Tag Archives: metroplus

How to… Be a Pseudo Intellectual

1. It’s impossible to be a pseudo intellectual without this important ingredient – hot air. See when it comes to being pseudo, it’s not what you actually do (which is fairly negligible); it’s about what you say and how you say it. Being opinionated is a must, as is holding forth with authority on the latest award-winning smart-person type book / movie (actual reading/watching is optional). But at all times remember to be properly dismissive of popular culture (unless you’re using words such as ‘postmodern’ and ‘pastiche’ while discussing it).

2. Which brings us to the second-most essential ingredient – words. We’re not talking about just any words; these words must imbue your pontificating with precisely the right degree of pomposity (see what I did there?) without actually saying anything that can be pinned on you later. When in doubt, pepper your speech with big words that sound vaguely French or Italian. Skilful insertion of references to Foucault or Derrida never hurt either. And always keep up with the pseudo word-fads – for instance, ‘paradigm’ is so 1998.

3. It isn’t just enough to talk right and use the right words – it’s also important to be seen talking at the right places. It’s absolutely essential for the serious pseudo intellectual to be at any cultural event that includes the word ‘avant-garde’ or barring that, ‘experimental’, in its title (art and theatre have particularly high pseudo-quotient). Here’s your rule of thumb – if you can’t really understand it, it’s perfect for you to hold forth on at the next party.

4. Ah parties, swanky, exclusive parties. This is the pseudo intellectual’s natural habitat. Members of the tribe can be observed clustered in groups trying to out-pseudo each other, generally over a glass of wine and tiny hors d’oeuvres with sufficiently obscure names and origins. Pay careful attention to your attire – smart-girl/boy glasses are an immeasurable asset to the newbie pseudo, as are artsy/smart-people clothes such as raw-silk kurtas or tweed jackets.

5. Finally, the secret ingredient that goes into the making of a bonafide pseudo intellectual is boredom. Always remember, displaying bright-eyed, bushy-tailed enthusiasm over anything is a big no-no. Once that studied veneer of world-weariness and been-there done-that ennui is in place, you, my friend, have arrived.



Leave a comment

Filed under Articles

Article: Look who’s on the prowl

Phishers, scammers and spammers… cyber criminals are out to target people on social-networking sites. DIVYA KUMAR writes

Building a farm or joining the Mafia Wars on Facebook is just as much a part of your daily routine as checking your work email. Crappy movies, boring parties and bad break-ups are all fodder alike for acerbic Tweets. Pictures taken on your cellphone make it on your Orkut profile page at the speed of light, and padding your friends list is your favourite pastime.

Our lives today are increasingly submerged in social-networking websites, like millions others worldwide. In the last year, the number of Indian visitors to sites such as Facebook, Orkut, MySpace and Twitter increased by 51 per cent to 19 million (according to comScore’s 2009 report). And where people are, that’s where the phishers, scammers and spammers go.

“Social-networking sites have become one of the most popular targets for cyber criminals,” says David Freer, Vice President Consumer Business, Asia Pacific and Japan, of Symantec, calling 2009 the year of attacks against social-networking sites and their users. “These sites have a huge number of users (Facebook alone has 350 million), and cyber criminals have a fairly simple modus operandi – go where the people are.”

Amit Agarwal, one of India’s top tech bloggers and columnist agrees. “The threat is very real,” he says. “Often you read about these things but you don’t know the people affected, but this is actually happening, everyday.”

For instance, he describes a recent attack on Twitter, due to which passwords had to be reset on a few thousand accounts. “The attack took advantage of people’s innate laziness,” says the blogger. “Many of us use the same credentials – username and password – on multiple websites, which means that the guys at some questionable site you visited, let’s call it xyz.com, can now log on to your other accounts, such as Twitter.”

Once they have access to your account by any means, your entire contact list becomes vulnerable to spam, phishing or ‘drive-by download’ attacks through links or notifications that are sent out. “By their very nature, social networking sites are about a group of people who trust each other,” explains Freer. “If you get a request to look at photos on Facebook or click on shortened URL on Twitter from a friend, you tend to trust it automatically.”

Those links could take you to imposter sites that ask you to enter your credentials again (standard phishing), or more sneakily, simply take you to a site that silently download malware onto your system, i.e., the ‘drive-by download’. “Last year, this was the fastest growing form of attack – there were18 million drive-by download attacks in all of 2008; in 2009, we hit that number just between August and October,” says Freer.

