Monday, April 21, 2014

That was Collab Week


How Can Collab Week Be Real If Posts Aren’t Real?

Thanks to all the people who posted in Collab Week and helped get this blog get some views; Meher, Sumer, Nikita, Upasana, Shivendra and Vaibhav. Great work.

The main reason I did this aside from getting views is to show the different writing styles that we’ve all picked up in our short little lives. Each one of these posts was different, in both writing and storytelling. Having different people write introduces us to different perspectives. I think it’s a breath of fresh air from my jaded and cynical approach to life – I might do this again someday.

We had 8,839 words written for collab week from 7 different writers. That’s about 8 words per individual view (yeah, it’s that bad). But if views were everything I would have closed this blog six years ago. I hope it was an enjoyable experience.

Sunday, April 20, 2014

What would happen if you fired a bullet straight up at escape velocity? –Vaibhav Nayel



What would happen if you fired a bullet straight up at escape velocity?

First let’s talk about what escape velocity means. Escape velocity is the speed at which an object fired from a planet will escape to an infinite distance.

The escape velocity for the moon is about 2.4 kilometers per second. Contrary to what a lot of people believe, a rocket doesn’t need to maintain this speed all the time in order to escape moon’s gravity. Rather, it means that at the moment the rocket is launched, if its speed is 2.4Km/s and it turns off its engines after that, it will reach an infinite distance. In fact, you could escape the moon’s gravitational field even if you maintained a speed of 0.00001 m/s if you had enough fuel. Escape velocity is actually more meaningful for projectiles like stones rather than rockets because stones don’t propel themselves. If you threw a rock at 2.4 Km/s from the moon, it would never come back!

The interesting thing about escape velocity is that it’s something of a misnomer because it’s actually a speed, not a velocity. People who made it through middle school will remember that speed is a scalar and velocity is a vector,meaning speed only requires a magnitude but a velocity requires both a direction and magnitude.




Notice how I used the Moon rather than the Earth to explain escape velocity. That wasn’t me trying to be alternative and quirky. That explanation only holds for celestial bodies that aren’t surrounded by a blanket of gas because Escape velocity is derived in a way that ignores atmospheric forces on the projectile. Congress supporters will know that Jupiter’s escape velocity is 60 km/s and JEE aspirants will know that Earth’s is 11.2 Km/s. But if you threw a stone at that speed, it would be slowed down considerably by the effects of the atmosphere and would never reach space. You’d have to throw it at a much higher speed than Earth’s escape velocity in order to escape the Earth’s influence. So let’s talk about all the problems our bullet will face on its way up.



11.2 Km/s is not a small speed. A 747 only goes 250 m/s. The concorde maxed out at about 600 m/s and even the SR-71 couldn’t cross 1 km/s. If you were travelling at 11 Km/s, you’d circle the earth in an hour. If you set out from east to west, the sun would appear to move in reverse (having said that, I should add that you could do that in just about any plane that can sustain speeds greater than the speed of the Earth’s rotation at that latitude).

Obviously,firing a bullet at 11.2 Km/s is not a feat that can be accomplished by a pistol. That would only get you to about mach 1. Even a tank will fire shells only at about 1 Km/s. The reason conventional guns can’t fire at much higher speeds has to do with the way guns work. The bullet is propelled out of the barrel by gases expanding behind it or rather the pressure difference between its back and front. This pressure difference forces the bullet to move towards the side of lower pressure: forward. Now this doesn’t pose a problem if your aim is to shoot your enemy 50 yards away, but it does if you want to fire a bullet into space. Pressure waves are limited by the speed of sound in the medium in which they travel. So you’d have no problem getting a bullet to a few hundred m/s but beyond that,you’re out of luck.

One way to fix the problem (partially) is to raise the speed of sound of the propellant gases.

The speed of sound in a medium can be calculated from the relation


Where R is the gas constant, T is the Temperature, M is the Average molar mass of the propellant gases and γ is a constant associated with each gas depending on its atomicity which we need not be concerned about at the moment.

By decreasing the molar mass of the propellant gas, we see that the speed of sound in it at a constant temperature should increase. This is why your voice becomes squeaky after breathing in helium. Helium has a molar mass of 4 grams/mole, while that of air is about 28 grams/mole. This principle is used in the light gas gun. Not the squeaky voice thing, although scientists with squeaky voices would be fun to watch.

Light gas gun. Not a gun made of light and gas. Literally a not heavy gas.

Mechanism of the light gas gun.


