Thursday, January 29, 2015

How I Got Rid of "Ester Nutzer"

For weeks it sat on my browser - Chrome - two words I had no clue about. "Ester Nutzer." I didn't know what it meant. Was it Malaware? Was it a spying program? Was it one of those phishing things I hear about. Though reasonably tech savvy I had no idea what this was.
The Offensive Erster Nutzer. Oh it's Erster! Sorry for that typo. Who bothers now!

I was completely at a loss.

I put a message of Facebook. The replies weren't encouraging. I searched the net and found that "Ester Nutzer" meant first user in German. Well I am the first user of my computer, who else could have access to it?

I downloaded a Malaware programme, which was of no use to remove those two hateful words. Again, the sense of loss continued unwittingly. I have too many documents of importance on the computer to want to lose anything. 
Only now have I realised the importance of backing up my data.

We live in an age devoid of privacy. Whatever we do is available and visible to someone sitting somewhere. I was thinking of this: is he reading my mail, is he deleting my files? Who is he? And
, interestingly,the US administration says they have a right to snoop into our emails in the greater interest of humanity. I know the security of the human race comes before anything else in this beleaguered world, but what about my security? Is there no guaranty for that?

Then today I went to the settings of my browser. (It is the icon with the three horizontal lines right at the top end of the browser.​)​ There again I find my friend "Ester Nutzer" sitting above my name as the first user. What the heck​?​
Get away, off with you, man. I don't want you snooping on my computer anymore. There was a small button to delete him. I did it.

Mercifully now my browser doesn't have his august presence imprinted on it. I can rest content.

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Don’t Believe Salesmen, Or, Their Talk

Two things happened today which disillusioned me irreparably about the profession I had been working in all along. Marketing. I was a copywriter for corporate in their corporate communication departments, which was, sort of, food on the table, and kept the home fires burning. I confess I wrote pretty gooey stuff for these companies that exploited my talent. But, all said and done, no regrets. At least, no major ones, that is, till today.

Today a friend thrust a medicine in my hand saying it was good for me, apparently, for my health condition. He is an marketing executive with a pharmaceutical company and I very trustingly gave him the cost of the medicine. I swallowed (wrote “ate” here, sorry) one of his pills and towards afternoon my body was itching and my hands had swollen up with welts as a result constant scratching. The friend had pulled a fast one and I was a sucker for his sales talk. Next time we meet I will wring his neck for the welts, and force feed him his own medicine. (I look at my welted hands as I type this.)

The second one is a trial software I installed. The goddamned thing doesn't have a functionality to remove it from my computer. Every day it sends messages to me to buy it for USD 19 only, per month. Am I mad? USD 19 per month is a royal amount considering I am not working anymore and whatever I scrape from the bottom is not sufficient enough. And, there are no retirement benefits to boot. (A clerk in a government department - a distant relation - draws a pension of Rs 18,000, which is a shame. They have been parasites and will remain so.) Imagine my state: no money; no software. Then I go to the directory where the programme is installed and try to delete it from there, from the root, sort of. It says I need special permission to do that. In fact, the company wants to s**** my happiness till I buy its software. Ahem!

Both the above are instances of aggressive marketing. Face it, we are living in an age of marketing with no care for the consumer, or, what his experience is. The digital age is all about selling and not servicing the customer. So, beware, don’t tell me I didn’t warn you.

Meanwhile, any help on how to remove the software? 

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

People Say the Wrong Things in Hospital

During my recent illness, I was toying with painful idea of giving up on my novel I am writing Mr. Bandookwala. This may anger some and make some go "Ah! So he didn't make it, yeahn?" "So much wasted effort." "Thank God, I won't have to bear his prattle of what stage the novel is in."

Yes people say wrong things. I know, I know, you deny this right? You can see this at funerals. There would be a group of uncouth dregs of society laughing on the solemn occasion. The reason I didn't want people to visit me in hospital was this. People say the wrong things and you can't stop them from doing so. There is one fellow parishioner who I suspect has necrophilia in a very advanced stage. Whenever he speaks he will bring out the medical condition in which people he knew died, along with descriptions in gruesome detail. Imagine him visiting me in hospital. I would have a tough time handling him. I suspect I would collapse. In hospital a patient is thinking of his recover and along comes this tyke, this moron, who talk so casually about medical condition and death.

So I said no visitors, please. A hospital is not the best time to meet me. Drop in at home; we will have a coffee and a chat. I am unshaven and have not slept for six days, what would they think? They will pronounce the end of the road for me.

I thought I had a lot of fight left in me. I still do. I used to play football and was in the college team. Though – smarting from hurt pride – as an extra, sitting on the bench.

After coming home and seeing the manuscript my heart melted. I said to myself I can't let this go just yet. I love this story. I have spent six years of my life on it. Some publisher will surely see it for its quality and publish it.

