Reporters without borders is an organisation dedicated to the defence of press freedom. It condemns any infringement and restrictions imposed of freedom of press worldwide as well as protects journalists from attacks, threat and persecution for doing their work.
You can read more about them and their activities here
One of my blogger friends had requested me to publish information regarding an international cyber demo that RSF has called for. If you'd like to participate and support the cause of freedom of expression through freedom of Internet here are the details. I quote the following from the mail received:

"Reporters Without Borders is fighting to reduce the use of censorship and to oppose laws designed to restrict press freedom. 13countries have been singled out by Reporters Without Borders fora 24-hour online protest against Internet censorship.
When : 11 A.M. on 7 November to 11 A.M. on 8 November
The defence of online free expression and the fate of bloggers in repressive countries concern everyone. SoReporters Without Borders is offering Internet users tools to campaign against Internet predators and is calling on them to participate in an INTERNATIONAL CYBER-DEMO.
Everyone is invited to support this struggle by connecting to the Reporters Without Borders website ( between 11 a.m. (Paris time) on Tuesday,7 November, and 11 a.m. on Wednesday, 8 November.Each click will help to change the "Internet Black
Holes" map and help to combat censorship. As many people as possible must participate so that this operation Can be a success and have an impact on those governments that try to seal off what is meant to be a space where people can express themselves freely.
Protests will also be staged by Reporters Without Borders bureaux around the world to condemn Internet censorship and ethical misconduct of the Internet giants when operating in one of these countries."

Please spread the word around and participate in the protest if you believe in the fundamental right of all humans to express freely what they think.
Yahoo has a time capsule at this site.You can post your views,photos,drawings or just about anything. you have only 13 more days to contribute after which the capsule closes and will re-open only on yahoo’s 25 th anniversary.
I assume that the capsule would be opened in 2020 or 2021.

What is the one thing that might be of interest to someone who might open it then? Something that might have vanished from the world between now and 2020? Not much and even if there were to be drastic political and social changes, the youth of today would still be there to remember today and impart a sembalnce of continuity.
But if one were to think of 100 years from now, what aspects of today's life would engage the curiosity of a young person in 2110?

Religion? Would people still practise religions and fight in the name of God? Would they believe in God and prayers? Would they still have festivals and holidays?

Governments? Would they still be voting people to power and be powerless to hold them accountable for their actions? Would they still subject themselves to misery as a result of the policies and laws which their "representatives" frame "for" them? Would there still be borders and disputes over them?

Wild life? Would they still be able to see Tigers and peacocks and elephants?

Kitchens and cooking? Would they have kitchens in the house and would they still be cooking their own food? Would they know the meaning of terms like "saute", "baste", "marinate" "soak overnight"?

Marriage? Would the institution of marriage still survive? Would they know what family meant for the previous generations? Would they believe that it was possible for people to stay in a relationship for prolonged periods?

Paper money?

Distinctions between rich and poor, men and women, upper and lower castes?

Astrology and numerology?

If you were to write something for a time capsule to be opened in 2110, what would that be about?
It is tough when someone close to you is hurting. It is even tougher when they choose you to be the person in whom they confide their pain and suffering. There are times when you can muster nothing more than " I know how you feel" or "I am sure there is a grander design in all this and when you are out of this immediate pain and suffering, you might even be thankful that this happened this way" or some such lame platitude. You know that the other person looks up to you for a solution which you don't have nor are capable of thinking up one. You do want to help but feel powerless as there is no single formula for successful relationships. I found myself in this unfortunate situation recently and was quite happy to serendipitiously find some sound advice on the issue of "Letting go of Love" in this article. Ironically, the author is someone I had seen on the Oprah Winfrey show while surfing channels.I had always found it disconcerting that couples would choose to go and discuss their marital conflicts publicly with strangers aware of being watched by millions across the world. But I did find his advice on this issue quite sensible and useful. It helped me help my young friend see exactly what she needed to see. There is usually a tendency to excessiviely romanticise break-ups (influence of films? Devdas syndrome?)in such situations but this article takes the romance out and knocks some sense which is the best way to handle such situations. You can read the full article here.

Here are some excerpts:
"Are your standards too low? .."What is it about you that causes you to settle for somebody that you know will cheat on you, know will lie to you, know will make a commitment and then break it? What is it about you that you believe about yourself that you're willing to settle for that?" Recognize that you're settling and that you deserve more. Set a higher standard for yourself."

