped to catch a glimpse of the English countryside but was thwarted by jet lag and the freakishly quick sunset. Before I realized, I was asleep and it was dark. Waking up at 7.30 PM, I found the bus racing through the streets of Leeds which at first glance seemed more like a ghost town. Later I realized that most shops shut at 5 and people scurry to catch the warmth of their homes or pubs. After a night’s sleep at my friend’s place, I was itching to explore Leeds. I went to the University of Leeds (which looks pretty much like any other university), the city centre and a ruin that once was a monastery. I remembered one of my ideas on humans, the big wonder about old ruins, gigantic temples, pyramids, statues etc is not that they are things that our ancestors couldn’t have done but the fact that we don’t know how they were able to do it is the actual wonder. This, I think reflects man’s innate curiosity and thanks to that we have progress in Science and more importantly I have a ‘job’ and I get free food every Friday.

The same night (after an unsatisfying dinner at Burger king), we started for Glasgow. The train journey from Leeds to York and then from York to Glasgow was refreshingly short. Getting off at Glasgow, I realized that London was a LOT more comfortable. -1, -2 are abstract numbers and don’t give you a feel of what is it to be out there in reality. Walking as quickly as we could, we reached our friend’s place (it is funny how I seem to ALWAYS have someone any place I go. Maybe something to do with my magnetic and charismatic personalityJ) and after a dinner of vegetable biriyani and raita, (slurp!!!) I hit the sack. Waking up, I was greeted by the rising sun. It was unusually warm and sunny (again, something to do with me I guess). We started off by trying to meet up at one place (5 of my classmates from madras were in Glasgow and we had planned to meet up), from then on we went to the Glasgow Caledonian University (which seems to have been established solely to extract ‘talent’ from foreign students, talent here being an Egyptian slang for MONEY). George square, the main town centre in Glasgow was small but quite beautiful. Lined with statues of famous Scots, I could recognize James Watt (Steam Engine) and Francis George Scott (the Famous Scottish composer) but no one else. The next place to visit was the Kelvin Grove art museum. Though not a connoisseur, I was able to appreciate the amount of work that went into creating and maintaining the numerous priceless works of art. Four hours later, I had not been able to go through half the museum. This was a theme that was to become recurrent throughout my trip, the lack of time! Moving on to the transport museum, which was closing within the next 30 minutes, we hurried our way through the neat rows of cars, buses, trams and engines giving no more than cursory glances to each of them. Pausing at a selected few (such as the Ford Anglia used in the movie Harry potter and the chamber of secrets, among others) to take pictures, we were almost kicked out at 6 PM! My friends parted ways here and I made a last stop at the Glasgow University. The magnificent and imposing building that has come to represent the University of Glasgow was a sight worth missing the bus to London but the curiosity to explore London was so overwhelming that I didn’t find it hard to bid goodbye to Glasgow, which had now started to get uncomfortably cold. Settling down in the double decker bus that was to take us to London in 8 hours time, I found it very easy to get some sleep considering that we had mostly been on the move ever since I had got to the UK.

London here I come!

Sunday, December 23, 2007

The kid that I once was...
Disclaimer : ( I often seem to start with these disclaimers huh) : I am an aamir khan fan and look forward to each and every one of his film because I have come to expect increasing standards from a person who manages to put across his points powerfully and successfully. But this in no way influences my opinion about his films and the idea he tries to convey through his films. Suffice to say I will never be a fan who can enjoy and approve whatever absurdity his hero performs onscreen. Moreover, this is not a film review.

I had a lot of unfinished work in the lab. I was quite behind in my work and the prospect of producing any kind of results that remotely resembled the ones that I get in my dreams and experiment planning sessions was quite bleak. So it was with quite a significant bit of apprehension that I decided to go ahead and watch ‘Taare zameen par’. I am not going to tell you what the film was about or how much I like it. I think it will enough for you to know that I saw a lot of people removing their spectacles at the end.
The whole Singapore based Indian crowd that had managed to get tickets was on their feet as soon as the movie was over. It was not to exit the hall but to give the movie a standing ovation. Nobody moved till the last of the credits were scrolling off the screen and since it was the first time I was seeing such a phenomenon, I am moved to the point of saying that I was really impressed. People close to me might know what I frequently say: It’s really tough to impress a Scorpio and therefore it takes something significantly better to produce a drop of tear from his seemingly cold and emotionless eyes. And this just did!

