House MD

This is the second TV series I have completed (watched all seasons) after Friends. Given that it held up to my interest till the last scene of the last episode of the last season, I must say it’s one of the best, if not the best, TV series I have watched till date.

Central Character:
The plot revolves around the life of a maverick diagnostician, Gregory House, played Hugh Laurie, who has most outrageously wacky ways of reaching to a diagnosis.
People around him often describe him with various adjectives like “an ass”, “self-centered bastard”, “childish”, “egoistic”, “jerk” and more. He often takes audacity to the levels never imagined of and somehow pulls out himself safely every single time (of course, credit to the writers). His perceptions about the world and relationships are annoyingly disturbing and, unfortunately, right as well – often at odds with the hypocrisy the world depicts on a day to day basis. “Everybody lies” is his catch phrase and busting lies is his favorite pastime – be it of patients, peers or team members.
However, in the midst of all this, he has his own struggle with the pain he never wanted for himself but is made to live with. Deep down, the pain has made him what he is. Camouflaging it under the recklessness and avoidance of any kind of relationships is the only way out for him.
There are very few profound characters like him, I have seen till date.

Diagnostics:
I always felt Big Bang Theory is the best TV series ever written in the history of television just because of the technicality involved in the overall scriptwriting process and embedding humor into that. After watching House MD, I feel BBT has some serious competition.
It’s a mammoth task to come out with an almost unsolvable medical mystery that sounds innocuous in the beginning but builds complications incrementally as the time progresses.
The complexity of writing an episode becomes exponential considering that it cannot be completely fictional and has to make some sense to the medical fraternity. I could only imagine the plight of writers. Full marks to the writers for that.

Plot and Sub-Plots: 
One thing which I have found unique about this series is that while the central plot is always a disease to be diagnosed, the sub-plots in each episode focused on little idiosyncrasies humans from all walks of life exhibit. These subplots emerge from the personal life of the patient, house’s team, peers or even the outpatients visiting the clinic in the hospital. I can practically write one blog per episode if I want to.

Other Lead Characters:
Due credit goes to the writers who brought extremely strong character sketches of all the supporting cast – be it of Lisa Edelstein (Cuddy) who plays a no-nonsense, go-getter hospital administrator who knows very well how to manage a “free child” like House or Robert Sean Leonard (Wilson) who plays an altruistic, always there, comforting, righteous and idealistic friend who always try to keep House’s actions in check but fails most of the times and yet, never shies away from taking the fall. Omar Epps (Foreman) is a sincere and ambitious doctor who moves from being a team member to become dean of medicine, yet often clueless in tough situations and messes up more often than not.
The consistency of characterization has been so good that by a couple of seasons, you are often able to predict how a character would react in a particular situation. The other characters like Chase, Cameroon, Thirteen, Taub, Adams, Kutner, CTB, Masters and Park are brilliantly conceptualized as they balance their own life falling apart in the midst of a medical mystery every episode.

Music:
I also loved the creative idea of swooping in a small song at the end of each episode whose lyrics that sums up the entire episode. Some of the music pieces are amazingly well composed and written. You can actually watch them in three parts here – Part 1, Part 2, Part 3. In addition, the overall background score is brilliant with genres ranging from blue to rock to jazz.

The brilliance in conceptualization and execution often results in some of the best works created on television or silver screen. House MD maintained that level of consistency throughout eight seasons and full credit to the writers and the director for bringing a closure to it in an absolutely spectacular manner!!

When You Let MS Excel Decide Your Meal

We were having the evening tea and, as we do always, were using our one meal time to decide what we’re going to have in the next.

Somehow, ideas weren’t transforming into decisions as each of them were equally tempting and there wasn’t any way to pick one over the other.

Given the technology at our disposal, we figured:

Step 1: Look at what we have in the pantry

Step 2: Open MS Excel

Step 3: Enumerate a list of “What we can have for dinner?” && “What we want to have dinner?”

Step 4: At the end, type in “=VLOOKUP(RANDBETWEEN(1,10),$A:$B,2,FALSE)”

Step 5: Press Enter.

There’s your answer.

 

Well, a technology dependent life!!

