Sleepless in Seattle

Some days I watch familiar old movies instead of trying new ones. Why experiment with new movies, the thinking goes, which may or may not entertain, when you know for sure that you will enjoy a certain old movie? One such set of movies, that I find comfort in, is the triad from Nora Ephron: When Harry Met Sally…, Sleepless In Seattle and You’ve Got Mail.

Sleepless in Seattle brings together my favorite on-screen pair: Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan. Sam (Tom Hanks) and his precocious son move to Seattle in a bid to overcome the grief of the demise of Sam’s wife. When his son puts him on a radio call-in show, Sam shares his sorrow with the listeners and is named Sleepless in Seattle. Single women all over the nation are attracted by him and propose to him by (snail-) mail. One of the mailers is Annie (Meg Ryan), who seems to be in a perfect engagement, but thinks that it is missing some magic. Sam’s son wishes Sam would meet Annie, but he is not interested in any of the mailers. How Sam and Annie finally meet forms the story.

Sleepless in Seattle felt extremely cheesy the first time, but has gotten better every time I watch it again. Yes, so these two people are destined to meet, and once you get over it the movie is a real treat. Nora Ephron is not averse to parodying her own genre. One example is the funny scene where Sam’s sister gets teary-eyed about the romance in An Affair To Remember, while the men rollick in her misery. The movie is full of little puns, and the more you watch it, the more you notice them all over the place. Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan are perfect in the movie, though the plot gives them very little time together, since they are meant to meet only at the end. Sleepless in Seattle continues to be a movie that I can always turn to when in need of comfort.

An observation on how Gandhi studied

My better half is reading The Story of My Experiments with Truth, the autobiography of Gandhi right now. Inevitably, I find this book lying in the living room many times and end up flipping randomly through some pages.

Gandhi was a polyglot and learned in many histories, cultures and philosophies of the world. But, like any of us, he was not born with this knowledge, but acquired it by studying himself all through his life. Here are two excerpts I came across in the book which demonstrate how he studied:

(From chapter 49 titled Homeward)

About the middle of 1896 I sailed for home in the S. S. Pongola which was bound for Calcutta. […] The ship’s doctor gave me a Tamil Self-Teacher which I began to study. […] At the request of the English friend, who read Urdu with me, I found out a good Urdu Munshi from amongst the deck passengers, and we made excellent progress in our studies. […] With Tamil I made fair progress. There was no help available, but the Tamil Self-Teacher was a well-written book, and I did not feel in need of much outside help. I had hoped to continue these studies even after reaching India, but it was impossible. Most of my reading since 1893 has been done in jail. I did make some progress in Tamil and Urdu, in jails – Tamil in South African jails, and Urdu in Yeravda jail.

(From the Introduction, which was written in 1925)

Then followed a series of events which culminated in my imprisonment at Yeravda. Sjt. Jeramdas, who was one of my fellow-prisoners there, asked me to put everything else on one side and finish writing the autobiography. I replied that I had already framed a programme of study for myself, and that I could not think of doing anything else until this course was complete.

At the age of 27, Gandhi was a lawyer in South Africa. On a trip home to India that year, he tries to learn Tamil and Urdu on the ship journey of 24 days. We can see that he takes any help that is available, like studying Urdu along with a co-passenger and getting taught by another co-passenger. But, he is also autodidatic, able to learn Tamil and Urdu by himself during his prison stays at South Africa and Yeravda.

It is comforting to see that even Gandhi can find learning something new quite hard and needs repeated attempts to acquire knowledge. He is motivated enough to re-attempt learning Tamil in South Africa later and learning Urdu almost 24 years later during his imprisonment at Yeravda jail.

It looks like he prepares a detailed schedule or plan, his programme of study, and tries to stick to it while learning something. Since it is well-known that he acquired lots of knowledge during his life, this kind of organized study must have worked well for him.

We can also see that he studies in distraction-free environments. In a world before electronic communications, a 24-day ship journey is equivalent to a retreat to a monastery. By 1920, Gandhi must have been a very busy man in India leading the freedom struggle. At such a time, Gandhi could not have asked for a better environment than a year-long solitary confinement in prison to further his study.

Finally, one can also notice that Gandhi would prefer to focus on one study at a time. When asked to write his autobiography, he does not do it since he is in the middle of a well-planned study program of learning Urdu (I guess) at that time.

