A Twitch in time saves nine

The word ‘muscle’ is an integral part of our everyday parlance and yet very few are aware of its composition. Much of our articulation about muscles is visual which almost always conjures up an image of a body builder, made mythical by scores of gyms and fitness centres across the globe. Sudhir Raikar, content architect at http://thegenebox.com/ presents a primer on power and endurance.

Picture courtesy: www.crossfitchisholmtrail.com

Let’s begin with a simple explanation of muscle strength, power and endurance to put our muscles in perspective. Sportspersons use them synonymously in common parlance but actually they don’t mean the same thing and demand specific training regimes.
Muscle strength is your muscle capacity for sporting action at a given point of time, Power refers to the explosiveness of your sporting action, and Endurance means how long you can sustain your muscle power.

Coming back to the moot point, what exactly are our muscles made of?

Our bodies carry about 650 muscles, each made of countless extremely long and thin fibers. The strength of a muscle depends on the number of fibers it is composed of. Muscle fibers not only differ from individual to individual, they vary between muscles too. . One major one, possibly the most important, is the microscopic anatomy of the muscles. It’s interesting to see how genetics influence our muscle build up. Our DNA decides the distribution of muscle fiber types.

A closer look at Fitness Genes

Genes like ACE (endurance & sprinting) & ACT (sprinting) are two key fitness genes. They favour sport where explosive power is critical as well as those sports where peaks achieved in short bursts of action separate the winners from the losers, like for instance weight lifting, sprinting, trail running and cycling. ACE and ACT work by virtue of a process called vasoconstriction (which is opposed to vasodilatation) which constricts the blood vessels to supply blood to the working tissue thereby producing power that helps bursts of energy sustain for a shorter duration.

Besides ACE and ACT, we have genes like NOS3 (enhances nitrite oxide production that enables short burst sprinting and also promotes fatty acid mobilization) and ACTN 3 (aids sprinting) which boost power and endurance. So, in the ideal event of all four genes favouring an athlete, he/she would be able to scale winning heights in sports that demand both power and endurance.

A person with hybrid genes will have equal proportion of slow twitch and fast twitch muscle fibre. This helps, say a cyclist, sustain fast twitch at the very start of the race or while climbing uphill for a short duration which helps him take a substantial lead over other participants.

So what’s Type I and Type II?

These are mainly Type I (slow twitch, red in color) and Type II (fast twitch, white in color). Type II has five sub types: II A (responsible for explosive energy or power), II B, II C, II AB and II AC.
Slow twitch is suited for endurance-centric activities, slow in contraction but very fatigue resistant. Fast twitch guarantees power but fades out very easily. To make matters more interesting, there’s a subset of fast twitch fibers that mirror slow twitch characteristics but with less fatigue-resistance compared to the slow counterpart.
Power athletes look more bulky because of their red muscle tissue with more glycolytic fibre while endurance athletes from mid-distance sport, in comparison, have muscle with lower density. Natural sprinters have a larger capillary density for glycolysis for type II muscle fibre. (Capillary supplies blood to the working tissue.)
That’s precisely why power athletes develop muscles very fast while an endurance athlete will not derive equally spectacular results from muscle building. An endurance athlete on the other hand needs more efficient VO2 max such that more oxygen is supplied to the working tissue and energy is optimized for long distance sport. An endurance runner would use more of fatty acid oxidation but a power athlete needs glycolysis – efficient use of ATP and glycogen while saving fatty acid oxidation for much later use.

Genes hold the reins but...

Generally speaking, we are born with close to equal number of both types, but there are evolutionary differences that decide the exact ratio. It’s a foregone conclusion that people with more of one fiber type will excel in the sport linked to that type. This genetic diktat is quite influential and can’t be overlooked while designing a budding athlete’s career blueprint. That said, the role of training can’t be overemphasized. Physical activity itself influences muscle fiber development. Training for long distance running promotes development of slow twitch fibers and helps convert the ‘slow’ subset of fast twitch fibers into slow twitch-like fibers. On the other hand, power sport like weights make both subsets of fast twitch fibers bigger and stronger.

Genetics and Athletics can mix well

Any competitive sporting performance demands phenomenal power and endurance. Time and again, we have observed that sporting endeavours often have performers working beyond their threshold levels. Therefore, it’s important to have a fair idea of the genetics that influences sporting performance. This will avoid the disappointment of indulging in rigorous but unscientific training sessions that yield little results. In fact, genetic tests are God sent for professional athletes to scale new heights in field performance as they help them know their strengths and weaknesses – the latter, they can efficiently work around and the former, they can effectively capitalize on thereby making the most of the ‘base period’ and ‘build period’ of the tailored workout regimes.

