“BIG BEN” Before Becoming the Clock Tower Name….

It is quite an interesting tale, how the name Big Ben became popular, and became used to refer to bulky Benjamins, one of whom eventually lent his name to the famous clock tower in London. It all started long before in the streets of London itself (where else?) in Woolwich in the mid-1600’s.

Let us go back to those days into the dockyards of Woolwich, and meet Benedict, the man this piece is about. In those days he was not called Big Ben. No, then he was called Big Dick, because he was a dick; there is no delicate way of putting it, no better way of putting it – that was simply what he was. Growing up among the docks, working with the dockworkers and deckhands, it could be understandable to have a bit a coarse nature, but he was a bad man who was feared by those very same dockworkers. There were others like him in town – in fact, the army posted a battalion in regular attendance to prevent major fights and any damage to goods coming in or going out from Woolwich. Yet he was the most feared.

And then, one day, it all changed. No one knows what happened exactly – he never said much. It all changed, and for the better… [Ed’s note – From what scant evidence there is available from a priest’s diary about a confession, all that can be said is that he had a direct talk with a young child who didn’t know who he was and just asked why grown-ups like him do such awful bullying, which led to his own introspection]

Since the change he took up a personal crusade of sorts. What the army battalion had been posted to do, he started doing on his own. He started getting the help of the armed men when strictly necessary, but tried getting the dockworkers to organize themselves to work better, and save money to improve their lives. Those same people that used to call him Big Dick behind his back out of fear now called him just Dick or Ben out of affection. Over time, he had his new friends in the military help him have the new ordinance storage depot in Woolwich start armaments/ammunition manufacture to create new jobs in his village. People (even those in the army) were already calling him Big Ben out of love and respect by then… the touch of white in his hair helped, no doubt.

Big Dick to Dick to Ben to Big Ben – quite a journey for a man that ended up touching quite a lot of lives…

Note: This is all imaginary stuff (obviously) I had to write because I wanted to write something, and when I asked a friend for an idea, the first thing he said was “Big Dick”. Of course, his nickname in college was Little Dick, and I suppose that is still subconsciously gnawing at his mind. 😛 I thought about writing that, but this seemed better. Dedicated, of course, to the one who gave the idea. To AK, LD6. 😀  Comment away, everyone…

Originally written – 17 March 2014.

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Something I wrote for Rakhi…

I look back at my life – at all the odds and ends
And I have to say this to one of my best friends

You taught me a lot
Whether I realized it then or not
What to do when sad
When things were really bad
You were always there for me
Showing me how to be happy

I hope I learnt it well enough
But I know what to do
When life gets rough
All I need is to talk to you

Yes, we’ve had our petty squabbles and our big fights
From the perceived and the all-too-intended slights
But if I had to live my life anew
I’d want as my sister, always, you!

This is dedicated primarily to my Akka (elder sister in Telugu), who is obviously the  inspiration. But I’d also like to dedicate this to all my other sisters  (since some or most of it is true about each and every one of them) – listed other names on FB not listed here.

Originally written – August 1, 2012.

Yet Another LOTR thing

In my last post I said: “There are those who believe that Harry Potter  is up there at the top of the fantasy pile, but believe me, HP comes  nowhere even close to the amazing series that is LOTR.”

To which, Krithiga said:
“I  wish people stopped comparing the two. Each has its own merit and short  comings. In Tolkien’s case – it is the inability to sustain the  interest of a casual reader and in JK Rowling’s case it is the some  times Hollywood type sub-plots. Both are vast, have adorable characters,  both are rich in terms of beings and beasts. It’s really impossible to  rate one better than the other. May be the films, yes, LoTR is one of  the best films ever made, but story wise it’s just impossible. So is the  case with other books in the “Fantasy pile” – Philip Pullman, for  instance.”

First off, let me clear up about the movies. Yes, LOTR  is the much better adaptation – one of the few cases where I think the  movie was almost as good as the  book. Harry Potter movies, sadly, leave much to be desired. I wasn’t  referring to the movies when I said HP comes nowhere close to LOTR.