 

Armyman’s House

Last year, on our way from Mumbai to Bangalore, we made a night stop over at Belgaum. We took the opportunity to visit one of my close friend’s parents. While her mother was a home maker, her father served in the military and retired couple of years back to settle in Belgaum, a small city in North Karnataka (close to Maharashtra border).
It was my first visit to a military personnel’s house. However, it didn’t take much time to figure out how their houses are different from an average civilian’s home (and now I know why, for them (may be not all), the society is divided as military and civilians). Every single thing was not just at it’s right place but also placed in the most correct manner.
The living room also had a wall loaded up with all the medals and honors received during the military years along with photos of those proud moments when they were conferred. And as you watch it, you feel the sense of pride for having these countrymen ready to sweat out in Jaisalmer or fight the freezing Siachen to ensure we sleep in peace. You don’t see such walls in a regular house.
As we got ready for the dinner, uncle asked if I would like to have something to drink. For the first second, I wondered why so early? Normally, we have ice tea, juices, colas along with the food. And then I realized where I was. The collection of spirits in that bar cabinet was exquisite, something which I decided to have at least once in my life time (besides Robert De Niro’s wardrobe in The Intern).
Another most noticeable virtue was the commitment to cleanliness which sees no exceptions. Right from ensuring no walking without slippers inside house to placing shoes at the right place and in right position, there were intricate details. For me, that was perhaps the most commanding task for house members, especially when it is more preventive than curative. Maintaining such a large house in an impeccable way is no child’s play. My own perception of me being cleanliness freak went for a toss.
My interaction with uncle was amazing and reminded me of my conversations with my father, on totally different topics though. During his military years, he had spent some time in my home town (Ahmedabad) as well, so it didn’t take much time to find topics for discussion. The dinner was very homely (obviously) and we took some cooking tips from auntie on the North Karnataka cuisine too which we implemented later on.
We didn’t discuss much on the army anecdotes which I would have loved to. But this short visit of perhaps just about 12 hours is something I will cherish for time to come with hope that I get another such chance.

Bhakts, AAPtards and Khangressis

If you are an Indian and follow politics, there wouldn’t be a single day when you wouldn’t hear/read one of these words. And these are not the only ones. There is “presstitutes”, sickular” and much more. The dictionary of Indian media, which is not just restricted to professionals but more and more citizen journalists, has seen a parallel vocabulary in the last few years to refer to different group of people – or if I may say, classify people into different groups.
Image for Blog

A few years back, it wasn’t like this. And when I try to deconstruct the entire scenario, couple of things comes to my mind.

The inherent culture humans adopted since centuries world over to follow individuals, not ideas
I have always believed that people follow ideas and not individuals. At least, that’s what rational minds do or everyone would do, if provided freedom. Of course, it is arguable and there would be a grey area to it. People who seem to follow an individual are not following an individual per se, but the ideas of that individual. So, ideally, the loyalty should be with ideas and not individuals.
However, ideas don’t have a face, individuals do. Ideas are abstract, individuals are physical. So, it’s easy to worship the latter than the former. And hence, perhaps, we have people essentially trying to find someone who can impersonate these ideas. That’s how religions built or chose characters that were representative of all the good ideologies and asked others to worship them instead of these ideas. Even outside religions, groups were created with a face representing those ideas and people were asked to worship these faces. Hence, ideas took a backseat while individuals were given the driver seat. However, this essentially means three drawbacks.

1. One cannot differentiate between criticizing an idea and criticizing an individual 
Unfortunately, these days, any criticism of an idea is also taken as a criticism on an individual. Of course, political parties have vested interests in doing that but even the citizens get carried away in that. This sets a dangerous trend where meaningful discussions lose importance and the conversations are focused on defending and attacking individuals instead of talking about the rightfulness and wrongfulness of the topic in hand. It happened in the recent Anupam Kher video that went viral.

