Boredom is intriguing. In this age, when there are countless activities, hobbies, special interests, and diversions both online and offline, boredom seems a difficult pinnacle to achieve. Yet it is as common today as it was in earlier times when people had to occupy themselves with far fewer things. Whenever I watch a period film, one of the things I always wonder about is “What the hell did these folks do in their whole days in that era”?! If I had lived as a human any time before, say, 1940, I think I would have died of boredom.

Obviously, it doesn’t work that way. Our threshold of getting engaged is decreasing at the same rate as our ingenuity in inventing new ways of occupying our attention.

When popularized, I am sure the telephone must have saved many souls countless hours of boredom – the ability to call a faraway friend must have led to excitement that lasted several years, if not decades. We treat voice calls on the telephone mostly as a nuisance today. When the TV started appearing in many households, it must have been a very exciting era for the whole family to get together to watch news and entertainment. We now call it the Idiot Box. It was thrilling to be able to chat over the Internet on IRC channels with unknown friends during the ’90s and messenger apps with known friends later. Now we disable chat when we check Facebook and log on to Skype and other messaging services in “Invisible” mode.

However, this uber-connectedness with others, this endless supply of online streaming music and videos and games, doesn’t prevent boredom. At times, we still get bored.

When I get bored, I feel a bit guilty. You know, so many things to do, so little time. How can I get bored when there is so much I can experience, check out, play, connect, communicate, share, etc.? There are hours of music, dozens of movies, innumerable articles, many books, and so on that I have yet to experience that were recommended by my friends. Time is already running so short that I think my life is not long enough to adequately consume these while doing justice to each, and I am getting bored with nothing to do?! That’s the guilt. But yes, I still do, and nothing alters that fundamental truth.

All boredom is a problem of the engagement of attention. Technological advances have exponentially increased the “price”, or threshold, of our attention. Earlier, it was relatively easy for a phone call to get one’s full and undivided attention, because it was competing with few other distractions. Today, it is perceived as a nuisance because our attention is already devoted to other things at the time.

True boredom is when we do not wish to pay attention to anything or anybody.

On the one hand, boredom is a signal that nothing excites you anymore, there is nothing you look forward to. On the other hand, boredom may signal that you want to break away from routine and seek new experiences and adventures. Boredom – lack of enthusiasm – is sometimes misperceived.

Some folks get bored quickly if they’ve not done anything interesting or new for some time, while other folks get bored because there just isn’t anything interesting left for them to do. The differentiator lies in whether there is a desire to do anything. The former is a temporary state of restlessness, the latter is when there is no desire whatsoever to do anything. The former is just restlessness, the latter is true boredom.

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I was flying on a quest
With a great deal of zest
When I fell down
Into a cuckoo’s nest

Thus I had a fracture
And lost all my rapture
While I kept pondering
The reasons for my capture

All my friends told me
The nest was the best for me
And as the days went by
I forgot how to fly

As my mind reeled
My lips were sealed
My fracture healed
But my fate was sealed

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Indian Housewives and Their Maids

The relationship many Indian housewives have with their maids is in many ways like that of arranged marriages.

To start with, the elaborate maid-hunting process begins much like bride-hunting in arranged marriages, where you first seek references for quality maids. After short-listing suitable candidates, they are then ‘screened’ in an interview where the capabilities of the maid are assessed in conjunction with her expectations. After the screening process for every candidate maid, feedback and impressions are discussed between the family before moving onto the next candidate. After some rounds of discussions about the nature of workload and what is a fair pay for that work, a candidate is chosen after a lot of negotiation. Veteran housewives nag and scoff at the unrealistic expectations of today’s maids, just like mothers-in-law nag and scoff at the unrealistic expectations of today’s brides.

The chosen candidate begins her work in the home much like a bride joining a family after marriage. The maid’s boss, the housewife, acts like a mother-in-law does with a bride. Every aspect of her work is observed through a microscope in an overtly judgmental fashion. The maid, like a new bride, has an innate acceptance that this is natural. During her initial days at work, she demonstrates her best behavior. The housewife takes care not to appear too demanding, lest the maid run away. For the housewife, it is a tricky game of how many demands of work you can get away with for the amount of pay agreed without losing the maid; for the maid, it is a tricky game of how superficially you can do the assigned work for the amount of pay agreed without losing the job.

At this stage, it is customary for the housewife to nag and complain about a few aspects of the maid’s work. The cleaned utensils still have some leftover soap powder or aren’t being cleaned properly, there is always some dirt left in this area even after dusting, she has been late at work two times in the past two weeks, it was her duty to inform beforehand when she skipped work the other day, and so on. Earlier generations of maids may have taken this criticism passively or simply deflected it to domestic problems, but modern maids, like modern brides, have evolved their own retorts. The quality of the soap being used, the cheap mop that should have been replaced long time back, how other maids in other households do much less work for much higher pay, etc. are now weapons in the maid’s arsenal that are used judiciously. It is a game of cards, where both the housewife and the maid strive to retain their aces up their sleeve should the need arise, while continuing to play counter-attack.