The buzzword amongst experts for these attacks is ‘social engineering’ – using people’s behaviour patterns to target them for attacks. “The actual attacks are the same as what we’ve seen earlier, via email, etc., but the false sense of trust and security existing in social networks makes it easier for criminals to deceive,” says Na. Vijayashankar a.k.a. Naavi, cyber law and techno-legal consultant.

Third-party applications on websites such as Facebook – those fun games and other time-pass applications you add on – are also frequent offenders, exposing your system to malware embedded in the application itself or in the ad on the side of its webpage. “The bad applications are usually banned after a few reports from users, but on day one of the attack, no one will know. There are 500,000 applications on Facebook, for example; it’s just impossible for them to keep track of them all,” says Amit.

“A lot of these game apps involve money transactions, so they get your credit card details, and scams do happen,” says Tarun Shan, a 22-year-old student of Hindustan Engineering College, and an online entrepreneur. “People think these sites are so cool and just get so addicted, but they need to be careful.”

Common sense, it would appear, is the only real defence against these attacks (and an up-to-date anti-virus software on your system, of course). For instance, research shows that an alarming number of users on social-networking sites add people they don’t really know as friends. “Don’t get into a mad race to add more friends just for the sake of it,” says Naavi. “Use some sort of screening process when you get requests from people you don’t know.”

Be cautious about opening any weird links from people already on your friends list. “If you’re getting unusual messages from a friend, send them a note asking them about it,” says Freer. “And always be wary of short URLS which can mask malicious sites.”

And don’t be lazy – educate yourself. “Most of these websites are doing all they can to protect you, but you have to do your bit as well,” says Amit.

Top tips

1. Be wary of adding strangers to your friends list
2. Be careful while clicking on shortened URLs
3. Use strong passwords. Create different passwords for different accounts
4. Be cautious while using third-party applications and sharing private data with them
5. If you’re getting unusual messages from a friend, send her a note about them


Filed under Articles

Interview with… Madhav Chari

Pianist Madhav Chari talks about the spirit of jazz, linking his music to Indian philosophy and his experiential workshops. DIVYA KUMAR listens in


If you go to meet jazz pianist Madhav Chari expecting to discuss just jazz or even just music, think again. With mind-whirling rapidity the conversation flows between cognitive science and colonialism, mathematics and anthropology, Indian philosophy and American academia, not to mention martial arts, dance and the Bhakti movement…

At one point, I have to ask him to stop briefly, so I can look back to the original list of questions I’d studiously prepared before the interview. But they seem rather limited — and limiting — now, so I decide to let the conversation take its course, just interjecting the odd query now and again.

“What we’re doing right now is jazz music,” says Madhav, halfway through, during an impassioned (there isn’t any other kind with Madhav) discussion on how jazz is freedom, but with form. “This conversation is not scripted. It’s loosely improvised but you’re still providing direction — that’s jazz music.”

And with that neat journalistic analogy for jazz, the free-flowing chat suddenly makes sense. After all, the essence of any conversation with Madhav Chari is jazz, the music form that grabbed him when he was a six-year-old in Kolkata and hasn’t let go since.

“What about it grabbed me I don’t know,” he muses. Maybe it was his father’s knowledge of jazz from the 1940s, when he saw the big bands of the era play while at The Lawrence School, Lovedale. Or, perhaps the family friend whom he used to watch improvising on the piano. “There was just an emotional connect. It’s like asking why the chocolate cake appealed to you… it’s hard to answer.”

He dismisses his training in Western classical piano as mere calisthenics. “Loosely speaking, yes, I’m trained in Western classical, in the sense that I did the gamut of exams, but it doesn’t mean anything,” he says. “That’s because we learn the music in a context where it wasn’t born, where that form of music isn’t a vibrant, living force, unlike in London, Moscow or Paris.”

This idea of absorbing music as a ‘living force’, of experiencing its spirit, is of intense importance to Madhav. That’s why he cherishes the time he spent in the U.S. at places such as New York or Chicago, where jazz still lives. There was the time, for instance, that he got to play with a local sax legend in Chicago while he was a Ph.D. student at the University of Illinois – Urbana Champaign (UIUC).

