Saturday, April 10, 2010

The Good Physicist

Richard Feynman’s book Surely you are joking Mr. Feynman, is a sort of biography of Mr. Feynman, a much celebrated physicst. The book is a ramble of Mr. Feynman’s stagger through life, and puts together a series of events in chronological order of the author growing up in America. Starting with his earliest childhood memories, it runs through the mid nineties, telling us about how a physicst ses the world. Mr. Feynman’s expereinces are broad and varied, and the book runs us through varies incidents, expereinces, and thoughts on a romp through his life.

A few interesting chapters include his witness account of the first atomic bomb test, his views on education in Brazil, and his down to earth description of parity violition ( perhaps one of the most significant discoveries in modern physics). His views on education in Brazil resounds stunningly with that in India. Students will memorize physics ( or any other matter) , and spew it out, without any innate understanding of the subject. As an IITian student I saw this in many many toppers during my college days. It was not important that they get an insight into the subject; what was important that they get that A grade. Some of these guys are professors now, and I shudder to think of their students. This approach has been taken to extremes by today’s coaching classes, where the grind ensures that the student is able to recognize any pattern of question which can come up, mostly by rote, and thus answer these in the exams. The spirit of human enquiry is killed before these guys get into college.

Anyway, enough of my rant; back to the book. The most surprising part of the book is the style. Unlike a polished fiction writer, the style here was matter of fact, with minimal distractions and without a nod to creative writing. It is straight from the guts, no nonsense stuff which takes a bit of getting used to. But after the initial shcok wears off, one gets used to the abrupt style and can find it captivating. Some themes are more amenable to this sort of narratives. So one can find the chapter on choosing school books for California counties quite interesting in this style. Feynman’s disgust on how school books are selected is well expressed in the brief expletives he uses to end the chapter. Very entertaining. And quite informative too. If this is the way a capatilist society selects its school text books, not unlike how it selects its Oscar winners, I should not lament too much about CBSE textbooks, and what they have not taught my child.
So, in the end, read this book if are a fan of the Mr. Feynman. I would stay away from this if I am in the mood for some good fiction reading.

Odds and Ends

Slightly late for a happy spring equinox, when in early April we are heating up close to 40C. We seem to have quietly forgotten the climate change aka global warming agenda, at the back of a unusual winter. The faux pax by the UN panel on Himalayan glaciers melting did not help matters either. It is difficult for the US congress to discuss spending extra money on controlling green house gases, while a blizzard is on full swing outside. So the climate control agenda seems to be going for a hibernation, at least till the next big summer, which does not seem to be far off. I wish the legislative guys would make up their minds. FACT 1: Carbon dioxide emitted in vast quatities is not going to be good for mankind. FACT 2: We are burning carbon to fuel our lifestyle. It does not take a genius to put this two together, and come up with a plan. Sure it is going to cost money, but so did the sheningians of all the fancy bankers. I am sure it is going to cost much less to bail us out of trouble in climate change than it took to rescue the fat cats.

Now that the UK elections are off and away, I loved the poster labour used to open its campaign with. It’s called the Bruiser Brown poster. You can download a copy from the Guardian website, and make it your screen saver. Your collegues and partners will love you for this.

Delhi Chronicles

This week the Commonwealth prize for authors is on a gig around Delhi. There was one in my neighbourhood, at Crosswords, Shoppers Stop Mall, Raja Garden. I was quite surprised that such an event was held in West Delhi, which is known more for its gastronomical tastes, rather than literary ones. I can understand KFC flourishing here, but Crosswords seems to be doing fine too; which is what the Crosswords manager told me. Well, surprises never cease. In gratitude I promptly went around the next day, and bought books costing me an obsecene amount. But, never mind, all for a good cause.

Glenda Guest, Michael Crummey, and Marie Heese were present, discussing “ Are there any rules for writing fiction?” Marie opened the topic, by listing three issues, which I have forgotten, and the other writers contributed. All the authors read from their works, and then the Q & A round finished off the program. As I was sitting in the front row, I could not see the audience, which apparantely waned and waxed with time. When the event finsihed and I looked around, I was not surprised at the small number of people left at the end. I hope there were more somewhere in the middle. Anyway, thanks to Crosswords and Commonwealth Foundation in making this happen. I am sure if the event was advertised more, the audience would have been bigger.

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