BRAKING NEWS: The Anti-Tonsuring Law

Interviews that bring you to a screeching halt

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Last week in a forced tonsuring incident in Bangalore two school boys’ heads were forcibly shaved by the school staff. Bangalore police has made an arrest. The government has responded by promising a bill in Parliament that will make forcible tonsuring illegal.

Braking News met PK Dhut, Minister of State for Cultural and Religious Affairs.

Braking News: Good morning, PK.

PK Dhut: Please don’t call me PK. I don’t want to be associated with that Aamir Khan movie. You may call me Purna Kesha, which means One with a Full Head of Hair. I come from a long line of hairful ancestors.

BN: Ummm…that’s hard to pronounce. May I call you Dhut ji?

PK: Yes, that will be fine. Obviously, you didn’t study Sanskrit in school. You must have studied German or French or some useless foreign language instead.

BN: Dhut ji, the government has proposed an anti-tonsuring law which will make forcible tonsuring illegal. Why?

PK: We respect people of all hair conditions, bald and hairful. However, lately, some misguided people have been forcibly tonsuring people. These people are converted to baldness against their will. We cannot allow such forcible conversions.

BN: But aren’t there already laws on the books which prevent the use of force? Why do we need a special one for forcible tonsuring?

PK: You see people are very sensitive about their hair. It requires a special law.

BN: Really? Well, let’s take an example. Right now, you are picking your nose.

PK: No, I’m not.

BN: Well you were…till a moment ago. Let’s say I was strong and you were weak and that I found the sight of you picking your nose in front of me so disgusting that I forcibly stopped you from picking your nose. It would be torture for you, wouldn’t it?

PK: Maybe. But I don’t pick my nose.

BN: In this case, do we need a law against forcible prevention of nose picking?

PK: Forcible tonsuring is happening across the country. It is a matter of national importance. Don’t compare it to an itchy nose.

BN: OK…moving on. Dhut ji, don’t you think the anti-tonsuring law is unfair?

PK: Why?

BN: Well it makes it illegal to convert from hairful to bald, but not bald to hairful.

PK: No worries on that count. When the bill is brought to Parliament, it will ban both forcible tonsuring and forcible hair transplants.

BN: But nobody has ever heard of a forcible hair transplant. This law really just targets forcible tonsuring doesn’t it?

PK: Not at all. We respect all people, regardless of their hair condition.

BN: Dhut ji, how will the authorities determine whether the tonsuring was forcible or not?

PK: Oh that is simple. If the tonsuring victim says that so and so person forcibly tonsured him, that person will be arrested.

BN: But what if the tonsuring victim just shaved his head himself and is lying? What if he has been forced to lie?

PK: Well…there’s no law against forcible lying.

BN: Then do we need a law against forcible lying?

PK: No, no. Of course not.

My Lost Years Without Desi Ghee

From The Guardian

Butter, cheese and even red meat are not as bad for the heart as has been maintained, a cardiologist has said in a leading medical journal, adding that it is time to “bust the myth” of saturated fat…
“Recent prospective cohort studies have not supported significant association between saturated fat intake and cardiovascular risk,” he argues. “Instead, saturated fat has been found to be protective.”

Doctors and scientists are now ready to proclaim that saturated fats are good for you. Not just OK, but good. Better than those sucky unsaturated fats we’ve been using all these years. This is not just the opinion of one diet guru somewhere. There are now many studies and meta-studies (apparently that is a thing where you study other studies) that conclude that saturated animal fats of the kind found in butter and lard do not lead to heart disease.

Now I’m not a science hater. In fact some of my best friends are scientists. My father was one. And I do understand that paradigm-shifting is in the nature of scientific revolutions. (There is actually a book by Thomas Kuhn, sitting on my shelf, that explains all this. It is an important book, though totally unreadable.) For example, at one time Neanderthals were supposed to be cousins of us homo sapiens but from a branch on the family tree that died off before we hit the scene. But with more fossils and genome analysis it has emerged that homo sapiens were contemporaneous and interbred with the Neanderthals and we all now carry Neanderthal DNA. Delightful shift in paradigms, no? Though a little embarrassing for those people who used the word “Neanderthal” to describe certain people at work.

But I have no problem that 2.7% of my genome is Neanderthal. I’m pretty liberal that way. On the other hand, this latest round of myth-busting, paradigm-shifting science about saturated animal fats has gotten me terribly depressed. To think that all my adult life I have substituted margarine for butter and Crisco for desi ghee fills me with great regret.

I grew up in a place called Hisar, in the state of Haryana, India. Hisar was the proud seat of Haryana Agricultural University. My father was a dairy scientist and a professor of animal nutrition in the College of Animal Sciences.

