Tuesday, May 30, 2006

Folding them up

I just finished folding up a peacock and a pair of elephants for my workplace, because the little menagerie that I had there was stolen last week. I had a pair of elephants, a couple of bulls, a sitting bird and a flying parrot. I also had a heart with an arrow passing through it stuck to my monitor. Now only the parrot remains pinned to my cubicle partition.
And in case you haven't guessed by now, and haven't looked at the pictures, I'm talking about Origami animals: animal models made by folding up pieces of paper. Origami is a Japanese art of paper-folding. Traditionally, the best models are those which are made from a single piece of paper, do not require cutting or pasting, and do not require a ruler or any kind of geometrical instrument to make.

It was probably on my sixth birthday that my aunt presented me a book on Origami. It was a Bengali book written by Narayan Sanyal. I was too young to read the complex instructions and make the models at the time. My father came to the rescue, and he read up the first few chapters and taught me how to follow the diagrams. He also made the first few simple models for me. Once I caught up with the thing, there was no turning back. I gradually started making more and more complex models by myself. My grandfather, who was a very creative man and enthusiastic about anything new in general, provided encouragement by buying different coloured papers for me, and even cutting them up into various sized squares so that I could make the models easily. At that time I practised day and night, although it would still take me years to master the most complex models in the book. The Bedouin on horseback shown above is such a model. It is made from a single piece of paper, a piece as large as a full sheet of brown paper.

Then for a few years there was a lull in my Origamic activities, because I had finished the book and had nothing new to make. I did invent a few models of my own, but they were not very good.

While in college, I suddenly discovered one day that there were a lot of Origami models that could be learnt online. This finding quickly rejuvenated my interest and I learnt several new models like the variety of elephants shown on the left. The fun of Origami is that the symbols are universal and I can follow instructions written in any language. I have managed to keep this hobby alive even after coming into the IT industry. Only, there’s a slight twist to it. These days I usually don’t buy paper but use waste paper instead. It’s quite exciting to hunt for appropriately colored paper among pamphlets, used brochures and magazines.

And the collection on my office desk is ever growing. While others decorate their workspace with little things they bought, I decorate it with waste paper. Unknown people come and ask me about them, and want to learn. I have even taught some colleagues a few simple models. Even the Project Managers ask me about the models when they pass near my desk. That’s quite natural too, because the green coloured flying parrot immediately attracts the attention of any passerby.

And I intend to improve. I plan to learn more and more models, for I believe that if something is worth doing, it is worth doing well. Right now I’m a bit busy with workload, but I wish to create a few original models of my own in the future. I believe Origami is creativity at its best. Looking at a square sheet of paper, one has to imagine how to make something out of it just by folding. It’s unlike painting or sculpture, where the artist is limited only by his own skill. Here the additional restriction is the paper folding. That’s what makes it more challenging. And I also believe that computers can be made to paint, or even to sculpt in the near future. But they will not be able to do Origami. At most, we can have a robot that folds a piece of paper and creates a model once the instructions are given to it. But original models? Nah! That will remain something that only we humans can ever make.

Thursday, May 18, 2006

My new role

"Never judge a work of art by its defects." ~ Washington Allston.

My sister loves to paint since her early childhood days. In the days when we both stayed at home, whenever she painted a picture, I was usually the first critic. She used to bring the beautifully painted picture to me for my opinion.

She: How much will you give this on a scale of ten?
I: Probably six (The painting was probably worth nine).
She: I’ll beat you up!
I: Ah… then probably seven.
She: Nooooooooo… What’s wrong with it?
I: Oh…now you see, this eye is a bit smaller than that one, and again, the hands are a bit longer than they should be. This mountain is a bit too steep, the trees are too small, the windows are too high, and so on, and so forth…

She’d force me to give a nine and leave. Some time later, she came up with the quote at the top of this post. And after thinking about that line for some time, I had to agree that it was exactly what I had been doing. Since then, I have tried to change my viewpoint.

But now it’s my job. I have been made a software tester.

For those who don’t know, the formal definition of software testing is, “The process of executing a software with the intention of finding bugs.” The developer makes a program, and I have to find flaws (bugs) in it so that they can be corrected. By definition, “A successful test is one where a bug is uncovered”. A tester’s job is as important as a developer’s job, if not more. But I don’t want to do this work.

And why don’t I want to do this work? Is it because I don’t like it? Not at all! On the contrary, I don’t want to do this work because I’m afraid I might like it.

