Santa Singh was asked to go sit in the corner of a round room. What he did next will blow your mind ;-) …

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Iraq and my childhood

I remember bits and pieces of my childhood days spent in Iraq, about an year. Bits and pieces only because the experiences encountered were too varied and much too overwhelming to recall in full. Like childhood memories mostly are, it was all good and sunny, golden and happy ūüôā

My Appa worked in a place called Karkh constructing a water supply project over the Tigris. It was a fair distance from Baghdad city. We lived nearby in a township built to house all employees of this project. Appa spent about 5-6 years working there and we spent about an year there roughly 4 years after my Appa lived there alone. It was the first flying experience for Amma, me and my sis. How excited was the 6th standard kid in me at the prospect of stepping inside a plane and how disappointed I was when I saw it was nothing like what I’d imagined!

What different experiences were they, those days in Iraq, each one a first for me! We used to go the Kendriya Vidyalaya run by the Indian Embassy in Baghdad. The daily commute in designated school buses would start at around 6 am and we would be back home by about 3pm, if I still remember those timings. The ride itself would take around 30-50 mins of whizzing speed riding (or so I thought). 7pm was when we stepped out to play in Summers (whereas 7.30pm were dinner times while in Hyderabad). The blazing hot sun would set around 9pm after which it would become dramatically cold. And the winters, boy were they cold and foggy! Vehicles, which would usually fly on the roads, would run in super slow-mo in the fog. Spotting overturned trucks by the wayside every few kilometers was routine.

And the amazing variety of nationalities that I was introduced to – Indians, Chinese and Koreans (were there Japanese too?) would make up the engineers and managers; English and other European nationalities would make up consulting or similar roles; Indians, Pakistanis, Bangladeshis and others would make up the field workers, and so on…

What I do remember about Baghdad of those mid-to-late-80s is a glitzy city the likes of which my kid eyes had never seen, and all it had seen were Hyderabad, Bombay, and a bit of Delhi. Big buildings, super smooth roads, orderly traffic whizzing past, and a bustling busy city. Now I can recall that it was quite a liberal city too – especially with so many working women, and the especial preponderance of Western dressing among them. Also, for the impression I had about the Gulf countries being almost entirely Muslim I recall a very good number of Christians also.

The days in the township were heady. It was a mini India. With all festivals being celebrated in total grandeur, the stay there was a virtual extended festival holiday. I especially vividly recall the langars held for Baisakhi and the various cultural events that were organized. The Bhangra dance that my sis and I participated in was maybe the only time when both my left feet danced. Also funny was the problems I faced with speaking, reading and writing Hindi. I made friends with 2 Polish guys, brother and sister, and I felt the spattering of Polish I picked from them was way more easier than my trials with Hindi. I surely gave nightmares to Polly ma’m, my HIndi teacher, while generously using Tamil words in answering her questions and arguing with her, in what I thought was Hindi, that all that I was speaking was truly shudh HIndi.

Of course, a constant background to all this was the presence of army and propaganda everywhere. The war with Iran was on and spotting very long cavalcades of military tanks, trucks, and other ordnance going from somewhere to some elsewhere was routine. Also routine were spotting posters of Saddam everywhere and seeing/hearing songs eulogizing him and/or the war. Other routine sounds would be hearing the rat-a-tat of machine guns from our homes at nights, that is when the jackals in the nearby forests were not howling louder. But the grand routine that had me go Whoa! every time were the really really low flying helicopters during daytime. Appa would say that was for security to this project since it was a water treatment and supply plant to Baghdad and hence of strategic value. I remember the one time Saddam visited the site when I was there and I was so excited to see The Saddam. But what did I know. The day he came for the visit was a virtual curfew in the site with no one in the township allowed to move even a hair until he presumably left.

In spite of all this though, life seemed to go on normally and things seemed to be in control. It was seemingly a liberal, progressive state with a strong, secular, seemingly visionary leader who may have had a respectful attitude for India. Indians were much liked and respected even by the general public there, this much I distinctly remember.

From there to an ill-advised war to an ill-advised invasion and then a retaliatory war and finally to a totally devastating ill-founded war, how has it all fallen apart. it is sad to see how the country has stumbled and been bombed back by several decades. The Iraq of today is certainly not what I can recall. It pains to see the land I spent some of my most joyous days in being reduced to such shambles.

With what generally passes of as maturity, hindsight and wisdom, I now understand that most of what I saw may have probably been a mirage while the truth may have been something else. An oppressive regime, fearful people, sectarian tensions which were only masked by an even more barbaric regime, and history destroying power struggles may actually have been the truth. But the childhood memories only show me images of happy, innocent days, days of cheers, days of discovery, and days of growing up.

I do hope the country finds everlasting peace. I do hope it finds a meaning to it’s existence and a purpose to rebuild all that is lost.

