Saturday, April 23


Now here’s a fascinating example of how the Chinese Civil Service Examinations were conducted. I quote:

The Chinese examination system, stretching though two thousand years of Chinese history, theoretically created a system of meritocracy, in which any man of whatever background could join the governing class by means of his learning. By late Imperial times, successful candidates were appointed only to districts other than their own, to avoid conflicts of interest and other seeds of local corruption. But the examination system itself became increasingly bureaucratic and exacting, leading to a condition, according to Benjamin Elman, in which "cheating became a cottage industry." Since candidates and their possessions were physically searched before they could enter the examination hall, in which they were locked for the three days of the examination, it is hard to imagine how successful any of the attempts at cheating actually were. This handkerchief is covered with hand-brushed tiny characters representing some of the texts a candidate was required to know.

Here’s another extraordinary garment. A silk jacket from China covered with tiny writing.

The entire silk jacket is covered with tiny script, essays. It is thought to be used for cheating, but its just extraordinary. Here are more details on this and more photographs.

Cheating is an honourable profession. I was further reminded of this when I read this story from a Pakistani Newspaper. I quote:

In 1978, a certain friend of mine in the Education Department asked me, “Would you like to become an invigilator for the LL.B. exams?” In my naivety to exercise ‘total control’ over the would-be custodians of law, I said, “Yes.” I was assured of a ‘hefty’ daily allowance of Rs20.

Laced with an appointment letter, I reached the examination centre with a thudding heart. The very thought of the authority vested in me made me feel both elated and elevated. However, after the tintinnabulation of the bell, as I entered the hall, puffed up with pride, I received an instant shock. Most of the students were old timers, be-spectacled and awe-inspiring. On the other hand, they were visibly relaxed to have a youngster as their invigilator.

Barely ten minutes after the distribution of the question paper, I saw them brazenly taking out carefully written out scraps of paper from their bulging pockets. I must admit, not all of them were involved in this nefarious activity – others preferred to take out books from below the desks. Then they started patiently turning pages to find the answer to the question they were going to attempt first. I was flabbergasted and couldn’t believe my eyes.

I heard about this new way of cheating in India. You write your mobile number on your answer sheet. Then the examiner calls you up and you negotiate. The price you pay is dependent upon how many marks you want to achieve. And then you get it. Here’s another way, Micro Slips. I quote:

‘Micro slips’ are the photostat copy of pages from books or subject notes in a very reduced size, sometimes even smaller than 25 per cent of the actual size of the text.

“Many of the UMC cases caught by invigilators and flying squads members using ‘micro slips’ are an eye-opener. For instance, in one such case this year, the student had more than two dozen ‘micro slips’. With too small a font size, the student must be carrying almost half of the book,” revealed a senior UMC branch official.

The trend witnessed among students with these ‘micro slips’ is not restricted only to a particular course or subject but used in Science, Commerce and even Arts. “There is an option in the photostat machines where we can reduce the size of the font to the desirable extent. Generally, students get these made from their books only. Excluding the margins of the book, sometimes the slips (photostat copy of both the pages of the book) could be smaller than the size of a palm. The photostat shops do not charge extra for making these micro slips and some also do not make this blatantly,” revealed the owner of one of the photostat shops on the campus.

How about this one?

The Class 10 and 12 board exams have been marred by rampant cheating in centres across states even as the authorities chose to look the other way. Exams in Hajipur near Patna witnessed mass copying. At the Surya Dev Memorial School, one of the 1,400 centres in Bihar, the students had access to 'helpers', who were delivering guidebooks and answers without being stopped by the school authorities or the police.

The helpers were seen climbing the school's walls to reach their candidates. Some were passing on chits inside classrooms using bamboo poles. In one instance, a helper outside the school gate was seen passing a paper to a policeman inside the premises. Despite the evidence on camera, the examination controller at the centre claimed that the tests were being conducted in a fair manner.

At the Madangiri Inter College in Paliganj near Patna, the candidates had a guide sitting with them for the maths paper. The invigilators in the room even tried to shield him from the media. They formed a ring around him to prevent him from being caught by the magistrate's flying squad. When the magistrate eventually caught the guide, the teachers tried to help him flee. "I caught a boy handing chits to the students. I handed him over to the authorities," said Magistrate Chandramohan Prasad.

