Thursday, 10 August 2017

The Mystery Of The Missing Kettle Base

Bought a kettle to replace an old one. Got home and opened the sealed box, only to find that the kettle had no base! Much chagrined, went back to the shop to have it exchanged. Service counter girl listened, then called service guy. Service guy opened the box to check and was equally puzzled to find the base missing. He got another box off the shelf to replace the faulty one, then opened it to check that this one had a base. Astonished to find that the new piece didn't have a base either. I suggested that maybe the base for this model is sold separately. But no, the picture on the box shows the base also. We shake the box a bit, just to ensure that there's no hidden compartment that's housing the base. Finally it occurs to the guy to open the kettle itself. Sure enough, the base is sitting inside, innocent as.

Everyone had a good laugh and I returned home. Kettle works.

Saturday, 5 August 2017

How To Govern And Misgovern A Diverse Country - The Akbar And Aurangzeb Models

A recent news article reported that the BJP, which has had a comfortable majority in India's lower house of parliament, had just emerged as the single largest party in the upper house. In time, as the upper house numbers begin to reflect the strength of the party in newly elected state legislatures, the BJP could acquire an outright majority there too. With a weak and divided opposition, the BJP is expected to continue its winning spree into the indefinite future, leading many to conjecture that it will only be a matter of time before the party has the wherewithal to amend the constitution itself, and begin to institute fundamental changes to the nation's very charter.

Indeed, the party's vision, as enunciated by its president Amit Shah, is to dominate every elected body "from parliament to panchayat (village council)". It is a winner-takes-all, take-no-prisoners philosophy that seems to be spectacularly successful at present.

What will a future under such a powerful ideological dispensation look like?

Numbers do not always tell the whole story, and I believe the BJP will fail to hold the country in its grip if it ignores some fundamental governing principles that have nothing to do with raw power.

A diverse country is governed by a combination of hardware and software. The hardware is the physical apparatus of government -- the organisational bodies at the union, state and local levels, the office-holders, the machinery of reporting and communication, the means of enforcement, etc. The software is the set of protocols governing the functioning and interaction of these hardware components. The constitution and the set of laws on the statute books spell out these protocols.

The system of elections is the most critical element of software, because it bestows all-important legitimacy on every other element of software and hardware.

It is my contention that next to regular elections which constitute the fundamental protocol of representative democracy, the protocol governing centre-state relations is the most important element of the software of governance. The constitution of India divides the portfolios of government between the centre and the states by defining a Union List, a State List and a Concurrent List, and this is the basis of a federal system of government. My contention is that only a federal system of government will work in a diverse country like India, and any attempt at over-centralisation will backfire. Attempts at centralisation are a form of misgovernance, and will be punished by the electorate.

To illustrate that these contrasting models of federalism and centralised authoritarianism are not new, I will go back into history.

Indian history is ancient, and there are possible examples like the Maurya and Gupta empires. However, I will use a more recent pair of examples from the Mughal empire. Not only is a more recent example likely to be more relevant than an ancient one, but having two models from the same dynasty provides a more effective contrast. Besides, as we shall see, the two were in existence for an almost identical duration, which makes the comparison between them more meaningful.

The two governance models I will use are those of Akbar and Aurangzeb. Aurangzeb was the great-grandson of Akbar, and their reigns were almost exactly a century apart, aside from being of the same duration. Akbar ruled for 49 years from 1556 to 1605, and Aurangzeb ruled for 49 years from 1658 to 1707.

Here is my first exhibit - the extent of their respective empires when they died.

Akbar (top left) and Aurangzeb (top right), and the extent of their empires at the time of their deaths (click to expand). Aurangzeb's empire is nominally larger, but size doesn't tell the whole story.

A history of Akbar's reign reveals that the early years were characterised by tumult and challenges to his rule, but the latter half was remarkably stable and peaceful. A history of Aurangzeb's reign reveals that he was almost constantly at war throughout, not just conquering new territory but also putting down rebellions that seemed interminable. His empire was nominally larger than his great-grandfather's, but also far more fractious.

