Tuesday, 28 April 2009

We are like this only

Despite all my training in diversity and tolerance, I could'nt help getting amused at something I saw recently in the jobs page of a newspaper...Here goes:

Gang of Four: Characteristics of Indian ethnic groups


One Bengali is a sweet shop
Two Bengalis is a black and white movie
Three Bengalis is a Mohun Bagan support group
Four Bengalis is a Marxist movement

One Malayali is a narial pani shop
Two Malayalis is a boat race
Three Malayalis is a gulf job racket
Four Malyalis is an oil slick

One Tamilian is a fugitive sandalwood smuggler
Two Tamilians is a suicide bomb squad
Three Tamilians is a classical music school
Four Tamilians is a Jayalalitha fan club

One Andhraite is a cycle-rickshaw driver
Two Andhraites is a spice shop
Three Andhraites is a naxalite outfit
Four Andhraites is the Telugu film industry


One Goan is Remo Fernandes
Two Goans is a feni distillery
Three Goans is a football club
Four Goans is an all-night long party

One Parsi is a sentence punctuated with expletives deleted
Two Parsis is a Doctor and a Lawyer
Three Parsis is a 75-year old man and his two unmarried sisters
Four Parsis is half their remaining population.

(Source: various internet sites)

All this clearly has a Southern bias. Imagine if we could apply it say, Punjabis, Jats, Kashmiris, UPites, Biharis or the North East? Would be a total riot! So come back to me with some interesting ideas on these....

Thursday, 16 April 2009

No illusions about dreams

I once had a friend who was to be married to someone who was not her choice. She shared an unspoken love relationship with someone else but could not marry him. One night she had a strange dream....She was on a dance floor with the man she loved. It was a deserted floor with only the two of them. Gentle music played and she was ecstatic to be in the arms of the man she loved. Only she could not hold him in her arms...both her palms were decorated with wet henna.And she was telling him she did not want to spoil his spotless white shirt.....

The dream could not be more symbolic than this. But recent findings showthat dreams are not really significant. They are a product of the biases we have. Nothing about them is related to divinities or prophecies as we had hoped. (Another illusion dashed).

The article by John Tierney appeared in the New York Times recently. If interested, read on...

March 10, 2009

What Do Dreams Mean? Whatever Your Bias Says

Suppose last night you had two dreams. In one, God appears and commands you to take a year off and travel the world. In the other, God commands you to take a year off to go work in a leper colony.

Which of those dreams, if either, would you consider meaningful?

Or suppose you had one dream in which your friend defends you against enemies, and another dream in which that same friend goes behind your back and tries to seduce your significant other? Which dream would you take seriously?

Tough questions, but social scientists now have answers — and really, it’s about time. For thousands of years, dreamers have had little more to go on than the two-gate hypothesis proposed in “The Odyssey.” After Penelope dreams of the return of her lost-long husband, she’s skeptical and says that only some dreams matter.

“There are two gates,” she explains, “through which these unsubstantial fancies proceed; the one is of horn, and the other ivory. Those that come through the gate of ivory are fatuous, but those from the gate of horn mean something to those that see them.”

Her two-gate hypothesis, later endorsed by Virgil and Ovid, was elegant in theory but not terribly useful in practice. How could you tell which gate your dream came from? One woman’s ivory could be another’s horn.

Today, though, we can start making distinctions, thanks to a series of studies of more than 1,000 people by two psychologists, Carey Morewedge of Carnegie Mellon University and Michael Norton of Harvard. (You can report your dreams to these researchers at TierneyLab, nytimes.com/tierneylab.)

The psychologists began by asking college students in three countries — India, South Korea and the United States — how much significance they attached to dreams. Relatively few students believed in modern theories that dreaming is simply the brain’s response to random impulses, or that it’s a mechanism for sorting and discarding information. Instead, the majority in all three countries believed, along with Freud, that dreams reveal important unconscious emotions.

These instinctive Freudians also considered dreams to be valuable omens, as demonstrated in a study asking them to imagine they were about to take a plane trip. If, on the eve of the flight, they dreamed of the plane’s crashing, they were more likely to cancel the trip than if they saw news of an actual plane crash on their route.

But when the researchers asked people to interpret dreams, some suspiciously convenient correlations turned up. When asked to recall their own dreams, they attached more significance to a negative dream if it was about someone they disliked, and they gave correspondingly more weight to a positive dream if it was about a friend.

A similar bias showed up when people were asked to imagine that they had had various dreams starring a friend or a deity. People rated a dream about a friend protecting them against attackers as being more “meaningful” than a dream about their own romantic partner faithlessly kissing that same friend. People who believed in God were more likely than agnostics to be swayed by divine apparitions.