“The great pianist Tommy Flanagan, who had recorded with John Coltrane, was sitting in the audience… I saw him and my heart just skipped a beat,” he laughs. “But the music took me over and I forgot my stage fright, and in the end, he congratulated me and gave me his number in New York. These experiences were very important in my search as a jazz musician.”

After his studies, Madhav spent some time as part of the jazz scene in New York and a brief eight months in Toronto before returning to India in 2003 and settling in Chennai, where his parents live. These past seven years have been a period of a spiritual awakening for the pianist, and Indian philosophy has now become an integral part of his musical journey.

“I want to be a jazz musician who thoroughly understands the tradition of the music, but who’s also alive to the possibilities of his own consciousness and has linked himself with the mystical traditions of India,” he says, adding with a smile, “But I don’t play Hindustani music… I’ll be playing the blues.”

He’s also developed some very strong opinions (to put it mildly) on the Indian music scene — whether it’s local jazz or fusion. “I will go on record saying that in the last 40 years, not one musician in Mumbai — the leading jazz centre in India — has tapped the spirit of jazz,” he says emphatically. “They’ve tapped the form, but not the spirit. And that’s why I have a problem with fusion as well, because so much of it is technical and theoretical, with very little experiential insight.”

His own corporate workshops, which he now conducts with martial arts expert George Kurian, focus entirely on just that — the experiential. “We make people do music and martial arts exercises, and allow the gateways of the mind to open up,” Madhav says. “There’s hardly any talking, because I believe that in the modern Indian urban consciousness, language is a tremendous block to understanding. English has blocked our access to our own experiences — it’s a facet of colonialism.”

These beliefs are part of the reason why Madhav has connected with Chennai the way he has since 2003. “It’s not about it being conservative or liberal; it’s about it being open to experiences while being rooted in tradition,” he says of the city. “I’m not impressed by people telling me Bangalore is more hip or modern; modernity is actually old, based on where I want to go in a cosmic sense.”


He enjoys the writings of S.N. Balagangadhara, chair of the Comparative Science of Cultures Centre at Ghent University in Belgium, on Hindu philosophy and religion.

He loves the music of American jazz pianist ‘Bud’ Powell. Madhav’s most recent album ‘Parisian Thoroughfares’ is titled after a Powell composition.

He likes Mathematics, in which he has a Masters degree from Dartmouth University


Filed under Articles, People

Article: Clued In

The Hindu crossword has become more than a collection of clues and grids. DIVYA KUMAR says it has spawned an active online community which discusses every aspect of it


There’s something about The Hindu crossword. The neat, unassuming grey-and-white grid tucked away in a corner of the daily paper seems to inspire a particularly passionate brand of devotion, one that cuts across age, gender and geographical barriers, affecting 80-something scientists and 20-something software engineers, former journalists and retired army officers, Chennai-ites and Californians alike.

This isn’t your garden-variety enthusiasm. We’re talking about the kind that spawns multiple blogs and highly active groups on social networking sites, generates intense scrutiny and in-depth analysis of every clue and composer, and even a statistical study to be published in an international linguistics journal soon.

Colonel Deepak Gopinath (retired), for instance, does The Hindu crossword (let’s call it THC as the online enthusiasts do from here on) “every morning without fail.” And by 8.30 a.m., the solutions are up on his blog The Hindu Crossword Corner. Without fail. “I schedule it for 8.30 a.m. though I’m usually done much earlier,” says the Bangalore-based gentleman who begins every morning at 6.45 a.m., as soon as the paper arrives. He adds in his precise way: “I don’t put it up sooner to give others a chance to exercise their brain cells.”

For NRI fans such as California-based T.S. Ganesh, the solving actually starts sooner. “We get a time advantage since the crossword gets uploaded online at around 2 a.m. IST when the on-paper solvers back in India are fast asleep,” says the 27-year-old computer engineer, who began the popular THC-solving Orkut group as a masters student back in 2004. “The first post on our Orkut forum appears within an hour or so of THC’s appearance online.”

The Orkut forum today has over 1000 members from the U.K., the U.S., Germany, Hong Kong, and, of course, India, and boasts of never having left a single crossword unsolved since the day it began. An added attraction is that three of the five THC ‘composers’ (those who create the puzzles everyday) drop by regularly, such as Chennai-based C.G. Rishikesh who’s a mentor for the group.

