Monthly Recommendations (June 2021)

This month’s theme is disorder, dishonesty and dysfunction. In that spirit, this month’s list includes the story of a missionary dabbling in things that she should probably have stayed far away from, the profile of a Trump administration operative who was an exceptionally bad manager and irritated nearly everyone whom he worked with, a list of the winners of the recent absurdity in the US stock markets and how it has helped those who got in early reap huge benefits by selling what basically amounts to snake-oil, and, a contemporary historical study of how hot-button topics on the Internet have evolved over the past 2 decades.

Read More

More Access Leads to Better Governance

Here’s the noble lie about democracy: The electorate holds the ruling party accountable for their actions during the next election. This is taught in classrooms and in political science courses; it is drilled into the minds of children who have the good fortune of growing up in a liberal democracy. The truth is revealed when they realize that the electorate is unwilling or unable to hold the ruling party accountable and that the ruling party is able to entice the electorate with populist schemes that are announced hours before campaigning begins1. There is a tedious and disheartening conversation about why no country has realized this ideal state of democracy in practice or been able to stay in that state for a long period of time; a conversation that would identify the media, political self-interest and capitalism as a few of the causes. This post does not engage in that conversation. Instead, I focus on a core component of this system which would hold the noble lie up: Access to public services such as education, healthcare, and a competent local government. I contend that widening access is the silver bullet which will allow countries to reach the ideal state of democracy and maintain that state in the long term.

Read More

Notes and Review - Anna Karenina (Tolstoy)

Anna Karenina is a love story. Reading this book has shown me the source of several scenes from iconic romantic movies: Lovers meeting in a railway station, rejection at dinners, and heartbroken characters traveling abroad attempting to heal their soul. Tolstoy’s descriptions of people and their interactions with each other were more compelling to me than his descriptions of natural scenes. This preference is probably related to my (current) personal preference for stories which have interesting characters doing unpredictable things.

Read More

Monthly Recommendations (May 2021)

This month, we deal with the recent past. The recommendations include the profile of a digital marketer, which looks back at how Trump’s 2016 campaign used the tools at their disposal effectively to achieve something the mainstream strongly believed was impossible, an article about the disastrous effects of healthcare systems being optimized for efficiency and the steps we can take to avoid them, and how loneliness might be one of those truly new and modern problems which time travelers would be unable to explain to their relatively temporally close counterparts in the late 1700s.

Read More

The Midnight Assemblies

“The night is dark and full of terrors” - Parents use phrases like these to put children to sleep and to curb their adorable natures and their inexhaustible reserves of energy, which enable them to run around, squealing in delight, until all hours of the night. On exiting childhood, most people discover the deception that their parents had engaged in. The second years living in the Nehru Hall at IIT Kharagpur had a remarkable experience: For them, the terrors returned and their parents were proved right. They were woken up at odd hours of the night, requested to demonstrate the skills they had learned in the common room and the dining hall and subject to a series of deranged meditations. These polite requests were unlike those that some might be accustomed to, as they were made by third-, fourth- and fifth-years who stood in the first-floor corridor and directed their voices downwards towards throngs of second-years who stood in neat rows on the playground. This was the final form that hazing at IIT Kharagpur, affectionately referred to by the euphemism, “Orientation Program”, or simply, O.P, assumed. I recount my experience of O.P. in this 4-part series. This is the fourth and final part, The Midnight Assemblies.

Read More

Victorian-era Dining Hall Etiquette

Food holds a special importance in everyday life. A lot of memories are connected to it and apparently the most important word in French is the word for the afternoon snack. In IIT Kharagpur’s Nehru Hall, there were no such pretensions about food; but a strange reverence was shown to the place where food was often eaten, the mess hall. The single most important phrase in this hallowed ground was “Excuse Me”, the over-used English phrase most often heard in Victorian dramas when heroines flustered by their love interest utter these words and an escape hatch is opened to them. Second-years were implored: when you are done eating your food and are stepping away from the table, you must cast this magical incantation. Once cast, the spell worked wonders as it suppressed the bout of shouting and mocking from third-, fourth- and fifth-years. Curiously, everyone in the third-year and above inside the same dining hall was exempt from this rule. As in Pride and Prejudice, another Victorian-era drama, the female characters who are being married off have little say in whom they are married to, while the men have all the choice that they could possibly want; so in Nehru Hall, second years had to follow a lot of rules designed to keep them “humble and respectful”, while everyone else lead rule-free lives. This dichotomy was a part of hazing at IIT Kharagpur, affectionately referred to by the euphemism, “Orientation Program”, or simply, O.P. I recount my experience of O.P. in this 4-part series. This is the third part, Victorian-era Dining Hall Etiquette.

Read More

The Sermon in the Common Room

As a second year student at IIT Kharagpur, the 2.5 months between July and September 2014 were uneventful at Nehru Hall, one of several hostels inside the campus. Then, things took a turn. While I believe that it was for the better, the voice at the back of my head believes it was for the worse. In this post, I relate the story of a sermon that was delivered in the common room of my hostel. The sermon in question was about the art of introducing oneself to a group of strangers. While many might naively believe that they have mastered this art, this sermon will open your eyes (as it did mine) to the right manner of making a first impression. This was an integral part of hazing at IIT Kharagpur, affectionately referred to by the euphemism, “Orientation Program”, or simply, O.P. I recount my experience in this 4-part series. This is the second part, The Sermon in the Common Room.

Read More

The Curious Case of the Dweller Who Wouldn't Move Out

At the end of my first year at IIT Kharagpur, an engineering college in India, I packed up everything I owned into cardboard boxes, put them in the common room of my hostel and went back to my parent’s home for the summer vacation. 2 months later, in the second week of July 2014, I returned to my new hostel, Nehru Hall. I found that my room had not been vacated yet and was not ready for “check-in”. This was the beginning of hazing at IIT Kharagpur, affectionately referred to by the euphemism, “Orientation Program” or simply, O.P. I recount my experience of O.P in this 4-part series. This is the first part, The Curious Case of the Dweller Who Wouldn’t Move Out.

Read More

A Critique of Context-Free Journalism

Journalism is the act of taking facts and expert opinions, putting them together with the context required to make them meaningful, and producing a piece that consumers will learn something from1. This is the basic framework I use to understand and evaluate news organizations. Newslaundry is an Indian subscription-based independent news organization that I started following with the hope that their “indie music” approach to journalism was the refreshing breeze that Indian news media desperately needs. My findings were disappointing, a recent episode of their daily news briefing podcast had a story which was read out with none of the required context. This symbolizes the problems media organizations face and have left unresolved. I will continue to read the work that Newslaundry produces, albeit with lowered expectations when compared to what I have for the New York Times, NHK or Bloomberg.

Read More

Monthly Reading Recommendations (April 2021)

The recommendations for April 2021 are in! This month, an unsettling article about the disastrous consequences of the intersection of a dance form and a journey of self-discovery is at the top of the list. Also, there’s an article about pandemics (everyone’s favorite topic since Jan 2020) and a profile of the author of a book that I did not like.

Read More