Reflections of monsters

“You guys know about vampires?” Diaz asked. “You know, vampires have no reflections in a mirror? There’s this idea that monsters don’t have reflections in a mirror. And what I’ve always thought isn’t that monsters don’t have reflections in a mirror. It’s that if you want to make a human being into a monster, deny them, at the cultural level, any reflection of themselves. And growing up, I felt like a monster in some ways. I didn’t see myself reflected at all. I was like, “Yo, is something wrong with me? That the whole society seems to think that people like me don’t exist? And part of what inspired me, was this deep desire that before I died, I would make a couple of mirrors. That I would make some mirrors so that kids like me might seem themselves reflected back and might not feel so monstrous for it.”

Junot Diaz.

Pointed there by a quote in this article on whether you could still tell the story of Mary Kom by ignoring Manipur.

What Ella Wheeler Wilcox got right?

While I have used a variety of IMs over the ages, I have usually stuck to one at a time. Given my dedication to gmail, the messenger for the better part of the last decade has been gtalk and, now, its replacement – hangout.

So, unlike the rest of India that has been swept by the tsunami of WhatsApp, I have actively resisted it. Till one day when I had to install it to coordinate with a bunch of friends whom I was meeting after ages.

The problem with WhatsApp is that once people find you, they add you to groups. And while it is fun, like a non-character limited closed twitter group, the groups are given to exchanging forwards that I swear I saw in 2003 on yahoo groups.

As it happened, there was an exchange on the group that was funny, and not brought about by a recycled forward. The problem is every minute or so, I would hear a ping for the notification, and then see:

and then hear another ping, and then see:

and then hear another ping, and then see:

Which is a bit like finding that 20 of the people you follow and decided to do a old style retweet of the same tweet.

Anyway, I was inclined to send a slightly snarky reply signaling my deep lack of LOLness, and I couldn’t think of anything appropriate. There was no CMHO (Crying my heart out) to mirror the LMAO. A casual search on self identified Internet slang search portal offered the imperative CMR/CMAR (Cry me a river) and a few knockoffs (COL, CMAO), but no descriptives like the CMHO that I desired.

So, it seems that you truly cry alone.

The problem with works by Brown and James

Five minutes ago, I was trying to sleep, and then I arrived at a strong hypothesis about why the wild success of Dan Brown or E.L. James make me mad.

That is beyond the usual petty jealousy of the me who always has had a vague desire to write, or the criticism about the quality of the writing itself – which doesn’t really count because I haven’t read enough by these two.

I think I am mostly angry with the readers, who seem to behave as if the current favourite has had an uniquely novel concept, or has invented a genre, or has actually invented the novel.

I mean, Da Vinci Code might have been a OKish plot, but did it have any other virtue. The big reveal, well, that had been tried elsewhere. Preacher, IIRC, had the Jesus bloodline as a slightly minor plot point.

And as for Fifty Shades, well I find that dysfunctional and abusive relations between professionally independent women and rich man has been, for some reason, always been popular. The structure is the very staple of M&B/ Harlequin books.

Anyway, as I mention, what I really find irritating is the vacuum within which the readers of these works seem to operate. My first instinct on finding a fascinating work in a new genre is to obsessively hunt for similar works. But, I don’t think most of the readers of Brown and James go on, for example, to read ‘The Story of O’.

So, I am just left with this desire to grind the faces of these readers on the library walls while screaming, ‘Read, you stupid mogrel. You liked that book, didn’t you, why the fuck won’t you read more.’

Slower, and please have a little more fun

I will keep this short because I am treading in, what for me is, deep waters.

This is what happened: Ram Guha over twitter shared this, a wonderful 16 minute piece from the last episode of the fourth season of Coke studio, Pakistan, sung by the Qawwals Fareed Ayaz and his brother Abu Muhammad.

Once I listened to the song on repeat a couple of times, I decided to see what Coke Studio had during the next season. Among other thing it had this song: Ishq Aap Bhe Awalla, by the Chakwal group featuring Meesha Shafi.

Youtube has disabled embedding for this video, so you’ll have to click on the link above (which has lyrics in translation in the subtitle), or well, there is soundcloud:

Anyway, I loved the song, which is one of those folksy songs which have taught our lyricists so much about beating about the bush about sex and lust. The girl in the song is singing about being at the well, being unable to lift her pot of water, about losing her necklace, her pendant, etc. Anyway, what I like about this song is the pace.