"Does he really even make you happy? (...) "There are times when you break up with somebody and you start missing them and you start thinking about all the good things. And then you're back with them for about 10 minutes and you go 'Oh yeah! Now I remember why I hate you!'" Don't kid yourself about what it was really like or glorify the past."

"Don't wait around because you think he's going to change. The best predictor of future behavior is past behavior, so the chance that he's going to ride in on his white horse and do the right thing is pretty slim. (...) "To the extent that there's some history, you don't have to speculate, you just have to measure."

"Ask yourself: Are you hiding in the relationship so you don't have to face the reality of being on your own? Don't stay with someone because it's comfortable and safe. It may seem more secure, but it's not healthy for you and it certainly won't help you get to a better place."

"If you want to be in a relationship, know that getting hurt comes with the territory. You just have to decide that you are durable enough, that you have enough confidence in yourself that you can handle it."

"Don't invest more than you can afford to lose. While it's important to move forward, you need to take things one step at a time. Don't put so much out there that you'll be emotionally bankrupt if things go south."

"Listen to what he's saying. If he's telling you that you want different things out of life and there's no way you can work as a couple, don't turn his words around into what you want to hear."

"There's a 50/50 chance a marriage is going to work if both people are head over heels in love, passionate and willing to climb the mountain, swim the river and slay the dragon to get to each other. That's with everybody crazy in love and running toward each other in that field that we see in the commercials. The problem you've got here is he's running the other way in the field! So if it's 50/50 when you're running toward each other, what do you think it is when the other person is running out of the field and hiding in the woods?"

After reading the Statistic above, whenever I look around and see people in successful relationships for long periods I begin to wonder if successful marriages are really "made in heaven"!
Artnavy wrote a nice post of her younger self interviewing the present person she is and suggested that I do a similar one with my 25 year old self. I loved the suggestion and thought about my aspirations and dreams as a 25 year old (U25) and how far I (me) had come by way of realising them. Reproducing our bizarre (has to be where it concerns me and there is not just one but two of me here) conversation below:

U25:(giggling away...)Hi, how goes?

Me: Excuse me! Could you stop giggling and exactly what is it that you want to know?

U25: My! My! We do have a short fuse dont we?

Me: I'd assume that at 25 you would have stopped giggling. Remember you are the mother of a 3 year old now and wife of a professor?

U25:You really thought all this would make a difference to me? I guess I will be just like this even when I am 40, even when I am 80 ( not that I want to live so long!)

Me: (Buries face in hand in total despair!)You do talk 19 to the dozen, dont you? cant you respond to a simple question with a simple answer? What kind of a role model are you going to be to that sweet little boy of yours?

U25:I hope I will be a good friend to him and let him live his life according to his choice. Of course I will try to give him the right set of values but not make his decisions for him. And if he ever makes a wrong choice and is in trouble, would be able to support him without being judgemental.You know as Gibran says, "Give them your love but not your thoughts."

Me:That is the first time you said something sensible. great, and I see that little boy has grown up to be just fine (may be in spite of you). As for that quote when will you stop being such an insufferable showoff, quoting all the time. I thought you were done with that when you completed your degree in Literature and moved on to Public administration.

U25:(giggles uncontrollably)I hope I will remember all this and go to my grave quoting Shakespeare:
"And, when he shall die, Take him and cut him out in little stars, And he will make the face of Heaven so fine That all the world will be in love with night And pay no worship to the garish sun."

Me:(in total despair)God forbid! And may be it is just as well that I suffer from such a loss of memory that I can hardly quote now without googling. (You can't do anything without giggling and I cant do anything without googling.) It is as well or else,I might not have had even this many friends left!! So other than being a general nuisance do you have any career ambitions? I see you are working for a bank now.

U25:Well, I once wanted to join the IAS. Early marriage and the attendant responsibilities have made it an unreal ambition. My choice of subjects has made it impossible for me to become a teacher. As my time is running out I have taken up the job as a bank officer but this is definitely short term. At 40, I hope to be teaching small children in some school.

Me:You succeeded in accomplishing half of it by quitting the bank but never actually qualified yourself in montessori skills or anything to help you get a job in a school for tiny tots. But of course your other jobs in banking software companies gave you the opportunity to travel and also teach, only you were teaching adults. But you did a fine job of it - people actually asked for you by name for specific assignments!

U25: (blushing) Ah, really? I would not have thought I was capable of that!!And travel, yes I always wanted to travel to distant lands.I also wanted to write something and learn French and sanskrit when i stop working? what happened to all that?