I was watching myself on the screen. I was reminded of a lot of things that I did during my school days and even more of things that I really enjoyed doing when I was a bratty and impossible terror at school. The two bunny teeth sticking out every time I tried to smile or the time when I tried whatever way possible to bunk school (You don’t have to scratch your head. Don’t you remember the number of times you feigned headache or fever or ear pain or stomach pain to stay away from school?) or the number of times I tried to convince my father that nothing was wrong about the 30/50 that I frequently used to secure in the unfriendly and wastefully taxing mathematics test. One incident that I remember quite vividly was when my maths teacher was thinking out loud about the fact that she knew a lot of guys that were pretending to pay attention when they were actually miles away. You could have heard my heart beat even if you were in the North Pole. I think it’s fair to say I was a NORMAL school kid who didn’t enjoy going to school except on days that were rainy or that had a games period in it. I was just plain decent at studies and if there is one thing that I am really grateful to my parents , it’s their never ending effort not to try and impress upon me to produce first ranks ( On hindsight, I never could have produced the first ranks anyway).

I disagree with aamir when he says this particular film is meant for young parents or people who will become parents soon. I think it’s meant for every single adult that understands Hindi or is able to read the subtitles. The parents of a grumbling graduate student will be reminded of the kid with his bunny teeth sticking out every time he tries to suppress his smile ( believe me, when you were a kid, it would have been really funny to see your dad being angry at you) . The grad student will be reminded of what he had become to win the rat race and how his world has been narrowed down to a small cubicle and the bench top that he proudly owns and protects in his lab. The IT professional will be reminded of how listless and routine his life has become and how he misses the colour and joy of the world outside his computer monitor. Above all, and I say this from the bottom of my heart, I hope it reminds everybody that there are things much more important than pushing their kids to secure that 48/50 in his/her unit test.

We are in a world that keeps expecting kids to perform better every single time and it would be quite ludicrous to suggest that we should let children on their own and let them explore their talents without any inhibitions. If we do that we will soon have a bunch of over imaginative and impractical individuals that strive as much to work for mankind’s progress as the present US administration does to adopt the Kyoto. On the other hand, if we over indulge in trying to bring about discipline, we will soon have in our hands a group of no good psychopaths that are bent upon taking revenge for their deplorable fate (remember what happened as an aftermath of the Versailles treaty that was signed to end ‘ the war to end all wars’? ). So what do we do? Of course, follow the golden mean! Give the kid the kind of freedom that you expected from your parents but make sure he knows he is responsible and accountable for his actions. Kids however young they might be (‘Immature’ in the language of the adults) like to be treated as equals and you really become close to a kid if you try and play along rather than boss him over. You may feel as his respect for you is getting diffused over time but what happens in reality is that the veil of distrust between an adult and a child is being shred to pieces. His respect for you as a person who will stand up for him against all odds, remains rock solid. I am really glad I could enjoy this kind of freedom when I was a kid. Whatever I am today, I owe it to this freedom given to me by my parents. Danke!

SO I hope you will know what to do when your kid (Might be a long time from now but still… you never know ;) complains of stomach pain on a Monday morning.

Oh yeah, my objective rating of the film: 9/10. That’s because the end of the movie was a bit predictable for me. Moreover, nothing in this world is perfect and if you accept perfection in something, there will be no scope for improvement. By far, I would rate this film as equal to 2 of the greatest movies that I have had the privilege to watch, ‘Shawshank redemption’ and the Malayalam film ‘Tanmatra’.

Friday, November 02, 2007

Can you feel the heat?

Note: The following post may not exactly be my usual narrative that is made to sound interesting deliberately. This is about something that enjoys top priority in my ‘I would like to do my bit’ list. I hope with all my heart that you do more more than just say: THATS A GOOD POST sriram!

