Why the railway signs in Bombay changed from Gujarati to Marathi, and why it’s now Mumbai

General

Have you wondered whether the city is “Bombay” or “Mumbai”? Here’s the violent, xenophobic history behind the change.

I was rewatching a Bollywood movie shot in Bombay in the 80s. In this scene, the two protagonists are at the train station waiting to go home. Notice the sign behind them. It says “Marine Lines”, which is the name of the station. Above it is the same name written in Marathi/Hindi (can’t tell which because they share the exact same script). Below that is the same name written in Gujarati. The non-English versions aren’t translations – they literally are the English phrases “Marine” and “Lines” spelt in a different script. If you have ever been to London, you will notice the similarity of the design to the ones used on the London Tube stations. This is because it was the British that introduced trains to India and borrowed the platform designs and signage directly from London.

Growing up in Bombay, you ended up speaking at least 3 languages, if not more. And you were exposed to a huge subset of the 26 languages and 1000+ dialects spoken across India. Bombay used to be a state. And Bombay city was its capital (Like NY & NYC). It used to be the center of the British Empire in India. It had been a marshy no-land with scattered fishing villages which the British inherited from the Portuguese via a dowry. Over the years they slyly converted this possession into an advantage and basically expanded and took over the Portuguese held regions around (Bandra and further south). They introduced commerce and in came the merchants and businessmen and workers from all over the country and Bombay became a metropolis.

After India became independent in 1947, for 13 years Bombay state existed as a large state which only in 1960 was split into the two current states of Gujarat and Maharashtra. This railway sign in the picture reflects this history of Bombay as a city that was built by the British and had people from both Gujarat and Maharashtra.

When Bombay state was being split, there was a lot of debate on which state should Bombay city now belong to? (Imagine NY being split into two states, how would one decide where NYC would go?). Bombay was unlike anything else in these states. It was very cosmopolitan, had people from all over the world that called it home. It didn’t share much identity with either of those states. A lot of people argued it should become a Union Territory (e.g. like DC). Eventually, given that it is geographically surrounded by Maharashtra, it was decided it would become part of it. In fact, now Bombay is the capital of Maharashtra state.

It was all good for some time. When this movie was shot, you can see evidence that Bombay’s history was intact in the 80s. Things changed in the 90s. There was a political party, the Shiv Sena, that mainly claimed to represent the people of Maharashtra. They started using xenophobia, violence and strong-arming to become important. They created a narrative that people from Gujarat, people from North India and the Muslims had taken over Bombay. They started claiming that Maharashtra and the people born in Maharashtra had the first right to Bombay and if you were Muslim or Gujarati or North Indian, you were second class citizens. They argued against “immigration” into Bombay. I put that word in quotes because India, like all other countries guarantees free movement of its citizens within its boundaries. What they were asking for was unconstitutional.

They stayed a fringe para-militant political party without much power. But the more they wielded their power, the more they physically attacked people, forced shut downs, vandalized business the more they seemed to become popular. They seemed to have touched on some pulse which made enough people of Maharashtra start supporting them. Maharashtra has a very strong culture, a long history and a lot of richness in art and literature. People from Maharashtra are among the kindest, good hearted people one can know. It was shocking when the Shiv Sena, for the first time ever, got control of Maharashtra and Bombay.

Then began the ‘saffronisation’ of Bombay. They decided to re-write history and claim that Bombay always was part of Maharashtra and the former Maratha empires. It wasn’t. Maratha empires were centered around Poona and other major cities like Vasai, Bharuch etc. Bombay was a marsh land with some fishing villages that had been ignored by everyone until the British came along. But it didn’t matter. They renamed it to “Mumbai”, the Marathi word for it. Along with this, they renamed a lot of historical buildings after Maratha rulers. We ended up with the airport and the train station having the exact same new name. They rewrote all signs across the city. Businesses could no longer use English scripts on their signs unless they also used Marathi script.