Me: Write,No. You never followed it up perhaps because of the demands at home and job. You even went through a period when you did not have the time to read anything worthy of being called good writing. But you do write blogs and there are kind hearted souls who read them and you even get praised once in a way. Sanskrit, you started but did not continue because you wanted interactive courses. French, yes. your 48 year self is doing diplome now.

U25:I always wanted to adopt a child, a girl child. Did it happen?

Me:No,it had to be shelved as husband and father-in-law were against itAnd you could not have another child yourself. So Siddhu is your only child.
Well young lady, meeting me after 23 years are you disappointed? Would you have liked me to turn out differently?Any regrets?

U25:Disappointed? well no. You know that early in life i trained not to expect too much in order to avoid disappointments.It seems like life has been more than kind to me with opportunities, comforts and the people in my life.I am happy for you but you tell me, are you ashamed of me - my lack of poise unmindful of public opinion, my over-simplification of life with home spun logic, my optimism bordering on naivete, my faith in the goodness of people.

Me: No, I think you are alright. in fact those very things are the solid base for the path of my life and all the good things that have happened to me. To tell you the truth, behind all this grey on a receding temple claiming wisdom there is still you, the enthusiastic 25 year old who wakes up every morning and waits for a miracle to happen. Only I speak much less, I show off less and am calmer and slower. I dont meet and interact with so many people like you did. Otherwise we are the same. I am glad we met and had this conversation. May be I will try to revive some of your personality lying dormant within me. Stay with me for the rest of my life and may be we will go to our grave quoting Shakespeare:
"Out, out, brief candle! Life's but a walking shadow, a poor player That struts and frets his hour upon the stage and then is heard no more. It is a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, Signifying nothing."
Tagging actually makes the major part of one's job easier by giving you the subject to write about but the challenge is to take it and make it interesting to the readers. I have been fascinated by the way each blogger brings their own distinct style and stamp to the same questions in a tag. So you go around and read the weird things about themselves that people have written - in fact some of them are not weird at all, they are amazing. Ranging from attention to minute detail to complete recklessness which could even be shocking!
But my job today is simple.Itchingtowrite wants me to talk about my 3 preferences under various categories. Talking about myself, since that is my specialty, here I go:

Three smells I love:
1. Babies ( especially after a bath and with all that powder and whatever they have been fed combined with the smell of oil and their natural smell...heavenly)
2.Sun-dried clothes.
3.first drops of rain (specially after a hot day.)

Three smells I hate:
1. Open drains
2. Smells from the sugar factory when the train crosses Nellikuppam ( mollasses?)
3. Baked stuff still smelling of eggs.

Note:Prolonged sinustis has reduced my level of sensitivity to smell. So I only react to strong odours.(may be a blessing?)

Three jobs that I have had in my life:
1.Bank officer /manager
2.Client services manager
3.Senior Consultant – training
But the ones I am actually proud of are
1.Scribe and reader for blind students in my college days.
2.Part-time teacher in a school
3.Mom of Siddhartha

Three movies that I could watch over and over:
1.Sound of Music
2.Any of Kamalhaasan’s Tamil films
3.It is a beautiful life (oops it is actually "life is beautiful" Thanks Kishore!)

Three fond memories:
1.Being moved to tears when thanked by the parents of a child for whose heart surgery I was one of the three students from our college who could donate blood when the operation was being done. The father said “God gave him life the first time and you are his little angels doing it again a second time.”

2.Being of the two in all of the the University of Madras to obtain a first class in B.A. English ( the department had not had a first class in the 12 preceding years) and also being awarded the best outgoing student prize.

3.All memories of my son growing up

Three jobs I would love to have:
1. Teaching very young kids
2. Painter ( yes anything which involves splashing colours)
3. Anything involving being with animals

Three things I like to do:
1.Listen to music
3.Play with or talk to kids.

Three of my favorite foods:
1. Pasta with plenty of cheese
2. Bisibelebath with chips
3. Rice and rajma.
(only three? there is so much more...)

Three places I would like to be right now:

Three things that make me cry:
1. Seeing small children suffer
2. Unfair accusations.
3. My own helplessness

Now I want all who come and read this to say any 3 things about themselves in the comments. Or please take up the tag and do it in their blogspots.

Note to Artnavy: I am working on your suggestion. May be the next post!
Words painted on the inner side of the toilet doors in the Alliance francaise, Bangalore:

The English translation ( not very clear in the picture) says:

Thou, in here
take on a humble posture
to relieve yourself of your burden
After answering nature's call
After placing in the urn, nature's little gift
Please let flow clear ripples of sheer water
And bring down on this glorious recipient
As`decoration this rounded lid
whose spartan structure like a tomb
Will bury all traces of unpleasant odour
- Alfred de Musset

What a brilliant way to make a boring job sound like a major ritual!

