To The Brink & Back

The last week was a thoroughly unproductive week, the highlight being a mistake I’ll regret for long. It was a self-inflicted harm. That & the demise of Rushikesh Sir & the suffocation of being locked inside home for the last month. It was a field day for anxiety & depression. The second half of the week went into pulling myself from the pit of sadness. I think I’ve managed to do it successfully. On Wednesday & Thursday I felt like I am never going to come out of it. I slept a lot. I watched a lot of stuff. But Tssuu Taai came home for a day to cheer me up. She reminded me that it was all in my control. I know that these few acts— of taking regular baths, doing my skincare and drinking copious amount of water—are enough to make me feel cheerful again ninety percent of the times. But I choose to ignore them because my sad phases are exactly the times when I don’t feel like there is anything to gain from being disciplined. I think Modiji should form a ‘Ministry of Utmost Crapiness’ that forces me to do these aforementioned acts when I am low. Some form of State coercion is necessary, I guess.

One of the tragedies of my life is that I somehow live under this delusion that I have 20 hours of productive hours everyday when I really have hardly 13 or 14. Add to that, my productivity calculus is only concerned with number of hours and not the amount of energy I possess at specific points in the day. This has happened so many times now. I study for like five or six hours in the first eight-odd waking hours of the day and I should be studying for equal number of hours in the second half. But I do not possess any energy after that point. And so the productivity drops too. This week, it will be eight hours a day, everyday. Nothing more. Nothing less. And I’ll have to use those hours with utmost smartness.

Total Hours: 7*8 = 56 Hours

Economy: 30 Hours
Indian Paintings: 10 Hours
Remaining 16 Hours: Governance, Answer Writing, Others

The thirty hours reserved for Economy are to be spent in pure reading, making flashcards, revising them & solving MCQs. Watching video lectures when you are anyway going to go through notes is an absolute waste of time. You are just fooling yourself into thinking that some work is being done. So, shut up & read.

I’ll be watching Nikhil’s Sir videos on Indian Paintings, reading the handouts, making flashcards. Also I’ll watch the movie Nainsukh & Benoy Behl’s documentary series on Indian Paintings (of course they are outside the 56 hours). I hope I write a post or two on the blog about these funtivities.

Also, I’ll try to revise the Governance portion for Mains. And write answers. I’ve joined Khan’s answer writing thingy for 3 months wherein I’ll have to submit two answers everyday. That will take the remaining time I have. If I manage to do 90% of all this, it will be a win.

Let’s begin.


An Invocation for Beginnings

This is a video that I come back to whenever I am trying to restart. I hope it serves you well.

Don’t call it a come-back, I’ll have hair for years.

I’m scared. I’m scared that my abilities are gone. I’m scared that I’ll f*** this up. And I’m scared of you.

I don’t wanna’ start, but I will.

This is an invocation for anyone who hasn’t begun; who’s stuck in a terrible place between 0 and 1.

Let me realize that my past failures at follow-through are no indication of my future performance. They’re just healthy little fires that are gonna’ warm up my ass.

If my FILDI* is strong, let me keep him in a velvet box until I really really need him.
If my FILDI* is weak let me feed him oranges and not let him gorge himself on ego and arrogance.

Let me not hit up my Facebook like it’s a crack-pipe, keep the browser closed.

If I catch myself wearing a tutu (too fat, too late, too old), let me shake it off like a donkey would shake off something it doesn’t like.

When I get that feeling in my stomach, you know that feeling when all the sudden you get a ball of energy and it shoots down into your legs and up into your arms and tells you to get up and stand up and go to the refrigerator and get a cheese sandwich – that’s my cheese monster talking. And my cheese monster will never be satisfied by cheddar, only the cheese of accomplishment.

Let me think about the people that I care about the most. And how when they fail or disappoint me I still love them, I still give them chances, and I still see the best in them – let me extend that generosity to myself.

Let me find and use metaphors to help me understand the world around me, and give me the strength to get rid of them when it’s apparent that they no longer work.

