Saturday, 4 September 2021

In the Dark Night of the Soul it's Always 3:30 in the Morning

One of the TV shows I have enjoyed watching in the last two years has been The Morning Show on Apple TV+. The first episode was titled 'In the Dark Night of the Soul it's Always 3:30 in the Morning'. I had assumed, that it was a title made up entirely by the creators of the show. But I was mistaken. It is inspired from an autobiographical essay by F. Scott Fitzgerald titled 'The Crack-Up' (Esquire, 1936) where Fitzgerald writes:

Now the standard cure for one who is sunk is to consider those in actual destitution or physical suffering—this is an all-weather beatitude for gloom in general and fairly salutary daytime advice for everyone. But at three o'clock in the morning, a forgotten package has the same tragic importance as a death sentence, and the cure doesn't work—and in a real dark night of the soul it is always three o'clock in the morning, day after day. At that hour the tendency is to refuse to face things as long as possible by retiring into an infantile dream—but one is continually startled out of this by various contacts with the world. One meets these occasions as quickly and carelessly as possible and retires once more back into the dream, hoping that things will adjust themselves by some great material or spiritual bonanza. But as the withdrawal persists there is less and less chance of the bonanza—one is not waiting for the fade-out of a single sorrow, but rather being an unwilling witness of an execution, the disintegration of one's own personality…

Saturday, 19 June 2021

Traveller’s guide to Kolkata

You find yourself for the first time in Kolkata. You have only a short period of time here apart from doing what you came here to do in the first place. What should you see? Where should you eat? What should you eat? What should you buy? Where should you buy it from? I am here to answer all these questions.
Places to see
1. If you are a museum-kind of person, you have two options—the Indian Museum and Victoria Memorial. Both are situated close by. On a pleasant day you can walk from one to the other. But pleasant days are far and few in Kolkata. So you may take a cab given your scarcity for time. The Indian Museum is open from 10 am to 5 pm Tuesday to Sunday and the Victoria Memorial 11 am to 6 pm also from Tuesday to Sunday. The Indian Museum’s focus is on Indian history rather than Kolkata history. You will find ancient Buddhist sculptures, ancient Greco-Indian coins and Mughal and Rajput miniature paintings. You will also find paintings of early 20th century Bengali painters such as Nandalal Bose, Abanindranath Tagore and Gaganendranath Tagore. The Victoria Memorial Hall’s focus is on the colonial history of Kolkata. So you will find paintings from 18th and 19th century Kolkata primarily. There are also paintings of Nandalal Bose, Abanindranath Tagore and Gaganendranath Tagore at the Victoria Memorial.
If you have time to choose only one, let me put forward the pros and cons of both. The Victoria Memorial Hall’s architecture is itself colonial and regal. If you have seen enough of it elsewhere, you may go to the Indian Museum for the greater number of things to see over there. If you want to experience the colonial architecture, choose the Victoria Memorial.
2. You must go to Prinsep Ghat on the Strand Road and take a boat ride for 30 minutes before it is dark but not when it is too sunny. Choose the time depending on the weather.
3. If you have enough time and the weather is suitable, you may want to go on one of the Kolkata walking tours organised by some travel companies. Do an internet search and you will get some results.

Places to eat

1. Where can you get good Bengali food restaurant quality in Kolkata? Choose either a restaurant named 6 Ballygunge Place located at that address or choose Oh Calcutta in Forum Mall or any of its other outlets. The food at Oh Calcutta is better but being situated in a mall the ambience is nothing to write home about. 6 Ballygunge Place is not bad food taste wise but not as good as Oh Calcutta. The building at 6 Ballygunge Place is nice to see though. I would go to Oh Calcutta at Forum Mall. By the way, there is a garments shop called Fabindia at Forum Mall. If you are looking to buy Indian kurta pyjama or women’s salwar kameez, it is convenient though you may wonder whether you would ever wear such clothes outside India if you are from outside India. If you are from other Indian cities, go to 6 Ballygunge Place. One Indian mall is like any other Indian mall. Nothing special to see in any mall.
What to eat at these restaurants: Try luchi or puffed bread, try chhana motorshutir chop or cottage cheese fried balls, try bhetki paturi or mustard and fish steamed inside a banana leaf, try bhapa ilish boneless or hilsa fish without bones, try khejur amshotto chutney or a sweet liquidy dessert, try chaaler payesh or a liquidy rice dessert.
2. Bengali desserts: There is a concept in India called mishtir dokaan or mithai shop or sweet shop. Bengal comes with its own specialities. The famous ones are Banchharam, Gupta Brothers, Haldiram, Kamdhenu, KC Gope, Balaram Mullick. Locate one of these or any other one and eat a few, whatever takes your fancy. If you are in Kolkata in winter, remember to have at least one sweet made with nolen gur.  There is something called the Mishti Hub in New Town near the airport where there are several of these shops located one next to the other. You won’t be able to eat much before boarding your plane nor would you want to waste too much time there before boarding your plane but if you think you want to pick up something in a hurry before you go to the airport, you may want to stop there. Otherwise, while you have the time on the earlier days, drop by into a Bengali sweet shop or mishtir dokaan.
3. Fruits: If you are in Kolkata in summer, have Himsagar mango or some other mango, jackfruit which is known locally as kathal and other fruits which you have not had before. In case your hotel does not have anything you have never had before, go to a Kolkata bazaar and buy fruits for yourself and ask the hotel staff to peel it for you and give it to you.
4. Street food: Have a chicken roll, have phuchka, have jhaal muri, have beguni, have alur chop. Food is unlikely to make you sick if you ask everyone to not put chillies in them. Have bottled water though. Safer for the traveller. It is available widely. Ask your hotel staff. They will tell you where to find these.

