Children of A

Alternative Click-baiting Title: 8 Radiohead Covers That’ll Make You Think Again
 
Warning: What follows next are words about music. Words written by me, about a band I love, and one of their more experimental songs. Which I also love. If you find effusive fanboys gushing over their favourite bit of music annoying, leave. Or, you know, stay and make an ass of yourself in the comments. I could do with the traffic.

 

That title is not missing a noun after the indefinite article. This blog post is about a song; a brilliant bit of minimalist electronic ambient experimentalism called Kid A. It’s the second song and title track of Radiohead’s fourth album, which released in October 2000. In 2010 Kid A was named ‘Album of the Decade’ by music publications Now Magazine, Pitchfork, Rhapsody, Rolling Stone, and The Times Online, while also featuring in the Top 10 Album of the Decade lists in 14 other publications. Suffice to say, it’s a pretty good piece of music. What Kid A isn’t, however, is an easy listen. An old friend of mine once told me he only truly “got it” after listening to the album for the 50th time. Indeed, when Kid A came out, it polarized fans of Radiohead and indeed fans of rock in general. 

You see in 1997, Radiohead released OK Computer. It is, in my humble opinion, simply the Greatest Album Ever Made. It’s better than Kid A, better than Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, The Dark Side Of The Moon, Revolver, Nevermind, Are You Experienced?, London Calling, Led Zeppelin IV, Thriller, or The Wall, to name a few usual suspects who inevitably appear out of nowhere, like demons answering a summoning incantation, whenever the words “Greatest Album of All Time” are uttered. The album saved rock, in an era of Spice Girls, Aqua, and Puff Daddy, OK Computer was a god-send. It still speaks to me today and I suffer an almost visceral reaction listening to it. This guitar-heavy rock album propelled Radiohead to levels of stardom that they haven’t matched since, even today. And that almost killed them. The brilliant documentary, Meeting People Is Easy, highlights the vicissitudes of fame and the tension it put on the group, almost leading to their self-destruction. Which is why when Radiohead came out with Kid A, an album that’s more of an exploration in lush, ambient electronic music and almost entirely devoid of their traditional guitar-driven rock sound; it was brave, foolhardy, controversial, and genius. 

I usually am of the opinion that the song Kid A shouldn’t be heard on its own, but is best experienced as part of a sequence of the first four songs from the eponymous album. However, I was recently introduced to a rather interesting video via Reddit’s r/Radiohead community. This cover of Kid A, which at the time had only around 4,000 views despite being pretty good and over 2 years old, was a gateway video that led me to search for more covers of Kid A or of other Radiohead songs.

Now, it shouldn’t be surprising to hear that a band as famous and respected as Radiohead have been covered by artists from numerous genres. What I did find surprising is how many covers there are of Kid A, a song notorious for its indecipherable and ineffable lyrics, a sound so minimalist that it borders on chiptune music, and its tendency to just revel in its own weirdness and incomprehensibility.What I found even more surprising was that quite a few of these covers are actually pretty damn good. 

As soon as I found these beautiful, exquisitely creative, unusual, quirky, random tributes to one of my all-time favorite songs, I desperately wanted to talk to someone about this and just share what I had discovered. So, I did. I tweeted a few times about these covers and then when I realized no one would care about this on Twitter, I decided to blog about it instead deciding that while I would continue to remain ignored, it would at least give me a reason to update my blasted blog.

1. Morgan McRae’s Cover of Kid A

This was the one I found on Reddit. It isn’t perfect, but I found it interesting and very well-made nevertheless.

2. Evan Chapman’s Percussion Cover of Kid A

I thought this was really creative and just an outstanding showcase of this guy’s persuasive percussive talent.

3. Punch Brothers’ Bluegrass Cover of Kid A

I had not expected that the words Bluegrass Radiohead Cover would ever escape my lips. But that’s before I discovered Punch Brothers. They’ve done quite a few Radiohead songs, but listening to their cover of Kid A sounds like the ideal background score for an adaptation of Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn. 