The Taarak of Creativity

Courtesy: India Infoline
Sudhir Raikar , IIFL | Mumbai | July 22, 2016 17:45 IST

The maker of the epoch-making serial ‘Taarak Mehta ka Ooltah Chashmah’ shares the chills and thrills of his umpteen trials and triumphs en route success and fulfilment in this exclusive conversation with IIFL’s Sudhir Raikar.

Take a problem to Asit Kumarr Modi and he’ll invariably turn it into a solution, thanks to his oddball approach to life and its challenges. Edward de Bono may call it lateral thinking, Modi calls it ‘Ulta thinking’ – a perennial state of inquisitive mind that straightens out many a hassle of day-to-day life. Seated in his spacious office cabin wearing a broad smile, you can sense an air of positivity all around him. Even more so, because the man has no airs despite the glamour and glitz associated with his name..

“I can’t afford to lose my humility. That would mark the end of my creativity. Hence, I am extra vigilant about staying grounded and not losing my commoner identity in the halo of my fame, which of course is not eternal.” He tells you with quiet authority.

A commerce graduate from Mumbai, Modi was never cut out for the career options related to stocks and finances that were intrinsically linked to his Gujarati roots. The family took some time to come to terms with his uncommon passion but it was his single minded devotion to his chosen pursuit that motivated them to lend the support he needed.

Thus began a career steeped in a good mix of struggle and success, initially into theatre acting, technical support and assistant direction. Soon after, he handled end-to-end production for many a popular Marathi and Gujarati serial of the era and eventually in 1995, he incepted Neela Tele Films with the debut show Hum Sub Ek Hain. Thereafter he dabbled in an assortment of genres including comedy, family drama, verse-based series and reality shows. But it was the sitcom Taarak Mehta Ka Ooltah Chashmah that made him a legend. That Prime minster Modi included him and his Taarak team in the inaugural list of invitees to promote the Swachh Bharat Campaign bears testimony to his sterling achievement.

Loosely based on a newspaper column by renowned Gujarati writer Padmashree Tarak Mehta, the show immediately stuck resonance with TV viewers across strata for its humorous take on day to day issues grappling the middle class. Modi astutely tailored the script to suit modern day sensibilities while retaining the wit and wisdom of Mehta’s idiom. “It was a tight rope walk but I had faith in my ability to read the minds of my prospective viewers.” says Modi with a winsome smile. And he was more than right. The show will complete its 2000th episode in August and is still going strong.

The Famed Tarak Family: Modi with the Taarak Mehta team

But way back when Modi approached different channels with the idea of Taarak, most of them greeted him with a disdainful smile of rejection. ‘Saas Bahu drama’ was then the recurring theme and comedy had virtually no takers among makers. But Modi was hooked to his mission impossible and didn’t rest until Taarak was finally aired in 2008. The serial’s viewership took some time to gain momentum but what transpired later is of course history. Today, the show has earned worldwide fame and it’s the number one choice for film promotions. Distinguished guests from the world over visit the sets of Gokuldham Society, the famed residence of the screen characters. The latest dignitary to grace the premises was the Polish Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Culture and National Heritage, Piotr Glinski who’s an ardent admirer of Indian culture and heritage, and hence the Taarak family as well.

Although the serial’s star cast is extremely popular, certain artists stand out for their effortless acting. Prime among them is Dilip Joshi (aka Jethalal) who has immortalized his character for posterity. Not only is his comic timing perfect, he doesn’t even need a storyline to make his act engaging – breathing high-octane drama in everyday situations that are typical of umpteen middle class households. Matching his calibre in every respect is his screen wife Disha Vakani (aka Daya) who is simply awesome in her portrayal. To maintain the bizarrely comic core of the character in episode after episode requires great talent and temperament and she has both in equal measure. The duo’s credence, contrary to popular perception, can’t be attributed to theatre backgrounds alone (both are accomplished artists); it’s their on-the-spur ingenuity that creates the magic, an effort that doesn’t show on screen, thanks to their terrific performance that's often downplayed in the name of comedy. That comedy is serious business is lost on most even today.

Many more artistes, apart from the two, show flashes of brilliance every now and then but there are also a few who clearly fall short of the intended effort and effect at times. This is of course understandable given several accidental artistes in the team. To their credit, they have shown tremendous dexterity in delivering the goods with convincing authority. And hats off to Modi’s people skills that he has bound his team together like a close-knit family. Even the script seems watered down at times but Modi ensures the viewer is kept positively engaged.

