Friday, February 26, 2010

Time-warped Timeless Bollywood Lines!

I had originally posted the following as a comment elsewhere:


"Yeh duniya, yeh mehfil tere kaam ki nahin" ... [dhishkaaon]


"Tere liye bandook nahin, mere haath hi kaafi hain, machhar"! [dhishum] oops... [fataaak] - splattered erstwhile human, but now mosquito blood on the wall.


"Main is baar tumhaare bachche ki maan banane waali hoon; dobara mat puchhana ki mera number kab aayega."


"I love you, Anita. I love you, too, Sunita. Pyaar baantane se badhataa hai."


"Yeh sab uparwaale ki daen hai; haan, par kuchh-kuchh bachche baajuwaale ki bhi daen hain."


Tortured lady: "Tumhare saamane haath jodakar main dayaa ki bheekh maangati hoon"

Confused tyrant: "Dayaa ki kyon, khud ki bheekh maango na!"


Sister: "Bhaiyya mere, raakhi ke bandhan ko nibhaaaaanaa!"

Brother: "Jaa, tu bhi kya yaad rakhegi, tu Rahul ke bandhan ko nibhaa" :P


NRI MIL: "(1)Janamjali, kalmuhi, (2)kulta, (2)kulakshani. Teri maan ne tere paida hote hi tera galaa kyon nahin ghot diya!"

DIL (in American accent): "Yo, mom! You rock! Thanks for calling me sweet as (1)jam-n-jelly and (2)kewl!"


Doctor upon merely examining patient's pulse: "Badhaai ho Mrs. Sharma, aapki bahu maan banane waali hai."

Mrs. Sharma: "Sirf isake baal lambe (click) hain toh kya huaa? Yeh meri bahu nahin, mera betaa hai!" :P :P :P


Excavator: "Anarth ho gaya!"

Archeologist: "Is mein nayee baat kya hai, tumhaaraa kaam hi toh hai unearth karanaa."


Jiska is duniya mein koi nahin hota, usakaa facebook hota hai.


Demon: "Is ghalati ki sazaa moth hai, moth"

"Thank you!" - Starved lizard.


Bindass girl: "Tere ghar mein maan-behen nahin hai kya?"

Stupid boy: "Hain par, aap jitani khubsoorat nahin hain"

Bindass girl: "Toh yeh le fair-n-lovely; goraa-pun laaye sirf do dinon mein."


Senti mom: "Tumhein maine apna pet kaat-kaat kar badaa kiya hai"

Even more senti son: "Boohoo! Aapne apne Tommy oops... Tummy ko kaat diya?"


Freshly disturbed 'abalaa naari': "Yeh sunane se pehale main andhee kyon nahin ho gayee. Yeh dekhane se pehale mere kaan phat kyon nahin gaye! Hey Dharti maan, mujhe apni god mein samaa lo!"

Dharti maan (in a mechanical voice): "Aap qataar mein khadi hain!"


Now, don't ask me which movies these lines are from! Suffice to say that, that these lines were ever spoken proves the concept of parallel universes, some of which you do not have VIP-passes for! :P ;)

Thursday, February 25, 2010

What I love about Ram Gopal Varma

This is not the manner in which I had planned to write about him, but Ram Gopal Varma's (click) style of movie making had always impressed me. No, I have not watched Ram Gopal Varma ki Aag (click), and doing so might not change my views about his abilities. Because even if I were ever to watch and dislike it, it does not negate all that I had passionately cherished in his cinema and held dear to me. Also, there are too many prominent movies associated with him that I have not watched, yet - Satya (click), Darna mana hai (click), Sarkar Raj (click), Rann (click), etc.

The way he knows human psychology, which is absolutely essential for playing with our minds is simply awe-inspiring. And when I say psychology, I do not mean that concerning easily discernible gross events or emotions, but more so, how we respond to visuals and sounds. Behind some of the most chilling and provocative sounds, camera positions, lighting and facial expressions is a very astute mind that knows how the human mind reacts, given a particular stimulus.

Here, I will mention a few small things from his movies that have always stayed with me.

1. Vaastu shastra (click).

On the whole, the beauty of this movie was that it had presented the stories in gaps. Meaning, for many episodes, just the beginning and the ending were shown, and their spookiness lay in the viewer imaginingg how exactly the gap must have got filled, and this had required a proactive viewer and not a passive one.

1.a. The opening titles. The way the opening titles had floated in free space in a dark background had made me aware of their meanness and an inescapable imminence.

1.b. The conviction of the young boy - Rohan in talking of Manish and Jyoti. His confidence in talking of them was frightening. Not for a single instance did he plead with his parents to assuage their disbelief or ridicule. His confidence was unnerving for me as a viewer. This confidence coupled with background awareness a few 'wrong' things happening in that house, in light of his parents' utter ignorance of all those things had instilled a perverse curiosity in me to know what was to happen ahead.

1.c. The manner in which the tennis ball kills the maid. Well, to be specific it was not how the maid was killed that had got impressed upon my mind, but how the ball travels back as if having a life of its own, then in the end it climbs up the cupboard and nearly comes to rest making me think the scene had "ended", when the camera frame shifts ever so slightly to the right, and shows us Manish grabbing the ball with his hand. This last thing was a most unexpected surprise. There was nothing jerky in the way the entire scene was captured, and yet the manner in which the body of Manish emerges from the right edge of the frame and his stark whiteness in contrast with the background gives the viewer that totally unexpected moment. His facial expression is not one of happiness or anger or sadness, but of unshakeable resolve - again alluding to some kind of inevitability accounted for by nothing else but his unadulterated resolve.

1.d. The ladder leading to the top of the Banyan tree. This is the prime example of the dealing in gaps that I had talked of. The camera pans upwards and a nonchalant Rohan is seen sitting cozily very high up. While movies like Exorcist would have tried to make the scene scary by showing him climb up in some unnatural manner, this movie does no such thing. All the viewer gets to see is the "end" of the scene without showing how he climbed up. Also, the way the tree house at the top looks, it has a certain alien feel to it, one of belonging not to "us" but something else. This effect was probably achieved by sheer height and also a camera angle that made the top of the ladder converge like the apex of a very long isosceles triangle.