“I post extensively, explaining or commenting on clues, on Orkut and several other websites,” says Rishikesh, a former journalist, who’s composed over 600 puzzles for The Hindu. “There’s a tremendous interest in THC, and it has grown thanks to the Internet. Now, anyone who doesn’t know how to decipher a clue can ask and get explanations online.”

Spawning discussions

But it isn’t only about solving the day’s puzzle. For instance, regulars on Col. Gopinath’s blog often stay on for in-depth discussions on a particular clue or word. (The discussions on these websites can get pretty intense, and they’re not always complimentary to the composers either). Friendships end up being formed off-line — Rishikesh recently hung out with a group of die-hard solvers who came to visit him in Chennai. And some solvers branch off into deeper analysis on crosswords in general, as with Shuchismita Upadhyay, owner of the blog Crosswords Unclued that features articles on solving for beginners, polls on different composers and graphs visually analysing different types of clues.

“I found that Orkut had mostly posts on the solutions but nothing much that went in-depth and analysed cryptic puzzles, their clues, etc.,” says the Bangalore-based software engineer from Delhi who’s been solving THC for nearly 15 years.

One Chennai-based scientist has taken this love of analysing crosswords to a whole new level — he’s done a statistical analysis of puzzles published over10 years (both THC and the Times of India crossword) and written a paper that has been accepted for publication by the Journal of Quantitative Linguistics, a major European journal.

“My paper is unusual in that it studies the occurrence of errors in crossword-solving,” says S. Naranan, a retired experimental physicist from the Tata Institute of Fundamental Research who has also published papers on statistical linguistics, evolutionary genetics and cryptography. “I’ve been solving crosswords since 1975 (THC since 1992 when I moved back to Chennai), and I’ve tabulated my errors for every single puzzle. Over the years, a pattern evolved.”

That pattern, he was fascinated to find, fits the negative binomial distribution pretty perfectly. For the non-math savvy among us, that’s the same distribution curve the car insurance industry uses to predict the likelihood of accidents, and marketing whiz-kids use to predict the sale of branded products. Meaning, give Naranan enough data (puzzles you’ve solved in the past), and he can predict how many errors on average you’re likely to make in the future. Cool, huh?

So just what is it about THC that inspires this sort of dedication? Some point to its unique desi roots and style. “ The Hindu was the first English newspaper in India to introduce an original crossword composed by an Indian way back in 1971,” says Rishikesh. Shuchismita agrees, saying the “Indian context” of a lot of the clues gives a sense of familiarity that’s missing in the British or American crosswords.

For NRIs such as Ganesh, there is a certain “sentimental attachment” to the crossword they grew up doing in India. (Gita Iyer, another U.S.-based fan, describes how her tech-savvy, crossword-crazy family and friends have developed Facebook and iPhone applications for THC to keep solving it, despite having drifted apart geographically).

Whatever the reason, one thing is clear. For an increasingly global community, The Hindu crossword is a whole lot more than just a collection of grids and clues.


Col. Gopinath’s blog: http://thehinducrosswordcorner.blogspot.com/

Shuchismita’s blog: http://www.crosswordunclued.com/

Orkut community: http://www.orkut.co.in/Main#Community.aspx?cmm=770537

THC @ The Hub: http://www.mayyam.com/hub/viewtopic.php?t=13471

Leave a comment

Filed under Articles

Interview with… Letika Saran

DGP (Law and Order) Letika Saran, the girl from the hills, talks about her journey to the peak in the plains. DIVYA KUMAR listens in

Photo: R. Ravindran

Trailblazer Letika Saran

A fan of detective novels. A child of the hills. A dog-lover. A concerned mother.

The world knows Letika Saran as the super-achieving cop — she became Chennai’s first woman Commissioner of Police in 2006, and now, at the age of 57, has become the first woman Director-General of Police in Tamil Nadu (and only the second woman to hold that post in the country).

But, half an hour spent with the trim, diminutive lady in her enormous office on Kamarajar Salai, and you get a glimpse into the world of Letika Saran, the woman. You find out that her heart still lies in the hills of Munnar, where she spent her carefree childhood. You find out that she’s currently worried about a mix-up in her daughter Uthara’s return ticket to Perth (she’s a student research scientist there).

You find out that her favourite way to unwind is with her four dogs (two long-haired dachshunds and two recently-acquired pups). And that she still loves reading the detective novels that were part of the reason why she wanted to join the police force in the first place.

