The Advisory Boar (page 3)
Speaking of bird-watching and poetry, I've noticed that bird-watchers,
at least on the few Indian bird-watching lists I subscribe to, adore
purple prose. They applaud it when they see it in other people's trip
reports, and do their best to put it in their own.
It is always entertaining to see things like this written with no
apparent sense of irony (in this case, about a photograph of a pair
of Himalayan Bulbuls):
Reminded me, in fact, of a pair of elegant aristocrats, somewhat
puffy-chested with ‘stale airs’, a touch stern in demeanour,
necks and crests craning back with a stiff pride.......
As if, As if.... somehow the couple is steeling to bear the gathering
autumn of an erstwhile many-splendoured life, now stripped of privy
privileges, purses and titles!
Very picturesque, but when I think of an aristocrat
privy privileges, I can't help but imagine an old butler, neck
stiff with spondylosis, saying
I'm sorry, Sir Neville, but they
took away the outhouse.
But any literary allusion, no matter how trite or overused, is cause for
celebration. Comparisons to poetry are frequent followups; and sometimes
a phrase catches someone else's imagination, and reappears in their own
reports. Someone once responded to a post, which was relatively subdued
in comparison to the above, with a comment that Ruskin Bond was quaking
in his boots, presumably from fear of competition (though the post
didn't rule out, say, uncontrollable laughter).
It's not surprising that the responses are all positive, of course.
These lists are meant for discussions about birds, after all, and not
literary criticism; and a bit of overeager prose never killed anyone. I
imagine anyone who cares enough to distinguish between good writing and
a string of adjectives would be best served by silence. Besides, as I've
learned from bitter experience, a few authors have pretensions to great
writing, and react to anything other than fawning praise with suspicion
and—more likely than not—another pompous screed.
It's a pity, though, that people read such reports and see that they are
well-received, and are made to feel that their own reports should aspire
to the same outmoded standard. Victorian England, with all its class
distinctions, lives on in the kind of English taught to the Indian upper
crust. (An aside: Wikipedia says that the phrase "purple prose" comes
by the Roman poet Horace, who used it to caution against literary
excess more than two thousand years ago.)
Although examples of flowery prose are legion, one mailing list post in
particular stands out as an indelible indigo scab on my consciousness,
cratered with swooping metaphors and pock-marked with… ahem. Here are a
few passages, excerpted with some difficulty from the dense surrounding
context. The account begins thus:
Eastern UP is Old India. The towns spill onto the roads or what is
left of them after the tractors and other mechanized farming vehicles
have ploughed their way through, deepening the already deepened
furrows. The roads appear hand-crafted. Over-laden lorries of
village wealth packed sky-high with hay or sugar cane traverse these
hand-made roads. Level crossings criss-cross them. On the rail
tracks of the smaller crossings, red cotton sheets are stretched
across two bamboo poles that seem to arrogantly shout at the train to
halt. In between the passage of trains chugging past, cycles,
rickshaws and bullock carts put their lives on the line and make a
dash for the other side.
We drove from Shahjehanpur to Dudhwa National Park for nearly 4 hours,
over a grey-brown road against a grey, smog-darkened sky. The smog
tried in vain to push back the dawn of the lightening sky. Several
smoke stacks came and went leaving their dirty trail of soot robbing
the morning of its innocence. Smelting factories, brick kilns and
soot-blackened fields inevitably contributed to the sluggish miasma of
fog. Little did we know that this landscape would characterize much
of the once-rich Terai and its adjoining Bhabbar fields whose gravelly
alluvial detritus supported a decent dry deciduous forest.
A decent dry deciduous forest? Is that all? After that setup, I
expected no less than a magnificent dry deciduous forest spread across a
great swath of the ancient alluvial detritus! But the body of the report
lives up to its early promise—at great length—and features a number of
adjectival masterpieces of which, for want of space, I shall reproduce
only the following one.