Modi sums it up aptly: “There’s no central character in the show as I see it. The protagonist is Gokuldham Society. And talking of acting, every artiste has his or her distinct style. Some do comedy through their actions, others in their reactions. And there are a few who amuse us simply as passive watchers of the action-reaction. I prefer to let each performer decide what’s best on the given day. I am happy with the aggregate outcome, so there’s no reason why I should look to create templates of acting.”

Modi with his Neela Telefilms team – Gokuldham-brand camaraderie

How does Modi approach the road ahead for Taarak? Ask him and he’s quick to reply in his matter of fact style, “Of course, the challenges of a daily soap are plentiful. But that’s what keeps me charged all the time. Though I am the producer, I have to personally get involved into every aspect of the creation – from script to direction. My creative team does a wonderful job so I feel duty bound to support them throughout.” So does that take a toll physically? “Not really. I relish my job as I want to cherish it in equal measure. When you enjoy your work, there’s no question of fatigue.” He reassures us.

Future plans for Modi are ripe with rich possibilities. Although he’s now firmly etched in the minds of TV viewers as a star producer of comic creations, his heart beats for scripts devoted to pathos and human-interest issues as well. "Very few remember that I produced the thought-provoking ‘Saarrthi’, a Mahabharata adaptation depicting the conflict between two brothers and their respective families. In future, I will definitely like to produce films and TV serials on diverse issues including stories based on literary gems. But I won’t make a film for the heck of it. I will wait for the right opportunity.” he reveals.

Given his track record, we know this Taarak, the saviour of creativity, will do just that to create another super hit Mehta of a different genre. We wish him every success.

NoSQL in perspective: Biz above Buzz, Needs above Names

Business needs of the Modern Enterprise

Real-time capture and analysis of big data – coming from multiple sources and formats and spread across multiple locations

Better customer engagements through personalization, content management and 360 degree views in a Smartphone era

Ability and agility in proactively responding to new markets and channels

Constraints of the RDBMS environment

Frequent database design & schema revisions in response to fast-changing data needs have serious application-wide ramifications as RDBMS is the point of business integration

Growing data storage needs call for more computing resources but RDBMS ‘scale up’ is prohibitively expensive

Clustering is an effective solution but cluster-aware Relational DBs can’t escape the ‘single point of failure’ trap in making all writes to an abundantly-available shared disk.

Sharding in RDBMS puts unsustainable loads on applications

NoSQL in perspective

Over time, enterprises with complex and concurrent data needs created tailored non-relational solutions specific to their respective business environments.

They are a natural fit for the clustering environment and fulfill the two principal needs of the modern enterprise, viz,

cost-effective data storage ensuring fit-for-purpose resilience and several options for data consistency and distribution

Optimal and efficient database-application interactions

It would be appropriate to name this ever-expanding universe as NoSQL, which contrary to what the name implies, is ‘non-relational’ rather that ‘non-SQL’ since many RDBMS systems come with custom extensions. (NewSQL hybrid databases are likely to open new doors of possibilities)

Each data model of the NoSQL universe has a value prop that needs to be considered in the light of the given business case including the required querying type and data access patters. There’s nothing prescriptive about their adoption. And they are not a replacement for SQL, only smart alternatives.

NoSQL data models

A closer look at two common features: Aggregates & Materialized views

Concept of Aggregates

Group all related data into ‘aggregates’ or collection of discrete data values (think rows in a RDBMS table)

Operations updating multiple fields within each aggregate are atomic, operations across aggregates generally don’t provide the same level of consistency

In column-oriented models, unit of aggregation is column-family, so updates to column-families for the same row may not be atomic

Graph-oriented models use aggregates differently – writes on a single node or edge are generally atomic, while some graph DBs support ACID transactions across nodes and edges

Materialized views

To enable data combinations and summarization, NoSQL DBs offer pre-computed and cached queries, which is their version of RDBMS materialized views for read-intensive data which can afford to be stale for a while. This can be done in two ways:

Overhead approach

Update materialized views when you update base data: so each entry will update history aggregates as well

Recommended when materialized view reads are more frequent than their writes, and hence views need to be as fresh as possible

This is best handled at application-end as it’s easier to ensure the dual updates – of base data and materialized views.

For updates with incremental map-reduce, providing the computation to the database works best which then executes it based on configured parameters.

Batch approach

Update materialized views in batches of regular intervals depending on how ‘stale’ your business can afford them to be

NoSQL data models

Domain-specific compromises on consistency to achieve:

a. High availability through Replication: Master-slave & peer-to-peer clusters

b. Scalability of performance through Sharding

In each case, the domain realities would matter more than developmental possibilities – what level and form of compromise is acceptable in the given business case would help arrive at a fit for purpose solution.