“I was always fond of detective novels, and I liked the idea of the police,” she says simply, of her decision to join the Indian Police Service (IPS) after her undergraduate degree at the Women’s Christian College. “I’ve worked in investigation for over 15 years and always found it interesting; so, I’ve never looked back on that decision as anything but the correct one.”

The transition from college girl to cop wasn’t ‘unduly difficult’, she says in her precise way: “Even the physical aspects of training weren’t difficult, as gymnastics was part of our daily routine at my boarding school in Kodaikanal.”

But the hard road truly began from her first posting. “I was one of only two women in the field at my level, and it was like working in a goldfish bowl, with the eye of the public and the department on you,” she says. “You had to constantly prove yourself — not just as Letika Saran but as a woman police officer. Failure wasn’t an option.”

And so, the girl from the hills began to blaze a trail in the plains. But even today, when you speak of Munnar, Letika’s eyes soften. “When you’ve lived in the hills, you identify so closely with the place — even if you haven’t had the time to go back in years,” she says in her clear, flute-like voice. “There’s something familiar about the hills which, perhaps, isn’t there in any other place.”

Still, over the years, Chennai has become home, mostly because, she says ruefully, it’s home for her daughter. “She was born and brought up here and calls it home — so, we don’t have a choice,” she laughs, adding: “As anyone who’s lived here for a long time knows, Chennai is a city that grows on you, and my husband and I really don’t look at living anywhere else.”

Our interview is interspersed with a series of phone calls over her daughter’s ticket mix-up, and super-cop Letika sounds endearingly like any concerned mom as she hangs up and shakes her head: “Here’s the kid not even prepared to travel today, and she’s being told she’s got to be on the flight…”

Juggling her job and family hasn’t always been easy on Letika, but in her no-fuss way, she tells me she was fortunate in having postings that allowed her to be with her daughter when she was very young. “It also helped that she knew exactly how things would be; she was independent right from the beginning,” she says, pride evident.

Today, Letika Saran exudes an air of no-regrets contentment with her life. There isn’t perhaps as much time as she might like for travel — back to the hill stations of her youth, for example — but there are always detective novels to read (“they’re ideal for when you don’t want serious reading”), her dogs which recently doubled in number, and, of course, the passion that has guided her throughout her career.

“From the time that I joined, I always wanted to prove myself as somebody who is competent and capable, who could do the job and get the job done,” she says. “That’s still remains my goal today.”


Filed under Articles, People

Interview with… Sivasankari

Celebrated writer Sivasankari speaks to DIVYA KUMAR on her four-volume masterpiece on India’s literary heritage and her love for social causes


It’s been 16 years since celebrated Tamil author Sivasankari wrote a piece of fiction. Those years have been spent in a sort of literary tapas for the cause of regional Indian writing, otherwise known as Knit India Through Literature, her monumental four-volume work on the literary heritage of each of India’s 18 official languages.

The fourth and final volume of Knit India was completed recently (it was launched last month), and the author is in a philosophical mood when we meet one drowsy afternoon at her home in a pretty cul-de-sac of Adyar.

“I have mixed feelings – I’m deeply satisfied to have given back something so solid to my country and to the literary field, but also exhausted after all these years of travel and absolute concentration on this task,” she says. “I always think of it as a yagna that took 16 years.”

Not writing fiction during the entire period was a conscious decision – she wanted no distractions – even though there remained some very definite themes she wanted to explore through her writing. In typical Sivasankari style, these themes are very real, socially relevant and meant to inform even as she entertains (“masala-coating”, she calls it). For instance, she says, she’s wanted to address what women go through during menopause.

“No one has touched upon the subject in an in-depth way; there remains a stigma attached to it,” she says forthrightly. “People are so naïve in dealing with it – even women don’t understand what they’re going through, let alone their families and their husbands.”

Of course, social stigmas have never stopped Sivansankari from tackling issues. She famously addressed drug addiction in the 1980s, and subjects such as artificial insemination and surrogate motherhood back in the 1970s, years before they came to be discussed in the mainstream. “As a writer, one is always looking ahead to the problems that can arise,” says the author of 30 novels and over 150 short stories. “It’s like sitting on the 20th storey of a building and looking into the distance.”

