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Sunday, November 22, 2009

Life in Oct1 - Nov 22

I intentionally stopped writing life in series because all my other blog posts were talking about whats happening in my life. I had to change that - so i went and read these genocide books by Jean Hatzfeld (reviews posted in last two posts).  So in this installment of Life in series, i will write about the small small things that happened in my life which didnt make to individual posts. 

Let me start by talking about last 3-4 weekends. 

This weekend - Friday night, i went to dinner at Zeni restaurant that serves Ethiopian cuisine.  Thanks Gurshi for giving me company. I loved the food, mostly because their food is so close to Indain food. Their roti is like plain light Utthapam and our order consisted of (behind the complicated dish names) - dal and alu-Gobhi. Loved the food, will go there again.  Yesterday since morning was spent going to a unique coffee shop (Philz coffee) and reading the book. Apparently the coffee shop is the rated highest in bay area and the coffee that i tried was called - Ambrosia - Coffee of God. It was quite delicious.  In evening, i made Gulab Jamuns (i had told my roommate that i will make it for him - the promise was made in Diwali, its only a month late). Other culinary expedition included Egg masala which came out very delicious. 

Last weekend - 

Went to a Dhrupad concert by Ashish Sankrityayan at Sangati center. Dhrupad after a long time, should do it again soon. Sunday morning was spent in another coffee shop reading book. Sunday afternoon, i went for a hike with Nikesh, Deepak and Nikesh's wife. Small hike - about 2 hrs (~3 miles) but good fun.


Three weekends back -  

Went with Gurshi for a hike  at Linda Mar.  Again small hike - 2 hrs. A video of that hike was posted on facebook. I dont have the video, so cant share. Went to eat dosa at Dosa at SF and watched a film at South Asian film festival.  

Other major activities like Yosemite, Rennaisance fair, etc were covered before. 

In general - 

1. Piano classes are going on. I now know how to play Ode to Joy, Greensleeves, Jingle bells. By know i mean which keys to press, i claim no guarantees on sound quality :)

2. Knitting is going fine. I am learning to rib these days.  So far i have made 1 wash cloth, 2 cup handle covers, 2 flowers, 1 leaf. I now own a whole set of acryllic needles. 

3. Movies - Quite impressed by myself that i am able to sustain myself without a persistent desire to watch movies. But still in between i saw - Inherit the wind  - a very good movie on Monkey trail. I saw Tykwer's International (so-so), 3 episodes of Monty Python and flying circus ( I can see why it is a cult) and 6 episodes of Fawlty tower (It is a cult). 

4. Went to a meetup event at Google. In a 80 people gathering, 20 said that they are either VC or co-founders in their company. Quite impressive. 

5. Becoming a coffee addict slowly - it feels good so far :)

6. Tried Banana leaf sometime in Sept - it is a Malaysian cuisine, interesting! 

7. Played Pictionary with Nikesh and his friends. Truly a hilarious experience. Those who know my drawing skills can visualize what i am saying. Nikesh was my partner and he got to experience it first hand. My first word was Polar bear and my version of polar bear was one amoeba and three lines. Poor Nikesh! It took us 4 rounds to score first point. But we won in the end. Haha! Apparently i realized that i can guess way better than my drawings. But great fun! 

8. Played Mafia during Diwali. good fun again! Played Poker with Dave and his friends Won 2$ :)

And work has been good so far. 


Machete season

Machete season - The killers in Rwanda speak.
A report by Jean Hatzfeld.

The first thing that came to my mind when i picked this book was "A report by Jean Hatzfeld". The usage of the term "A report", interesting. It told me what the author's intentions were.

Last weekend I read the Antelope's strategy, the third book by Jean on Rwanda. I was so curious to read the killer's account that the first that i did yesterday (Saturday) morning was to go to library to get this book. My notes on Antelope strategy can be read here - http://arvindbatra.blogspot.com/2009/11/antelopes-strategy.html

Why i wanted to read?

Machete season, where the killers speak. Why was i so curious to hear from them? Because the idea that a normal farmer can become a killer in 3-6 months, the fact that you can kill your neighbor with whom you grew up, went to same school etc, you can kill that person without blinking an eye - how did the transformation happen? Is there a pattern between Jewish and Rwandan genocide. Stanford prison experiment had a deep impact on me. I wanted to know that can the conclusions of Stanford prison experiment (mentioned on the wiki page ) be applied in this context? 