But the school administration denied any wrongdoing. "We have made adequate arrangements so that the exams are conducted fairly. No unfair means were used," claimed Krishnachandra Singh, principal of Madangiri Inter School. Instances of copying were reported from Yavatmal near Nagpur. Relatives of students were seen flinging chits inside classrooms during the exams at the Vasantrao Vimukt Ashramshala.

The cheating continued even as policemen stood and watched. The students also had books hidden in their desks. When Headlines Today spoke to school authorities, they claimed that stopping cheating was the responsibility of the state education board. In Jammu, police arrested 21 students. Taking a leaf out of the film Munnabhai MBBS, the students were using earphones plugged to their mobile phones to cheat.

The incident occurred at an exam centre 15 km from Jammu during the information technology paper. The police seized the mobile phones and registered a case against the students. Worse still, students in Bihar's Araria region went on the rampage after the college management did not issue admit cards on time. They set furniture and office equipment on fire. The fire soon engulfed the entire college building. The mob consisted of around 300 students who had not been given exam hall tickets for their Class 12 boards. Their tickets did not come as the principal had not submitted their exam forms.

I specially liked the irony of them using mobile phones to cheat in the Information Technology Exam.

Friday, April 22

Just what is a 25 Standard Deviation Move?

I had mentioned this level of movement last year at several lectures. Mr. Viniar who was the CFO of Goldman Sachs said in 2007, we are seeing things that were 25 standard deviation moves, several days in a row.

What does a 25 Standard Deviation mean? Does it really mean anything? These chaps actually tried to put some context around this 25 SD move. I am going to quote some extracts:

a 5-sigma event corresponds to an expected occurrence of less than just one day in the entire period since the end of the last Ice Age; a 6-sigma event corresponds to an expected occurrence of less than one day in the entire period since our species, Homo Sapiens, evolved from earlier primates; and a 7-sigma event corresponds to an expected occurrence of just once in a period approximately five times the length of time that has elapsed since multicellular life first evolved on this planet

So we are at 7 sigma and we are already way back into the mists of time on this planet. “ok ok, so get on with it”

These numbers are on truly cosmological scales, and a natural comparison is with the number of particles in the Universe, which is believed to be between 1.0e+73 and 1.0e+85 (Clair, 2001). Thus, a 20-event corresponds to an expected occurrence period measured in years that is 10 times larger than the higher of the estimates of the number of particles in the Universe. For its part, a 25-sigma event corresponds to an expected occurrence period that is equal to the higher of these estimates but with the decimal point moved 52 places to the left! 

They explain this in a different way.

UK  National Lottery is currently was offering a prize of £2.5m for a ticket costing £1. Assuming it to be a fair bet, the probability of winning the lottery on any given attempt is therefore 0.0000004. The probability of winning the lottery  n times in a row is therefore 0.0000004 n , and the probability of a 25 sigma event is comparable to the probability of winning the lottery 21 or 22 times in a row.  
And we should not forget Goldman’s losing streak – Goldman did not just experience a single 25-sigma event, but experienced several in a row – or forget that other institutions also experienced 25-sigma events. If the probability of a single 25-sigma event is low, the odds of two or more such events are truly infinitesimal. For example, the odds of two 25-sigma events on consecutive days are equal to 3.057e-136 squared, which is 9.3450e-272. This is as likely as winning the lottery about 42 times in a row. The corresponding expected occurrence period is the square of 1.309e+135 years – that is, 1.713e+270 years – a number so vast that it dwarves even cosmological figures. As Oscar Wild might have put it: to experience a single 25-sigma event might be regarded as a misfortune, but to experience more than one does look like carelessness

So before you decide to beat up the banks, have a think about what they were faced with. But then again, one can question, just what kind of a business are you running where extremes of this kind are present? How do design contingencies of this nature? Or put in scenario’s of this kind? Scenario Analysis is one of the most common ways of trying to analyse how things might happen in the future, but if you had to have some scenario’s of wildly cosmologically oriented events like this will need several universe sized computers to analyse.

The mind boggles.

Thursday, April 21

Making a living out of religion

See this story in the Arab News about the Imams and Muezzin’s. I quote:

The monthly pay for a muezzin is barely SR1,200, while an imam receives a maximum of SR4,000 per month. How is it possible that the monthly unemployment benefits of SR2,000, to be paid early next year, is more than what the muezzin gets? Officials of the Ministry of Islamic Affairs, Endowments, Dawa and Guidance claimed what is paid to imams and muezzins is not a monthly salary in the strictest sense of the word, but a reward from the Beit Maal Al-Muslimeen (Finance House of Muslims). They said that nobody should be paid for worshipping God.