I had read Gandhi’s autobiography almost 16 years ago while being a member of the Gandhi Club in high school. It is clearly time I hunkered down to read it again sometime 🙂

Bus Service to Bengaluru Airport

Since it opened, I have been using the Vayu Vajra bus service to get to and from the Bengaluru International Airport (BIA). The airport is situated 40KM outside the city in Devanahalli and this air-conditioned Volvo bus service has turned out to be a convenient and economical option for me to connect to it.

Officially called the Bengaluru International Airport Service (BIAS), Vayu Vajra currently has 10+ routes covering most of the city and running all hours of the day. No matter where you stay, there should be a regional bus station nearby where you can catch these buses. I live in Jayanagar and the closest Vayu Vajra stop for me is the Jayanagar 4th Block bus station, which is a 5-minute drive from home. My dad drops me or picks me up from here in his car. Two Vayu Vajra routes: BIAS-5 and BIAS-12 go through this stop and so the waiting time for a bus is no more than 10-15 minutes. There is even a waiting room at the bus station for Vayu Vajra passengers with comfortable seats and space for luggage!

The BIAS buses are well designed, with comfortable seats and air conditioning, the latter is really needed in Bengaluru to have a smoke-free ride through rush-hour traffic (jams). There is lots of space in the middle of the bus to stack luggage. The middle doors are large and low enough to make loading and unloading of luggage easy.

No booking is needed, tickets can be bought on the bus from the conductor. On my recent trip, I paid a fare of ₹180 for the journey from Jayanagar 4th Block to the airport. This is an affordable fare for airline travellers, but can be a bit expensive for airport visitors since they will be paying it both to and from the airport. The travel duration depends on the traffic, mine takes about 1.5 hours during evening traffic.

The alternate means to get to the airport are bike, car, autorickshaw and taxi. Traveling to the airport by motorbike and car of the family can be stressful due to traffic jams and can be accident prone. Taking an autorickshaw is out of the question due to the distance, cost and times involved. (Do not even get me started about the shenanigans of auto drivers!) A taxi is convenient, but can be expensive, accident prone and one is left at the mercy of the driver. Compared against these, the Vayu Vajra service is very convenient, especially if one is traveling alone or with one co-traveler and is safe for women to travel alone at any hour.

To me, the Vayu Vajra service remains the best way to get to and from the airport. There are plans of connecting the Bengaluru Metro to the airport. If and when that happens, Vayu Vajra becomes redundant. I hope BMTC can keep this useful service running this well until then.

Information on the Vayu Vajra bus service can be found online: routes, timings and fares.

Bridesmaids

There was an interview with Paul Feig on a recent episode of Wait Wait… Don’t Tell Me! He seemed genuinely funny and so I decided to watch his latest directorial venture, a chick flick called Bridesmaids. It is a romantic comedy written by Kristen Wiig, who also plays the central character Annie in the movie. Annie is a 30-something whose life has hit bottom since her cake shop closed down. She is joyous when her best friend Lillian announces her marriage and makes Annie the maid of honour. Her happiness is short-lived when Helen, a jealous rival, emerges from Lillian’s bridesmaids. As Helen and Annie duke it out for control, Lillian’s marriage is heading to ruin.

Kristen Wiig rules all over the movie as the innocent but ill-fated Annie. She is the reason Bridesmaids really feels like her true story. There are quite a few funny pieces in the movie, but the bridesmaids doing unspeakable things at a bridalwear shop takes the cake. Bridesmaids is a fun movie to watch, especially if you are feeling down.

Opiates of the 21st century?

We are now living in a golden age of technology, especially the kind that lies at the intersection of information, interconnection and interaction. Acquiring, using and talking about the latest gadgets, smartphone applications and websites is the norm. Almost everyone does this or aspires to do this.

Living comfortably amidst a permeation of such ether, I was rudely awoken on coming across a 2010 essay by Paul Graham titled The Acceleration of Addictiveness. There have been quite a few writings and books in recent months looking at the impact of this kind of technology on our cognition, attention and other aspects of the mind. Graham mentors and funds a lot of startups in this very technology and hence my surprise to see him discuss so frankly about it.

Graham brings a different perspective to this topic by using the history of cigarette smoking in society. Smoking was an accepted social addiction, until its harmful effects were discovered and social norms evolved deriding it.

When cigarettes first appeared, they spread the way an infectious disease spreads through a previously isolated population. Smoking rapidly became a (statistically) normal thing. There were ashtrays everywhere.