Perhaps the most striking difference between Akbar's empire and Aurangzeb's was in the area of durability. Akbar's empire lasted more than a century after his death. Aurangzeb's empire did not long survive his death. It broke into multiple parts a few years later.

It would appear that in spite of its smaller size, Akbar's empire was held together by much stronger software.

Much has been made of the difference in tolerance between Akbar and Aurangzeb. Akbar is widely believed to have been more tolerant of difference (especially religion), while Aurangzeb was believed to have been more hardline. However, the real difference between their regimes was the protocol that governed "centre-state relations", or in the language of the time, the relationship between the empire and its vassals.

Akbar instituted a remarkably far-sighted policy under which it was tremendously advantageous for rulers of smaller kingdoms to become his vassals. Not only did they continue to enjoy considerable autonomy in the running of their kingdoms, they were also protected from their external enemies by the formidable army of the empire. In return, all they had to contribute to the upkeep of that empire were monetary tributes and their own armies when the empire required them. It was a win-win system that kept all players vested in its success. No wonder Akbar's empire soon settled into a period of peace and stability after the initial wars he waged to establish his authority.

In contrast, Aurangzeb's need for centralised power alienated vassals and governors alike, and it is no wonder that he saw rebellions and revolts throughout his reign. The software of governance under Aurangzeb had become so flawed that it simply failed to function. It was the software of misgovernance. Sure enough, once his own forceful personality exited the stage, his successors were unable to keep his empire together, and it fell under the combined onslaught of its own internal schisms and external enemies.

The lesson is instructive, because it applies to this day. Only governments that respect federalism can govern a country of India's diversity effectively. Those that try to enforce centralised control will fail.

In the years since independence, India has seen many governments of different political hues. But remarkably, the Akbar and Aurangzeb models are not correlated with parties at all! They can both be discerned even within the same political party.

Consider these prime ministers from the Congress party.

(Click to expand.) Jawaharlal Nehru, Narasimha Rao and Manmohan Singh (left) are remembered as nation-builders because they respected federalism. Indira Gandhi and her son Rajiv Gandhi (right) are widely considered institution wreckers because they had an authoritarian streak that did not respect independent institutions or opposition-ruled states.

Jawaharlal Nehru could be said to have birthed several of the features of India's federal polity. The constituent assembly worked during his first term to write the constitution, which was adopted in 1950. It was during his time that the first of the linguistic states was created. And although he was initially loath to split the Bombay presidency into the linguistic states of Gujarat and Maharashtra, popular protests during his visit to Bombay convinced him otherwise. Both Narasimha Rao and Manmohan Singh were known as gentlemen and diplomats, who preferred negotiation and consensus to adversarial conduct.

In contrast, the mother-son duo of Indira Gandhi and Rajiv Gandhi took the very existence of opposition parties as a personal affront. Opposition-ruled states received blatantly step-motherly treatment by their governments, violating key tenets of the federal protocol. They did a lot of damage and weakened India during their terms.

A very similar theme can be seen playing out with the BJP.

AB Vajpayee (left) was a consensus politician who gave and commanded respect across the aisle. Modi (right) is an authoritarian personality who centralises decision-making and brooks no opposition.

AB Vajpayee, who was India's first BJP prime minister, was in office for a five-year term between 1998 and 2004. Another gentleman and diplomat, he was well-respected even by the opposition parties, and he reciprocated that respect in his dealings with opposition-ruled states. He is widely remembered with respect and affection to this day.

Narendra Modi, India's current prime minister, is cast in the Aurangzeb mould. Federalism is not a virtue in his eyes. He and his party president Amit Shah are cut from the same ideological cloth, and they hate to share power. From parliament to panchayat, the duo aims to impose their party's writ on every elected body. Their attitude is redolent of Mike Maples, Microsoft's Executive VP of the Worldwide Products Group, who said, "My job is to get a fair share of the software applications market, and, to me, that's 100 percent."