Having spent two days at the hutments at Dudhwa, we visited Sathiana
one morning and were charmed with what we saw. Its sights and sounds
and scents and flavour intoxicated us with a healthy intoxication. So
we succumbed to Sathiana's beauty and drove in the darkening night for
a change of address. On a dusty track crimson-pink bulbs rose up and
danced. Some, but not all nocturnal birds, have a tapetum lucidum — a
reflecting layer behind the retina, which turns photons back in their
tracks to give the retinal pigments a second chance to intercept them,
which, lucky for us, makes for easy spotting.
If some sick fascination holds you to this unrestrained outpouring of
literary yearning for another two hundred and fifty odd lines, you are
rewarded with the climactic and spiritual ending.
Now we walked into the fire of sunrise, exploiting our senses, forcing
ourselves to consider relationships, to embrace the pattern that
connects. Walks do this. When we merge our soul with Nature, it makes
the intellect fruitful and that gives birth to imagination. We hope
to return to explore other areas of this National Park - perhaps in
the winter months. The sun was already beating down on us, using us
as its own private anvil. In the months to follow the sky would
assume a most ruthless blue without compassion of even a cloud; and
then the deluge would begin.
Walks do this, do they? I'd better make note of that.
I've always had a sneaking suspicion that the author of this report was
just trolling to see how much abuse the audience could possibly take.
But if that wasn't really the case, I wanted to do it. So I
began to pre-compose my next trip report (this was more than two years
It was dark when we set out, but the brief summer night was little
comfort to a planetary crust forever tormented by the liquid fire
within, and with scant protection from the relentless onslaught of
the fiery celestial orb. Even enclosed, as we were, within a sleek
bubble of modern automotive technology, we could not help but be
keenly aware of the sullen warmth beneath our wheels as the first
luminous rays of dawn roused the parched soil from its restless
The journey seems but a blur now, a discordant cacophony of wheels and
air horns. We could imagine, but dared not lower our windows to listen
for, the mellow strains that must attend suburban Gurgaon's awakening,
and its increasing enthusiasm to sieze a day which, by now, had gained
a firm purchase on our consciousness. I have but fleeting impressions,
of swerving to overtake carts pulled by surly oxen, of slowing down to
negotiate welts and blisters on the dusty grey road that unwound in
front of us, our only tangible physical connection to what seemed an
alien planet (but which was, we struggled to remember, only Haryana).
Our destination: Sultanpur lake (or jheel, in the harshly aspirated but
essentially good-natured vernacular), an artificially managed wetland in
the midst of a dust bowl with its scattered fields, where stunted crops
maintain a tenuous grasp on an existence based on nutrients leached at
great cost from the uncooperative earth.
At that point, however, I made the mistake of stopping to review what I
had written; and I was overcome by a wave of nausea so intense that I
was unable to continue. Even the thought of the universal acclaim that
would surely attend its unveiling was not enough to renew my flagging
spirits, and my magnum opus remains sadly incomplete.
Something to look forward to, perhaps.
A couple of days ago, I was investigating an obscure permissions problem
on a client's production server (having tried and failed to reproduce it
on the staging server). The problem was related to the creation of Ezmlm
mailing lists through a web interface (the details aren't relevant here,
nor especially interesting).
I tracked down and eventually fixed the problem by manually creating a
test list using
ezmlm-make(1). Afterwards, I wanted to get
rid of the junk list, so I looked in the ezmlm command directory for the
$ ls /usr/local/bin/ezmlm
ezmlm-accept ezmlmglrc ezmlm-moderate ezmlm-store
ezmlm-archive ezmlm-idx ezmlmrc ezmlm-sub
ezmlm-check ezmlm-issubn ezmlm-reject ezmlmsubrc
ezmlm-clean ezmlm-limit ezmlm-request ezmlm-tstdig
ezmlm-cron ezmlm-list ezmlm-return ezmlm-unsub
ezmlm-gate ezmlm-make ezmlm-rm ezmlm-warn
ezmlm-get ezmlm-manage ezmlm-send ezmlm-weed
ezmlm-glconf ezmlm-mktab ezmlm-split
ezmlm-rm looked promising, so I ran it without arguments to
get a usage message (which is how all the other ezmlm commands behave).
ezmlm-list: usage: ezmlm-list [-mMnNvV] dir
Silence? That's not what I expected at all. What was it doing? I looked
a little closer.