Many NoSQL models offer a blended solution to ensure both High Availability and High Scalability - where Sharding is replicated using either Master-slave or peer-to-peer methods.


Master-slave cluster:

Works best for read-intensive operations

Database copies are maintained on each server.

One server is appointed Master: all applications send write requests to Master which updates local copy. Only the requesting application is conveyed of the change which, at some point, is broadcast to slave servers by the Master.
At all times, all servers – master or slaves - respond to read requests to ensure high availability. Consistency is compromised as it is ‘eventually consistent’. Which means an application may see older version of data if the change has not be updated at its end at the time of the read.

Fail scenarios in Master-slave cluster and their possible mitigation:

Master fails: promote a slave as the new master. On recovery, original Master updates needful changes that the new Master conveys.

Slave fails: Read requests can be routed to any operational slave. On recovery, slave is updated with needful changes if any.

Network connecting Master and (one or more) Slaves fails: affected slaves are isolated and live with stale data till connectivity is restored. In the interim, applications accessing isolated slaves will see outdated versions of data.

Peer-to-peer cluster:

Works best for write-intensive operations.

All servers support read and write operations.

Write request can be made to any peer which saves changes locally and intimates them to requesting application. Other peers are subsequently updated.

This approach evenly spreads the load, but if two concurrent applications change the same data simultaneously at different servers, conflicts occur which have to be resolved through Quorums. If there’s a thin chance of two applications updating the same data at almost same times, a quorum rule can state that data values be returned as long as two servers in the cluster agree on it.


Evenly partition data on separate databases, store each database on a separate server. If and when workload increases, add more servers and repartition data across new servers.

To make the most of sharding, data accessed together is ideally kept in the same shard. It’s hence recommended to proactively define aggregates and their relationships in a manner that enables effective sharding.

In case of global enterprises of widely-dispersed user locations, the choice of sites for hosting shards should be based on user proximity apart from most accessed data. Here again, aggregates should be designed in a manner that supports such geography-led partitioning.

Sharding largely comes in two flavors:

Non-sharing Shards that function like an autonomous databases and sharding logic is implemented at application-end.
Auto Shards where sharding logic is implemented at database-end.

Sharding doesn’t work well for graph-oriented data models due to the intricately connected nodes and edges which make partitioning a huge challenge.

Ways to improve ‘eventual consistency:


Quorums help consistency by establishing read and write quorums amongst servers in a cluster. In case of reads, data values stored by the read quorum are returned. In case of writes, it is approved by a write quorum of servers in the cluster.

Applications read and write data with no knowledge of quorum arrangements which happen in the background.

The number of servers in a quorum – read or write – have a direct bearing on database performance and application latency. More the number of servers, more the time for read and write quorum approvals.


Consistency problems can arise in Relational and Non-relational despite ACIDity or quorum rules. A case in point is a lost updates from concurrent access of the same data where one modification overwrites the changes made by other.

In business cases which can’t afford pessimistic locking, version stamps are a way out:

An application reading a data item also retrieves version information. While updating, it re-reads version info, if it’s unchanged , it saves modified data to the database with the new version info. If not, it retrieves the latest value probably changed by another application and proceeds to re-read version stamp before modifying data.

In the time between re-reading the version info and changing values, an update can still be lost from a change made by another application. To prevent this, data can be locked in the given time frame in the hope that it will be minuscule.

Few NoSQL models like column-oriented DBS enable storing of multiple versions of the same data in an ag­gregate along with version timestamp. As and when needed, an application can consult the history to determine the latest modification.
When synchronicity between servers in a cluster is in question due to network constraints, vector clocks are seen as a way out. Each server in the cluster maintain a count of updates enforced by it, which other servers can refer to thereby avoiding conflicts.

What ‘schema-less’ actually means?

Onus shifts to Application-side

In NoSQL databases, data structures and aggregates are created by applications. If the application is unable to parse data from the database, a schema-mismatch is certain. Only that it would be encountered at application-end.

So contrary to popular perception, the schema of the data needs to be considered for refactoring applications.

That applications have the freedom to modify data structures does not condone the need for a disciplined approach. Any unscrupulous changes in structure can invite undesirable situations: they can complicate data access logic and even end up with a lot of non-uniform data in the database.

This post is an attempt to demystify the concept and evolution of NoSQL based on the incisive thoughts of Pramod J. Sadalage and Martin Fowler, neatly articulated in their pioneering book NoSQL Distilled

Chinese whispers in Athens, Greek drama in Beijing

This dated piece has been reproduced on the request of many of my overseas friends. To others, I profusely apologize for the stale dish.

