Into the mind of a believer

Those who follow me on Facebook would have frequently seen my lengthy discussions with my old classmate Stephen Raj.

And these discussions revolve around the same topic – the age old debate on reason vs. faith. (I have a feeling Steve wouldn’t approve of the way I have pitted reason against faith.) Over the years we have had debates which usually bring in audience (usually the same people) from either sides of the fence.

And like most things that go on for years, things are getting repetitive. We argue over the same points, often forgetting where we (leave alone the other) stand on a particular issue or question. So to address both these problems I thought I would create a ‘sticky’ post that captured both sides into a single post that we could refer to in the future. Of course, if Mr. Zukerberg had built even a basic search option in Facebook, there would be no need for all of this.

Instead of combing through our old posts, I thought it might be a good idea to start from scratch, and not just copy paste old posts. And to keep things ‘cleaner’ and more focussed, I decided to interview Steve. What we have below is the transcript of the interview as it stands today. 

We had some ground rules to start out with, and made up a few along the way.

Rule #1:  Vikram will not present any evidence contrary to Stephen’s beliefs.This is about his beliefs, not mine.

Rule #2: Steve has the option to opt for ‘off-the-record’ for some answers. These are not to be published on my blog.

Vikram: Would you say you believe in God

Stephen: Yes

V: Define God. Is it a sentient being? An abstract construct of man?

S: I believe God is a sentient being.

V: And does this being physically live in our known universe?

S: No idea

V: ok. Can I assume then that such a being, who may or may not live in our time-space might not necessarily be a physical presence?

S: Yes. Physicality is what I didn’t research on…but I am inclined to say. Not physical. Physical in the sense. Human flesh and blood

V: Yes. That is what I mean too. And you believe that this being – god, has created our known universe. I.e. all the stars, planets, life on earth, and literally everything.

S: I believe this God is the mastermind behind all the science that is out there in the universe and this God was the creating force behind all that is out there.

V: Do you believe that god – for whatever reason – transcends our understanding of space and time i.e. it is not governed by the laws of physics that we understand.

S: Out of space and time ..yes. Not governed by laws of physics.. I am not sure.

V: I am imagining some being close to the ‘5 dimensional’ people in Interstellar. Not sure if you have seen the movie. Would an ‘alien race’ i.e. A sentient being not of our known planet, or even universe and technologically leagues ahead of us fit your definition of god?

S: Didn’t see that movie. Sounds like god.

V: In that movie those beings were humans from the future, who have evolved beyond their current form. Since god could be an alien race, do you see the possibility that there are multiple ones? A whole race, perhaps billions of them?

S:Umm.. From a rational perspective, anything is possible. From a christian perspective, we don’t know anything abt outer space. As far as we know God is the guy out there.

Vikram’s side note [ I decided not to pursue the ‘rational vs. christian’ angle that Steve mentions.]

V: I am only interested in what you believe… We haven’t touched Christianity or even religion yet

S: Right now I’m in a phase questioning both sides. So can’t really pin point what I think

V: Ok. We can put a pin on this and get back to it later. What do you think God’s intent was in creating this universe?

S: so..what was god’s intent. Its more like why a man has children of his own…to love and be loved back..and have a communion ..a family.

V: When a human has a child its to propagate his race. So are you saying this is simply a satisfaction of a biological need?

S: No. I didn’t have a child because I have to but because I wanted to. Hope that answers it. And i think we are not biologically similar to God.

V: Since we are not biologically similar to god, can I compare this more to keeping a goldfish than having a baby? Or a scientific experiment.

S: More like a gardener tending his garden.

V: So would you also be willing to consider the possibility of other life forms in other planets/galaxies/universes?

S: May be.

V:  Ok. Since most gardeners don’t just have one plant. What about the possibility of other hyper evolved alien species which may have similar advanced capabilities like the God that created humans or our universe?