For those of you who aren’t as familiar with Haryana, it is an Indian state neighbouring Delhi that is famous for many things including Haryanavi, a bold, assertive dialect of Hindi that you will often hear in Bollywood movies used by thugs and comedic policemen.

new milk chart

But the thing that Haryana is most identified with is milk. The state poet Uday Bhanu Hans has described it thus, Desan mein des Haryana, jit doodh dahi ka khana. Which is too deep to translate into English, but roughly means that Haryanavis like their dairy products.

In this state, in its only agricultural university, in its college of animal sciences, my father was a professor of animal nutrition. My connection with livestock and milk was visceral. Literally. Besides spending many a Sunday at the University farm (see photo), I consumed copious amounts of milk and dairy products.


Ghee, or clarified butter, is the pinnacle of a Haryanavi’s connection with milk. It is its most refined, celestial form. It goes into the havan fire as an offering to the gods. It also goes into every edible thing imaginable. And if you can’t do without it, mixed with some milk, it can be had straight from the glass, between meals.

In the bazaar ghee was often referred to as Shudh Desi Ghee. “Desi” separated it from that evil concoction of hydrogenated vegetable oils called Dalda. And “Shudh” was well, pure. Some halvai’s would mix in a bit of Dalda since it was much cheaper. But not this halvai.

All through our childhood, we had lots of ghee. But as an adult who made responsible health decisions, I reduced and then completely stopped having ghee. We cooked in vegetable oil and ate sukhi roti. I pined for ghee, but knew that she wasn’t right for me. For twenty years now, I’ve been living a sukhi zindagi, thanks to faulty science. I may find it in me to forgive her in time, but this is not one to forget.

On the bright side, I should still be thankful that I have the rest of my life to enjoy ghee. Just imagine if I had died before the saturated-fat-is-bad paradigm had shifted. To have gone through my adult life without ghee, only to have it poured on my funeral pyre would have been such a travesty.

And now that ghee and butter are good, what about bacon?

Indian Traffic – An Illustrated Guide

You break it, you buy the farm

Breaking these rules have a high probability of death or serious injury to self or car

1/ Stop at a red light, especially when there is cross traffic.

Dangerous, but it will never happen to me

Breaking these rules can cause death or serious injury but the event carries a low probability

2/ Wearing a seat belt in the front seat
3/ Not driving on the wrong side of a divided highway even if the U turn is more than 20 m. away

Dangerous to others (but not to self, although a car wash may be necessary)

4/ Stopping at Stop signs
5/ Stopping at pedestrian crossings (instead of speeding up) even when some pedestrians start sprinting across

Who’s going to catch me?

Pesky rules that are unnecessary. Break them if you can get away with it.

6/ Not using your cellphone without handsfree, especially when a cop is present.

These rules are a nuisance! (thank God there is no enforcement!)

7/ Using your horn only when necessary

Much of Driver Behaviour is not governed by Traffic Rules. But even there there is behavior that is rational, and behavior that is not.

8/ Praying to the gods to keep you safe before (or while) breaking rules 2 to 6.
9/ Leaning on your horn a few seconds before the light turns green.

Of Leaking Electricity

My Dad's wiring!
Have you noticed how in India if you visit your friends or family, you always need their help to turn the TV or computer on in the morning? Why? Because it is too darned complicated. For instance, to turn on the computer you may need to switch on some or all of the following:

– Wall socket
– Power strip
– Second wall socket (because the power strip doesn’t have enough outlets)
– Computer
– Monitor

Yesterday I was being brave at my parents’ house and decided to try turning on the computer myself. I went down the checklist and turned on the computer, but the broadband modem wouldn’t turn on. After many minutes of jiggling wires and testing for loose connections I finally discovered this small button on the back panel of the modem – another switch – and of course it had been switched off.

Its almost as if we revel in taking something simple like switching on the TV and and making a sacred ritual out of it – a complicated series of actions which cannot be executed without rigorous training and is designed to obfuscate outsiders.

I used to find this exasperating until I got interested in clean tech last year. It turns out that the Indian approach to turning off power to appliances that are idle actually does save electricity. It probably also extends the life of the appliances, though I haven’t read any research on that.

In the US on the other hand, there is almost no attention paid to what is called “standby power” – the power consumption by appliances, especially modern, intelligent electronic appliances, when they are idle but not turned off. Standby power is a big source of lost energy. Lawrence Berkeley Labs has a website dedicated to educating the public about standby power. According to them, a typical American home spends as much as 10% of its power consumption on standby power.

Typical American attitudes to switching off stuff are that they a) don’t want to be bothered about it and b) find it funny when someone does it. As far back as 1933, James Thurber, in one of my favorite funny books, My Life and Hard Times, describes his mother’s paranoia

… mother lived the latter years of her life in the horrible suspicion that electricity was dripping invisibly all over the house.

because of which she would go around turning switches off all over the house even if there was nothing plugged into them.