One of the bugging elements of the movie was the sinister kid laughter. It was rather interfering with the viewer experience than adding to it. Some of the slow undulations of the camera, which had given the scenes a 'floating-in-the-ship' kind of feel were also irritating.

You can read a very detailed review of this movie at Army of Monkeys (click), which I have not read yet. ;)

One thing I would want to say about watching horror movies is that they cannot be enjoyed if one goes with a confrontational attitude akin to I dare the movie maker to be able to scare me. Rather, to completely enjoy such movies requires a proactive viewer who would try to anticipate at each step what would happen ahead, so that getting surprised would be made possible!

2. Sarkar. The thing in the movie that had affected me the most was the dull thud of dumbell at the beginnig of the movie when the alleged rapist had been killed. The dullness was again one of those devices that had scared me because of my ability to empathize. The first thing that had come to my mind was - "I would not like to be there, hit like that"! It was that effective. Some other manner of killing like liters of blood splattering all around or something involving fast, jerky motion would dazzle or excite the viewer, but not necessarily frighten.

Towards the end, the unshakable expression on Rashid's face despite his inevitable death was something that had made me uncomfortable. Here was a man, who in the context of the movie was a villain, a wrongdoer, a failure, and yet, he dies the same way he had lived, without remorse. He faces the process of death just like any other average event in his life - trying to live through his death. Though the turn of events in the movie had not given me the time to think about all these, somewhere subconsciously the scene had sown a doubt, which serves as a chink in conviction with which we lead our lives - why do we do what we do in our lives? To what end? It all ends, anyway.

3. Music in Ram Gopal Varma-movies. Though the credit for the music in his movies should most directly got to the respective composers, still it is him who had introduced in Bollywood, music with piercing quality to it. One of the all time favorite songs of mine is "Mast" (click to hear) sung by Sunidhi Chauhan (click) and composed by Sandeep Chowta (click). The manner in which the opening words like uske siva kuchh yaad nahin... start with with a subdued hushed tone, and yet end in hui, hui main mast represents the most planned yet unstoppable dissipation of energy. Again the quality that comes fore is of unstopability. "Mast" at the end of the line hits the listener with an impact.

Another song that really resonates with me is Ganda hai par dhandha hai yeh... from Company (click). It has an element of tease. The point after Sandeep Chowta utters (ganda hai) "yeh", when I would expect a drum beat, there is none! It leaves me wanting for more; the dissipation does not happen this once.

Why I mention these pieces of music is because they gel so well with his overall style of movie making. Also, I do not know why, but somehow it is certain people's vision that enables others to deliver the best stored up in them, like potential energy. For instance, Sandeep Chowta has not been able to deliver such powerful music working with someone else. Vivek Oberoi (click) has never acted as well as with Varma. Abhishek Bachchan has not been able to make his screen presence felt the way he could in Varma's movies. It took a Varma to bring out the amazing actor hidden in Urmila Matondkar (click), who otherwise would have only got dismissed as a skin revealing bimbo. This also made me realize how Ismail Darbar (click) has been able to do his best only working with Sanjay Leela Bhansali (click). So, I believe these movie directors and producers indeed have a role in extracting the best from the people they work with. So even if a lot in his movies is not his doing, he should get the credit for firstly having a desire to work with talented people, then ability to recognize that talent, and then eventually actually associating with them.

Anyway, I could be accused of reading, seeing or hearing too much where there is really nothing. But well, I could perceive those things, and I do not rule out the possibility of my deluding myself only to be able to recognize an icon.

Also, there had been a few curious coincidences. Despite my liking some of his movies very much, I had not known much about him. But then some time later I came to understand that he is an atheist, and further later (just a year back) that he is a fan of Ayn Rand (click) - another person I greatly admire.

Ram Gopal Varma is in show business. His skill lies in employing a "technique" to generate an "effect". To digress a bit, this dichotomy between insipid technique used to generate a scintillating effect was something I had become sensitized to while making PowerPoint presentations for the first time. Same effect on screen could be achieved by elegant simplicity, or through crass background technique while editing the slides. I would like to share with you a novel that heavily relies on this passion for use of techniques to yield effects - The Vanished Man (click) by Jeffery Deaver (click). So what I admire about Ram Gopal Varma is his proficiency with two strata of techniques. One, of converting mundane resources like outdoors, sounds, raw actors, camera, ideas (raw materials for "technique") into visuals, sounds, facial expressions and plot-surprises (tier 1 "effect"). Two, the very same visuals, sounds, facial expressions and plot-surprise in turn serve as raw materials for the emotions generated in the viewer (tier 2 "effect"). And he is a master of both tiers of technique. He has perfected this art, I do not believe, which would have been possible without immense passion and a basic level of intelligence.

But years and experiences have also sensitized me to the same technique-effect concept put to use by famous people. I have my doubts whether the public image he has is the "true" him, or his attempt to provoke people into hating him and talking about him, or to profess love for him only to stand out.

But there is sufficient intelligence in his words that convinces me that whatever he does, he knows very well what it is, and that he also understands the motives behind his actions. Sometimes I also wonder if the insolent attitude he reserves for most people is his method to filter out those who cannot see form from substance, or in other words, those who miss the subtle but significant and go after the conspicuous but merely a distraction. Or again, I might be wrong in thinking he thinks so much about others!

But the fact remains, I continue to be intrigued by him, and admire him in equal measures.

You can read his blog here - RGV BLOG (click), going through which was basically the precipitating factor in my writing about him.

You can read some of his quotes here (click).

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Error of Judgment and Judgment of Errors


The prototypical Bindass dude!
The "prototypical" Bindass dude!

Image taken from: 'What I am': UTV Bindass' new campaign speaks through voice of youth (click) at Campaign India Online.

Can you see the disordered person?

The dude trying to pass off as a doctor? No?