[…] In the last 20 years, smoking has been transformed from something that seemed totally normal into a rather seedy habit […] A lot of the change was due to legislation, of course, but the legislation couldn’t have happened if customs hadn’t already changed.

Today’s technology is bringing us both improvements and addictions at a much faster pace. Since customs (like those against smoking) take a long time to form, it will be disastrous to rely on customs, society or our friends to decide what to accept or reject. So, it becomes our responsibility to observe and decide which and how much of these technologies to engage with.

As for Graham, he says he stopped using his iPhone and compares the iPad to a hip flask! The thought that stuck with me the most was:

Unless we want to be canaries in the coal mine of each new addiction—the people whose sad example becomes a lesson to future generations—we’ll have to figure out for ourselves what to avoid and how. […] We’ll increasingly be defined by what we say no to.

No matter how cool or popular a new technology seems to be, we will need to observe and analyze whether it makes sense for our life before we incorporate it into our lifestyle. Deciding not to go along with any particular popular technology will get increasingly harder, but will be necessary if one wants to lead the life he wishes to. Life without them seems miserable, but so might life with them.

Bachna Ae Haseeno (बचना ऐ हसीनों)

I watched Bachna Ae Haseeno (बचना ऐ हसीनों) recently though I have been listening to its songs for a long time now. On a trip in Switzerland (this is a Yash Chopra movie remember? 😉 ) Ranbir Kapoor makes the innocent Minissha Lamba fall in love with him, only to unceremoniously dump her after the trip. A few years later he is cohabiting with a model (Bipashu Basu). When she proposes they get married, he is unable to draw the courage to decline and finally leaves her at the altar. Later in Australia he really falls in love with a taxi driver (Deepika Padukone) but she turns him down. He then realizes the hurt he caused his former girlfriends and proceeds to win back their forgiveness.

The first half of the movie is fast and fun to watch. In contrast, the latter half where Ranbir revisits Lamba and Basu is slow, long, boring and pointless. The plot does not help either making no strong case for why he has to endure such hardship when his former friends have moved on with their lives. While Bipasha and Deepika are pretty enough, I liked the tender pairing of Minissha and Ranbir in the first half. The movie spans the world and the scenic backgrounds are a delight. The music is good, my favorite tracks being Khuda Jaane and Aahista Aahista. Bachna Ae Haseeno is a tad long but is a good romantic movie of Ranbir.

Enrolling for Aadhaar

I was in Bengaluru last week and decided to enroll for Aadhaar during this occasion. Aadhaar is a massive project by the Indian government to provide every Indian citizen an unique identification number. My parents informed me that the enrollment center nearest to our home was the Jayanagar Head Post Office. Proof of age and address are needed for the enrollment and so I headed to the post office with my passport.

Though it was a Saturday, there were only a few people buzzing around a post office official who was checking their proof of identification. I could not get an Aadhaar enrollment form since he had run out of forms, but informed me that I could get a photocopy of the form at the photocopy shop that is beside the post office. I headed out there since I needed a photocopy of the front (for date of birth) and back (for address) of my passport anyway.

The Aadhaar enrollment form is surprisingly bare, requiring these basic information: name, sex, DOB, address, email and phone number. It was refreshing to see transgender listed as an option for the sex entry. The official checked my form and my passport and let me in to the enrollment area.

The enrollment setup for Aadhaar is simple and fits on a small table. It consists of a computer with two displays, a webcam, a fingerprint scanner, a handheld iris scanner and a printer. Both the displays show the same information, the enrolling official sits in front of one and the candidate in front of the other. The webcam is fixed on top of the candidate’s display. First, the official entered the information from my form in English and Kannada into the Aadhaar data-entry software. She asked me to verify whether it was correct. Next, I was asked to remove my glasses and a photo was taken. Since the interior of the post office is dark, they had pointed a table lamp at the candidate’s face to illuminate it. After this, scans of all my 10 fingers were taken. My fingers were quite dry and it took a few tries and pressure for the scan to register. Finally, she placed the iris scanner on my eyes to capture a scan. After another final verification of the data, she printed out a confirmation form and I was done. The entire enrollment process took less than 5 minutes! 🙂

Despite all the brouhaha against Aadhaar, I am convinced that every Indian citizen needs an identity. Time will tell whether Aadhaar is helpful or just another white elephant. I look forward to receiving my Aadhaar card, which I was informed will be available within 2 months of the enrollment.