So I switch off the television at 10 p.m. and say our family prayer and I am in bed by 10.30 p.m. or, at the most, 11 p.m. I am up at 5 a.m. and working, sipping on hot green tea. Hope to give you the good news that the final copyediting is over and done.

Tuesday, December 09, 2014

The Axis Powers: The Word Dominator that Almost Was

I have been blogging about Japan's advance through the south-east Asian region in the past few blogs, a military advance in which I lost my uncle. This is after reading Richard Flannagan's "The Narrow Road to the Deep North," which won the Man Booker Prize this year. This, unwittingly, set off a train of thought the narrative of which is as follows. I would like you to comment freely on what you think of my hi-falutin ideas (worth nothing, though they may be).

Now imagine if Japanese forces had succeeded in building the Death Railway and captured India and went on to East Asia and met up with Rommel's forces in Africa. India would have come under the oppressive rule of Japan, much like China and Korea. Then the history of the world would have been a whole lot different than it is now.

The Axis powers would have had the largest territory in the world and soon Russia and US would have been subdued and brought under it.

This would have resulted in our being subject to two extreme political ideologues the twentieth century has seen: Nazism and Nipponism. Both were oppressive, undemocratic, and dictatorial. We would have had no freedom though we were a free country and India would have suffered from the manufacturing dictates of great Japanese corporations.

The reason why Japan's ambitions have remained a secret is because they didn't permit the documenting of history even by their prisoners. Letters were either burnt or thrown into the sea. They may have kept some record in Japanese, which is uaccessible to researchers. Nippon's votaries were far more ambitious than Hitler himself. They wanted to subdue the world at any cost, and had grown drunk with their own spirit of greatness. They assumed a megalomania unseen in the civilised world.

Japanese bosses are known to strike their subordinates. We Indians would not have suffered this indignity and would have chafed at their power.

Such a behemoth political force as might have been created – nay, almost created – would have seen the downfall of all struggles for freedom.

So my question, which rankles my mind often, is: which was better? Western hegemony with its pretended democratic real politic, humaneness, and compassion or the Axis powers ruling the world. You answer.

Thursday, October 30, 2014

The Cruelty of the Japanese Army in the Eastern Front, As Told by Richard Flanagan in the Booker-winning Novel "The Narrow Road to the Deep North"

Reading as I am Booker-winning The Narrow Road to the Deep North (author: Richard Flannagan) I am convinced that the act of bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki were justified. Here we see a race that has no compassion, love, grace, or, for that matter an approximation of justice. The scenes depicting the cruelty meted out to prisoners on the Death Railway built at that time from Thailand to Burma is indeed horror-filled, inhuman, and insane. If such a people had captured India, our plight would have been worse than under the British. Yes.

Disclaimer: my uncle died in this great and ambitious struggle. He had been enlisted in the British army and then drafted by the Indian National Army of Subash Bose. Impetuous and compulsive (also good looking) he was my grandparents' favourite son. The last letter received from him talked of taking my father to Singapore where he was stationed, before the Nips (as Japanese were described at that time) invaded it. (Aside: if he had taken my father to Singapore I wouldn't have existed, so wouldn't this blog. My father would surely have died with him before siring me! What a sick, but probable thought!) Subsequently, all communication stopped, because the Nips didn't transmit any letters, knowing the cruelty they were inflicting would become known. So, no records exist. That itself is a larger cruelty than killing the soldiers with work, without food, without medicines, without rest, and without tools. Prisoners were punished for simple transgressions as resting when they were sick. He is believed to have died of starvation, though he was a soldier of a friendly army.

The greatest irony of the war in the eastern front is that there are no records, no letters, no any diaries. That is why this novel assumes importance and deservedly has won the Booker. The names of people who have died are also not known. It's a strange mixture of extreme cruelty and atrocious suffering inflicted on people and should be researched, at least, to correct the wrongs done by history.

The Nips were all duty-bound to obey the emperor, obsequiously so. But why deny human beings common facilities like medicine and food? The cruelties on the eastern front surpasses, if not equals that of the Jewish genocide in Europe. Will history forgive the perpetrators? Will some justice come to those who died?

My mind flusters, it goes blank, I am not able write anymore. 

Friday, October 24, 2014

The Death Railway to Burma and People Who Built It

From Richard Flanagan's The Narrow Road to the Deep North, which I am reading now, it is obvious that the Japanese Imperial Army (JIA) weren't kind employers. Prisoners of war (POWs) were required to work all days of the week in gruelling shifts of twelve hours a day to build what was known as the Death Railway to Burma.