The light gas gun consists of 2 sections. The first wider chamber contains a gas with low molar mass like Hydrogen or Helium. Helium is safer, but hydrogen, which has a lower molar mass, will result in a higher velocity. At the back of this chamber is a propellant charge and a piston. When the charge explodes, the piston is pushed forward, which in turn pushes the light gas towards the end of the chamber which is blocked off by a disc that breaks after a certain threshold pressure is crossed. A conical section leads to a thinner second chamber which contains the projectile. This section is made thinner because to maintain a uniform flow rate, the product of cross sectional area x fluid velocity must remain constant, leading to an increase in velocity with a decrease in area, thus increasing the speed of the projectile. NASA has used light gas guns to accelerate projectiles to 7 km/s to study reentry effects and high speed meteorite impacts.

7 km/s is fast, but it’s not enough. The only way to eliminate the problems arising from the limits of gas propulsion is to eliminate our dependence on gases altogether. We’ll need an entirely new system that doesn’t use pressure to accelerate a projectile. How about magnets?

More specifically, electromagnets. Plans for a coil gun or Gauss gun have been around for a long time now. The idea is that a ferromagnetic projectile placed at one end of a solenoid will be accelerated when current starts to flow in it because a current carrying coil acts as an electromagnet. The current is switched off when the projectile reaches its center since this is the time when it’s moving fastest. In theory, a series of such arrangements could accelerate a projectile to enormous speeds.

Hopefully you arts students will understand this.

However, theory isn’t all that matters. Coil guns are horribly impractical. Here are just a few reasons why nobody considers it a serious way to launch projectiles. In reality, coil guns offer more limitations than gas propelled systems!

● Efficiency is one of the biggest problems with coil guns. No matter what you do, there is no way to link 100% of the magnetic flux to the projectile. This means that the magnetic field generated by the coil will store energy when current flows and when it’s switched off, a reverse current will flow in the circuit. Since it is common to use large capacitors to supply bursts of current in the coils, this reverse current will produce LC oscillations which produce heat. At high speeds, the oscillations will happen fast and generate tremendous amounts of heat.

● Changing magnetic fields in a metal cause eddy currents to flow through it. This will heat up the projectile and melt it when the process happens fast enough. This is the basis of induction heating. Here’s a gif to demonstrate what happens when changing magnetic fields interact with iron

● They require huge amounts of power to accelerate projectiles to sufficiently high speeds. However, hobbyists make relatively slow coil guns all the time.

● One of the obvious problems is that at high speeds, you’d need to switch the coil on and off very quickly and there is a limit to how fast a switch can be switched.

To learn more about high speed projectiles and space guns, watch Scott Manley’s video:



There is no gun that can fire a bullet at the speed we need. And don’t bring up the operation plumbbob manhole cover. At best, it was vaporised but you will never convince me that it left the atmosphere. But what if we did have a hand held gun powerful enough to fire a 5 gram bullet at 11.2 Km/s? Well, first you’d feel the recoil. A quick calculation shows that the momentum transferred to the bullet and therefore to you is only about 56 Kgm/s which is the same as a 56 Kg boy walking at 3.6 km/h or a bus at 0.015 km/h. Yeah...

But recoil is a force, which is defined as change in momentum per unit time,so the force you experience depends greatly on how fast the momentum is transferred from the gun to the bullet. Let’s say it takes 1 millisecond, and I have no idea if that’s reasonable because I know almost nothing about guns. The force you’d experience is the same as being stood on by a male african bush elephant (courtesy: google). Your arm would probably be blown right off.

As soon as the bullet leaves the barrel of your impossible gun, you’d hear a sonic boom that would shatter your eardrums.

Top ten reasons to not go to Pace. In one F/A-18 travelling faster than the speed of sound- aka pace booklet cover

For more about this picture:

Now let’s talk about the kinematics of the bullet.The only forces acting on the bullet are drag and gravity. The force of gravity is given by


Where m= mass of the bullet and g= acceleration due to gravity

Drag is given by


Where ρ=density of air, v= velocity of the bullet, Cd=drag coefficient and A is the area of the orthographic projection of the bullet. since we are assuming our bullet to be a lead sphere, A=πR2

Since the density of lead is 11.2 g/cm3 and the mass of the bullet is 5 grams, a simple calculation tells us that the radius of the bullet will be 0.0047 m and A=6.94 x 10-5 m2.

As for the drag coefficient, this paper leads me to believe that at the velocities we are working with, the drag coefficient of a sphere is 0.92. Of course, the drag coefficient will change with speed and viscosity of the air, but we will see why that becomes unnecessary soon.

For more on drag coefficients:

According to wikipedia, the density of air within the troposphere can be estimated as:


Where ρ= density of air, M=average molar mass of air = 0.028 Kg/mol, po= pressure at sea level= 101325 pa, L= temperature lapse rate= 0.0065 K/m, R= gas constant= 8.314 J/mol K , To= temperature at sea level= 288.15K, h= height above sea level and T= temperature at height h= To-Lh.

