Category Archives: Personal

All posts that are not related to work

Learning yet another new skill

About 3 weeks ago when the autumn festival was in full swing, away from home, in Bangalore I made my way to a maker space nearby to spend a weekend learning something new. In addition to the thought of spending a lonely weekend doing something new, I was egged on by a wellness initiative at my workplace that encouraged us to find some space away from work. I signed up for a 2-day beginner’s carpentry workshop.

 

workfloor
When I was little, I often saw my Daddy working on small pieces of wood with improvised carving tools to make little figurines or cigarette holders. The cigarette holders were lovely but they were given away many years ago, when he (thankfully) stopped smoking. Some of the little figurines are still around the house, and a few larger pieces made out of driftwood remain in the family home. However, I do not recall him making anything like a chair or a shelf that could be used around the house. In India, it is the norm to get such items made, but by the friendly neighborhood carpenter. Same goes for many other things like fixing leaking taps, or broken electrical switches, or painting a room. There is always someone with the requisite skills nearby who can be hired. As a result, many of us lack basic skills in these matters as opposed to people elsewhere in the world.

 

I did not expect to become an expert carpenter overnight, and hence went with hope that my carpentry skills would improve from 0 to maybe 2, on a scale of 100. The class had 3 other people – a student, a man working in a startup, and a doctor. The instructor had been an employee at a major Indian technology services company, and now had his own carpentry business and these classes. He had an assistant. The space was quite large (the entire ground floor of the building) and had the electronics lab and woodwork section.

 

We started off with an introduction to several types of soft and hardwood, and plywoods. Some of them were available in the lab as they were going to be used during the class, or were stored in the workshop. Rarer wood like mahogany, and teak  were displayed using small wooden blocks. We were going to use rubber wood, and some plywood for our projects. Next, we were introduced to some of the tools – with and without motors. We learnt to use the circular saw, table saw, drop sawjigsaw, power drill and wood router. Being more petite than usual and unaccustomed to such tools, the 400-600w saws were quite terrifying for me at the beginning.

 

clock
The first thing I made was a wall clock shaped like the beloved deer – Bambi. On a 9”x 9” block of rubber wood, I first traced the shape. Then used a jigsaw to cut off the edges and make the shape. Then used the drill to make some holes and create the shapes for eyes and spots. The sander machine was eventually used to smoothen the edges. This clock is now proudly displayed on a wall at my Daddy’s home very much like my drawings from age 6.

 

shelfNext, we made a small shelf with dado joints that can be hung up on the wall. We started off with a block of rubber wood about 1’6’’ x 1’. The measurements for the various parts of this shelf was provided on a piece of paper and we had to cut the pieces using the table saw, set to the appropriate width and angle. The place where the shelves connected with the sides were chiseled out and smoothed with a wood router. The pieces were glued together and nailed. The plane and sander were used to round the edges.

 

The last project for the day was to prepare the base for a coffee table. The material was a block of  pinewood 2 inches thick and 2’ x  1’. We had to first cut these blocks from a bigger block, using the circular saw. Next, these were taken to the table saw to make 5 long strips of 2 inch width. 1 of these strips had about 1/2 inch from the edges narrowed down into square-ish pegs to fit into the legs of the table. The legs had some bits of the center hollowed out to be glued together into X shapes. These were left overnight to dry and next morning, with a hammer and chisel, the holes were made into which the pegs of the central bar could be connected. Finally, the drop saw was used to chop off the edges to make the table stand correctly. I was hoping to place a plywood on top of this base to use as a standing desk. However, it may need some more chopping to be made into the right height.

 

trayThe final project was an exercise for the participants to design and execute an item using a 2’ x 1’ piece of plywood. I chose to make a tray with straight edges using as much of the plywood I could. I used the table saw to cut the base and sides. The smaller sides were tapered down and handles shaped out with a drill and jigsaw. These were glued together and then nailed firmly in place.

 

By the end of the 2nd day, I felt I was more confident handling the terrifying, but surprisingly safe, pieces of machinery. Identifying different types of wood or making an informed decision when selecting wood may need more practise and learning. The biggest challenge that I think I will face if I had to do more of this, is of workspace. Like many other small families in urban India, I live in an apartment building high up the floors, with limited space. This means that setting up an isolated area for a carpentry workbench would not only take up space, but without an enclosure it will cause enough particle matter to float around a living area. For the near future, I expect to not acquire any motorized tools but get a few manual tools that can be used to make small items (like storage boxes) with relative ease and very little disruption.
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Pride and Prejudice

One of the first things that you would notice if you walk into one of the mammoth old buildings around Dalhousie Square in Kolkata are the rows and rows of electrical cables that hang from various corners of the ceiling. The tangles would put to shame a highly intricate streamer decoration at a party.(see some here) They are dangerous, yet everyday people walk in and out or sit for hours under them without a stutter.

In some kind of graphical representation, that is probably what our country looks like. A montrosity thats bursting at its seams, waiting to spill out its contents and held together by a network of flimsy patches at various places. Yet, it stays in place. Just like inside those old buildings, people carry on with their lives nonchalantly. More as an existential pattern they have known for a lifetime. Any alternative is unknown or doesn’t seem to work (and i am guessing here) mostly due to a lack of familiarity. With a billion other people to fight against for a share of food, jobs, a berth on the train and everything else, life as we know it here in India is a constant challenge that most of us don’t really sign up for, but nevertheless accept because otherwise we may risk losing what we have managed to gather.

