Saturday, April 19, 2008

Down Memory Lanes

I met my future wife, Jan, when we were both at Graduate School in Detroit. This led me to get pretty well acquainted with her colleagues in the Chemistry Lab. They were really fun loving and one in particular was hilarious. Mark had an amazing but different sense of humor and was usually not serious.

One day one of Jan's lab-mates went around very seriously asking what each of would do if they had a million dollars. I cannot remember the reason why this topic came up. It must have been Lotto fever time, you know when the jackpot is very high and everyone speculates what they would do with the winnings. Jan started talking seriously about some charity work she could involved in if she were freed of the need to work for a living. Couple of others answered in a similar vein. When it was Mark's turn, he very seriously answered "I have this crack in my butt, that has bothered me from childhood. As first order of business, I would get it fixed!!".

Mark liked to write sci-fi short stories. One story is as follows - Life on earth is going on normally till one day every human becomes mad. They seek single combat with anyone with the sole desire to kill the other person. After an hour of this bl0ody orgy, they cease fighting and go on with their life as if nothing has happened. At about the same time the next day, they again take up their cudgels or whatever weapon that is available and go again on a killing spree. Ties of friendship or kinship does not prevent bloodshed. Man kills wife, children, father. You get the picture.

This goes on for several days when finally one man, once upon a time a fine specimen of manhood, survives. He pauses and surveys the fact that there are no more humans left to kill when music bursts forth and a space ship lands and out come strange looking creatures. They award him a trophy and congratulate him on his victory. Turns out the madness and desire to kill was a result of the aliens desire to watch bloodsport. After the award ceremony, the winner turns to the aliens and asks what he should do next, now that he is the champion. The aliens tell him to procreate and start humanity again. The man then explains Birds And Bees to the aliens.

You know what the aliens say - Oops. They then depart. Like I said, different sense of humor.

Another lab-mate was Richard B or Rich for short. One day Mark answered the phone and the person on the line asked for Dick B. Mark told him that Rich was away. He then went on to add how Rich did not like being addressed as Dick and also how Rich made it a point to correct anyone who addressed him as Dick. Lastly he asked who the person on the line was. Prompt came the answer.

Dick B Senior

Saturday, April 12, 2008

What is in a name?

My name is Ramaraghavan pronounced रामराघवन. For those who do not speak Hindi try Raamaraaghavan - Raa rhymes with Baa

During my middle school years kids called me Raami. Why?

In high school my friends called me Raamaa but new teachers glancing at the student list frequently assumed I was a girl. They would look for a Miss Ramaaraaghavan. If you speak an Indian language you know the first five letters can be pronounced with the stress on maa making it a girls name as in रमाराघवन.

During undergrad years in Delhi guys called me Raamu (रामू) which is a typical name of a servant in Hindi films.

When I applied for a passport, I found I needed a last name and typical of people from the south I used my father's first name which is Srinivasan. My long name became longer and it became Ramaraghavan Srinivasan.

I found it was a good ice breaker at parties. Most people asked the same standard questions about the length of the name, what it meant, whether it stood for some village etc. To cap it all I would tell them with ghoulish delight how my friend has one of the longest name ever

Punyamurtula Venkata Hanumantha Seeta Ramachandra Swamy.

No Kidding. We all call him Swamy, but his wife calls him Raamu!! It comes as no surprise since he is her servant anyway.

So I shortened my name Raghavan. Even that proved to be difficult. Since I used to work at one of the big three automakers as a contractor, I tried explaining how one could rhyme it with minivan, caravan and they took to addressing me as Ragvan!!

So I gave up on that name too and now I am just simply Raag राग

About a decade ago I rented a truck and gave my name as R. Srinivasan since it would have been difficult spelling both the names. I then passed my driver's license. When I returned the truck, he could not find my rental record since the genius had entered my name as Art Srinivasan!!

A contractor came to our house to give us a quote for a deck. I introduced myself as follows "Hi I am Raag" and when we got the quote it said IRog Srinivasan.