It should be clear from these historical examples that Modi's is the software of misgovernance. There is no win-win system that gives other stakeholders an incentive to be vested in its success. Even within his own party, the Modi-Shah duo has emasculated everyone, including cabinet ministers and chief ministers. All decisions are taken by "two-and-a-half men" (with Arun Jaitley contributing the half). Modi's India increasingly resembles Aurangzeb's empire, crackling with a million mutinies waiting to erupt.

Much as Modi would hate to be compared to any Muslim ruler, let alone Aurangzeb, the cap fits, both literally and figuratively.

And so the raw numbers that seem to measure the BJP's strength in various legislative bodies may not indicate the true extent of the party's power. Under Modi, the software of India's governance has been tremendously weakened. The BJP itself will inevitably pay the price in electoral terms, but in the meantime, the country as a whole will pay a steep price too.

Wednesday, 2 August 2017

The Most Attractive Women Of Star Trek TNG

I've blogged earlier about my favourite episodes of Star Trek - The Next Generation, and about Captain Picard's finest moments. My reminiscences wouldn't be complete without a listing of the women I found most attractive in this series.

[Don't ask me "Why haven't you listed so-and-so?" Go and create your own list!]

In no particular order, therefore:

1. Ishara Yar (played by Beth Toussaint)
Season 4 Episode 06 "Legacy"

Tasha Yar's younger sister Ishara makes an appearance in this episode, and everyone who was heartbroken at Tasha's unexpected death in "Skin of Evil" (which is just about everyone) feels an immediate kinship with her younger sibling, a feeling that is entirely misplaced. Nevertheless, Ishara is something.

With a hairstyle that is both boyish and feminine, Ishara ticks many boxes

That suit! Only an android could sit there unmoved.

2. Kamala (played by Famke Janssen)
Season 5 Episode 21 "The Perfect Mate"

Yet another sad love story for Captain Picard. The empathic metamorph Kamala isn't supposed to emerge from her cocoon until she's ready to be gifted to Alrik, the leader of one of two warring worlds, as a peace offering that will end their war. She is the perfect mate, because she "bonds" with a man when she emerges from the cocoon, and with her empathic abilities, can be everything he wants. And she too is irresistible to men when she is fresh out of the cocoon. Alas, she has emerged too early, and instead bonds with Captain Picard, and he falls for her too. But duty calls, and she has to be given away to Alrik. Picard stoically swallows his grief and lets her go, and she, having imbibed his sense of duty, goes with Alrik. 

More than her looks, it is her potential to be the perfect soul mate that makes Kamala attractive. Of course, her looks don't hurt at all.

3. Salia (played by Jaime Hubbard)
Season 2 Episode 10 "The Dauphin"

Wesley Crusher's crush is the sweetly innocent Dauphin of Daled IV, whose presence is required on her home planet to bring about peace after a generations-long civil war. Of course, this isn't what she really looks like, which should be some consolation to Wesley when they inevitably have to part.

You wouldn't want to know what she really looks like when not in human form...

4. Ardra (played by Marta Dubois)
Season 4 Episode 13 "Devil's Due"

A planet is being terrorised by the demoness Ardra, who claims the planet as hers. Since Star Trek is not a serial that entertains notions of ghosts and spirits, the Enterprise crew manages to show up Ardra as nothing more than a con-woman. But man, what a con-woman!

A saucy she-devil

5. Brenna Odell (played by Rosalyn Landor)
Season 2 Episode 18 "Up The Long Ladder"

What is this woman even doing in this collection?

One word - hips

6. BG Robinson (played by Teri Hatcher)
Season 2 Episode 04 "The Outrageous Okona"

Teri Hatcher is an interesting woman. Her face has changed a great deal over the years, no doubt due to cosmetic surgery. This is how she looked when she played Lt Bronwyn Gail Robinson.