Let me thank the parts of me that I don’t understand or are outside of my rational control, like my creativity and my courage.
Let me remember that my courage is a wild dog, it won’t just come when I call it. I have to chase it down and hold on as tight as I can.

Let me not be so vain to think that I am the sole author of my victories, and a victim of my defeats.

Let me remember that the unintended meaning that people project on what I do is neither my fault, nor something that I can take credit for.

Perfectionism may look good in his shiny shoes, but he’s a little bit of an asshole and nobody invites him to their pool parties.

Let me remember that the impact of criticism is often not the intent of the critic; but when the intent is evil – that’s what the block button is for.

And when I eat my critique, let me be able to separate out the good advice from the bitter herbs.

There are few people who won’t be disarmed by a genuine smile.

Let me not think of my work only as a stepping stone to something else, and if it is, let me become fascinated by the shape of the stone.

Let me take the idea that has gotten me this far, and put it to bed. What I’m about to do will not be that. But it will be something.

There’s no need to sharpen my pencils anymore, my pencils are sharp enough – even the dull ones will make a mark.

Warts and all, let’s start this s*** up.

And, God, let me enjoy this. Life isn’t just a sequence of waiting for things to be done.

Indian Polity

Maratha Reservations

Yesterday, the Supreme Court struck down the legislation that granted Marathas reservations in jobs & education in Maharashtra. The court said:

We have found that no extraordinary circumstances were made out in granting separate reservation of Maratha Community by exceeding the 50 percent ceiling limit of reservation. The Act, 2018 violates the principle of equality as enshrined in Article 16. The exceeding of ceiling limit without there there being any exceptional circumstances clearly violates Article 14 and 16 of the Constitution which makes the enactment ultra vires.

The State government had acted on the recommendation of Gaikwad commission which found that the Marathas did not have a proportional representation in public services. But why should you aim for proportional representations anyway? When we aim for proportional representation for every community in public services, we are looking at the society not as a collection of individuals but collection of communities wherein the communities have rights.

Reservations for SC/STs should be seen as an extraordinary tool to solve issues of extraordinary inequities & historical injustices. This cannot become a policy tool to solve every other imbalance. Ashwini Deshpande & Rajesh Ramachandran, using the data from the Indian Human Development Survey, have shown how these ‘middle castes’ (Jats, Patidars, Kapus & Marathas) have a standard of living more in line with Brahmins & quite ahead of SCs & STs on most indicators. Marathas are politically dominant caste. These are agriculture-based castes and they have seen economic difficulties as farming itself has become less rewarding. Now, should the State compensate the erstwhile dominant community for the loss of their dominance?

A nine-judge bench in Indira Sawhney judgement had kept these limitations on reservation policies:

  1. A 50% cap on total seats being reserved
  2. Economic backwardness alone cannot be a criteria for providing reservations to a community.

While the 50% cap is quite arbitrary, it seems fair. And people seem to value fairness over equality. The court also found that the Marathas aren’t educationally or socially backward.

On the second point, I feel that reservations shouldn’t be seen as an answer in if Marathas were found to be educationally backward. The reservations as a policy tool should be restricted only for the socially backward. The State should instead focus on facilitating the private sector to create more jobs. The State should ensure effective delivery of public goods like education & healthcare which also achieves a more level playing field. In the absence of these things, it just begins to become a zero-sum game. Reservations can only act as cosmetic fixes to paper over the cracks in our social fabric, nothing more. And in this case, it is nothing more than surrender to a crowd.



Whatever happened, happened. Maybe you are the one to blame. Maybe you are the biggest piece of shit ever to live. Maybe you are everything you think you are in your darkest of thoughts. 

But from this point on, none of that is going to matter. As a wise person once said, “Fuck it, fuck the fucking it & fuck the fucking the fucking it.” You are going to put your head down & just work hard. Throw away all the questions about blame & guilt & just fucking study. If a large portion of your energy is spent mental self-flagellation, you are going nowhere. All your guilts of everything you ever did are just sucking the life out of you. For the love of god, just work hard for the next eighteen months like your life depends on it because it does. If this goes wrong, a lot of other things will. Gather your emotions & feelings, pack them up & send them to a trip to Antarctica for the next two years. Just two years, I am not asking for more. Just do what is required. You are never going to get back these years again & I don’t want you to look back and say, “Man I should have studied”. I want you to say, “Man, I am proud of the way I studied in these years”. You’ll never be 25 again. Everything else can wait. Everything else will wait. All you have to do is just sit down everyday & study smart, hard and whatever words these topper people seem to use. 

