Sunday, 30 April 2017

Big Data and the Death of Individual Freedom

Big Data is the biggest thing, perhaps that the internet has given to conglomerates, corporates, business houses, corporations, and even repressive governments that want to keep tabs on troublemakers.  In many ways, I find a parallel between the collection of Big Data today, and the collection of information by Socialist states. Citizens reported to the secret police on activities of their fellow citizens, and some even went on to report on their own family members. This reminds me of the Stassi, in East Germany, the Dergue, in Ethiopia and the Cheka ( Later KGB ) in the USSR, secret police organizations that collected dossiers of evidence on their citizens. This information was used to detain, harass, blackmail and exterminate ‘troublemakers’ – people who did not ‘conform’ or even toe the line. Failure to accept the ‘accepted’ beliefs of Socialism could lead to dire consequences. The collection of Big Data, is not, therefore, something new, and it is not, I repeat, it is not what makes us really different from the Stassi, the Dergue, or even the KGB. Access to the internet and the presence of a number of social networking sites has made Big Data collection more vicious, and cut-throat!
Big Data, is nothing but spying on individual freedom and privacy. Forget about phone tapping, eavesdropping, or even photo-surveillance, your whole life, preferences, strengths, weaknesses, passwords, likes and dislikes, and movement, to mention a few are out there on Big Data. So when you are checking into some well-known food joint, you are publishing your information on the net, for some vitiated hacker to use! Robbers know when to strike at your home, because they know you have checked into Chingg’s Restaurant in Connaught place are not likely to return home. Remember that story about a famous personality who had been robbed at home in Paris? The robbers knew she would be in her Paris flat with all her jewelry.
But then, it is not just robbers, who look for Big Data, in fact, business houses, content marketers, advertisers, manufacturers and other commercial vested interests are spying on you. They are monitoring your window shopping activities online and they will tantalize you with advertisements of products that you viewed on Amazon or Flipkart, or for that effect any other online shopping portal. Ever wondered why you see pop up advertisements of exactly the same products you viewed on another site? I love browsing for DSLR Cameras, their specs, and prices online. I might visit Amazon for the same. When I next visit some other website, I see advertisements for cameras that I had browsed earlier.
Human beings have become open books in the twenty-first century, thanks to the collection of Big Data, and the constant monitoring that everyone is going through. What has made things worse today is that we have more ‘Big Brothers’ today than we had in the Soviet Union, or GDR, or even puppet regimes like the ones that existed in Ethiopia from the mid nineteen seventies to the end of the nineteen eighties. I wonder if somehow, Socialism and Communism might not have had the last laugh in this century, what with the steadying deterioration of individual privacy, and individualism as a whole! The ideal Socialist state is one in which everyone is equal, everyone has equal opportunities, equal rights, and equal duties. The ideal Communist state is when there is the ‘withering away of the state’ and that can happen only when the individual is totally subservient to the state, there is the rule of the Proletariat and no place for the Bourgeoisie. The issue of social security numbers, pan cards, Aadhar cards and other such identification marks are in fact merely tags meant to identify people by their numbers. The moment numbers and tags become more important than the individual himself, you have in fact taken away that individual’s right to be called by his name. You have made him a conformist, someone who can be tracked for disruption, non-conformity and being, for that effect, different. Communism does not tolerate too much non-conformism or even disruption. Big Data is turning the whole human society into one huge mechanical, conformist, and spiritually dead dystopia! Aldous Huxley has described exactly such a world in his book, Brave New World. The book describes a world of conformists, automatons, and zombies who are controlled by Big Data and forced to conform. Those who don’t conform to accepted rules of the state are exiled to the few remaining ‘Savage Reservation’.
The attempt to control individual choice and the attempt to moderate individual differences by organizations, governments and corporations have been described by Aldous Huxley, in another of his books, titled Island. In a conversation between Susila and Will, we come to know that children are taught  “The three R’s plus rudimentary S.D.” The term, “S.D.” refers to “Alias Destiny Control”, some kind of auto-suggestion. Susila tells Will Farnaby that in the schools on the island of Pala, “You just tell them what they’re supposed to do and leave it at that.” Big Data collection is simply, a means to ensure conformity, prevent dissent, and thwart disruption, in the long run, same as the party apparatchiks did in Communist countries. Madeleine L’Engle wrote about exactly such a scenario in her novel, A Wrinkle in Time. In this book, there is a place called Camazotz all the people look and behave the same way, they conform to accepted norms and rules, and they are ruled over by IT, a giant disembodied brain. One might look at IT in Madeleine’s book as a metaphor for Big Data, and IT’s role in Camazotz as being that of  Big Data Collection!