S: No idea

V: I didn’t understand. Am not asking if there are other alien races. Am asking if you think that is a possibility.

S: Ok. Anything is possible. I can’t say anything about it because there is nothing for or against it in any of our literature or school of thought.

V: Let’s step into science a little bit okay?

S: Yep

V: Would you say you are scientific? have a scientific bent of mind that is

S: Sure

V: Why do you think so?

S: I believe in everything that reason and logic attest to.

V: What is it that appeals to you about science?

S: No appeal. i think we are rational and logical beings and so we follow.

V: Since I also know you to be a man of faith, what is the weakness or gap in science that you feel faith addresses?

S: So gaps that faith can address? Many right.. ?? How about these for example:

1) Existential Truth: Science cannot prove that you aren’t merely a brain in a jar being manipulated to think this is all actually happening. (Think of something like in “The Matrix”.) It also cannot prove that the world wasn’t created 5 minutes ago with the appearance of age (and with fake memories in your head, and half-digested food in your stomach, etc). However it’s still rational to believe that our memories are true and that the world is real.

2) Moral Truth: Science cannot prove that rape is evil. While it is possible to demonstrate, for example, that there are negative physical or psychological effects of rape, there is no scientific test that can prove it is evil. Science can describe how the natural world is, but moral truth carries an “oughtness” (how things should be) about it that goes beyond what merely is.

3) Logical Truth: Consider the statement “Science is the only way to really know truth.” How could you prove that statement by science? It is actually self-refuting because there is no scientific test you could use to prove that it is true! Science cannot prove logic to be true because it assumes and requires logic in order for it to work.

4) Historical Truth: Science cannot prove that Barack Obama won the 2008 United States presidential election. There is no scientific test we could perform to prove it. We could have an investigation if we wanted to confirm that he did actually win, but the method for proving historical truths is different from testing scientific truths since historical truths are by nature non-repeatable.

5) Experiential Truth: Science cannot prove that your spouse loves you. When asked why so-and-so loves you, you may cite precedent (times when their behavior demonstrates their love for you) but this is a particular type of historical truth. There is no scientific test that can confirm a lifetime of experience of knowing a person.

V: If I can flip the question around; Faith is a ‘wildcard’ (to use a computer term). i.e. you can use it to explain everything. So my question to you is, what are the gaps in faith that also makes you turn to science?

S: You are looking at both of them as different operating systems for one purpose…and trying to chose the best..I dont see them that way.

Can we apply this question to reason and emotions. I think not. in the same way science is different and faith is different. they are not trying to answer the samething..although they might overlap a lot.

V: fair enough.I don’t want to jump into religion just yet, but want to touch upon it for a bit, If the creator(s) – a supernatural being, alien race, or whatever created the universe, Is there a chance that it is dead?

S: Death is the end of biological life. So I don’t think we apply that concept to supernatural being s. I think that this being is an infinite being. No death.

…to be continued


Wishlist 2015-16

Sometimes it feel like these annual tradition‘ posts might end up being the lone warrior keeping the blog alive. I just wish at least one year someone (other than the wifey) decides to look at this and buy me something from the list… Am looking at you.

Before we get to this year’s wishlist, let’s look at where we stand with last year’s. We had a very ambitious list which was not very well thought out. So here goes nothing.

House Believe me when I say that when typing this in last year’s list, our plans were in the “Should we begin to consider buying a home”.

I am happy to say that this is one big check mark. We moved into our new apartment at Luxor just 4 days ago (19th October).


Car I had been itching for a new car, but owing to being away from Hyderabad, I could not sell the old Santro, so stuck with the sturdy girl. To this day.

But we do have a car coming in. Just some paperwork between me and the shiny new Ford Aspire. So another big check mark here too. Who would have thunk it? Certainly not me.


HTC Volantis The Nexus 9 turned out to be a stinker. But that doesn’t mean I went with another tablet. We stuck it out with Tvisha’s tablet, and even she seems to have outgrown it.


