My recent discoveries in the world of music

If you wander off in your typing errors in this day of Corona scare, you may stumble upon the Jazz band Codona. All the quarantine has helped me discover the world of jazz, albeit only the surface of it.

Collin Walcott, Don Cherry, Nana Vasconcelos. I will not pretend that I knew them before but I do feel their courage to explore a completely new form of music was commendable. I can imagine listening to this at night after a hard day.

I was looking up for Philip Glass compositions on piano when I stumbled upon his Sanskrit Opera called “Satyagraha”. I had not not imagined a Sanskrit Opera because the east and west have traditionally taken different paths to music. Glass, however, bravely took this opportunity and created a fusion. It was to my pleasure that I discovered the jazz musicians had done it before the classicists. That’s when I stumbled on Codona.


Loosely based on the life of Mahatma Gandhi , it forms the second part of Glass’s “Portrait Trilogy” of operas about men who changed the world

And then there was the Taus instrument. It looked like the Sitar being played like violin. Turns out that the Taus was invented in the first half of 16th century- around the same time that the violin family came into being.


Sandeep Singh on the taus (or mayuri veena). The tune feels devotional and reminds me of temples in early morning or afternoons.

Indian instruments were, in that respect never behind their western counterparts in terms of variety and color of not surpassing them. The Age of Enlightenment, however, gave a boost to all of Europe later on where it surpassed the world in most respects. The support of catholic churches and powerful monarchs far surpassed what puppet ministers of colonial rulers could manage to patronize their artists. The invention of Operas as temples of western music was hastened by the money industrial revolution and colonial bullying brought to Europe.

In the age of digital music production, it feels difficult that a revolution in classical music(a sort of “revivalism” that some in this country would love) is possible. The form of content creation and delivery has changed. The costs of a grand symphony are prohibitively large for most in the west. The East will find it difficult to draw large audiences to sustain such an enterprise. This is especially true when the world today offers cheaper and easier forms of entertainment – with just the touch of a button, on the elevator or inside a car.

The Jazz and, in more recent times, Rap culture is proof that music will adapt to tell stories of modern times. What has been a bit concerning is the lack of original musical styles developing organically in the East. While the far east has adapted to the western styles of music quickly, India has had a healthy film industry supporting its classical forms. The ‘pop’ culture made an entry in the 90s thanks to growing affluence and a healthy cassette market. This was soon overshadowed by reducing profits thanks to rampant piracy which more or less killed the industry. Bollywood and film scoring, despite all its flaws, has been the last refuge for musicians in India.

Gamelan survies thanks to tourism in Bali and the general spiritual way of Balinese life.

I will continue my journey in the world of music and learn and discover more with time.

The Media and the Mind

Listening to Marlon Brando’s speech on the Dick Cavett show was humbling. His rejection of the Oscar might have been the single most powerful moment that altered how Hollywood portrays different cultures. Perhaps, it would also become the seeding idea that led to mindless “PC-culture”, as some like to call it.


Of course the world is a different place now. A lot more noisier and a lot more crowded. The same act would perhaps not have the impact. The silence engulfing the world back then was broken at the alter of its largest and most worshiped temple.

It is acts of such courage what distinguishes greatness from intelligence. Kindness and virtue far surpass any gift that nature bestows upon us. On the path to growing up, we forget the hollowness inside us- and learn to live with it. Laughing with the crowd, dancing with the music and moving with the rhythm- all that feeble voice is ashamed to wake us up from the drunken ecstasy.

The Lusty Argonian Maid

My sleep schedule is greatly hampered with all the lockdown. Last night I thought of translating and drafting the popular tale of “The Lusty Argonian Maid” from the world of Skyrim into Hindi. This, I thought, would encourage more Indians into the world who have been discouraged because of huge learning curve associated with RPGs. Turned out, typing in hindi is challenging without the google hindi input software. Nonetheless, I feel I liked the formatting that FinalDraft allowed me to come up with. Maybe a github project on translating all Skyrim lore into a screenplay setting with a more readable formatting can be begun. Who knows, it will feel like Shakespeare…

lustyArgonianMaid-Vol-1-1

lustyArgonianMaidVol2_

Things I did not hear during Corona Shutdown

  • The Raddiwala shouting out
  • Heavy moving traffic
  • Dogs Barking
  • Soft rumble of office floor
  • Mechanical silence and beeps of server room
  • More than 3 vehicle horns screaming together
  • Chirruping groups of young friends on streets
  • The building janitor banging her mop against my door
  • The tea stall chit-chat
  • Auto-rickshaw starting
  • Loud whistle of arrogant office guards
  • Echoing sounds of Shopping malls

The Homeboys

Seems like the only place where you can make money in cricket today is in India. In the past decade, I would have mentioned South Asia but even that minor luxury of space is speedily diminishing.