I was 13 when this happened. It was shocking to everyone. How can a democracy empower an extreme right-wing party with a history of violence? How can democracy stand by as history is being erased and re-written? How can democracy stand by when everything you stand for is slowly being dismantled? The name change is a clearly quantifiable, measurable impact of the Shiv Sena. But think about all the unmeasurable things that changed as a result of this. It changed the city. It changed everyone’s sense of identity. People protested, of course. I remember that we were able to block the proposal that would have changed all the city buses from the color red to the color saffron. There were many such battles. Some were won by the people. But most were lost.

This is why liberals in India still refer to the city as Bombay. It can feel very confusing to foreigners who want to do the right thing. My advice is, don’t worry. Just call it Mumbai and no one will mind. But don’t be surprised if many Indians still call it Bombay. “Bombay” stands for the cosmopolitan, global city that was taken over and stripped of its identity by a regional political party. To this day, if a celebrity uses the word “Bombay”, or if it’s used in say a movie, the Shiv Sena threatens, vandalizes or punishes them. Saying the word “Bombay” is also an act of defiance, of resistance to the violent, xenophobic narrative that doesn’t represent Bombay or its people.

See how that same train station signed changed in the 90s. Now, the largest size text is in Marathi. The text above is in Hindi (they look identical because the script is identical). The English text is now at the bottom. And there is no Gujarati anymore.

How we organize and store our backcountry gear at home

General, Travel

There are two main reasons why it helps to neatly organize backcountry gear:

1) everything in its place and a place for everything makes it easier to find things and you “lose” things less often

2) unpacking completely and packing each time before an outing ensures full awareness of the gear on you, important discussions about choices to make, an opportunity to inspect things and better chance at weight management.

We move around a lot so our solution had to be portable and modular, nothing could be too heavy to lift or carry, and transparency and easy access was important. Here’s how it works.

The main building blocks of this system are the 6 plastic bins. We shopped around for the right size – these fit very well inside a closet, are shallow enough to make sure everything is visible, and roomy enough that hiking poles and ice axes can also fit it, along with sleeping bags and tents. It’s very hard to overload them, so anyone can carry them comfortably with two hands when moving.

All personal hiking stuff (layers, gloves, hats, sunscreen, gps etc) goes into one bin. All personal climbing stuff (helmet, prussiks, belays, pulleys) goes into the other. One bin contains all the group gear (tents, ropes etc) and the other contains food, meds etc (food backs, stove, blue bags, wipes etc).

The backpacks are always completely emptied, nothing in any pockets. And they are hung on the hooks, which frees up all the space above and below them for other storage.

The top shelf contains the snowshoes, hiking boots, climbing boots, shovels, ice axes.

Hanging in the middle are the various upper layers – fleece, soft shell, goretex shell, down jacket.

Before a trip, the bins all come out and are opened and then we pick what we need from each one based on the checklist.

Con: Drawers would be easier. But it would make it very hard to move. So it was a necessary compromise

What do you think?

Shooting the lava flows in Hawai’i in 4K HDR

General, Travel

I spent several hours near the volcanic lava flows in the Big Island of Hawaii. I am trying to share those videos in 4K HDR and it’s been fascinating to learn how hard it is to access today as different OSes and devices will render a different variant depending on various factors.

Here’s the 4K HDR version. If you are on a phone, open this in an app as the browser might cap out at a lower fidelity version.

And here’s the regular version to compare. If you see no difference between the two, then you are viewing them both in standard dynamic range.

Trump’s influence trick: simply evaluating a lie can make us believe it

General

If someone was to ask us, “have you ever seen a monkey wearing a pink bikini and red lipstick?”, we’d probably say no.

But to come up with the “no”, here’s the mental process we usually follow. We imagine a monkey, a pink bikini, and red lipstick. Then we check, how “hard” was it to make this association in the head. If it required some mental effort to put it together, we assume that we have never seen this before. And so we say no.

If we were asked the same question 6 months later, “have you ever seen a monkey wearing a pink bikini and red lipstick?”, we may again say no.