It also appears that when my uncle Cherian Mathew joined the Indian National Army under Subash Bose he might have imagined being treated better than the POWs. But I have a suspicion that he wasn't and the JIA meted out the same treatment as the POWs to the members of INA. There have been eyewitness accounts of how my uncle died of hunger and malnutrition, working in dire conditions. I guess he must have been working on the Death Railway project which sought to connect Thailand to Burma through thick forests. The Bridge over the River Quai is a poignant movie that documents the trials of the prisoners.


In Flanagan's novel the author recounts the experience of Australian POWs working under Japanese supervision. Their boss Nakamura is strict and relentless. Workers are dying around him of malnutrition and cholera, but he shows no concern. He is bound only by the code of honour of serving the emperor, unflinchingly, unquestioningly. He is only worried about meeting his deadlines for the construction of the railway.


It also seems that the Death Railway was built in patches, not end to end. Meaning several gangs were working on different sites, which then would be joined to create the final railway line.


I trolled the maps to find the attached one of the Death Railway. However, on following it to the Burmese border I find that it terminates at a station named Nam Tok and doesn't proceed any further than that. It falters, then comes to a dead end there. So, the railway to Burmah through thick forests was a failure after all. So much effort, starvation, deaths, ill treatment, all happened for nothing.


Now if you search Death Railway on google maps, you will find that the line is dotted by many resorts. I guess, the Thai government must be exploiting the tourism potential of the Death Railway, which happens to be the only saving grace of this wasted effort.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Where Will This Materialism Lead?

This is recent. Very. I was discussing materialism and its far-reaching implications into our psyche with a friend. The papers are full of ads this Diwali season exhorting people to buy and there are discounts to be had, cars to be won, gold coins to be availed of. As often happens during such ruminations, I – self righteously, I may add – defended my non-materialistic aspects.


"My fridge lasted 20 years, my washing machine 10 years, my gas stove was changed recently after 20 years, my teapoy is more than 30 years old, I still have the same drawing room cane furniture of 10 years."


Hm. My high-ass proclamations seemed empty when compared to the following, which I am writing here, and was not told to my friend, who, after all, doesn't read my blogs. So here it is safe. And here goes:


My mobile phone is 10 months old, I had to replace the old one because the battery ran out within hours; my laptop is only 6 months old, a replacement warranted by a bad keyboard and screen; my guitar is only 2 years old, as the old one warped and had to be replaced, my television is only 1 year old as the old gent gave up after 15 years of sputtering.


All those things I mentioned first were manufactured around 15 years ago and were high in quality. Meaning they went through a manufacturing and quality control process. However, the products I mention second don't seem serious about quality at all. They all bring out newer models and advertise aggressively to sell. Try and get your laptop and smartphone repaired. No, they don't have parts.


It is this materialism that is at the root of society's evils. When you invest money in a badly produced product you are wasting your precious resources.


The latest iphone costs around Rs 60 thousand. It's the version six. What if I buy one? Will it last me for five years? No, I will want to buy version seven when it comes out for a fancier price. For that 60 thousand rupees I could have:


1. Repainted my house

2. Bought books

3. Bought half a Tata Nano car (I don't know about this!)

4. Gone on holiday

5. Given to the poor

6. Put in fixed deposit and earned 9 per cent interest (Rs 5400)

7. Some of these and much more....


Man will never be satisfied with what he has. But his greed is giving rise to the adoption of the "use and discard" philosophy. Manufacturing is no longer important, only researching new products is.


Where will this materialism lead?

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Book Review: Orfeo by Richard Powers

Richard Powers
Orfeo by Richard Powers is a novel that combines sci-fi with sheer mundane things like a hobby turning into an ordeal. Els is a chemistry man, a geneticist, and a life-long music addict, who plans to weave music into DNA strands in his hobby laboratory at home. He tinkers with genetic modification using equipment bought on internet sites. In addition, he composes music, and has done a few shows with his friend Richard. He is divorced, estranged from his only daughter, and lives the life of a recluse. The only thing that goes wrong in his sedate life is that he is found out when his dog dies and the police come to investigate. The policemen suspect him to be a bio terrorist and one day coming back from his morning walk, he discovers that his home has been broken into by the security agencies. He runs away, a fugitive now, sure that his genetic experiment will be viewed as being of grave security concerns by the agency, and he would be implicated.

Desperately, he runs away from home, drives through multiple states using a student's smart phone. He realises he lives in the hell that is the modern world where every phone call can be traced to the exact location. So, wary, he plods on from state to state, depending on cash transactions, as he knows his credit card usage will be monitored by the agencies. There are excellent passages in the novel that brings us closer to the character of Els, his genius, his knowledge of music, his understanding of modern technology. Also he pre-empts discovery and arrest by his vast knowledge of science and technology.

For example, "(Russia) crumbles into a dozen-plus countries. All the world's data weaves together into a web." The language is terse and therefore the author holds reader in thrall, imagining what the next revelatory sentence could be. "Els said 'do not invent simply discover.' One or two of them understood him." These are the sort of stray gems littered throughout the novel.

