Wednesday, August 22, 2007

What's in a name? Crystal -I

What's in a name? That what we call a rose
By any other name would smell as sweet.
claimed Bernard Shaw.

Ha! I hear you clicking your tongue at my ignorance, muttering, "That was Shakespeare, you fool!" Don't worry, I know the quotation very well, and I always deliberately misattribute it because I want to make precisely this point: names are indeed (often) very important!

There are several examples that I can cite in different contexts-- in fact I had once contemplated writing a collection of short stories on this issue. But tonight I'll just tell you the story of my friend Crystal.

Crystal or Krystal or Chris (not to be confused with my Bavarian friend with the Swedish girlfriend) or Kris or Krish is one of the oldest friends I have whom am still in touch with. I met him when I was 11. We had moved to Delhi in 1985 and I joined the local Kendriya Vidyalaya (chain of schools all over India). Crystal was ill that week, but I heard about him from the others... a strange name. I asked the same question that everybody asked when they heard the name: is he christian? No, not at all. A few days later I met him too. I was a rather shy guy, and he approached me and made friends, I remember it was the games period.

We soon became good friends, close friends, and eventually "best friends" and our friendship became quite legendary in our class. We did have our fights, sulkings, quarrels but we both made up pretty soon. After two years, he moved to Madras where he stayed on until we both finished school in 1991 (I had moved to Calcutta by then), and then he moved to the US. After he moved to Madras, we met for a few hours in Delhi in the summer of 1989, in Bangalore for a couple of days in the summer of 1997, and a few months ago (end of May-beginning of June) we met again for a week here in Vienna (and Munich). I'll talk about that in a future post. But we have kept in touch... in the beginning it used to be an amazingly regular exchange of letters (Crystal attributes it to me), then an occasional letter, regular emails, occasional emails and finally an occasional email or a phone call. But we have kept in touch. He was one of the first six people I came out to (I forget the order, but he might have been the second or third).

Anyways, back to the name. Crystal comes from a Sindhi family and their extended family has this love for strange names. Apparently when he was born, an aunt of his was reading about crystallization, and so he was named Crystal. He has a cousin called Happy... they named him because he seemed very happy at the candles on the cake at a (his first?) birthday. I shudder to think of such relatives.

His name of course invariable caused a double-take . "Crystal?!" "That's an unusual name! Is he Christian?" "Why is your name Crystal?" Of course, fortunately for him, we were unaware at that time that in the West it is a girl's name, otherwise he'd have been teased a lot. He didn't really seem to mind his name though. I remember our Sanskrit teacher protesting about his name. He mentioned that his folks had been considering naming him "Kuldeep", and the teacher said she'd call him "Kuldeep". I don't think she ever remembered.
Even while in India, he sometimes used to write "Krystal" instead of sticking to "Crystal".

After he moved to the US, he started facing problems because of his name, because it is a girl's name. He began introducing himself as Chris. He mentioned he'd change his name to Kris or Krish. And he did change his name to Krish when he became a US citizen. Nevertheless he still continues to be confused about his name.

During their trip to this area in May, they were staying in a youth hostel (and I was staying with Chris and Stina) in Munich. When we went to look for him and his wife, Sheetal, at the youth hostel, we didn't know what his room number was. At the reception desk, I had no clue what he had given as his first name.
It was "Crystal".


Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Cars Fuelled by Air: Guy Nègre and MDI (updated Feb 08)