4. John Mayer’s Cover of Kid A

When I first saw that such a thing as a John Mayer cover of Kid A exists, I was surprised and apprehensive. Luckily, while the song retains John Mayer’s…umm… John Mayer-ness, it also captures the sound of the original very well. 

5. The Original Kid A 

What the fuss is all about. 

6. Hanson Covers Optimistic

Hanson is a band you might be aware of. They were one of the earlier 90s’ abominable kiddie-pop music products, a “band” created by marketing executives as a way to tap into the youth target demographic and increase sales in all quarters across the board. They had a huge hit in 1997 with “MMMBop, which I liked when I first heard it, because at the time I was 8 years old and didn’t know that the song was the product of businessmen, focus groups and boardroom meetings rather than drugs, depression, and creativity (which is how I like all my art to be created now). Eventually, the band grew up and decided to show the world that they actually do have some modicrum of talent and musical integrity. And what better way to do so than to cover a Radiohead song. Well, shit, it’s actually decent.

7. Vampire Weekend Covers Exit Music (For A Film)

I know I’m deviating from Kid A, but I figured that if I’m in for a penny why not list all my favorite Radiohead covers right here. Vampire Weekend are the current world heavyweight champions of Indie music. They’re the band every hipster loved in 2007 and consequently hated in 2008 when their debut album became a huge critical and commercial success. This cover comes from Stereogum’s ‘OK X’, a tribute to Radiohead’s OK Computer released on the 10-year anniversary of the album in 2007. 

8. John Vanderslice’s Cover of Karma Police

This is the one Radiohead song people are most likely to have heard. So this cover ought to be most illustrative of how people seem to achieve a new level of genius while just copying Radiohead. (God, that statement was excessively fanboy-ish, even for me!)

9. Gnarls Barkley Covers Reckoner

Most of you probably know of Gnarls Barkley as the band behind this ear-worm from 2006. However, this supergroup consisting of R&B soulster CeeLo Green and the man who produces everything fresh and brilliant in modern music, Danger Mouse, have also performed this absolutely electric, searing cover of Reckoner. What I particularly adore about this performance is that in the original song by Radiohead features some breathtaking falsetto singing by Thom Yorke. 

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Writing Infidelity

Spoiled by a habit of being paid to write or writing for publications with a reputation (positive or otherwise), I have continued neglecting this blog. Here’s some other places you can find my writing in the meantime.

5 Facts About India You Never Knew

Is Lewis Hamilton now one of the all-time greats in Formula One?

Once I find a regular avenue for my writing, I will direct the 20-odd people who inexplicably follow this blog (Thank you, BTW. You guys are awesome!) to that place to enjoy more of my rambling rants and ravings.

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The Winter of ’69 Is Coming

I was sitting in a dark, somewhat seedy bar in Kondapur, Hyderabad when the “DJ” started to play Summer of ’69 and the dark, somewhat seedy crowd went wild. I was amazed that even in 2014 there were people who had failed rather spectacularly to outgrow Bryan Adams’ anthem to nostalgia. When I was 15 and in high school, everyone was learning to play that very song on guitar. The seedy bars I went to aged 18-21 played Summer of ‘69 on the hour every hour. And here I was again, 26 years old and watching people cheer and whoop as soon as Bryan Adams’ annoying voice croaked “I bought my first real six-string!” through the speakers.

That’s when the penny dropped. These were not disparate groups of people; no, they were the same. The same people who cheered Summer of ’69 in seedy bars at the age of 20 in 2008, were cheering Summer of ’69 in seedy bars in 2014, aged 26. Was it because they had stopped caring about music in the same way I had stopped caring about whatever gritty new American TV show was all the rage on social media? Why was that? After giving that question a bit of thought (and gin), I came up with the idea that it’s because we are now rather suddenly gaining an understanding of the value of time and the imminence of death. When you’re 15 or even 21, time is an empty stretch of ocean extending before you until it disappears over the edge of the horizon. All you want to do then is experience as much as you can, drown yourself in new and exciting pleasures. At 26, you start spotting land at the end of the horizon and suddenly, your time is precious and you want your pleasures to be simple, uncomplicated, regular, and something you can share with as many other people as possible. Thus, it’s easier to cheer and whoop to the unimaginative and clichéd strains of Summer of ’69 than it is to go out there and search for good contemporary music. It’s probably why our parents (or at least mine) stubbornly held on to their old tapes of Mohammad Rafi and Kishore Kumar even while AR Rahman was making the best music of his career, before his he turned towards the new musical direction of rampantly stealing from Algerian and Middle Eastern musicians.