The JSCA, Ranchi stadium is set to host its 2nd ever Test Match from 19th Oct, 2019


After the world cup ended in July- 2019, the team decided to tour West Indies in August. That series ended on 03 Sept with a 3 day practice match, 02 Tests, 03 ODIs and 03 T20s. The series with South Africa is now ongoing with most ace players rested. As the third test starts today, India has a clear and winning lead in the 3 match Test Series. Bangladesh, West Indies, Zimbabwe, SriLanka and Australia will tour the country next until January. That’s a lot of countries coming in for a 6 month period. In February 2020, the Indians decide to step out and go to New Zealand – a first since August end. Certainly a five month of home season doesn’t sound too bad- it may give the team a break from the stresses of overseas tours. But the amount of cricket played in these five months is certainly disappointing. Those five months are seeing 5 different countries touring the nation- easy to fill up the entire year calendar for a major team until 20 years ago.


After the world cup ended in July- 2019, the team decided to tour West Indies in August. That series ended on 03 Sept with a 3 day practice match, 02 Tests, 03 ODIs and 03 T20s. The series with South Africa is now ongoing with most ace players rested. As the third test starts today, India has a clear and winning lead in the 3 match Test Series. Bangladesh, West Indies, Zimbabwe, SriLanka and Australia will tour the country next until January. That’s a lot of countries coming in for a 6 month period. In February 2020, the Indians decide to step out and go to New Zealand – a first since August end. Certainly a five month of home season doesn’t sound too bad- it may give the team a break from the stresses of overseas tours. But the amount of cricket played in these five months is certainly disappointing. Those five months are seeing 5 different countries touring the nation- easy to fill up the entire year calendar for a major team until 20 years ago.

Teams and their supporters have been turned into an overmilked cow who have been exploited by the centralized nature of cricket today. The ICC’s nature of funding and political control has given rise to calendars that are pushing for maximum profit extraction at the cost of development of the game. The 2007 world cup saw 16 teams (from 97 entrants) competing and there was hope that this would encourage new youngsters in new countries to play cricket. compare this to the 2019 cricket worldcup where just 10 teams participated. The number of matches played between the teams has been kept the same to ensure that revenues are not compromised despite diminishing participation.

Indian fans have probably been the greatest sufferers in this change of wind. The lack of interest in cricket globally has led to decreasing standards of play. To make up for reducing quality, the TV consumers have been wooed with cheerleader-ism through advertisements and gimmicks such as the IPL. By appealing to a false sense of pride in the Indian audiences by playing a below quality game on dead pitches and home grounds, the BCCI has enriched itself while harming cricket.

While cricket may survive in the long run through altering its rule, the game has been harmed severely in the past decade. Certainly the control of England and Australia in the earlier days on politics of cricket was harmful, but the BCCI with its newly discovered money power has added fuel to fire. Sadly, there is no one stop the run of this mad bull. Political control of cricket and the power that it commands in society benefits its controllers. The only ones suffering are the fans and the game of cricket.

Entrance to the JSCA Stadium, Ranchi.

Bad opening leading to quick resign

Omar khayyam’s Rubaiyat on chess

Tis all a Chequer-board of nights and days
Where Destiny with men for Pieces plays:
Hither and thither moves, and mates,and slays, 
And one by one back in the closet lays.

The BADKISMATI of being Pakistan

The presidential order of August 5 abrogating article 370 of the constitution has been called many things. Large masses of Indians have heralded it as a correction of a historical wrong. Some have tried to advice caution on such unilateral ‘adventurism’. Others have called it a black day in Indian democracy. Across the border, the voices have been loud but empty. The sound and fury, although clearly pain-filled, has been one of a hurt child too weak to take revenge. Reactions from their political leaders, prime-minister and media have been calculated and cautionary. Although the defence and religious mouthpieces have attempted to invigorate the people with fierce statements, the official line from ISPR has been much more reserved. The statement released by them has been ambiguous and curtailed.

