Wednesday, November 03, 2010

Two years of tuxing

Two years ago to the day, my sister got herself a blue Acer Aspire one. It was my first brush with a netbook and the awesomeness that is SSD. More meaningful however, was my first interaction with a modern Linux distro.

I had dabbled a bit with Mandriva and Red Hat way back in 2004 and had wrung my hands in frustrationat having to visit the terminal each time i wanted to install a program. Also, the repositories were as big as they are now, plus internet speeds were still only a notch up on the ancient dialups i grew up on. Suffice to say, I couldn't figure out what the great fuss was and i decided to give linux a pass then.

Circa 2008 and i switched on the system and lo behold, in 6 seconds, the SSD launched me into the desktop. i was taken aback and i searched around to see if this was a reworked BIOS screen that would lead to a booting sequence, but no, it was the desktop of the Linpus Lite distro.

While limited largely by hardware, the OS was snappy, and once i activated the XFCE desktop, way more productive. And thank the stars, application installation was relatively hassle free once i figured out how to use the YUM installer. But i kept thinking - There has to be a better linux experience out there!

So i took a plunge and downloaded the 9.04 version of Ubuntu (Jaunty to us) and installed it. Although it gobbled up 4 GB out of the measly 8 GB HDD, it ran lightning quick on the netbook, and the apps base was noticeably larger than Linpus. Despite the horror stories, most of the hardware ran well with all drivers installed in the background.

In the next six months, i got myself a netbook, went through Karmic, Lucid and Maverick on it and the experience got progressively better. I ran Open Suse, Fedora, Mint in Virtual Boxes but kept coming back to Ubuntu. It was simple, similar to Windows, almost ascetic in hardware requirements and NEVER crashed on me. I also noticed that I booted into windows less frequently, maybe down to three times a week, just to keep my patches and AV definitions up to date. Windows was also required to run those oddball devices that refused to run on non windows systems, or to hook up to external monitors/ projections.

Well, i discarded my netbook and got myself a nice HP DV6 and dual booted it. This was the first time i ran into problems with Ubuntu, and Open suse. The thing with Linux is that it's great for Hardware that came out a couple of months before the last kernel release. What it's not so good at, is being compatible with upcoming or brand new hardware that's come out. With a new computer, You are playing a game of roulette, hoping that your computer will work pretty well out of the box.

I had problems getting my Wifi and my Switchable graphics working under 10.10. Of course the ever friendly forums helped me figure out how to get the wifi working, with a bit of compiling and making, but with windows, you don't have to do all that. It's something that Linux must work on. Having to figure out how to get Wifi working was something acceptable in 2003, not 2010. Of course the switchable graphics don't work, but I've made peace by not installing the radeon drivers for linux (They crashed my ubuntu desktop anyway) and making do with the Intel HD graphics which run all the compiz options on max.

Win 7 unfortunately for Linux, is just as a good an OS and i think that most people would be happy enough to carry on with it. that's where i think the linux community missed it's chance to go mainstream.

But still, as a great example of how open source can really work, i recommend everyone to atleast try out a live CD, if for nothing else, the novelty of an idea that an entire OS can be run off the USB drive and still access your hard disk files and do some productive work.

Back to Bashing.

Tuesday, November 02, 2010

Fast of the Furious

Something unfortunate will happen in the next 48 hours, but i will be very surprised if it makes it to the frontpages of newspapers. Not when we have plethora of distractions in the forms of Diwali, Star celebrations and new releases. But if you will take some time, please ponder over what Irom Chanu Sharmila has undergone for the last ten years.

A decade in which she has been on a fast non stop. To put that into perspective, ten years ago, Shri Amitabh Bacchan hosted the KBC for the first time. Ten years ago, i buckled and stumbled my way into Senior secondary. I completed schooling, bid adieu to college, crossed the sea, watched friends get engaged, married and deliver babies. All this while, Irom Chanu Sharmila continued to fast. And she fasts still.

For those interested, she has been on a peaceful fast, protesting the carte blanche granted to our army, in their operations in the troubled paradise of the north east. I claim to be no expert in the happenings over there, but surely, ten years is a ridiculous amount of time for any government to not step in, if only to save what is by now, a shortened life.

In a world which grudgingly allows anyone their 15 seconds of fame, perhaps Irom's methods were doomed from the start. Our ignorance of her path, tread so effectively by Mahatma Gandhi before, is symptomatic of the general apathy of the mainland, towards her peripheral daughters. Hers is not a cause celebre, and when a state can be blockaded for months without central intervention, it's perhaps too much to expect anyone to step in and talk to her.

Fasting is the least of her privations. To avoid a scandal, the local authorities have regularly arrested her and force fed through the nostrils and released her when her health improved. And each time she's been released, she goes back to fasting and gradually weakens. When the point of alarm is reached, the authorities step in again, and the vicious cycle continues. over and over. for ten years. non stop.