Well, I thought some of you might be interested in exploring new music once again, just like you did while in college, though instead of a large folder full of unorganized mp3s that span genres, decades, and quality; all I can offer is a list of some rather interesting musical acts I have come to grow rather fond of since 2010. Unfortunately, it is quite common for people who are knowledgeable about any human endeavour to use that learning as a weapon to protect their own fragile and bloated ego. Thus, people now are rightfully hesitant to heed anyone’s suggestions for trying out new music. Well, luckily for you, I’m not some sort of music connoisseur, and this is not some sort of hipster one-upmanship contest with me saying, “Look at all this music you’ve probably never even heard of”. These aren’t exactly underground acts; some of them have been around for over a decade. I’m just putting this out there in the hope that this list spreads and I will not have to endure any more Bryan Adams or Bon Jovi the next time I’m at a seedy rock-themed bar in Hyderabad, Bangalore, or Delhi. So, without further ado, here is a collection (in no particular order) of what I believe is the best music I have heard in the last 4 years.


 

1. Das Racist

Some of you might have already come across the comedy styling of Hari Kondabolu. If you haven’t, I recommend you check this and this out. Das Racist is a rap group that consisted of Hari’s younger brother Ashok Kondabolu (aka Dapwell), fellow ABCD Himanshu Suri (aka Heems), and Victor Vazquez (aka Kool A.D.). Their formation story is rather different from most hip-hop bands; they met at the prestigious Wesleyan University, perhaps the United States’ leading liberal arts school, which counts 13 Pulitzer Prize winners, and the likes of Joss Whedon, the creators of How I Met Your Mother, and Michael Bay in its alumni. The band is not some sort of privileged minority satire of hip-hop as much as it is a deconstruction of rap, race, and politics in the US. The name, a phoneticized version of ‘That’s Racist’, was a response to what Himanshu Suri described as a game “(…) to take all the seriousness out of making legitimate commentary on race, because that can get very annoying. So when something veering on racially insensitive would pop off in a commercial on television or something, it would be like, who could yell “That’s Racist” first”. Of course, if you don’t care about the socio-political commentary behind the music and just enjoy some phat beats and sick rhymes, this could work for you on that level too.


 

2. M83

In something with no precedent whatsoever in all of human history, some sort of revolution is taking place in Paris. Daft Punk were just the beginning, there is a lot of very interesting musical talent emerging from France, most of whom sing in English. French electronic/indie rock group M83 have been making music since 2001, but I only heard them for the first time in 2011, when their album, Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming, was described by music critics as a summoning of the best of The Cure and New Order. That, the fact that the band are named after the closest and brightest spiral galaxy in the night sky, and that ‘cosmic’ and ‘trip’ were the most commonly used words to describe their sound, made me check them out almost instantly. While they definitely combine elements of 80s synthpop with a very 90s shoegazing, post-grunge feel, I would have to say that their sound can be best described as the auditory equivalent of watching an episode of Doctor Who. Particularly, an episode written by Steven ‘Adds Needlessly Messianic Undertones in Everything’ Moffat.