I had never heard of Guy Nègre and his company Moteur Developpment International until tonight when I read a Times of India article about the Tatas collaborating with them. It is fascinating-- Nègre has designed an engine that produces momentum by releasing compressed air instead of using combustion of fossil fuels as in other engines! And these air powered engines would be running cars. A huge drop in pollution! A huge reduction in dependance of fossil fuels. Reduction in costs. Wow!
Guy Nègre is based in Nice in southern France, their prototype factory is in southern France too (Nice?). The company is Luxembourg-based (tax reasons?) while the official representatives are based in Barcelona. Nègre has apparently had experience working with aeronautics and racing cars, and started the company in 1991 to develop his dual-energy engine which ran on petrol and compressed air, as a low-pollution engine. Some of the technical information about the engine can be found here (see remark on the links in the update at the bottom of the page) .
They are developing two kinds of vehicles, the first with limited use would only run on compressed air and would have a maximum speed of 50km/h-- thus probably used only within city limits. The second would run with a dual-energy system-- with compressed air for upto 50km/h and (fossil) fuel at speeds higher than that (or when the air cylinders are empty) and would have a maximum speed of 110km/h. There are several models under development.
The compressors can be recharged at envisaged gas stations-- 2 to 3 minutes for around 1.5 EUR. Alternatively, a built-in small compressor could be connected to a power supply and recharge the tanks completely in around 6 hours. A fully charged car can be driven for 200km.
Oil (1l vegetable oil) would need to be changed only every 50,000Km.
MDI asserts that the compressed air cylinders are completely safe because the same technology is used to carry liquid gas in buses, or used to transport methane, a flamable gas, and hence potentially explosive.
Another interesting feature would be its radio controlled (hence wireless) connections that would take care of headlights, dashboard lights, lights inside the car etc with a microcontroller.
Costs: The compressed energy only cars would be expected to cost upwards of around 6,860EUR while the dual energy cars around 9,460EUR upwards; plus taxes, minus subsidies.
They still have no idea when these cars would be available in the market. They also make a request:

We need, among other things, people to talk about the project. One way to help is by putting links to our web page on your site. If you are a journalist and can write an article about the car we would be grateful. Finally, if you know any businesspeople who you think might be interested in the project, speak to them about the possibility of participating.

If you have been reading all this, I would strongly urge you to check out their website (although I admit it isn't very easy to navigate).
This is technology of the future (near future actually) and needs to be supported. I am very glad that the Tatas are collaborating on this and are involving in financing this.
I am really excited about these cars.
Update 13 Feb 08: Late last year, I had seen rumours on the internet that the Tatas would release their air car in mid-2008, some even said that it would be announced along with their Nano. The Tata Motors was rather tightlipped, and instead commented that the technology needed further fine-tuning. Subsequently I read that the deal was that they could release it in India only after Nègre/MDI released it in the European markets. The BBC has an article today that says what this fine-tuning might be (I say this because I don't remember having read about this feature earlier):
For long journeys the compressed air driving the pistons can be boosted by a fuel burner which heats the air so it expands and increases the pressure on the pistons. The burner will use all kinds of liquid fuel.
Especially since I'm moving to India in a few weeks, I am really looking forward to this car. I had been hoping that they would start selling the hybrid later this year, and that'd be my first car. My cousin-in-law (who has a Tata car too) said that Tata cars are great, but aren't so great when they are first released. It might be more sensible to but a cheap car and by the hybrid a year or so after it is released. Let's see...
Further update: The MDI links don't work anymore. They have changed their website design, and the new site is absolute crap, totally devoid of any relevant information. I'll leave the links as they are, and change them later if I find better links.


Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Let's Talk About the Weather