But even the nonbelievers showed a weakness for certain heavenly dreams, like one in which God commanded them to take a year off to travel the world. Agnostics rated that dream as significantly more meaningful than the dream of God commanding them to spend a year working in a leper colony. (Incidentally, although the preferred term for leprosy is now Hansen’s disease, the deity in the experiment used the old-fashioned term from the Bible.)

Dreamers’ self-serving bias is tactfully defined as a “motivated approach to dream interpretation” by Dr. Morewedge and Dr. Norton in The Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. When asked if this “motivated approach” might also affect dream researchers, Dr. Morewedge pointed to Freud’s tendency to find what he was looking for — sex — in his “Interpretation of Dreams.”

“Freud himself suggested that dreams of flying revealed thoughts of sexual desire,” Dr. Morewedge noted. “Interestingly, in the same text, Freud also suggested that dreams about the absence of the ability to fly — i.e., falling — also indicate succumbing to sexual desire. One might interpret this as evidence that scientists are just as self-serving as laypeople when interpreting their dreams.”

Once you see how flexible dream interpretation can be, you can appreciate why it has always been such a popular tool for decision-making. Relying on your dreams for guidance is like the political ritual of appointing an “independent blue-ribbon panel” to resolve an issue. You can duck any personal responsibility for action while pretending to rely on an impartial process, even though you’ve stacked the panel with your own friends and will ignore any advice that conflicts with your desires. Charity work, no; margaritas, sí.

Even if you don’t believe in your own dreams, the new research suggests that you can learn something from those of others. In the Book of Genesis, when the Pharaoh becomes concerned over his dreams of emaciated cattle and withered ears of corn, it would not be unreasonable for Joseph to conclude that the ruler is worried about the possibility of famine. Joseph would therefore have every motivation to interpret the dream so that the Pharaoh creates a new grain-storage program — and, not incidentally, a new job for Joseph supervising it.

While they doubt that dreams contain hidden insights or prophecies, Dr. Morewedge and Dr. Norton note that dreams can be indicators of people’s emotional state, as evidenced by other researchers’ findings of a correlation between stress and nightmares.

Dreams can also become self-fulfilling prophecies simply because people take them so seriously, Dr. Morewedge and Dr. Norton say. Dreams of spousal infidelity may lead to accusations and acrimony that ultimately lead to real infidelity.

“When friends and loved ones have disturbing dreams,” Dr. Morewedge suggested, “one may need to do more than say, ‘It was just a dream.’ It may also be a good idea not to tell people about their undesirable behavior in your dreams, as they may infer that your dreams reveal your true feelings about them.”

This last caveat applies even when non-Freudians are discussing dreams. Even if you don’t ascribe any deep meaning to dreams, even if you think they’re just random hallucinations that don’t come from gates of ivory or horn or anything else, you should still probably pay attention when, say, your romantic partner tells you about a dream in which you were caught in bed with your partner’s friend.

And you should definitely be concerned if your partner goes on to mention a second dream involving a commandment from God to take a year off and travel the world. If your partner is a highly motivated interpreter of dreams, you may find yourself home alone.

Thursday, 9 April 2009

Rampage, Ramp and the Ravishing

The last few days had been excruciating. Cramps and stiff muscles, the result of an over-zealous exercise regimen, coupled with my experiments with low carb high protein diet and a complete disregard for essential vitamins had to take a toll on me someday. So this was the time. Trouble also came in the form of office work and an MBA assignment deadline.

Every fibre of my being was screaming for rest, but the Kolkata Fashion Week (KFW)just had to be attended, come hell or high water!

The organisers need a serious rap in the knuckles for mishandling the arrangements on day 3 where the Monapali show was to happen. Doors of the venue did not open till ten minutes before the show was to start and a huge crowd gathered. Before we realised, my friend, daughter and I were trapped in a sea of humanity pressing forward, threatening to break open the glass doors and lunge into the makeshift venue which felt would collapse like a pack of cards. It was a humid Kolkata evening with media and public doing their worst to get into the venue by any means. The crowd surged, the smell of cigarettes, sweat and stale perfume made my senses spin. I had to repeatedly tell myself to get a handle and protect my daughter above everything else. Suddenly a huge spasm went through the crowd and we lurched forward and got thrown into the venue. All this, despite having valid passes for the show. What followed was a mad scramble for the front seats. I had lost my friend for some time, but managed to find good second row seats. My friend's clutch purse had got thrown out of her grasp and she was on her knees looking for it. We finally settled in well on time for the show to start.