Yes,  LOTR makes it difficult for the casual reader to stick with it and  finish reading it – sad, but true. However, I never was a casual reader,  and so I can’t really sympathize with them. It still shocks me that  people find LOTR “difficult to read”, when such a beautiful work compels  one to read on and on. Harry Potter, on that count, wins hands down. I  know a few friends who started “reading” properly after getting on the  HP series.

While HP may have it’s fair share of good characters,  and a wide array of “beings and beasts”, it is not vast. It isn’t,  whatever people may say. It is a rather straightforward story about a  boy facing a great, evil, Dark Lord. Not in it are the complex  intertwining relationships where the deeds of many, big and small,  finally affect the ending. Some may say that in LOTR as well, it all  rested on whether Frodo destroys the One Ring or not, and that is all  the story is about. LOTR is more than that. It is not just the overthrow  of evil. It is also the establishment of that which is fair and good –  where many wounds need to be healed and many wrongs set right, for such  is the vast scope of that story.

LOTR is the product of a great  imagination. To have built a whole world, and its history and mythology  is definitely a lot more than a single story – however clever the plots  and references made within it. LOTR encompasses many things which HP  simply can’t hope to – not any longer at least, seeing as it is coming to  its end. Anurag has  said that HP has a lot of plots “flicked shamelessly” from LOTR. To  that, I have this to say – “Dude, it isn’t that HP flicks from LOTR, it  is just that LOTR has so much that very few fantasy writers in the  future can ever get out of its shadow!” Tolkien simply envisaged every  kind of character that can be present in any “good vs. evil” plot.  Period! That is why I said LOTR lies there, right at the top of the  fantasy pile.

I can go on and on about why LOTR is much better.  Die-hard fans of HP would never agree, and even when they like LOTR as  much, they would still say that it is not fair to compare them both. I  would say it is not fair to compare them both as well. Harry Potter is a  good series, no doubt. And I am glad that it grew from a pretty  children’s story to a good “grown-up” (should I say?) one – makes for  much better reading to those of us who are getting older. It has  achieved cult status, but will not become a classic. The Lord of the  Rings, on the other hand, is an epic and a classic. It wouldn’t be fair  to treat it on par with HP – that would be like comparing the Valar with  mortal Men, Numenorean though they be! Noble they might be, but not for  them the grace of the Eldar!

PS: I know that I haven’t really put forth very well why LOTR is the best. I  wanted to get some things out of the way, collect my thoughts, and put  in a coherent piece here. But well, the previous post had too much  discussion threatening to break loose. I wanted that to continue on this  post – hence the hasty post. Krithiga, I also replied on Anurag’s  behalf about the discussion you wanted to be a part of in the comments  for the previous post there.

Originally written – April 26, 2006.

Another LOTR thing

OK, so it’s been quite a long time  since the movies came out, and the craze obviously is not anymore there.  And, I did write about the books and the movies already. But I think  that there can’t be enough said about these books ever – I don’t think I  can ever be done talking about them. I don’t need to get into all the  reasons why JRR Tolkien is a genius, and why LOTR is by far the best  work of fantasy ever written. There are those who believe that Harry  Potter is up there at the top of the fantasy pile, but believe me, HP  comes nowhere even close to the amazing series that is LOTR. But let me  get to the point of this post.

I  was watching the LOTR movies on cable last weekend – hence the post.  There are undoubtedly many fabulous characters in the series, and it  would just be impossible for anyone who read the series to pick out just  one whom they liked the most. Does one pick the King, Aragorn? The  powerful and wise wizard, Gandalf? The fleet-footed, keen-eyed Legolas?  The serious, stocky Gimli? The Elder Elf, Elrond? The Dark Lord himself,  Sauron? The fair, intelligent Faramir? Frodo, who proved stronger than  anyone expected him to be? Galadriel, the fairest of them all? How can  one choose? And yet, in most lists that people (at least those I know)  seldom seem to mention Samwise Gamgee! And that, to me, is simply sad.