Do I still need one? Let’s see.


NextPhone I think I had my Nexus 5 when I posted this. And the Nexus 5 remains by favourite phone ever. But since the Nexus 6 was a stinker too, I went with OnePlus, something I haven’t been too happy about.  I expect a phone in this year’s list as well.

Status? Since the list just said ‘next phone’ (with good reason), my OnePlus One counts, and so a check mark.


Kindle Wifey gifted this one.  Very very happy with it. Very.


Android Wear Gifted me a klunky LG Gwatch last Christmas. Not exactly the most stylish watch, in fact it very well might be the most unstylish watch ever. But the aim was to check out Android Wear, so check mark me up again.


This was probably the best year for wishlist fulfillment, pity I didn’t put in a cure for cancer and world peace in that list. And knowing me, these won’t make this year’s list as well.

In case you didn’t know, I dont start writing these with the list all in my head. Every single time, its me thinking “what else would I buy if I had the money” with my hands on the keyboard. That explains why the lists of late struggle to reach 10 items, even though during the course of the year I must have bought crap loads of..crap. So this year, I am thinking I will take a few days to fill up this list.

NextPhone That was an easy one. It probably will be on next year’s list as well.

I have the Nexus 6P in mind now. So let’s see what happens.




A 4K large screen TV would be good no?
Sound System Thinking of a particular Philips one, hope I bite the bullet.
AndroidWear The current gen watches don’t offer anything other than better looks compared to my Gwatch, and AndroidWear is still doesn’t have a very compelling use case. But when/if it does, I would want to upgrade.


Massager Always mooched a foot massage in the mall, and always craved one. The top o line ones are too damn expensive though. Maybe I will settle with a Chinese knockoff…and maybe regret it. Let’s see.


Tablet I want to have a tablet on the fridge, and have some ideas for it. This would probably be a cheap tablet, or maybe I can use Tvisha’s tab and buy her a shiny new one.


2nd TV We have a place for it in our bedroom, but don’t need one since we watch stuff on our phones (thanks to Ogle). But this might be useful during Game of Thrones season.


AC Oh yes! This is actually a ‘must buy’. We need new ACs for the new house. Would be surprised if this one didn’t make it.


Smoothie Maker You know I have a weakness for things advertised on shopping channels. The Magic Bullet is something I have been craving for. J I am going to regret this one for sure.


Espresso Machine I bought a really cool one during my first job. Loved making frothy steamed coffee. I think its time for an encore.

Well what do you know? I was able to list out 10 things in 1 sitting. I was about to put in a gaming console, then realized I already bought one (it wasn’t on last year’s list, but was on the list for 2013 I think).

And for my generous friends reading this (again, I mean you), do consider these, I have a birthday coming up shortly.

To hang, or not to

That, is now a moot point. Because as the newscasters are updating us minute by minute, Yakub Menon – one of the accused in the 1993 Mumbai blasts (we have to name the year since we have had so many) was ‘hanged to death’ earlier today.

Social media of course has latched on to this story, talking about justice finally prevailing, and also of minorities being persecuted in this country. Some thoughts on this which I have put below in my now favourite format for posting.