 

3. Deafhaven

Somewhere in the 1990s, metal completely lost it. Metallica started making shit like Load and Re-Load before making St. Anger and Death Magnetic, two ginormous pieces of pure, unadulterated excrement that now make Re-Load look like one of their greatest albums ever. Iron Maiden too only came out with their last good albums, Brave New World and Dance Of Death between 1999 and 2003. Throughout the 2000s, instead of rocking out, sticking it to the proverbial Man, and headbanging so hard that it took three cans of Violini spray before you were capable of lifting your head the next morning; metal fans indulged in only two pastimes. The first was arguing about who invented metal (some say it was Black Sabbath, others say Judas Priest, others say Led Zeppelin, and a few even point to The Beatles, with Helter Skelter as the first metal song). The second was arguing about what sub-sub-genre of metal a band or song belonged to. “What? Death Metal? Can’t you see this is clearly Norwegian Industrial Alternative Melodic Sludge Doom Heavy Grindcore?” Well, Deafhaven is a metal band that combines death/doom/whatever metal vocals with a sound that tends more towards Magnesium or Aluminium than heavy metal. Since no metal review is complete without coining a new genre to describe the band, I hereby dub Deafhaven ‘Death Mithril‘. It may come across as slightly disconcerting to the metal regular at first, but it grows on you until you can see the complexity and calmness behind the facade of chaos.


 

4. Broken Bells

As I said before, this is not supposed to be a list of “underground bands you’ve never heard of”. Broken Bells is a huge, multi-platinum selling supergroup consisting of James Mercer, the lead singer of The Shins (you know, the guys who made this song?) and Danger Mouse aka Brian Burton. Who is Danger Mouse? He is the Illuminati, the Men In Black (well, Man…), the Petyr Baelish of contemporary music. If in the last ten years you’ve heard an album that you think is something really good, possibly even awesome, there is a very good chance that Danger Mouse is lurking in some corner of that CD/record/folder. He’s worked on albums for Gorillaz, The Black Keys, Norah Jones, Beck, Sparklehorse, Electric Guest (a nice indie rock band I’ve just started listening to today, so I can’t feature in this post), and is working on U2’s next album. Danger Mouse, along with Cee Lo Green, also formed the group Gnarls Barkley; you’ve probably heard their Grammy Award winning song Crazy from their Grammy Award winning album St. Elsewhere. So, yeah. Danger Mouse + Shins = Brilliant. Check it out.


 

5. Kendrick Lamar

See, I told you this isn’t going to be a list populated with obscure artists nobody’s ever heard of! Unless you haven’t heard of Kendrick, in which case, I assume you don’t follow a lot of contemporary hip-hop, because he has been receiving high praise from almost every rapper, producer, and casual rap enthusiast in the world. Case in point, when his album good kid, m.A.A.d city didn’t win the 2014 Grammy Award for Best Rap Album, the winner – Thrift Shop‘s Macklemore – himself stated “You (Kendrick) got robbed. I wanted you to win. You should have. It’s weird and sucks that I robbed you.” While that probably doesn’t do much as a recommendation, though it might endear Macklemore to you a bit, it is genuine. Kendrick is probably the best active MC in the world right now, and that’s in a list that includes Eminem.


 

6. Enter Shikari

Though this band has been around since 2003, and their breakthrough album came in 2009, I only heard them for the first time in late 2010. And no, they aren’t Indian. Enter Shikari’s post-hardcore metal sound, accentuated with dubstep-influenced electronica, is brilliant on its own, but what makes this even better is that they appear to be quite earnest musicians with a message. Their songs talk about the alienation that many young people feel with the establishment, the sense that the best days of your life are behind you and that those days were pretty shit to begin with, as well as climate change, resource inequality, and the urgent need for a social and economic revolution. It’s the kind of “youth empowerment” stuff we hear with nauseating regularity from the kind of people who BJP supporters call NGO-wale; except it’s put to some great music and expressed using words and emotions that reflect my sentiments about the issues more accurately.