Like arranged marriages, many of these contrived relationships survive this initial challenging phase. Neither side’s expectations are fully met, but there is acceptance of the dissatisfaction as a price to be paid for the benefits of the relationship. After all, if there were no maid, the housewife would have a tremendous burden on her shoulders managing all the household chores by herself. On the other hand, the monthly pay for her work is financial security for the maid, whose husband usually can’t be relied on to provide sufficiently for her children’s future.

Jealousy, like in many marriages, is a another factor between neighboring housewives, about who has the best maid. Chatter between housewives breaks the ice with discussing how awful or awesome their maids are, and if the relationship develops, ends in how awful or awesome their husbands are.

The maid’s role extends well beyond the household work. She is the backbone of the grapevine in the society. From the daughter of neighbors so-and-so who is ready for marriage for whom they’re looking for suitors and how neighbor so-and-so has many domestic arguments, to how there was a brouhaha about that party last week and who was saying what about it to whom in the society, the maid is the dominant underground channel of communication.

In a few cases, again, like in those rare marriages, the relationship blossoms. The maid’s quality of work is adjudicated as excellent and best in class. The housewife can now brag to her neighbors about how she was able to find the perfect maid, just like how some women brag about finding the perfect husband. Over and above her usual Diwali bonus, the maid gets gifts for her children. Her absences at work due to domestic issues are treated with sympathy. She is given free medication and medical advice whenever required. Old clothes are no longer discarded, they’re instead donated to the maid’s family. From children’s toys to antique furniture, the maid enjoys the charity of the generous housewife.

I doubt this scenario exists anywhere outside India. It is a unique symbiotic triumvirate, where the maid works, the housewife orchestrates and the husband pays. Jai Ho!

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A Photo Essay on Friendship and Criticism

Sometimes, a friend’s criticism cuts so deep, it hurts.


It causes such anguish, that our love for the friendship momentarily turns to dust.


Criticism can leave a permanent imprint.


Nevertheless, however hurt we may be, criticism can smoothen the rough edges in our character.


A true friend is one who doesn’t pretend we are perfect, and who has the sincerity to criticize us when we deserve it. A true friend sometimes needs to be brutal.


(These photos were inspired by Atul Sabnis, whose photography often teaches me to “see”.)

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Everything in nature follows a sequence. From caterpillar to butterfly, from seed to tree, from stars to black holes. Enter humans and the sequence is broken. In communication, in behavior, in action.

When humans break a natural sequence, order turns to chaos.

Some context before we proceed.

It all started with my first meeting with a new friend bum bum bhole on Twitter:

A series of sequential tweets from me had the following response:

My dear friend Gaizabonts shared his love of playlists:

When bum bum bhole responded

I said

My meaning explicit:

This was then interpreted as my being against playlists, to which Gaizabonts rose In Defence of Playlists.

A series of tweets from me was my sequence of thought, expressed through a medium restricted to 140 characters at a time. It led to whether that was “cheating tweeting”.

The maximum length of a tweet is 140 char, of a Facebook post 63,206. The maximum length of time you can talk to your friend is unlimited.

How well can online social networks like Facebook, Twitter or LinkedIn handle the sequence of our thoughts, emotions, careers, and lives? Are we now living in a world where a person’s sequence of thoughts, expressed through whatever medium of communication is being employed at that moment, considered “cheating” for not adhering to that specific medium’s restrictions?

If you text me using 115 characters, in two SMS messages, are you “cheating”? No, that is ridiculous.

The concept of “playlist” came into being with the era of digital music from the days of WinAmp. There were no playlists when I grew up. There were no playlists when Kumar Gandharva or Kishoribai sang. There were no playlists when Mozart or Beethoven had their music performed.

Yet, there was a sequence to their music. Music, by definition, has sequence. Without sequence, it is not music.

Most of Western Classical or Hindustani Music CDs we get today have “assorted mixes” without sequence. It is not music.

Each of my music cassettes, whether Western or Indian, had painstaking hours of sequencing behind them. Every friend of mine whom I’ve gifted such carefully crafted cassettes remembers me not just for the songs, but for the sequence in which I arranged it. Some sensitive audiophiles also appreciated the difference between how many seconds of gap I’d kept between each song and why.

Can you imagine how Mozart’s 41st symphony finale would sound without the first three movements? It would be like arriving to watch an action movie’s final climax scene without knowing who the characters are and what they’re doing.

Every post on this blog is a continuation of a sequence. Every movement in a symphony or a concerto is in a sequence. Everything our friend is saying is in a sequence. We break that sequence when we interrupt and don’t listen.