Oh, and before it so happens that the dude actually happens to be a doctor and not some wannabe punk, which it seems could be the case, and I have to suffer the blushes, let me tell I have no issue with how a doctor is being portrayed. What is funny, though about the entire photo is that, our prototypical dude seems to be trying too hard to appear bindass making him hardly look interested in treatment of the patient in the background, but ironically, the very same patient has played her part too well in looking moribund! So much so that she might die in a flash. Flash, as in, camera's flash!

Full video at YouTube

Anyway, the disorder I am talking of is "conformism". Yes! Our dude suffers from it. It is a form of conformism - not even disguised well enough. In the video, his attitude reeks of "in your face"-confrontation (when there is no apparent need), and what his actual responsibility is, i.e., taking care of the patient hardly seems to be on his mind. This is that attitude that makes people conform to the image of a nonconformist (click). What an irony! Nonconformists also have prototypes!

Well, it is not a case that I have come across these portrayals of nonconformists for the first time. I came across the above photo and video after some "research"! I happened to travel in BEST buses in Mumbai after quite some time. And there was this hoarding that I had happened to see:

Just because I'm bindass doesn't mean I do drugs
Just because I'm bindass doesn't mean I do drugs
Image taken from: UTV Bindass - great new ads! (click) at

My first response was a zero decibel "Yeeeeeks"! I mean what is our dude even trying to prove? Oh, as the video dismisses the very idea of "trying to prove" something, it follows that I am asking the wrong question. My train of thought went thus:
If someone can undergo a whole lot of pain to get extensively tattooed and intensively pierced only taking after some other certified "bindass" celebrity, which I don't know they do to what end, then certainly their threshold to experiment with drugs must be low. The thing about narcotic drugs is not that they are illegal, but they can result in self-harm. If someone could be a rebel without a cause to only not conform, the same impetus lies behind trying narcotic drugs and other substances that are not approved of by the society, like alcohol and nicotine. Likewise, an impetus exists to indulge in acts that are perceived to be despicable. So, though such a prototypical dude may not necessarily end up doing all of those things, the impetus to conform to an image of nonconformist, exists. So well, the proportion of such prototypical dudes who take to narcotic drugs or to smoking or excessive drinking must be higher than in those who do not try to conform to the image of a rebel. Is this supported by statistics?...

As I was thinking on these lines, trying to play out both sides of the argument in my mind, I saw another hoarding...

Just because I'm bindass doesn't mean I sleep around
Just because I'm bindass doesn't mean I sleep around
Image taken from: UTV Bindass - great new ads! (click) at

Okay, point taken! But which made me think how have the makers of the ad assumed to "sleep around" to be inherently immoral or reprehensible? Are they not rather reinforcing a taboo? No! I am not trying to argue out which is better - fidelity or sleeping around, but still, I expect better sense of ethical propriety off people pushing at the boundaries of contemporary societal standards!

By the way, the video I had linked above has this girl shaking away seductively, either: to her own ignorance that her dance is seductive, or maybe her dance is, you know as they say, *a celebration of life emanating from deep within*, something I am incapable of understanding. And I have no problems with it. However, attempting to seduce is again a kind of conformation! It involves doing exactly those things that the one you want to seduce wants you to do! But what is surprising is that the basic idea being conveyed is that - it is alright to be seductive, but not alright to have sex. What an exercise in redundancy! The real expression of freedom would have been, had the girl said - "I'm not interested in you, dude 'cuz... (fill in with some "bindass" reason)! But no what she ultimately manages to say is just that I have a right to seduce you and not have sex, 'cuz having sex is bad! And who decided "sleeping around is bad"? Of course, not the society but our bindass gang. And then I saw yet another board...

Just because I'm bindass doesn't mean I don't believe in God
Just because I'm bindass doesn't mean I don't believe in God
Image taken from: UTV Bindass - great new ads! (click) at

I was just praying (to the nonexistent God), when the hell would these ads stop coming at every corner the bus turns? I can tell you, there are just too, too, toooooooo many of these ads. They just don't cease peeping from one hoarding or the other. Yes, my mistake that I happened to look at them, and think about them, and now, that I happen to be bugging you reader blogging about them, but please try to understand: these ads are bright, gaudy and BIG! And well, I realized the reason is this (click):

The channel is spending Rs 3 crore on the campaign, spread across TV, outdoor, print and below-the-line (BTL) activities. It is concentrating on outdoor sites in cities including Mumbai, Delhi, Pune and Bengaluru. It has also taken up space in dailies such as The Times of India for print ads.

But, but, but...

Can we look at those ads, again? Please!

= =

Or in other words:

I do drugs = I sleep around = I don't believe in God

This is so not acceptable! This is the worst form of religious discrimination possible. In India, every form of courtesy and reverse discrimination is reserved for the minority. Smaller the community, weaker it is; more vulnerable it is to bullying by larger communities. We, atheists are the undisputed champs at being the vulnerable. Now do not ask me what religion do I follow to be considered a "religious" minority! Just like how "zero" is a number (a fact invented by Indians), we atheists worship "No God". And our God is bigger than yours, and mind you, it's "all naturals" - without using any pills for enhancement! :P Unlike your God, it has two words instead of just one. But now that I have established how proud I am of my religion let us get back to the point. Can you imagine the degree of discrimination used against us by the government! So much so that, everyone has to have a religion! Have you noticed, there are no options like "atheist" or "nontheist" in official forms? Basically, to not believe in the existence of a God is legally not possible in India (click)! Unless and until one converts to a specific religion, the religion of parents is automatically stuck to the child. And it remains stuck throughout life, and even thereafter because even their child will contract the same religion!

Anyway, was I too disturbed to see it splashed in a huge media campaign that atheists are (immoral) like those doing drugs or sleeping around?

