Thursday, February 9, 2012

Cooperation and development

In a certain state in a certain country, the Minister in charge of the environment came across a video clip showing a man and woman carrying out acts of an environmentally friendly nature. He therefore downloaded it to his phone and passed it on to the Minister for cooperation, an agreeable fellow who cooperated by watching the video clip in the House. This attracted the attention of the Minister for woman and child development - who very rightly considered it his job to investigate the state of development of the woman in the video. While the latter two were engrossed in studying the developmental and cooperative nature of the activities depicted therein (which taken to their logical conclusion might even have resulted in nation-building!) they were filmed by a TV crew. The rest is history, of a sort.

As explained above, the Ministers were only doing their job - and with exemplary dedication, given that some of the scenes in the video are said to have been stress-inducing. So all the fuss seems to be about nothing at all, but for one important point. These worthy gentlemen were showing disrespect to the legislature of their state at a time when it was discussing a serious crisis: the hoisting of the flag of a foreign country in Bellary, the historic city after which the surrounding district is also named. The flag-hoisting was presumably an act of sedition, so it certainly should have engrossed the Ministers. To be sure it was a confusing story, since it emerged that it was not people friendly to the foreign country who raised its flag, but people hostile to it. Maybe that's what made the whole matter very confusing to the Ministers, who decided to take care of their office work instead?

But they should have paid attention, since it's the most exciting thing to happen in a rather dull part of the country. The last time Bellary was in the news, it was about something genuinely boring: the illegal mining and export of iron ore, about which this long-winded report was eventually written. The report estimates the value of illicit iron ore exported during 2007-10 to be roughly 100,000,000,000 rupees, or 2 billion dollars. If I were ever to attend an assembly session discussing such a piffling matter it's more than likely I would prefer to browse videos, cooperative or otherwise, on my phone.

Saturday, February 4, 2012

A pleasant walk from Colaba

If, like me, you enjoy getting directions from Google Maps, then I have something for you to try out. It happened to me by accident. I was trying to figure out how to get from my place of work at the Isaac Newton Institute in Cambridge to a housing complex called Beaulands Close. It's a half-hour walk and will be my daily commute when, at the end of March, I'm evicted from Trinity College and have to live the life of a common Commoner (rather than a Visiting Fellow Commoner as at present).

Now Google Maps offers the choice of driving directions and walking directions. When I clicked on the latter I didn't notice that my starting point had been set on this computer, by default, as "Colaba". So the website obediently spelled out the walking directions from Colaba, Mumbai, to Beaulands Close in Cambridge. Modestly starting with "Caution: This route may be missing sidewalks or pedestrian paths", it informs me that the walk of 9,705 km will take me 65 days and 22 hours. Evidently the algorithm doesn't allow for any resting on the way.

So here's how you would go, assuming you placed your faith in Google Maps. Starting in Colaba, you pass Hotel Landmark (I've never heard of it) and New India Cooperative Bank and head for Malet Bandar. Here you catch the ferry to Kandla. Upon disembarking, you walk briskly through Gujarat into Rajasthan, the directions being a series of "turn right", "turn left" with the occasional fascinating detail such as "pass by Shahid Bhikaram Petrol Pump". Not that a pedestrian would have any reason to stop there! Eventually, one of the left turns gets you onto "SH 40". Then you're asked to turn right and continue.

Though this is nowhere mentioned in the directions, you have just entered Pakistan. If you have not by this point been arrested or shot to bits (Google assumes you will handle this without their help) you walk through Umarkot and take Mirpur Khas road, passing rather close to Shahdadpur (where my father had once been a district judge). Then it's on to Thar Road followed by a quick 50 km stroll on Arror Bachal Shah Road which deposits you on Sukkur Bridge.

Pausing only to admire the Sindhu (Indus) river, though Google does not instruct you to do so, you continue past Shikarpur and, at Jacobabad, make a left and a right onto Quetta Road. 300 kilometres later you turn right onto - believe it or not - Brewery Road! It's not beer that's brewing around here, methinks, but possibly a global conspiracy or two. A right turn onto Sabzal Road takes you into Quetta, where you can visit the ancestral home of my mother's mother's family or at least view the rubble into which it must have collapsed by now given the earthquake-prone (and more recently, war-prone) nature of the region. A hundred kilometres on Chaman Bypass, and then it's time to take a momentous step which Google Maps breathlessly describes as: "Continue on to A75".

This is their way of (not) telling you that you've just entered Afghanistan. Soon you pass through Kandahar and then the streets have names: go straight on Darb-e-Kandahar Street, continue on to Paye Hisar Street and turn left at Chowk-e-Golha onto Jada-i-bank Khoon (جاده بانک خون). If some friendly soul is trying to extract your "khoon" at this point don't worry, you're already in the major town of Herāt, which according to Wikipedia dates back to Avestan times and was traditionally known for its wine. It was also described by Herodotus as the bread-basket of Central Asia. So just order a glass of claret and a buttered roll. Thus restored, off you go. You aren't anywhere near Beaulands Close, so don't take a nap yet!

After Herāt you turn left on to A77, then continue on to A388. The reason people are looking at you strangely is that you've wandered into Turkmenistan, where you should be speaking Turkmen rather than Dari and Pashto, the languages you had just managed to learn. There are almost no cities on this stretch, and Google's directions offer just a dozen "turn right"s interspersed with a similar number of "turn left"s. But soon some picturesquely named towns loom in the distance: Qoshkopir, Dashoguz and Konye-Urgench. The last-named is a World Heritage Site and for very good reason: it contains the unexcavated ruins of Khwarezm, whence came Mr. Muḥammad ibn Mūsā al-Khwārizmī, the mathematician once known in Europe as Algoritmi, the origin of the word "Algorithm".

From here it's a hop and a skip into Uzbekistan, where "continue straight" are all the directions you'll need for the next 300 km. No World Heritage sites, or cities of any kind, mark your unceremonious exit (and the end of your chance to learn Uzbek) as you find yourself in Kazakhstan, the country made famous by Sacha Baron-Cohen whose cousin Simon is a Fellow of Trinity College and whom I therefore sometimes see at lunch. You're not yet in Cambridge, but now at least you have a connection. Well, sort of. I don't think the gentleman who called himself Borat is a hero in Kazakhstan, for reasons you would immediately guess if you saw the movie.

This blog posting is getting rather lengthy, but you still have to pass through Russia, Belarus and Lithuania, and now Google Maps starts to become a little obscure, for example: "181. Turn left onto Автодорожников", and my favourite: "198. Continue onto Unknown road". But presently you get to Klaipėda, Lithuania, from where you catch a ferry to Kiel, Germany. From there it's a relatively short and scenic walk to Esbjerg in Denmark where you hop on another ferry to Harwich (pronounced "Harritch"), in the UK.

The smell of boiling vegetables assails your nostrils as you disembark, reminding you that you haven't eaten or slept for 65 days. But now it's a relatively simple matter to walk through various Church Streets and School Lanes, then on to Newmarket Road and Cheddars Lane, until a left on De Freville Avenue finally brings you to Beaulands Close. If you leave Colaba late next week you're likely to reach on a Sunday morning in April. In which case, feel free to take a quick shower while I make breakfast from Gits Instant Dosa Mix. My Telugu friends in York have promised to make Chutney-Pudi to go with it. This crunchy spicy substance, commonly known in South India as "gunpowder", is guaranteed to provide a delicious reminder of your journey.