Programmers and testers are supposed to be two totally different kinds of people. The former group believes things will work as expected, the latter group believes they won’t. the former group aims at creating a system, the latter group aims at destroying it.

The former group is where I want to be, the latter group is where I have been put.

Over the last few days, my whole outlook towards things has changed. I have been looking at things to find flaws. Since yesterday three of my friends have sent me links to their blogs, and I was surprised to find that I actually mailed back a list of mistakes to them.

Imagine looking at the Mona Lisa and only seeing its imperfections. Imagine going to watch a Chaplin or Ray classic and making a list of goof-ups. At a party, when you find nothing wrong about the excellent food, imagine saying, “Another couple of days and this fish would have turned bad*.” Would you ever be able to enjoy anything in life if you started behaving like that? I wouldn’t.

As a person I’m more comfortable with creating things. I like to make things work. I want to cry out “Eureka!” when a program works, not when a program crashes. That is precisely why I don’t want to do testing (though my tester friend Bhavana keeps motivating me from Bangalore, and even sends me links). Testing may be good work, but it's something which I feel changes people. I don’t want to change myself.

And I already see it happening. I am getting a sadistic pleasure by finding mistakes in the beautiful documents our development team has prepared. Earlier probably I would be interested to know the program design, but not anymore. I only want it to get ready so that I can break it down. I no longer appreciate the developers’ work. I only appreciate the look on their faces when I point out their mistakes to them.

Somebody take me out of here please, I’m afraid I’m starting to like my job.

This is an old Bengali joke.

Saturday, May 13, 2006


This is not a proper post... just a funny photo that I took, and wanted to share.

A few days ago, I came across this post by Greatbong. As he says, a picture is worth a thousand words... so I am posting this photo that shows a retractor that was sent to me as a gift from USA. The picture says the rest.

I expected Americans to make at least the advertisements for their products in their own country!

Saturday, May 06, 2006

My Tribute to Tagore

One of the earliest memories that comes to my mind when I think about Rabindranath Tagore is that of my mother reading Beerpurush (The Hero) to me. Whenever she took the Sanchayita (a fat anthology of Tagore’s poems) in hand, I’d tell her to read that poem at least once.

Even before that, I knew some of Tagore’s poems by heart. My grandfather and my parents had taught me those even before I had learnt to read. But those were in the days when I didn’t know that poems needed something like poets to create them, and so Rabindranath’s name wasn’t familiar to me. Later I probably had to learn a few other poems for my primary school, but those were not for fun.

Then we went to Allahabad, and my contact with Bengali literature kind of decreased.

Some time later, once when my father visited Hooghly for a week, my grandfather sent me a small thin notebook by his hand. Inside that notebook, he had written a few poems by Rabindranath Tagore in his beautiful handwriting. The first among them was Nadi (The River). As I read and re-read that poem, my love for Tagore and poetry in general was reborn: a love which only deepened as I grew up.

This post is not to discuss or analyze Tagore’s poems; I am not competent enough to do that. But since my childhood days, his poems seemed to affect me profoundly. I have not read most of Tagore’s literary works which contains poems, songs, short stories, novels, plays, essays and letters. But by whatever I have read, I have come to a condition where it is difficult for me to live without listening to his songs or reading his poems for a few days. Even now I have a copy of the Sanchayita in my bedroom which I brought from my home the last time I went there.

One thing that I always felt was that Tagore’s work has not been translated into English properly. Whatever translations that I had read were nowhere near the original Bengali versions, primarily because the rhymes of the lines were not there. So when I decided to translate a Tagore poem in English, my priority was to keep the rhyme intact, and sticking to the meaning as much as possible at the same time. Naturally, I chose my favourite poem, Nadi. The poem describes the journey of a typical Indian river from the mountains to the sea, and is very very long, like a river itself. The language is very simple as it was written primarily for children. I showed this translation to the noted Bengali author Narayan Sanyal shortly before his death last year. He liked it and advised me to get it published. However, I write for enjoyment only, and have neither the time nor the energy to translate sufficient number of poems to form a book. At the same time, I would like the English-speaking population of the world to read this poem, so that they can appreciate the beauty of Tagore’s creation. That’s why I’m posting my translation here on the occasion of his 145th birth anniversary today.