Actually, no. I know this kind of prejudice against atheists does exist, not just in India, but even elsewhere. And I have even tried to refute the validity of this preconceived notion that fear in a deity prevents one from indulging in unethical acts. Here (click)

It is no wonder that believers do not believe something to be moral because God commands it to be moral, but rather they make their God command what they already consider to be moral! Read this interesting abstract from a scientific study (click), which derives its data partly from neuroimaging:

People often reason egocentrically about others' beliefs, using their own beliefs as an inductive guide. Correlational, experimental, and neuroimaging evidence suggests that people may be even more egocentric when reasoning about a religious agent's beliefs (e.g., God). In both nationally representative and more local samples, people's own beliefs on important social and ethical issues were consistently correlated more strongly with estimates of God's beliefs than with estimates of other people's beliefs (Studies 1-4). Manipulating people's beliefs similarly influenced estimates of God's beliefs but did not as consistently influence estimates of other people's beliefs (Studies 5 and 6). A final neuroimaging study demonstrated a clear convergence in neural activity when reasoning about one's own beliefs and God's beliefs, but clear divergences when reasoning about another person's beliefs (Study 7). In particular, reasoning about God's beliefs activated areas associated with self-referential thinking more so than did reasoning about another person's beliefs. Believers commonly use inferences about God's beliefs as a moral compass, but that compass appears especially dependent on one's own existing beliefs.

More about related ideas and arguments can be read here - My Imaginary Friend (click).

But then, if anyway I have been clubbed together with "immoral" people, why not use this license to be licentious! ;) Ummm... drugs and sleeping around sounds fun. Prick-ing around is allowed, but no piercing around, okay? This is no immoral indoctrination, just a note to the self. :P

Well, that was my 2 pence-worth angst at 3 crore (30 million)-rupee-worth ad campaign. I am so happy to be not bindass, and this conformist with broken sense of morality, but at least intact skin! :P


And then I had seen another hoarding, and the only thing that caught my attention in it was:

Dr. B.R. Ambedkar.

The Architecture of the Indian Constituency

My first (zero decibel, again) response was - "What the fuck...", which of course amounts to nothing! "...How could someone with so bad an English design a hoarding meant for promotion to be read by so many people!". Then a conspiracy theory occurred to me, and I sincerely wish the theory to be true, which being: that it was a clever ploy to convince the "majority" that the Dalits have been so marginalized, that they cannot draft a single simple proper sentence in English! They need education. And they need it fast! Truly, reams of written word could not convince me about the need for reservations in educational institutes in India (click) the way that one sentence on the hoarding did. I do not know, which party's politicians' woeful condition of English the hoarding was attempting to advertise, but I suspect, it was the guy with the power of "ONE" (LS seat)! You know, that certain Republican Party of Certain Republic?


Anyway to end this post, I leave you with an excellent piece of original research, telepathy or clairvoyance [Hey, I don't know more difficult English words than these :( ] or whatever you may call it (click) by a senior "journalist" Kuldip Nayyar (click):

The murder of police officer Hemant Karkare, who was probing the Malegaon blasts, was the doing of the Vishwa Hindu Parishad or Bajrang Dal.

And no, this statement does not appear on Wikipedia (which I have actually found to be quite reliable in being balanced), but the noted reliable and verifiable source, that is, Dawn (click), "Pakistan's oldest and most widely-read English-language newspaper".

Enough reasons to sigh in days to come. *Sigh*

Related blog post by G Saimukundhan: Guide to Dudehood (click).

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Is Man-Boy Love a Beautiful Thing?

Man-boy love could be a beautiful thing (click) was an article written by Dr. Ashley Tellis, who is an assistant professor at the Department of Liberal Arts of Indian Institute of Technology, Hyderabad (click).

I urge the readers to go through his article published in The Indian Express linked above, as it will form the basis for my arguments here.

I had come to know of this issue reading a post - Why am I paying for Ashley Tellis’ salary? (click). Dr. Tellis had responded on the post informing the author(s) of Offstumped that he was considering “filing cases of criminal offense and slander against offstumped and Ot(hers)” largely owing to the tone and nature of comments that had ensued on the post.

In a subsequent post - IIT undergrads and Age of Consent (click) - published by Offstumped, the following issues were raised:
  • "Is it ok to advocate a debate on the issue of consensual Paedophile sex between a Man and a Boy ?"
  • "Can someone who advocates such a debate be employed at an educational institution ?"
  • "Is it ok for such an advocate employed at educational institution to come in contact with children who are under the legal age of consent ?"
  • "Can such contact potentially influence the behavior of the underage child making him vulnerable to sexual abuse by a same sex Adult"
Of course, other issues were also raised. Plus, the readers’ responses on the Indian Express web site were hysterical (and colorful, to say the least!).

I personally think a more comprehensive view of the entire occurrence needs to be taken to reach the most rational conclusion. Of course, whether that conclusion could be legally actionable is a different matter. Here, I will try to examine various arguments put forth by people including Dr. Tellis.

In the initial portions of his article, he has demonstrated that many people confuse pedophiles with homosexuals, and this creates more hatred towards pedophiles (than would be warranted). He has (rightly) pointed out that majority of pedophiles are actually heterosexuals.
”…they will not accept that this practice is at the heart of the heterosexual complex, that most ‘offenders’ are indeed heterosexual men and the ‘victims’ are young girls, often daughters, nieces and cousins’ children, most often within the context of incest, another unexamined taboo. So, one of the first ways to answer this charge from the homosexual point of view is to point out that most paedophiles are actually heterosexuals.”
In his next argument, he has termed any stipulation set by the judiciary (Delhi High Court, for instance in its much publicized ruling on section 377 of the Indian Penal Code [click]) as to the minimum age at which a person (child) becomes capable of giving informed and valid consent as “rather arbitrary”. In India the minimum age at which a person could consent for homosexual contact is 18 years, whereas for heterosexual contact it is 16 years for unmarried girls, 15 years for married girls and (from my memory) 17 years for boys. In the state of Manipur the minimum age for girls is 14 years.
”The second is to say that homosexuals are two adult consenting individuals and paedophiles are abusers of children, two distinct conceptual categories. While this is stated clearly (the Delhi High Court judgment on 377, for example, states clearly that adult consensual sex is all it is talking about) in legal language, there is no examination of the rather arbitrary category of the ‘adult.’ The linear language of the law is not capable of that examination.”
To summarize what he says in the aforementioned and subsequent paragraphs:

1. Pedophiles are not necessarily homosexuals. In fact, most cases of pedophilia are of heterosexual nature.

2. All children do not become adults at the same time, and that the transformation process is gradual, rather than occurring suddenly (say, on their 18th birthday).