Now, to find density data for the stratosphere, I had to turn to research from NASA that used the X-15 to gather temperature, pressure and density information in the stratosphere and mesosphere. Extrapolating from this graph,


I determined the density relation to be

ρ=1.33 x (10-x/50000)kg/m3

For calculations beyond the stratosphere, I’m assuming a perfect vacuum, which is inaccurate of course, but the air density beyond the stratosphere is so low that it would barely change the result. On reading further, you will see why this never became a problem either.

Now that I’m done explaining all the forces on the bullet, let’s talk about the changes that those forces will cause in the bullet’s motion.

The work energy theorem tells us that the change in kinetic energy of the bullet will be equal to the work done on it by the forces acting on it. That is


We also know that work done on a body is given by


where F is the force and S is the displacement of the object over the interval of time that the force acts. Since the displacement of the bullet is upwards and the forces both act downwards, the work done by both of them will be negative.

Over an infinitely small displacement ‘dh’ , the work done by both the forces is given by


And the change in kinetic energy will be


Where v= velocity at the start of the displacement dh and v’ = velocity after crossing the displacement dh

equating these two, we get


Obviously, v’ will be less than v and therefore the quantity v’2-v2 will be negative, just like the total work done. Now we know the left hand side at least has the same sign as the right: we must be headed in the right direction.

In order to find the height at which the bullet stops moving, we need to sum the work done over n infinitely small displacements dh, where n→and dh→0

This amounts to the integral


The first integral is straightforward, but the second one is complicated because v is dependant on h and we don’t know how they are related. In fact, the relation is what we are trying to find. Understand that if we knew the relation between v and h we could easily find out at what height the velocity becomes 0.

The only way I could think of to solve the problem was to use a computer to estimate the integral by summing over multiple small displacements which were not infinitely small, but were small and finite.

We understood earlier that we could equate the work done on the bullet to the change in its kinetic energy by this relation


A little bit of rearranging leads to the following relation:


This relation tells us that if the bullet was travelling at velocity v at the beginning of the track of length dh, it is possible to calculate how fast it will be going after it has crossed that displacement. Knowing the velocity of the bullet at the end of the displacement dh, we can go on to find its velocity after it has crossed the next displacement as well! Now all we have to do is write a program that will find the velocity of the bullet after some number of tracks with length dh, which is not that difficult. However , this will only work under the assumption that for every small displacement dh, the bullet will travel with a constant velocity and only slow down to velocity v’ at the end of that length. Also, we will work under the assumption that the length dh= 1cm ie this is only an approximation of an integral. For it to be accurate, dh would have to be as close to 0 as possible.

Here’s the python program:**

(*I was going to add in a piece in the program to facilitate entry into the stratosphere, but after running the program , I found that the bullet doesn’t even even reach a kilometer up so adding that would have been redundant. Earlier, I’ve noted the density-height relation for the stratosphere, so readers are welcome to add the pieces to the program and while you’re at it, you could play around with the values of dh, launch velocity and mass of the bullet to see what will yield the greatest range. I’ve added comments for every variable so you can understand what you’re doing.)

(** Yeah I use codecademy. You can stop laughing now.)

When you run the program, it will print a huge list of values of h and the corresponding value of v. The program terminates (actually, it shows an error but “terminate” sounds cool) when v’2 becomes less than zero and the height printed at that time will be the maximum height attained by the bullet ie 866m. I really wish I had the know how to plot a graph of h vs v but sadly , I don’t. If one of the readers knows how to do this, please leave it in the comments.

But all this assumes that our bullet CAN get that high. As it turns out, it can’t. A quick calculation using this data shows that you only need about 5620 Joules of heat to completely vaporise 5 grams of lead. As the bullet climbs, it loses kinetic energy and in an ideal situation, all of this will be stored as potential energy, but this is far from an ideal situation. Some of the energy will be released as sound energy, some will be used to heat the air passing by the bullet and some will be used to heat the bullet itself. All of this energy is being lost because of drag. Let’s assume half of it is released as sound, a quarter is used to heat the air and the remaining quarter is used to heat the bullet.

The energy loss can be given by



If you looked at the python code posted earlier, you will see that an easy tweak can be made to estimate the value of this integral.