[By the Bengali calendar, however, Tagore's birthday is on 25th Baishakh (the first month of the Bengali year) which coincides with May 9th this year]

By Rabindranath Tagore (Translated by Sugata Banerji)

Hey, does any of you know
Why the water waves dance so?
They dance day and night,
Where did they learn it?
Hark! With gurgle and splutter,
Continuously flows the water.
Whom do their hands beckon?
Whose lap do they rock on?
Always bubbling with delight
They run with all their might.
Keeping everybody appeased,
They themselves remain pleased.

I often sit and wonder,
Wherefrom came the river
From some high mountain it came,
Does anybody know its name?
It has never been visited
It is uninhabited.
It has neither grass nor trees,
Nor birds, beasts or bees.
Where no sounds are heard
The mountain sits like a great bard.
On his high head
Snowy covers are spread.
Only the clouds there roam
Like the children of the home.
Only icy winds blow
Over those wastes of snow.
Only the stars of the night,
Keep him in their sight.
Only the smiling rays of dawn
Adorn him with a crown.
There, under the sky’s blue feet,
Where the soft clouds meet,
Where the white snow gleams,
The sleeping river dreams.
Once as the sun shone on her face,
She woke up in that place;
Once on a sunny day,
She remembered her play.
There she lived alone
Playmates there were none;
She heard nobody’s tongue,
There no songs were sung.
So prattling along the road,
She slowly left her abode
Thinking, “Whatever there’s to see
Won’t remain hidden from me.”

Below, on slopes not so high,
Trees have risen through the sky.
They are old trees whose
Age nobody knows.
In their joints hard and big
Birds build with twigs.
Raising their black branches,
They obscure the sun’s rays.
From the boughs here and there
Moss hangs like tangled hair,
They stand without a gap,
As if laying a dark trap.
In the silent shades below,
The giggling river does flow.
Who can keep her still?
She changes course at will.
Ever playing hide-and-seek
Pebbles rattle at her feet,
Pushing rocks on her way,
She goes laughing away.
If on the path stands a mount,
She smiles and goes around.
Wild billy-goats there graze
With beards hanging and horns raised.
And deer with thick fur
Whom none can capture.
The people there look new,
Their bodies all sinew,
Their eyes are not straight
Their words you don’t get.
They are children of the hill,
They sing as lands they till.
They toil day and night
And cut heaps of wood to light.
They climb mountaintops
To hunt wild antelopes.

As the river moves farther,
Friends come and join her.
They too, like her, have come
Out on the road leaving home.
At their feet ring the pebbles,
Like anklets and bangles.
Light sparkles on them
Like a dress of sparkling gems.
In their own babbling way
They have so much to say.
Falling over with mirth
They increase each other’s girth.
Embracing each other tight
At last they all unite.
Then the water flows so fast
It shakes the earth’s very crust.
Wherever it falls from a height
The rocks tremble with its might.
Boulders crumble by her force
The river carves her own course.
The trees on her banks are tall
They lean as if about to fall.
Large chunks of rock crash
And hit the water with a splash.
Then the muddy water flows
With bubbles in clusters close.
The water swirls around
And runs madly seaward bound.

Crossing the mountains,
At last the river finds plains.
Here whatever she does view,
To her eyes they seem new.
Open fields: her eyes they soothe
The roads are flat and smooth.
Here farmers crops do raise,
There cattle having a graze,
Somewhere on a large fig branch
A bird does a whistling dance,
Shepherd boys there meet
And play at some tree’s feet,
In the villages near her shores
People are busy doing their chores.
Now nothing obstructs her flow
She chooses the way to go.
Rainwater streams on the way
Come from all around. They
Expand the river so fast,
She is unstoppable at last.

Grass makes the riverbanks green,
That’s where herons preen.
Buffaloes live there in herds,
They roll in the riverbed mud.
The wild boars there dwell,
Their tusks dig up the soil.
So many foxes there lurk,
They howl after it’s dark.
To so many lands she travels,
The number is uncountable.
At some places there’s only sand,
At others there’s red-earth land;
Some banks are covered with cane,
Or wheat fields fill the plain;
Small villages somewhere lie,
Or a capital with head high—
The Nawab there a palace owns,
With thick pillars of stone,
Its ghats of a hundred steps
Go down to the water’s depths.
Somewhere the river’s two banks
A white stone bridge spans.
Somewhere on a bridge of steel
A train puffs along on wheels.

Travelling in this way,
At last she finds soft clay.
In course of the river’s tour,
She comes to our very door.
Here canals, lakes, rivulets
Wrap the land in watery nets.
Where girls themselves wash,
Or boys have a good splash,
Fishing nets the fishermen throw,
The boatmen boats do row,
The ferryman sings a merry song,
As the ferryboats move along.

