Street Music Project

(Hattip: Ashdin)

A great idea to record the same song played by street musicians in different parts of the world:

The Monkey and the Fish

A monkey was walking along a river and saw a fish in it. The monkey said, Look, that animal is under water, he’ll drown, I’ll save him. He snatched up the fish, and in his hand the fish started to struggle. And the monkey said, Look how happy he is. Of course, the fish died, and the monkey said, Oh, what a pity, if I had only come sooner I would have saved this guy.

Thought provoking article on the harm that aid does in some situations. Philip Gourevitch on Humanitarian Aid: Alms Dealers.. That article generated a lot of responses from aid organizations that P.G. had to write a rebuttal which makes excellent reading as well: Response: to Alms Dealers. Quite surprise to read in the article that Florence Nightingale was opposed to Henri Dunant's idea for the Red Cross. Called it a ludicrous idea from Geneva. On reading Gourevitch's article, seems like the Lady of The Lamp had a point.

Review of Vikram Seth's "From Heaven Lake"

Review of Vikram Seth's delightful first book: Lit blog.

We don't do porn

I recently got a nice roll-film camera and it has been a rather interesting mixture of frustration, surprise, and reward. I intend to write about this at length soon, but the latest in the series of continuing trials and tribulations of temporarily switching to old-school format was just too funny. So here goes:

Time: Sat morning, about 1p

Scene: I have just finished developed a roll of b/w film and am admiring the work and I can't wait to get this printed. So, I call CVS 1-hr photo thinking they will be able to develop the Kodak Tri-X B/W film.

Me: Hello, CVS Photo services?
CVS lady: Yes, how can we help you today?
Me: Can you make prints from negatives?
CVS: You mean you just want prints? from film developed at CVS?
Me: Um... yes and no, I have developed my own roll of film and I just wanted some prints. You make prints of any kind of film right?
CVS: (pause).. We don't make prints of pornography
Me: (flabbergasted)... (long pause).. What?! (thinking WTF!) Excuse me?
CVS: We don't make prints of pornographic or any stuff like that..
Me: (recovering somewhat and embarrassed laugh).. oh no this is quite regular pictures.. umm.. nothing dirty.. just pictures of streets and buildings.
CVS: Ok, bring them in. I will have to first take a look to see before we can develop them
(perhaps implying maybe you have some porn that you don't know yet?)

The conversation then continued and it was then shortly determined that despite the complete lack of pornographic, erotic, or any other kind of visually arresting, publicly unmentionable content CVS will not develop my negatives. In fact, no large store will process even the most innocuous photos taken on a Kodak Tri-X roll. All because it's not a C41 type roll. I would have to either do it myself or ask a professional photo lab. I am wondering if that specialty lab will be disappointed that it's not porn. I do have some photos of a fountain with a naked Neptune surround by mermaids. Does that count?

Towards a Monoculture

I cannot explain why I am attracted to words and sounds: there is this mystery to alien sounds, like listening to strange music. There are words like caïque* which sound and read mysterious and interesting. Naturally, sounds in other languages are even more interesting that words in the dictionary. Even if you don't understand a word there this is mysterious enjoyment of just listening to the phonemes, phrasing, the cadences and rhythms.

My abilities in German have been asymptotically diminishing, but it's fun to be able to catch some snatches of Italian and Spanish and guess the meaning by using the Latin roots. But, do languages have utility? The general attitude is to learn languages that are 'useful'. So, English, Spanish and lately Chinese, are more useful than learning say, Pashto, Tagalog or Swahili. While communication and understanding maybe improved when people speak the same language, it's not entirely a good thing as the world drifts to a monoculture, or monopoly of a few select language. It's well known that when the last speaker of a language dies, he or she takes with him/her a whole way of expression, an entire culture, and often it's the end of a way of life.

Sadly, in India, a land of many languages we are losing reason to learn or master the vernacular. It seems likely that in a generation, chaste Hindi or even Urdu will be lost. I will not dwell individual dialects and accents that color languages. My own mother tongue - Gujarati has variants depending on whether the speaker is Parsi, or Bohri, or from Surat, Kathiawad, or Ahmedabad. Of course, these dialects and other Indian languages will survive in the the hands of few. But, it's quite likely that poetry, plays and books will cease to be written as often as they were. First, there won't be writers with the fluency, and sadly they will be starved of an audience. An artist needs an audience that actually understands the nuances or subtleties to appreciate the skill in creating within the confines of the language.

It's sad but true that many of my friends have not taken any great effort to teach their kids languages other than English thinking that it will 'confuse' them. A common idea is that child development is hindered with learning more than one language and that they won't get admission since they can't speak English properly.

The polymath Jared Diamond presents research to the contrary. In a piece for Science he demonstrates that conventional thinking about language confusing kids is quite wrong. (See: The Benefits of Multilingualism, by Jared Diamond, Science 15 October 2010: 332-333| link to summmary)More importantly there are additional benefits:

Recent studies show that children raised bilingually develop a specific type of cognitive benefit during infancy, and that bilingualism offers some protection against symptoms of Alzheimer’s dementia in old people.
He goes on to write...
More recent studies, comparing subjects matched for those other variables, have found bilinguals and monolinguals to be largely similar in cognition and language processing.

He presents additional material to show that those who speak more than one language are better at handling multiple inputs, ie better multi-taskers. Now who wouldn't want that?

So, if you aren't so interested in sounds, or saving poetry and languages from extinction you may be interested in conferring some benefit to your kids by teaching them more than one tongue.
*caïque: A Turkish hand-rowed boat

Review of Peter Hessler's Country Driving

China is a fascinating country. As Indians we love to compare against it. Peter Hessler lived in China for many years and has written wonderful books on the subject. My review of his latest book 'Country Driving' on the Lit blog.