3. That child marriage practiced (but illegal in India) is also a form of institutionalized pedophilia. (Thus, most rampant form of pedophilia is rather heterosexual, and not homosexual).

4. That viewing children as incapable of complicity/willingness in sexual encounters robs them of all agency "in the business of the negotiation of sexuality”.

5. Child has a sexuality and sexual drives. ["Do we, over a hundred years after Freud, still deny the fact that a child has a sexuality and sexual drives?”]

6. "Everybody’s initiation into sexuality is traumatic … that most sexual encounters, even with willing consenting adults are part coercion and part consent”.

7. "Power is part of all sexuality”.

8. In a significant fraction of pedophilia cases, the perpetuators are actually females.

9. Netherlands is quite progressive about sexuality, and that there is an active pedophiles’ rights’ group.

10. Arbitrariness of age of consent for having sex is further proved by the fact that it varies from 9 to 18 years in various parts of the World.

11. Issue of consent v/s abuse. In this context he cites the case of one William Heum (click), who had been arrested in November, 2009 in Chennai, for having sex with minors, uploading the videos on the internet and distributing them. He disapproves of his acts because no consent was taken from the concerned children.

12. What a man “does” to a boy, and woman to a girl could be "beautiful thing.” This is the most ambiguous part of his article. I suppose he was not talking of something socially acceptable as a hand shake or a peck on the cheek. Because had he been, then he would not have used words  like ‘love’. And of course, he would not have projected his ideas as inciting radical reactions. So, at the very least he might have meant hugging, or kissing on the lips (kissing on the forehead is very much acceptable in the Indian society), or in the most extreme case, penetrative sex, i.e., anal or vaginal penetration. The last speculation of his using “man-boy love” to mean anal penetration is supported by the following words in the first paragraph:
"pederasty, or the practice of man-boy love".
Pederasty means:
Anal intercourse with a boy usually of age 11 to 19 years as the passive partner.
References are many.

Okay, so now I will deal with each of the points made by Dr. Tellis. Of course, he has made a few valid points. I will try to reason out why I disagree with a few specific points. Where I agree, or am not skeptical of the point, I will merely indicate my agreement. I will deal with the points in the order which will make things most clear, and not necessarily in which Dr. Tellis has dealt with them. Right at the outset I will enlist those points that I agree with, but I will add my remarks:

1. Pedophiles are not necessarily homosexuals. In fact, most cases of pedophilia are of heterosexual nature.

3. That child marriage practiced (but illegal in India) is also a form of institutionalized pedophilia. (Thus, most rampant form of pedophilia is rather heterosexual, and not homosexual).

5. Child has a sexuality and sexual drives. However, it is to be remembered that the very same Freud who had identified existence of sexuality did so by studying adults (largely, females) who suffered from 'hysteria' (conversion disorder [click]), and he had found the cause to be sexual abuse in the childhood.

"Patients with conversion disorder reported a higher incidence of physical/sexual abuse, a larger number of different types of physical abuse, sexual abuse of longer duration, and incestuous experiences more often than comparison patients."
- Am J Psychiatry 159:1908-1913, November 2002 (click).

7. Power is part of all sexuality.

8. In a significant fraction of pedophilia cases, the perpetrators are actually females. - Possibly. It may or may not be true, but it does not influence the ongoing discussion much.

9. The Netherlands is quite progressive about sexuality, and that there are active pedophiles’ rights’ groups. - Could be true. Ascertaining does not serve any significant purpose. One of the respondents to his article in Indian Express had clearly stated that pederasty is illegal in the Netherlands. We do not have to take the respondent on trust. You can go through this chart - Worldwide ages of consent (click). So, in Netherlands, the age of consent is 16 years, which is the same for both the sexes, as well as for hetero- and homosexual relations. So, it is not a case that to have sex with those below the age of consent is legal in the Netherlands. However, we do not have to reach a conclusion only because of some trend over there. We should ideally reach decisions, on the basis of what seems most rational to do, after taking a most balanced view possible. In fact, of all the countries to call the Netherlands most progressive and to imply that as worthy of emulation itself is a rather arbitrary choice, just like the fixed age of consent. Moreover, just because a rights' group exists, does not make meeting their demands reasonable.

11. Yes, Heum was wrong - because he did not take consent of the concerned children. This is something I agree with. But if that is the only reason he was wrong is yet undecided, and in fact forms the core of the whole debate.

Now coming to the points I disagree with and the reasons behind them.

First of all, I urge the readers to go through Wikipedia’s article on child sexual abuse (click). While, Wikipedia is not to be considered the most reliable source of information, it is important to note the highly reliable sources used to back up the assertions contained in the article.

Point discussed - 4: That viewing children as incapable of complicity/willingness in sexual encounters robs them of all agency "in the business of the negotiation of sexuality”.

First issue to be discussed is the complicity of child. I am quoting relevant portion from pages 3 and 4 of the book - Childhood sexual abuse: a reference handbook (click) by Karen L. Kinnear:

Children are not capable of consenting to sexual activities with an adult; just because the child participates in this abuse does not mean that the child has consented. Another condition is exploitation. Children are manipulated or coerced into sexual behavior by adults who are stronger, more resourceful, and more knowledgeable. They may buy the child gifts, persuade the child that all fathers teach their daughters about sex, threaten the child with punishment or with the death of the other parent (“if your mother ever finds out, she’ll probably die of a heart attack”), or provide attention to the child in other ways.

Ambivalence is also a characteristic in child sexual abuse. Children often feel ambivalent about what is happening to them; they do not like or understand the sexual part of the experience, but they may enjoy the attention they are receiving, as well as any rewards or special privileges they may receive because of the abuse. Some children may be confused because some of the physical sensations they experience are enjoyable; these sensations make them feel good. However, they know that the behavior is wrong, and although they want the abuse to stop, they do not want to stop receiving the gifts, privileges, or attention they gain by remaining silent.