Old temples by the scores,
They line some of the shores,
Each morning and evening,
The prayer bells there do ring.
Ascetics besmeared with ash,
Sit as if drawn with a brush.
Somewhere it’s market day,
So many boats fill the quay.
Fields have crops in such amount
That is beyond all count!
In some dense sugarcane plot,
Lone mynas feed and trot.
Where there’s only sandy loam,
It’s the bank myna’s home
There turtles their eggs lay
Under the sand and go away.
In winter in flocks come
Wild geese and make it home.
There crowds of ducks belong,
They jabber all day long.
The snipes along the shore
Go pecking the mud for more.

Somewhere beside paddy fields
Through dense bamboo-banana yields
Or groves of mango-jackfruit green
Some small village can be seen.
There grains in full barns lie,
The haystacks are piled high,
The cattle tied in their sheds,
They are black, white and red.
In the oil-miller’s small shack,
The creaking mill’s at work.
The potter his wheel whole day
Turns and models clay.
The grocer in his shop all day
At the Ramayana reads away.
Boys in classroom seats
Their lessons aloud repeat,
With the long cane in his lap,
The teacher takes a nap.
Here meandering all the way,
Village roads go far away.
A bullock cart on this road,
Goes groaning under the load.
Thin village dogs ill fed
Sniff the dust in search of bread.

When the full moon night comes by
The moon smiles across the sky—
The woods across are dark,
The water shines like sparks,
Sand glistens on the bed,
Shadows hide in shrubs in dread.
All are asleep under their roofs,
Not a single boat now moves.
The leaves on trees don’t stir,
Nor waves on the water.
If suddenly awakened by the light,
The cuckoo sings out in the night,
Across, a bird in its dream
Utters an occasional scream.

The river goes right-left, here-there,
She stops never and nowhere.
Here there’s a deep jungle—
Where the shores have no people.
Only crocodiles her banks do line,
They bask in the bright sunshine.
Tigers prowl among the clumps,
On their prey they suddenly jump.
Somewhere leopards can be seen,
They have a spotted skin—
At night they steal to the brink
And lick the water to drink.

Here when there is high tide,
The river swells up wide.
The water is brim to brim—
Fruits and flowers in it swim,
The waves laugh out loud,
Boats pitch and roll about.
The river like a python roars
And tries to swallow its shores.
Again, when the tide starts going low—
The water becomes shallow,
The river is no more fat,
On her sides are seen mud flats,
The descending steps emerge
Like the river’s rib cage.

Further the river goes
More the water in it grows.
Until you can’t see the coast,
And sense of direction is lost.
The water becomes blue,
Its taste is salty too.
Then the river becomes so deep,
To the sky the water leaps,
The land now can’t be found,
It is water all around.

Hey, what’s that noise we hear?
What’s the deep blue water there?
That the ocean must be,
Whose end none can see.
There millions of waves all rise,
Then banging its head each dies.
The white foam dances on them,
Like great anger bubbling within.
The water roars and rushes around,
As if to pull the sky to the ground.
Running the wind arrives,
Laughing into the waves he dives.
Just like a school-less boy,
Jumps, runs and plays with joy.
Here however far you view,
There’s nothing, nothing new—
Just the sky and wind and water,
Just the noise of their chatter,
Just the foam and the waves—
And there’s no one, and nothing else.

Here, at the end of all lands,
The river’s journey ends.
Here all night and day
Without end she can play.
She can sing endless songs,
Or dance all day long.
Now she can have some rest,
The ocean took her on his breast.
On a blue bed her he’ll lay
And wash her mud away.
And cover her with froth,
His wave-cradle’s bed cloth,
Singing lullabys in her ears
Make her tiredness disappear.
For eternal days and nights, here
She will lie in bottomless care.

Monday, May 01, 2006

Joy's Day Out

Yesterday I definitely had my most enjoyable day since I came to Hyderabad. Smita had called me for lunch at her hostel at the National Geophysical Research Institute (NGRI) where she’s doing her PhD. Then in the evening I met Shashi, another friend from Bangalore who was on a two day visit to the city. I came home at eleven in the night after having dinner together.

Naturally, the question that most readers will ask at this point is. “Who is Smita?” It is very difficult to answer that question in a few lines, but I’ll try my best.