 

7. Dualist Inquiry

If you have a TV in India, you might’ve noticed a new channel some time ago. If you haven’t, turn on channel 667 on Tata Sky (I don’t know the numbers for the other cable service providers and can’t be bothered to look them up). That’s the first good thing MTV have done since Fully Faltoo. Called MTV Indies, it’s a channel that’s dedicated (as of now) to Indian independent music. It’s also the first MTV channel worldwide to show a music video in nearly 8 years. The flagship band for this channel is, in my opinion, one of if not the best indie band from India now. Dualist Inquiry’s Doppelganger was easily the best album to come out of India last year. Their sound is an electronic heavy, synthpop influenced, psychedelic and largely instrumental kind of indie rock. Whilst not especially inventive or original, they are a step in the right direction, and their excellent production and skill could easily lead to the kind of genre-busting, path-forging new sound many of us are waiting for Indian indie bands to create.


 

8. The Child of Lov

When I first heard the self-titled debut album of The Child of Lov (aka Belgian/Dutch musician Martijn William Zimri Teerlinck), I couldn’t help but compare him to Damon Albarn. The album shared many similarities with Albarn’s early solo work with Gorillaz, viz. the incessant genre-switching, the almost child-like glee of making any sort of musical cacophony, and where Albarn’s Gorillaz fused electronic music with rap and hip-hop, The Child of Lov’s fusion tendencies created a Frankensteinian amalgam of electronic R&B and soul music. I treated this album as the early exploratory forays of a musician whose career I was expecting to follow rather keenly. While looking up his real name for this blog post, I found out that he died on December 10, 2013. May his electronic soul rest in peace.


 

9. Tame Impala

Did you like The Beatles when they were the Fab Four? Did you like them more before they went Back In The USSR? When Sorry Girls, Lennon Was Married and not The Walrus? When Paul was still alive? But do you also wish they could also win the Ashes 5-0? Well, lucky for you, there’s just such a band! Starting this brief about Tame Impala with a comparison to The Beatles may seem unfair to the Australian band, but what they lack in mop-tops, they make up for with a sound that’s described as neo-psychedelic space pop/rock, but is actually 60s hippie revival. These Bondi Beach Boys have successfully managed to integrate the music and feel of 1960s UK and California into Sydney and thereafter around the world.


 

10. The Lightyears Explode

If for nothing else, their album’s name: The Revenge of Kalicharan and their album cover. But even then, what I like about The Lightyears Explode is the fact that these guys come closest to achieving that unique, Indian-indie sound that we’re looking for. A piece of musical originality that betrays its roots better than the odd strain of a veena or beat of a tabla ever can and is yet more forward than backwards. I’m not saying this Mumbai-based punk band has it, but they’re heading in the right direction.


 

And with that, one hopes the tyranny of Bryan Adams will fade into darkness and the Winter of ’69 shall finally be upon us, and it will not be a moment too soon. You know, when I look back now… that summer seemed to last forever.

If you’ve read this far, sneak the words ascii 42 into a comment and the next time we meet in person, I will buy you 2 drinks of your choice.*

*Conditions Apply

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A short bit on some of my personal heroes

Hint: It’s not Nietzsche or Douglas Adams or even Radiohead.

The creators of South Park – Matt Stone and Trey Parker – are the only people in the entertainment industry who are anything close to being role models to me. They are the source of not just my life philosophy – a sort of nihilism sans melancholy, but their vendettas against maturity, political correctness, and society’s holy cows, along with their subversive, almost anarchist sense of humour is something I can relate to on a deeply personal level. Even the story of how they met is amazing when heard from their own voices. The boring version is that they met at film school while at studying at the University of Colorado. But Matt Stone puts it this way:

“We were the only two people who were into comedy and doing weird little films that weren’t black-and-white sexual exploration pieces. And so we were kind of thrown together because we were the only two who wanted to not be Martin Scorsese.”

A recurring statement in numerous interviews is that they find liberals, especially Hollywood liberals, far more interesting targets of satire than Republicans, and that most liberals are much worse at taking jokes aimed at them than conservatives, maybe because you don’t find a lot of good satire targeting the liberal side of an argument. I wasn’t always sure about this, my opinions on most matters classify me as a ‘Liberal’ and I thought that the South Park episode making fun of Atheism, a side I am firmly on, was hilarious, and more importantly, poignant; I understood the point they were trying to make and it probably stopped me from becoming what Dawkins describes as a ‘Militant Atheist’. So I thought maybe Liberals are not as bad sports as Matt and Trey make them out to be.