Here’s the tweaked code:*

(*I’ve reduced the final height to 20m to decrease processing time because it turns out the bullet doesn’t go far before burning up)

On running this code, you will find that Heat becomes equal to 5618 Joules around h=5! That is unbelievably fast. Our bullet has changed from a solid to a gas in 0.4 milliseconds. If that doesn’t blow your mind, I’m afraid you’re an arts student. lol jkjk if you were an arts student, you wouldn’t have gotten this far. (here’s a version of the code that prints the time along with the other data

But the mechanism of this vaporisation isn’t your everyday water-boiling type. Our bullet will undergo a process called ablation. The surface of the bullet gets heated up so fast that the atoms on the surface don’t have enough time to transfer their energy to the bulk of the material, so instead they take the energy and evaporate without heating the center of the bullet. This is similar to spacecraft reentry. Reentry pods usually have a shield that is blown off by heating due to the atmosphere, keeping the astronauts from getting fried. Read more about it on wikipedia.

In conclusion, I’d like to say that all of this is pure speculation and I’m not a scientist. I didn’t even know drag coefficients depended on velocity before I started writing this article. I apologise for any inaccuracies and the horribly inefficient programming. If you’re an aeronauticist or a programmer, I can only imagine your faces as you read this article. If you have thoughts or corrections, leave it in the comments.



I’d like to thank Aniruddha Sinha of the IITB aerospace department for not laughing at me when I called him to ask what happens when you fire a bullet at mach 30 and for giving me the idea of using a computer to iterate a function to find velocity as a function of height. A thank you as well to DP Mishra of the IITK aerospace department for explaining to me that at high mach numbers, there are plenty of effects that cause drag to increase. Sadly, even on research, I failed to understand any of it and ended up not considering it in my equations cuz im stoopid. D’oh!

-Vaibhav Nayel

Saturday, April 19, 2014



This story was written by me on May 29th, 2013. Since I have nothing to post today, here’s the fifth of eleven stories I’m saving up to be published one day.


Albert really liked the stars. He liked the vastness of eternity; the limitless expanses of nebulas and galaxies. He liked probability. He liked the randomness of it, and within the randomness, he loved the chaos of civilisation, life and physics. It seems so ordered, so rigid. Laws of physics, laws of thermodynamics, laws of the universe. It’s set in metaphorical stone, drowned in disappearing logic and facts.

Sadly, logic and facts didn’t run the world. If it did, there would be absolute order. Fortunately, logic and facts didn’t run the world. If it did, there would be absolute order. And Albert knew that lack of order represented chaos, and chaos is the defining characteristic of life. Life, with all its predictability involving societal norms, conventional rhetoric and body language cues, was still largely unpredictable, and in the giant alarm clock of the universe there was one tiny little thought that stopped Albert’s gears from spinning.

“What’s for breakfast?” he asked.


After breakfast he knew what he had to do, or rather, what he didn’t; the answer to that was everything.

So he grabbed the fourth volume of his favourite trilogy and crossed the road towards the well kept circular park near his house. He sat on a bench, quietly reading. Around him, life went on as usual. Important businessmen and presumably lawyers walked alongside secretaries and teachers and school children and delivery men, going about their lacklustre yet fulfilling jobs. Squirrels pawed on their occasional acorns and birds chirped as if it were their birthday. While engrossed in the book, Albert failed to notice a man sit down next to him.

“Fond of space, are you?” he asked. Albert was startled when he spoke. Presumably the man had seen the book he was reading.

After getting over the initial surge of fright and the proceeding feeling of confusion, Albert recollected his thoughts and stammered, “umm.... ye- yes.”

The man had the sort of twinkle in his eye that you’d find in eccentrics who’d been gently subsided by the infallible reasoning of society. The sort who’d only put butter on their bread instead of salt because it was shunned, or the sort who’d refrain from using telescopes at night to avoid accusations of privacy invasion from neighbours. On the outside they’d appear perfectly normal with a few quirks that are complimentary with their trade, but on the inside they were children with a sense of adventure that burned as passionately as peat on a dry summer evening.

“I happen to be a professor in Biology, specialising in the root colonisations of Trichoderma,” he said.

“I see,” replied Albert. He was lying.

“But when I have time I do some stargazing. What you’re reading is one of my favourite trilogies, you know.”

Soon Albert and he were having a rather uncomfortable but still enjoyable conversation about the book. It was unusual for someone to come and sit down at the park and talk with you. Unusual, but not unheard of. Besides, Albert couldn’t really complain about the man’s eccentricity. He knew that, bored enough, he would have approached strangers at the park for a conversation too. He actually rather liked him. He seemed knowledgeable and they shared the same interests, so far.

“Imagine you’re in a tin can in space,” spoke the man. “Not a tin can - you know what I mean - a spaceship. I have a theory, you know. In space, it’s impossible to tell which way you’re facing without looking outside. Everything is relative; there is no north or south, or up or down. Everything is relative to either celestial bodies - stars, rocks, planets and the like, or your face. And as you know, both of these are susceptible to changes. Change your position is space and suddenly the configuration of those bodies change. Get punched or something and your face changes. Well, not always, but you get the point.”