The giant ball of fire streaked across the sky watched by hundreds of pairs of eyes. Though this was something that they had never experienced before, the panic button was not pressed immediately. Sometime later, with an ear splitting crunch, the fireball crashed and sent shockwaves that reverberated throughout the land. This time, the owners of the eyes knew that something was horribly wrong and it was then that they started running. They were too late! Had they pressed the panic button when the fireball was 50,000 miles away, they could still have run but they had nowhere to hide. The meteor crashed and within a few days, life on earth was a thing of the past.

By some miracle that will perhaps forever remain one of Nature's best kept secrets, life started fighting back. Very slowly but very steadily indeed, life started to populate the earth again. Higher and higher forms of life appeared, firstly in the oceans and then in the land and earth started to flourish again. Then, Mr. God made a blunder.

We started in earnest. We lived and died along with the rest of God’s creations. We hunted for food and were afraid of thunder and lightning just as He expected us to be. It was at this particular moment that Mr. God decided to take a break. He popped on his hat and said “I will be right back”. With a ‘giant leap’ (No pun intended ) mankind began to spread and evolve. Man started making tools and then graduated to making weapons. Much later, he learnt the concept of mass production and the Industrial revolution was born. The realization that burning coal could replace the need for hard labour forever and irreversibly altered human and environmental history. Then he started having greedy ambitions over the ‘possessions’ of other men (Which ostensibly is not Man’s ;) and we started fighting. What started out as localized fights spread quickly and was translated into 2 great wars. The wars were fought and won but the earth lost.

Now, we turn back and look at our footsteps… there is nothing much to be proud of. We were given a planet that was pristine and perfect in all senses and we have managed to convert it to a dump that is not fit to even spit on. We have consumed as much resources as we possibly can and still crave for more. We have burnt huge quantities of fuel and have managed to alter the environment at a global level. Our population has risen to levels that can put a plague or an epidemic to shame. In spite of all this, we continue to harbour the hope or should I say the misconception that our effects on the earth are hardly significant. We seem to think that whatever be our actions, it will get lost in the crowd. Whatever we do, tomorrow the Sun will continue to rise and bathe the earth with its glorious light. It might, but we might not be here to see it.

Well, things are changing and changing very quickly. We can no longer be free from the consequences of our combined actions. We are going to pay and pay heavily for what the guys before us did. This tiny piece of rock in the vast space that was once struck by a meteor is under threat again. But this time, it’s something from within that is killing it. A virus!

A misanthropist I may seem to be, but I am reminded of a basic rule in science (or should I say the basic rule that applies to anything except love and costly chinaware): If you can break it, you can fix it . I am sure the whole world (I mean the whole world except for a guy sitting in a place called Washington and who is bent on policing the world) realizes that something CAN be done and something HAS to be done. I plead with you to visit the website and learn how to reduce your carbon foot print. Remember, there is just this one home for us. If it’s gone, we are gone.

Separately I would also like to request you to watch the movie: The Inconvenient Truth. It really shakes you up and will push you into doing your bit for the earth. After watching the movie, if you are still a bit confused as to whether the time is right for us to start spanking our own bottoms. Well, wait a few more years thinking about it and there will be no bottom for us to spank!

I just remembered a funny quote by my all time favorite cartoon character.
"Sometimes I think the surest sign that intelligent life exists elsewhere in the universe is that none of it has tried to contact us."-Calvin (Reference : Bill Waterson’s Calvin and Hobbes)

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Learn while you can!

If I ever felt for even a moment that the world was one and that no 'narrow boundaries' separated mankind, it was during my second lab rotation at the Temasek Life Sciences laboratory (TLL) in NUS. The research group that I am working in is a truly multinational team. The professor is a japanese.she works real hard and demands really good work from us but I have not broached the topic of Pearl harbour with her... (Come on, you want me to be chucked out even before I begin? :), the post doctoral fellow is a Russian. As you might have guessed, I haven’t talked about the cold war or vodka with her. One grad student is from China. Well, apart from the great wall, communism and the fact that they eat practically anything, I don’t know much about China. Last but not least, here I am: an Indian. Quite naturally, I must have been a snake charmer in my previous life.