Because, and I finally come to the point I wished to make, I think that too many Punjabi folk songs seem to be rendered at a gallop. Consider for example the old favourite: Laung Gwacha, a song which is apparently popular at wedding (and thus about sex) and is also about a girl singing about a lost piece of jewelry. Finding a version of Laung Gwacha that makes me happy has been a problem despite it having been worked on by luminaries such as Bally Sago and Pritam. It just doesn’t work for me.

But I live eternally in being made happy one day with some version of Laung Gwacha, I guess I want it a little slower and little playful.
BTW, I think a similar treatment could improve this my most favourite of Punjabi Song: GT Road Te, which is literally about drivers who drive truck down the Grand Trunk Road. The lyrics are magnificent and I think that Kuldeep Manak does do a good job. It is just that I think it can be still better.


In a bookstore, among stacks of old books, I happened upon a conversation between a few young ones.

‘Dr. Who!’ one of them said, in a style decidedly less stilted than mine. ‘You know how much I love Dr. Who, and I’ve never got to watch any of the earlier doctors. I just have to buy these.’

I thought about being the intrusive old man, and telling that those were, for most parts, bad. And to buy them at 180 a copy is a crime; why back in the day we used to get old copies for just 5, the cheapest read but for the soviet imports.

But I stopped myself. For one these were new copies showing no sign of the browning from age. For another, everyone should find their own truth.

Some of my favourites among coursera courses that a curious school student could follow – 1

1) Archaeology’s Dirty Secrets closest session start 24th Feb 2014.
About archaeology. An wonderful instructor, great demos on products and the process of archaeology.

2) Dino 101 closest session started on 6th Jan 2014 – I’m sure you can just go back and check it out.
About dinosaurs, who doesn’t like them. Has a few interactive tools/games to give you a bit of additional perspective.

Probably advance placement High Schooler?
3) History related: A history of the world since 1300, A brief history of humankind, Modern world: Global history since 1760

4) Introduction to Astronomy last session started on 3rd December, 2013.
If I remember correctly, no calculus is required, and whatever physics is required (from Newton’s laws of Gravitation to Stefan-Boltzman law and other black body radiation) is explained.

5) Genetics and Evolution
Primarily an introduction to Genetics, this was easier than I expected. However, this hasn’t been offered after 2012.

6) The thinking framework type courses: Dan Ariely’s Guide to Irrational Behavior, Think Again: How to Reason and Argue, Model Thinking, and quite a few on introductory data analysis and formal logic (eg. Intro logic)

Petroleum and Tourism

For some reason Goa and Daman & Diu (DD), two tourist friendly territories that are famous as places Indians go to get drunk on cheap alcohol, also lead in terms of per-capita consumption of petroleum products. (The chart below is from

Per Capita sales of Petroleum Products

States/UTs-wise Per Capita Sales of Petroleum Products (2003-04 to 2011-12)

Anyway, the reason why masses of Indians go to these territories to get drunk (other than the beaches) is because the local taxes on liquor is lower there (as it is in some other places such as Meghalaya). If we assume that there is a similarly liberal view of tax on petroleum products, then these territories probably offer petrol and diesel at a significant discount to their neighbours, since the local taxes account for about about a quarter of the retail price of petrol in India.

I know that this is the case with respect to Meghalaya, and people passing by Meghalaya or living close to Meghalaya often cross the border just to buy petrol or diesel. Unlike smuggling liquor across state borders, filling up the vehicle’s fuel tank is a bit of a non-issue.

I suspect that a similar mechanism is at work at these two territories. People from neighbouring states pop in to buy fuel, as do travelers passing by or through these territories. Other territories such as Pondicherry and Dadra & Nagar Haveli (DNH) also show high per-capita sale of petroleum products.

DNH, which is the winner of the petroleum products consumption game, is a close neighbour of Daman (of Daman & Diu). These two territories (Daman and DNH) also lie in an industrial hub centered around Vapi, which in turn lies on the National Highway 8 that connects Mumbai and Delhi. I presume a very large number of long haul trucks refuel at DNH or at Daman, but probably more often at DNH.

With respect to Goa, a friend from the state provided two hypotheses:

  • The West coast highway runs from Kerala to Mumbai. This has an impact similar to the highway through Vapi.
  • High per capita income, which among other things means that using cooking gas is comparatively more common in Goa.

