The curious Incident of the Dog in the Day-Time

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time is a 2003 novel by British writer Mark Haddon. It is the story of a boy with autism who investigates the death of a dog. The title came from a statement made by Sherlock Holmes in the story 'Silver Blaze' about a dog that did nothing when an intruder entered the house. Curiously enough even as I am writing this piece,the ‘Sherlock Holmes’ movie has just been released and ‘My Name is Khan’, a movie where the hero is autistic is planned to be released soon. However my intent is not to review either of the movies. Incidentally the hero of the last movie I reviewed ‘3 idots’: Aamir Khan has named his dog Sharukh after the actor starring in 'My Name is Khan'. Goes to show how inter connected the world is.

"Two roads diverged in a yellow wood, And sorry I could not travel both And be one traveler, long I stood And looked down one as far as I could To where it bent in the undergrowth;" writes Robert Frost in his poem ‘The Road Not Taken’. I was in a similar situation. Just that there were three roads instead of two. And the wood consisted of just a single Banyan tree plumb at the junction of the three roads. And to say the truth, I did not fancy any of the three roads, one lined with small shops selling groceries, hard ware and other odd and ends, one lined with small shanties and the third accompanying a gutter flowing with drain water sending out foul odors. The one interesting to this narrative however is the one with the shanties. For outside one of these shanties was the incident that made me curious.

Just outside one of the shanties was an electric pole and to the pole was tied a dog. Whether I passed through at dawn or dusk, noon or night, the dog was always there tied to the pole. The dog itself was none too interesting; just a mongrel, though a pretty clean one at that and could almost be called cute. Nor was the rope by which it was tied: just a normal jute rope. But what was curious was the fact that one would keep a member of the canine race tied up like that day and night. The dog did not look too dangerous and the only thing freely available to all citizens of our country was available to all dogs in general as well: freedom. In fact most dogs in the country have access to food and shelter as well, something that many of their human counterparts lack. But who said food and shelter are the most important things in life? Aren't there better things in life such as freedom and the right to vote for our favorite politician?

But we are not discussing politicians here. We are discussing dogs. So let’s get back to the topic at hand. What could be the reason for the dog to be kept tied up that way? Could the dog be a demon in disguise: a shape changing monster? And the rope an enchanted one cast by a sorcerer to keep the creature bound? Are the shanties and shops and Banyan trees just a facade to hide a school of witch craft and magic? Have I stumbled upon India's own Hogwarts? Maybe the animal in question is not a dog but actually a dragon. After all one should let sleeping dogs lie and never tickle a sleeping dragon. Or alternatively the dog could be a princess enchanted and held captive by a witch living in the shanty. This is getting interesting, isn’t it? It could very well be the theme for Danny Boyle's next movie 'Slum Bitch Billionaire'.

But wait. I think we have dwelt too deep into the realms of superstition and irrationality. Let’s return to the path of rationality and scientific temper. Talking of which I have often wondered what is scientific temper. I remember one of our lady politicians has had acid flung on the face of an IAS officer who had earned her displeasure. Would that qualify as a classic example of display of scientific temper? Hold on for a minute. I need to remind myself that we are discussing dogs here and not politicians. So taking a more scientific view point, this dog could be an alien that has tried to infiltrate our beloved planet. Our ever watchful Men in Black must have intercepted it and be holding it captive. Let us move on from science fiction to real science. Maybe it is a Schrodinger's dog that can be alive and dead at the same time unless constantly under observation. So the owners might have tied it up to ensure constant surveillance to prevent it from going from the state of being alive to the state of being dead between two successive observations .

Let us leave aside these conjectures and try to analyze the issue from the first principles applying pure logic. After all what good is a hypothesis that can’t be proved. What do people try to safeguard? Things those are valuable. So if we prove that the dog is precious then we have the valid reason for keeping it locked up. Here goes the logic. Dog is man's best friend. Diamonds are a woman's best friends. Both men and women are humans. Diamonds are precious. Hence dogs are precious. QED. Not so fast. We still have the anomaly to this theory. What about other stray dogs roaming freely. The free dog anomaly can be accepted if we find at least one diamond lying around in a trash bin. But I am not too enthusiastic going around sniffing trash bins to discover diamonds. That is the jobs of stray dogs (sniffing trash bins) and Professor Arindam Choudary (Discovering the Diamond in You).