The unwritten code of humanity says that we should be quite happy to tolerate our different ways of life (which might seem to be eccentricities). That is exactly what people are doing here and that is exactly what I find so interesting in a place that could easily fit inside Madras. It’s so small an area but it has representatives from over 50 or 60 nations( Surce: NUS webpage) and also has representatives from all religions. True, India is also a secular country but our secularity has been challenged from time to time and the world considers India as a country that struggles to balance its stupendous economic growth with a rapidly burgeoning population and still strives towards a seemingly unattainable goal of socio economic development for all. In this regard, I would like to present an objective analysis of things that Singapore and India can learn from each other.

DISCLAIMER: The following is purely a work of fiction. Any resemblance to pro active government measures aimed at development is purely coincidental. The views that follow are necessarily mine and do not reflect the views of the common Singaporean man (who is too busy) and the common Indian man (who doesn’t care). Any fool is entitled to give his/her opinion and therefore I qualify to give my opinion. If you feel that my opinion is crap, you can freely express your views but I dont give a **** (Wow! That is what I call receptivity, mutual understanding and coexistence :).

5 things India should learn from Singapore

1) Learn to respect traffic rules and be considerate to pedestrians (the problem in Singapore is, If you don’t follow the rules, more than the possibility of you being fined, you could easily be killed by a car travelling at 62.13 Miles/hour).

2) Learn to be being polite to offenders and people of other races even when 99.99% of yourself feels disgusted and wants to bash up the guy.

3) Learn how to depend so much on technology that, if somebody pulls a plug or plants a bug, you can’t travel, you can buy water and you can’t eat.

4) Learn the art of using so much plastic that could cover a whole beach and then spending a day to clean up the beach.

5) Learn the art of eating anything, anywhere, anytime and with anyone.

5 things India should NOT learn from Singapore

1) Never ever try to learn peaceful coexistence.

2) Never ever learn to respect individuals and to recognize their individuality.

3) Don’t even try to understand how to make life better for the common man.

4) Never attempt to use technology for growth and if it’s a nuclear deal that can bring in power and can light up villages, vehemently oppose it.

5) Never recognize the efforts of the government whatever be the development it has brought about.

5 things Singapore should learn from India

1) Learn how to complain about everything and conveniently forget that you have done nothing to help.

2) Learn how to use your horn. Consider this, why would automobile companies provide horns in their cars if all you can do in a traffic jam is WAIT.

3) Learn the art of idolizing sportsmen. More importantly learn the art of changing your perspective about them with their every single act or performance.

4) Learn how to be corrupt and how to foolishly get caught red handed by a spy cam with your name occupying every single news channel all over the country for days at a stretch.

5) Learn how to play down you misery and still vote every time expecting somebody will change things around for you. (Off the records: You know when I was in the 4th standard, I first learnt that India was a developing country and faced a lot of problems such as.blah blah... it has been about 17 years now and my youngest cousin still reads the same thing in his book.)

5 things Singapore should NOT learn from India

1) Never learn the art of being flexible and adjust.

2) Never try to start trusting people rather than being subserviently dependent on machines.

3) Never try to understand that there are limitations to what your country can do for you.

4) Never learn the secret of a sound public health system. Instead keep harping about how costly healthcare is (This and dengue are probably the only 2 issues for public health specialists in Singapore).

5) Finally, never learn the sanctity of familial relationships and home.

Well I should learn 2 things quickly :

1) To shut up
2) Martial arts. In case either Indians or Singaporeans or both want to take a swipe at me after reading this.

Saturday, August 11, 2007

The eagle had landed... quite messily indeed

The place was pretty green with vegetation all around. 5 or 6 high rises surrounded by 2 to 3 small buildings were visible from the big windows on the bus that carried me from Buona Vista to Kent ridge. Since I had seen a number of such buildings that belonged to HSBC, Singtel etc. on the way , I thought that these too were the office complexes of any other industrial giant. About a few minutes later I came across the sign : NUH. And then realization dawned, This is it Mate! This is the National University of Singapore! Looks more like a Five star resort :)