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On the book Outliers

I first heard the word Outlier in the context of statistics. Wikipedia defines it thus

In statistics, an outlier is an observation that is numerically distant from the rest of the data. Grubbs defined an outlier as: An outlying observation, or outlier, is one that appears to deviate markedly from other members of the sample in which it occurs.

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Configuring Canon Pixma MP287 scanner on Ubuntu 12.04

The other day I bought the most basic printer+scanner+copier combo I could find in my neighbourhood. The only specs I had in mind was that it should be able to print and scan docs at home with minimum fuss and cost as less as possible. So I settled for Canon Pixma MP287, the one with the least cost in Staples.

The package comes with the device, power cable, USB cable, colour and b&w toners, user manual, getting started guides and setup CD for windows.

On win7, installation, test prints and scans worked without a hitch. On Ubuntu 12.04 however, the story was slightly more complicated. The printer was detected without a problem. Once the USB cable was plugged in, Ubuntu detected it as Canon printer and configured it properly. The test page printed just fine. The scanner however was not detected at all. After some googling, I figured I had to use ScanGear MP provided in the Canon support site where it is  provided in .rpm, .deb and source formats. The highest version provided there is 1.60

First, I installed the .debs Рboth scangearmp-common and scangearmp-mp280series packages. That did not work. Trying to execute /usr/bin/scangearmp returned an error stating no scanners were detected.

Next, I tried to build from the sources. I could not finish the make command since it would return the error stating gcc compiler could not be found! It was clear some modifications were needed to get this working for 12.04 but I was not sure what. After some fiddling around I gave up all pretensions about geekhood ūüėČ

Finally, I went to askubuntu and dug up queries on “canon scanner”. There I chanced upon this¬†query¬†and from there to this link. Here, packages for 12.04 (precise pangolin) are present. Both¬†scangearmp-common_1.80-0~11~precise1_i386.deb and¬†scangearmp-mp280series_1.80-0~11~precise1_i386.deb were installed from here. Now, firing up /usr/bin/scangearmp brought up the UI properly and a test scan worked well.

So thanks to Michael Gruz for hosting the new drivers and for Andrew to link it in AskUbuntu.

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The early morning drive

I like early morning drives but not right after waking up. Not at all when I need to take the wheel. Today is not just another morning however. ‚ÄúHappy Morning‚ÄĚ is what some of my friends would put it. Yes, a happy morning it is. My son is coming back after his summer vacation in Chennai. Don‚Äôt ask the logic behind going to Chennai from Bangalore for summer.¬† I am only too eager to see the kid to bother answering it. The train arrives at 0515 AM. It is 0430 now. Just about time for a relaxed drive.

So here I am in a dimly lit up parking lot. I can see my car parked in a slightly inclined area. No need to start the engine. I release the parking brake and slide the car to the road. I apply the leg breaks now to stop the car before starting the engine. The car would not stop. I hit the brakes again. No result. Why are the brakes not working? Try stamping them again, no luck. The road is even now, so the car stops on its own.

Wondering what is the problem I look out the windshield. And freeze in shock. The bonnet of the car is missing. The car’s front is wide open to the sky. I quickly step out for a closer look. The engine and battery are missing, a hollow in their place. Some wires are hanging out. The whole scene is a mess. Why did the lowlife who did this had to steal them today of all days? Something still feels odd in all this though. So I check the car again. That is when I realize this is not my car. Sure, the car is red but mine is a Palio. This is a WagonR here. This bloody red car is not mine!

Hari! you sleepy idiot. You enter a wrong car. That’s called Carjacking. Now park the car before someone starts screaming and rush in your car to the station. Not much time left to pick up the kid!

With some relief I quickly push the WagonR to the nearest footpath. Thanks Almighty the road is even. I quickly lock the car. Then it happens right before my eyes. The car is red, the bonnet is gone, the big ones in the bonnet are also gone. All right so far. But the car is a Scorpio. A bloody big, wide and heavy Scorpio. Not a WagonR. What the … ?

That is when I realize the strange absence. Where is the security guy? He should¬†be here somewhere. The Missus was¬†to join me for the ride but I don‚Äôt remember seeing her since I woke up.¬†¬†Where is she¬†now? And wait, I don‚Äôt remember me waking up. Also why is 0445 AM as bright as noon? This is Bangalore, not Helsinki!¬†I mean what’s happening?

Then it strikes me. Is this all a dream? Well, looks like it is. All this is actually just a dream. Tcha! Amazingly enough, I realize it all. So what? Am I still sleeping now? Really? Can’t believe it, but exciting it is!

Just like that I snap out of the silly dream and find myself right where I was before I dozed off. At the bed. I realize I had already picked up the kid. We took a shower at home, had breakfast and then I put him to sleep. I too dozed off right next to him. Silly dreams really! So I get up and go to the basement to check on my car. It is there alright. Red, Palio, with the bonnet, engine and battery. There is no red WagonR however, that is my cousin’s car in Hyderabad. ¬†There is a Scorpio here but it is not Red. Yeah okay, enough with the details. The relief is still true.