Albert was visibly amused and somewhat confused at where he was getting, but he let the man continue.

“I mean, that can be solved now with gyroscopes and electronics. Time in space is measured either relative to Earth, or mission countdown. But what if you’re out there. No contact with Earth and there’s a system malfunction! Imagine, floating through the void while you sit around and chat with your tin-mates (which is what I like to call astronauts). And you can’t see outside, let’s assume. How will you know where you are?”

Albert cocked his head pretending to think about it; the answer wasn’t obvious, but it mattered so little, and it was such a trivial point to be discussing amongst life’s more obvious problems that it almost demanded no attention. And yet, here he was, in a park talking to a man about the very same.

“I have a theory which I think will solve this problem,” he continued. “Turtles.”

“Turtles?” asked Albert, surprised.

“Turtles are able to tell where the Earth is, relative to any point in space. I’ve analysed their brain composition, and I’ve analysed the facts extensively, and there seems to be no doubt in the fact that a turtle will always point its head towards Earth’s core when given a quarter of a saltine.”

This was marvellous to Albert. It was so preposterous and wild, yet said with such stern seriousness much like the professor that he claimed to be, that he didn’t know where to begin arguing. He sat there for a couple of seconds thinking of which question to ask first, or which claim to nullify with his knowledge. At the end of it there were too many variables, so he simply asked, “and how did you find this out?”

“I didn’t,” replied the man. “That’s why it’s a theory. There’s simply no possible way I’m wrong. Their neural structure ensures that with the adequate amount of sodium, provided by a fourth of a saltine cracker, their heads will always point towards Earth’s core. Except when on Earth, of course. The effect of gravity is a bit too overbearing on turtles to perform this activity. It’s so good that it’s almost as if turtles evolved solely so we could use them as a space-compass.”

“Have you ever actually been to space?” asked Albert.

“Well, no, but I’m sure it’s true.”

“I’m sure it is too,” Albert said, sarcastically. “Good day, dear fellow.”


A week later Edgar returned from vacationing, and met up with Albert at his house.

“Did you hear about the guy who sent a turtle into space?” spoke Edgar, over his lunch. “Apparently he proved some bizarre theory and now he’s getting an honourary doctorate in Astrobiology, whatever that is, and he’s going up on the Space Station soon.”

-Upamanyu Acharya
This is his blog.

Friday, April 18, 2014

An Outside Perspective on Writers –Upasana Acharya


I want to tell you something. A few words of inspiration, you might call it.

You are the first of your existence. No one has ever lived the life you have lived, and no one else but you knows what you have experienced. No one shares your joys or your sorrows, and as much as you may want it, you can’t expect anyone to truly share your burden. You are one of a kind, right? There is no one else like you, just as there are no two snowflakes alike.

This snowflake is alike to every other one you've seen.

You have your virtues and vices, and once you’ve accepted your flaws, no one can use them against you; and once you’ve mastered your virtues, no one can beat you in it.

Only you have lived your life, nobody has brought you down yet, and I will sound like a spiritual counselor if I continue about how great you are, but in truth, you are nothing. There are millions out there just like you and millions who are better than you in every aspect. You are merely a grain of sand in the vast ocean, and no matter how special words make you feel, it doesn’t matter what you immerse yourself into to make yourself feel better about yourself, it won’t work because eventually you will have to resurface and face the cold hard reality.

Only when you resurface can you breathe. And breathing is important. If you don’t breathe you die, but you obviously knew that- See! You are smart.

If ever you try to read something to make you feel better, know one thing, writers are the greatest liars. They play with words and create souls you may wish to be with and lands you wish to live in. Never trust a writer. For that matter you shouldn’t be trusting a word I say either, should you? Well if you are, you are just naïve and still have a long way to go in life. Frankly, there shouldn't be anything wrong with being naïve except for the fact that people can trick you, and steal all your property, leaving you on the street. But I am getting ahead of myself.

There are always a handful of people who toughen up too fast, these people might just have faced too many hardships in their life and taken the shorter but harder route to growing up, or they just have extremely huge egos. It is usually the latter. And according to me these people are the best writers, because from their eyes they think they know the world and more often than not they make you believe that they know old beautiful world. Well, they don’t. Nobody does. Nobody should. I guess, in many ways, I envy writers, because they have a way with words and a super power of sorts. A power to have people believe in whatever you want them to believe in. Like a cult leader.

Saying all these negative things about writers, they also are one of the best people you will meet because they birth literature. Most of the time it is horrible and you wouldn’t want to go back to it, but sometimes it makes you look at the same world through a different perspective. And without writers, there wouldn't be any good content. In many ways content creators are what I look forward to in a new day.