As I came closer, I realized one thing that set this University apart from any other that I had seen ( which is quite limited actually). This place was HUGE. Really HUGE. My seniors had warned me that I could easily get lost in the cornucopia of buildings and I was not too sure about it till I did get lost here. Finally, I managed to find my way into the registration centre and finished the procedures within 15 minutes. On my way out, I had to face about 5 to 6 stalls advertising their latest laptop brands. I thought about my dad back home and grinned… somebody is going to need a lot of money shortly. Making a mental note to come there the next day, I forced myself to go to my department. Here I made my first mistake, I thought that the department would be just 5 or 6 minutes away. It was a painful and tiring 20 minutes later( Painful coz my 100$ shoes were meeting my feet for the first time and I guess there was an ‘orientation’ problem :), that I came to a 6 storey building that proclaimed ‘Building : Science 2’ Huffing and puffing I made my way into the department office and finished some registration stuff. The job over, I thought of checking out the science canteen. The canteen is a misnomer actually. Its more like a hawker stall wherein you have 4 or 5 different stalls serving stuff ranging from sambar rice and vendakai curry to frozen mouth watering sushi and oyster sauce ( Being a vegetarian , I never got to eat the latter but still it did look delicious ) After gobbling up 2 more $ ( Don’t pick up your calculator yet, that’s 59 Rs) I went to the bus stop for a ride back home. On the way, something interesting happened, I had to cross 4 pedestrian crossings. At each one of them, the fast moving cars stopped and waited for me to cross the road before roaring off (these Singaporeans are crazy :). An otherwise uneventful hour later, I was home.

The next day, I went to the ICA to submit my visa application. That story is beyond the scope of this blog and so lemme skip it for something more interesting. After finishing my visa processing, I went to 2 places, Funan digital mall and Sim lim square. If you are a gadget freak … er.. a wealthy gadget freak , then this is the place to be. 5 floors each full of electronics stuff ranging from spy cameras and toys to the latest laptops and plasma TVs). I spent a joyful 3 hours in each of these 2 wonderful stores eyeing each and every gizmo with a sparkle in my eyes and 30$ in my wallet. I returned home (empty handed of course) and drowned my misery with a bottle of coke. ( After reading all this , do you still think i would be able to afford a Beer?)

The next day, I started my lab rotations in Dr. Cynthia He’s lab. She is a very good person and knows her stuff. She was in Yale and UPenn and so, her English is impeccable. That’s one worry out of the way. ( No! no! she is not reading this and they don’t have the system of internal marks). 5 days of rotation later, I have learnt a lot and now know my way around the whole place and even know where to get ice for the ice box.

Yesterday was an eventful day. Cynthia( She insists that we call her by her first name. By the way almost every prof here and in the USA insist that you call them by their first name) offered to take me and my lab mates for lunch at a costly Japanese restaurant. The drive to the restaurant was short and lasted just about 5 minutes. She paid the entry fee of 100$ for 4 ( Now is the time you should get out your calculator) and the waiter beckoned us inside. It was a total flop show. I drank 3 glasses of orange juice, a cup of durian flavoured icecream ( Durain is a fruit that’s extremely delicious but unfortunately so stinky that its not allowed on the buses or trains here ) and about 250 grams of uncooked carrot, cucumber and olives. Those were the only vegetarian stuff in the whole restaurant that had about 2 stories full of buffet items. My host was really sorry but I wasn’t fussy about food any day. 25$ for that ( if you still have not figured it out, its 640 Rs). Thank god she was paying :). We made our way through the ‘ 3 course dinner’ ( for them at least) talking about a whole lot of things and for more than once I was feeling as if I was talking to a friend and not to a prof. That’s the culture here. You get used to it very quickly indeed.

One thing though, I can not shake off the feeling that I am a visitor here. No matter what they have to offer me, no matter how hospitable they are, no matter how perfect the people here are, I still miss home. The perfection and orderliness here sometimes makes me long for the busy, dirty and loud mouthed streets of Madras. Lets hope I am able to sustain this feeling for the next 2 years.

More to follow. I will write when I am really busy of course :)

Friday, July 27, 2007

Explorer in Singapore

Well the first thing to hit me in the face in Singapore was not the fact that the place was unusually clean or that the cars seem to fly along the streets. It was also not that the cars waited in a traffic signal without trying to get to the front of the line and it was most certainly not the presence of over 30 hindu temples but it was the fact that I have been here for over 14 hours and I have been in the streets for about 4 or 5 hours and I haven’t heard a single car honk its horn! Come on guys, back home in India we honk at anything and everything. If you don’t sound your horn, you are regarded the most incompetent idiot alive.