No really, the weather... I do want to talk about the weather. In fact I was talking about it in another group-blog where one was supposed to talk about anything in an open thread and I blabbered about the weather, and then realized it wasn't quite the nonsense I'd intended to post, so I thought why not copy-paste it in my own blog. With some modifications.
I thought spring had followed after a mere two weeks of winter after Christmas (ok, there had been some snow in early Nov like every winter I have spent in Europe... nine of them). Even the allergic have started sneezing, so the flora must have started pollinating prematurely, and I was even told so by the Allergy Specialist I'd visited earlier this month (I was actually supposed to visit her after my allergy season got over, i.e., in June). But the weather forecasts said the temperature was supposed to go down today, and it was supposed to rain and then snow all night… and they've forecast snow all week. I’m sitting inside, so I don’t know whether it is colder now. No, I just checked-- doesn't really feel very cold outside. It hasn’t rained, at least not that I have noticed... no, I am quite sure it hasn't, and it has certainly not snowed yet. Probably tomorrow morning when I look out of the window, I’ll see snow all around.
I do like snow… good snow, not the slushy stuff that’s more rain than anything. But I do hate it when the snow melts under the traffic and refreezes in the morning to make crossing the slippery roads difficult. I also dislike bringing in a kilo of small stones with my shoes.. the stones that they scatter on the pavements to prevent people from slipping. But winter somehow doesn’t seem complete without snow and the cold any more. Am I actually looking forward to it?! Who would have thought?!
I met Othmar the other day in the underground station. He had threatened in 2005 that I would be persuaded to go skiing. When we met in summer 2006, he exclaimed that I had managed to lie low during winter just to avoid skiing (wasn't exactly true, but I wouldn't mind doing exactly what he accused me of). And there would be no escape for me this winter. So as I was saying, we bumped into each other on Thursday at the U-bahn station of the Westbahnhof and since I was early and was to wait for Fabien, and Othmar had time, we chatted for a bit. It was looking like there would be no winter and spring had started, I said gleefully, almost referring to the ski threat. He said no, he was convinced that it would get really cold in February and there would be snow. Lots of it. And then there would be no escape for me. We still have to see about that, but it certainly looks like it will snow sometime this week. If not tonight, perhaps tomorrow or later.
The weathermen here must be nervous. The forecasts haven't been that great of late. Large parts of Europe was reeling under storms (Kyrill) last week. We were supposed to get it on Thursday night. It was supposed to be terrible. I was up till 1 am on Thursday night (Friday "morning"), I could hear strong winds, but not much of the stuff that had happened in Germany. I didn't see much evidence in the morning either, although Martin at the lab said that he'd heard the storm all night, and that apparently it had been pretty bad in northern Austria. Well, one couldn't see much in Vienna. People were saying they were almost disappointed. I confess I was too. Kyrill had apparently moved on eastwards to the Czech Republic. Today's forecast was rain from the afternoon, turning into mild snow and proper snow at night. I can't be sure, but it doesn't look like there's been any rain, forget snow.
Austrians would of course be delighted. They can finally go skiing. They were all so glum because they couldn't go skiing nearby. The warm weather was also resulting in huge losses for the ski resorts, many of which had to transport snow from higher alpine regions. But apparently even that snow wouldn't stay because the ground was relatively warm.
This year they do expect weird weather. In fact according to the BBC, the UK Meterological Office says that this'll be the warmest year ever (in the UK? in Europe? in the World?), El Niño is to blame.
Ruben had offered to bring me Al Gore's film on Gobal Warming, but always forgets. The film apparently shook him. I should remind him again to bring it. Some really scary stuff has already started to happen. A 66 sq km chunk of ice was discovered in Dec 2006 to have broken off the Canadian Arctic in summer 2005. They fear it will float away during summer and cause havoc on oil and gas exploration, oil rigs, and shipping. Even otherwise this is scary. Apparently if the sea levels get higher as a result of melting ice, a large part Bangladesh would risk being submerged.
Europe is trying hard to do something about Global Warming. Hopefully they (particularly Angela Merkel's friendly relations with George W. Bush) and the newly muscled Democrats would be able to nudge a change in US policy.
It is almost 1:30am, and it has still not started snowing.
But we live in hope...
Update at 8:49 am:
1. It did snow last night, though probably not much... I can see some snow on the ground in the lawn in the University of Music and Performing Arts opposite my window.
2. BBC says today, Chief executives of some of the largest companies in the US have urged President George W Bush to introduce measures to tackle global warming.
Update on 5 Feb:
1. Minor editing and one major one-- I had attributed the film to John Kerry instead of Al Gore... I am of course talking about An Inconvenient Truth about Gore's campaign to get Global Warming recognized as an urgent problem.
2. It had indeed been snowing that whole week and on Friday Othmar called up at around 2pm to suggest that we go night skiing or snowboarding. I didn't have good enough arguments until he said that we'd have to start at around 4pm to get there... I got my chance... I had to be at work at least until 6pm! He sounded rather pissed off... poor chap :-)


Monday, January 22, 2007

Partners of Friends (updated)

We are friends with our friends not merely because we are fond of them, but also because we get along with them, find them interesting, can have great conversations with them, can gel with them, can trust them, can open up to them, and so on. Most importantly, in most cases our wavelenghts match, even though we may have serious disagreements.

