Monday, 20 May 2013

Skydiving - an update

I posted the photos a while back, then I updated it with a narrative - in case you missed it, here's the link. I'll write a Tamil version later.

http://varahamihiragopu.blogspot.com/2013/05/how-to-numb-your-senses.html

Friday, 17 May 2013

சாதா விந்தைகளின் ஆறா ரசிகன்

எகிப்திய பிரமிட். தாஜ் மஹால். அஜந்தா ஓவியம். காஜுராஹோ சிற்பம். மாமல்லபுரம், அங்கோர் வாட், மோனா லிஸா, ஸிஸ்டைன் ஆலயக் கூறை ஓவியம். கலைகளின் சிகரம், அழகின் உச்சம், உலக அதிசயம், கற்பனை களஞ்சியம்; விசத்திரம், அற்புதம்,  இணையிலா படைப்பு என இவையெலாம் நமக்கு வியப்பும், இன்பமும், பிரமிப்பும் தருகின்றன. நாளும், பணமும் செலவிட்டு, பத்தாய் நூறாய் ஆயிரமாய் கோடியாய், குடும்பமாய் குழுக்களாய், கடலும் மலையும் நதியும் நாடும் கடந்து, இவற்றை கண்டு ரசித்து பேசி புகழ்ந்து பகிர்ந்து மகிழ சுற்றுலா செல்கிறோம்.

எப்படி செல்கிறோம்? காரிலும், பஸ்ஸிலும், ரயிலிலும், விமானத்திலும், பல தேசங்களின் பணத்தை பரிமாற்றிக்கொண்டு, படை எடுக்கிறோம். தாளிலே எழுதி, போனிலே பேசி, வலையிலே விலை பார்த்து, சத்திரமும், பயணச்சீட்டும், நுழைவுச்சீட்டும் வாங்கி. கேமிரா, தண்ணி பாட்டில், தோள் பை, மூக்குகண்ணாடி, கடிகாரம், க்ஷவரக்கத்தி, நைலான் ஸாக்ஸ், நைக்கீ ஷூ, பேனா, பல்துலக்கி, ஸோப்பு, ஷாம்பூ – பன்னிருகை வேலனாய் படையெடுத்து களமிறங்கி, இண்டிகோ மயிலேறி, ஊர் விட்டு ஊர் வந்து, ஏசி மின்விளக்கு மின்விசிறி தொலைகாட்சி யாவுமுள்ள அறையிலே, அனைத்தையும் சாதாரணமாக் எதிர்ப்பார்த்து பயணம் செய்கிறோம்.

விந்தை இல்லை, விசித்திரம் இல்லை, அற்புதம் இல்லை. வியப்பில்லை, திகைப்பில்லை, இவைக்கூட உலக அதிசயம், கலைகளின் சிகரம், கற்பனை களஞ்சியம் என்ற எண்ணம் எள்ளளவும் இல்லை.

            ஐயகோ!!!!! பொலிகப் பொலிகப் பொலிக, இவற்றை போல் உலகில் வியப்பில்லை காண்பீர். மன்னனோ, முனிவனோ கண்டதில்லை, மாயனும் சூரனும் கேட்டதில்லை, புலவரும்  ஞானியும் சொன்னதில்லை, தெய்வங்கள் அறிந்ததில்லை, அறிந்தால் பகிர்ந்ததில்லை, பகிர்ந்ததாய் புராணமில்லை. மறந்து போன யுகத்திலும் மறைந்து போன ஊரிலும் மட்டுமல்ல, நூறு ஆண்டுக்கும் முன் ஒருவருக்கும் இல்லாத இந்த செல்வம், இந்த சாதா விந்தைகள், இன்றோ கோடிக்கணக்கான ஏழைகளும் சொந்தமும் பயனும் மகிழ்வும் கொண்டு களிக்கின்றனர். ஆனால இந்த மகா விந்தையை கண்டு, மா பெரும் செல்வ வெள்ளத்தின் சுவையை, கற்பகமரத்தின கற்பனையை மிஞ்சிய சீர் வரிசையை, கண்டு, களித்து, மகிழ்ந்து, ரசித்து, மலைத்து, இன்புற நமக்கு நாதியில்லை!!!
ஏன்? இவை தனிப்பொருள் அல்ல, மலிவானவை, யாரும் வாங்கக்கூடியவை, சாதா விந்தைகள் என்பதாலா? இவற்றை காணவோ, வாங்கவோ, ரசிக்கவோ, கையாளவோ, பகிரவோ நாம் கடலும் காடும், மலையும் நதியும் கடந்து செல்ல தேவையில்லை. ஊருக்கு ஊர், தெருவுக்கு தெரு, கடைக்கு கடை, வீட்டுக்கு வீடு, இவை பலவும் நம்மைத்தேடி, விளம்பரம் முழங்கி, நாளொரு விலை குறைந்து, தரம் உயர்ந்து, ஒய்யார படை எடுத்து வருகின்றன.