Then it strikes me. I mean really hard. A sucker punch. I woke up at the bed sure. But, where was my kid? He was¬†sleeping next to me but I don’t remember seeing him when I woke up minutes ago. It was to make him sleep that I lay down with him. It was while telling him the story that I dozed off mid-way. Damn! don’t know when is he going to hear where did Hanuman land after that jump over the sea. Every time, every single time, it is after Hanuman’s jump that either the kid, or me, or both just dozed. But stop. Hanuman can wait. Where is the kid now? And wait! where are the others at home? Why is there no one in the parking lot? No vehicle on the road even? Why is the construction site opposite my apartment empty? I mean utterly empty. The earth mover trucks there are moving. But there are no drivers in it. Why is my neighbourhood a ghost town now? Why does it all look like one of those Ram Gopal Verma’s stock horror scenes? What happened?

That is when I actually wake up. Sweaty. Heart pounding crazily in my mouth. The kid is sleeping right next to me. I check the time. What? Barely 15 minutes since we slept?

Dreams. Dreams within dreams. Bitches. All of you! I¬†shouldn’t¬†have watched that Nolan dude’s movie¬†so many times.¬†Damn!

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Don’t Horn, Ok, Please

Sometime in June I began an effort to drive (the car of course, not the bicycle) from my home to work, roughly 7 kilometers apart, without a single honk. This really was a tall ask to me personally. I think driving in most Indian cities is a challenging experience. However, driving in Bangalore is a wholly different ask. With its unreal traffic density and small roads, vehicles are usually just a finger-width away in all sides. Even if you discount the exaggeration in the earlier statement, my guess is you got the picture.

Given those challenges I was still able to finally drive with zero honks one fine morning in late June. Then I was able to sustain it every day, at most with one or two honks if not zero. Over time this has almost become a habit but I have to admit that days with zero honks have been quite few, maybe 15 overall since June. I am no longer obsessed with reaching count zero each day but try to keep it at a minimum and honk only when necessary. This period has revealed some interesting, but very subjective, observations.

  1. If you flow with the speed of the traffic and not try to beat it or slow it down, the drive is much smoother and the need to honk falls dramatically. Importantly, this does not mean that your drive will be boring … well unless you end up perpetually following a dead slow vehicle.
  2. Pulling (1) further, if you unfortunately end up behind a slow vehicle you can, and obviously will, change lanes. Just make sure to keep a good gap (at least 1 car length, 2 recommended) with the vehicle in front of you and use the indicator. The gap ensures that your swerve is not sudden but smooth, the indicator ensures that the following vehicle in the other lane is aware, and if that vehicle is too close you could still let it pass and then change lanes.
  3. Some drivers honk incessantly, no matter what. Usually they are one among aged drivers, or inexperienced ones, or rash ones. Without demeaning anyone and with all due respect, I feel we should just tolerate them. Though, I always wish to tell them that sitting on the horn does not make their drive any safer, annoying maybe but definitely not safer.
  4. Pedestrians and cyclists mostly, not never but many times enough, do not get honked at. The few vehicles I saw honking at a walker would be a hired cab, a water tanker, or one of those drivers from (3). Again, some scope to improve on.
  5. Ironically, driving is more disciplined on workdays when the traffic is full, maybe due to the fact that there is little room to wriggle. In the same way, driving is riskier on weekends when the roads are emptier.
  6. Trying not to honk is a very good investment in continuously improving your driving skills. Not having to honk makes you focus more on the traffic, focus more on your own driving and generally makes your driving a wholesome experience. It is then that you actually realize that your vehicle is indeed You. The state of your mind reflects in your driving and you can alter the state of your mind by altering the way you drive.

All in all, this little experiment has made me more introspective. It is almost as if I was ordered to stop the chatter and asked to sit down to see myself. Do you want to try it? Do you want to invest in your own driving and make a little difference to your fellow-drivers? Who knows, you could alter the way someone else drives by altering the way you do it!

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On being Here Now…

The other day I got a wonderful lesson from my 2-year-old on being wholly in the present moment.

I went to my hometown Hyderabad for the extended weekend due to Ramzan and Ganesha Chathurthi, with my wife and kid in tow. Being as it was more than 6 months since I last visited Hyderabad, I was very excited. Anyway, so we took a pre-paid¬†auto-rickshaw¬†and were going home. During the journey, I casually asked my son “Where are we, son?”. Since he was all ready for the short holiday and knew he would be spending that in Hyderabad, I expected my son to answer “Hyderabad”. Imagine my surprise when he very innocently answered “In the Auto!”.

I laughed it off then, but it struck me how that simple answer hid a big lesson on being in The Present. Kids, with all their innocence, seem to get it quite easily. Maybe we are born with it but we lose that innate ability when we grow up.

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