Now, if someone asked the same question a year later, we’d do the same mental process. But this time, it will be somewhat “easier” to imagine a monkey in a pink bikini wearing red lipstick. The readiness with which we can “recall” this image will trick our mind into saying “maybe” or even “yes”.

You see, truth requires too much chemical energy to verify. So we have come up with shortcut strategies like “time to imagine”. They mostly work, but can be easily hijacked.

If someone wants to turn us against wind power, and they make the real claims like “it requires a lot of expensive storage”, then they are speaking to our intellectual brain (System II). But this brain often has too much inertia and is harder to influence. But if someone makes an audacious claim “wind noise causes cancer”, it goes to our intuitive brain (System I). This part of our brain has no defense mechanism and offers little barriers to influence. We can’t “unsee” things.

This is how opinions can be influenced. By introducing doubt and creating new associations in our heads. The more outrageous the claim, the further deeper into “enemy lines” it can travel.

We may blame Trump, but this also just shows he really knows how people’s minds work and how media works. The Washington Post, The Hill, Newsweek, are all “working” for him. Every news outlet is actually talking to this System II inside our head and doing Trump’s bidding.

Take your favorite publication and see how they have covered this story. See the headline. If the headline contains the word “cancer”, Trump has totally played them. I am sharing this as a response to his outrageous claim. In some ways I am being played too! I’m reinforcing the wrong association he wants us all to make. This is recursive, inception-type stuff 😂

A year from now, if someone were to ask us, “do windmills cause cancer”, our gut intuitive response might be “maybe”, until our intellectual mind will step in and correct us. Associations form very easily and are hard to undo. “Windmills do not cause cancer” still doesn’t undo anything. If anything, it also reinforces the association.

Reclaiming the gender neutral meaning of “man” and “hom”

General

Today I learned that in Old English the words “wer” and “wīf” were used to refer to “a man” and “a woman” respectively while “man” meant a “human being” or “person”.

This reminded me that in Sanskrit we use the word “manus” or “manav” to refer to “human”.

And then I checked that in Latin, “manus” means “hand”.

In recent times, the generic meaning of “man” has declined (but is still continued in compounds “mankind”, etc.). The same thing has happened to the Latin word homo: in most of the Romance languages, homme, uomo, hombre, homem have come to refer mainly to males, with a residual generic meaning. The exception is Romanian, where om refers to a ‘human’, vs. bărbat (male).

We can make our language more gender neutral by accelerating the distortion of the root “man” and replacing mankind with humankind, man with person etc. We could also make our language more gender neutral by reclaiming the original meaning of the word “man”.

Thoughts?

“Fire is the test of gold; adversity, of strong men.” – Martha Graham

“Security is mostly a superstition. It does not exist in nature, nor do the children of men as a whole experience it. Avoiding danger is no safer in the long run than outright exposure. Life is either a daring adventure, or nothing.” – Helen Keller

“The goal of education is not to increase the amount of knowledge but to create the possibilities for a child to invent and discover, to create men who are capable of doing new things.” – Jean Piaget

“Nearly all men can stand adversity, but if you want to test a man’s character, give him power.” – Abraham Lincoln

“Wisdom, compassion, and courage are the three universally recognized moral qualities of men.” – Confucius

“There is nothing noble in being superior to your fellow men. True nobility lies in being superior to your former self.” – Ernest Hemingway

“We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal; that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights; that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” – Thomas Jefferson

Poznań at Sunset

Photo

Labels are very tricky to navigate, especially through the lens of history. Poznań is the chief city in the historical region called Wielkopolska (Greater Poland) which used to be at the heart of the 10th century Polish state. After more than a century of partitions between the Austrian, the Prussian, and the Russian imperial powers, Poland re-emerged as a sovereign state at the end of the First World War in Europe in 1917-1918. By then the capital of Poland was Warsaw and Greater Poland (which had now been under Prussian rule for a long time) was won back in the Greater Poland Uprising of 1918. Following the German invasion of 1939, Greater Poland was again taken over and now incorporated into Nazi Germany. Poznań was declared a German stronghold city in the closing stages of the war, being taken by the Russian army in the Battle of Poznań, which ended on 22 February 1945. Since then, Poznań has been back in what we today recognize as Poland. And this is what it looks like at sunset ☺️

Total Net Worth of US billionaires 2018

General

No real opinions here, none held strongly, just some observations I recently made about the scale of some of the numbers I was interested in, with some quick thoughts added. I couldn’t find this data easily, so I had to compile it from the list here.