Els' journey takes him on a whirlwind tour of the states of the United States and his wry humour keeps us involved. He visits his estranged wife and daughter. However, in the end, when he is caught in his daughter's home, the narrative encounters its major stumbling block. There's too much of technical details, beyond the comprehension of the lay reader. That's the only drawback in this excellent novel. However, on the whole it's a novel that entertains with the sheer brilliance of the author's knowledge and innovative use of language and keeps us on the edge wanting to know more.

Saturday, October 04, 2014

Trip to Kerala: September 2014


Just returned from a trip to Kerala yesterday. Writing a few words here about the experience: the beauty, the ugliness, the mental forbearance needed, and the agony of waiting.


First of all, Kerala is beautiful this time of the year. The monsoon has retreated so it's not warm or cold, and the bright sun shines on palm fronds and rubber leaves. Beautiful is also the entire Konkan coast. But Kerala promoted itself as a tourist paradise and the name stuck. However, this has ramifications for me, a frequent traveller to the state which is home, second to Bombay, that is. The trains are crowded, tickets aren't available, and I have to suffer the assault of many unknown languages. That's forgivable but what is not is the Indian – I mean general – tendency to litter. Spitting red pan spittle is a malaise in North India and not South India. However, this habit is catching on.


Every home, or, locality, has a resident pest. This is usually a mentally disturbed individual who speaks very loudly, under the influence of the liquor of the night before. My sister's neighbour is one such individual; my brother-in-law's (from my wife's side) has another such pest. They disturb the peace during day and night, talking loudly so that everyone can hear and generally behaving like a tyke. There is no logic in his talk and he claims to be a prophet of god and a god-fearing man. Then why this high-decibel hectoring? Why this boasting and disturbing the peace?


If you want to get anything done in Kerala you need a Bangla Deshi, a Bihari, or an Assamiya. Kerala men won't work even if they are able bodied and look like Salman Khan minus the cute looks. Here every working class man sports a six pack, but still he won't work for a living though the daily wage is Rs seven hundred. Yes, you heard right, seven hundred. Seven hundred plus two breaks for tea and one for lunch won't lure the lousy lout to pick up the hoe and spade. All my life, I slaved for much less. He would rather laze at home and live off his wife because he gets rice at Re one, a plot of land for free and a loan to build a house.


So imagine my surprise when I see the crowd of Bangla Deshis waiting for the Gauhati Express all along the route to Kochi. I am on my return trip and going for a brief stay at my brother's place in Kochi. They are paid only half the mandatory wages, but look prosperous and happy.


Gulf money has spoilt the countryside. There are unsightly bungalows dotting the verdant villages, painted in garish pink, yellow, shocking blue, and screaming violet. All of them have aluminium roofing to protect against the rain which adds to the ugliness. But architectural beauty is a subjective matter and I could be disputed on this. So, I will leave it.


Then the state doesn't have a viable garbage removal policy. Literally every little town reeks with the disgusting stench of refuse. A lot of junk food is consumed and the wrappers are thrown by the side of the street to rot with remains of food, meat, and fish. Even the city of Kochi – the premium city - doesn't have a proper garbage removal system in place. People pay to get their waste removed.  


These are some of the issues, I faced. More, if time permits. Meanwhile, I should run. Wifey has been announcing that lunch is ready.

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Luke R.I.P.

Sept 20

Just as I am about to leave for Kerala today news comes that my friend Luke, handyman, friend, died. Hr fell down and just died. I whine in disbelief as my wife tells me this. Yesterday I had discussed some urgent repair work on the house with him. And here he is: no more. Gone from this world.
Luke, friend, partner, r.i.p

Luke was Sri Lankan and I have been wanting to write a short fiction about him, his English, his gentle personality, his lack if guile, his readiness to help any time. This was a series of short fiction I am planning on the South Asian diaspora living illegally in India. I have already written on a Bangladeshi migrant.

Why he left a comfortable life in Negombo, Sri Lanka, to work in a remote valley in a satellite city is beyond me. I had visited his native town of Negombo when I had gone on a visit. We discussed its beaches, its people. His brothers are business owners he tells me, placed highly in the island nation. They had come to India to take him back. At the airport he ran back, out of the terminal, away from where his brother waited for him, to the country he had no wish to leave, because he loved that country. He said many times that he loved India.

Now he is no more. He was walking on the street. He fell down and died. He had long greying hair, a bulky body used to working, and the softest expression in his eyes. I remember his face clearly from our meeting yesterday. He had said, "you come back no, then I do your work, little, little, money give me anytime, no worry, only you be satisfied wid my work."
Those were his parting words.
(Sent from my mobile phone.)

P.S. I wrote a first person short story on Luke here. Do visit, read, and "share."