5. Have the Kolkata chicken biryani with potato. Ask at your hotel. If they do not make it, they may suggest a nearby place.

Places to buy
1. There are these Biswa Bangla government-run stores targeted at the rich traveller. If you fit into that category, you can pop into these stores. They are there on Park Street, at Dakshinapan in South Kolkata, at New Town and at the airport. They have an assorted collection of things. If you happen to go to Dakshinapan in South Kolkata, you will find a host of other handicrafts to buy if you like such stuff. Fancy buying a Bengali script watch? The Tata-owned company Titan has a set—(for men/ wider) and (for women/ narrower) (I am not earning anything through this referral. I am not earning anything from any of the shops mentioned earlier either). 

Thursday, 27 May 2021

Nature in Kolkata

 Nature in Kolkata

Tightly-packed buildings one after the other, with very few roads in between and even fewer open spaces and water bodies is one way of describing Kolkata in 2021. The hot scorching sun throughout most of the working hours before sunset makes people stay indoors if they can afford to. The central business district is chock-a-block with people though, as are the various residential slums where a large section of the residents live. It takes exceptional circumstances to not hear the sound of motorised vehicles throughout the day. Amid this, where does one find nature or the aesthetically pleasant aspects of it?

Smoke covered stars from the skyline of the city several decades back. Cumulus clouds against a blue background, as in a John Constable painting, are visible sometimes after the rains have stopped, taking away the harshness of the sun. If one passes by the East Kolkata wetlands on such a morning or afternoon, the greenery and lack of buildings in the horizon may lull you into an idyllic mood. The small hillock of garbage resembles a natural hill from afar. The Maidan presents a welcome break but it was created by clearing away the trees to practice firing the cannons. The greenscape of the land has a few trees but it leaves much to be desired by way of nature. Rabindra Sarobar, another man-made landscape in south Kolkata has water, trees and birds. Central Park, in Salt Lake, has its own share of such elements as has Eco Park in New Town. Curated landscape of this sort has its own charms, especially if one is not spoilt for choices.

Another way of grasping nature is by acknowledging the relief that pre-monsoon storms and the monsoon brings after the scorching heat of the summer. The relief turns into misery for the homeless and those in living in fragile quarters, which, considering the significant slum population of the city is considerable. Those ensconced behind glass windows may look at the rain with a smile on their lips and a sense of calm on the skin of their bodies if they do not mind being indoors. With the heat and the dust settling down, the landscape takes on a mellow look. The leaves shine bright, the barks of the trees glow and the roads do not stare back at you. Even before the rains begin, the sky with its grey clouds presents a pretty picture. The grey clouds look like juicy fruits, about to burst open and shower sweet drops of mercy on the city beneath. They present the same sense of expectation and relief as the idea of a cool shower after a hot, sweaty, grimy day.

Birds, those warbling creatures of delight, are a disappearing species in the city. Whereas the crow and the pigeon reign supreme, and the myna and the small crane are still thankfully found aplenty, lots of other species are a rarity. The koel is more often heard than seen but its voice is reassuring enough to the human residents that this avian neighbour of theirs still exists. It is rare to sight a blue and orange kingfisher or a black-headed oriole but sighting them seems like a feat in itself, a moment of delight and of joy at the wonders of nature. Sparrows, those little bundles of energy, are no longer common.

Dogs, cats, cows, buffaloes, horses, squirrels, rats and mice are common sights. Dogs and cats are domesticated pets and we have a different kind of relationship to these animals. Squirrels, on the other hand, present the wildness and swiftness of nature that we still prize.