What followed was reed thin models, and hanging on them was an extremely exquisite line inspired by the 'Bauls' of Bengal. Background colour was beige tussar with orange and purple colour schemes. Good detailing with hair and makeup. What was intriguiing was all the models were bare foot except for what looked like crepe bandage wrapped around their feet, ankles and calves in creative ways. According to my friend, the 'Bauls' or the wandering minstrels of Bengal used to walk a lot and in the process would hurt their bare feet. They would simply tie pieces of cloth around their feet and keep walking. Quite imaginatively adapted as a model accessory...

Showstopper Bipasha Basu clad in a red and white sari and a red full-sleeved blouse looked ravishing, Her glamourous mom was seated just across the ramp and we could see her face visibly light up when daughter dear walked the ramp with the designers. The pride, indulgence and satisfaction was so evident in her expression, as she saw the crowd whistle and gush over the diva.

What I remember last of the evening was my friend and I telling each other that the gorgeous showstopper was worth all the effort that evening....

Monday, 6 April 2009

Farmside story

It seems unexplainable, but I have always found the content in the Outlook magazine a reflection of my own views and write-ups that I agree with. In a sense, the magazine says what I want to hear. Wonder why..

Check out the cover story of the latest edition which talks about the quiet green revolution that has silently taken over the nation's countryside. I only hope this is a story that is not motivated by the Congress party just before the elections. I saw a similar story on NDTV 24x7 which talks about the rapid strides made in rural India on economic development. The facts and figures, I hope are true.

Here are some startling facts to people like us, who are mired in the woes of urban India and the global meltdown.

Agricultural growth has doubled since 2004. Rise in food production has boosted rural incomes, helped government keep prices under control.

A sharp 30-40% increase in the minimum support price for cereals and the Rs 70,000 cr loan waiver have made agriculture more attractive.

Growing industry demand for land has seen prices spiral even in rural areas, bringing overnight wealth to many villages.

Rural people are taking up jobs in cities, leading to a big rise in remittances to villages.

Growth of small enterprises created alternate income sources for most rural families.

NREGS has created some additional income wherever it has been implemented properly.

Hit by slow urban demand, companies shifting focus to capture the growth in rural markets.

For the detailed story, please log on to http://www.outlookindia.com/full.asp?fodname=20090413&fname=Cover+Story&sid=1

Clearly one of the upside of not going completely global...of being relatively insulated to the vagaries of the market economy....

Just one more thing....I wish someone would try to link growth rates with the number of people pulled above the poverty line. Without this, growth rates would remain just empty numbers. Don't you think this would add a whole new meaning to the notion of the welfare state?

Friday, 3 April 2009

Soul again

By now, all you lovely crazy people who read my blog, must be aware of my near obsession with the soul and its strange ways, the world of dreams and other unexplainable stuff which are either more or less than the ordinary. Well, one such favourite is the soul music of Dr Zhivago (Lara's Theme). And the scene where Lara is going away. Just so soul stirring.... Please find time to see this Youtube clipping and listen to the music. It will refresh your soul. A true stress buster in today's world ridden with worries, targets and shutdown. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WXAa0XaS6bs

I have been trying my darndest to download the video, but something is stopping its download.

The composer of this music, Maurice Jarre recently died. This post is, in a sense a salute to him. Such rare compositions sometimes make life worthwhile.... And yes, don't forget to tell me all about it! Ciao and have a soulful weekend.

Thursday, 2 April 2009

Funny Men

1st of April came and went, but nothing really mattered. No pranks or jokes came my way, except my kids' attempts to outdo each other in trying to fool me, which gave everything away! Poor kids!

But I am amazed at the collective foolishness of the election zeitgeist which pervades everything these days and makes me question the validity of earmarking one day dedicated to fools. The high-drama around Varun Gandhi (does'nt anyone remember his first name is Feroze?)his arrest and now the alleged plot to kill him by Chhota Shakeel leaves me weary. And the disqualification of Sanjay Dutt to contest the elections by the Supreme Court was the best thing that happened to Indian politics, me thinks...after all the song and dance with Manyata and Amar Singh at the rallies in Lucknow, I am happy sanity has prevailed. Munnabhai should realise that Amar Singh is no 'Circuit'!

Anyway, I came across this story which I hope is not an April Fool prank, because, secretly, yours truly too, agrees with it...Stupid research, but a true pointer to what women really want?? Huh?

So read on...

London, April 1: A new study shows that women think funny men are smarter and more likely to be honest than more dour counterparts.

Although studies have shown that humour is not linked to intelligence, researchers believe that the findings can be the reason why so many lonely heart ads placed by women list GSOH (good sense of humour) as a prerequisite for a partner.

The findings provide evidence that women use humour as an indication of a guy’s intelligence.

Kristofor McCarty, from Northumbria University, who led the study, said: “Intelligence is a very attractive quality as a clever man should be more able to provide resources for his offspring.”