Everyone around you is so kind. Everyone is trying their best so that my study doesn’t get hampered. So can you be please at least as serious about your prep as everybody is? Talk to them when you are low. Take regular baths. Go for walks. Drinks truckloads of water. Read productivity books to keep replenishing that ephemeral motivation. You know exactly what you need to do to get out of your low periods but you choose to wallow. Abhi, you are not a fucking teenager for god’s sake. Get your shit together. This is the last time. 

Just don’t fall into your depression pit. It is so fucking difficult to have any sane conversation with you when you are just wallowing in your sadness. Enough of your self pity. You have got exactly what you need to crack this exam. Just give it the hours of hard work it deserves. 

Make the discipline sheets public. Don’t keep unrealistic goals. You keep unrealistic goals and then you are sad when you can’t reach them and you throw everything away. Can’t you just fucking learn from your mistake? Make them flexible enough so that if you are switching from a pre-mode to mains-mode or the other way, it is easy & you do not have to start from scratch. 

For the next few months, 70% of your time has to be dedicated to prelims study only. And the rest has to be given those GS subjects that aren’t part of prelims especially GS4 & society. And write answers. I don’t know when I will see a day when you finally start writing answers regularly. And you somehow fucking expect yourself to become an IAS officer? Wow! Simply Wow! Let’s try to write at least 5 answers everyday & an essay a week. It isn’t a big ask. And be regular with Anki. It is what is going to get you the rank. 

I know I am little harsh on you sometimes but you fucking act like a moron. 18 months & a rank under 10. It’s not something impossible. You have worked hard till this point. Just make the efforts 10x. Nothing more. 

Sorry for the language. You deserve it though.


Life goes on.



Khusro Being Khusro

Tonight I heard that he whom I want to see will come
May my head be sacrificed to the road you will take.
The gazelles in the desert carry their heads in their hands,
Hoping that you will come hunting them one day.
The attraction of love will not leave you unaffected
If you don’t come to my funeral you will come to my grave.
My soul has reached the edge; come so that I may live.
Once I am no more, what use will it be if you come?

Translated from Masood Qureshi’s Khusrau-i Shireen-i Sukhan by Ruth Vanita & Saleem Kidwai

Our Extended Minds

This is for Fathima, who is feeling handicapped without her notes & apps. This is an excerpt from an essay I wrote some years ago. This may not be the exact answer to your problem but I feel too lazy right now to edit the piece to your needs. But I think the answers you are looking for lie somewhere in the text below.

We have traditionally thought of our mind as being limited to our brain. While the brain is a tangible organ of our body, the human mind is much more than that. It is an invisible entity that transcends our thoughts, feelings, beliefs and imagination. The act of cognition isn’t restricted to just the grey matter in our skull. David Chalmers and Andy Clark call this belief a kind of “skull chauvinism”. In ‘The extended mind thesis’, a seminal work in the philosophy of mind, these cognitive philosophers suggest that the objects within our environment function as parts of our mind. It is arbitrary to say that the mind is contained inside the skull. Our external environment plays a significant role in aiding the cognitive process. The brain and the environment work together in a coupled system to create effective cognition.

When we use pen and paper to solve long divisions, a part of our cognition takes place on the paper. Once the Historian Charles Wiener told the famous physicist Richard Feynman that his notebooks were a wonderful “record of his day-to-day work”. Feynman replied that the notebooks weren’t the record of his thinking process. They were his thinking process. Complex acts of cognition become almost impossible without external aid and Feynman clearly understood the extended mind. We have moved on from using just pen and paper as our extended mind. Our smartphones are always with us, ready to connect us to the world on a click. Clark & Chalmers used the example of a notebook that an amnesic person can carry. The notebook does the job what his mind can’t- Remember. Smartphones are way better than our extended minds.