How  could such a beautifully crafted character simply fall out of people’s  attention? Of course, he was always second fiddle to Frodo, in a way.  But, as Frodo himself says, “’Tell me about Master Samwise Gamgee’, and  people would say, ‘Yes, Samwise Gamgee – Frodo couldn’t have gone as far  as he did without Samwise, the brave’” or something quite close to  that. Here is a hobbit who is true to himself and to his friends. One  who goes willingly into peril for his master, his friend. One who  provides Frodo the strength to go ahead with his rather burdensome task.  One who retains his wonder at everything the world has to offer,  in spite of all he has seen. A hobbit full of wisdom and commonsense, a  true friend! And the list goes on… but what more does one need to say?

I  admit that I can’t choose one character as my favorite among the many  great ones in the series, and then not change my mind immediately. But I  am sure that Samwise Gamgee is there right on top along with all the  others I like, maybe more than most of the others.

Originally written – April 20, 2006.

My first bit of creative writing, if I can call it that…

I am a lonely person. I am a busy person. To explain what I do is actually pretty simple. Now that I have some time on my hands, let me do just that. But this short note on myself will not be as simple as what I do, because I am very complex.

I am the head of an international enterprise. I hold the absolute monopoly in the field and that explains why I am so busy. I have been doing the same thing for as long as I remember. I am too old now to even contemplate those heady early days  when I first sensed the opportunity. Now, of course, everyone knows what  I do. In fact, no one on this planet can say that they haven’t known me.  I am in the transportation and courier services industry – to put it very broadly. But let me assure you, this is unlike any of those  overnight or overseas delivery companies you see advertised on TV and hoardings and where-not these days. My service is the fastest and the most wide-spread one by far. I provide my services to everyone, and I don’t charge a penny! There are, however, many related industries which thrive because of work that I do. I don’t have any problem whatsoever with that. To each his own. All I ever wanted was power, absolute power, which I wield already.

I run a very tight ship, taking care of almost all the transactions my enterprise is involved in. Not for me the laissez-faire management and delegation that every one seems to engage in nowadays. This has led many to believe that I am at many places at the same time. They are not too wrong actually. Of course, I do give a lot of leeway to my dedicated development staff. They’re still learning. In the early years of my career, I used to be very innovative, if I say so myself. I was the first one to realize the benefits of economy in bulk. I was the pioneer in mass-targeted outreach campaigns. At the same time I am also a strong advocate of personalized individual attention for all my clients. Little surprise then that my clientèle includes the best among men, and the worst among men. Not that they have any alternate choice in the  matter. Call me boastful if you will, but this is the truth. It’s been too long since those days though. Everything those kids in development tell me nowadays, I have done before. But there are some exciting new ideas, which seem very promising in the field trials. Of course, they’re all variations of previous experiences of mine. I am getting bored – maybe it is because of the monopoly I have! You wouldn’t have seen me indulging in such retrospective musings just sometime back.

There  are, however, some interesting wrinkles to iron over every now and then. Some people don’t quite understand that they don’t have a choice in whether they deal with me or not. It’s just a matter of time. I am patient; I can wait. You’d come to me yourself someday. If you don’t, I’ll come myself, personally, to make sure you don’t miss your appointment with me. Considerate of me, isn’t it? There are again those who think that they’d deal with me on their own terms – fat chance of that actually being true. I think I deserve to use those words immortalized by Don Corleone more than he ever did – I make people the offers they can’t refuse, really can’t refuse. To all those pretentious many who think they can say that they’ve   dealt with me on their own terms, I have this to say – I win all the time; and the terms are my own. Do not deceive yourselves.

There goes my buzzer – I am already late for an appointment, and in spite of the monopoly I have, I don’t believe in keeping people waiting. I have been too cryptic so far. So let me introduce myself and get this over with.

I am the Grim Reaper. Yes, I am Death… And I will come see you sometime. You can count on that, if on nothing else!

Sai’s Note – I have been wanting to write something for quite a while now.  These last two sentences “I am the Grim Reaper. Yes, I am Death!” popped up in my head, from nowhere. So this is a very poor attempt at expanding on those two sentences without giving out anything in all that precedes these sentences. Hopefully this isn’t too bad an attempt – I solely blame my long layoff period from writing for anything bad about this piece. Feedback welcome, obviously.

Originally written – January 29, 2006. 