“Pakistan Army firmly stands by the Kashmiris in their just struggle to the very end. We are prepared and shall go to any extent to fulfill our obligations in this regard”


https://www.ispr.gov.pk/press-release-detail.php?id=5390

Pakistan today is in a very weak position on most fronts- internal and external. Its “evergreen friendship” with China has been under stress because of a climate change event called CPEC. Economy has been sluggish for years and loans from IMF have put major restrictions on its Jehadi options against India. Besides, for almost two decades now, the world opinion of Pakistan has been in a nosedive. It has few listeners besides the opportunist countries waiting to reap huge rewards for tiniest help offered- China and USA being clear frontrunner in the list aside from Saudi Arabia and other gulf nations. Given its current position, Pakistan indeed is a sorry state- through and through. The badkismatiof the situation for Pakistan is not, however, in realisation of this reality but the internalisation and incessant repetition of it.

The first reactions from leadership of Pakistan after the presentation of the bill in RajyaSabha were understandably delayed. They were taken by surprise as was much of the world. Apart from the few unverified rumours circulating the web for two days prior to announcement, there was little to speculate for the public. Even the Indian media, which is generally aware of the realties (but more often than not chooses to keep mum) was actively denouncing any such rumours.

The discussions in joint sessions called by Pakistan bordered on helplessness. While Imran Khan was attacked by the opposition on being caught sleeping, there was a clear attempt by the opposition to give an image of a united political opposition. Criticisms were passive in language and emotional rather than rational in appeal.  All except Miriam Nawaz Sharif have refrained from openly criticizing Imran Khan and his party. In the 11 months he has been in power, there were too many structural problems internally for him to focus on complex issues such as Kashmir.

Mirroring its leadership, most rational media outlets have spoken cautiously on the issue. Military options are clearly out of the window for Pakistan given its precarious internal situations and lack of global support.  In the attempts to placate the masses, some vernacular press and tv shows have brought out well known war mongers to feed and fulfil hurt egos of the people. Much of their rhetoric centres around an awakening of Jehadi armed struggle and irrational insistence on use of Nuclear Weapon. While it is well understood that there is little weight attached to their words, they serve the military recruitments high and Rawalpindi rewards these touts happily. It should be noted that no public processions have been carried out by the Jehadi outlets under a banner – either in PoK or rest of Pakistan. Such processions were often seen in the paston slightest of trouble in Kashmir often instigated by Pakistan sponsored Jehadis to keep the pot boiling.

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All quarters of Pakistan have insisted on the “badkismati” of its existence. They have blamed the past in as many ways it could find. Starting their history with Indus Valley Civilization and linking it to Islam up to modern age, their attempt to construct a chain of bad luck has been futile and self-defeating. The infighting between civil and military establishment has evaluated the reasons for this ill-fated birth from both perspectives. A relatively open society has been vocal while suffering under this misfortune of being Pakistan. The solution out of misery, however, is not in being historians of ill-judgement but in actors of the moment. The constitutional amendments on Kashmir are here to stay and no future Indian government will be adventurous enough to reverse the stance. People of Kashmir and Pakistan have little option but to accept the Indian position and seek out favourable terms for frictionless integration with rest of India. Pakistan’s best options lie in looking within its borders and getting its house in order. Ending Jehadi schools (atleast in public presence and recruitment) has been a positive start, but much remains on the economic and social front. Coming to a world stage of equals where its voice could be heard and trusted will be a long and difficult journey. But that’s the only option that Pakistan has right now.

AI and its promises

Recent marches in technology with great focus on cloud computing has brought AI to the market forefront. Every organisation appears eager to portray itself as AI ready and AI friendly. Buzz words are thrown around as a gimmick to attract potential customer. Such was my experience from a recent conference titled Customer For Life” organised by The Economic Time.

The conversations around AI seem to be full of positivity and energy. Countless benefits of a godlike benign, thinking machine are recounted at every opportunity to sell. The problem with the current discourse is that most people talking about AI are managers and salespersons who know little about the underlying technology. With the sellable positives getting the limelight and start-status, the unresolved questions of ethics and social change are left in the backburner- delegated to people in academia to solve.