US Billionaires 2018

Total Count: 585

Avg Age: 68

Median Age: 68

Avg Net Worth: $5.29B

Median Net Worth: $2.80B

Total Combined Net Worth: $3.096T

US Federal Budget

FY17 Revenue: $3.316T

FY17 Spending: $3.982T

Deficit: $(666B)

To simply put this in perspective, if the all the present billionaires in the US liquidated and gave away their entire wealth, it would:

1) Fund the US Federal spend of 2017 for 9 months

2) Fund the US Federal deficit for 4.6 years

Other things to observe

Most of the increase in wealth of the wealthy comes from investments and capital returns, and these are not subject to income tax. They are subject to capital gains tax, which after 1 yr of holding assets are limited to 20%.

As an example, if you had enough cash lying around that you could bet on cryptocurrencies when they were just a fad, you could’ve made 1000+% return on your investment in 2-3 yrs, yet paid only 20% tax on it. In fact, the average return on a class of crypto investments made in 2017 was a whopping 136,000 percent. Yes, those are 3 zeroes. Yet, you’d only owe 20% capital gains tax on that, regardless of your income level or net worth.

On less volatile assets, if you had $1bn invested in the S&P 500 in 2013, by the end of that year, it would’ve grown to $1.3bn. So you’d have earned $300M in one year, just with the capital you had lying around. And regardless of your total net worth or your income level, you’d just pay a capital gains tax of $20% on it.

These are some ways how the rich keep getting disproportionately richer.

Not leaving things unsaid can be a good strategy

General

We were once stuck in a snowstorm. It was pretty bad. We knew there was a big chance we wouldn’t make it. We had time to confront the situation and talk about it. And we both said that we had no regrets in life, there was nothing left unsaid, nothing left undone, and we were ready for the end if that’s what this was going to be. It was an interesting way to feel validation for the habits and values we have tried to have.

A strategy for always maintaining space for the self

General

It’s easy to get overwhelmed by competing priorities and obligations and when we can no longer find time to reflect we can end up in a reactive mode. I have tried to counter that by creating habits and have lately ended up in a scheduling practice that looks like this:

I block out my schedule for the beginning of the day, the week, the month and the year. Creating that space helps me make sure that I’m listening to myself clearly. And it also gives me the clarity and focus to prioritize and make progress on things that are of the highest value to me.

This ensures that my actions and work come from a place of assuredness and confidence and I don’t feel like I am putting things off that need attention for too long.

E.g I spent the first day of this year alone, by myself, in the Russian Tundra, and got lucky enough to see the Northern Lights. It was a very rejuvenating and energizing experience and the perfect way to start the year!

Offsetting CO2 from flights

Travel

So if you are a frequent flyer types, here’s some quick back of the envelope math.

About 50k miles a year usually corresponds to gold status with most airline programs (star alliance, skyteam etc). I haven’t done any rigorous calculations yet but it appears that flying that much would generate about 13 tons of CO2. Now offsetting your footprint is ridden with a lot of moral questions and arguments that I am not going to get into. But it seems to cost about $10-$25 to offset 1 ton of CO2. So if you fly 50k miles a year, that’s about $200/yr to offset it all, give or take. Put another way, a single San Francisco to London round trip will be about 3 ton of CO2, offsetting which will cost around $50.

So in general, for about 5% of your economy ticket price, you can do some good that kinda seems to even out among some dimensions you choose.

I don’t know of good options to do that but I ended up using GoldStandard just to try it out in case anyone is interested. And if someone knows some other offsetting resources they like, please share!