Life’s Simple Pleasures…

There are some things in life which  are immensely satisfying – as someone said “It’s the simple things in  life that matter”. By this, I don’t mean in anyway the poetic allusions  to smelling the flowers, looking at nature, hearing brooks pass by  making lovely sounds. No, no! Mine are much much simpler – so here goes a  small list…

Waking up after a good sleep  – Usually  we hear about a good night’s sleep. I get the same pleasure out of a  good sound sleep anytime of the day. How different can it be if it is in  the night or in the afternoon? Of course, the one after a hard day’s  work is obviously much more enjoyable, but who puts in a real “hard  day’s work” nowadays?

Eating a tasty meal  – Those of us  that have stayed in a hostel, or otherwise away from home for a  considerable amount of time know exactly what I mean. The others – well,  it can’t be explained. So just take this one from me.

Having a glass (or more) of cold water on a hot humid day  – Cold drinks just don’t compare with a glass of nice cool water. So  refreshing, and as the water goes down the dry throat – well, almost  heaven!

Meeting old friends after a long time  – Ahh! The good old days!

My  ideal day (for now) would be getting up after a good night’s sleep,  eating the great food Mom makes, and then heading out to meet friends  over a couple of glasses of (or more, again) … well, anything! ;-p and  then head back home for another nice sleep session…

But, here comes the clincher – I don’t think that all these even compare to how good the following feels –

Taking a leak  after having held it in for what then seems like eons… I don’t think  anyone can deny that this is as close to heaven as one can get for a  few seconds here on earth. The relief – nothing in the world can trouble  anyone in those 2-3 seconds of the initial burst…

So, let me  hear some of what the others think about such ideas as the simple  pleasures in life… maybe I missed some on my list that I would have  otherwise included…

Originally written – April 8, 2005.

The IIT Brand… is it that necessary to us?

A female friend of a friend of mine who’s at IIT:
“You know, you are ideal boyfriend material : XYZ caste boy, smart, intelligent, and more importantly, from IIT!!!

Well,  as flattering as it may sound that gals think we are “ideal boyfriend  material” and may even consider taking us home to the folks, I don’t  take kindly to the “more importantly, from IIT” bit.

Admittedly,  most of us have dreamt of being in that club which theoretically  includes the best brains in India. But once reaching there one thing  that most, nay all of us have realized is that though we may have  cleared one of the tougher entrance tests and ‘proved’ our mettle, what  really matters in the end, on campus – and for most, off it – is not the  fact that we had a better education, but that we made some memorable  friends that stay for life. Ask any IITian what he remembers from  his/her campus life, and I am willing to bet my hand (forgive the  cliche) that they’d refer to some anecdote of hostel life or the various  hang-out spots present on every campus.

Though IITs do play a  great part in how we shape up as individuals, what we are is not  determined by IITs, but by what we choose to take out of them… “more  importantly IIT”… well, it ain’t that important to us, if anyone is  bothered to know. Apart from the pressure to keep up a front of  superiority, which none of us feel, being branded is not what we want.  Most of those who come into the IIT system are already highly  individualistic people who are each unique in their own way, and I think  that branding them all is not just an insult to the individuals, but  also to the system that made them unique in the first place.

It  was not just this girl’s comment that made me write this down. Sometime  back, I was reading an article about IIMs and how nowadays a majority of  the students there are from an IIT background. The author goes on to  write “the IITians no doubt would be circulating this article in email  forwards patting themselves on the back… blah blah blah”… Do people  really think that we are such egotistical idiots who take the first  opportunity at “blowing our own trumpets” as a former prof of mine was  fond of saying? Well, no doubt that we are immensely proud of our being  alumni of such great institutions, but we value the fact that what we  learned most from that place is that we are not special because we got  in, or survived 4/5 years in the system, as may be the case. The place –  and the system, even – is special to us because of the people who made  up the place with us, and what we all shared. I think this is something  that people see in almost all other educational institutions. I don’t  know why people tend to glorify us – well, I can’t say I have a problem  with that. My problem is that in glorifying us, people tend to  concentrate on things that are not special to us, this special set!