However, fans will have to wait a little longer for the next Sivasankari story. The 66-year-old plans to spend the next six months setting her personal life in order – moving into an apartment and giving away or getting rid of a bulk of her belongings, whether it’s her 400 pattu podavais, the roomful of mementoes received during her illustrious career, or the three rooms of books, papers and correspondence accumulated for Knit India.

“I have to be practical; I’m getting older and since my mother passed away, I’m living alone,” she says, a tinge of pathos colouring the pragmatism. “Who am I going to pass this all on to? If I had children or grandchildren, it would be different.”

Her strong philosophical leanings come to the fore again as she likens this time in her life to the third stage of Hindu dharma, vanaprasta, prior tosanyasa or renunciation. “This process is teaching me to be non-sentimental about my belongings,” she says. “When giving is forced on you, you regret it; if it’s a conscious choice, you enjoy it.”

Not that Sivasankari is new to the art of giving and of social service (she hates that term, she says vehemently; anything one does for the betterment of society is one’s duty and not a special service). For instance, she reveals that she has been conducting 10 weddings anonymously at her temple for the last six years – her aim is to complete at least 100 weddings in the upcoming years. “I want to do as much as I can in my lifetime, with whatever funds I have,” she says.

She pauses for a moment and we simply sit and listen to the birds chirping outside in the sun-dappled garden. “When I die, I want people to say what a wonderful human being Sivasankari was, and incidentally, she was a good writer as well,” she says finally. “That’s my wish.”


Sivasankari’s massive literary project Knit India Through Literature consists of four volumes of hardback books:

Volume 1 on the languages of the South (from Kerala, Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh and Tamil Nadu)

Volume 2 on the languages of the East (from Assam, Bengal, Manipur, Nepal and Orissa)

Volume 3 on the languages of the West (Konkani, Marathi, Gujarati, and Sindhi)

Volume 4 on the languages of the North (Kashmiri, Punjabi, Urdu, Hindi and Sanskrit)

Each book consists of travelogues of the states covered, interviews with leading writers of each language, a representative selection and an overview of the literature of each region.


Filed under Articles, People

Interview with… B.K.S. Iyengar

He made yoga a global culture. DIVYA KUMAR catches up with the legendary B.K.S. Iyengar during his visit to the city


The mane of white hair, the fiercely bushy eyebrows with the ubiquitous namam in between, and that perfectly upright figure familiar from thousands of pictures of impossible asanas…

Seeing yoga exponent B.K.S. Iyengar in person for the first time is a touch surreal, like watching a revered hero step out of the covers of a book you’ve owned all your life (in this case, it would be a dog-eared copy of his first book “Light on Yoga”).

It’s also rather awe-inspiring. At the grand old age of 91, Iyengar carries himself and moves like a man half his age, and is surrounded by quite an unconscious aura of power. And as he begins to talk about 75 years of practising and teaching yoga, his struggles and successes, what emerges is the portrait of a fiercely determined man who prizes strength and discipline over all.

“In the 1930s, yoga had no respect in India at all,” he says flatly, speaking at Krishnamacharya Yoga Mandiram recently. “There would not have been more than 10 teachers in the entire country — including Pakistan and Bangladesh, in those days — and it was a Herculean task for my guru T. Krishnamacharya to convince people that yoga had something to give.”

He recalls how his guru (also his brother-in-law) at one point lived literally in rags in Mysore, and his own humiliating experiences as a yoga teacher in Pune, of being called to do demonstrations, being made to wait for hours and being sent away at the end because ‘time was up’.

“I fought on because of my faith and belief in the subject of yoga,” he says.

‘Fought’, ‘combated’, ‘conquered’, ‘mastered’… these are words that feature repeatedly in his narrative, whether he’s talking about the racism he faced when he first went to the West with his teachings at the prompting of his close friend, world-renowned violinist Yehudi Menuhin, or his battle with injury.

“After 70 years of non-stop practising yoga, I had an accident that left me unable to even move my hands,” says the man who is credited with making yoga a part of global culture. “Everyone thought my life was over. But I refused to surrender — if I had stopped, it would mean I had no faith in what I’d practised for over 70 years, it would mean I had become a slave to my mind. So I combated it; today I still do four hours of yoga everyday.”

Iyengar’s attitude as a teacher of yoga is just as uncompromising. If the great man has a rallying cry, it’s that ‘sadhana (practice) must go on’ and that one must never give in to fear. He says with twinkling humour, “I often didn’t have very many Indian students; Indians were afraid of my discipline. I’m a very strong teacher.”