1. Huxley Aldous: Island, Flamingo Modern Classic -1994
2. Huxley Aldous: Brave New World, Flamingo Modern Classic – 1994
3. L’Engle Madeleine: A Wrinkle in Time, Yearling Books - 1973

Thursday, 27 April 2017

A Room with a View - Random Thoughts

It rained that day, a light drizzle,
Sweeping away all the gunk that clogged the sky,
Dust from construction sites smoke from cars, factories!
And curiously, I looked out of the window and saw,
To my surprise, the clear sky!

In the distance, I saw mountains
Stretching across the horizon, solid presence-substantial.
And spires of  building that poked into the skies, celebrating
Freshness, brought by the cleansing, light - drizzle.
I had never seen those mountains ever before!

It rained that day and the sky looked clean,
Blue, not angry or grey, the clouds white and bold 
That sailed majestically across, solid presence-substantial.
A fresh breath of air did I draw, a special moment, without a doubt.
' If only,' I thought, 'we could have clear skies without smoke!'

And all the while we sit with windows shut,
Blinds drawn - who'd look at angry skies, dust clouds,
Choking, threatening, waiting to devour blues and whites together?
And those mountains swallowed up by the dust like civilisations
  Swallowed by sands of time like they never were!

It had rained that day, washing away all the dust
And smoke, laying bare the scene that lay ahead, the clear
Blue sky, and the billowing white clouds scudding across heavens
With glee and joy. The mountains did beckon to me, those I'd
Never known. The fresh breeze did cheer me up!

Monday, 24 April 2017

Earth's Song - A Poem

You smother her in toxic gases, your lover, dump
Garbage on her, (for a crown) and go asking for more!

You cut down her tresses, denude her head of green
 Luxuriant growth, turning it into a bald, burnt desert!

You come  ask, for more, greed doesn't end,
Her glaciers shrink, oceans rise, people flee.

You pillage her oceans for fish and land for minerals, and
After you're done, you leave a wasteland and cesspool.

You come again, asking for more, greed doesn't 
 End even while she's in pain  and not so well!


Rivers dry but oceans do rise, a great thirst
Does parch the throats of man and beast !

Great clouds of smoky and dust do float in the air
 But of rain there's still no sign! Yet you ask for more!

She cries out in pain, begging for help, but alas,
To earn a few more petro-dollars suits you more!

So do greedy corporates pressing for mega bucks,
Drill for more oil, though it  creates clouds of smoke!

Unfortunately, she does gasp for breath your mother, e'en
As you fight for your money, burn and turn her into dust!

A rainbow is seen, on the horizon, while sweet showers 
Bathe and cool her, drive away fevers that burn like fires.

She revives, and lovers celebrate new life, life without
Smoke, pollution, pain or sadness! A child cries out her love!

A sweet scent of spring wafts upon the surface, it drives
Away pungent smells of burnt lives, and scorched dreams!

Yes there is still hope, if only you'd wake up and mend your
Ways! Leave your chair and walk the paths strewn with leaves.

There she waits to embrace you engulf you with her love,
One who once lay sick, mother, lover, angel, or fairy!