However, many imams and muezzins have no other job to do except lead prayer, deliver sermons and look after the affairs of the mosques. A large number of them have no income other than the little payment they get from the ministry.

Some of the mosques do not have housing facilities for imams and muezzins who are obliged to rent out despite their meager incomes. Is the ministry, which owns a lot of Wakf (endowment) buildings, unable to provide them with accommodation? The imams and muezzins are entitled to a month’s leave every year. Ironically, the reward in this case will go to those who cover for them! The regulations do not differentiate between imams and muezzins who are committed to their work and those who come to the mosque once or twice a week. They all get the same reward.

So since this job is voluntary and aimed at serving the religion, I believe that if the monthly reward is abolished, about 90 percent of the imams and muezzins will raise banners saying their jobs are for sale! The solution to this problem is making these jobs official with steady monthly payments, pay rises and all other benefits. They should be given to graduates of Shariah colleges after they pass intensive courses and studies.

This reminds me of a nice little circular argument. These people are taught about Islam so that they can teach other students about Islam who go forth and become teachers and and and and. Such are the logical inconsistencies of a country ruled by religion rather than secular principles. And more of this will come through slowly.

Plus given this level of salaries, who do you think will be the Imam’s and Muezzin’s in the Saudi Mosques? The students who could not get any good jobs with higher paying salaries. So you end up with the dregs of the students who couldnt hack it in the real world spending their lives in poverty, further teaching their congregations with their level of expertise.

Just incidentally, I read this article on what happened in India when a Saudi Mullah dropped in India. This is so cringeworthy. The Indians were almost like rolling over and wagging their tails. Where is your pride, you godforsaken morons? The Saudi’s practise racism and look down upon you and you morons forget your rich history and debase yourself in front of these bubbleheads? Bah!

I dont have the link, hence am pasting the article in here.

The Antics of the Mullahs Never Cease

By K. Itarwala

The antics of the mullahs and their clones truly never cease to amaze—and disgust—me. The same, I suppose, could be said of most priests, ‘holy’ men and other such creatures who claim to be religious authorities in other faith traditions, but here I will restrict myself just to the ‘Muslim’ case.

Last month, Muhammad Burhanuddin, the head priest of the Dawoodi Bohra sect (a branch of the Mustalian sect, which, in turn, is a branch of the Ismaili sect, which, in turn, is a branch of the Shia sect, and which [phew! finally!] is a branch of Islam [as it is conventionally understood]), celebrated his 100th birthday. Vast sums of money were spent by his unthinking followers in an unprecedented birthday bash. They even sponsored six pages of advertisements in the Times of India to hail their leader as God’s gift to humankind—at the cost of who knows how many tens of lakhs or perhaps even crores of rupees!

Being from a family that was, years ago, excommunicated (thankfully!) from the Daudi Bohra community for speaking out against the greed and corruption of its head-priest, I have a somewhat insider’s knowledge of the reality of this man and his cronies. In order to do my bit of good, at a time when the media, including even sections of the Sunni media, was agog with stories singing his praises, I penned a couple of articles exposing Burhanuddin for what he is. I pointed out how, using appeals to religion, he and his family had risen from rags to riches and now presided over a vast empire. I mentioned how, in order to reinforce his authority among his blind followers, he claims that no Bohra can be admitted into heaven without his assent. I drew attention to how he uses the weapon of baraat or the threat of excommunication to expel any Bohra who dares to challenge his authority or even to critique his ways that have no sanction whatsoever in religion, if understood sensibly. And so on.

I emailed my articles to a couple of newspapers and websites, including some run by ‘Muslims’. Sadly, though not unexpectedly, none of them deigned to publish any of them. I say ‘unexpectedly’ because I am aware of the immense economic clout that Burhanuddin and his henchmen exercise, lavishly patronising the media in order to project the myth of the Bohra head-priest as a pious do-gooder. The vast sums of money that must have been paid up to the Times of India for the advertisements glorifying Burhanuddin are a case in point. I am given to believe that the Kothar, the Bohra religious establishment, likewise generously patronises other media outlets, including sections of the Sunni press, in similar ways. The Kothar also reportedly makes it a point to pass on money on a regular basis to a range of influential Sunni institutions and clerics so as to keep their mouths shut—that is their way of preventing them from speaking out against the Bohra head-mullah’s dictatorial ways and a host of practices that he enforces that have no justification whatsoever in the Quran. These Sunni beneficiaries of his largesse, I am sad to say, have sold their consciences for just a few pennies.