It is precisely this dedication to practice and precision that has made ‘Iyengar yoga’ such a phenomenon worldwide. His aim has always been to perfect the asanas, in form and alignment; to Iyengar, that is the route to realising the full potential of what yoga has to offer. “When I began, no one taught the practical aspects of yoga, only the philosophical,” he comments. “But my research on yoga has shown that thorough practice of asanas is necessary to truly experience the conjunction of mind and body.”

There are few who would argue with this living legend of yoga, a man who would, one feels, through sheer force of will, be able to conquer any obstacle in his path.


Filed under Articles, People

How to… Be a tennis nut

1. Know the tennis calendar forwards and backwards. Following just Grand Slams is for wusses. You’ve got to know your nine Masters tournaments inside-out (think quick: which one is unofficially known as the fifth slam?). And then know which ATP 500 or ATP 250 tournament is taking place each week, right from Acapulco to Zagreb. (Hint: investing in an atlas might help).

2. Get intimately acquainted with Internet scoreboards and/or online feeds. If you depend on television to meet your tennis needs, you’ll never get to tennis nut territory. To follow the tournaments from Tokyoto Estoril (see above) you’ll need to a) watch choppy online feeds from said corners of the world (with Japanese/Portuguese commentary) or b) refresh the online scoreboard obsessively.

3. Reset your body clock for two-week periods during far-flung Grand Slams i.e. the Australian Open and U.S. Open. You need to be getting up at 2 a.m. to watch the five-set matches – and we’re not talking just the semis and the final either. If you’re getting enough sleep during these slams, you’re not there yet.

4. Spend far too much time on Internet forums. This is an essential and often overlooked aspect. To truly hit the zenith of tennis nut-hood, you need to be active on at least four dedicated tennis forums online, boldly defending your favourite players, trashing others, and getting down and dirty in the flame wars that result.

5. Be familiar with the names in the Top 50, or at least the Top 30 players, their quirks and their game. If your knowledge of tennis stops at ‘Nadal’ and ‘Federer’, you’re falling way short. We’re talking about knowing, for instance, that Feliciano Lopez (rank 34) is a Spaniard with pretty hair, a penchant for posing in the nude, and a surprising serve-and-volley game.

6. And finally, the true mark of a couch tennis nut is the tendency to wax eloquent on past matches/rivalries/records of the game. The further back you go and the more obscure the reference, the closer you are to attaining tennis nut nirvana. When a casual fan looks at you and goes “Who cares?” you know you’re almost there.



Filed under Articles

How to… Be a couch potato

1. Be prepared to work hard at this. You’re sniggering to yourself thinking, “This is gonna be a breeze — I’m a natural.” But we’re talking about the big leagues here, not your garden-variety, three hours-of-TV-a-day couch potato. This takes dedication and planning — memorised schedules and digital video recording, in case your job / family / real life gets in the way.

2. Just because regular programming — i.e. mindless sitcoms, trashy reality TV, and over-the-top soaps — are no longer running in the wee hours of the morning, doesn’t mean you’re off the clock. Get to know foreigners-dubbed-in-Tamil / Hindi / regional language of your choice on the TV shopping networks (you know you need that ab-buster the Arnie-look alike is selling) or their desi counterparts (Bhagyashree peddling Roopamrit — how the mighty have fallen). They’re your new best friends.

3. Invest in an eye-mask, preferably one of those with cooling properties (if at a loss, refer to the previous). Also, consider an exercise ball for your remote-hand (repetitive stress injuries aren’t an occupational hazard only for the IT crew). Both are going the extra mile for you here, and you might want to give them a brief break during commercials. But not for too long, or you’re going to miss out on the all-important ads.

4. Which brings us to this. Conventional couch-potato wisdom has it that commercial breaks are when you, the boob-tube addict, take a break. But this is not true. Because the hallmark of a true couch potato is the ability to reference all those annoying ads, hum their jingles (if you’re doing this right, they’re going to be stuck playing in a loop in your head anyway) and regurgitate their taglines.

5. Food is an essential part of this process (refer to Jughead, Archie comics). Useful tips include keeping the microwave within reaching distance, a shelf / basket with munchies at the foot of your couch, etc. For the truly marathon sessions, there’s always home delivery (but time the arrival of the delivery guy at least — significant moments of the show you’re watching).



Filed under Articles