The Transporter Chief whose face could transport a thousand ships

Teri Hatcher as the cute, silly and scatterbrained Penny Parker in MacGyver

Teri Hatcher as the cool and professional-looking Lois Lane in Lois and Clark

Teri Hatcher as the sophisticated New Yorker Sidra Holland in Seinfeld

7a. Dr Selar (played by Suzie Plakson)
Season 2 Episode 6 "The Schizoid Man"

Suzie Plakson got to play two different aliens in the series. The first was an all-too-brief appearance as the Vulcan doctor, Dr Selar.

Vulcans have no business to be preaching logic and control of emotion to other people while looking so sultry

Maybe it was for the best that Dr Selar didn't stick around beyond one episode. Patients probably weren't leaving sickbay.

7b. K'Ehleyr (played by Suzie Plakson)
Season 2 Episode 20 "The Emissary"
Season 4 Episode 07 "Reunion"

Suzie Plakson may have made only one appearance as Dr Selar, but she shortly reappeared as the half-Klingon K'Ehleyr.

Attitude. Bold women do something to me.

In full Klingon battle dress

Her human side gave K'Ehleyr a sense of humour that Klingons are generally incapable of

8. Ro Laren (played by Michelle Forbes)
Season 5 Episode 03 "Ensign Ro"
Season 5 Episode 05 "Disaster"
Season 5 Episode 14 "Conundrum"
Season 5 Episode 24 "The Next Phase"
Season 6 Episode 07 "Rascals"
Season 7 Episode 24 "Preemptive Strike"

Ro Laren was a most interesting character, and I wish she had starred in more episodes. She was a free-spirited maverick who didn't think twice about talking to her captain on equal terms. And Picard, being Picard, wasn't affronted but indulged her.

The sass is strong with this one. Oops, sorry, wrong franchise.

It's not hard to tell that I really like Ro Laren.

9. Dr Beverly Crusher (played by Gates McFadden)
Series regular (except for Season 2)

As the mother of a teenager, Dr Beverly Crusher played an older woman, but she had a definite appeal of her own.

She was strong and smart, and rarely lost her head, except when it came to her son Wesley

Nothing really happens between her and Picard throughout the series, but in the last episode "All Good Things", the future Picard and Crusher are shown to be already divorced.

The natural air of command with which she sat in the captain's chair in "Remember Me" and said "Engage!" was a sight worth seeing.

10. Counselor Deanna Troi (played by Marina Sirtis)
Series regular

Last, but not the least. The empath with the exotic accent is a favourite with Trekkies, and who am I to argue?

Captain Jellico was an unquestionable jerk in "Chain of Command", but the one good thing he did was order Troi to stop wearing that silly pajama suit and start wearing a regular uniform.

That was an excellent decision. She's looked smart ever since.

The many outfits of Deanna Troi (click to expand). My opinion, from left to right: glamorous, silly, silly, silly, smart, impossible-to-take-seriously.

And one for the record books. Deanna Troi in disguise as a Romulan agent of the Tal Shiar secret service, in the episode "Face of the Enemy"

Sunday, 30 July 2017

Movie Review: The Big Sick

(Some mild spoilers ahead, although this isn't really a mystery story that can be ruined by spoilers.)

I first heard about this movie from a friend's positive post on Facebook, and I saw it at the movies earlier tonight.

The Big Sick - if you haven't seen this movie, do so at once

To most people, The Big Sick would seem to fit into the rom-com genre, but to me, it was much more than that.

For a start, it's not fiction. Not only is this the true story of Pakistani-American comedian Kumail Nanjiani and his wife Emily Gordon, the cultural conflict that strikes at their relationship is one that is playing out right at this moment across thousands of immigrant families in Western countries. That cultural conflict is something that fills me with indignation, and I'll return to that later after I've discussed the movie itself.