I  really didn’t know what I would write when I started this… just  pouring out on the keyboard whatever is coming to mind, and so the post  may look logically unrelated to the start. This is just what I felt as I  sat down and this post just came onto the keyboard without much  intervening thought process. So in the end this post is really a  rambling, but I don’t care. The “more importantly IIT” specification  leaves as bad a taste in my mouth as does the “XYZ caste boy”, though I  perfectly understand the importance of the latter specification to many  in India.

Finally, yes, we are proud of what we were, what we  are, and we know that our time at IIT did indeed help us become what we  are. But – and I think almost everyone else from IIT would agree with me  here – we would have become as special anywhere else if we had this  same set of friends and companions-in-misery as we had in IITs. So  please, we may indeed be ideal boyfriend material, but its more  importantly because we are smart and intelligent, and not “more  importantly, from IIT”…

Update: Well, I  don’t think I made myself even remotely clear as to what I meant in the  whole rambling above… Well, all the IITians I have known – seniors,  juniors, my batch-mates, people from other IITs – are special in their  own way. My problem as such is not that people make us out to be a  special set, but the reasons they give. I mean, saying that we are  special just because we made it to IITs is a gross injustice to all of  us – we all are special indeed and we are special in our own personal  way. I believe we all made it because we are special, and not the other  way round. I may sound very conceited, but that’s how I feel. This is  not to say that those who haven’t made it are less special or anything –  just that we had some extra luck favoring us that fated day as well…

Originally written – November 14, 2004.

Life, the United States, and Nothing much more

(Title inspired by Douglas Adams’ Life, the Universe and Everything)

I  know that a pretty good number of people who read my blog (at least  those that I know do read the blog) do know that the title was inspired  by Adams’ book. But one of the first things that I learned here in the  States is that plagiarism is a sin. Plagiarism is defined (at least at  OSU) as the unacknowledged use of someone else’s ideas, work, etc; it  can lead to some pretty undesirable consequences. Hence I am taking no  chances. Better safe than sorry… (now, don’t tell me some One Person  has the intellectual property rights on that phrase)…

Anyway,  why plagiarism? Well, this past week saw Sai getting his first sets of  homework at OSU and plagiarism is something that is a big issue here at  US univs. I know that the cry goes round (phrase courtesy P.G.  Wodehouse), “Sai, and Homework?!”I know… I understand… Sai is known  to be one of the last ones to be doing a homework, and that, on his own!  Sai doesn’t remember doing a homework in the past 4-5 years. Even the  “assignments” (as opposed to homeworks) that Sai was required to do were  mainly the result of collective effort, with Sai’s contribution being  low to nil. And yet, and yet, Sai sits down to do his homework  and surprisingly (not surprising if you do know Sai), he does it well,  and on time. I hear rejoicing and cheers all over (Thanks again, PGW).

Who  am I kidding? This past week was one of the most painful weeks in the  recent past for me. I mean, doing homework!!! And I have them piled over  on a day-to-day basis. Yes, I have been submitting in a homework a day  over the last week. I know that those in the US already will tell me  that’s pretty usual, especially in grad school. Well, hearing about it  was totally different from actually having to do it. But then, I am  taking this positively. Good for the character, good for the soul… and  so on and so forth…

The US has been interesting so far… and  they’ve got elections this year (who doesn’t know that?). There were  debates between the candidates, which could have been very interesting –  just that Bush and Kerry didn’t (or more likely couldn’t) make for  interesting debatists (now is it a real word or did I just make up one  new word?) The Cheney-Edwards debate was better with at least one guy  going on the total all-out offensive. But these debates just got me  thinking how it would be to have such debates in India, say between the  Prime-Ministerial candidates. Here was what I thought –

Rational Me (RM) – Wouldn’t it be interesting if we had such debates between PM-candidates back home in India?
Usual Me (UM) – Don’t be stupid! We don’t have any candidate for PM. They just happen to become PMs when someone else does a tyaag. No one knows who the next f***ing PM will be.
RM – Yeah, that’s right. OK, let us assume that there are candidates from  the beginning of the campaigns. Then wouldn’t it be interesting to have  debate?
UM – Could be interesting… but our leaders don’t have anything interesting to say, least of all in the run-up to elections
RM – Yeah. But they do keep making some real interesting comments and  sometimes insulting statements from time to time, don’t they?
UM – Yeah, they do.
RM – Then how would it be if they saved all those comments for the debate and said them then?
UM – I wouldn’t want to watch that debate except on TV. People could die at such debates or anywhere near such debates…
RM – But… er…

Roomie of mine – Hey, coming for dinner or not?