$ man ezmlm-rm
No manual entry for ezmlm-rm
$ file /usr/local/bin/ezmlm/ezmlm-rm
/usr/local/bin/ezmlm/ezmlm-rm: Bourne shell script text executable
$ cat /usr/local/bin/ezmlm/ezmlm-rm
rm -rf /home/vpopmail/domains/client.example.org/$1
rm -rf /home/vpopmail/domains/client.example.org/.qmail-$1*
A moment later, the sinking feeling set in when I realised that my
argument-less invocation had given the script an empty
and what that actually meant for the dozens of lists that were stored
$ ls /home/vpopmail/domains
It turns out that the previous maintainer of the system—who disappeared
some time ago—saw nothing wrong with unchecked
rm -rfs in a
script disguised as an ezmlm command.
The October 4 issue of The Hindu
Sunday Magazine features a Talking Point column by Vijay
Nagaswami about domestic violence, entitled
once is too much.
The article gets off to a promising start:
Domestic violence, as it is officially called, has been happening for
centuries in our country and is very much part of ‘Indian
The author goes on to explain that he is referring only to spousal abuse
(and not other forms of domestic violence, such as child abuse); and
that such violence may be physical, sexual, verbal, or emotional
…wherein one partner subjugates the other through persistent
demeaning, insults, threats, and intellectual battering). He also
makes no bones about the fact that domestic violence is by no means
confined to people from
lower socio-economic backgrounds.
Then he gets right down to the problem:
Since we live in a patriarchal society, most spouse abusers are men.
Since men have been taught ever since they were boys that they should
‘control’ their wives and since, more often than not, they
are physically bigger and stronger, they tend to resort more easily to
using violent means to take charge of their marriages, if they find
their wives challenging their authority.
But wait, that's not all there is to it.
Having said that, it is no longer uncommon to see men, particularly in
urban areas, being victims of spousal abuse from their wives. Typically
verbal and emotional abuse are more common, but physical abuse also does
take place. Women who feel the need to dominate their spouses may tend
to, particularly if the man is generally soft natured and easy to push
around, intimidate their husbands by constantly belittling them in
private and public, thereby establishing dominance in the marriage.
Also, some of them, if they are physically strong, may lash out
physically at their husbands by slapping, scratching, kicking and
throwing things at them. Since very few men want to acknowledge publicly
that they are being abused by their wives, cases of spousal abuse of
males are largely under-reported, although in recent times, abused men
have been coming together in support groups and have formed associations
to help each other deal with the situation.
I had no idea that the nature of domestic violence had changed so much
in recent times that two sentences suffice to describe violence by men
(who are just doing what they've been taught), but five
sentences and many, many commas are needed to describe the reverse. But
when I think about it that way, all sorts of things begin to make more
For example, a contributing factor that the author does not mention is
that women who are successful in dominating their husbands produce sons
that are more soft natured and easy to push around—and thus vulnerable
to another generation of slapping, scratching, kicking (and biting!)
women. An ever-increasing number of men must suffer in silence, while
women try to publicise their tales of woe at every opportunity. I begin
to feel sorry for the poor man who is forced to beat his wife a little
to reassert his fading authority.