Rarely have I seen such a tight script, because the movie moves from scene to scene without a single boring moment. There's humour, there are witty conversations, there's emotion and there are some important questions to ponder, and they're all seamlessly blended together into a smooth-flowing narrative. My only disappointment was when the movie ended. I wanted to keep watching!

As a South Asian myself (although importantly, not a Pakistani or a Muslim), I was able to emotionally straddle both the worlds depicted here - the Western and the non-Western. I must say that Western societies are relatively guileless in the way they approach the world. The older, non-Western cultures may seem to be richer in their traditions, but they're also saddled with baggage that only they believe to be a strength. The depiction of the Pakistani family's superficial integration into Western society was authentic (they all spoke fluent English and used Western cultural idioms effortlessly), as was the line they drew at intermarriage.

Kumail's character developed as the movie progressed, and he was a pleasant surprise. Initially, he seemed to be just a smooth talker with no more than a physical interest in bedding as many girls as he could seduce. But as time went on, he displayed a more serious and caring side. Zoe Kazan as Emily (with her surname changed to Gardner for the movie) was extremely cute and endearing. She seemed somewhat young for her character, and this vaguely disturbed me. Anupam Kher struck the right note as Kumail's father. I personally dislike Kher for his political views, but have to admit that as an actor, he's reliably pitch-perfect. Adeel Akhtar as Kumail's brother was convincing too. However, Zenobia Shroff as Kumail's mother seemed more of a caricature than a three-dimensional character. That was probably the one tiny flaw in the movie.

Kumail Nanjiani, who plays himself and tells his own real-life story

The endearing Zoe Kazan as Emily Gardner

Ray Romano as Emily's father Terry, and Holly Hunter as mother Beth, portrayed such realistic and believable characters that I believe they did more than Kumail to make the movie gripping and authentic at the same time. They were amazingly real people.

Ray Romano and Holly Hunter in a masterful performance as Emily's parents

Something that may slip past unnoticed is the heartwarming camaraderie among stand-up comedians, even though they are in competition for recognition and career progress. I really liked the scenes of interaction between Kumail and his comedian friends.

One minor character I had a lot of sympathy for was Khadija played by Vella Lovell (who surprisingly is not of South Asian descent in spite of her convincing appearance). If Kumail had not been involved with Emily already, Khadija would have been a good match for him. Arranged marriages are terrible when taken to extremes (coercion and in-breeding are two obvious negatives), but they can also make for some excellent matches between people who would not otherwise have met. The brief and poignant scene with Khadija hinted at a possible alternative pairing in a parallel universe that could have worked out very well.

Vella Lovell as Khadija - Ms Right in a parallel universe

And now to return to my feelings of indignation.

I cannot understand why people would migrate from their native countries to a Western one if they aren't open to the possibility that their children may marry someone from another community. If they're so closed-minded, they should simply stay home! It strikes me as terribly selfish and bigoted that many immigrants look upon Western societies as existing merely to provide them a safe, stable and comfortable living, but not as an equally respectable culture that could influence them. I've personally seen this attitude among many Indians in Australia. We want homes in the most upmarket areas, and we expect to experience no discrimination in our careers, but we want our children to marry only within the Indian community. I have no hesitation in calling this attitude bigotry.

And it's this question that is left unresolved at the end of the movie. Sure, the couple have a happy reconciliation, but Kumail is estranged from his family. We don't see them come around, and so they don't learn anything valuable and grow as people. This is one of the worst aspects of multiculturalism as it is practised. It's all take and no give. I have to marvel at the tolerance of the West towards its insular immigrants.

As I said, this was much more than a movie or a simple rom-com to me. It addresses a very real and disturbing phenomenon - the bigotry of immigrants towards their adoptive society, which is far more prevalent but far less spoken about than the racism that immigrants may face from Westerners.

