Monday, May 2, 2011

The tea party fundraiser

Along with a few buddies, I am heading over to the Grand Canyon this weekend for a trail run. We start at the South Rim, find our way down to the Canyon floor, and up to the North Rim and back all the way. 48 miles of it. Or as much of it as fun, pleasure and camaraderie will allow. The whole thing should be a fascinating experience, visual treats along with extremes in temperature differing by 70F, and elevation changes in many thousands of feet.

This is a simplistic course profile here, but it looks simply beautiful. When I first saw this profile a month ago, I thought it looked like an old tea cup made of clay or of china whose handle had broken off. That simple imagery continues to be a symbol of pleasant anticipation for our trip to the Canyon. So that's what we're headed out there for - we've had all our little parties here, and now it's time for a grand old tea party at the grand old canyon.

photo courtesy: Maneesh Pandey
I got into running several years ago primarily to raise funds for the wonderful schools run by GSK in Rajasthan, India. That was when they had 65 children in thatched structures for classrooms. Today, they have 300 kids with great infrastructure and all of them enjoy spending time at what increasingly feels like a successful movement to restore the joy of childhood. The school's revolutionary alternative methods that attracted much opposition and criticism a few years back are now bearing some fruit - graduates excelling in public examinations, passionate buy-in from impoverished rural communities and more collaborations with mainstream schools.

There's a long haul ahead still for GSK, and funding continues to lag requirements - the Strides of Hope program from Asha for Education is a critical part of fulfilling this need for several such initiatives. My Grand Canyon run and tea party and a $1000 target are all part of this program. Donations made through this fundraising page go to the Austin chapter of Asha for Education. Asha for Education is a completely volunteer-run organization, and all donations are tax exempt in the US.

Thanks for sharing your time; now all you have to do is pay for your cuppa by 5/15 ;)


  1. Donation page
  2. Grand Canyon National Park
  3. Gramin Shiksha Kendra (GSK)
  4. Austin chapter of Asha for Education
  5. Strides of Hope program

Monday, February 14, 2011

January 2011: Reading List

After the 7-month slog through the Ramayana (Sanskrit) in 2010, 2011 opened up with a clutch of shorter books on my reading list. The epic was truly enjoyable, but it was time to catch up on some volume reading. These are some of the books I selected and read in January 2011.


Man and Superman (Bernard Shaw)
Witty, sarcastic, funny, philosophical and relentlessly intellectual, this is my favorite Bernard Shaw play yet. In uncomplicated language, Shaw tackles complex subjects with timeless wit: romance, religion, politics. The accompanying The Revolutionist's Handbook is a quotation powerhouse; indeed, the most popular Shavian quotes are from the handbook. Some of the lesser known ones:
"He who can, does. He who cannot, teaches."
"The vilest abortionist is he who attempts to mold a child's character."
"No man is a match for a woman, except with a poker and a pair of hobnailed boots."
Lord Of The Rings (Tolkien)
It's a fantasy classic created by a master linguist and story teller. I first read this trilogy about 12 years back. Since then, I've enjoyed the books and the adapted movie several times. Though the scripts diverge, the books and the movies are both immensely enjoyable and do a great job of transporting you into a fantasy world that's unlikely to stale with the passage of time. Tolkien's Elvish poetry and Hobbit pluck will enthrall generations to come.
"...but the hearts of men are corrupted..."
Silmarillion (Tolkien)
This work is truly epic in the world of characters and tales it throws up. From Gods and creation to the advent of Man, it's a mythological magnum-opus. However, one problem I've had with this book is that it's hard to keep up with so many characters that inevitably end up playing some part in a different tale later in the book. There is a helpful chart, but I think the story could play out a little longer and slower. And that would make Silmarillion an even better epic than The Lord of the Rings.
"From splendour he fell through arrogance to contempt for all things save himself, a spirit wasteful and pitiless."
The Apple Cart (Bernard Shaw)
A political satire that displays Shaw's keen insights into the various political arrangements in vogue at the time - monarchy, democracy, socialism, capitalism etc and their interplay. Delivered in a tone of intellectual cynicism, The Apple Cart is at once funny and insightful.
"...democracy is humbug..."
A Pelican at Blandings (Wodehouse)
Seldom does a month go by for me when I am not tucking into some Wodehouse. His stories are almost always identical in plot, but his genius lies in the way he constructs sentences - humor abounds in every sentence from creative perspectives, according respect and comic worth to any situation or being. If Shaw's sentences are uncomplicated yet meaningful, Wodehouse's are beautifully constructed yet may convey little worldly wisdom. A perennially favorite author. This is a story featuring Galahad Threepwood, who
"in his bohemian youth, had a nightly custom to attend gatherings at the Pelican Club which seldom broke up till the milkman had begun his rounds - a practice to which he always maintained that he owed the superb health he enjoyed in middle age."


The Hobbit (Tolkien)
It's a nice story, and introduces the reader into a fantasy world consistent with the later works of Tolkien. The story-telling is more simplistic here, like a story-teller narrating fables to a child.
"In a hole in the ground, there lived a hobbit."
Major Barbara (Bernard Shaw)
Shaw cleaves through the extant ideas of republicanism, national exceptionalism and war with this biting satire. Every character starts off representing some impossibly ideal political or religious stance and Shaw brings all of them together into practical wisdom through this story of an estranged family tied to a wealthy weapons manufacturer.
"He knows nothing and he thinks he knows everything. That clearly points to a political career."


Bhagavata Purana (Sanskrit)
After the really wonderful time I had reading the Ramayana, I was looking forward to another, even bigger, epic - this, the story of Krishna. It starts off with a load of ritualistic instruction from old sages like Narada and Suka, but a few dozen pages into it, there was still no entertaining story. I'd had enough by then. Besides, I'd failed to meet the high standards it sets for it's readers:
"Since it is not possible in these times to control the vagaries of the mind, to observe the rules of conduct strictly and to be devoted to a sacred purpose for a long time, this book should be finished in a week"


Bernard Shaw, Chekhov, Ibsen, Laurence Parent, David Sedaris, and um, God.

On Egypt

Is a revolution in Egypt underway?

The US government and media's reactions to and analysis of the uprising in Egypt against Mubarak, and now continuing against the military cohorts, has been both predictable and predictably disappointing. But in the wider world, there are some interesting perspectives.

Huma Yusuf, writing in the Dawn newspaper, implores Egyptians to not follow Pakistan's path. The military in Egypt has controlled power in one form or another since 1952, and she warns of the dangers of allowing the military to now assume a 'savior complex'.
"Allowing the military to take partial credit for Mubarak’s deposition would be a disservice to young Egyptians who risked everything for their freedom.As memories from Tahrir Square fade, Egyptians should remember that the fate of their country lies in their hands, not those of the military."
To make sure this is a revolution and not merely a devolution, Hossam el-Hamalawy, opining in the Guardian, presents possibly biased but nevertheless revealing aspects of the struggle. The uprising in the streets were coordinated on Twitter and Facebook, but once the momentum was on, the workers' strikes broke Mubarak's resolve to stay on. And, in a hopeful vision, Hossam sees these strikes continuing until a truly representative democracy sets in.
"Since Hosni Mubarak fled from Cairo, and even before then, some middle-class activists have been urging Egyptians, in the name of patriotism, to suspend their protests and return to work, singing some of the most ridiculous lullabies: "Let's build a new Egypt", "Let's work harder than ever before". They clearly do not know that Egyptians are already among the hardest working people in the worldThose activists want us to trust Mubarak's generals with the transition to democracy – the same junta that provided the backbone of his dictatorship over the past 30 years."