2. Following an idea is confused with following an individual 
Secondly, it also builds an assumption that everyone who supports an individual, will continue to support her/him irrespective of the situation, which might not be the case. I remember a classic line from the movie “12 Angry Men” where the second last juror says ‘I don’t believe I have to be loyal to one side or the other” when he is confronted by the second juror for changing his vote. The second juror somehow assumed that the individuals were taking sides instead of taking rational decisions.
People can confront an individual on a given issue and support the same individual in another one. It is always possible!! It also helps in removing biases during debates/discussions when you know that the other person can get convinced if your point is stronger and, at the same time, you can change a stand at any time based on what facts you have on your plate at that time.

3. Contradicts the notion that no person is perfect
And this is more for people who feel an obligation to defend an individual, they support, all the time. A lot of times we hear, nobody is perfect. People make mistakes. Following an individual, instead of ideas and principles, makes you obligated to defend the individual even when he/she is wrong. And that’s when the whole argument moves away from “for and against the issue” to “for and against the person”. There would be some notions which would not make any sense at a given point of time and would perfectly fit in, later on.

We have moved from the time when a BJP veteran supported a hard core Congresswomen when she did the right thing and she asked him to represent India in an important UN conference in spite of him being an opposition leader because he was the best man for the job.

The rate at which the quality of debates is deteriorating and people are pitted against each other, soon we might see a day when we will only be talking about individuals and who said what but not the real issues.

Life Skills and the Gender Bias Around It

The other day, I was hanging out with couple of friends and a discussion on cooking skills popped up, which moved from how good cooks are husbands these days and then how women still score better in cooking. Suddenly, a friend said that she won’t teach cooking to her daughter since daughters aren’t just meant to do that, these days. She would instead ensure that her son-in-law knows cooking – for a change, that should happen too. Her point is, in a way, partially correct when she says she’ll ensure that her son-in-law knows cooking. But the other half is like taking it to the other extreme. A bias cannot be resolved by replacing it with another one.

Historically, Indian society has been biased towards men and women, with women expected to know cooking, housekeeping etc. while men expected to be the principal bread earner and feed the entire family. Nobody bothered if men didn’t know housework or if women didn’t work in offices. As time changed, women started to work outside homes, into the offices, once monopolized by males. However, the switch was one sided as parents taught their daughters to work outside but never taught their sons to learn household chores as well.

Cooking, doing laundry, washing utensils, vacuuming the floor, cleaning a toilet/bathroom/shower and ironing clothes don’t make you a lesser person. It is a part of, as I would call it, “life skills” which everyone should know irrespective of gender. This also means that if your son doesn’t know it, it’s a shame but not teaching that to your daughter doesn’t make a balance. In today’s world, when people move places it is important that a person knows to take care of himself/herself and the place where he/she lives. Especially in western countries, where domestic help is a luxury, knowing these basic things is absolutely necessary.

It also solves another problem. Often people, who don’t know these life skills, undermine the efforts of people who are doing it. Sometimes women themselves consider household chores as low grade work and disrespect the people who are doing it. Often we hear people asking, “So, your wife doesn’t work?” and the reply is mostly “No”, when sometimes, managing a house demands more efforts than office work. The moment we start answering “Yes” to that question, the entire outlook will change. When you get hands-on with any work, you realize the effort that goes into it and the importance of it. It is then that you start appreciating the efforts of the people who are doing it.

P.S.: As Michael Pollan rightly said in the URL of the source image – Cooking for yourself is the real independence🙂

What’s Screwing Up Indian Television

New PPT

So this one night, I and my uncle were watching Tarak Mehta Ka Ulta Chashma and were discussing how the quality of shows that appear on Indian television have deteriorated over a period of time, except for few ones like TMKUC. Also, against the American shows, Indian television has a long way to go.

In about 80s and 90s, Indian television had great quality of television in all categories such as drama (Buniyad, Swabhimaan), crime (Tehkikat, Surag, Reporter), mythology (Mahabharat, Ramayan, Alif Laila), comedy (Dekh Bhai Dekh, Yeh Jo Hai Zindagi, Flop Show), women pride (Udaan, Shanti, Tara), teens (Hip Hip Hurray), kids (Disney Hour, Aladdin, Jungle Book), education (Turning Point, Surabhi, Bournvita Quiz Contest), reality shows (Movers and Shakers, Boogie Woogie) and so much more.