For a rivetting tale, authentic and endearing characters, and a thought-provoking set of questions, I give this movie 4.5 stars out of 5.

Friday, 28 July 2017

Saving Safe Schools From The Bigoted ACL (Australian Christian Lobby)

An innocuous-looking item appeared in my Facebook feed yesterday that told me a protest was being planned today against the Australian Christian Lobby's conference on "Gender Theory: Casualties and Consequences". The ACL has attacked the Safe Schools initiative, a program meant to protect young LGBTQIA persons in schools from bullying and harassment. As is usual with religion-based ideologies, the human issue of vulnerable young people needing support at a difficult period in their lives takes a back seat to religious dogma.

Maybe there's something to Facebook's profiling technology, because I was fired up to go as soon as I learnt about this.

I used to be a hot-headed idealist as a young man, and one would think I would have mellowed with age or become more jaded. But for some reason, I seem to get angrier about injustice today than ever before. As a humanist, libertarian and atheist, I feel very strongly about this particular topic for many reasons. One, I empathise with children and young adults struggling to make sense of their identity and feelings during a phase of their development that is confusing and an emotional roller-coaster even to straight and cisgender people. Two, I believe that people have a right to live their lives free of harassment, bullying and the forced opinions of other people on what is right and wrong for them. Three, I have absolutely had it with irrational superstitious beliefs being given sanctity and used to legitimise plain bigotry.

Gay teenagers and young adults are known to suffer higher rates of depression and suicide than straight people, and a major cause of this is social opprobrium, not to mention outright bullying and harassment. High schools are hotspots of discrimination against kids who are "different". There are also studies that show that 46% of transgender men and 42% of transgender women attempt suicide in their lifetime. It's absolutely heartbreaking in addition to being unacceptable, yet it's completely preventable if society can only accept people of different identities and orientations openly, without a hint of discrimination.

I felt I had to be part of this protest.

The protest was to be at 1830 in front of the St Barnabas Church in the city. So I went there straight after work and found that I was among the earliest at the site. I saw a few well-dressed, middle-aged people hanging around outside. I also saw a police van parked on the road opposite the church with a few policemen standing around. Obviously, the police were well aware of the controversial nature of the church conference, and were standing by to ensure that things stayed peaceful.

St Barnabas Church on Broadway

Can't say I envy these guys. Every time anything controversial happens, they have to be on alert to keep things from getting violent.

I waited for a while and then thought of asking one of the well-dressed people outside if they were there for the protest, but then thought better of it. That was a good decision. A little later, I saw a girl in her twenties standing there to one side, and something told me she was more likely to be there for the protest, so I went up to her and asked. My hunch was right. She was there for the protest too, and was as mystified as myself that no one else seemed to have turned up. A couple of minutes later, a man dressed in a suit like an usher or security person came up to the general gathering with a list of names clipped to a pad and asked if there was anyone waiting for a ticket, because there were some left. A ticket to what, someone asked. To the conference, he replied. Many of the well-dressed, middle-aged people went up to him to show him their tickets, and I realised that they were from the "other side". They were there to attend the ACL conference. It was a good thing I didn't ask one of them about the protest!

The usher then led the well-dressed bunch into the church. I was a bit disappointed, thinking the other side had the strength of numbers while the ones protesting their bigotry hadn't even bothered to show up. The girl had already started walking up the road, so I thought I would leave too. But when I reached the street corner, I realised that the protest was on, merely on the other entrance to the church on the adjacent side. There was quite a lively gathering there. A couple of people made speeches, to be greeted by periodic cheers from the crowd. There were slogans raised, and I remember a few of them:

"When gay rights are under attack,
What do we do?" "Stand up, fight back!"

"ACL, don't you dare!"
"Safe schools everywhere!"

"We're here! We're queer!"
"We're fabulous! Don't f*ck with us!"