Reminds me of something I heard from my mother's uncle.Apparently When Samuel Johnson met an old lady with a snuff box he asked for a pinch of the stuff in the following words:
"Madam, will you please allow me to dip my digital extremeties into that odoriferous concavity and extract therefrom some pulverised atoms which when blown through my nasal cavities would cause grateful titillation to my olfactoroy nerves?"
The festival season and particularly Navratri is a time when I get to meet some of my friends who are usually busy with their jobs or families. These invitations for "haldi kumkum" during Navratri help women give their busy schedule a break and catch up with friends and other relatives. Even a self imposed recluse like me decides to dust off the cobwebs and honour these invitations.

During one of these visits, I met two of my old friends. One has a globe trotting, highly paying job in a big multinational but when she spoke about her job, she sounded very disillusioned and unhappy. She was complaining about the kind of power politics she had to endure day in and day out, the games people were playing and how finally none of it made any sense to her.Her words were "I am working my a&* off here, all to no avail."It seemed like she was staying in the job because that was the best job that her CV could fetch her in today's time and the company is a heavyweight name in the industry and since she was career minded, she had no option but to put up with the stress and carry on. The other lady was bubbly and happy with contentment emanating from every pore.She accepts assignments to teach English to corporates and those aspiring to take exams for admissions to foreign universities. She was telling us about the great feedback her sessions were receiving, how she was getting repeat assignments and how good she felt doing what she was doing. To hear her talk about her job and herelf, one might think that she held a very important position and had a great career. Moneywise too her earnings are nothing great by today's standards. She felt she was doing something important and useful and she was doing her job very well. If for any reason she stopped doing this she would find something else to do and do it with as much involvement and happiness.And as I said,that contentment and happiness were almost infectious. I kept wondering why my other friend could not see all the advantages of her job that were quite obvious but chose to feel wasted and discontented.

Perhaps it is because finally satisfaction has to come from within and nothing external can give it to you. Friend no.1 was constantly comparing her self with the other colleagues at work and how someone who was not as good as her was treated as her equal and worse how her boss was an idiot but was where he was because he had better PR skills (to use her words, her boss was there "by sucking up to the bosses and by taking credit for all that others do.") She could not be happy about the compensations she was receiving but was unhappy about what others were getting. I understand her completely as I have been in a similar plight and suffered similar stresses. Friend No.2 was clear about what she wanted from her job and life was happy getting it. As for feeling productive and useful this is again a matter of perspective and seeing the larger picture.

I was reminded of this story:
"One day, a gentleman on a walk passed a construction site and inquired of the workers, 'What are you doing?' 'I'm breaking rock out of the quarry,' said one. Another replied, 'I'm in charge of making the mortar that will cement the stones.' A third man, caked in mud, was pushing a wheelbarrow, and he stopped just long enough to say, with a sense of proud delight, 'I'm building a cathedral."

I guess the second friend thinks of any job she does as "building a cathedral." Great recipe for contentment, isn't it?
Just received a call from a friend who went to Ajmer to pray at the dargah Shariff of Hazrat Khwajah Moinuddun Chishti. When she tried to check into a hotel, she was asked for her passport by the hotel staff who probably thought she was a foreigner. Ok I forgot to mention she is from Assam and has north eastern features and complexion. So the people at the hotel decided to make sure of her passport details never mind the fact she spoke fluent Hindi.

Then I go to read the posts at Itchingtowrite's blog and see this post on preconceptions and stereotyping of people from specific regions. Some of the statements of her ill-informed relative made me want to laugh. But then I stopped myself and thought ;"How many times have I not heard people in my circle say things about someone being a typical Bihari Thug?" Don't we imagine people in Bihar to be at the throat of anyone from another caste, or blinding scheduled castes or kidnapping every child on the road? And that every bihari male kneads tobacco in their palm and keeps it under their tongue?

While most of the English- medium educated city-bred youth may deny the existence of such prejudices in their interactions, they exist across the country at all levels. One doctor from AFMC told me that they referred to all tamilians as "illad" ( as tamilian boys use this word meaning "No Da"). People who speak telugu are called Gults and North Indians are called CHOMS-chapathi oriented men.I am sure there are many more.