Relationships have a sequence. In romance as well as in friendship, all relationships have a sequence, and when we try to fight the sequence, there is friction.

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The Challenges Of Unselfish Parenting

We capture every possible picture and video of our children today. We capture the audio of the first sounds our child makes. We capture the video of the first time our baby begins to crawl, and the first time our baby stands, and the first time our child walks.

We accumulate all such memories so that when our child grows up, he/she can see and experience his/her childhood in all its glory.

We grew up in a time when such continuous recording of moments and their accumulation was not possible. So we do our best to do what was not possible during our childhood.

At the same time, we dispose of our own childhood photographs casually, as we don’t think they are relevant anymore. We dispose of our school memorabilia, the whole class photographs, the now-silly-looking certificates of our extra-curricular achievement, etc.

We let go of our childhood because we are now focused on our child.

Let us take a step back here.

Did we not try to explore our parents’ childhood? After seeing a few pictures of our parents’ as kids, did we not thirst for more? Did we see any pictures of our parents in school? How many of us have seen certificates of scholastic or extra-curricular achievements of our parents? Wouldn’t we like to?

There was a point in time when our parents disposed of such memorabilia, because they thought their kids’ lives were more important than their own.

This is exactly the same practice we repeat, generation after generation. And every parent thinks he/she is being completely unselfish and devoted to the kid(s) when doing so.

In fact, it is the opposite.

As parents, we are not unselfishly considering what our child would consider important after he/she grows up. We are making decisions ourselves, in anticipation, with assumptions, because we think we know what is best for our child. We are not being generous enough to let our child have the freedom to explore memorabilia of our own lives.

While thinking to ourselves that we are being the epitome of unselfishness in our parental mindset, we are actually being the most selfish of all.

The parental paradigm is contrarian to the individualism mindset. It is often devious enough that as parents we think we are acting in the best interest of our child as an individual. It is often wise to relinquish the parental paradigm and rethink.

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How We Should Or Should Not Use Social Networks

This is a companion post to The Disillusionment of Social Networks. If you have not read it, please do, before continuing to read.

What I did not discuss in that post is our expectation from other people about how they should be using social networking or how they should go about their online communication in general.

  • You connect with someone on Facebook, which you use only to share personal stuff, only to find that they use it only to reshare funny or inspiring or (insert your own adjective here) pictures and messages.
  • You follow a “thought leader” on Twitter, only to find the person ranting about the traffic, or politicians, or simply singing praises of other thought leaders, or simply RTing any and all positive mentions of themselves.
  • Someone you follow on Twitter suddenly goes into overdrive, and there are a stream of tweets that drown everything else in your timeline.
  • All you see from your friend/relative on Facebook is the great time he/she is having or has had with great friends. There is no real person behind all the shares, it is all just an image he/she wishes to portray on social media.
  • Someone tweets multiple thoughts on a topic and we think it would have been better if he/she had blogged about it, since the essence of Twitter is its 140 character limit.

Sounds familiar? There are many examples and I won’t bother to enumerate them.

What underlies our disillusionment? Our expectation.

We have very specific ideas about how one should use a social network. When our expectations are not fulfilled, we are disillusioned. As far as our disillusionment is about a social network, it is okay. But often, we cross the line. Often, we are already disillusioned about the person who has not met our expectations of how he/she should use social networks. This is scary and it happens all the time.

We are predisposed to a person who we have met online, but have never met in real life, just because of how that person behaves online.

This is the other side of the Conflict of Online & Offline Identities.

Why should we have expectations about how others should communicate online? Why should we have expectations about how others should use social networks? But we do, just because we are accustomed to using that specific online communication channel in a specific way, and any anomaly offends us as a violation.

If we allow our own specific ideas of online communication and social networking to disillusion ourselves about people, the only thing we end up achieving is distancing ourselves from them.

Instead of online communication being a vehicle for greater connectedness, it can end up disconnecting us from people.

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How Our Intelligence Makes Us Bad Listeners

The more intelligent we are, the more we (think) we understand people. The more we are able to understand what they say. The more we are able to anticipate what they are going to say. The more we are likely to stop listening because we have not only figured out what they are going to say, we have already formulated our response preemptively.

This is a trap I sometimes find myself falling into, even several years after trying to imbibe Seek First To Understand, Then To Be Understood.

There are usually four levels of listening:

  • ignoring
  • pretending
  • selective listening
  • attentive listening

What most of us fail to do on a regular basis is the highest form of listening – empathetic listening.

Even after studying about empathetic listening as the pillar of human communication, we sometimes stray away from it. The problem is often our intelligence.

Our intelligence dictates that communication is intended for comprehension. In reality, most communication in close relationships is intended to convey emotion.