Courtesy: http://www.indiainfoline.com/article/opinions/chinese-whispers-in-athens-greek-drama-in-beijing-115071100185_1.html

Sudhir Raikar, India Infoline News Service | Mumbai | July 11, 2015 10:10 IST

Not surprisingly, opinions outnumber observations when it comes to analyzing two disparate catastrophes of recent times - the Greek debt crisis and the Chinese market chaos. Financial news site Zero hedge aptly summed the Greek-China story in a single tweet, “China has lost 15 Greeces in market cap in three weeks.” Subjective predictions of course can’t ever fit into Twitter’s 140 character scheme of things.

No wonder, varied conjectures on the likely outcomes on the US economy (customarily ahead of all other economies of course) have taken center stage. Majority of experts warn the US policy makers of dire consequences emanating from the long-term consequences of the Chinese crash, not the Greek insolvency which they see as an insignificant threat, thanks to America’s limited trading ties with and low debt exposure to the latter. On the other hand, China’s golem-like growth in an abnormally short span, it is largely believed, has manufactured a dangerous supply-side overabundance while the artificial boost to commodity, real estate and stock markets has scripted a meltdown which would now put tremendous pressure on China’s banking sector, ask existential questions of its autocratic governance and more importantly will hurt global economy in a big way. Then there are contrarians who sense a unique market opportunity for the US in capitalizing on the Chinese debacle which, they feel, could open new windows for US trade ties with Japan and South Korea. Other experts don’t think much of the globally detached and largely regional Shanghai Composite which they don’t link with any impending economic collapse in China. On the Greek fallout, opinion is divided on the possible Eurozone fate – some see it as a trigger for a dream union of centralized taxing and spending for the zone as a whole while others point to the exact opposite – a disintegration led by inherent parochial differences.

Predictions as they are, there’s no limit to them. And they are as elusive as the actual impact which becomes crystal clear only in hindsight. The direct blow of China’s great fall on Tata Motor’s JLR fortunes is a case in point or even the possible liquidity repercussions of the Greek meltdown on the global bond market in the event of a massive sell off and the cascading effect on treasuries.

Perhaps in his first genuine wisecrack after his government assumed power, our Finance Minister Arun Jaitley aptly remarked at a book launch, “The more I hear economists speak on which way oil prices are headed, the more I realize why astrology is gaining credibility.” When asked about the Greek fate, he was quick to retort tongue in cheek, ‘Ask the astrologers.”

Ahead of staging debates and discussions on potential scenarios and notwithstanding Prime Minster Tsipras’s U-turn asking for a $ 59 billion help to cover Greek debts until 2018, (thereby accepting previously rejected austerity measures) we should be concerned about the root cause of the current situation in both countries, in the form of a few essential questions…

First about a weird commonality between Greece and China rooted in Western perception. For long, the West held the word ‘Chinese’ synonymous with confusion, if not chaos. Hence the fast circulation of the phrase "Chinese whispers". In the case of Greece, the idiom “It's all Greek to me!” essentially stemmed from the perceived incomprehensibility of the language. The high and mighty Western bias notwithstanding, whatever’s happening to Greece and China, one must say, is indeed perplexing, with some commonality, one must say. After all, both economies have been largely government controlled, less prominent of course in the case of Greece. Control in both countries has only meant bureaucratic interference – whether in heavy industries or the consumer space, whether in the local plane or at the national level, whether for bankers or corporates. Market forces – and their fallibility and efficiency – have never been allowed a free play. No wonder, government presence in every nook and corner of the market and on both sides of the transaction could not enforce a culture of fiscal discipline, more so in Greece.

For Greece, the tragedy has defied all structural conventions of prologue, parados and exodus to become a mishmash of conflicting narratives. Who’s to blame for the Greek turmoil? There’s no single answer to this elementary question…

Should we find fault with the Greeks for their grave indecision and gross inequality of the pre-Euro era, cocooned by the dismal political leadership that protected the vested interests across spheres at the cost of ruining the common man’s life?

Or should we blame its creditors who first let Greece into the Euro Zone and then habituated it into a culture of rampant borrowing purely for market motives, leaving the Greek revival to wishful thinking, thereby overlooking its systemic ills of corruption and red tape?

Or should we hold both parties accountable for simply letting matters go from bad to worse, never really viewing the aliment as a Eurozone problem, dampening the morale of other members like Spain, Ireland, Portugal and even Bulgaria who have gone through the grind of austerity and reform with noteworthy dignity? The Greek bankruptcy can inadvertently establish a culture of distrust and default in Europe that will necessarily affect the rest of the world. Hope one’s not forced to recall American poet and author Richard Armour’s humorous book “It all started with Europa” in a ghastly context.