I signed a petition, and struck up a conversation with one of the young people there. I couldn't tell their gender, and I noticed that they had a lot of facial piercing. I'm a square on the outside, but shockingly liberal on the inside, so we had a nice conversation. At one point, this person tried to pass me a pamphlet on socialism, and I declined with a laugh. I told them that I had been a socialist sympathiser as a student more than 30 years ago, and had moved left and right like a pendulum more times than I could remember.

I signed a petition

Sometime later, the crowd moved back to the main entrance to continue the speech-making and slogan-shouting there. There were more middle-aged, well-dressed folk entering the building past a line of police, and being let in by security guards. I realised that almost all the people protesting outside were young and dressed informally. It was such a contrast. All the decent-looking folk there were lining up on the side of bigotry, and the scruffy crowd shouting rudely and lewdly was fighting for actual decency.

The genteel folk making their way in to hear bile (just take the second 'b' out of 'bible' and you get the idea)

I was born 30 years too early. This is the crowd I belong in.

Every time a new set of well-dressed people made their way up the stairs to enter the church, the protesters would start chanting, "Shame, bigots, shame!" One man shouted at the churchgoers, "Jesus would be ashamed of you!" I couldn't help thinking that if Jesus was a real person and everything he was cracked up to be, he was more likely to be out on the street with the protesters than with the decently dressed people inside the church.

At one point, one of the speakers asked if anyone from the crowd wanted to say anything, and a couple of people went up and said a few words. Stage fright has never been one of my fears, so I volunteered too. I got my recent friend to take a few pictures of me while I spoke. This is roughly what I said (although I may have been just a little less coherent):

I'm straight, I'm cisgendered, and I'm part of the older generation. But I support marriage equality (cheers from the audience), and I'm here to stand up against homophobia (more cheers). I support the Safe Schools program, because it helps the most vulnerable members of our society - children and young people struggling with questions about their identity. I think they deserve all the support they can get at this time, and they absolutely don't need to be made targets of bigotry and hatred, such as what the ACL is engaged in. I just wanted to show my support. Thank you.

Me saying my piece, under the watchful eyes of the law

I was happy I had stood up and said that, and it felt like a big weight off my chest. I'm tired of watching impotently as self-styled moral guardians do the most immoral things and get away with it with the help of powerful politicians.

The crowd then moved back again to the original venue for some more of the same. Another young person who looked male but introduced themselves as April then struck up a conversation with me. April was a student at Sydney University, and after a while, also tried interesting me in the socialist movement! I had another laugh at that.

As the cheerful slogan-shouting was going on, an earnest man in his thirties was weaving his way among the crowd, handing out hellfire and brimstone pamphlets. One of the girls in the crowd enthusiastically grabbed one of the pamphlets with "HELL" written in big letters, gesturing to it and herself as if to say, "Yup, I'm going to Hell!" Another man in the crowd engaged him in conversation, and I overheard the earnest chap telling him "...I believe the Bible is the word of God..." I couldn't bear to stand around and listen to his self-righteous drivel, and walked off.

This experience of taking part in protests is actually new to me. I haven't had this experience as a student, which is probably the best age to experience such a heady rush of revolutionary fervour. As Felix Paturi described it in The Escalator Effect, in my student days, I was one of those who "neither studied nor rioted, but simply wasted time". The only protest I remember was when I was in my first year as an engineering student, and a fourth year student fell from the top floor of his hostel. It was alleged that the institute's hospital had been insufficiently responsive, which resulted in his needless death. A large number of students then skipped their classes to gather outside the hospital. I was there too. People shouted slogans, made speeches, and got the doctors to stand there uncomfortably while all the invective was being hurled. After this show of rebellion which lasted for perhaps an hour, everyone quietly went back to class. (This was IIT Madras after all, where every student knew which side of his idli was sambar-ed.)

Today felt a bit different. The generational divide between the people inside the church and those shouting outside said it all. Bigotry is rapidly becoming something of the past, and the future is about tolerance. The ACL has already lost, whether it knows it or not.