UM – F*$# politicians. I’m hungry…
RM – Me too…

Me to Roomie – What’s for dinner?

Anyway,  its a pretty long post already… gotta run now… yeah, you guessed it  right (if you guessed it at all) – got a homework to turn in  tomorrow…

Originally written – October 6, 2004.

Completely Absurd Thoughts

Prologue: What follows actually started as a mail I wanted to  send to my class group from school. I don’t really know what happened in  the middle, but I realized that this is as good a material for a post  as any other; so I am just posting this. As one may quite naturally  expect, this is not how my schoolmates read it…I added the required  punctuation, and removed the personal references to my friends.  (standard disclaimer ;-P). End of Prologue

Well, the  “toughest CAT in ten years” is finally over….about the part in the  quotes, that’s what I heard was said in the newspapers today. Well, I  don’t know how tough it really was this year in comparison to the  previous years, but all I can say is that I found it to be tough – at  least slightly tougher than the last time I wrote it in November. It  might as well be due to the fact that I haven’t done any-, repeat  any-thing this time when compared to last time, when I at least did some  4-5 Mock-CAT papers. So, I would rather assign the cause of my finding  the paper tough to my not preparing well, than to the paper being set  that way by the powers-that-be in the CAT Committee.

I know that  most of you must have been irritated by now by my rambling on the  toughness of the paper when I could have just gotten (is that a legit  word?) to the point and just told you people how I did in the test. I  seem to have done well, going by what has been doing the rounds here as  to junta’s scores in IIT-M at least. I seem to have scored 66 marks from  81 attempts, following the TIME pattern of scoring; it remains to be  seen whether the IIMs also follow the same pattern while they evaluate  the papers or not…..

Now, the apparently high score I scored  has started a wave of ribbing aimed at me in my hostel: people calling  me “God” and what not. I agree that all this must be good to a man’s  ego, but when you know that not one of all those who say this means it  when he says it, the knowledge rather takes the high out of these  ‘compliments’. Anyway, I am prepared now to accept all the same kind of  ‘appreciation’ from u, dear readers – my friends – as I am sure that  most of you mean it when you guys call me a ‘God’. So, people, keep all  those compliments coming. From my side, I promise you all that I will  keep this flow of hopefully-interesting-to-read posts going on and on  until I die of boredom….or from any other supra-natural causes  resulting from any one of my harassed readers……till then….keep  reading……

Epilogue: After having gone  through the post for proof-reading before publishing, I noticed a  similarity in this post and the one in which I told you of my admission  into the Ohio State University: I am shamelessly asking you all to  congratulate me on some measly thing I did, something I am sure anyone  of you could have done before me. This brings on a philosophical thought  process onto me. I shall, however refrain from adding anymore to this  post; you can expect some philosophizing from me sometime later maybe.  For now, I am the attention-hungry child… 😛

Originally written – February 16, 2004. 

Bits of Worstax Poetry

My first time at poetry….I know it  sucks, ‘coz I wrote it in a class, completely pained by the droning of  the Prof. Anyways, here goes….

I am feeling sleepy
I am feeling lost
All this running around classes
Just leaves me sloshed

Problems, problems
They ask me to solve
These numbers just
Make my head revolve
I long those days when
Ignorance was my salve

The Prof lulls me to sleep
My friends nudge me awake
All knowledge I fail to keep
My God! Grades are at stake!

Engines, motors, lathes and mills
All this bullshit surely kills
Sigma and Epsilon are major pain
They sure do give me stress and strain!

At  this juncture, the Prof made a round of the class, stopping my  ‘creative’ flow. I HAD to hurriedly copy something that was on the board  and pretend that I was paying attention throughout the remaining  time…Reason? The prof. caught a guy sleeping and another two talking. A  record for this Prof., I should say……anyways….that was the end of  my poetic reverie.

Originally written – September 1, 2003.