The report review

One of the recommender, Susan Sontag, writes on the cover of this book - "Everyone should read this book". I completely agree but i will not call this a book, it is as jean writes, it is a report.  Jean in this book gives first hand experiences of 10 killers who belong to the same gang. They went to the marshes together, killed together, and were very good friends. Jean justifies that this worked better than asking people from different gangs because they often lied and there was little way to check their facts. Jean also has a chapter on his methodology of conducting interviews etc which is a very insightful chapter to read.  I think the reason Jean calls this a report because after the interviews, he tries to understand the meaning of it. In the last 2-3 chapters, he tries to understand why they did what they did, he tries to make some sense of it. I agree to most of his points. 

The interviews - 

The book is organized in a chapters where each chapter has got interviews from killers on a common subject. The subjects are like - how it started, first killing,   going into marshes, evening celebrations, looting, killing neighbors, organizers etc.  In the last few chapters, the subject become more personal such as "remorse and regrets",  "And God in all this", forgiving, "Words to avoid saying it (genocide)" etc.  I read some reviewer who didnt like the fact that interviews were broken down by subjects because it was difficult to track the ideology of one killer from another. Using this the subject becomes primary, the killer secondary. I can see why the reviewer was upset, for me i didnt mind much. It would also be interesting to read each killer's conversations by itself so that we can change the psychology. 

Why did they do it ?

The question that started it all. Interestingly, it was not just my curiosity, it was also Jean's and also of his first book readers'.  The first answer is that even they don't know. They were swept into this thing in such a small time that even they couldn't introspect. But what they do know is that those who didn't comply were killed. Those who resisted were killed, or were imposed heavy fines. To some extent it became greed because there was looting, the more you looted, the more richer they became. But initially, it was just force/fear of organizers. They also say that Hutus and Tutsis although may be living next to each other, there are always suspicion,  one was always alert for the other. The radio/television/speeches etc where always hinting toward the division, a Hutu since childhood had heard so many bad stories about Tutsis that he had been already brainwashed.  Everything contributed, looking back even they couldnt believe that did something like that.  Killing also became a social activity, lack of participation caused rebuke from comrades which was unacceptable. 

Some interesting points - 

1. One killer points that some of the killers are executed, some like him are in prison, and some are outside free. But most importantly he says that the idea of genocide is still free. You can not imprison the idea or execute it. There is still distrust between Hutus and Tutsis and even more so now.  Nothing has been done to kill the idea. 

2. One killers says that we were farmers who got tempted by greed, tempted by looting, living luxuriously etc. "Through greed and obedience I found the cause worthwhile and i ran down to the marshes" ..... "Afterward the temptation can not go to prison so they imprison the people. And the temptation can certainly show up just as dreadful further along"

3. One of the killer remembers the organizer speaking - "There is not enough land in this country for two ethnic groups, and neither one will leave. So it is up to the Hutus to solve the problem". 

4. Another one says - "What we did was beyond human imagination, so it is too difficult to judge us - too difficult for those who did n0t share our situation, in any case. "

Among the above, point 3 is the one that disturbs me the most. I can see it easily happening in India in future. The question is when or what it takes to avoid it?

Jean has done a fantastic job in explaining the killers, pointing  the difference in interviews when he spoke to survivors and when he spoke to killers.  There are many small small things in the report which are very deep. 

With this, i end my reading on genocide. I do not want to read Jean's first book now, may be some months later.  Jean has given some references which i should check out in future - these are Movie Shoah, book Ordinary men by Christopher Browning.  


Monday, November 16, 2009

The antelope's strategy

The antelope's strategy - Living in Rwanda after the Genocide
By Jean Hatzfeld.

The atmosphere:
I just finished reading this book. On a Sunday morning, quite cold by California standard, while sitting at Peet's coffee shop at 7:30 am i started reading it from 100 page or so and finished it at 11:30 am while sipping my coffee. Peet's coffee on Castro is a spacious coffee shop where you can see allkinds of people doing interesting things - some with their laptops open, some solving crosswords from today's paper, some forming business plans, some merely grouping with friends, old people just relaxing there and some like me are reading books - all while drinking good coffee.