Trees in the city are not allowed to grow to their fullest extent. The tree in Ritwik Ghatak’s Meghe Dhaka Tara would not be found in Kolkata anymore. Horizontal branches are trimmed regularly to make the tree fit for a crowded city. Such trimming is rarely proportional. As a result, the trees grow lopsided and fall over when pushed by strong winds. Leafy trees abound. Fruit trees in people’s personal compounds are a rarity. Kerala, for instance, has recently brought out a rule urging people to plant mango or jackfruit trees in their houses. Kolkata is yet to entice people to bear such fruits. Vegetable gardens are also not particularly common owing to the lack of gardens in the compounds of most buildings. A city bursting with people barely manages to push together people inside its limits. Trees in such spaces are a luxury. It is not as if one will not see the odd guava, mango, papaya, coconut, banana or jackfruit tree or tomato or chilli plants in building compounds but such compounds are the exception rather than the norm. 

Sunday, 18 April 2021

পৃথিবীর জনসংখ্যা

পৃথিবীর জনসংখ্যা সব চেয়ে বৃদ্ধি পেয়েছিলো ১৮০০ থেকে ১৯৭০ সাল পর্যন্ত। এই ১৭০ বছরের পরিবেশের ক্ষতি মেটাতে কত বছর লাগবে?

Monday, 22 March 2021

Playing around with Twitter API

author_id 1 to 11 do not exist any further. author_id 12 is @jack

tweet id 1 to 19 do not exist any further. tweet id 20 is this

Friday, 12 June 2020

Encouraging domestic companies in the digital space

If a nation were to try and be self-sufficient in the digital space, where are the chances of success higher? It is a different issue that a 100% domestically owned company is rare the bigger a company gets. So, achieving self-sufficiency without diluting domestic ownership is not common.

Internet companies can be divided into the following categories:

1. User-generated content
Examples include social networks and social clouds, such as Whatsapp, Facebook, Instagram, TikTok, Twitter, YouTube.

There is a first mover advantage here. If your associates are not on a platform, there is little incentive for you to join that platform. It is not too wise to replicate existing leading platforms and hope to poach their users. A newer kind of platform is the best bet. Facebook offered something different than Orkut. Instagram offered a different kind of experience from Flickr and Picasa. TikTok offers a different kind of platform from Facebook, Instagram or YouTube.

2. E-commerce
This offers a good chance for domestic start-ups. Along with fast delivery and good customer support, if a platform offers cheaper products, users will abandon older platforms and move over to the newer one. Cheapest service usually wins.

3. E-wallets
There is a first mover advantage but being the cheapest trumps that. Whoever offers the cheapest service wins. India has the BHIM UPI app. But it has far lesser users compared to Google Pay, PhonePe and Paytm UPI because those companies offered more freebies and were hence cheaper.

4. Content library
Streaming sites, be they music, movies, educational videos. Quantity, quality and price of the content are the three factors. For music, quality is similar everywhere. What matters is quantity and pricing. For movies, quality and pricing since the content is usually mutually exclusive. For educational videos, quality and pricing are the two most important issues. This segment is likely to always remain a multi-player field.

5. Aggregators of offline services
The online aggregator needs to offer availability of services, good customer support and cheap pricing. It is similar to e-commerce. Brand loyalty is less. Cheapest service for the end-user wins as long as the price suits the offline service provider.

6. Pure internet services
Usability and features along with pricing wins. Think of video conferencing services. Better features wins. First mover advantage is not very prominent.

Wednesday, 13 May 2020

My favourite academic books

Monographs, not compilation of essays or stand-alone articles. In no particular order. I shall keep adding to this list as I remember more works which have stayed with me.

When an academic is also a fiction writer or a poet, the book is often very readable if one knows enough about the subject being discussed. C.S. Lewis’s The Allegory of Love has several sentences which made me appreciate his writing style. Alas, I do not know enough French to complete the book.

1. Keith Thomas, Man and the Natural World: Changing Attitudes in England 1500–1800 (1983)

2. Erica Fudge, Brutal Reasoning: Animals, Rationality, and Humanity in Early Modern England (2006)

3. Penguin Monarchs series

4. Edward Said, Orientalism (1978)

5. Quentin Skinner, The Foundations of Modern Political Thought  (1978)

6. Philippe Ariès, The Hour of our Death. Translated by Helen Weaver. Originally published as L’homme devant la mort (1977)

7. Wallace K. Ferguson, The Renaissance in Historical Thought (1948)