There’s a Jewish proverb that says, “God couldn’t be everywhere, so he created mothers.” Similarly, sisters couldn’t be everywhere, and so God created people like Smita. I met her on Orkut, and she’s my first online friend whom I met in real life. Originally from my hometown, she’s a great friend, always jolly and giggling. A day seems incomplete without a phone conversation with her. Add to that scraps on Orkut, chats on Yahoo Messenger and Google Talk, e-mails and SMSs, and you’ll be able to guess the amount of interaction we have with each other. The best thing about her is that she’s proactively helpful: she actually offers to help friends even before they ask for it.

No, I think I’m wrong there… the best thing about her is her cooking skill, but we’ll come to that in due time.

She had been planning to invite me for lunch for quite some time, and I had been pestering her too, but neither of us was really able to “sync up” (as our managers say) with the other. Finally this Sunday was fixed as the day. Another of my wonderful online friends, Shashi, was also visiting Hyderabad this weekend. She works in my company’s Bangalore office, and she’s also Smita’s online friend. She has recently gained admission to IIM Bangalore, and so we wanted a “treat” from her. So it was decided that I’ll go and have lunch with Smita and her friends, and then the two of us will go and meet Shashi and have dinner in some restaurant.

After a long and meticulous discussion on phone regarding the menu, everything was settled. I arrived at NGRI yesterday around noon. Smita took me into her room and gave me special sweets (petha) that she had brought from Agra a few days ago. Then she went and informed her friends that I had arrived, and they could come and ‘see’ me now. So Astha, Minakshi, Shweta and Ratnesh came and fussed over me while Smita finished her job in the kitchen. I can’t remember the last time when I have received so much attention outside my home.

Then lunch was served. It was a complete Bengali lunch as requested by me. I’m writing the names of the dishes. However, non Bengali readers may have difficulty in understanding what these dishes taste like.
  • Bhat (rice)
  • Biulir daal (urad ki daal- black gram soup)
  • Aloo-pneyaj-posto (poppy seeds with potato and oniyon)
  • Chholar tarkari (a side dish with grams)
  • Sorshe bata diye dantar jhal (drumsticks with mustard)
  • Rui machher kaliya (fish curry)
  • Aamer chatni (mango chutney)
  • Gurer Payes (kheer- a dessert made with rice, milk and jaggery)

Among these, the fish requires a special mention. Yesterday she had bought fish for the first time in her life assisted by her friend Chandrani, and cooked that particular dish for the first time after telephonic cooking lessons from her mother. And she kept the head of the fish for me... I ate a fish head after a long long time. Each one of the preparations was delicious. I can appreciate it more now as I have started cooking for some time. But there can be no comparison between my cooking and hers. Anyway, it’s useless to use up space here; I can never make readers taste those dishes with my words. Before leaving, she also gifted me a bottle of my favourite mustard sauce.

After lunch we went first to Astha’s room and then to Chandrani’s room and chatted for some time. Smita also introduced me to her friend Ramya. After some time, Smita took me on a trip of the campus (where I photographed flowers), and then to a small temple on a hillock across the road. Then we went to Hyderabad Central where we were supposed to meet Shashi. Shashi was a little late, and we used that time in window-shopping in the soft toys section of the mall.

Then Shashi came. I had never met Shashi before… only seen her photographs. Imagine the thinnest person you have ever seen, with a pair of amused bright eyes and a grin like the Cheshire Cat, and you’ll have a fair idea about Shashi. She’s one of those people whom you feel you’ve known all your life even if you haven’t met them even once. We went to the Shanbagh Restaurant nearby and had a delightful dinner. Smita and Shashi both being elder to me did a bit of “ragging” with me all through the dinner, but it was enjoyable all the same.

Soon it was time to say goodbye. Smita left on her scooter. I accompanied Shashi up to the bus stand. After she managed to squeeze into an overcrowded bus, I returned home.

Yesterday was like a breath of fresh air in my boring schedule of life in Hyderabad. I met four of my online friends Smita, Astha, Minakshi and Shashi (Shashi for the first time) on the same day. I got to eat home-cooked Bengali food, which was a welcome break from a choice between my own cooking and the spicy Andhra food outside. But most importantly, I realized once more that being posted in Hyderabad was not the worst thing of my life as I had felt previously. If I had been posted in Kolkata, I would not have had the opportunity of meeting such nice people. Everything in life happens with a purpose, and for our good… or as Einstein put it, “God does not play dice”.