You know, I learned something today. They are right. Here’s a link to a 2010 Huffington Post article about the duo. The comments on this are a cesspool of delicate, self-inflated egos that have pricked quite hard and are scrambling desperately to reaffirm their own lofty ideas of being the modern world’s sociocultural Ubermensches.

Samples include:

Just poking fun at everything because you don’t understand the issues enough to know the difference between right and wrong isn’t cool, it’s asinine.

and

The are garbage people, living in a trash era in a rubbish universe, reveling in the intolerable stench of themselves and everything that surrounds them with every toxic breath. Their only theme is whether their exhalations are more poisonous than their inhalations, and their only answer to the question is “Fyoo, a whole!”
It’s very possible they may jointly comprise God 2.0. If they remain true to their vision of absolute spiritual, moral, and aesthetic bankruptcy, their careers must inevitably climax in martyrdom by some uniquely public, juvenile, repulsive, and meaningless suicide pact, (mutual immolation in rancid diapers?) after which religions will be based on South Park for the next 5,000 years.

or

Kind of amoral, narcissistic, frat-boys. Kind of like GWB

Yup. You have completely disproved their point. Well done.

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Is The End Nigh?

Before you read this, I would suggest checking out the exact opposite point of view, espoused by Anupam Guha over here. While I don’t agree with everything he says there, I do like his characterization of urban, Indian youth and the phrase he uses to describe them, ‘petty bourgeois’. The choice of words I think plants him firmly within that camp, and my appreciation of it lands me there too.

Side note: People have this idea that a blog post must be at least 2,000 words long and coherent and have a particular subject. Trying to ensure that my blog ticks all these boxes is perhaps one of the reasons why I’ve managed to update this blasted thing only once every few months. So, in the time-honoured tradition laid down by every self-aggrandizing speaker at every formal function I have ever attended, I will begin by saying “I’m going to keep this short” before droning on about something that you probably don’t care about.

I’m going to keep this short. This post is, in essence, an explanation of why I’m not commenting at all about the supposed elections taking place in the world’s largest supposed democracy. Of course, my inability to not fly off on irrelevant and irreverent tangents makes the possibility that this post will continue to be only about that remote, but I shall persevere. So, why do I refuse to be drawn in (until now, that is?) Because I think we are collectively, as a society, deluding ourselves. We are rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic, only pausing to notice an iceberg looming in the distance and saying to ourselves, “It’s an exaggerated threat. We’ll be fine!”. Yes, I’m aware of how bad an analogy that was. But my point is this. There are many well-intentioned, well-meaning, extremely intelligent people I know personally who are looking at these elections as if they are the cornerstone to India’s future. And maybe they are right; maybe decades, even centuries from now, people will look at the Indian General Election of 2014 in the same way that we today view the German Federal Election of 1933. But that presupposes civilization will last the next few centuries. I’m not try to be a climate prophet of doom, this is not a “OMG! climate change is going to kill us all!!!” rant. Even in worst-case scenarios, humanity will survive. In what state, however, is a different matter altogether. All I’m saying is this. Yes, this election is important, and yes, I do hope that a certain politician from a certain state with the largest coastline in India doesn’t end up becoming our Prime Minister. But that’s most likely what’s going to happen. And here’s the thing, very little will change. Change comes not from one man’s will or from the authority of the seat of Prime Minister. If that were possible, solving India’s problems would have been a piece of cake. We’ve had numerous well-meaning PMs in the past, some of whom commanded greater loyalty among their party members, possessed more charisma, and were more authoritarian than the one Liberal India is hoping and praying doesn’t become our next one. They couldn’t do shit, and neither will he. 