இவற்றை நான் ரசிக்கிறேன். சாதா விந்தையின்ஆறா ரசிகன் நான்.


Tuesday, 14 May 2013

Course on Mathematics in India, from Vedic period to modern times

From Michel Danino & Mamata Dash: 
It is perhaps the first time that such a course is offered, that too by some of the very best scholars in the field. Please pass the information around. From May 15 to May 28. Fees are not mentioned.

The course information, syllabus, and email contact are here http://nptel.iitm.ac.in
Normally, videos are made available online for all NPTL courses.

Gopu's comments:
This will cover the development of mathematics in India, before such things as the plus sign, minus sign, equations, logarithms, calculus etc. were invented. In fact, it will talk about how Brahmagupta invented negative numbers in the 7th century. Before paper was common, and maths books were written on palm leaves. 

A knowledge of Sanskrit will be useful, but I don't think it's essential. A passion for mathematics and history will be more useful.

The course designers have translated two Sanskrit books, Nilakanta Somyajji's TantraSangraha (15th century) and JyeshtaDeva's GanitaYuktiBhasha (16th century), into English. The first book proposed that five planets revolved around the sun (but that the sun revolved around the earth). The second book has concepts that form the rudiments of calculus.

An excellent collection of Sanskrit books, especially on astronomy & mathematics, with English translations, is available in the KV Sarma library, near Adyar bus stand.

Friday, 10 May 2013

How to numb your senses

In 1995, I was living in Bellevue, a suburb of Seattle. Seattle is an awesome city for a nature lover. There are two large fresh water lakes in the city, Lake Washington and Lake Sammamish; there are snowcapped mountain ranges, the Cascades and the Olympics, fifty miles to the east and west respectively – excellent for skiing in winter and hiking in summer; there are several rivers with rapids, like the Methow and the Wenatchee, with organized whitewater rafting; there are two dormant volcanos, Mr Rainier and Mt St Helens with 150 miles. Seattle lies on the sea - Puget sound, and the Pacific ocean lies west of the Olympic mountains. All of these are one or two hours away by car. It was vastly different from my school and college days in India or in Texas. Having no car, and a limited mind and less money, my travels were rare and not exotic.

While, work occupied the weekdays, my first few weekends were spent watching NFL football all Sunday. But I started travelling to these places on weekends with some friends/colleagues from India. Two of my fellow explorers were Bikram from Punjab and Debjyoti from Calcutta, and one day these guys asked me to come along for skydiving. So we drove an hour by car to the nearby Snohomish Parachute Center. There was an airfield and several single and double engine propeller planes, which can carry two pilots and four or five passengers. These are mostly privately owned, which is very common in the USA, unlike most other countries. 
An airport is for suiting up
A plane is for sitting in

There was a hangar - as we entered, we saw several parachutes being folded into their bags after previous jumps by other customers like us.


The photo on the right shows me suited up for a tandem skydive.

The first skydive is either a half day or full day venture. One needs no license, previous experience, training, education etc. There are two ways an amateur jumps out of a plane – static line parachuting and tandem skydiving.


In tandem skydiving, an expert instructor wears a parachute; he wears a harness, which has four steel hooks, two at the chest level, two above the hips. The amateur customer also has a harness with four steel hooks on his back, which line up with the hooks on the expert’s harness. The amateur skydiver has NO parachute. Once the plane reaches an altitude of 12000 feet – there is too little oxygen above this height – the expert and the amateur hook up their harnesses, open the plane’s door and jump out, in tandem. After a freefall of 8000 feet, which takes less than a minute, the expert unleashes the parachute, which unfurls at a height of 4000 feet. Then they both descend to the ground in about five minutes. The expert takes care of everything, the amateur just comes along for the ride. As he is strapped to the expert’s chest, he feels the full blast of the air rushing up, and if he screams or vomits, gravity ensures that the expert is protected. Fainting is optional. No extra charge.