The Quran very explicitly critiques those who take fallible human beings as what it calls ‘lords’. In a verse that has universal applicability, it states, ‘They have set up their religious leadersand scholars as lords, instead of God’ (9: 31). Most Muslims fondly imagine that the phenomenon that this verse describes applies only to Jews and Christians, and not to themselves. That, however, is not quite the case, for notwithstanding the particular context in which the verse was revealed, it suggests to us a phenomenon that applies universally, even to those who call themselves ‘Muslims’. Some ‘Muslims’ might protest, saying that they do not worship their mullahs as ‘lords’, and so this definitely does not apply to them. My point is that the concept of lordship indicated in this verse is not restricted to worship, and also applies to the unthinking following of all sorts of ‘religious leaders’ or ‘scholars’ in the belief that they are the representatives of God. The tendency to imagine that mullahs, priests, rabbis or pujaris are God’s spokesmen and that blindly assenting to them is what God demands is, lamentably, a universal one, and ‘Muslims’ are no exempt from this error, which the Quran condemns in no uncertain terms.

The unfortunate habit among ‘Muslims’ of calling their mullahs as ‘maulana’, which means ‘lord’, well exemplifies the phenomenon that this Quranic verse indicates. The verse certainly tells us something about how deluded those ‘Muslims’ are who fervently believe that their half-baked mullahs, whom they take as their ‘lords’, are their stepping-stones to heaven. This applies fully in the case of the Daudi Bohras, as I have just indicated, but also in the case of the various bickering sects among the Sunnis.

A fortnight ago, the imam of the Masjid al-Haram in Mecca, Abdul Rahman al-Sudais paid a short visit to India. This provided an occasion to a host of Sunni mullah groups, of the Deobandi, Jamaat-e Islami and Ahl-e Hadith or Wahhabi sects, to project themselves as ‘leaders’ of the Indian Muslims and as authoritative spokesmen of Islam, a claim they never tire of asserting. Lakhs upon lakhs of rupees were spent on lavish lunches, dinners and reception parties given in al-Sudais’ honour in Delhi and Deoband—by outfits representing these sects. Hobnobbing with the visiting Saudi Wahhabi mullah, these Indian mullahs and their organisations sought to feather their own nestsand, touting about their foreign guest at hugely-attended rallies, used the occasion to reinforce their authority among their star-struck followers. ‘See how important we are’, they seemed to proclaim, ‘we have access to the imam of the mosque of the Kaaba himself!’

A reliable friend of mine (of Sunni background, but who, like me, now refuses any denominational or community label) informs me that one leading Sunni mullah even announced that praying behind the visiting Saudi mullah would earn one the merit of thehaj pilgrimage! That, in part, is possibly what attracted vast unthinking crowds to hear the foreign guest speak, although, my friend assures me, they understood almost nothing at all of what he said because he spoke in Arabic, a language totally unintelligible to them, and almost all of what he spoke was un-translated.

But, yet, as newspaper reports reveal, hordes of ‘Muslims’ thronged to see and pray behind the Saudi mullah. There is nothing in the Quran that tells us that the imams of mosques, including of the mosques in Mecca and Medina, are ‘holy’ andspecial, and that holiness attaches to their persons. (Sadia Dehlvi rightly critiqued the Islamic Cultural Centre, New Delhi, for sending out an invitation to a party organised to welcome the Saudi mullah wherein he was described as ‘His Holiness’). Why, then, this burst of enthusiasm for praying behind him or listening to him speak without understanding even a word? Is this not an indication of the phenomenon that the Quran very explicitly condemns in the verse quoted-above?