And as debonair economist Thomas Picketty righty points out, a possible solution is a restructuring of all of Europe’s debts, not just Greece. Eurozone, he rightly says, shouldn’t turn a blind eye to the history of national debt: Britain, Germany, and France were all once in similar debt traps and Germans can’t claim a high moral ground being a country that has never repaid its debts.

Ancient Greek philosophy is unanimously hailed as the mother of all incisive thought and radical reasoning. The European renaissance owes a lot to the Hellenic republic for the knowledge repository in diverse areas including polity, philosophy, ethics, metaphysics, ontology, logic, biology, rhetoric, and aesthetics. Ironically, Greece today stands on the brink of disaster, a tragedy that poignantly fulfils most of the defining features mentioned in Aristotle's Poetics:

“Tragedy is the imitation of an action that is serious and also having magnitude, complete in itself; in a dramatic, not in a narrative form; with incidents arousing pity and fear, wherewith to accomplish its catharsis of such emotions”

The Greek debt crisis indeed presents a reversal of fortune: serious, complete, of high magnitude, exuding pity and fear in equal measure. What now remains is the catharsis of emotions that, unfortunately, is being overshadowed by ripe speculation on the likely fate of the beleaguered nation that was once better known as a fascinating tourist haven.

In China’s case, the undoing is largely home spun. So, the only question is of acknowledging the need for obvious answers. China has adamantly refused to accept the virtues of civil liberty despite paying a heavy price all along. Worse, this insular approach and predatory attitude has needlessly diluted the country’s unique value prop – its rock-solid support programs and ingenuity in steering market-led innovation. The brash manner in which it has tried to steer its stock markets only reflects a self-defeating mindset based on unmindful and intrusive intervention – of extending bizarre liquidity measures to fuel bourses, imposing lock-ins on stock sales, rampantly penalizing short-sellers, freezing primary markets – in short scripting a horrendous crash in the making. You first help create a stock bubble and then firefight a sudden slump that's wiped 30 percent of equity in a matter of three weeks.

At the receiving end of this tyranny are largely retail investors - who comprise 80 per cent of the stock market – many of whom have seen their precious savings wipe out within no time. If the government tries to mend every market slump with military action, equity for Chinese commoners could prove less attractive than a term insurance plan in the long run.

It’s pertinent to refer to Aristotle’s Poetics in the context of both Greece and China, especially his description of the root cause of a tragedy. He remarks, “The tragic flaw is hubris, an excessive pride that causes the hero to ignore a divine warning or to break a moral law”. In the context of financial tragedies, hubris could well be the collective complacency and conceit that breed inertia and indecision.

Today, the tragedy for both nations, as Aristotle would have readily validated, has certainly become greater than its offense. Both should go back to the timeless thoughts of their ancient spiritual leaders. The Socratic Method - that stimulates critical thinking to illuminate ideas - and the Confucian ethical code - stressing on a government based on morality rather than coercion - can promise a more stable life in both countries – Grexit or no Grexit, China crash or no China crash.

Of course, India has much to learn from both tragedies. The list of our own inherent systemic flaws is pretty long. In fact, the Greek debt crisis is a premonition of a similar catastrophe that could engulf any nation that seeks to live beyond its means, has little control on its public spending and suffers a long history of rampant corruption, irresponsible populace and idle cynicism. Such a nation invariably nurtures an unbridled disorder that could turn malignant with meltdown or negative growth.

Agreed, India’s domestic economy is far more robust. Our resources – human in particular – are far more inventive and our industry (tourism included) continues to hold worldwide attention. Our ethical fabric, however, is downright tattered, a cesspool of corruption across ladders. And it's not just a matter of political will as the media points out with unfailing regularity, it's equally about the social and cultural will to exercise fiscal discipline and prudence – by regulating public spending, reporting and eliminating corruption and fulfilling our national obligations including prompt payment of taxes.

When the Dead Arrive...

The corpse lies still
sans struggle, sans strife
the Knight of unworldly life
on the night of salvation

The living choke to death
in the debris of
stage-managed bereavement
on the morning of mourning

© The Lost Accountant

Catalyst of Artistic Activism

An alumnus of the legendary Sir J J School of Art, Ramnath Tharwal's credentials are rooted in commercial art but his calling in life was the collaborative art form of fine art we call Theatre. Born to working class parents, Tharwal grew up in a modest Girgaum Chawl room, sharing the scanty space with his parents and six siblings. His father ran a Paan shop at the street corner while his mother served tiffins to the neighborhood. The young Ramnath had no option but to fund his JJ education himself, working part-time as a design artist cum newspaper boy. And yet amidst the hectic schedule, he found time to play an ever-obliging backstage Man Friday at the iconic Chabildas Theatre in Mumbai's Dadar area.