Maybe instead of breaking my head over the issue I must take the government's help. What about a petition under RTI (Right to Information Act)? But then I am getting an ominous feeling about how this is going to fan out. The government would establish a commission under a retired judge who would spend 17 years conducting enquires and come up with a 1000 pages report that proves comprehensively that the animal in question is indeed a dog and that circumstantial evidence seem to indicate that the animal was kept tied up. And a dog's life being around 15 years, the animal would probably even be dead by then. If I wanted quick action I should probably get in touch with Maneka Gandhi and her people for animals brigade. They would just cut the Gordian knot. Here the Gordian knot would mean the knot around the dog's neck. The dog would be freed but the mystery would remain unsolved.

I still pass by the Banyan tree. The shanties are still there as are the shops. The dog can still be seen tied outside. The mystery still remains. Perhaps some mysteries in life are not meant to be solved. They are just there to intrigue mankind and simulate his thinking process. Thank God for these small mercies. How mundane and humdrum life would be without them.

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The Aman Ki Asha Paradox

The Heisenberg uncertainty principle states that certain pairs of physical properties, like position and momentum, cannot both be known to arbitrary precision. Probably peace and friendship are two such properties in the context of India Pakistan relationship that are ideal candidates for the uncertainly principle. If you have one, you cannot have the other. If one were to study the past 40 years of Indo-Pakistan relations one can see every friendship overture has been accompanied by incidents of open aggression or terrorist attacks that distort peace. The most peaceful times have been those of intense diplomatic hostility. Wonder why Indian Government and media refuse to acknowledge something that is staring them in the face and keep talking of friendship and diplomacy. The Times of India Group's Aman Ki Asha being the latest in the series of Quixotic ventures or is it just an instance of media knowingly sacrificing national interest for commercial gains? I feel India should take a leaf out of China's book and learn how to handle Pakistan.Though I sympathize with the Tibetans, from a strategic perspective I admire the way China has handled Dalai Lama, Taiwan and the Uyghur.

Before I precede any further I guess I need to justify why I feel it is pointless talking to Pakistan. First and foremost is the very ideology of Pakistan’s formation. Pakistan was formed based on the belief that Muslims cannot live harmoniously under the Indian State. So as long as there is significant number of Muslims in India, the Pakistan’s existential ideology would imply that a huge number of Muslims are being subject to a raw deal in India. If Pakistan were to acknowledge that Muslims live comfortably in India, that would trigger an existential crisis for them. So that itself puts India and Pakistan as adversarial states at a basic level. Then let us move on to the immediate and proximate issue of Kashmir. I wonder what the people talking about talks on Kashmir are thinking. Are they magicians looking to pull out a solution from thin air where there is none? I seriously wonder what is there to talk. India believes Kashmir is an integral part of itself. Pakistan does not. That’s about it. What else is there to talk? And last but not the least, what is this Pakistan we are wanting to talk to? Musharraf? Zardari? Nawaz Sharif? 15 years back, Musharraf was a nobody; Nawaz Sharif was in charge; Zardari in jail. 10 years back, Musharaf was in charge; Nawaz Sharif in exile; Zardari a nobody. Today Musharraf is in exile; Nawaz Sharif a nobody; Zardari in charge. Nice musical chair they seem to have been playing! What is the meaning in holding talks with someone who is all likelihood is going to end up in jail or in exile within the next 5 years. Why would we expect his successor to honor his commitments? I hope I do not have to give any more reasons to show talks with Pakistan are pointless. And if we are talking of the common man in Pakistan, I would ask you to get real. From when has the common man started mattering in international relations?

To someone who has been following my argument in the last paragraph, it might seem I might seem like one of those warmongers advocating war against Pakistan. But nothing can be further from truth than that. I am in fact a peace pilgrim who does not even consider war as an option. I felt the whole saber rattling after the Mumbai attacks looked so childish and immature. I wonder what India was trying to achieve. Luckily we had a level headed Manmohan Singh at the helm and better sense prevailed. Definitely war with nuclear armed Pakistan is no solution even if the Mumbai attacks are followed by similar attacks in Delhi, Bangalore and Chennai. For war would only mean throwing a million more lives after the hundreds already lost in the terrorist attacks. So the best way would be to prevent such attacks in future through more investment in internal surveillance and focus instead on diplomatic warfare.

I detail below how in my view India’s diplomatic strategy should look like. First of all our borders should be impervious. No trains, buses, flights or any mode of transport to be allowed to or from Pakistan. No trade whatsoever with Pakistan. The Indian embassy in Pakistan and the Pakistani embassy in India should be closed. No Pakistanis to be allowed into India and vice versa. Citizenship of any Indian visiting Pakistan should be cancelled and the person should not be allowed to re-enter India. Indian teams should refuse to play any sports with Pakistan even at neutral venues. India should lobby against inclusion of Pakistan on all international forums. Indian diplomats should not engage in any kinds of courtesy exchange with Pakistani diplomats on any international forums. These kinds of measures will build up the heat on Pakistan and solidify international pressure on Pakistan. If we ourselves are lax in handling Pakistan, the international community will keep aiding Pakistan so that they can prop up their failing state and keep causing trouble to India. We should also try to block any kind of international aid to Pakistan and publicly voice support for any separatist movements in the country.