Point discussed - 12: What a man “does” to a boy, and woman to a girl could be "beautiful thing.”

It is important to understand the harms that could be caused by child sexual abuse including the heterosexual kind, non-penetrative kind, or even the seemingly consensual kind.

Following is an excerpt from a statement (click) issued by the American Psychological Association:

Those who are reporting that the study says that childhood sexual contact with adults is not harmful to children are misreporting the findings. The facts are that the majority of the psychological literature reveals that childhood sexual abuse has serious negative effects on its victims. The question raised by the study is an important one Does sexual abuse cause varying degrees of harm to children? In other words, can the child's age, resiliency, and/or family environment ever mitigate the ill effects of the abuse? If such mitigating factors can be shown through this and further research child abuse prevention and treatment programs could put that knowledge to work helping both children and families. Such knowledge would, however, in no way excuse any form of abuse. All abuse is wrong, but all abuse may not be equally harmful.

The Wikipedia article in its section on effects of child sexual abuse (click) enlists the following major harms:
  • Depression
  • Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
  • Anxiety
  • Anxiety-spectrum disorders (phobias, panic disorder, etc.) - examples have not been mentioned but adding from my knowledge.
  • Dissociative disorders (complete loss of memory or loss of memory with history of travel to remote places - dissociative fugue).
  • Somatization (roughly put, psychologic stress manifesting as physical complaints like blindness, or pain)
  • Chronic pain
  • Sexualized behavior
  • Substance abuse (significantly, odds of abusing substance as an adult are increased by 37 to 300 per cent).
  • Learning problems
  • Criminality
  • Infections
  • Actual structural damage to the brain if the abuse is severe, which leads to aberrant development. This included development of seizure disorders ("fits"), actual shrinking of corpus callosum (information carrying fibers that connect the two hemispheres of the brain) and reduced volume of hippocampus (involved in long-term memory).
It is significant to note that many of the above problems continue into the adulthood.

Also significantly, statistics have made allowance for other confounding factors like discord between parents and the use of force by the abuser. Of course, if abuse is against the will and/or without consent, harm done is greater, but even after putting in place controls, it had been found that even sexual abuse of a  so-called "consenting" child led to long-term harm. The amount of data and the meticulousness of methodology used is pretty well established as the one to arrive at conclusions. For instance, that smoking is hazardous to health is a conclusion reached through similar clinical research.

Point discussed - 2: All children do not become adults at the same time, and that the transformation process is gradual, rather than occurring suddenly (say, on their 18th birthday). I will club it with point number 10 - Arbitrariness of age of consent for having sex is further proved by the fact that it varies from 9 to 18 years in various parts of the World |10: Arbitrariness of age of consent for having sex is further proved by the fact that it varies from 9 to 18 years in various parts of the World.

What Dr. Tellis has mostly meant is that emotional growth is a gradual process and that it begins and "ends" at different ages in different people, and moreover, that it could occur at different rates. Of course he is correct in stating that. But, since we are talking of legal issues, a definite criterion needs to be in place. Because for every single case of abuse, we cannot call in experts to determine what level of emotional maturity was attained by the child in question. Also these kind of limitations are put wherever we use specific numbers. For instance, how does a student suddenly become "passing-worthy" in exams by getting 35% instead of 34%? But because of some unfairness, it does not become legitimate suggestion to remove all kind of numerical limits wherever they exist.

Also, in the list (click) of ages of consent, most of the countries' ages have tended to range from 16 to 18 years, with mean being 16 years. And at least on a cursory glance I could not find the minimum age to be 9, as had been claimed by Dr. Tellis in the article. The list has 13 years as the minimum age.

But are there other indicators to determine what could be the appropriate range of age to term someone as adult? I will give two specific examples, which suggest that 16 to 18 years is indeed the most appropriate age.

First is the Weschler adult intelligence scale (click) for measurement of intelligence quotient (IQ). The age from which it becomes valid is 16 years. Historically, another test called the Stanford-Binet intelligence scale was also based on the assumption that maximum growth of cognitive intelligence takes place by 15 years. It should not be surprising that maximum emotional intelligence and maturity would take a bit longer to develop.

Also, a broad group of psychiatric disorders known as personality disorders (click, and see under the heading "Age") are diagnosed only after the age of 18 years.
"Personality disorders generally should not be diagnosed in children and adolescents because personality development is not complete and symptomatic traits may not persist into adulthood. Therefore, the rule of thumb is that personality diagnosis cannot be made until the person is at least 18 years of age."

Basically, both the IQ-tests had been developed decades ago and have been updated using new information from time to time. The diagnostic criteria for personality disorders have been developed after years of research and observation of countless patients, and yet, 16 to 18 years appears to be the age at which children mature into adults.

So, if Dr. Tellis would have recommended lowering of age of consent by two years to 16 years in India, it would have seemed a rational assertion. But to suggest that all ages and age-ranges are rather arbitrary is clearly going against decades of observation of child psychology. It would be worthy of noting that in the medical science, "normal" is defined as the population that falls between 2 standard deviations from the mean, usually 95.5% of population. Which implies that at least 95.5% of population takes 16 to 18 years to mature into adults according to psychiatrists and psychologists.

Also, one very important point to note here is that if majority of children world over feel "infantilized" or discriminated against for having sex with adults being considered illegal, and that they actually feel quite grown up (say, to take example given by Dr. Tellis, at age 10 years), why have we heard only of pedophiles' rights group and not something like "children wanting to have sex with adults rights group"?

Points discussed - 6: Everybody’s initiation into sexuality is traumatic … that most sexual encounters, even with willing consenting adults are part coercion and part consent | 7: Power is part of all sexuality

I would not agree that eveyone's initiation into sexuality is traumatic. And even if it is, so there is something like intensity of trauma, and whether that trauma is caused suddenly or the person eases into it. Moreover, adults are better prepared to handle traumatic events. Such events are significantly less likely to cause long term psychological harms to adults.

Power is a part of all sexuality, but at least in case of adults, the power could shift from one partner to the other in both hetero- and homosexual relations. Whereas, it is unlikely that children would take the initiative and be the dominant partner in this power relation.