-Upasana Acharya

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Coffee is Love, Coffee is Life. –Shivendra Shukla


The skies above the nameless planet were quiet and blue. Little men in suits flapped around the streets of several mega cities, going about their business. What nobody seemed to do, was look up at the sky, where several anomalies were beginning to make themselves apparent. 

The first was a levitating piano, undulating slowly, as if behind a wall of hot air. The second, and far more curious, was a big green formation of cloud, that pointed toward the east, saying 'There'. The third was something quite unfathomable...


Adrian Cocking stood in front of the big beige sofa in his new office, a mug of coffee in his hand. The sofa was not a very nice colour, he thought, but he accepted it, because this time, he had a large window in his office, overlooking the busy city streets.

Adrian was senior partner at Dunn, Cocking and Aboutt, investigators, recently returned from an epic journey of self discovery around the world, only to find a new office had been procured in his absence. He walked up to the glass, and let his eyes take in the scenes of the everyday rush hour chaos. His eyes flitted to the skies for a moment, and he forgot all about the concrete jungle below him. His jaw slacked, and the next thing he knew was that he had a pair of trousers that smellled of instant-coffee.

He slowly walked, as in a daze, to get some more of the refreshing hot beverage. Coffee wouldn't let him down. He sat himself at the elegant mahogany desk, and took a sip. 

It tasted reassuring.

The vision he had seen was like nothing he had ever heard of, or experienced before, and he was determined to document it. The list he started then, began from what he knew. The clouds in the sky were giving the whereabouts of... a thing. He was pleased with this observation, and then gathering his coat, he went to the airport.

The charter airline was puzzled at his request for a craft that would fly in 'that' direction, indicated by a vague gesture to the east. Money changed their mind, and so they let him have a helicopter, and off he went, to get to the bottom of this decidedly odd business.

An hour later, he spotted a crater that he could have sworn wasn't present a year ago, when he had left the country to explore and enhance his powers of deduction. The pilot didn't know of any crater causing events, only that he was being paid by the hour.  

The man in the custom stitched suit that smelled of coffee walked through the sandy wasteland, to the centre of the shallow depression. As he got closer, he could make out the distinct but low buzz of energy pulsing. There was a small blue box in front of him. 

'This must be it', he thought, as he tentatively stretched out his hand. He touched it, with eyes shut, expecting something terrible to happen. 

Nothing happened.

Adrian Cocking opened his eyes, picked up the box, and smiled. He had found his destiny. It was a Pentium 4.

Don't worry, I didn't understand it either.

-Shivendra Shukla
Blog. Youtube.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Everyone is a Writer (Except Me) –Nikita Mujumdar


Why did I agree to this?

Last week I stumbled upon a collection of links, all leading to blogs belonging to people who I go to college with. And I had a field day. I know these people, albeit vaguely, IRL, which makes seeing their Internet version all the more hilarious. I read through blogs for a couple of hours. I laughed through all of it.

But when I was reading the About sections, in which they described themselves using adjectives that I have never even heard of and that I had to Google, I noticed that all of them had one thing in common - they were ‘writers’. (Another thing that they had in common was citing themselves as the ‘greatest Potterhead alive’ or some variation thereof. Greatest Potterhead, ha! I bet half of them don’t even know the names of Luna’s boys. Or that Luna had children. Or who Luna is.)

Everyone is a writer. That’s not very difficult these days, when all they need is a blog and a Twitter bio that says they are one. It doesn’t matter whether they have interesting content, or if they can structure ideas into a way in which people can understand, or even if they can form five words into a sentence. The fact that they can, and are, transcribing their thoughts onto the Internet (or paper, if they’re old-fashioned) is enough, in their minds, to qualify them as a writer.  

This is all a bit hypocritical, because I have a blog, and the things that I post aren’t always eloquently written. Well, they’re never eloquently written. You’ve read three paragraphs of my writing. Does it look like I am capable of writing good stuff? But, in the past, I wanted to be a writer. It started when I was about nine years old and realised that there was money in books. And so I wrote a lot then, as practice, and I write a lot now, because I don’t have very much else to do, but, while my nine year-old self would have had no problems with claiming so, I am not a writer. I am just a person, who sometimes writes things for fun.

No one does this with other professions (except maybe photography). They don’t claim to be a teacher just because they taught their grandmother how to use a computer, or driver because they drove their kids to school. Writer, for the most part, is a profession, and doing something because you’ve finished all your homework and are bored, but can’t watch TV because someone else is, is not a profession.