The text:
The antelope's strategy is the third book by Jean Hatzfeld on Rwandan genocide. The first was an account of survivors in the book -Life laid bare, the second was an account of killers in Machete season. After 7 years Rwandan govt released the killers from prison and asked both the survivors and killers to live amongst each other, to reconcile differences and try to lead humane lives. In Antelope's strategy, Jean talks to people from both sides the killers (Hutus) and survivors (Tutsi) on what they feel about this govt's decision, how are they coping up, what happens when they see a person from other group. This book is account of actual people living there and through them Jean talks about justice, reconciliation, faith, God, past-present-future, motivations, guilt, shame and many deep ideas. In between these social discussions, Jean also gives a context on how people live there now, how they used to live before genocide and what happened during genocide. On one side there are survivors who expect atleast some apology from killers now they are set free, and there are some survivors who know that even if they apologize it wont make any difference. On the other side there are killers who think same, some dont apologize because they know that it wont make any difference and some who do. Jean also describes although not in complete detail about steps taken by Govt to promote reconciliation, how the prisoners were trained, how survivors were trained etc etc.


I have not read the first two books but after reading this one, i am definitely going to read them atleast the Machete season. Why Machete season? The idea that a normal farmer can become a mass murdered within a time span of 3-6 months, the idea that a normal man can murder his neighbors without blinking an eye, murder children etc is very strange to me. I hope to fund these answers in Machete season through their accounts.


Non-fiction writing comes in many forms, the one that i read i summer - Hamas vs fatah gave historical account of the two factions in 300 pages. This book, however, instead of talking about historical facts takes a social commentary type of position and explains the lives and times of suring genocide and its aftermath, something that i think is very difficult to record, something that is very difficult to put into words but it is of immense value both from historical stand point and to a reader who has no idea of what or how it was. Shaking hands with the devil - the journey of Romeo Dallaire was my first introduction to Rwandan genocide and that moved me deeply. This book gives a thousand time better picture and shows how different human see the same thing so differently. I highly recommend this book.

The contrast:
Such was the contrast that i was seeing between what i was reading, what i was seeing in the coffee shop and what i was imagining aka India. It could be very well the difference between underdeveloped nation, developed nation and a developing one. It shows how easily India could have been Rwanda (to some extent it already happened i think about Godhra) or how easily it can become a Rwanda (if i look at what is happening - MNS in Maharashtra, Manipur, Naxalites etc), so there are many lessons to learn here. Sitting at the coffee shop and looking at people around me, it just tells you how life should be, this is what meant by peace by civilization perhaps. And in the text it was antithesis, of humanity is capable of...etc etc.

I lost, gained and fought for hope several times in a matter of 4 hrs.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Children of the pyre

Imdb link - http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1347314/
I saw children of the pyre today at San Francisco Castro theater as part of South Asian film festival organized by third I group.
Now a group with name like third I (aha - remembering the Spic logo) i had to watch one and Children of the pyre was an arbit selection.

Children of pyre is a story about 6 children who are working to cremate bodies in some holy village in Varnasi. The movie is an account of theiry work, the environment around them, why they are doing it, what do they think about it etc etc.

In the movie/book Blade runner, humans have devised a test to check whether the entity they are talking to is actually a human or an android. It is related to pupil dilation when some emotional questions were asked. The argument there was that accuracy of tests was questionable. But all they had to do was to make them watch this movie and observe reactions - only an android could not have been affected by such movie.

Children of pyre is a very well made documentary. With a subject that deals with child labour, human rights violation, cremation, poverty, drugs etc and that too it is a documentary, it is bound to be very very heavy. But the brilliance of this film comes from the 6 child actors who simplify everything for us and present their lives in such a candid manner that it is bound to make you laugh. The director's questions to these kids are also well chosen, not only he pokes around about what they think about it, he goes into their lives asking about their girlfriends, family etc. The very fact i was smiling in atleast some parts in the movie is a great achievement and it makes the movie watchable otherwise it would have been too heavy for people like us not used to such harsh realities of life. Another thing that i love about this movie is the camera work. The director has been very kind in omitting many brutal scenes of cremation, there are some but i am sure it could have been worse. There is a scene in which the camera is placed on the boat and you see it go up and down as the bloat floats from one side to another. There is a scene where the kids try to perform last rites on a stranger's body. There is a scene where there is a Navratri festival going on 10 metres away where bodies are getting burnt. The contrast was unbelievable. But most importantly, it is the kids, their lives, their tales that move you to the core and ask questions that no one knows. At one point in telling answers, one of the kid says - "If you feel so sympathetic to me, just send a check of 5000 Rs every month to my home, i will stop everything. If you can not do anything then do not question my actions, leave me to my own state"

The movie ends with "Udd jayega" sung by Pt. Kumar Gandharva , written by Kabir. The song fits into the ending perfectly and makes sense.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Fall Colors on the Georgia Tech Campus

Yes, the video is real - fall season is amazing at tech!



Also, thanks Vidya for this link - http://onlyattech.net/

Similar to FML.