  • I personally  am undecided about death penalty. Studies have shown that death penalty doesn’t act as a deterrent and has no impact on crime rates.  But putting the guilty to death gives closure to the affected people – revenge is a natural instinct, like love.  Purely from an economical point of view, it is ‘cheaper’ to kill a guy than house him in a prison and feed him for decades. When it comes to death, there is no ideal answer, we need to pick the least sucky option.
  • Keeping the debate on capital punishment aside, one disturbing trend is the live blogging, live tweeting, and live everything of a person’s death. Sure, many of us might be happy since moments of justice being served are few and far – but making a spectacle of a death sentence is barbaric. Let’s not become Saudi Arabia.
  • Like everything else in this country, this death too brings on the debate of ‘communalism’, neatly packaged into a hashtag #DeathOfSecularism. If hanging a muslim who was partly responsible for the blasts (btw, its only his degree of involvement that is in question, not whether he was responsible or not) is #DeathOfSecularism, can we please use the same hashtag when our dear Bhaijaan gets off scot free after moving down people?
  • For those who are mourning the death of Yakub, may I suggest a small trick to make you feel better. The blasts killed 350 people, this is something we have accepted and the wounds have healed. Simply adjust the number to 351.  “351 innocent people died in that horrid incident with 1 of them being not so innocent.” Doesn’t that make you feel better? No? Aw shucks!
  • But I do agree with one point raised by those against the hanging. If Yakub was ‘partly responsible’ for killing hundreds, we have quite a few of such who are sitting in parliament – in power and in opposition. If he is branded a terrorist (with good reason), there is no reason why justice shouldn’t be served to them too.

Baahubali – Quick Thoughts

Edit: Added a sentence on Tammanah’s character.


This is not a review. I repeat. This is not a review. Just some thoughts on the movie neatly put into a bulleted list. If this was in a PPT, the slide title would have been… you guessed it, NOT A REVIEW.

  • I was very curious about the quality of VFX. Mainly I wanted to see if it was ‘great’ or ‘great by Indian standards’ because let’s face it, the Indian standard for VFX does not match up even to American VFX on TV. (Please refer Exhibit A: Game of Thrones, and Exhibit B: The Walking Dead)
  • The movie opened with the now famous scene of saving a baby. Ramya Krishnan stands under a massive waterfall that would makes the Niagara seem like an overflowing overhead tank in comparison. This was my first test of the CGI. The waterfall by itself was fantastically recreated, but a glaring omission dampened the effect for me. There was not a hint of a mist and spray which should have covered the entire area.  I could only imagine her standing in front a Green Screen once I realized that.
  • Another irritation was a water marked ‘CGI’ lettering that comes up on the lower left. Since I noticed this only in sequences which had animals, this is presumably to placate animal rights activists (and hobby protesters). In any case, I can empathize with why the director chose to do this, but it (and the on-screen alcohol and cigarette warnings) irritate me.
  • My verdict on the VFX: Inconsistent.  Some sequences are truly world class (not just by Indian standards), while others aren’t. But I have to say there have been Hollywood movies with FX that don’t match up to this.
  • The battle sequences were amazing, and I was happy that they didn’t rip-off the LoTR (No! A scene showing a large army cannot be copyrighted by Peter Jackson).
  • Speaking of the battle, if you are forming a ‘defense’ with your shield, and you are shocked that the enemy thinks of using a battering ram to break into the ‘wall’, I don’t know how you made your ranks up the army.


  • I read that this movie was originally supposed to be in 1 part, but was split into 2 since the scale and scope demanded it. This meant one of 2 things, either the director made the right decision since the story indeed is too long to be told in one stretch (case in point, Kill Bill volumes 1 and 2), or would be padded up with fluff to stretch it out (cough! Hobbit! cough!)
  • This to me was the best part of the movie. Running 10 minutes short of 3 hours, I was pleasantly surprised at the pace. Except for the ‘item number’ (which I used for a toilet break) the movie didn’t slacken even for a moment. The director obviously made the right choice in splitting the movie.


  • With an array of actors, would the presence of each character be justified, or would it be token presence like say Hey Ram! (Fun fact: Hema Malini was in that movie)
  • Of course, Prabhas and Rana hog much of the screentime, but all characters had their fair share (and more). Tammanah gets to do more in her first 10 minutes of screen time here than the rest of her career (beyond the 10 minutes though, her role is decorative).  Her character is caught in a net in a sequence which reminded me of this hilarious scene from Kung Pow ( See here and here) Also her character is almost raped by the hero which of course makes her fall completely in love with him and hand over the reins to her lifelong goal to the rapist she met 10 minutes ago. Expect a panel of 22 people to shout about this with Arnab soon.
  • Anushka has a lucky mole or charm with her I am sure. She has consistently managed to get women oriented roles, and even in a star studded movie like this, her character stands on her own. I was also surprised that she got a better ‘entry’ than Prabhas, and just as many whistles.