A stark contrast from the heady and bustling scenes witnessed when any of our beloved politicians or actors decide fast for a day, under the careful glare of the camera and our commentators have a field day. Who can forget the money shot- The governor or a junior minister walking with a smile and a glass of lemon juice which is then magically held by both parties, for the benefit of flash photography, and then a great roar of triumph as the fast is broken. But then again, life is not fair and not equal for everyone, so why must legitimate, non violent protest be any different?

I have not found any interviews of her, so from the outside, i can only express my respect for her continued faith in democracy and justice, when the said institutions have only neglected her doggedly for the last ten years. I am humbled by her determination to continue but i can only hope that someone steps in and saves her. A democracy is strengthened not just by a show of numbers at the ballot box, but also by lending platforms for all sections of society to voice their opinions, without fear of being in the minority, and with a faith that the state will oblige and at least grant them a fair hearing.

It is not enough to pay lip service to assert that the assimilation of all sections of our society is complete. Not when we have such examples of our neglect and collective failure to engage with our fellow Indians. So, while the rest of us burst crackers, light our lamps, meet our friends and family, and pray for the gift of light in our lives, spare a thought for someone who starves for justice, and if nothing else, at least a sympathetic ear.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

MADrasi Lite

Necessity might be the mother of all invention, but right now, I am being forced to innovate out of desperation. As I await another flight to take me back to Dubai, let me share a quick tip to anyone who is traveling via Anna international airport to any destination outside. Don't bother reaching the airport 4 hours in advance. It's a precaution which is not appreciated and hence not rewarded either.

A bonus tip, when trying to make yourself comfortable on the luggage trolley due to the lack of seating, make sure you sit across the luggage rack and not parallel to the hard, cold metal rails.

Ranting aside, the main purpose of my entry is to highlight something which struck me as I traveled to the airport late at night.

Chennai has changed of course. Something that is always expected and is natural. We change as people and when we return, we yearn to return to the old and the familiar even though we know that the world as we remember it no longer exists and that the passage of time bestows rose filtered glasses on our eyes. The same thing happened to me.

But the changes are not readily apparent to anyone, during the daytime. But when you travel the road at night, the city undergoes a transformation. Gone is the gaudy heavy artifice that dots our city in the name of modernization. Look closely enough during the night and you will catch a glimpse of the timeless beauty who lurks inside the modern, swinging city trying to make its presence felt on the national stage.

The lovely tree dotted roads that twist and turn and writhe through the various hidden pockets. Roads which have been tread upon by millions during the day, sun beaten and dust worn. But at night time, she runs free, inviting you to travel along with her, thrills and bumps on the house. Gone are the playgrounds where I continuously embarrassed myself till I could take no more. A decision that I’ve had ample opportunity to regret ever since. All I see in their stead are apartments. Concrete blocks that hurt the eye with their uniformity.

The haunting beauty of the flickering neon lights as they fade away, their purpose served and no eyes to catch. They hang from every billboard, every market, every eating joint, shopping malls. White, yellow, red, green, blue. A reflection of different sensibilities, moods and tastes. A city synonymous with giant cutouts of its idols, who nowadays adorn not the posters of their upcoming “Mass Movies”, but instead appeal to their fans to try products which, to paraphrase “ even their dogs will not use”.

The huge sprawling malls that seem to have sprung up all over the city. Paradise where the young throng, budding passions engaged, ambitions birthed, wants and needs, disappointments and resolve created. Hey, chennai is growing. Spencer's isn't the only hangout anymore. They jostle for space with the small shops, the ubiquitous Potti Kadais, sacks of grains locked up safely, where things are still sold while being weighed in cups. The lifeline of those who have been left out of urban india's progress.

The wooden stools and benches that shake in the wind as water trucks thunder by, spilling water in thick splashes on the road. Trucks that were eagerly awaited during the thirsty summers when pots of water divided united families. Now, the only ones chasing after them are the loyal dogs, who never forget who they are supposed to bark and chase, no matter how flat the world becomes. How the mighty have fallen.

Walled off compounds that lay a curtain on the lives of the well to do, their gardens still moist and filled with the echoes of birds. Benchmarks by which ambitions are judged and plans hatched as dreams take flight. Places where the capital L has long lost relevance, replaced instead with the capital C. In the land of Ambassadors and Marutis, I was glad to lay my eyes on a Porsche and a VW sedan. Heck there's a huge BMW showroom en-route to the airport. Progress it certainly is.

Chennai. Dependable like piping filter coffee. Fiery like the molagga podi in Murugan idli kadai. Swaying and nodding to rhythm like the madisar gang at music academy.

Then you hit the airport and the illusion is shattered. Sigh. When, oh when, did the airport become Howrah station, I say?

Homes have become buildings, friends have become strangers, haunts are now haunted, tastes have become old fashioned. I have become old in a city where I was once treated like a child. Each time I visit the city, the whispers from past grow fainter and fainter. All that remain are dying echoes calling out, ebbing away. They don't even sound familiar anymore. And yet, like a rubber band, I keep coming back. With a yearning that dies when I step on its soil and which grows stronger when I’m away.