Children are highly impressionable, and they tend to hold those older than them in high esteem and tend to feel overawed by them. I can personally recall being greatly impressed and awed by those 3 to 4 years older than me. It had been very tempting to emulate them. Children view adults as a separate class of people.

Also, how a 10 year old kid views a 15 year old one is very different from, say how a 25 year old person views a 30 year old one despite the fact that age difference in both cases is only 5 years.

It is keeping in mind these facts, the legal concept of "close-in-age" has been applied in Canada (click) and the USA (click)

It can be deduced from these provisions that it is not per se having sex under the age of consent that is detrimental to children, but their doing so with someone significantly older than them (adult) is.


Taking these facts into consideration raises many questions. All stem from the most significant question:

Why did Dr. Tellis not discuss or consider these issues in his article?

In particular, two mutually exclusive assumptions can be made. I will not go into guessing which is the more likely of the two.

1. He was unaware of these facts. In which case to writing an article in such an authoritarian tone, challenging a whole lot of legal and ethical considerations, and psychological and psychiatric knowledge in context of an issue, which by his own admission is considered very sensitive by the society totally baffles me. What was the intention? He did not bother to verify if his ideas were in line with the vast (and reliable) academic material available on the internet, despite knowing if his judgment went wrong some people's physical/psychological health could suffer permanent damage.

2. He deliberately withheld the facts. On the IIT, Hyderabad staff he serves as as an expert on gender studies and in particular LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual transgender) studies. Considering the area of his expertise, if he did in fact have an idea of the known harms of child sexual abuse, what was the point in withholding this information? Is one not supposed to reach conclusions, and furthermore disseminate them after taking a most balanced possible views factoring in all the available data?

Now, to answer the issues raised on Off-stumped:

1. Is it ok to advocate a debate on the issue of consensual Paedophile sex between a Man and a Boy?

To simply disagree is not called debate. Debating involves facts and well-reasoned arguments. After going through the well substantiated information available, Dr. Tellis hardly seems to have done that. The strength of evidence of what one argues for should be proportionate to the severity of its consequences and also the amount of data available that supports the originally held (mis)concept.

So a debate gets justified only when substantial new information to base our opinion on becomes available. Has Dr. Tellis provided us with any such substantial information.

Instead, he has omitted relevant facts, invented a few facts, and distorted logic in advocating something that is decidedly harmful for children. This is certainly not a "debate".

2.Can someone who advocates such a debate be employed at an educational institution?

This is difficult for me to comment on. But since, the article he has written was on public platform and what he has recommended was with an authoritative tone (as an "expert" on the matter), it is reasonable to believe that his intention was to alter public perception on the issue. But this he had attempted through presenting inadequate and/or distorted data. Also, his line of reasoning was not rational. Hardly anything in his article led us to this conclusion that "man-boy or woman-girl love could be a beautiful thing". His reasoning suffers from a logical fallacy analogous to saying - New Delhi is the capital of India and London is the capital of UK, hence the Earth is flat". Meaning, by presenting a few true facts, and making a few valid arguments, he has reached a totally unrelated (and flawed) conclusion that child sexual abuse could be a beautiful thing. For instance, only because majority of pedophilia is heterosexual (and wrong), does not in any way make man-on-boy love beautiful. Likewise, only because pedophilia rights groups exist, it in no way leads to the conclusion that their demand and the consequence of meeting them would be "beautiful".

And despite availability of scientific data, which is starkly opposite to his ideas, he has held on to them without any sound reasoning or evidence to counter the ideas widely held by the scientific community. This behavior is extremely stubborn, and does not lend itself favorably to Dr. Tellis role as a teacher. And most important, it should make one sensitive to the possibility of a conflict of interest in holding views which have been proved wrong.

3. Is it ok for such an advocate employed at educational institution to come in contact with children who are under the legal age of consent?

The foremost reason I would consider him dangerous for the institute that currently employs him is the manner in which he has executed his role as a disseminator of information. If he employs the same techniques of distorting and withholding significant information to buttress his unpopular opinions, then it is bound to be detrimental in ways more than one to the institute and the students who he teaches. One more thing that Offstumped has not considered is that a whole generation of students who study under him would end up with this idea - "Man-boy or woman-girl love is a beautiful thing". It needs to be considered if they would themselves become more likely to indulge in child sexual abuse owing to their considering it alright, or rather "beautiful". Though students are expected to verify what they are told by the teachers and not take their opinions merely on faith, it should also be remembered that students many times do not find time for this and that a teacher not just doles out dry facts, but also leaves a mark on students' psyche, least of which a few beliefs may get passed on. And why have a teacher who is likely to take students away from learning facts rather than facilitate the process?

4. Can such contact potentially influence the behavior of the underage child making him vulnerable to sexual abuse by a same sex Adult?

The answer is definitely not "no". Remember, just like "could be" in Dr. Tellis' article, we are talking here of possibilities. Nothing should be ruled out of the domain of debate. And as I pointed out, such obdurate holding of an opinion in face of substantial data to the contrary betrays a possible conflict of interest.

But personally for me, whether students become more likely to be victimized by Dr. Tellis is an independent concern, but his unreliable method of dispensing information and logic about sensitive issues is definitely worth a very close scrutiny.

The last thing I want to point is, unlike what some people (in particular, John Rebus on Offstumped) have suggested, this issue is not merely of "personal opinions", but one of building them based on balanced and evidence-based logic. It is not a matter of mere "personal opinion" whether smoking increases the risk of lung cancer. Scientific evidence is that yes, it does. It is a different issue that someone here is trying to call lung cancer as "beautiful", and probably it is within his rights to do so. But let such an opinion come from those who are desirous of smoking and suffering from lung cancer and not from those who manufacture cigarettes!