Now what happens when these friends have partners or get married. Do we get along with these partners or spouses too? I have had mixed experiences. Meeting with the partners of two good friends in December and having diametrically opposite experiences made me realize how different this can be.

Hari was going to India, and was to go via Germany, meeting his old colleagues and also showing his wife the country he had lived in for more than four years. I hadn't met him for years, and had never met his wife. I was to visit a place near Karlsruhe for work around that time, and so I decided to go earlier and meet them in Berlin.
Hari's marriage had been an arranged one. He had seen photographs and had been talking to her on telephone for quite a few months. He finished his PhD, went back to India, met her in person, went out with her, and then got married. When he'd told me about these plans on telephone, I was skeptical about his optimism. I wasn't saying that it wouldn't work, but what if he was disappointed when he met her, or worse, disliked her? The wedding arrangements had been made, and knowing him, it'd be unlikely that he'd make them call it off. What then? We had a bit of an argument. Later I emailed him to apologise for being so cynical and he said I had been articulating things had been on his mind, and that was the reason he got irritated as well.
He got married, and they both went to the US. I kinda lost touch with him.
But he was going to be Germany, and we decided to meet.
Madhuri is lovely. I mean particularly as a person, although I do find her pretty too, with the Mallu eyes that I find so attractive in women. She is extremely friendly (I felt I'd known her all my life), has good sense of humour, is intelligent, makes good conversation, is fun, caring, and seems to be "one of our crowd". There was no hesitation on her part, and we got along very well immediately. They obviously enjoy each other very much. And I hope this is one of greatest successes of the arranged marriage system. I must say I am both relieved and very happy for Hari. We hung out for two days, had dinner, visited the Pergamon museum, loitered around Berlin, christmas markets etc and had a thoroughly good time. Although Hari and I are very good friends, we do have issues and have one or more fights every time we meet. This was the first time we didn't, I think thanks to Madhuri.
About to weeks later (after Christmas), Chris and his Swedish girlfriend came to visit me. Chris is 4-5 years younger than me, and I am very fond of him. We had met in Tübingen where he worked as a summer student, and we got along extremely well. We exchanged visits after that and travelled around Germany as well. He have very wide interests and is extremely well-informed and we can have those endless conversations about almost everything under the sun. His girlfriend, Stina, on the other had was one of the most boring creatures I have ever met. She was grumpy and had a thoroughly bored expression most of the time. Offered no opinions. Try as I might, I couldn't involve her in conversation... all questions and leads were dealt with using the minimum possible words. After several trials I just left her alone and almost ignored her. The only thing she really wanted to do/see is the Natural History Museum, but unfortunately it was closed most of the time they were there. We went around the city centre on the New Year Eve, through the crowds, stopping at the concerts on the way. Again she had no enthusiasm, opinion or interest in anything. We watched the fireworks with small bottles of champagne from the forecourt of the Austrian Parliament... it is elevated and hence offers a good view of the fireworks, but is not crowded as there are no concerts, shops or stalls around. And soon afterwards walked back because she was tired.
I thoroughly enjoyed Chris' company like before, I trust he enjoyed himself too. But I absolutely couldn't figure her. De gustibus non est diputandum, goes a saying in Latin: there should be no argument about taste, and I agree with it completely. But to be honest (and nasty to a dear friend), I absolutely can't fathom what he sees in her.
These were two of the most recent experiences and they struck me because they were within a few weeks of each other and so opposite to each other. But now that I think of it, spouses/partners of friends have been a mixed bag.
I got along with Ana, Rajeeb's girlfriend very well indeed. On the other hand I knew HRJ's hubby, Jeetu, much before she knew him and in fact he had even been my roommate for a considerable period. But I never really gelled with him. Even now, on rare occasions when I talk to him on the phone, we don't have much to say to each other. I have a similar problem with Trupti's hubby too, although we are able to talk a bit more . Clovis was one of my first gay friends in Vienna, and I get along very well with his boyfriend Michael, in fact I haven't met Michael in the absence of Clovis, but it is possible that we get along even better. Ralf, is an old friend too, and although his girlfriend Helia isn't as interesting to talk to, we still get along quite well. I met Will's ex-girlfriend, Sonia, when she moved to Heidelberg long before he did. We became good friends, much better friends than I was with Will. I am still in touch with Sonia, but have lost contact with Will.
But I guess this is not surprising. People are all different, look for different things in people. Some click, others don't. I am really glad that I clicked with Madhuri... it would have been a real shame if I had not got along with Hari's wife.
Update: I had visited Chris and Stina in Munich in summer 07. And surprisingly enough, I enjoyed Stina's company quite a lot. She was more talkative and more participating in our discussions. She mentioned in passing in a completely different context, that Swedes become unfriendly in winter and change their characters completely in summer. Since they had visited me in Vienna in the middle of winter that might have been a reason for her unfriendliness. That and she was a bit unwell, and she was meeting me for the first time. I'm still not a big fan of her's but I get along better with her.
Another spouse of a friend I recently met for the first time is Sheetal, Crystal's wife (the same summer-- I had gone to Munich to get them to Vienna). Although we differ in many ways, I got along quite well with her... probably more than with Crystal himself.