What breaks this mad rush are incidents induced by nature’s fury or misguided human fury. Like the other day. Bombs, in Mumbai (yet again). What followed was the usual round of calling up friends, family and other folks to check if things were ok. When things settled without the detection of any cause for alarm, one could divert their attention to the messages of wrath that started pouring on various timelines. Some called for an attack on the perpetrators, while others lamented upon the lack of tooth and nail within the general populace. Honestly, even I have felt the same way, when accosted by a situation grave enough to rattle me in some way. However, in most other cases I prefer to maintain a reserve. Not because I do not empathize, but rather I have inherited a trait from a parent who describes it as – unless there is a fully informed solution that has any practical implementation in a conducive environment, it is never a good idea to ramble opinions about sensitive matter. Well.. not in gentle company atleast.

A lot of people have questioned the effectiveness of our intelligence agencies and how porous our defences are that terrorists can make a serious attack with the least of efforts. Personally, I am not in a position or informed enough to provide a serious analysis of where the failure was and how things could be strengthened. Instead what I see is an unmanageable chaos. Stop for a moment and look around. What you’ll see is a unstructured mass – not just of tangible objects like people, vehicles, buildings, but a carefully nurtured cultural shroud that binds all of these. Call it rich Indian heritage, difference in castes, inequality of the classes, regional biases, the all encompassing ‘jugaad’ – in short the cultural fibre that dictates how the people of the land live with each other. And one of the things that rarely finds itself on this list is perhaps ‘respect’.

Its probably hard to describe how thats a conclusion I can come up with, except for the various instances that I see around me. Being a microscopic instance of a billion+ population, it comes down essentially to the equation of demand and supply. The more in number, the more devalued it is. In this case human lives. No one really cares about another person, because they have to struggle to ensure that atleast that one human life still gets a bit of importance – their own. Stretch it maybe a little further to family, children, parents, someone-who-matters. As long as this coocooned bunch is taken care of, nothing else matters. Trains can burn, young children can beg, a hapless guard can be yelled at, plastic bottles can be thrown into rivers, walls can be defaced, red traffic signals can be run over, a bribe paid, examinations cheated, or the nextdoor neighbour called a racist vile term.

Seriously, where is that element of respect that drives a community to stand up with pride and reclaim its glory. I find it really funny when people mouth the cock and bull statements about a ‘country that is unified in its diversity’. Bull crap. Define diversity – the politically correct regional culture or things that create differences worse than plague – religious rigidity, caste based divisions, financial demarcations, occupational supremacy…you name it and we have it. There is always a reason to disrespect the other person standing next to you. How would anyone be able to collaborate with harmony with people they don’t feel good about? Even if its for their own safety? I seriously don’t know. These differences have been passed on for generations and I don’t see it changing very soon.

Its probably like working at a place where you don’t care much about the work, but you get your paycheck at the end of month and go home happy as long as you get to buy that perfect pair of shoes or a crate of poison. Well.. as long as the next bomb doesn’t get you.

MIA

Just a general FYI (instead of emailing across a few dozen mailing lists) that I’ll be mostly offline for the next two weeks. So any bug, ticket, e-mail etc. waiting on me during this time may go unanswered. Thanks.

रंग्रेज़ मेरे

ये बात बता रंग्रेज़ मेरे
ये कौनसे पानि मे तुने कौनसा रंग घोला है
के दिल बन गया सौदाइ और मेरा बसंति चोला है

अब तुम से क्या मे शिक़वा करु
मैंने हि कहा था ज़िद करके, रंग दे चुनरि पि के रंग मे
करमुहे कपास पर रंग ये ना रुके
रंग इत्ना गेहरा तेरा कि जानो जिगर तक को भि रंग दे

Rangrez Mere from Tanu Weds Manu – sung by the Wadali Brothers

(There could be spelling errors as I am not much familiar with the written form of Hindi)

নববর্ষ – ১৪১৮

নূতন প্রাণ দাও, প্রাণসখা, আজি সুপ্রভাতে ॥
বিষাদ সব করো দূর নবীন আনন্দে,
প্রাচীন রজনী নাশো নূতন উষালোকে ॥

Sunrise – Norah Jones

This song by Norah Jones is one of my favourites. Besides her beautiful voice, I like the ‘farmville’-ish video that comes with it:

Sunrise, sunrise
Looks like mornin’ in your eyes
But the clocks held 9:15 for hours
Sunrise, sunrise
Couldn’t tempt us if it tried
‘Cause the afternoon’s already come and gone

And I said hoo…
To you

Surprise, surprise
Couldn’t find it in your eyes
But I’m sure it’s written all over my face
Surprise, surprise
Never something I could hide
When I see we made it through another day

And I said hoo…
To you

Now good night
Throw its cover down
On me again
Ooh and if I’m right
It’s the only way
To bring me back

Hoo…
To you
Hoo…