Static line jumping, on the other hand, involves jumping by yourself. After a five hour training session, most of which is spent trying to discourage you from attempting to skydive, including a one hour video session of the sixty different ways a parachute can fail, the instructor took the three of us, Bikram, Debjyoti and me on the plane, and we ascended to 3000 feet. This was just a parachute jump, no freefall. There was a rip cord – the static line- on our parachute bag, which is about twenty feet long, which would be attached to a hook on the airplane. Incidentally our jump instructor was an ex US army major with 1800 jumps. He said that US paratroopers get three months of training before their first jump.

Hanging from the strut. You can see the red static line
We would step out of the plane, catch hold of its strut, and hang from it for a few second. The strut is a metal rod, connecting the wheel base to the tip of the wing. Then we turn towards the instructor and pose for a photo, while the pilot flies the plane at about a hundred miles per hour. Once the instructor clicks the picture, he gives a thumbs up. We let go of the strut. Once we fall twenty feet away from the plane – the length of the ripcord – it peels away the parachute bag, and the parachute unfurls. This literally takes three seconds.


Nothing in life ever prepares anyone for the first three seconds of skydiving, of freefall. The human body is not meant to fall through space at 150 miles per hour, and our senses : vision, hearing, balance, breathing, thought, and reflexes are simply unprepared and unable to cope up with it. A primal scream comes out of the mouth, gasping for air and in shock, then the parachute opens, which is another shock, and one slows down from 150mph to 15mph – in 3 seconds, the speed of descent under a parachute.


The sky is for flying!!
There’s a one way radio attached to the shoulder, where a ground instructor tells you to turn left or right. There are two guide ropes just above the shoulders leading to the left and right extremes of the parachute, and pulling either makes one turn in that direction.

There is a large one square mile field on the ground with a ten foot wide X, painted in white. 
We just need to land anywhere on the field, not the X. You can see the farm plots below, some forest scrub and water in the distance in this photo to the left.

It takes five minutes to descend to the ground under the canopy of the parachute. That may sound simple, but one has to avoid high power 11000 Volt electric lines, a sewage treatment plant, a highway with traffic, a fast flowing river and the cornfields of a farmer with a shotgun, who didn’t like trespassers. Incidentally, on my fourth jump, I landed in the cornfield since my radio had conked out and I started making turns very late. 


Add caption
The view was spectacular. No camera or film can capture it. It was a crystal blue sky with very few puffy white clouds. I could see the volcanic peaks of Rainier in the South and something else in the North, the Cascade and Olympic ranges to the east and west, the sea far away, and gorgeous farm lands and forests, rivers and lakes, highways and towns and villages in every direction.

This photo on the right, is of my second static line jump, a year later. Photo taken by instructor. You can see  houses, streams, etc. and my chute just beginning to unfurl. Mouth wide agape, all senses gone haywire :-D :-D

No essay, no narrative, no poem, no song, no epic, surely no blog, can capture the feeling of being suspended in mid air, slowly descending to earth, surrounded in every direction by indescribable beauty. It was delight and exhilaration, rapture and ecstasy, a pulse pounding feeling of fearlessness and foolhardiness, a sense of adventure and novelty.

Flying by plane is quite exciting too, but being in a seat and looking at the world through a window is nothing, compared to being surrounded by nothing but air, enveloped by the rawness of nature. A plane is for sitting in, the sky is for flying in – or falling through.

But there was also a feeling of extreme loneliness, of tremendous incomparable isolation : a sense of insignificance hits one’s soul harder than the shock of the parachute jerking open in 3 seconds. When I was floating in the air, even the mountains seemed quite tiny and sea looked like a lake. I realized the enormity of the Earth like never before or after. Along with that comes a sense of appreciation for everything material. Nothing makes me treasure the earth, more than floating far above it.
If our rishis and hermits had skydived, perhaps they would not have renounced life, but embraced it in all its material pleasures and delights, experiencing every moment and sharing the joy of living. And not worrying about the after-life and what happens to the soul, and so on.

