Idle thoughts of an idle fellow
Inspired by Jerome Klapka Jerome's work of the same name
"Idleness, like kisses, to be sweet must be stolen"
Warning: Just like the stolen kisses, too much idleness can get you in trouble
.: on creating this page
When I first created my homepage at MIT, I decided to create this page as a substitute for the usual 'about me' page. It seemed like a bright idea at the time. Without handing out free information for those bots that (so they tell me) troll the corners of the online universe looking for my credit card number, I could enthrall visitors by my impartial analysis of many subjects in which I have no expertise. Not that the bots would be able to so much as buy a month's groceries with my credit card, but nevertheless. The only problem was, it took me more than two years to actually get around to writing something on this page. The casual reader will surmise that I am an extremely hard-working person. The perceptive reader, on the other hand, will jump to the conclusion that I am lazy. I don't like people who consider themselves to be highly perceptive. It points towards an ego problem, you know.
.: on my idle activities
The good thing about being a graduate student is that you can indulge in a multitude of extra-curricular activities. The availability of great facilities is one thing that encourages you to do so, but we must not ignore the loyalty induced by the size of a grad student's paycheck. (2012 update: I cannot really complain about my paycheck at the moment.) In my free time, I like to jog (not run, jog!), play football and tennis (not very well), watch Manchester United play (religiously), read books (mainly British humour) and cook. I list cooking as one of my idle activities, but it is not really an option. The food that you get here otherwise ... well, that's a topic for another day.
Manchester United is the best football team in the world. I state this simply as a fact, and not an opinion. I am aware that there are some people who disagree with this statement, but then again, there are also people in the world who do not believe in evolution, and who think that homeopathic medicine actually works. One only has to look at the players who play for United to understand the reason behind this fact: Rooney, Robin van Persie, Vidic, Fernando Torres. To be awed by Torres' brilliance while playing for United, watch this video.
I try to play football myself, sometimes. It usually does not do my standing in the sporting fraternity much good. Not for me, the sharp crack of a well-hit free kick. I subscribe more to the 'dull thud' method of kicking the ball. It doesn't dampen my enthusiasm for the sport, though. The running, the positional awareness, and the high following a beautifully executed through ball or goal is enough to keep me going.
.: on girls
.: on Mumbai
Now here is a topic I spend a lot of my idle time thinking about. A million words have been written about it, but I fully intend to add a few more here. As a city, Mumbai is the best in the world barring none, in my biased opinion. A quote from the book "Mumbai Fables" summarizes it succintly: "Mumbai is not a city, it is a state of mind". Kindness, ruthlessness, money, hustle, beauty, old-world nooks, ultra-modern bits, resilience, it has everything. The best street food on earth. The most awesome public transport. Excellent weather. An achingly beautiful coastline. Ah, nostalgia.
.: on Boston
It is 3 degrees below freezing as I write this, so I don't have a kindly disposition towards Boston right now. I think it is a pretty enough city, if you are the sort that can stay indoors all weekend and look at it from a heated room. For human beings, it is only bearable for about two months of the year (July and August). The rest of the year, a force-field of choice expletives is all that separates you from the cold. The positives, of course, are that it is relatively safe (compared to, say, Misrata, Baghdad, or Baltimore), and that the public transport is good. Addendum: Despite the events of April 2013, I maintain that Boston is still pretty safe.
.: on California
In contrast, it is a pleasant 18 degrees Celsius as I write this. California is beautiful, and it has amazing weather. Not very original, but very true nonetheless: 5,000 miles of driving in 3 months will attest to this fact. It has access to the Pacific on one side with the beautiful beaches, and the Sierra Nevada mountains on the other side. The biggest recommendation by far, though, is the number of friends I have in the area! It seems that if I were to walk along the streets of any town in the Bay area for an hour, I would meet three people I know from years ago! The downside of this place is the pace at which everything runs. University IDs take three (three!) weeks to process. At one point, I was expecting to be handed my ID as a souvenir to take with me when I had finished my internship at UC Berkeley. And I know my neck will be wrung for me by all those Mumbai detractors (you know who you are!), but I will say it anyway: the UC Berkeley campus reminds me a lot of the IIT Bombay campus. Secretly, I think that is why I love it here.
