How one should read

With jazz in the background, on a starry night visible through the window, amber lamps warming the chill of the limitless sky, a poison of your choice by the side.

I prefer hot chocolate or coffee.

Redeeming Ron

Those of you who know me will recall that I am a Potter fan.

Fine, `fan’ does not cut it. That generation whose teens coincided with the most productive of JK’s literary experiments have no shame in our worship of that near-holy franchise (sorry DK9). And while Tolkein’s universe is a greater work of fiction by sheer clout of detail, it is useless to deny that JK had a way with words.

But words are only a part of good fiction. PG is great not just because of that distinctively Wodehousian language, but also because Wooster, Psmith, Emsworth and Nottle are sterling characters. Ayn Rand was, by contrast, near horrid with words (there, I said it), but Gail Wynand is still one of my favourite characters, not to mention Rearden, who was the only reason I might not have given up Meta. And of course, Tolkein has Bilbo, Gamgee and, naturally not the least, Gollum/Smeagol.

JK has her great characters. One word- Snape. Another one, just to try to show that what I have to say is not completely biased- Dumbledore, before his snivelling transition in the Order of the Phoenix. But lest we forget, the books are the Harry Potter series, not the Redemption of Severus Snape, nor Dumbledore’s Divine Deeds (overkill?). The persons the protagonist is closest to are his friends, Ronald Weasley and Hermione Granger. Everyone knows Granger got her due (guys, I know what you are thinking, and no, I am not talking about Emma Watson). Ron, on the other hand, has always been the outsider.

Case to point: Book 2. The cave has to collapse so that Harry faces the spectre of Tom Riddle and the Basilisk alone. Ok, maybe that was the manner in which Rowling set up the book 6 romance, but still. Book 3, it is Ron who gets his leg broken, and cannot make the journey back in time. Which is weird, considering that Book 1 established him as a master strategist. Come on, anyone who can play chess against a computer (yes, I am comparing magic to a very powerful chess computer, so bite me) has to be some good. Perhaps most damning of all is the book 6 extract:

`Harry glanced down Ron’s grades: There were no “Outstandings” there. . . .’

Oh, way to kick him in the you-know-where when he is down, JK…

Add to this, of course, that he was the one who abandoned Harry’s quest to destroy the horcruxes, etc. etc., and you know for sure what Rowling had in mind for Ron as soon as she put a pen to paper for the first time. He was never going to be even the corner of attention. He was very definitely second-best. That’s unfortunate. You know what they say: “…if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid”. The only problem is, as the series went on, every possible river or source of water was delicately poisoned for this fish. Never too bad, but never good. That is a horrible situation. Sure, the character acted as a fine comedic foil, but let us borrow another quote, this time by Chandler Bing:

“That’s what I want. A roommate I can walk around with and be referred to as ‘the funny one’.”

Perhaps I should have put in a `Warning: Heavy sarcasm to follow’ sign before that.

It is not as though this was unavoidable. My personal characterization for Ron would have been funny and reasonably smart. Steering clear of academic indicators for `smartness’ would have been a good idea, but couldn’t Rowling give him a couple of redeeming qualities? Admittedly, his averageness plays a part in his character. Always the bridesmaid, the youngest brother who inherits robes, the one with nothing to accomplish, since it has all been done before. But just saying that he is there because he is friends with the titular character is the worst sort of put down. `You are important. If you were not there, how will the kids know that they should laugh every once in a while when reading the books?’. The funny one indeed.

I do not know how to make Ron `better’. The series is done and dusted. Ron is set in stone. And he will forever be a sign to other authors what not to do with a sidekick. It is very unfortunate, actually. The books are, as I said, and with some exceptions, delectably good. And Snape more than makes up for bad characters in the next couple of thousand books to be published by Rowling. Still, I like things perfect, and it physically hurts to know that this work of art is not. Sorry Ron. Looks like I am even more useless than you were. Oh wait, that steals your thunder there too. Pity.

The End of Innocence

I told Lefty that his innocence ended when he got to know that Inheritance had already been released.