But come 2000s and all of that went away. And as the time progressed, it deteriorated further with storms of saas-bahu shows which were hyper dramatic, full of negativity and hatred, poorly written scripts and unrealistic set up, conquered Indian television. Negativity and hatred are very easy to sell. And that’s how these shows became popular and kept running for thousands of episodes.

There were shows that started off on a promising note of not being into that league, ended up in the same pile of garbage. For example, Kahi Kisi Roz was supposed to be a horror-cum-drama show, but the horror part faded away after first couple of episodes and what was left was just saas-bahu drama. Sanjeevani was supposed to be a medical science serial but the characters (doctors) in the show did everything else but to treat a patient. Compare that to a show “Lifeline” that was aired in 90s, was actually on doctors lives and day-to-day challenges they face in their profession. Very high quality show. Even in US, you have House, which is based on medical diagnostics and even the actual show sticks to the theme, along with other side plots. However, every episode of it spends 80% of the time talking about the diseases and diagnostics.

Big Bang Theory reaches the pinnacle of script writing. For me, to conceptualize something like that and then actually writing down a script on top of it which blends pure science and humor in a way that common man is able to understand, is difficult than climbing up Mount Everest. Numb3rs, that combines statistics into crime investigation in a very rational manner to solve criminal cases hits the ball out of the park when compared to stupid Indian shows like CID that has been running since decades for nothing. Indian television just doesn’t have space for something like BBT and Numb3rs. Even if it has, it’s just not ready to give that up.

A few days back, I read Harsha Bhogle’s Facebook post where he lambasted Indian media for highly negative attitude for something like sports. While he wanted to talk about all the positive things happening around Indian cricket, journalists were just not ready to listen to that and instead wanted some bites around things that will sell (negative stuff) because otherwise it won’t make it to prime time slot and they’ll lose their jobs.

For me, it’s a serious issue. Covering negative stuff is one thing, but hunting exclusively for it is far more serious indicator of where our television industry is heading.

Veterans

So I was into the US Social Security Administration office, waiting for my turn to apply for SSN.

As our token numbered approached, a 60-70 something man opened the door and shouted my token number. I raised my hand and proceeded towards the direction he pointed out.
“C’mon in, young man”, he said.
A pretty neat desk with only a computer, key board and a mouse on it. All the less essential items were on the table behind him. The partition wall at his desk had a number of things. But what caught my attention was the Veteran Creed that read out.
I am a VETERAN!
I have seen and done things that many will not understand.
I am a WARRIOR
A member of the team spanning the world
I have served my country proudly and now standby to serve my brothers and sisters in arms
I will never accept defeat
I will NEVER QUIT
I am a VETERAN!
As I was reading it, the veteran asked, “Am I reading this correctly? First Name, Last Name and Middle Name” – confirming the mother’s name in my passport.
“No, its like the First Name, Middle Name and the Last Name. And the middle name there is the first name above that – that’s my father’s name”, I clarified.
“Oh alright. I love Indian passports. You guys mention both of your parents names in passport. I like it. I don’t see that in other passports and it surprises me.”
It kind of drove me into two parallel thoughts. One was on how US manages to respect their heroes and instilling pride in them, something where India still struggles and has a dire need to correct it. And not just arms, but even critical services like firemen, policemen, traffic policemen etc. Perhaps the reason why people think these are some of the most thankless jobs in India. It is not the pay that hurts, but lack of general respect in the society which hurts these people who risk their lives to make our life safe.
On the other hand, the veteran was happy on a small gesture of mentioning parent’s names in passports. I am not completely sure but I guess the general perception is that Indians do well when it comes to respecting and treating parents well. Although, I don’t subscribe to the stereotyping by Indians that American kids are spoiled and they ill treat their parents, since I have seen American families and their bonding. But of course, if American kids might not be mentioning their parents in their passports, it may be because the parents leave their kids on their own once they are 18. And that’s where it is different from how it works in India.
Before I could say something on the Veteran Creed to make him feel a bit better, he stacked the papers and said,
“So, young man. You are good to go. You should receive your document in next two weeks. If you don’t, just let us know and we will help you out. You have a great day!!!”