Friday, October 24, 2014

Terms of Use

My CQA page (linked in the sidebar) answers most queries which readers may have about this blog (and several others besides), but it has hitherto been silent about terms of use. I don't make any money from this blog, so I'm not too fussed about asserting copyright over the content as long as people behave with common decency.

On a few occasions, people have been kind enough to email me asking if they can link to a post or use an image. Most recently, someone from tokyobike NYC – a bike company – emailed me to ask permission to use one of my photos (this is where they shared the image, and here is the post where it originally appeared).

So, to save such people the time and effort of having to contact me to ask permission, I hereby introduce The World According to Sroyon terms of use.

I toyed with the idea of adopting Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0, but in the end I settled for something that's even more flexible and non-legalistic (or, to use a Creative Commons phrase, "human-readable").

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

The Cat-and-Mouse Theory Against the Existence of God

In a letter to the American botanist Asa Gray, Darwin wrote:
But I own that I cannot see, as plainly as others do, & as I shd wish to do, evidence of design & beneficence on all sides of us. There seems to me too much misery in the world. I cannot persuade myself that a beneficent & omnipotent God would have designedly created the Ichneumonidæ with the express intention of their feeding within the living bodies of caterpillars, or that a cat should play with mice.
The other day I saw a cat catch a mouse at Mudchute Farm. But perhaps unnerved by my presence, it did not play with its prey. Instead it retreated post-haste under a nearby wagon to finish its lunch, occasionally stealing mistrustful glances in my direction.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Illa de Monteagudo, 9:14 pm


This photo was taken on 30 August, two minutes after sunset. As of today, sunset at Illa de Monteagudo (a tiny island in north-western Spain) has moved forward by about 43 minutes. Yesterday was the autumn equinox in the northern hemisphere.

Friday, September 12, 2014

Easily Alarmed

This week London hosted the Tall Ships Festival, which transformed the stretch of river that runs past my flat, making ordinary photos (like the one below) look like Canaletto paintings.


It also prompted the Head of Facilities Management at my law firm to send this email to everyone in the London office:
At 11:30 hrs today a cannon will be fired by one of the ships docking at Wood Wharf as part of the Tall Ships Festival taking place there over the weekend. Please do not be concerned should you hear this.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Piranhas and the Ultra Left Dream

We got cable TV in 1998 when I was thirteen; until then I grew up watching two channels: DD1 and DD2.

I remember the first time I heard the Pink Floyd song Nobody Home, which had the line:
I got thirteen channels of shit on the TV to choose from
I was amazed that anyone had thirteen channels (shit or otherwise) to choose from. It seemed like some kind of paradise.

Every Saturday night, DD1, if my memory serves me right, used to broadcast an English movie. In pre-cable times, these movies, along with the VHS tapes my parents rented for us to watch during school vacations, were my only exposure to western cinema.

I have vivid memories of many of the DD1 English movies, but some left more of an impression than others. The Adventures of Robin Hood was screened in 1993, a few days before my brother Sujaan, who was three years old at the time, was due to start school. When the movie ended, he flatly announced that he would go to school without a fuss, but only if he was kitted out entirely in Lincoln green. After some bargaining our mother got him a green bag, and this was enough to keep him happy.

The night Robin Hood was to be telecast, we tuned in early to make sure we did not miss a single minute. The movie was announced by an on-screen message: Coming up: The Advantage of Robin Hood. I remember my father laughing at Doordarshan's typo.

I had a friend who also used to watch the DD1 English movies. In school on Monday we would discuss the movies in detail, and repeat lines which had made an impression on us. One such movie, The Phantom of Hollywood, had the line (in a threatening note slipped to a studio-chief) "To destroy the backlot is to destroy yourself."

We thought this had to be the greatest single line in cinematic history.

* * *

Last night I was reading some of Nabarun Bhattacharya's short stories. His (devastatingly good) short story ফ্যাতাড়ু (Fyataru) – about "an anarchic underclass fond of sabotage" who can fly with the aid of a secret mantra – has the following conversation:
—শনিবার টিভি-তে ইংরিজি সিনেমাটা দেখেছিলে?
—না তো।
—তা ভালো জিনিস দেখতে যাবে কেন? বইটা ছিল হেভি ভয়ের। এক পাল উড়ুক্কু মাছ! উড়ে উড়ে লোক ধরছে আর গলা কামড়ে মেরে ফেলছে।
—ভ্যামপায়ার।
—না, না। ভ্যামপায়ার তো হলো গিয়ে বাদুড়। এ হলো মাছ। একটা ডোবা জাহাজের খোলের মধ্যে থাকে। মাঝে মাঝে দল বেঁধে লোক মারতে বেরোয়ে।
Translation (with help from Sujaan):
—Did you catch the English movie on TV on Saturday?
—No?
—Of course, why would you watch the quality stuff? The movie was real scary. There was this swarm of fish which could fly. Flying at people, biting at their throats and killing them.
—Vampires!
— No, no. Vampires are what you call bats. These were fish. They lived in the hull of a sunken ship. From time to time they would emerge in hordes to kill humans.
The characters in the story are clearly referring to Piranha II: Flying Killers, a movie which I remember watching on DD1. ফ্যাতাড়ু was published in 1995, so it was almost certainly the very same telecast that I watched. On a Saturday night in the mid-nineties, in different parts of Calcutta, an excitable 10-year-old kid and a 47-year-old revolutionary writer at the peak of his powers were probably both watching the same corny American horror flick.

On a side note, director James Cameron jokingly described Piranha II as "the finest flying killer fish movie ever made" – a description which reminds me of a certain Durga Puja advertisement.

* * *

From the Times of India article about Nabarun Bhattacharya's demise, a line written without a trace of irony:
He sympathized with the ultra left dream of a society where "people will get enough to eat, their health will be looked after, and children educated."
On days when I think about my own (small) contribution to capitalist exploitation, it is good to know that in my own way, I too entertain ultra left dreams.