It was with a mild sense of apprehension that I boarded the Boeing 737 800 to Singapore. The air hostesses were very pretty( Well, it was Air India Express and when are you are raised in India for 21 years of your life, you learn to be easily satisfied :) The food was bad( As usual) and the movie that they showed was .. well I am not writing this blog to describe a Boeing am I? Anyway, the flight got over soon ( Thank God) and about 3 hours and 30 minutes later, the Captain announced that we would reach Singapore shortly and that we could open the window flaps. The first view of Singapore from the sky was pretty much less than dramatic. The sky was full of rain bearing clouds and I couldn’t make out a single light in the city that is supposed to have more lights than the whole of India. 5 minutes, later we had landed. After scurrying through Changi airport along with the rest of my Indian brothers and sisters, I queued up in the immigration queue and finished the procedures in record time. It was here that I played the ‘bright’ guy and stood in a queue for 10 minutes just to hear “ You didn’t have to come here. You can finish the procedures at ICA on Monday” . 10 minutes for that! I moved towards the baggage claim and by the time I got there, everything was gone! It was then, that I saw a lady taking away 3 bags and my big RED delsey was among the 3. I ran up to her and asked her about it. She said “ I am sorry. You are late. Please go to the baggage section to claim your bag. That was the last straw. I was about to burst, instead I decided to use my ‘irresistible charm’ :)and appealed to her heart saying “ Look here lady, this is my first time here, I dunno anybody in this place and I cant wait because it is getting late…Please” she melted and let me take the bag after I showed her my ticket. One thing though: You had to say "Sorry! come again" about 15 times if you wanted to ask where the toilet was!

I was greeted warmly by my uncle and his kid who had come to the airport to receive me at around 6.30 Singapore time (the flight was late by 2 hours and I got there at around 8.30) we took a taxi to his house. I was not tired or anything but I just cannot remember seeing anything spectacular on my way home. When we got home, I got my first surprise. You had to swipe a card to access the front gate and you had to swipe to access the lift and get to your floor! We got home and ate a great dinner. This was followed by 15 minutes of me trying to read Harry potter and failing miserably because my mind wasn’t up to the task. I just could not get over the fact that I had just crossed the sea.

10 hours of blissful sleep later, I got my first glimpse of a Singaporean morning. It was quite pleasant. The streets were spotlessly clean and the traffic was immaculate in following rules. Utopia? After a breakfast ( Adai and butter slurpppppppppp!! ) and a bath( Nothing different from India. They still use water as we do back home !) I was ready to go to.. Believe it or not, a Temple.

More than the temple, I would like to describe the bus journey. Well, firstly the buses do not have conductors. Small boxes about a feet long and wide have replaced their human counterparts (wait till Jyoti Basu comes here!). I got into the bus, swiped my card and sat down. My aunt and uncle gave me a lot of insight into the Singapore way of life on the way. After 5 minutes, the bus came to a halt. My uncle finished the conversation slowly and the said ” We have to get down here” I was about to do a 007 stunt and exit the bus using my unique acrobatic skills but then... we didn’t shout at the driver to hold on and nor did we push the guys ahead to get to the exit. We took our sweet time to get out and the driver was not even complaining ( these Singaporeans are crazy :) : with a reference to Obelix). On our way out, my uncle asked me toswipe again. I was wondering why and then slowly I understood. When you swiped at the start point, you were telling the bus that you had entered and when you swiped on your way out, you were telling the bus that you had come to the destination and that you be charged for the journey. The money would automatically be deducted from your card and you can go on. Neat huh? But I cant imagine it working in India. As for the temple, I am a good actor and did my act perfectly!

15 minutes later we went to a supermarket! Here I understood fully the advise my Uncle had given me last evening : never ever try to convert to Indian rupees. Every thing was costly for me. I remember thinking how I was going to survive here. Shortly, we got back home. And here I am typing this out. Nothing much but this was my first look at Singapore and my impression: Pretty impressive. My uncle says “ Wait till you see your University” Hmm you better wait for me to type that out too!