Mine ended when I found out that three of the first four hits for `eclipse’ on youtube were tied to the Twilight saga.

“And all the Pink Floyd fans wept…”

Humour in Academia

Clichéd though the title is, I find that humour in academia is rare enough to qualify for something as generic as this. And with all the big guns being shelved, I thought I’ll take it upon myself to provide a few laughs. Also, I am tired of going through a dozen-odd books looking up techniques for random proofs to theorems that promise to eat me for breakfast whenever I try to understand them. Can you tell that I might be going a little batty?

Algebraic graph theory: Two hour classes rarely pass without breaks between them. It was during one of these breaks that we started discussing how to protect research or company data. Take this conversation:

Prof: “In the real world, you are actually expected to clear out your desk, and someone watches over as you do, you know, just to make sure that you don’t take away any restricted files….”

Me: “The way you say it, the `real world’….”

Prof: “It is a strange place that I have only heard rumours of….”

Mid semester exam marking session: When you mark in excess of 300 badly written answers within 6 hours, you had better be armed with a bucket of wit, and good setup companions. Take this piece, while we were sorting the papers for the largest class.

Other TA: “We are like Santa’s little helpers!”

Me: “Well, the kids aren’t going to be all that pleased with their presents, are they?”

Instructional seminar: Informal seminars are always fun. In this case, we were discussing how to tile a board with rectangular tiles.

Grad student (a girl) giving the talk: “The book said the title was `How many ways can a man tile a board?’ I don’t see why I cannot do so, so I have taken a few liberties, and changed it into `How many ways can one tile a board?’.”

Prof (same guy who teaches algebraic graph theory): “Is the answer different?”

Convocation 2011: Masters’  wear blue robes with a red and yellow hood for Science, and a red and white hood for God knows what other field was graduating with us. Doctorates wear regal red gowns which might have befit Henry VIII. Anyway, there were three of us, mostly fitted out, one doctorate and two masters. And the doctorate noticed that the colours of the two masters’ hoods were different – one of us was wearing the wrong hood. Luckily for me, I was fitted out right, and it was my friend who had to get his hood changed. This is what passed while he was gone.

Doc: “I don’t know if they would have let him have the degree if he wore the wrong hood on stage.”

Me: “Yeah. I would never have noticed it. It is probably a good thing that your thesis was on colouring graphs.”

Yes, I know my sense of humour has jaded. Do not fret. I hear crazy people are far funnier after their descent into madness.


Nostalgia is never a good thing. Especially if it wakes you up at 4 o’clock in the morning. In the winter.  With a headache.

On this occasion, it was friends whom I have not bothered to keep in touch with, and those who have well and truly stepped into that post-Neverland phase that society calls marriage.  School friends whom I have known for close to two score years, college mates who spent the better part of 4 years dealing with metallurgical maladroits like me and put up with it magnificently. And for no rhyme or reason, they had to invade my dreams and wake me up. All this when I was out of coffee. If this is not divine retribution, I do not know what is.

Others will confirm that nostalgia is a vice that I am seldom able to give up. It is probably a good thing that I have a perpetual cold in Vancouver, or the smells would drive me into a nostalgia highway with no exits. And even then, taste gets to me. The newest addition to my `must eat/drink when I get home’ list is the sugarcane juice with ginger sold opposite to Reliance Jewellery in Jayanagar, Bangalore. Damned beet sugar.

Twenty –eleven has been that sort of year. Where the good happened without being great, and the bad had the tendency to get worse. Where going home merely whet your appetite, and the 49th parallel never appeared more insurmountable, despite two trips south. Conversation became near unbearable, with music being the way out. And away from work, there is the crushing sense of isolation brought about by accidie. So you get back to work, that thing you do best, and try to forget how, in a foreign land, the pixie dust has no effect.

You Monsters!

So, happy Deepavali, Deepavali vazhtukkal, shubh D is acted on by the natural left multiplication of the 5-symmetric group, and the five copies of the two vertices are permuted by the involution group, thus confirming that the automorphism group is indeed the wreath product of the two.

Well, that came out wrong.

What have you done to me?