Hopefully one day Pakistan would crack under pressure and we would have separate countries of Punjab, Sindh and Baluchistan that have embarked on a fresh start like Bangladesh and no longer carry the legacy of the partition to deal with. Then we can talk about friendship and peace in the same light.

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3 Idiots - The Fool's Review

What do you get when Munna Bhai starts practicing AynRandgiri instead of Gandhigiri? Phunsuk Wangdu, also known as Rancho, Bollywood's answer to John Galt. Some may feel that it is 15 years too late for Aamir Khan to be playing the college kid. But then this was no ordinary college kid. Rancho, like Ayn Rand’s John Galt and Hoard Roark. is a maverick, a revolutionary, a trend setter .Words that have come to personify Aamir Khan in the recent years. A picture can convey more than 1000 words is an old saying. A brand can convey more than 1000 pictures should be the new saying. So brand Aamir it had to be. And as far as making Aamir look younger, the solution lay in a problem solved by Birbal centuries back. The emperor had asked him to make a line smaller without erasing any part of it. Birbal had immediately proceeded to draw a bigger line next to it to make it look smaller. Similar once you put a portly Madhavan nearing his 40th year next to him, Aamir seems to drop 15 years.

The film has it all - humor, action, drama, romance, songs, a moral and a happy ending. What more can you ask from a film? No wonder it is breaking all box office records. One can wax eloquent about good things in the movie. This so many other reviewers have already done and I doing it again would be as meaningless as the definition of machine given by the character Silencer in the movie. So instead of focusing on the hundred good things I am going to dwell upon the single major flaw that is going to ensure that this film is not going to find it place in eternity. The one slip between the cup and the lip that is going to prevent it from standing up to be counted among the Munna Bhai MBBS’, ‘Lage Raho Munnabhai’ ,‘Taare Zameen Par’ and others.

What is appreciable about the movie other than the humor is that it tries to convey socially relevant messages. This is something really creditable in this age of meaningless movies such as 'Race', 'Wanted' and 'Rab Ne Banadi Jodi'. But the problem with 3 idiots is it went on to convey more than just one message. In contrast if you see Munna Bhai MBBS, it had a single coherent message - 'A humane approach in dealing with people is more important than technical excellence in one's profession especially in a profession dealing with human lives such as medicine.' Similarly ‘Lage Raho MunnaBhai' highlighted the message of non violence and peaceful resolution of issues given by Mahatma Gandhi. But ‘3 idiots’ gives out at least 3 strongly distinct messages. There is this humanistic message of eternal optimism of 'All is well', probably coming from Raju Hirani, the humanist. Then there is this message riling against the ills of excessive competition and meaningless slogging, probably coming from Chetan Bhagat's original work. And then last but not the least there is this message that one can achieve success by thinking differently from the masses, most likely coming from Aamir Khan.

Before I proceed I would like to take a detour to dwell upon the message that Aamir Kan is trying to convey through his movies. Both in this movie and ‘Taare Zameen Par’, Aamir Khan supposedly tries to convey the message that listening to the dictates of one’s heart is more important than meeting societal norms of success. But then it is clearly not something Aamir Khan an intensively competitive person believes in himself. That’s why Ishan in ‘Taare Zameen Par’ had to win a painting contest to prove his worth. Aamir Khan also had to share the prize with him as Aamir Khan can be second to none, not even in a movie to a character created by him. Similarly in ‘3 Idiots’, Rancho had to stand first in the very flawed education system that the movie tries to deride, win the special pen from the highly competitive Principal and also win the bet with his bĂȘte noire Silencer. So his real message is not that success does not matter but that one has to think laterally to achieve success, something that Aamir Khan himself has done successfully to gain an upper hand over his bĂȘte noire in real life Sharukh Khan.

So getting back to the topic, we have 3 distinct messages coming from 3 strong personalities, a bit too much for a single 3 hour movie. So to summarize the problem briefly, as they say the name says it all – ‘3 idiots’. As too many cooks spoil the broth, so do too many idiots spoil the movie. Given the limited role played by Madhavan and Sharman, I am inclined to believe Chetan Bhagat and Raju Hirjani are really the other 2 idiots referred to in the movie title. And that was the problem with the movie - Two many idiots

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A book of faces