But there is more to this stupidity than meets the eye. Reports indicate that the visit of the Saudi mullah was quickly pounced upon by the maverick mullah Arshad Madni, head of one of the many bickering groups of the Deobandi mullah mass organisation Jamiat ul-Ulema-e Hind, to bolster his sagging authority among his fellow Deobandis, about which much has been reported in the media in recent weeks. Madni gushed forth in praise of the Saudi mullah, who can be said to be the official representative of the Wahhabi sect, even going to the extent of projecting him as some sort of Muslim Pope. ‘Sheikh Al Sudais is the highest religious leader of the Muslims’, Madni had the temerity to claim, as quoted by the redoubtable Sadia Dehlvi in an incisive article titled ‘Keeping the Faith Inclusive’, published in the Times of India in the wake of the Saudi mullah’s visit. Madni conveniently forgot, and, presumably kept the visiting Saudi blissfully ignorant of, the longstanding polemical wars that his fellow Deobandis have been engaging in with al-Sudais’ fellow Wahhabis and their Indian counterparts, the so-called Ahl-e Hadith, some of them going so far as branding them as ‘enemies of Islam’. Surely, Arshad Madni must not have forgotten that some years ago his own brother, the late lamented Syed Asad Madni, head of the Jamiat ul-Ulema, whose legacy he claims to have inherited, had launched a massive campaign in the name of ‘Protecting the Sunnat’, all across India directed against the Ahl-e Hadith and the Wahhabis, the sect to which al-Sudais belongs, and even declared them to be the greatestfitna or source of strife afflicting the Muslims in contemporary times! And yet, in the face of all this, Arshad Madni had the cheek to declare al-Sudais, agent of the Wahhabi regime, to be ‘the highest religious leader of the Muslims!’

And so, addicted to petrodollar-fuelled theology and everything Arabic, the unthinking hordes who flocked the rallies where the visiting Wahhabi head mullah was feted conveniently forgot andforgave the crimes of the Wahhabis—not just their destruction of ‘holy’ shrines, as Sadia Dehlvi, one of the few who dared to speak out on the occasion, noted, but, more saliently, their sustained attack on the very roots of Quranic spirituality, replacing it with a theology that is barren and hate-driven and that has caused havoc for the name of Islam and the image of Muslims worldwide. And all this because, as the Quran reminds us, such people have taken their religious ‘scholars’ and ‘leaders’ as lords besides God.

Some friends of mine, who keep a close watch on the machinations of the mullahs, speculate that one of the purposes of the visiting Saudi Wahhabi mullah’s whirlwind India tour was to drum up support for an anti-Shia and anti-Iran campaign among the South Asian Sunnis, particularly the Ahl-e Hadith and the Deobandis, who, despite their never ceasing rivalries, are united in branding the Shias as apostates and even as ‘enemies of Islam’. These friends believe that in the face of growing opposition to the dictatorial regimes in the Gulf, including Saudi Arabia, which have long banked on Wahhabi-style ‘Islam’ to keep themselves in power, the Iranian or Shia bogey is being pressed into service to keep these tottering regimes in power. And for this purpose, it is believed, Saudi Wahhabi groups are now seeking to galvanise support among likeminded groups in India andelsewhere for a concerted anti-Shia movement in the name of ‘protecting the honour of the companions of the Prophet’. It might well be that this was one of the reasons for al-Sudai’s much publicised India visit, although I have no firm evidence to back this claim. If true, it only demonstrates how readily the mullahs can be pressed into the service of the interests of their worldly masters, as well as how unthinking ‘Muslims’, overawed by these men’s claims to religious authority and taking them, as the Quran says, for their ‘lords’, can so easily be led to fall in line.

Truly, the antics of the mullahs never cease—and, I have to add, they never cease to disgust, either.

Wednesday, April 20

Medieval Arab Lesbians and Lesbian-Like Women

Fascinating article. Here’s the abstract if you dont want to read the full paper.

If the absence of a specific terminology to denote lesbianism in medieval Europe seems to have compromised the production of scholarship about same-sex love and desire among women, the existence of the label sahq and sihaqa, musahaqat al-nisa’, or sahiqa(Arabic words for “lesbianism” and “lesbian,” respectively) in medieval Arabic writings did not result in a richer critical production. In fact, if relatively little research has been conducted on female same-sex desire in medieval Europe, even less has been produced on homosexuality in the medieval Arabic literary or Islamicate tradition, and almost no research at all has been done on medieval Arab Islamicate lesbianism. This state of scholarship into alternative sexual practices in the Arab Islamicate world is especially astonishing considering the survival of a noteworthy body of primary texts dealing precisely with this topic. Furthermore, if one broadens the category of medieval Arab lesbian to include women who were “lesbian-like,” as Judith Bennett has invited us to do in our construction of the history of Western female homosexuality, we uncover additional expressions of medieval Arab lesbian presence. For indeed, the cultural and social life of some women in certain medieval Arab courts, including their work and lifestyle, may well unveil unsuspected spaces in which same-sex activities might have occurred. If it is not always clear that these practices could be dubbed lesbian, they may well be considered lesbian-like.