Sunday, January 21, 2007

Summer in My Veins: Nishit Saran

On an internet forum, someone had posted links to the late Nishit Saran's film, Summer in My Veins (1999) on YouTube. I had been wanting to watch this since years, but never managed to locate a copy or be near film festivals that screened it. So understandably I was thrilled to find these links.
I had read about Nishit's film soon after moving to Germany-- during the period I was coming to terms with being gay. He was a film-making student in Harvard and had made a documentary about his own coming out as gay to his mother... on camera. His mother was visiting from India to attend his graduation ceremony and an added complexity was that Nishit had had unprotected sex with a HIV-positive guy and was awaiting his test results. The reviews of the film were extremely positive, and the film had won quite a few awards. I was very keen to see this film. I had been thinking about coming out to my friends, was debating whether to ever come out to my parents, and this seemed to be a story that I could relate to (albeit not the HIV risk). I even remember hunting for and getting hold of Nishit's email address and writing an unfinished email to him about this. I never sent it.

Later, I remember I saw a couple of his articles on in its previous incarnation.

It was a shock when I read about his accident and death in 2003. He and his friends were in a car that was hit by a truck at a poorly lit intersection in Delhi. All of them were killed. He was only 26.

(I have never embedded movies on here, so I hope this works...)

Summer in My Veins (partI)

Summer in My Veins (part II)

Summer in My Veins (part III)

(I hope the person who has uploaded these doesn't remove them too soon.)

As a review very nicely puts it,

Summer in My Veins follows Saran’s double struggle, but the real stars are his mother and aunts, a randy, sophisticated trio who must translate their open, life-loving attitude into an embrace for their gay son and nephew. The mother’s reaction scene, particularly, is a subtly riveting "performance" of a kind that can’t be coached.

Google tells me that Nishit's family has started a foundation in his memory that is involved in

supporting young film makers, curating and traveling with Nishit’s films, beginning an annual film festival, and extending counseling vis-à-vis sexuality for parents.

It is really sad that India, and particularly the Indian gay community lost a promising film-maker. One can only imagine how much Nishit could have contributed had be not been snatched away at so early an age.