But alas, lawmakers still have the problem backwards:
The Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act has provided succour
to many women who have been victimised by their spouses. It is a
well-intended and welcome piece of legislation, but, unfortunately,
doesn't provide men who are victims of domestic violence any space for
redressal of their grievances. Another important legislation that needs
to be touched upon here is Section 498A of the Indian Penal Code which
covers any act of cruelty committed upon a woman by her husband or his
relatives. Sadly, one of the more distressing by-products of both these
laws is that they are abused. Unscrupulous legal professionals as well
as acrimonious wives and their relatives try and either intimidate the
husband or extract their pound of flesh by filing cases under these
laws. I do know of men who have been threatened under Sec 498A of the
IPC, merely because the wife and her family want a better divorce
settlement than he originally offered. Sometimes where the wife wants a
divorce and the husband is unwilling to grant her one, Sec 498A is used
as a sword of Damocles over the latter, and it is not unusual to see
petitions filed under these laws on falsified charges. More often than
not, a messy legal battle ensues that, from what I have seen, no one
What a depressing picture, when all the law does is to abet unscrupulous
lawyers and acrimonious wives in wielding the Sword of Damocles to cut a
pound of flesh from distressed and intimidated husbands (and this, when
no longer uncommon to find men being victims of domestic
violence in the first place). It's a good thing that there are support
groups to help husbands deal with the situation. Sticks and stones may
break her bones, but being shafted by the law is what really
The whole process leaves everyone scarred, angry and frustrated with
wounds that take ages to heal.
The author, having turned my entire view of domestic violence on its
head, concludes with some advice on dealing with abuse:
But, per contra, if there is violence or cruelty, don’t hesitate to take
recourse to the law, for, that is the best protection available to you.
However, do so only after the matter has been escalated to other members
in the family and assistance from mental health professionals has been
Er… wait. Is he seriously suggesting that The Family is the best place
to look for help? And why on earth should a
to seek assistance from mental health professionals if
she's a victim of domestic violence?
The writer is a Chennai-based psychiatrist […]
Ah, right. I get it now.
Speaking of renewing passports and the horrors of international travel,
1999 was also the last time I applied for a US visa (and, I hope, the
last time I'll ever need to).
On that occasion, I queued up at dawn (behind a hundred-odd people!) and
was denied a visa many hours later because I didn't have "strong enough
ties" to my country. When I needed to travel to Europe some years later,
most embassies took one look at the US "application received" stamp in
my passport and matched it with one of their own ("application received"
sounds innocuous, but it might as well say "VISA FAIL"). It took a long
time to get that sorted out.
Things have changed a lot since then. Hassath, who wanted to attend the
Grace Hopper Conference this
A few years ago, the embassy outsourced the initial paperwork, which is
now done online. The dawn queue is also gone: the web site displays an
appointment schedule, and you can book a convenient free slot and turn
up at the embassy at that time. But one of the biggest changes is in the
handling of the application fee.
When I applied, the non-refundable visa application fee was some INR1200
(about USD25). Now the fee is USD131 at the "consular exchange rate" of
INR50/USD (which conveniently favours the USD by about INR3/USD), which
makes it INR6550. That is a substantial portion (>70%) of a month's rent
If money is important to you, as
casually puts it, you will be happy to learn that
Nonimmigrant visa fees are based on "reciprocity," (what another country
charges a United States citizen for a similar-type of visa). The United
States strives to eliminate visa issuance fees whenever possible; […but…]
you need to understand the distinction between a visa "issuance" fee and
a visa "application" fee. Most non-diplomatic and non-official visas
issued by United States consular officers abroad require a visa
"application" (machine-readable visa - MRV) fee that recovers for the
United States the costs associated with manufacturing, processing, and
printing the visa. The current visa "application" fee is $131.00.
I had to pay the fee by demand draft at the embassy, but now one has to
pay it (plus the INR374 service charge for VFS, the company that handles
the online application process) at any of about a dozen select branches
of the HDFC bank and obtain a receipt before you can book an appointment
online. If you find that no appointments are available before you
travel, you lose the money. If you misplace the receipt, you lose the
money. If you manage to apply and are denied a visa, you lose the money
(but perhaps the distinction between "issuance" and "application" fees
will be a source of comfort, if money is important to you).
You still need to produce scads of personal and financial information
(for example, tax returns and bank statements for the past few years),
of course, but much more thought has been put into the rules for the
visa photo. "Passport-sized" used to be a sufficient description, but
now there is a special size (larger than anyone else asks for), and
number of rules to spell out what is expected of the background,
foreground, clothing, and direction of the applicant's gaze. Everyone is
fingerprinted these days, so you are also instructed to arrive for your
appointment with clean hands.