But one should read this paper (its free to access), it talks about much that the current crop of mullah’s and morons say absolutely drivel about like the punishment for homosexuality etc. I quote:

Because the Qur’an did not prescribe a specific punishment for homosexuals, and despite general agreement among Islamic jurisprudents that homosexuality was one of the major sins (kaba’ir), there existed no onsensus regarding its punishment, which varied according to the traditional schools of Islamic legal thought (madhahib).
The Maliki school (which was the strictest one in this regard and followed especially in North Africa during the medieval era) considered liwat to be more serious than zina and thus deserving the harshest of hadd penalties (those defined in the Qur’an and the Sunnah and not left to the judge’s discretion), namely, stoning to death for both partners. This school is said, however, to have permitted homosexual practices between a man and his male slaves. The Shafi`i school (followed especially in Egypt and Syria) assimilated zina and liwat and thus
distinguished between married and unmarried homosexuals and between active and passive partners. It condemned partners accordingly to be stoned to death (if married) or lashed (if unmarried). The most “liberal” school, the Hanafi (the school associated with Iraq and with the Persian- and Turkishspeaking regions of the Islamic world), prescribed a ta`zir punishment, that is, a discretionary penalty aimed to punish, reform, and deter others and that amounted to no more than ten lashes and a term of imprisonment. It must be noted that all these punishments addressed liwat understood only as anal penetration by a man. Kissing, caressing, tafkhidh (intercrural intercourse), and the like, while considered reprehensible, were technically not liwat and
thus were not subject to these penalties. Though also considered a sin, sahq was generally deemed to be a less serious offense than liwat and the least serious form of zina, since it did not involve penetration by a man. It was hence given a lesser punishment than either liwat or zina, although its sentence varied also among different jurisprudents. While some theologians prescribed one hundred lashes, the eleventh-century
theologian from Córdoba, ibn Hazm, prescribed the ta`zir punishment (ten lashes, and it remains unclear whether a prison term was also required or not), and others did not penalize it at all. In most legal compendia of fiqh (Islamic jurisprudence) sahq is not even regularly addressed.

While reading this, an irreverent thought popped into my head, i wished that i could send this article to all the assorted mullahs and made them read it, i betcha several of the woollier sort will spontaneously self combust, heh.

Tuesday, April 19

The continuing financial education of my son – the car

This is the next phase of educating my son on financial matters which is slowly spinning up. As with any 15 year old, his thoughts are turning to a car. Besides your mortgage, a car is one of the biggest investments one will make. Plus for new drivers, the insurance is absolutely horrendous. When I first started driving here in the UK, I was first quoted £4000 per year for insurance. That was a huge bite out of my yearly salary. So here are some of my thoughts that I am trying to get into my son’s head. What do you think? What am I missing?

1. Dont. Yep, you heard me, dont buy a car if you live in London or any city with a functioning public transportation system. Your taxes are already going to pay for that system, you want to pay more? And if you do want to travel by car or where you are going is not easily achievable by public transportation, then hire a taxi or a car. You will find that over an year, it adds up. We didn't have a car for well over 10 years while we were in the UK, only purchased one when the tyke became big enough to need transportation on daddy’s taxi service all over the place.

2. A car is transportation. From A to B. Do you buy flight tickets based upon what’s the brand of the airplane manufacturer? Or the colour of the plane? Nope, then why would you purchase a car just because it is made by a particular manufacturer? Buy a car for a particular purpose, which is primarily transportation.