I can’t confirm the cooking gas story, but as could be expected, income does impact consumption of petroleum products. (Using 2010-11 data for the income, because data for a few territories weren’t available for 2011-12.)

Per capita income by state vs. Per capita petroleum product consumption

Per capita income by state (2010-11) vs. Per capita petroleum product consumption (2011-12)

However, the demand in Goa still stands out. Probably the highway effect at work.

I have one major question left, which I have no clue about: Why did the consumption in 2010-11 in DNH suddenly jump from ~800 to ~1300 before dropping back to the old level the next year.

Anyway, when I initially started thinking about the consumption pattern (when I erred and thought that DD, a tourist hotspot, was at the top of the list and not DNH) I started wondering about the average proportion of tourists compared to population. I wondered whether the tourist population was so large that it skewed the sales of petroleum products.

The website of Goa’s Department of Tourism is quite helpful. In 2012, the last year with full data, the tourist arrivals was: 2337499 domestic and 450530 foreign. Average duration of stay for domestic tourists was 5 days, and 9 days for foreign tourists. So, about 43011 man-years of tourist stay – or an average of about 43000 tourists on any given day. Assuming the same average length of stay, the figure for 2011 was about 41500. The 40K average number makes sense given that total number of beds across hotels and guesthouses is about 50K.

Population of Goa in 2011 was 1457723, which means that on an average, number of people in Goa goes up by about 3% because of tourists. Significant, but not a huge addition.

This, of course, ignores the seasonal effect of tourism, since Goa gets most of the visitors during the winter months. Consider for example the picture from the tweet below:

Seamless Pakistani

Since I am feeling lazy, I’ll fall back upon Sashi Tharoor to explain the concept of Seamless Pakistani:

On sleepless nights during the World Cup, I read Shehan Karunatilaka’s extraordinary first novel Chinaman. One of the delights of the book, quite unrelated to the main plot …, … was the “Seamless Pakistani” game played by the novel’s protagonist, “WG”, and his friends, which consists of seeing how many Pakistani cricketers’ names one can string together so that the surname of one becomes the next player’s first name, and so on, till you run out of possibilities.

The novel’s winner has nine: Saqlain Mushtaq Mohammad Zahid Fazal Asif* Iqbal Sikander Bakht! In my idler moments I came up with 11 Seamless Pakistanis: Saqlain Mushtaq Mohammad Wasim Akram Raza Hasan Iqbal Qasim Umar Akmal. I’m sure there are enough fans on ESPNcricinfo who can do better than that.

I got 14 today: Sahid Saeed Anwar Khan Mohammad Asif Iqbal Qasim Umar Gul Mohammad Zahid Fazal Mahmood Hussain. This is not unique, starting with Asif Masood Anwar … gives a list of exactly the same length.

I used the list from cricinfo, sticking with Test players till 31st December, 2013. I counted only one from the pairs of Shakeel Ahmeds and Ijaz Ahmeds. I ignored the fact that Mohammad Yousuf was once Yousuf Youhana, ignored the mononymous entries, the middle names of Agha Saadat Ali and Ali Hussain Rizvi, and the ul-Haqs and ur-Rahmans.

And to make it easy for me, I used the following graph of all names which feature both as first names and last names:

Graph of all names that feature both as first name and last name in the list of Pakistani Test Players till 31st December, 2013.

Graph of all names that feature both as first name and last name in the list of Pakistani Test Players till 31st December, 2013.

The graph was made using Dracula. I hope you like it, the default layout was inefficient and required a lot of fine adjustment, but at least it was easy to drag and move nodes.

This is the list of all players in the graph given above: Fazal Mahmood, Israr Ali, Khan Mohammad, Nazar Mohammad, Wazir Mohammad, Gul Mohammad, Mushtaq Mohammad, Mohammad Farooq, Asif Iqbal, Asif Masood, Iqbal Qasim, Anwar Khan, Ashraf Ali, Qasim Umar, Wasim Akram, Zahid Fazal, Saeed Anwar, Masood Anwar, Kabir Khan, Mohammad Akram, Mohammad Wasim, Mohammad Zahid, Umar Gul, Mohammad Asif, Sohail Tanvir, Sohail Khan, Mohammad Amir, Mohammad Salman, Mohammad Irfan.

Note, names such as Sahid Saeed (where no one has the last name Sahid), Mahmood Hussain (where Hussain is only the last name or the middle name), and Anil Dalpat (where Anil and Dalpat don’t figure in any other name) were removed in creating the graph.