What will dictate the future of India are things that people have only a cursory interest in now. They glance at news articles about it, maybe like the occasional FB post related to it, and almost never read anything substantial written about the topic, though I don’t blame them. Climate change, resource scarcities, wealth inequality, India hitting some sort of Malthusian crisis point, natural calamities, falling trade; these are the factors that have historically shaped the rise and fall of civilizations and will shape the fall of our global civilization too. I can’t put my finger on it, but I sense we are close to a major catastrophe in this light. It’s just a feeling for which I have no evidence, but I can feel it in the same way one feels that it’s going to rain soon. Something in the air, something in the way things are going, it just makes me feel we have maybe a decade or two, maybe even less, to sort ourselves out before the shit hits the fan. 

Like most writers on the internet, I too secretly crave comments on my blog but am too proud to openly ask for them. Well, here I am doing that now. And just to make it easier, I am going to ask you a question that you can choose to answer in the comments. Or you could ignore it and just say I’m a lazy, nihilistic, so-and-so who can’t be arsed to do anything, even hold an opinion. Whatever floats your goat

I think, whether we like it or not, the balance of probability is that towards Narendra Modi is going to be India’s next PM. Suppose, like Dominic Cobb in Inception (THAAAD!), you had the ability to plant an idea in his head with the knowledge that he will actively pursue it in his own inimitable style, what would that idea be? (Please don’t be a spoilsport and say, “Step down from being PM” or something like that). Think about it, what would you make him do that would make his tenure tolerable, possibly even good, for India and even the world? 

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Sage Sagan’s Sagacious Saga

Today, November 9, is Carl Sagan’s birth anniversary. Had he lived, Dr Sagan would have celebrated his 79th birthday today.

His extraordinary Pale Blue Dot speech, which accompanies the now-famous photograph of the Earth taken by Voyager 1 from the edge of the Solar System, 6 billion kilometers away, is posted all over Facebook around a thousand times a day. That’s still not enough.

Note: This is the first time I’m publishing a blog post from my phone. Sorry about the absence of the usual bells and whistles that accompany my infrequent blog posts. And the numerous editing oversights that are bound to happen because I hate copy-editing or proofreading on a phone.

I’m in Hyderabad with my family, who while not being particularly conservative, are still pretty religious. There’s a Hindu religious function taking place at our house early tomorrow morning. I helped around as much as I could in the preparations, which were pretty substantial, nevertheless tempers are frayed, the scene is hectic, and everyone (your humble narrator included) is rather severely stressed out. Religion, I am told, is supposed to provide inner peace and solace. From my vantage point, I don’t see it.

As an atheist, I am supposedly incapable of experiencing a sense of belonging with the universe or appreciating the uniqueness of my own existence. These sentiments have been so thoroughly co-opted by the religious that even calling it spirituality is to plant one’s flag firmly in their territory. Yet, what spiritual benefit is my family to obtain from the performance of this silly ritual? It that has led to some nasty words being exchanged amongst members, a not-insubstantial drain on already limited financial resources, and will leave emotional wounds that will remain long after the last whiff of incense leaves the house.

I derive more spiritual peace from listening to one Carl Sagan quote than from all your pujas, namaazes, and sermons. I have committed to my rather inconsistent memory, the opening mandalas of the Rig Veda, the Gayatri mantra, the Takbir, the Shahada, and many verses of the Bible (KJV). Yet the spiritual fulfillment they give me isn’t even a fraction of a percent of what I get from reading Douglas Adams (“The fact that we live at the bottom of a deep gravity well, on the surface of a gas covered planet going around a nuclear fireball 90 million miles away and think this to be normal is obviously some indication of how skewed our perspective tends to be“), Kurt Vonnegut, Isaac Asimov, or Terry Pratchett, to give you four names at random.

Whether you follow an orthodox religion like Christianity and Islam, or an orthopraxic one like Hinduism, Jainism, and other “Oriental” cults, knowledge is the truest path to spiritual enlightenment. Knowledge acquired not for any particular purpose other than itself. “The Fear of the Lord is the Beginning of Wisdom” says Psalm 111:10. I think love for wisdom is the beginning of wisdom. Dr Sagan loved learning for learning’s sake. Art, in its truest form, is said to be something we make or do for no other purpose other than itself. In that sense the act of learning science is an art.