3. There are other reasons to purchase a car, for example to pick up girls. Very good, a convertible is perfect for that purpose. In which case, be smart about it. Any idiot can buy a supercar or a convertible but then again you are one of the crowd. How about a kit car? They are quirky, very sexy looking and provide greater sex appeal and attractiveness coefficient for your buck compared to a beamer. But then, as I told my son, remember that convertibles and kit cars are very narrow, cramped and very uncomfortable. You have to balance that out with the advantages of a 4x4 or a saloon which have more space in the rear and the position of the gear lever in the front is more conducive. I know, I know, but hey, I am his father, I need to tell him these things. Then again, I also told him to always keep 2 blankets (preferably one red and one black) and a rope in the car.

4. Buy a car and keep it till it falls apart or when the repair costs are more than your average . You see, cars become cheaper as they get older. As long as you get them regularly service them and replace things like batteries, tyres, oil, your car will run for years and years and years. I have a Honda CRV and its now 8 years old. Still works like a charm. Get it dealer serviced every year without fail. And will give it to my son to drive when he is old enough. I am also pushing him to think about building his own kit car. If nothing else, if he likes this idea, it would be a great father son thing to do :), and gets us men away from the girls, eh? :) Imagine building this car and driving it around. Fun :)

5. Drive carefully. This is perhaps going to fall on deaf ears while he is a teenager, but the most dangerous part of a car is the nut behind the wheel as they say. But no point in having an accident on your record and buggering up your driving history. That will seriously screw up your insurance and force you to pay far too much for far too long.

6. Insurance is going to be a bear and its best to start making financial provision for it from a relatively early time. Also, here are some great tips to reduce the cost of car insurance.

So what have I missed?

Sunday, April 17

Washing the dead

Washing the dead is quite a common tradition in many parts of the world, one I have participated in twice within my own family. It is a strange bewildering feeling and I am struggling to put it into words and phrase it properly to give it justice. I am just going back to that period of time when I did participate in that ritual and have to admit that I cried like a baby.

The first feeling is once of utter regret. You are washing the body but every motion you are making reminds you of things you could have done. Clipping the nails and you think of the times those finger tips gently caressed your hair and held you in their arms, or how those cheeks would dimple with laughter when they would smile at you. But no more, the flesh is utterly cold and hard. There is no life in those limbs and they will never do the things that you remember them for. They will never listen to your words again. Your mind is full of the things you could have said to them but didn't.

The second feeling is helplessness in the face of death. I know facetiously that death and taxes comes to all men, but being actually faced with the evidence of death is pretty startling. All the medical science, the hopes and dreams, nothing can stand in the way of somebody dying. An old quote goes something along the lines of “a boy becomes a man when his father dies”. I do not remember where I read this, but I think this is a vital piece in the journey of growing up. Staring at a corpse forces you to recognise your own mortality. I was a young lion before that, invincible and indomitable. But the fact that I was seeing the corpses and washing them and dressing them and touching them and shedding tears over them helped me grow up a bit more.

The next feeling was puzzlement. Why are dead bodies heavier than live bodies? Strange how scientific thoughts crop into your head at the strangest of times. The way I figured it out was that living bodies fill their lungs with air, and when you try to lift them, they also can assist you. Also, the limbs move and its easier to lift. Dead bodies are pure mass, nothing else, thus they are heavier than living beings.

One time I was with a priest who was chanting Sanskrit shlokas over the dead body. And during the entire night that I was awake, I managed to have quite a long conversation about the religious significance and other aspects of death. I think that helped in putting some things in perspective, such as what one leaves behind? And what one looks forward to? What are one's actions during one's life time? How about one's name and children? All these aspects are quite interesting. Leave aside the actual religious bits, they differ depending on who you speak to and which religion you belong to. The particular shlokas that were being intoned related to Garuda Purana. I have to admit that my memory is a bit weak, but here’s a link for those who are interested to read about what one religious Hindu book – the Garuda Purana - says about death.

Finally, I am always concerned about why the Doms (the men who work in the cremation ghats and areas) are treated so disgustingly within Indian society. Do they not perform one's last rites? Look after one's bones and tell one's relatives how one is going to pass over into the next life? Surely they should be treated with respect? But no, they are really treated horribly, at par with scavengers. We sometimes are seriously screwed up in our minds, talking about ritual purity and bathing away to glory while spitting in the street and indulging in corruption. Bah!.

Why am I talking about this? This is because I read about Saudi Arabian Women who wash dead bodies and the trials and tribulation that they have to go through. Read the article, it is quite interesting to find out about how these women are treated and how their own dead bodies are treated. Here is another very emotional story of another episode of washing the dead body.