What is the source of this longing? That the city reminds me of a time when I never pondered over my frailties? A sweet time unencumbered by expectations of self and life? A period where I lived life one day at a time, carefree? A place where I was myself before I learned how to wear different masks to adapt to this world? Or the promise of the unattainable, that which we've lost and know we'll never regain?

Until next time Chennai. Until next time.

Friday, March 12, 2010

A Mausterpiece

I have a confession to make. For the last few months, I have been suffering. Suffering from a complete lack of interest in things around me. The scheme and pattern of life seems monotonous, with nary a break in between, to relieve this bored soul. The monotony of daily humdrum grates inside, but there is little to no interest in pursuing a solution for the same.

This extends from (remaining) relationships, interest in the happenings around me (Whoop dee doo! Women have reservation in a parliament that was founded on a bedrock of equality in the first place), movies, music and yes, even books.

A dear friend of mine had mailed me and had asked me what book I was reading at the moment. His question had me stumped, as I was unable to give a definite answer one way or the other. On one hand, I have not been reading the traditional bound books regularly of late. There have a been a couple of wrestling related biographies, two Pynchon novels I am still trying to figure out, and a whole stack of classics that I bought at a good price at the book fair, and which have been gathering dust ( and religiously cleaned) since. But it's not the same sort of reading that I had been erstwhile pursuing in school or college even.

However, there is a caveat. There has been one form of fiction which I have been doggedly pursuing for the last 7 years. That form of fiction usually associated with the younger ones of society. Our first introduction to the world of infinite colours, shapes and lessons in morality, achievement and the maze of relationships that await us in adulthood.


Sure, I follow the mainstream comic arcs like anyone else. I too await with bated breath for the resolution of the Blackest night and welcome the Return of Bruce Wayne. But outside of Marvel and DC, and to some extent Vertigo, I have been spreading my reading list and picking some true gems. Two graphic novels in particular, have made me pause and think and consequently elevate the appreciation I have for comic books.

One of these was the brilliant Aesterios Polyp, which I will write about someday, and the other one is the subject of this blog post.

Maus by Art Spiegelman.

Ever since I read The Watchmen by Alan Moore, I started thinking that maybe, just maybe, comic books could at time push and stretch into the realm of literature. Very few books have generated that kind of a response from me. I felt the same way reading Maus, aware that I held in my hand a piece of work so remarkable and so unlike anything i'd read before, that it was sure to provoke long sessions of introspection in the days ahead.

I have read, heard and watched quite a few material dealing with The Holocaust in my time. I have been horrified and saddened by those stories. But the personal connection just wasn't there. It was like reading about the World wars, looking at the maps, pausing at the fading photos in our history books, before moving onto the cold war period.

But this book! It's not just the metaphorical transformation of Jews into mice, Aryans into Cats, Poles into pigs, Americans into dogs that grabs you. No, what is remarkable is to read about the story within the story that unfolds. Art's battles with his past, his guilt whenever he sees his father, coming to terms with the baggage of his father's survival, the ending of the first part, where his father stands outside the gates of Auschwitz for the first time. Remarkable scenes the sent a shiver down the spine.

It is a relentless merciless tale that pounds you with details of human suffering and indignity. The tragedy in the tale is not just the horrors Art's father survives, but, as another survivor puts it to Art, “It was not the best who died, nor the best who survived. It was random”. No, there are no fairy tale endings here either. We find out that Art's mom, who battles both a frail health, depression as well as oppression, still fails to find an anchor of happiness and succumbs to fatalism. Art's father survives the worst of the war, only to wage another war against loneliness, trying in vain to reconnect with a son who is more interested in his tales of past suffering, but shies away from helping Art out with his present suffering.

Two things that linger on for me. After his father talks about the gas chambers, Art comes out onto the porch with his wife, where they discuss their inability to comprehend the full extent of what his father had endured. A couple of bugs sting them and Art sprays the bugs with pesticide with a nonchalance that the Nazis had in the concentration camps. The other of course is the beautiful way he shows the Mice donning a pig's mask (assuming a polish identity) at various times, to survive in various situations. If there has been a truer depiction of the various garbs we adorn in our lives, I would love to read it.

Maus is work of brutal, honest art. There are images in there that will haunt me forever. It's as much a celebration of survival as it is an exploration of our innate darkness. It is also depressing to realise that a race which has been subject to persecution of the worst kind, today indulges in the same atrocities that were once lent upon them.

Sometimes, literature like this can make elements of nihilism seem very compelling and hard to argue against. Stuff like this can both increase your hope in humanity and decrease your optimism about the future at the same.

After reading Maus, I can no longer feel feel a twinge of embarrassment at revealing what I have been upto. My friend, I read comics. Proudly. And I am not a kid.