.: on driving in the USA
Let me be polite and start with the positives. Driving in the US, in general, is great fun. Especially when it is late at night, the highway is open in front of you, there is no civilization around, the stars are out, and you are going at ... some miles an hour. It is a strange mixture of peace and excitement, like listening to Bach while jumping off a cliff. Also, most cars here have superb engines. But precisely that, I am afraid, brings us face-to-face with the bane of driving here. I refer to the round peg in a triangular hole that sits squarely between your right foot and that wonderful engine up front. An automatic transmission. Unfortunately, the only thing that is automatic about it is the way it drives up your blood pressure. It is never in the right gear when you need it; press the accelerator on entering a freeway and it does a passable impression of Fernando Torres presented with the ball at his feet: utter disbelief, followed by hesitation, and then heading off in the wrong direction altogether. This is mildly annoying on the freeways, but on winding mountain roads is a downright pain in the nether regions. Oh please, please oh please, give me a manual transmission on the floor!
.: on food
I should state up front that I am not a connoisseur of food. I should also confess that I looked up the spelling for 'connoisseur' on Google. No matter. For me, food is what keeps my brain and body functional. My only weak points are dark chocolate (by definition, dark = 80% and above) and muffins in the US, and dabeli at home. And besan laddoos. And grilled fish. And fruits. I can state with certainty, though, that I do not like cheese on everything I eat. My heart still flutters at the sight of a white layer of refined cholesterol sitting atop the food that I had actually asked for in restaurants here. A quote has just made its presence felt from the deep recesses of what passes for my brain: "I try to limit my intake of cheese, because the clots need some space to move around through my arteries".
.: on aircraft
Someone sips on a glass on apple juice while reading the newspaper. The kid sitting next to him browses through TV channels on a touch screen. A few feet away, a massive explosion ejects hot gases at incredible speeds. The juice sipper and the petulant kid are hurled down the tarmac with the few hundred other people on board the same aircraft, and will be thousands of miles away in a few hours, still coccooned in comfort. If this level of technological awesomeness doesn't turn you on, you don't have a switch!
I feel lucky to have had the opportunity of learning how aircraft work (woo-hoo, Aero IITB!), and to still be working with them. The concept of using atmospheric air to lift the weight of aircraft defines elegance. If we look at the thrust-to-weight ratio of most commercial aircraft, it is astoundingly low. Even the supersonic Concorde could only produce enough thrust to lift 37% of its own weight! The design of wing airfoils in ingenious. People working on the 'space' part of aerospace will be choking in their vacuum, but I think that aerodynamics is far more awesome than space dynamics. So there! It's my opinion against yours, and on my webpage, I always win.
.: on snow and rain
Snow is the most boring thing on earth. Winter turns Boston into a monochrome city: the trees are black, the ground is white, everybody's coats are black. Even the Charles river looks gray, choked with ice on the surface. I don't see what is so magical about a coating of snow; it is just the annoying thing that covers football fields!
In contrast, I love the liquid kind of precipitation. Fine spray is not much fun, but huge thunderstorms are wonderful. Rolling thunder announces itself as emphatically as a Lamborghini at a Prius convention. Massive drops of rain soothe one's fevered brow. Unless you have pneumonia, in which case they kill you. Serves you right for mucking about in the rain. But really, the swishing of green leaved trees, the smell of the soil, the gradual darkening of the sky and the first crack of lightning is nature's open-throated performance of a catchy song. Snow is more like the silent mourning for lost comrades.
.: on things that bug me
I am the lucky sort of chap that rarely gets perturbed. Being slow of wit in picking up nuances and insults is a wonderful blessing. I do have a list of things that are guaranteed to get my hackles up, but I am not going to be stupid enough to list them in public. The very biggest thing, though is common enough: people who are not forthright.
I never use the word 'hate' lightly, but I do despise people who try to obfuscate and confuse others by beating about the bush. A clever hint, a sly look or a raised eyebrow is not how I ever want to operate. I would much rather have someone tap me on the shoulder and say, "Hey I have a problem with what you are doing, and here is why". In short, there will be no hard feelings after a bar brawl, but do the nudge-and-whisper-behind-back dance and the respect is gone. This is one of the reasons why Wayne Rooney is way, way better than the entire Barcelona team put together.