I remember as a Kid I could recite a lot of phone numbers. It was obligatory to memorize the phone numbers of your loved ones. Today, that is hardly the case. A study by Kaspersky Lab in 2015 suggests that half the Europeans couldn’t remember the phone numbers of their family members. This shouldn’t shock us. The human mind isn’t built for such brute memorization. We have learnt to outsource our memory. Smartphones do it for us. They have no problem storing numerous series of random ten digit numbers. When you can’t remember a particular actor’s name, you google instantly. If you want to be reminded about a task on your to-do list, you can set an alarm. Your smartphone won’t falter on its promise. We are increasingly liberating our brain from the age old shackles of a limited and unreliable memory.

Another important gift of the Internet has been that it has turned all of us into writers. This is an often overlooked phenomenon which is transforming the way we think. From the notorious 144 character Tweets and Facebook updates to the emails, blog posts and our long heartfelt answers on knowledge sharing websites like Quora and Medium, we are creating massive digital libraries every day. If we just count the emails and our ramblings on social media, we are composing at least 35 million books everyday equivalent to the entire U.S. Library of Congress. Even after applying Sturgeon’s law which says that ninety percent of everything is rubbish, we are left with writings worth more than three million books every day. The Internet brings people around the world together, giving them a platform to discuss obscure topics. This wasn’t possible before the Internet. You simply couldn’t find enough people around you passionate about the same things you loved. Now, websites like Reddit enable you to participate in communities around extremely niche topics like woodworking and gardening with thousands of people around the world deliberating on minutiae of that subject. The point is not that there is so much to learn; we never had a scarcity of things to learn. The point is that this endless writing is making us think a particular way and it is, in turn, creating a particular kind of mind. Writing involves some extra cognitive effort than mere thinking. The act of writing forces us to put down our assumptions and biases on the screen and this helps us to think logically. This is what social scientists call the Generation effect. Writing crystallizes the thought. The poet Cecil Day-Lewis said, “We do not write in order to be understood; we write in order to understand.” It is easy to win an argument in your head but quite difficult to do it when others are listening. Writing on the Internet is not your plain nineteenth century writing. It has a blend of the conversations that we closely recognize with ancient Greek societies which thought through dialogues. This is creating minds that are more accustomed to learning through debate and discussions. We have become more like Socrates and left Rodin, the Thinker behind. 

Clark and Chalmers do not consider all of our environment as an extended mind. The parts of your extended mind should be easily accessible & reliable. Internet data is getting cheaper every day, its access expanding to every corner of the country. The Internet speed is at an all-time high. This makes it qualify the accessibility condition. The Internet has truly become our extended mind. I use the Internet as a proxy for all technologies for two reasons. First, the Internet has engulfed all the mediums: text, audio, video & much more. Second, the future of technology is also the Internet. Today, we have the Internet of Information. Increasingly, we will have Internet of things. So, what the Internet does to the human mind & what we do with the Internet is a key to understanding the interface between technology & the human mind. We must celebrate our new-found superhuman capabilities. However, a word of caution is in order. John Culkin, a media scholar, once said, “We shape our tools and thereafter, they shape us.”