The trouble is that inspite of all the opportunities and information available to us, we do not really make an effort to understand the sub cultures within the country. What we know is mostly from stereotypes shown in films which are mostly caricatures and do not represent the ordinary man from the region. Tamilians do not eat idly/sambar for lunch, punjabis do not go about their day dancing Bhangra and UPites and Biharis do not have a yellow sticker with the list of kidnappings and rape for the day.They all lead ordinary boring lives like us, have the same kind of problems , desires and disappointments - only they speak a different language and eat differnt type of food. Beyond that we are all the same.

How do you explain that to this Tam Brahm mother-in-law of an Assamese friend who will not eat food cooked by her daughter-in-law ( because she is a non vegetarian?). And her disappointment and rejection of her grand daughter who looks assamese and nothing tamilian? How is it ok for her to accept her son who eats non vegetarian and reject her daughter-in-law? And the poor girl is barred from her own kitchen while the mom-in-law comes to her "son's house".And what did she expect the grandchild to look like - in a mixed marriage like this?

The other day our French professor asked us to suggest a topic on Indian Culture to discuss with a French Visitor to our class . One of my classmates immediately said "Unity in diversity"! We have been so indoctarinated about these concepts and accepted these cliches that we don't even bother to question if these exist in reality. Ok, by unity if we mean that we are not killing each other every day because of these differences, yes it is there. Is that the best that we can hope to have?
Why is it becoming so difficult to ask simple questions and get straightforward answers? Why do people have to think deeply before answering any questions and give a safe reply or a "correct" reply?
A friend once said that she attended a meeting of japanese and she found that after each person spoke, they were all silent for a few minutes and then started responding one after another. The period of silence is intended to ensure that they take in what has been said, process it and then respond rather than say something quickly and impulsively.
Makes sense in a serious business setting but imagine bringing the same attitude to polite personal conversations!

Let me give you an example. I met a friend after a long time on my walk and asked: "all ok?' and the reply was :"Why, do I look different?"
I guess the fault was mine.I should have stuck to the good old "how are you?"

This is even better.
I asked a friend who has gone to a US university recently if he had many friends in the US. The reply was: "I have sent a mail to a batchmate from college and if he replies quickly, I'll be able to tell you in a day or two."
Apparently this friend was supposed to send him the contact addresses of all their common acquaintances living in the US. Now you see the connection?
He thought he could give me the exact number of his friends in the US once he gets the list I think!

In future whenever I frame a question I will make it multiple choice and tell them "answer yes /no or don't know". Or perhaps I will tell them "the information you give WILL NOT be used against you and I could not care less if it wasn't 100% accurate."

Are our interactions becoming more serious that every question is taken seriously and answered as accurately as possible?
Or it is just that I am stuck with weird friends?
Or is there something seriously wrong with my questions?

( was feeling particularly bored this evening and thought this might provoke some of you to share similar experiences. Otherwise my friends are not all that weird.Their only weirdness is that they continue to be my friends!)
Ever so often we have all been faced with a situation of having to run in order to stay in the same place. This delightful phrase has its origins in that deep and deceptively bizarre work "Alice through the looking glass".

"Alice looked round her in great surprise. 'Why, I do believe we've been under this tree the whole time! Everything's just as it was!'

'Of course it is,' said the Queen. 'What would you have it?'

'Well, in our country, said Alice, still panting a little, 'you'd generally get to somewhere else - if you ran very fast for a long time as we've been doing.' 'A slow sort of country!' said the Queen. 'Now, here, 1 see. it takes all the running you can do, to keep in ;he same place. If you want to get somewhere else, you must run at least twice as fast as that!'

I have used this phrase so often and felt stupid when I learnt about a fundamental evolutionary principle assocaited with this idea.It is called the Red Queen Principle and it was proposed by the evolutionary biologist L.Van Valen. He argues that since all the species are coevolving, improvement in one species would result in a competitive advantage over the other species. In order to catch up with that and maintain the equilibrium, the other species have to adapt and improve too. Since this would effectively result in all them working harder in order to maintain the same balance among them, he named it the Red queen principle, of course referring to the above character.

One finds the same kind of race between the human body and viruses which is referred to as the "genetic arms race" where as the human body develops resistance for certain types of diseases, the viruses causing the diseases mutate and try to counter the resistance and the race goes on.You can read more here and here and I hope you will find it fascinating.

Perhaps all that we claim as human progress is also finally just a matter of necessity for staying in the race. There was no choice but to run and get better or we might have just perished. Definitely true of organisations and systems that if they do not respond to their external environment they perish. Survival of species is a definitely more competitive game than that.

So it seems that the final answer to Life, Universe and Everything may not be 42 but the Red Queen Principle!