Our intelligence, working like an overclocked CPU, becomes hyperactive in anticipating what others are saying, relishes the discovery of our anticipation proving correct, gets high in narcissistic self-approval while the residual part of our brain spits out our already formulated response. By this time, our intelligence is already anticipating probable responses to what we have spit out, and readying our responses to it.

Intelligence is often lethal to empathy.

There is a higher intelligence that can help us identify situations where communication is not intended for comprehension but to convey emotion. There is a higher intelligence in understanding that comprehension constitutes only 10% of the communication; 30% of it is in the tone, 60% of it is in the body language. Our intelligence can cause myopia in focusing on that 10% of verbal communication.

We need to teach our intelligence to understand that it can be a very ineffective tool for human communication, unless its powers are harnessed not for comprehension but for more empathy.

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Western Classical Music in Films

[This post is #9 in the Western Classical Music Series]

Movies have used classical music since forever, and they help keep it alive in our culture. Here are a few of my favorite scenes in movies featuring Western Classical Music.

Also Sprach Zarathustra invokes memories of Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey more than its composer Richard Strauss. Here is a unique (re)take on the classical music in 2001:

Also Sprach Zarathustra in 2001: A Space Odyssey

Do study the long note on the video at YouTube, it is an entire blog post in itself.

Wagner’s Ride of the Valkyries was used to devastating effect in Apocalypse Now:

Ride of the Valkyries in Apocalypse Now

Who can forget Cavalleria rusticana in the opening credits of Raging Bull?

Cavalleria rusticana in Raging Bull

Also in Godfather III?

Cavalleria rusticana from Godfather III

The great Charles Chaplin, a composer of note himself, once said in an interview:

“Film music must never sound as if it were concert music. While it actually may convey more to the beholder-listener than the camera conveys at a given moment, still it must be never more than the voice of that camera”.

Study how he used Brahms’ Hungarian Dance No. 5 in The Great Dictator, his actions speaking louder than the music:

Brahms Hungarian Dance No. 5 in The Great Dictator

Chaplin is almost wielding a conductor’s baton! Most audiences would assume this music was composed specifically for this scene.

Woody Allen used classical music in almost every movie he made. After Walt Disney’s legendary 1940 visualization in Fantasia of Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue as depicting life in New York:

Rhapsody in Blue in Fantasia

Woody used it in the opening of Manhattan as “pulsating to the great tunes of George Gershwin”:

Rhapsody in Blue in Manhattan

Who can forget the moment in Out of Africa when Denys gets a gramophone for Karen, playing the Divertimento it took me a very, very long time to find?

Mozart Divertimento K136 in Out of Africa

One of the all time great, poignant scene in movies that always moves me to tears is the aria La Momma Morta (They killed my mother) from Philadelphia:

La Momma Morta in Philadelphia

Lastly, this scene from The Shawshank Redemption would have made a permanent mark on anyone who has seen it, featuring the “Letter Duet” from Mozart’s The Marriage of Figaro:

The Marriage of Figaro in The Shawshank Redemption

To aficionados of WCM, its use in movies and advertisements can be tiresome as expressed here:

Purists ridicule the use of classical music in films, complaining that the same pieces are used over and over again…Yet the truth is, classical music, an art form that has been on life support for at least one generation, would have completely faded out of the public’s consciousness by now were it not for films and television commercials.

Films also help classical music from expiring. Classical music, used in hundreds of films, including movies where it is least expected, keeps the lofty art form in the public ear, even when the public does not know what it is listening to, or can barely hear the music in the background. It also helps that hundreds of movie scores are ripped-off versions of the classics.

Can you imagine The Seven Year Itch or Brief Encounter without Rachmaninoff’s 2nd? Will it remain relegated in our mass cultural memory to a film by David Lean or one starring Marilyn Monroe? We now live in a world where if you are attending a performance of this work, it needs a prelude of this kind.

I cannot end this post without a brief mention of the influence of WCM in Hindi movies, and especially Salil Chowdhury.

We have already discussed in detail the use of Counterpoint in Hindi film music.

Salilda was a great student of WCM since childhood and incorporated it in unique ways in his compositions, blending it with folk tunes. We discussed WCM’s polyphony before, as well as chromaticism, see how Salilda uses it in Rimjhim Ke Ye Pyaare Pyaare to create texture:

Rimjhim Ke Ye Pyaare Pyaare by Salil Chowdhury

Read this excellent post for a deep dive into this song.

Such was his love of Mozart that he adapted the Molto Allegro from Mozart’s 40th Symphony for Itna Na Mujhse Tu Pyaar Badha:

Itna Na Mujhse Tu Pyaar Badha

I hope this selection of movie clips helps highlight some unforgettable music in movies.

Posted in Arts, cinema, music | 9 Comments