I suspect most Indians won’t find this funny. Switching off stuff comes naturally to them. And if a good percentage of them don’t know that electric current doesn’t flow unless the circuit is completed, that’s natural. The other thing that is “piped” into the home is water and that drips all the time.

On the other hand, I don’t know if too many Americans find this funny either. If two thirds of them believe that Obama is a Muslim and a whole bunch of others hold these kooky beliefs I think there must be a lot of people like Thurber’s mother out there.

The Best Names are Gult Names

Gaurav Rastogi has a very interesting take on the inadequacies of human naming conventions.

A naming convention designed for a planet with 100 million people (as on 500 BCE) is hopelessly useless in the world where the number of people to be named has expanded 70-fold. What was designed to be a unique identifier (viz. “Gaurav”, son of the “Rastogi” family) is no longer unique now. By my reckoning, there must be another 5-600 people called “Gaurav Rastogi”, and another 5-10,000 people called “Amit Garg”. Living. Today. Waiting for their unique names.

I completely concur that this is a problem that needs a modern day solution. Many an email has been sent to the wrong Gaurav Rastogi or S. Raghavan. Sometimes, said Raghavan may not even be in the company. When said Raghavan got my second email meant for the internal Raghavan, he said something like “You think I left the company just to keep getting your stinking emails?!”


The Broader Context of Swatting Flies

obama-could-hurt-a-fly-the-caucus-blog-nytimescomA couple of weeks back, President Obama swatted a fly in the White House. It did not go unnoticed in the media. Since this blog is about global trends, it would be remiss if I didn’t cover this important event and put it in the context of fly-swatting around the world.

The President is clearly a fit man with great reflexes. During the election campaign he sank a three pointer on demand for the camera which earned him my everlasting admiration. This time he swatted a fly that was bothering him during an interview in the White House. Nailing a fly is never easy, however, I am somewhat skeptical about the bona fides of the White House fly. Was it a house fly? If so, is it possible that the North American house fly is an entirely different species from the flies that I grew up with in India? They do look somewhat fat and happy over here, compared to the lean, mean third world variety. I don’t believe – and I say this from considerable experience – that a human being can swat one of those Indian flies with their hands. With a fly swatter, maybe, but not your bare hands. I mean no disrespect to the Prez, but that fly was not the real thing.


Best Practices in Voter Bribery

Indian Rupee NoteIndia’s general elections are around the corner. As you know, the most important factor that determines the outcome of our elections is money – how much and how it is spent – in the crucial electoral process of buying votes.

The amount of money spent is, of course, a key determinant of electoral victory. We will cover that in a later article on Corruption and Campaign Finance. In this article we will discuss the state of the art in actually getting the bribes into the hands of the voters.


Getting Roadside Directions in India

Mumbai RoadsideIn Mumbai again. Yesterday I went to visit a friend of mine in the evening. He had moved to a new place in Khar close to Khar Gymkhana. His directions were somewhat sketchy so we had to stop a few times to get directions. It got me thinking about how different asking for and giving directions was in India.


My 2008 Wish “Less”

A very happy new year to all my readers. May you and your loved ones have a joyful 2008.

Wish lists are neat things. Unlike new year resolutions, they involve no effort on your part. And unlike predictions for the new year, you can’t be wrong about them. So I thought I would draw up a wish list and share it with my readers. Perhaps they could then add their own candidates for the wish list and then we could have a reality TV show where people from around India SMS (at premium rates) their wish list candidates and a panel of distinguished judges help us short list ten WLCs (Wish List Candidates) which we then take to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh who tells us that he can do nothing about them unless Prakash Karat and Sonia Gandhi agree on each one of them.

Seemed like an exercise in futility so I decided not to do a wish list. Instead here is a “Wish Less”. It is based upon the premise that we already have too much of everything.


I Hope You are Enjoying This!

I normally don’t post links if I don’t have anything to add to the matter. But this one is just so funny that I will.

Business Standard’s Kishore Singh wrote a review (here) of a book called “Entry From Backside Only” by Binoo John. An excerpt from the review

Now I am growing up in too many small places as Father is on transfer, and so I am not khit-pit in English in weigh these hi-fi people in Bombay and Delhi our, but I am knowing that this Mr John, he is kraking these jokes about small town people who are not so well knowing the language. At first, I am enjoying and laufing and saying, Oh, this Mr John, he is telling good-good jokes. But then he is saying that this is not write way to right English, and that this is Indian-English, which is not true English, and I am thinking perhaps he is CIA foreign hand, he is wishing to disallocate this great country.

Need I say more? If you grew up in India, go read the review, it’ll cheer you up.

I salute Kishore Singh. I wish I could write like that!