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Free will

I am republishing this post, as a form or blog-recycling - an idea I caught on from Wise Donkey's blog (click). Coincidentally, tomorrow happens to also be the anniversary of my blog, and the time this post was published for the first time. I have edited the post a bit. This was the first post I had actually published on this blog. :)

Following is a blog I had originally posted at yahoo 360:

I was replying to one of the offbeat queries on, and the reply turned out so long that I thought, better I convert it into a blog. But again, I am surprised that this world has been a crucible of such great minds at work (thinking being the work of a mind), that ultimately, however much I try, it is not possible to think a thought that has not been thought before! So, many of the opinions that I had developed on my own, I learned, are already established schools in philosophy!

I will not post the query because of reasons related to copyright issues, but the gist of it was "if we decide anything really on our own volition, or are we predetermined to make those decisions".

Here's my response:

Let me refine what you have called thoughts and emotions. Fortunately, we as medicos are in better positions to understand that both thoughts and emotions arise out of neurotransmission across synapses through very complex neural networks. What is important here, though is not the complexity of networks, but that the process that gives rise to thoughts and emotions is as simplistic  and physical as action potential giving rise to or inhibiting action potential elsewhere (synaptic inhibition or facilitation).

The feeling we get while we make a choice is that it is "I" who is deciding to do a particular thing, and not opt an alternative choice, and had I wanted, I "could" have made the other choice. The question is: do we really make choices that were not determined by past events? To make this question clear, I would have to give an example:

Think of someone breaking a frame in a game of pool. There are 10 balls that are struck with the cue ball, and immediately at the moment of impact all of them scatter away. To the untrained human eye, this is quite a chaotic event, but everyone would agree that with our modern technology, if the force, spin and direction of the cue ball, the masses of other balls, the properties of the reflecting walls, and the properties of the surface of the pool table would be known, we can definitely predict with amazing degree of accuracy where each ball on the table would end up after a finite amount of time. So in that sense the fate of each ball was predetermined by their mutual positions, the speed and direction with which the cue ball would impact them (force), the properties of the various surfaces and the time of impact. So, if the pool table were a closed system (where no external force could act), we would be the best astrologers! We could foretell everything that the pool balls would ever want to "know" about their future! And, add to it the fact that it is you who would be hitting at those cue balls. So in that sense, you are the one who is determining the fates of those balls. But, the way you are determining their fate is very "physical". If I were to tell you that try to change the course of the balls only by power of your mind (without actually touching them or using a physical force), and you would know that it would be impossible, unless  and of course you are a firm believer of psychokinesis (click).

Now let us shift the same pool table to within our brain, and think of all the vesicles holding neurotransmitter molecules as those balls. Our emotions, thoughts, memories, all are a result of which neurons "fire" at what time. So, if real free will were to exist, we should be able to "control" (unknowingly) the particular neurons so as to make them release a particular neurotransmitter at a particular point in time in a particular quantity. The issue is can we really do all that with our "will", which is nothing, but again, a result of activity of the same neurons containing the said neurotransmitters? Well, I am not sure of the answer. Though, going by the physics of it, the answer seems like "no". No, we cannot make the molecules of neurotransmitters behave the way we want them to. So, each time you are deciding between a yellow dress or a white one, and even if you decide after full five minutes of pondering that you want the yellow one, it could be only because the neuron that was to trigger your decision fired at that moment (after five minutes), because of pre-set conditions, and not because of your thought-processes. So, this sounds very gloomy, indeed, that everything we do is predetermined, and more importantly, out of our control. But, when I gave the example of pool balls, I was talking of classical physics, which holds true only at a very gross level. If somehow, instead of 10 pool balls, 10 neutrons (and not neurons) were to be placed in a frame, and then hit with a "cue neutron", we will not be able to predict the trajectories of any of the neutrons, forget all the ten neutrons together. There are too many issues. Firstly, quantum physics does not allow any particle to be absolutely still - it has to oscillate with what is called a finite amount of "zero point energy" (the minimum energy that a particle has to possess, which equals hv/2, h=Planck's constant, and v is the frequency of oscillation of the particle). Secondly, the the Heisenberg's principle of uncertainty, does not allow precise knowledge of positions of the particles and their momentum at the same time. But, what happens in real life is that the "amount of uncertainty" remains constant even with a large assembly of particles, but since the assemblies these particles become are so large that any uncertainty gets buffered by the practical and acceptable approximations of their momentum and position. So, the uncertainty principle somehow does not apply to the day-to-day "bulky" objects and situations. Hence our neurotransmitter molecules, and even more so, the vesicles that hold them, are on the borderline of being big and small enough to obey the uncertainty principle. Their courses and positions are somewhat predictable and yet, somehow unpredictable.

But, what is the implication of this knowledge of uncertainty principle to our discussion? What it implies is that at least the course of the neurotransmitter vesicles in our brains cannot be determined with complete accuracy, and hence, cannot be predicted. And, so the decisions that a person makes are not completely predictable. But, the issue of being "able" to alter the course of or effect the emptying of a particular vesicle in a particular neuron at a given time without a physical force though, remains as it is.

Of course, I know it is very difficult to even digest the possibility: that the emotions that we feel to be so real, or the feeling of "choosing", which is another name for freedom/liberty, could all be illusory. One of the possibilities of why we feel this illusion could be a specialized center in the brain that "witnesses" all the activities in the neurons. And these activities get registered as thoughts. We witness a live broadcast of our own thoughts (which are not exactly out of volition, but determined by the pre-set conditions), and we get a feeling that we are somehow effecting those thoughts, possibly because the time lag between the moment when a thought "arises" and it is "registered" could be very short.

So, I would recommend that one try while buying a dress, bargaining the price pointing out:

“It’s not me who wants to buy the dress, it’s just the neurons; I’m compelled by their preset conditions,. I cannot help it. So could you please give me a discount, at least if not give it away for free?” 
But, I would warn here that the shopkeeper’s response need not be that philosophical!!!

PS: A very pertinent discussion had also occurred at my other blog, here (click). Also, I request the reader to go through all the comments as they had been quite illuminating.

Updates from my new Blog

If you want to comment...

As you might know, I have shifted my blog to Wordpress - here (click).

All the blog posts I had published before shifting have been transferred there, so if you want to comment on any of the blog posts on this blog, SIMPLY CLICK ON THE TITLE OF THE INDIVIDUAL POSTS.

Thank you!


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