By the way, I may not be very recognizable in the photos, because I was growing a moustache, wearing a helmet and the photos are mediocre.

Saturday, 4 May 2013

A connoisseur of the commonplace

The Pyramids. Taj Mahal. Ajanta, Khajuraho, Mamallapuram. Angkor Wat. Mona Lisa, Last Supper, Sistine chapel. Parthenon. We marvel at these works of art, sculpture, painting, architecture. They are rare, unique, extraordinary. We travel days and thousands of miles, we spend thousands of rupees or dollars, we go in hundreds, thousands, crores to see them - because of their rarity.

But how do we go? In cars, trains, buses, and planes. Spending a hundred different currencies. Using phones, paper, credit cards, laptops to book rooms, tours, sessions. With cameras, water bottles, backpacks, spectacles, shoes. In cotton clothes. In steel-concrete rooms, with AC, frig, electric lights, fans, washing machines, TVs. Well all these things are common place.

Nothing remarkable, not rare, not unique.

NOOOOOOOOOO!!!!!!!!!!!! They are very remarkable, quite extraordinary. Nobody, not the richest king, the smartest genius, the noblest saint, nobody had them a hundred years ago. Now billions do. Yet here we utterly not amazed, not astounded, not delirious with delight, not satisfied, not thrilled at the democracy and ubiquity of engineered products.

Because they are not unique. Not rare.

We don't even have to spend a ton of money, or travel great distance, with great effort to see or use or enjoy them. They come to us, at affordable prices, lowering every day, improving every month. Yet we only notice them when they slightly go off whack, or we break them, or don't know how to use them.

I dissent. I  delight in their everyday extra-ordinariness. I am a connoisseur of the commonplace.

Traffic - LMS


Traffic is so beautiful here. Muted horns and muffled engines, a whispering breeze, a frothing sea. A city on the move, a procession of mechanical power and human ingenuity, a river of rolling lights, of logistics and luxury, toil and livelihoods, trade and liveliness, of the unsung, by the unheard, for the unknown, so  common place, its magnificence undreamt of by poets and philosophers, nay, even scientists and engineers of yore; the tumult and tides of life, the bells and whistles and joys and sorrows of daily existence. With similes yet to coin, metaphors yet to sculpt.

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I notice several people complain about traffic, for example, without realizing how amazing it is that there is so much traffic at all. Last year, when someone complained about being stuck in traffic, I happened to be on Marina beach, in Madras and I composed this.

Wednesday, 1 May 2013

சென்னை விமான நிலையம்


சென்னையில் ஒரு விமான நிலையம் இருந்தாலும், இரண்டு பிரயாண சத்திரங்கள் இருப்பதால், உள்நாட்டு சத்திரத்திற்கு காமராஜர் பெயரும், வெளிநாட்டு சத்திரத்திற்கு அண்ணா பெயரும் சூட்டப்பட்டுள்ளன. சமீபத்தில் இவற்றை பெரிதாக்கி, இரண்டுப் புது சத்திரங்களை அரசு கட்டியது. புதுப்பெயர்கள் வைக்க திட்டமுள்ளதாகவும், பழையப்பெயர்கள் நீடிக்கவேண்டும் என்று கோரிக்கை உள்ளதாகவும் செய்தி.

புதுப்பெயர் வைத்தால் பரவாயில்லை. ஆனால் தயவுடன் அரசியல் தலைவர் பெயர்களை மட்டுமே வைக்க வேண்டும். தவறிக்கூட ஒரு விமானியின் பெயரோ, ஒரு விமானத்துறை பொறியாளர் பெயரோ, விஞ்ஞானியின் பெயரோ, பணிப்பெண் (air-hostess) பெயரோ, நிர்வாகி பெயரோ, வேறு எந்த தொழிலாளியின் பெயரோ வைக்கவேண்டாம். தமிழ் மரபை, இந்திய மரபை, பண்பை, ஒழுக்கத்தை, முற்போக்கு சிந்தனையை, மாண்பை, குணத்தை உலகுக்கு சொல்லும் கடமை அரசுக்கு உண்டு.