It was here that he observed the masters in action from close quarters. His sincerity and devotion - in running errands, designing sets or playing marginal parts - paid rich dividends in the form of accidental opportunities to work with the very best in business, God sent for someone making a backdoor entry into the world of dramatics. Imagine working with Dr. Sriram Lagoo in his production of Anouilh's Antigone or being part of Pt. Satyadev Dubey's epoch-making Aur Tota bola based on Chandrashekhara Kambara’s Jokumaraswamy in your probationary years. These would be monumental breaks even for trained graduates of the field, and hence underline Tharwal's raw propensity that the said mavericks were quick to spot.

In a whirlwind career of 44 years, Tharwal has rubbed shoulders with numerous stalwarts across renowned theatre groups like Roopvedh, Aavishkar Chandrashala, Unmesh and Abhivyakti including Dr. Lagoo, Vijay Tendulkar, Pt. Dubey, Hemu Adhikari, Sulabha and Arvind Deshpande, Achyut Vazhe, Rekha Sabnis, Shantaram Pawar, Damu kenkre and Sudha karmarkar. Impressed by his calligraphy skills, director Govind Nihalani entrusted the publicity design of his seminal film Aakrosh to Tharwal who did a great job in reproducing the film's hard-hitting theme of human angst on paper.

Post his tryst with experimental theatre, he joined Bal Bhavan, the well-known government-run Performing Arts Centre as drama instructor. He incepted the pioneering ‘Interschool Play Reading Competition’ which went on to become one of Bal Bhavan's most prized offerings. Bal Bhavan also introduced him to Pratibha, a colleague and friend for life who later became his wife. After spending a decade at Bal Bhavan, he moved to the world of children’s theatre in Hindi & Marathi and set up his own group Kalaghar in the year 1984. Four days later, Ramnath and Pratibha entered into wedlock and the husband-wife duo steered the brainchild Kalaghar with fresh resolve.

As the creative head, Tharwal wrote, produced and directed innovative plays on contemporary issues even in deprived areas of Nagpada, Kamathipura, Neighbour house & Vakola Pipeline Municipal School of Mumbai. These plays raised public awareness on staple social issues like hygiene, cleanliness, disease prevention and literacy in an idiom that street urchins could easily identify with. He also published a children's magazine named 'Dishyaav Dishyaav' for several years till a time came when Marathi lost its place of pride even in Maharashtrian homes which got kids apologetic about their regional roots. This trend deeply pained Tharwal but he had to bow down to demand-supply diktats, when the magazine copies were regularly 'returned' and had to be sold to old paper marts for peanuts.

But his herculean effort continued to fetch him accolades from one and all, as also more coveted opportunities. None other than the celebrated actor-director Shashi Kapoor asked him to be part of Prithvi's Summertime Workshops. Thus began a 17-year association with Prithvi till Kapoor's daughter Sanjana parted ways to form her own group Junoon. But Tharwal knows no full stops. Even today, he independently trains students of age groups from 4 years to 60 years.

His personality development workshops employ theatre as a medium of intervention and thus don't cater to acting aspirants alone. Anyone keen to get better at expression in day to day interactions is part of the target audience. His ex-students include noted actress Vidya Balan besides a host of Marathi artistes who later became popular film & TV stars. Tharwal has conducted acting and personality development workshops across Maharashtra, Goa and Gujarat besides one in Chicago. Now in his late sixties, a doting father to his software professional son who's settled abroad with his family, Ramnath Tharwal is still bursting with potential film scripts at the seams.

He regularly produces short films based on his ideas pertaining to issues of universal significance, some of which have been uploaded to his Youtube channel. Clearly, his activism is several notches above his creative abilities as actor, director and script writer. His style and substance may leave much to be desired but his sincerity is unquestionable, so is his never-say-die spirit and child-like enthusiasm. But to me, his most crucial contribution is his unconditional resolve and uncanny ability to employ his own learning towards the larger cause of Children's Theatre. Precisely why he should be recognized as a maverick in his own right, not merely as a pupil of stalwarts or a mentor of stars.