Sweetly sings the bard, his Earth's song, and the winds do stop
To listen to him sing of love and romance, of times long past!

He sings of  oceans which teemed with whales, and fish aplenty
Crystal clear streams that rushed to quench the thirsty.

Tell me there's still hope, to heal the Earth, clean the Oceans,
Plant the forests, and sprout the gardens - for lovers to rest!

Sweetly sings he, of her, whom he once loved but no more
Is, sweet princess, whose tinkling feet did range the green.

Thus, while the world does pause to hear the song, a scream does
Rent the sky apart, 'Oh wherefore hast thou done this to me, li'l one?'

Thursday, 20 April 2017

An Easter Day Sunrise Service at The Church of The Epiphany, Gurgaon

Sixteenth of April was Easter, and for some of the members of the congregation of the Church of The Epiphany, the day started early in the morning. The Sunrise Service at the Church of The Epiphany takes place early in the morning, a little before sunrise. Members gather in the church premises and then proceed to the two graveyards in Civil Lines, carrying candles. The Candlelight procession is formed mainly of members from the second service.

The Sunrise Service is a very solemn occasion and it is a worship service in which members pay their respect to their dear departed. A large number of my relatives have been buried in the same graveyard, and the most recent being my father. My Grandfather, Late Revd. Moti Lal was laid to rest in the same graveyard. The graveyard is quite an old one and some of the gravestones go back to the nineteenth century with a lot of British soldiers and family members being buried here. The Church was then a Garrison Church and Gurgaon was a cantonment housing a large number of British troops. We recently celebrated the 150th Anniversary of the foundation of the old church building.

After paying their respect to the departed, members return to the church for Mass. The altar is set outside the church by the staircase and the congregation sits outside in the pleasant sylvan surroundings to hear the Easter message.

Surprisingly, even the little ones turned up for the procession! There were more of young people in the procession than I had ever expected! 

Monday, 17 April 2017

At the Art Fest - 2017

This year too, we looked forward to the organisation of the art fest. TheThe theme for the Art Fest (Kalaparv)this year was baroque art. I was excited about looking at the exhibits and decided to take a few snaps of the exhibit. I am sure that you will like what I saw today. Yes, a loud applause for the art department, and all those students who contributed towards the event. There was sleep in the eyes of the Fine Arts teachers, people who worked through a Saturday and a Sunday!

These are semi-finished ceramic coated artifacts waiting to be placed in the furnace, all a preparation for the art fest.

If mirrors fascinate you, this is it! The mirror created an illusion that I was glad to exploit!

What is it that makes pets adorable? Well, I guess it is because they are so well behaved!

Some of the exhibits included a display of gowns and dresses. This one I'd like to call the woman in gold!

I guess it is all about synchronicity!

Hand-painted designer shoes, any takers?

A Designer Boutique! I liked the concept of lighted dresses!

The illusion of movement, nothing can beat the idea of using shadows!

These rather happy "Jugheads" are in fact receptacles for ornamental plants!

Nothing will beat the beauty of a bunch of flowers in a vase!

So then why do we love pets? I guess that is because they are faithful and trustworthy!

I could go on and on with more photographs, except that space is the main concern! Hope you liked the snaps!

Friday, 14 April 2017

The Cuckoo's Song - Random Musings

In the early morning rays of the rising sun sings a cuckoo, in the branches
Of a tree, "Koo-oo-ah, koo-oo-ah," which translated would mean,
"Hear me all, hear me all," but none do stop to listen
To her cry out the message of spring, of promise of
Mangoes ripe, of forthcoming feasts of fruits and
Juice, of spices and scents so rich and heady!

And as men and women  hurry to tasks so real,
None do hear the Cuckoo's sing, nor do they look at
At the magic of rising sun! All they see are paving stones,
 Boss's bitter face, a salvo of barbed arrows as bitter as death! Thus,
Do they move on with a mind ahead (even as the Cuckoo calls out to them
 With a song of hope and joy) as they rush away to greet the day and meet their fate.