P.S.: I call dibs on ‘The Art of Learning Science’ as the title for a book, article, essay, blog, website, film, play, painting, or interpretive dance performance.

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Navroze Spec Series: The Ahura Mazda RX7

My introduction to Zoroastrianism came via a very large Parsi mansion that was located right behind the apartment building I lived in for two years in Prenderghast Road, Secunderabad. We’d occasionally have to jump the wall that separated our two complexes in order to retrieve tennis balls that made their way there thanks to fits of very un-Hyderabadi aggressive batsmanship. Sometimes there would be a ceremony of some sort happening in the Parsi bungalow, as it was called, and I’d be transfixed trying to decode the mysterious rituals from the vantage point of our flat’s balcony, which overlooked their large backyard.

Disclaimer: I spilled coffee on my keyboard and have been reduced to using the on-screen keyboard instead. Typing anything out by furiously clicking on a mouse is a painful and irritating process and is not conducive to producing your best work. The only reason I persevered is because I really wanted to write this very badly. And in that attempt I have succeeded, for this has been written very badly.

A Navroze message to the followers of Ahura Mazda

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Source: farhadasl.deviantart.com

It took us 4,000 years, but it looks like we’ve won. I hate to bring this up on your New Year guys, but the fact is we won. Of course no-one remembers what the fight was about in the first place. Hell, many followers of the Devas (or Daevas, as you call them) now refuse to acknowledge that we were ever one people. But we were. And they were good times, too. We were there, together, at the invention of the greatest military marvel the world had ever seen until that point in history; the horse-drawn chariot, or ratha. After a hard day of training chariot horses (asvas/assuas) we sat together under the night sky of the Central Asian steppe, drank soma (haoma), and composed poems about Vayu, Agni, and other gods, the Devas and Asuras (or Daevas or Ahuras, as you came to call them). When did the fight start? Was it during the 4.2 KY event, which turned or verdant and lush grassland into deserts? Did the climate change? Did the streams run dry, did the soil lose it’s richness, emptying our once-mighty citadels? Did this lead to conflict, strife, and eventually civil war? 

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Some hack’s half-decent article on the 4.2 KY event

Were there factions, one of them led by a man, let’s call him Zarathustra, who rejected (you would say “reformed”) the black and gray morality of our old gods and instead advocated the revolutionary idea that the world is a battleground between the forces of pure good, represented according to you by the Ahuras (we call them Asuras), against the pure evil of the Daevas? Did my people see it the other way around? In the Vedas, we praised Indra, King of the Devas. In the Avesta, you list Indar as one of the arch-demons, calling him that which freezes the minds of the righteous and the opposer of Arta (divine truth). Is that why we fought? Is that the source of our great hymns and stories? The Vedas and the Avesta, written in languages so similar one cannot but come to the conclusion that they sprung from a common source? I know one thing we did do. We moved out of our old homes, away from the hills and mountains where the soma plant grows; we moved away from the steppes where our wild horses used to roam free. You moved to the west of the great mountains, we to the east. And over the next thousand years, our cultures grew apart, changing, evolving to adapt to our new realities.

And then, around the 8th to 10th centuries CE,  as you sought refuge from persecution, some part of your cultural memory remembered us. And thus, the followers of the Ahuras and the Daevas were in some small way reunited. But time, it appears has been less fortunate to you. Today, there are perhaps only a 200,000 or so followers of the Ahuras, whereas there are over 800 million followers of the Devas. That said, most of your 200 grand are extremely wealthy and powerful, while most of our 800 million live in abject poverty. So we win in quantity, you win on quality. It’s been 4,000 years, let’s just call it a tie. It’s time to bury the hatchet, brew up some soma/haoma, and listen to your greatest modern poet

P.S. That Kikkuli bastard sold us out! He wrote a book detailing all our secrets on how to rear chariot horses. If he wasn’t already dead for three and a half thousand years, I’d say we go kick his ass!

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