A cinematic look, not by the book

Courtesy: http://www.indiainfoline.com/article/lifestyle-art-approach/a-cinematic-look-not-by-the-book-113100100033_1.html

India Infoline News Service | Mumbai |

Based on Samaresh Basu’s story ‘Pathik’, Gulzar’s 1977 feature film ‘Kitaab’ was a delicate probe into the mind of an immensely likeable kid called Babla who’s struggling to fit his disruptive adolescent cravings within the framework of norms and expectations of the world around him.Sudhir Raikar recounts the splendor of this priceless gem which was unfortunately (and not surprisingly) a box office failure.

On the face of it, the film is pretty linear in its narrative structure but the subtle undercurrents become discernible as the story progresses. Babla lives with his sister and her husband as per his mother’s wish who wants him to study at a good school in the big city. Initially, things seem hunky dory as Babla relishes his impish moments in the company of his concurring friends. School time is largely devoted to composing spoofy rhymes and posing coarse questions to gullible teachers like “Sir, Aapka Honeymoon kaise beeta? (How was your honeymoon sir?) Off school, they wonder about a host of everyday happenings as they wander around with gay abandon. From the science of magic shows to the art of sweet shops, nothing’s spared from their roving gaze. But this honeymoon is short lived as the breaking news of Babla’s loathsome antics is driven home by the school authorities.

Severely admonished by his sister and brother-in-law for his academic neglect and irresponsible behaviour, he does make an effort to fit himself in their mould but to no avail. The pensive solitude soon harbours a strong notion in his mind that childhood is just not the time for unconditional recognition or due acknowledgment. He’ll have to wait till he grows up to be able to move the kaleidoscope of his life as per his whims and fancies. The consuming predicament soon worsens to the boiling point when he can’t take it anymore and resolves to get back to his mother.

En route the homecoming voyage, he examines life from close quarters as every accidental encounter adds to his wealth of adolescent experience. Whether through the sermons of a veteran mendicant in the ticketless train journey or the realization in retrospect of having slept next to a dead beggar woman to escape the biting cold of the railway platform, he catches a good glimpse of the reality in the lives of some grown-ups grappling with a devastation of far more serious implications. The purgative acknowledgment of status quo now helps him turn a new leaf from within. The new voyage also marks a culmination of few unfounded fears as also a continuum of routine life.

Beyond doubt, ‘Kitaab’ is one of Gulzar’s very best, which will always be remembered for Master Raju’s brilliant performance as Babla and R D Burman’s refreshingly inventive score (Masterji ki aa gayi chitti, Dhanno ki aakho mein, mere saath chale na sayaa et al). Uttam Kumar, Deena Pathak and Vidya Sinha provide spirited support although it’s somewhat funny to find thespian Dr. Shreeram Lagoo with his overtly defining Brahminicial features in the role of a tramp, however deep-thinking in stature.

Master Raju was impressive in almost every film he did at that time (as also ‘Woh Saat Din’ in later years) but ‘Kitaab’ had him centre stage for the first time and he made the most of this well-deserved opportunity. It’s indeed unfortunate that his supreme talent was lost to us in the maze of his subsequent support roles but that has been the case of almost every child artiste in India. Even so, we prefer him endorsing a leading bank’s insurance product in a TV commercial rather than suffer Gulzar’s diluted poetry in recent Bharadwaj productions. It’s not difficult to spot sincerity even in circumstances of deprivation but it’s impossible to condone mediocre work that aims to thrive solely on the legacy of past glory.

The endurance of Gulzar’s structured episodic creation makes ‘Kitaab’ as relevant today as it was years back. Many parents of today’s generation have ambassadorial opinions on a host of national and international issues. They are most keen to realign their social smartness in line with the latest brand of cell phones. They have all the time in the world for Facebook friends, Twitter followers and LinkedIn endorsements but they invariably fall short of even the most cursory of effort when it comes to gauging the minds of their own kids.

Worse, they take immense pride in their black and white punitive actions aimed at ‘disciplining their children’ without the slightest consideration to the failings and quandaries of their growing years in similar territories. It’s indeed perplexing why they should fail to realize a simple fact that imposing a tyrant ban, far from a solution, is a new problem in itself. Ban alcohol and face the worst ever liquor tragedy. And when the child is forced to design ingenious ways to hide his vulnerabilities, they seek the help of school teachers and tuition providers before the customary knock at the psychiatrist’s door.

It’s in this context that celebrated American philosopher Eric Hoffer’s words ring truer than ever before: “Perhaps a modern society can remain stable only by eliminating adolescence, by giving its young, from the age of ten, the skills, responsibilities, and rewards of grownups, and opportunities for action in all spheres of life. Adolescence should be a time of useful action, while book learning and scholarship should be a preoccupation of adults.” If Hoffer’s recommendation seems miles away, the least we could do is to relish ‘Kitaab’ all over again in the esteemed company of our kids.