The situation and mass belief system of worshiping AI can be described as “irrational exuberance” as used by Bob Schiller in reference to the subprime crisis of 2008. The over enthusiasm of acolytes deifies questionable and unethical practices. While Schiller expanded on the term in a narrower financial domain, the conduct of human mind in groups has been shown to exhibit irrationality in almost every bubble the world has seen. The questions that need answering today in relation to AI, however, are not ones that we can let organisations or governments decide. The best case scenario would be a public debate in a world where every citizen is a subject expert. This world, however, comprises people from all walks of life. And to complicate matters exponentially- this world is in the middle of a full scale crisis. Overpopulation has led to resource crunch and massive stress on the environment. People today are desperately looking for immediate solution and will follow any cult (religious or scientific) to dispel such fears for borrowed peace of mind.

Enter AI. An all-powerful mind that can outsmart all of smartest people that ever walked the earth-Combined. Ray Kurzweil in his book titled “The singularity is Near” talked about current times been a knee of a exponential growth curve of intelligence. He argues that while our past has seen a linear growth in technology, once silicon intelligence gains the critical mass, the world will see levels of growth unheard or unimagined in the past. While projections of the future are always riddled with uncertainty, the past 20 years have indeed given us much to project with. Even without new advances in AI, present ML techniques have started giving reliable insights given enough data. The scale of data on the cloud has increased massively- thanks to the cost savings the cloud offers. Gargantuan datacentre with embedded tools for AI, data mining and easy deploy for every new patch are already a reality. There appears no reason for this to slow down in near future.

If the AI God , let’s say, is “switched ON” one day, it can be fed enough data to grow in size in relatively short amount of time. In December 2018, Deepmind announced that its AlphaZero was capable of learning every game by itself and perform better than all human players in each. As an example, AlphaZero defeated Stockfish, the smartest Chess playing engine (which itself is smarter than any human player) by learning the game for just 4 hours. This feat is especially remarkable because the machine achieved it without feeding in any initial opening moves or configurations into the algorithm. Most chess engines rely on humans to hardcode the opening books and configurations since the initial possibilities are too diverse . To put it into perspective- AlphaZero would have been able to defeat Kasprov very easily in just 4 hours after it knew what “Chess” and its rules were. That’s 35 years of a great human mind being outsmarted by 4 hours of a computer mind. Now imagine all games and puzzles that you ever played and realize that AlphaZero can do it better than anyone in the world in a matter of minutes or hours at max.

The other school on AI and its future refuses to accept that consciousness can be derived merely from information processing. Roger Penrose argued long back in his book Emperor’s New Mind about the quantum nature of the brain and how consciousness seems to arise out of quantum interactions of the nervous system. While work on Quantum Computers is showing progress and IBM is geared towards making quantum computer susable in some years, most of what is known about AI doesn’t directly transfer to quantum realm. Present day AI is focused on information processing to generate intelligence. If the nature of consciousness, however, turns out to be biological and not logical, it may turn out that we have been beating around the wrong bush. Chirstof Koch known for his work on neurology believes that consciousness, like mass, is fundamental to the universe. He argues that simulating consciousness on silicon and passing the turing test is much different than experiencing it first hand[]. If consciousness does turn out to be biological or chemical, it could be a matter of relief to humans. The knowledge that the smartest being on earth is not sentient still doesn’t dethrone humans from exalted position of “experiencing” things.

While the debate on consciousness remains unresolved- as do many questions in AI- it seems clear that the path already taken will lead to major changes in the world in next 100 years. The smart phone today is getting us ready for that future- both by fetching behavioural data from us and sending back easy result. Technology is already granting us great dividends to the point that 50 years ago, present levels of prosperity, luxury and interconnectedness would have been unimaginable. The promises of AI are too great and its worshipers too many. The cult behaviour of the primal human brain is easily seen amongst all of us. If an AI God/Master is offered to such society, it may well be that blind following will grow around it. There is high chance then that there may be no going back once we do invent a super-intelligent machine there won’t be any going back- not just because of dependency but also the primal need for subjugation of the human mind.

Ray Kurzweil had a positive outlook towards AI in his book where he imagined a universe where intelligence radiates out of the solar-system and saturates all of matter. While that makes us appear to be the pioneer species in a desolate universe, it is also the best case scenario. Anyone who has dealt with uncertainty understands how lucrative and fatal best-case scenarios are. The questions that AI raises about ethics need to be answered by society through effortful and scientific grit. The people must study and understand the principles that govern present day technology and the trade-off between future promises and risks.