For people who are refused a visa, the embassy now has this
that begins with the heart-wrenching tale of Sanjay and Anil—friends who
will not see each other because one could not obtain a visa to visit the
US. It has soothing answers to a number of questions the distressed
applicant may have.
Q. Why is there a visa requirement?
A. The U.S. is an open society. […]
Our immigration law requires
consular officers to view every visa applicant as an intending immigrant
until the applicant proves otherwise.
Ten years ago, the Consular Officer helpfully told me at the end of my
visa interview that I would have to wait three days before I could apply
again, but I have somehow contained my enthusiasm to reapply ever since.
Based on the current application process, I think I can hold out a while
Last year, during a particularly frustrating period where our MTNL DSL
kept getting disconnected every few minutes, we subscribed to the Sify
Broadband service (the only other ISP in the area at the time; this was
a few months before Airtel DSL became available).
Sify claims to provide "wireless" broadband, but that's a bit of a
misnomer. I gather there's a wireless router of some sort on the roof of
the neighbouring apartment block, and they string Ethernet cables from
it to people's desks. The people (from the local Sify franchisee) who
came to install this giant lightning conductor through our study window
cut the cable too short, and spliced(!) on another length to reach our
Sify requires you to run an "authentication client" that talks to their
web server before you get IP connectivity to the outside world. They do
provide a Linux client, but it took some hackery to make it run on our
machines; and the web site it sent us to ("new user registration") did
not like Firefox at all. So the cable-splicers went back to
their office and registered the account for us using their Windows
machine, and we got it all working eventually.
We meant to use the Sify connection only as a backup, and our MTNL line
started working again, so it was a while before we noticed that we had
massive packet loss to the gateway (i.e., the thing on the roof). The
authentication client couldn't talk to its server, so we couldn't talk
to anyone. The cause was obvious to us: the spliced cable. But the
cable-splicers blamed the fact that we used Linux, and said they would
have to call in a Linux expert from Sify central to "check" the problem.
The expert never arrived. I tried to follow up a few times, but I ran
out of time and energy eventually (and unfortunately, we pre-paid for
the entire year). The upshot is that the service has never
worked for us after the first day.
So I was rather amused to receive this SMS the other day:
Dear Sify Customer, due to heavy rain you may face disruption in
service. Regret for inconvenience.
Regret for inconvenience, indeed.
In February 2005, the "IN" TLD was opened to registrations. In the weeks
preceding the opening, a number of registrars were accepting pre-orders
for .IN domains, the idea being that they would submit the requests once
the registry was opened. I wanted to register oryx.in, and I chose to
use Net4India as registrar.
I submitted the pre-order and tried to pay the required INR4500 (500 for
processing fees and 4000 for two years' registration charges) by credit
card, but the transaction failed; and instead, I paid in person at their
office by cash. I got a receipt, and was told that my registration would
A few days after the opening, I noticed that the domain had not yet been
registered. I received no response to my mail asking why not. I tried to
register the domain using another registrar (Key Systems), and was able
to do so, thus proving that my registration had not even been processed.
I received no response to followup inquiries either. An ex-employee of
Net4India gave me the email address of a director, to whom I addressed a
complaint. He forwarded it to someone in the customer support department
who asked me for the details of the case, but did not get in touch with
me again, or respond to my mail over the next few months.
I sought legal advice, but lacked the time, money, and energy to follow
the suggested course of serving notice and attending the consumer court.
By early 2006, I had given up hope of ever recovering my money, and was
reminded of the incident only by the occasional spam that was sent to
the throwaway address that I'd used to communicate with the company.
In early 2009, by some monumental coincidence, someone from the company
posted to a mailing list I'm on, asking for some help. I replied to the
effect that I'd be happy to help if he could help me get a refund, and
to my amazement, he did so within a week. (I got only INR4000, because
the processing fee was non-refundable. Given that they hadn't actually
done any processing… but after three years, I didn't want to quibble.)
I am extremely grateful for the prompt and courteous assistance I
But I'm afraid I cannot recommend Net4India as a domain registrar.