It is redundant to say that the new technologies are changing our minds. Almost everything changes our mind. It is because of our brain’s neuroplasticity, the ability of our brain to change itself during our lifetime. The more we do a particular task, the neurons involved get closely linked. The less we do it, the links fade away. Scientists explain neuroplasticity with a simple aphorism called Hebb’s rule, “Cells that fire together, wire together.” Marshall McLuhan, the media theorist, popularized the term “Medium is the Message” in his book ‘Understanding Media’. He understood that as every new medium comes into existence, people are enamored by its content: stories in the books, the news in the newspapers, commentaries on radio, shows on television and almost everything on the Internet. We are so engrossed in the flashy new content that the medium vanishes. McLuhan says that in the long run the content hardly matters. It is the medium that changes us.  Every medium brings with it a culture of thinking. The invention of the clock changed our conception of time. It encouraged punctuality. The invention of maps changed the way we perceive space. Books were the perfect mediums to train our mind to think in a linear way. Books only had texts written in them in a linear style. As we read books, our brains rewired themselves for parsing through long passages, thinking through logical arguments in an almost meditative manner. That was the long term impact of the technology of the book. The medium was the message and the message was clear: solitary, linear and almost meditative reading and hence similar thinking. The culture of thinking that the Internet encourages cannot be more different. Just try to read the news on the Internet. A traditional newspaper has text and images. The cognitive choices are simple: Read the headlines. If it interests you, read the news. Reading the newspaper online drains your cognitive energy. A free newspaper website usually has about 40% of its digital real estate covered with advertisement. These advertisements aren’t even static, they change every few seconds. This distracts our mind. Then you get the ‘news flash’ borrowed from Television news channels- a banner that shows you the breaking news. The webpage is strewn with hyperlinks. The problem with hyperlinks is that they do not just require the cognitive efforts of reading. The brain first assesses if the link is important. Then it decides if you should click on the link. This apparently requires the brain to work in a similar manner as when you solve a mathematical problem. Studies have shown that as the number of hyperlinks increases, our ability to understand a piece falls drastically. This is a good representation of the entire Internet. We can no longer sit alone & read for long. We have lost our abilities of ‘Deep Thinking’, a term used by Nicholas Carr. We are becoming suckers for irrelevant information. 

McLuhan also knew that if we outsource the functions of a body part, that natural part becomes ‘numb’. What he means is that with the invention of power looms, the weavers lost their manual dexterity. When we write on the computer for long, our hands lose their ability to write the beautiful cursive we were taught in schools. A modern farmer’s loss of his feel for the soil may just be an irrational nostalgia but when the technology ‘numbs’ our intellectual faculties, it should be a cause of concern.  Intellectual technologies like clock, maps, books or the internet cannot be easily abandoned once they are adopted. The intellectual technology once embraced becomes indispensable. Joseph Weizenbaum, one of the fathers of modern Artificial Intelligence, warned, “The introduction of computers into some complex human activities may constitute an irreversible commitment.” We usually encourage the effective product, the most user friendly product, one that makes our life easiest. We should be wary of which intellectual technologies we embrace because once we accept them, we may not remain in control for long. The lesson is simple: your devices should not make your life too easy. Cognitive diversity is equally important. You should not let your mind be dependent on such one medium. If you surf for an hour, take some time to read a book alone. It is the digital equivalent of walking in the woods after a long tiring day.


Meri Yaadon Ki Khuli Chaadarein

Music is a different language altogether & a very useful one. Sometimes, you feel things but you cannot translate them into words. It feels like an itch. You crave for that translation because until you do not understand what’s making you feel that specific emotion, you cannot go back to normal. And songs can help you with that. There is thing song I have been listening to for long that almost always makes me feel understood. I am attempting a shitty translation. Forgive me.

Man baawra man baavra maane naa maane naa
Meree yaadon ki khulee chaadarein gatharee baandhe naa
Meri daleelein kyoon naa maane
Usko yahaan koi manaane nahi aayega
Kaise sambhaloon man baawra man baawraa maane naa
Maane na..

My crazy heart
It doesn’t listen to me.
The memories of my past
are like open sheets of a blanket
It does not let me tie them up
It does not even consider my arguments
That no one shall come here to comfort him
How do I take care of this crazy crazy heart

Dil ka baksaa hai huaa khaali khaali
Itne jatan se rakhi khwaahishein thi
Phir bhi kyoon lagta hai ye bhaari bhaari
Ghamo se poora hai bharaa
Man meraa aisa hai dekho bholaa bhaala
Baitha hai khud pe hi ye lagaa ke taalaa
Kehta hai naa jaane kaise kho gayi chaabiyaan

The box that is my heart is now empty
With such care, I had kept all my wishes in it
But why does it still feel so heavy?
As if it is filled with sadness
My heart, you see, is a novice, an innocent chap
It is sitting there with a lock on itself
All it says he doesn’t know how he lost the keys

Khwaab ne kar liye bahanee
Ab to woh bhi tere sirhaane nahi aayegaa
Kaise sulaa doon man bawra man baawraa maane na..
Maane na..