And with everyone, with their terrible spellings and punctuation, claiming to be a writer, actually being a writer, an author, has lost its charm. Before better health care made the population greater and the Internet made everything easier, it was hard to make your work available to everyone, and so a lot of writers, who are very famous today, ended up spending their lives unrecognised and broke. And yet they wrote, because they were good and because they cared about the art. Producing good literature was something that they strove for their entire life.

No one cares about good literature anymore. Everyone just wants to be a writer because right now it’s the most cool thing that you can be. These people have all read TFIOS or something and decided that since that is the best thing that has happened to them in their seventeen or whatever years of existence, they must be the ones to provide the next generation of readers with what they will consider the best thing (Thanks, John Green. There was one thing that I was good at, and now I can’t do it anymore because of how mainstream it is.). But then, in a couple of years, the phase will pass, and everyone will drop their pens (or laptops, but not actually because laptops are expensive and if you drop them they will break) like hot potatoes and pick up whatever the next thing is.

For now, I suppose I’ll just to deal with everyone being a writer, and get myself a job which does not also mean ‘doer of a thing’. Royal correspondent, maybe?

-Nikita Mujumdar
She writes for Royal Central and has a blog.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

A Revolution in a Revolution in a Revolution –Sumer Sharma


Since I’m the journalist in this rather motley group, and since elections seems to be the talk of the hour, and since I must – like any good journalist – cater to the idiosyncrasies of the readership – I will do just that. I will talk politics. Not boring politics though – not bad politics. Good politics, Enlightening politics.

In the post-Independence India – through the 60s & 70s – through much of our 66 year independence – India was a nation of extremely untrained and unaware political thought. This has been gone over hundreds of times, year after year – most recently by the BJP, as they proclaimed the ignorance of Indian voters voting the Congress back to power again and again in spite of their pathetic governance. The nitty-gritties are irrelevant for the moment – but focus on the point. Put these proclamations and analyses in the context of India today, and our visitors from our once-political-guru-nations USA, France, et al, and their exasperated, “All they talk about – all the bloody time – POLITICS. Even the goddamned taxi drivers.” It’s not the same – India has changed. So much so that my alternative heading to this article was “India’s Obsession with Politics.” But make no mistake – there is a revolution here – and it takes place on three levels, in three stages.

The first revolution, I feel, started in earnest roughly two years ago – but it was along time in the making. A long, long time. It faced a slump intervening, but has risen back up and shaken the nation again – keen not to let go – until the day of judgment. It is a revolution with a face, name and address – Narendra Modi. Okay that is oversimplifying it (so journalistic of me), and many of you may be already antagonized, but wait a moment. I am completely unbiased here (a tall claim) but the volcanic rise of the BJP deserves much credit, and so does their invincible PM candidate NaMo. I don’t want to over-analyze their revival – its been done to death – but quickly go over the factors that contributed. Anti-incumbency, an obvious result of scandals, corruption, economic regression and simply (trying hard to stay neutral here) inexcusable governance on the part of the Congress; the lack of a suitable PM candidate; the marginal moderation of the BJP’s right-wing agenda – and their sudden (and brilliant) mantra of development; and lastly, of course, their trump card, their ace in the hole, the Chief Minister of Gujarat – a powerful orator and strong leader, with a tragic past and an ultra right wing history – now reformed and now, ‘sugar and spice and everything nice’; along with this magic wand called the ‘Gujarat Model’ which no one understood and everyone loved. And my God did he know what to say. He whipped ‘em up into such a fervor – a kind never seen in any national leader after 1947 – he was just what the people wanted in a leader after the mute Manmohan, the Gandhi’s and their control from behind the scenes, and a Congress leadership that was too united to be accountable. I personally will neither endorse nor criticize him, my personal fears and hopes regarding him I will not bore you with. His critics still cite his alleged involvement in 2002, they point a shaking finger at his treatment of his party leaders and rivals (LK Advani) – and remain worried about the unanimity of our support for a man we may not fully understand. But they cannot deny that he is leading a revolution. 67 years – and we have had only 3 non-Congress governments few and far apart – one with a revolving PM at the front, one backed by Congress anyway, and the last – that might have made a difference – but never had the makings of a revolution. The minor BJP victory in 1999 did not lead to a government that made much of a difference, and was rooted in the absence of a Gandhi – an unsure poll by an unsure people. But today, the change Modi is leading – it is the true streamling of the opinion of a very confident people. It is the first and most mandatory revolution in any democracy – the revolution against the ruling party – who has been incumbent far, far too long for it to be called democracy. It happened in the US, the UK, and Bangladesh – it is yet to happen in Russia – but it is happening in India. And we can be sure that the government to come – will be like nothing we have seen before.