In graduate school, my wife labmates used to call me the Ragman and even sang a song

Yeah he is the Ragman set to the famous Beatles tune. They even wrote two stanzas. Alas I lost the lyrics. Here is a link to the original Beatles song.

Three years ago when we had our second daughter Maalini, (मालीनी), I called up my wife's boss and left a message "Hi, my name is Raag. Jannavi had a daughter last night. Her name is Maalini. etc. etc.". You know what she sent her team?

Subject: welcome baby Maloni Srinivasan
Hi everyone,
Maloni was born last night. She weighed in at 5 lbs 5 oz and 18 inches long. Congratulations to the proud parents, Jannavi and Bob !!

You can call me Bob!!

Monday, April 07, 2008

The Most Beautiful City in India - A Contest

I am not making any assertions here about which city is the most beautiful city in India. Everyone likes their home town and having lived in both New Delhi and Madras, I am partial to both towns. So this is not a post about why either or both cities are beautiful. In fact I know most people would balk at calling Chennai a beautiful city. All I can say is I like it there.

In general what do people notice about India when they first land there? Dirt, trash, and, lack of hygiene everywhere. This is almost universal. People who have marveled at the Taj have also commented at the squalor elsewhere in Agra. All this is not new. Neither is this a diatribe on Indian cities. Let us see if we can make them better. So towards this I came up with this idea.

How about creating a The most beautiful city in India contest?

Naturally since this is an emotional question for most people and hard to deal with objectively, we need to define some set of objective rules to come up with an answer. With that as a setting let me share my thoughts on this. Please share your ideas too.
  1. Which cities should be included in this contest? Cities with a population of 1 million and above. If you choose a smaller number the sheer number of cities that would qualify would inundate the system. Additionally the problems that the larger cities face are an order of magnitude more complex than the smaller towns and so the comparison would tend to favor the smaller ones.
  2. How often should this contest be run? I feel once every other year is a justifiable interval since it will give the winning city the glory of the title for a reasonable time without the civic administration getting too complacent to rest on their laurels.
  3. What is the award? Rather than awarding a trophy at the end of the two years, I think a rotating shield is better with the list of past winners.
  4. Is there a cash prize and if so who gets it? I am not sure about this part.
  5. What are the criteria? To start with cleanliness should be be given the highest priority with aesthetic values given lower weight. I guess most Indians would be thrilled if the streets are not littered with trash and people do not pee in public. As conditions improve the weights can be adjusted. Other factors that could be added as time goes on are pollution, congestion etc.
  6. How to prevent regression of winning cities (PART-I)? Once a city wins the award it will keep harping about this award twenty years later. Indians are good at it. My cousin told me that everything in mathematics comes from Vedic Math!! The solution is easy. A winning city can advertise the fact for a total of 4 years. Two years when it holds the shield and two more if they do not repeat as winners. There should be some legal teeth to this. How?
  7. How to prevent regression of winning cities (PART-II)? Part of this contest is also to list the three worst cities!! Cities may not care to win the award but shaming them is a powerful tool since the residents and the media will excoriate the politicians and civic administration. This is similar to the Ig Noble prize.
  8. What happens two decades after this contest is started? Assuming that this works and cities do beautify, it is possible that the worst three are really not bad places to live in anymore. Dream on buddy!! We will cross this bridge when we come to it.
  9. Weather should be eliminated from the equation. Shimla, Bangalore, Pune will always beat, Delhi, Mumbai, and Chennai!! How does one take weather out of the equation?
  10. What is an objective panel of judges? Simple - media is best suited for this job since they have the best resources for this. I think one reporter from every major newspaper in every major city that qualifies for this contest plus national newspapers such as The Hindu and TOI. National magazines such as India Today and Outlook. TV channels. This list is not complete. Media must demonstrate size, minimum of (say) 1 million newspapers sold every day. What should the number be for magazine and TV stations? It is critical that a suitable panel is created. To prevent nepotism, all magazines should list their city affiliation (and be certified). They should not be allowed to vote for their city in any category. Oh, by the way, voting is is not via secret ballot.
I will add to this when I get more ideas