The dreams too have conjured up excuses this time
I guess, they too shall not come to lie down beside me
How do I make it sleep?
My crazy heart
It just doesn’t listen to me.

P.S. Translating your favourite songs can be a therapeutic activity. I feel a little better actually.


Goodhart’s Law or How I might be lying to myself

I haven’t been studying as much as I should. Heck, I haven’t even been studying as much as I think I have been. In a week, I manage a day with 10+ hours of study, about 2 or 3 days with 7+ hours of study & the remaining days with less than 5 hours of study. With these efforts I wouldn’t even reach Delhi, let alone Mussoorie. But even these dismal numbers may be an overestimation of my personal productivity. 

The Tailless rats of Hanoi 

It was the year 1902. The French ruled Indochina, a group of colonies in Southeast Asia that included what is now Vietnam. With the French, came their toilets. With the toilets, came the rats. Apparently a 15-kilometre-long sewage pipeline was the exact thing that the rats of Hanoi had dreamt all their life. To deal with the rat menace, the authorities thought of a way out. They would pay the local population for every rat tail they brought to the authorities. What could go wrong?

Kill the rat, you feed yourself for a day. You don’t kill a rat but you just cut its tail & set it free, you feed yourself for life. That is exactly what the ratcatcher did. Rats from neighboring towns were imported so that their tails could be presented to the authorities. Some entrepreneurial minds even started breeding rats. The metric of rat tails instead of measuring the reduction in the population of rats ended up disincentivizing people from killing them. The measure had become a target and Goodhart has warned us that this is something we should avoid.

When a measure becomes a target, it ceases to be a good measure

Goodhart’s Law

This phenomenon is found in almost every field. For various reasons, the government of India likes to keep its fiscal deficits low. The point of having a low fiscal deficit is to ensure that the government isn’t spending a lot more than it can afford to. But this measure has become a target & the government has found various ways to keep the fiscal deficit low even if it is spending more than it should.

I have been using the pomodoro technique for the last 6 years and it has served me well. More number of hours studied at the end of the day gives me an indicator that I am on the right track. However, there are days when I am just too lazy to do the real work. As I just need to push up the number of hours, I have this habit of choosing the path of least resistance. So, sometimes I start reading a non-fiction book on a topic in syllabus & I count it in my total hours of study. Sometimes, instead of reading notes for two hours, I sometimes watch a video lectures on the same topic for four hours while being aware that the former two hours are at least twice as effective as the latter four.

I need a new measure. I’ve been thinking about it a lot. I have some ideas in my mind like giving different weightage to different category of study but for the time being, I’ll try to be mindful of this & try doing more of the real work. Let’s see how it goes.


Des Mera Rangrez

“So what good is farming? American seeds, American fertilizers. Pay for it, then pray for rain. They are shoving farming up our arse”, says a friend to Budhia clearly frustrated with the plight of farmers like him. Peepli live is a mirror. It tells you the way things are. As the curtain unveils, we see Nattha trying to run away. It turns out that it was a dream. Nattha and Budhia, are on their way back from a Bank. Budhia can’t pay his loan back and the bank is resolute to recover their money. As Budhia doesn’t sell diamonds, we know the bank will have their way. They are going to sell his land, the land that his forefathers had passed on to him, the land that was his only source of livelihood. The song that runs in the background is “Des Mera Rangrez ye babu”. We are not told if it was a dry season because it doesn’t matter. If it had rained and Nattha had a bumper crop, the prices would have plummeted and so would have Nattha’s income. In India, you don’t sow what you reap.  O, my dear India, you indeed are an artist!

“Des mera rang rez yeh babu
Ghaat ghaat yahan ghat ta jadoo
Gai bahad hai kankar shankar
Baat hai chhoti bada patangad
Arrey India sir yeh cheez durandar
Rang rangeela parja tantar”