The second revolution also has a face, a man who recognizes the difference between governance and politics, and doesn’t care much for the latter. Where Narendra Modi and the BJP challenge the ruling party, our friend and his party challenge the political system. His party is that incredibly rare phenomenon in India – a party founded purely on an ideal – yes, I am talking about Arvind Kejriwal and the Aam Aadmi Party. During the slump in the Modi wave, on the back of Anna Hazare’s anti-corruption movement, and preceding the Delhi elections, this fledgling party was formed – purely on the concept of ending corruption in government, a quasi-socialist party that would fight to champion the rights of the common man. The concept of a party founded (and recruiting) solely on concept excited us a great deal – a noble concept at that – we loved that something/someone with a cause had also entered the dirtiness of Indian politics. But we didn’t take them seriously – not at all – “these lovely guys are going to get crushed by the big boys,” we would say – until, they decimated the Congress in Delhi, and went on to form government. We thought – this is too good to be true – a party whose only manifesto was getting rid of corruption, that had transparent funds, had formed government in a state. Sadly, it was – as the AAP took a series of questionable political decisions that – whatever their cause – definitely harmed the party’s image and, perhaps, their prospects. Kejriwal came under a lot of fire for these decisions – which ranged from the continued support of Somnath Bharti to the more and more leftist nature of their policies (inevitable) to the unthinkable image of a CM in protest. But these paled in comparison to the icing on the cake – the resignation of their miraculously formed government after just 49 days – on the unsatisfying reason of the Lokpal legislation – for the pursuit of national power that Kejriwal repeatedly hinted he did not want personally. In the eyes of their voters, it was a shambles – it was the end. But nobody can deny that the Jhadoo is still a force in these elections – the series of bad decisions as Delhi’s government do not change the fact that there is a revolution that they are leading, a revolution – in my opinion – of even greater magnitude than Modi’s. The AAP have changed political thinking in India unbelievably – they have truly changed the game. First, of course, was the party based on an ideal – idealistic politics has been gone from India a long, long time – hopefully, its back. I have two more points though – firstly, many of us had discarded them after Delhi and scoffed at the promise of contesting in over 400 seats – but they have – and what’s more, they’ve become a viable third option. In nearly every single one of the seats, the AAP is a talking point – in a few, it is still the talking point – and its changed the kind of politics too. We have debates (!) between candidates and competition where there never is – and asking of questions that are never asked – it’s shocking. And there is now a real national alternative – non-communist, non-federal – to BJP and Congress. They may not be what we need as governance, and maybe they’re just a deceptive bubble – but they’ve changed things. I wonder if you remember a little thing called Vote Bank politics – the art of castes and religion and minorities and discrimination and division – all for that magical poll calculus – a horrific reality of Indian politics that dominates the elections and is the staple of every political party. Except one. There is now a party which doesn’t have a vote bank – that relies on us voters to choose them if we like them, and believe in the IDEAL, irrespective of caste, creed, gender, religion, etc. I don’t know whether to be relieved or ecstatic – but that is the revolution.

Now, this last paragraph of my excessively long write up will be the shortest – but it talks about the most important revolution of all – because the true revolution in not the BJP or the AAP, but something far more fundamental – something much bigger. It goes back to my beginning – we are now aware – and don’t just bandy that word around without understanding what lies behind – we now understand that the vote is a fundamental right – from the tribesman to the auto-driver to the salesman to the billionaire – we know that we must vote because it matters. We are aware of our options, we are aware of what they offer – whether you’re voting for AAP, INC, BJP, The Left, or a regional party – we now think before we vote, we question before we vote. Its not complete, of course, there are still those in Bangalore voting for Indira Gandhi, and tribals who will do what they’re told. But these are the exception rather than the rule – by and large – we know what are options are and we know that we must vote right – because we have seen what happens if we don’t. And we are now reaching that stage a democracy does – when voting is something honourable and respectable to do – something you’re expected to do – and a turnout of over 80% is expected. We are the aware and active Indian electorate – and it is us – not any one party that will change this nation.

Finally, if you thing none of this matters to you (and since I’m reading For Whom The Bell Tolls) I have a little quote for you –

“No man is an Iland, intire of it selfe; every man is a peece of the Continent, a part of the maine; if a Clod bee washed away by the Sea, Europe is the lesse, as well as if a Promontorie were, as well as if a Mannor of thy friends or of thine own were; any mans death diminishes me, because I am involved in Mankinde; And therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls, It tolls for thee.”

- John Donne

So basically, give a shit.

- Sumer Sharma
Sumer writes an award winning newsletter. Here’s an article about him.

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Upamanyu Acharya is a writer who doesn't write. Sometimes he's an artist, musician, photographer, physicist or lazy student. His hobbies include being vague, bending rules, time-travel, and embellishment of words.