On and on she sings, increasing her pitch and anger, heedlessly singing into the approaching
 Day, even as the noise of crowds and cars, drown her song. "For God's sake, listen as I sing a song for
 You, you who head for a life of toil, pause a while, hear onesing of nectar sweet, and mangoes ripe!" 
But alas! The world would move with a mind of its own, a world of men and women,
Children, lovers, and enemies deaf to all intent!

She sings  sweetly, songs of promise,, of gifts, and joy,
Songs that grow desperate with the passing of time, trills and frills
Lost on deaf - dead ears, feet that move of  own accord, to the regular beat of a
 Mechanical monster that drowns sweet songs with  loud grunts and squeaks, thumps, bangs
And groans - giant cogs that move, as the day wakes up to another round of grunge! On and on
She sings, desperate Cuckoo, increasing her pitch and tone, even as the world passes by heedlessly!

Koo-ah, koo, hear me all you who move away with restless minds, hear you not my song of
Fruits so full, and mangoes so rare, to quench your thirst of summer heat? Smell you not,
The scents so rich, colours so bright, yellows and reds, orange and green, hiding
A flesh so rare. Oh to sink my teeth into the bounty so rich, of nature so
Generous, to drink of nectar that feeds the gods!

Wednesday, 5 April 2017

Sunrise Photo by Rodrick Lal — National Geographic Your Shot

Sunrise Photo by Rodrick Lal — National Geographic Your Shot: The color of the sky is mesmerizing, need I say more? The composition is all wrong (rule of thirds) but still I felt like adding this snap to my portfolio.

Tuesday, 4 April 2017

Pondering over the need for fasting during the Lenten Season

So then, it is the Lent season once again and you have promised to let go of something you most liked as a way of observing a period of fasting. You become therefore, a good Christian, or a believer of any faith if you subject yourself to a period of fasting and self-abnegation, shave your head, sit on a mat and observe as the world passes by, or rather the world observes you for a charlatan and a hypocrite that would draw  the attention of others! And yet after the period of fasting is over, you return to the old ways, gorge yourself on the free-flowing wine, and the abundant meats, only to fall ill the next day of overeating and indigestion.
A few believers of the faith did attempt to emulate the forty day's fast but could not keep it up as they fell ill and had to be hospitalised. A pastor who attempted such a fast passed away, while another, foolhardy enough drowned while attempting to walk on water. Senseless and unthinking emulation of Christ's acts and the performance of his miracles without understanding the deeper meaning of the same can only lead to embarrassing failure!
Mere abstinence during the Lenten season, not consuming alcohol, not eating meat (Thanks to the shutting down of a few slaughter houses in some places) have no real significance unless they are accompanied by intense soul-searching, introspection and meditation on how to make one's self  a better person, not for a period of forty days, but for the entire life. The Lenten season offers one he opportunity for cleansing one's soul of all that is negative, hurtful and bad. Cleanse yourself of all that is malicious, cleanse yourself of emotions of greed, jealousy, lust, gluttony, laziness, the use of foul language and all those things you regret about but could not stop. My pastor, the Revd. Sunil S. Ghazan, recently, at a prayer meeting talked about how the Lenten season should be viewed as an "annual audit" of the good and the bad within us and the occasion for "dusting away" all that is bad within us.
One of the chapters in the book of Mathew, chapter 6, in the New Testament talks very strongly against the hypocrisy of praying in public to show others how pious you are and giving huge donations to charity to show how generous you are. Unfortunately, it is these hypocrisies that defeat the very purpose of fasting to cleanse one's self spiritually. While Prayer, giving to charity, and fasting (Spiritual cleansing) are important elements of the Lenten Season, one cannot, however, ignore the need to maintain a sound demeanour towards others. The book of St. Mathew, chapter 6, underpins the need to maintain a pleasant appearance even while fasting: "When you go without food, wash your face and comb your hair."