Ooh! And a special shout out for the ending. What a hook. Pity we have to wait a whole year.

Ramzan 2015: Haleem Reviews

Being a gang of foodies, my friends and I have had a tradition every year – Haleem hopping.

As you would have guessed, this is an excuse for all of us to jump into a (crowded) car, and dash of to the ‘old city’ to taste the usual assortment of Haleems on offer and decide whose was the best this year.

Last night 5 of us crammed our large selves into a car and hit the narrow congested lanes of the old city.



We decided that each of us will rate the haleem on a scale of 1-5 (5 being highest), and we would average out the ratings to arrive at the final score for the haleem.

Of course, we did not want to be too objective about this, because with food you cannot be.

The Haleems that underwent tasting were:


1. Pista House
2. Cafe Bahaar
3. 555
4. Sarvee
5. Shah Ghouse
6. Rumaan

Let me not draw it out for those of you unwilling to go through the entire post, the winner was a surprisingly yummy Rumaan.  But it’s not for everyone though, read on to find out why.

Still reading? Good for you.

The biggest name in Haleem (and the holder of the GI patent for haleem), Pista house was the biggest disappointment this year. And all of us unanimously punished them for it with the lowest score.

Cafe Bahaar wasn’t up to snuff either, also going against it was the fact that it was towards the end (but not the last, which scored higher). But there was no differentiating factor for Bahaar. A meh.

Speaking of ‘differentiating factors’, 555 wins the prize here with their ‘zabaan haleem’, which has a big piece of tongue on the haleem. A few of us (embarrassingly your’s truly included) were a bit turned off with this, but tasted it and were impressed. This was a big deal especially since 555 was the last haleem we had, and all of us were pretty haleem sick by then.

Sarvi, where we started out our journey was a solid start, and served to be a good benchmark.  And for many, probably most of you, this will be the best Haleem you will have this year. Why then isn’t this the winner? Well, you will have to read on to find out.

shaghouseShah Ghouse, my personal favourite place for biryani served up a deeply divisive haleem. Some of us (Bear, Viva and I) loved it, but the haleem snobs – Gotz and the cowboy came up with some technical reasons to punish it (“not stringy enough” WTF!!!). We also had some amazing ‘kaddu ka kheer’ and ‘double ka meetha’ here, which we all loved.



rumaanRumaan – our winner this year; I hadn’t even heard about its existence, but some of us were big fans of their tea and we wanted to check out their haleem. But first we started with their tea and biskut, both of us them were so yummy that a couple of us even parcelled some biscuits. We suspect that the tea set the tone and possibly contributed to their high haleem scores as well.


The elephant in the room, let’s address it. Rumaan serves beef haleem. Thankfully none of us had a problem with this, so we tried it out.  Here’s the thing, if we hadn’t known it was beef – we wouldn’t have known it was beef. Beef is known to be a bit…chewy, there was none of that here.

Sure the ‘this is great..for beef’ factor did contribute to its high score (as did the yummy chai), but I think that judging it purely on its taste, it still beats the socks off the big names like Cafe Bahaar and Pista House.

So there you have it. Our winner this year, but one that many would not agree with, but what even they would agree with is their chai, so even if you do not go for their haleem, you do not come back with an empty stomach.

Some pics and the scores below. Happy Haleem hopping.







charminar2 masjid sg1 sr1

Another big year

By any account 2007 was an action packed year, probably the biggest in my life till then. I changed career tracks to consulting, bought my first home, got married, and bought my first car. Phew!

2015 promises to put it to shame, and for very similar reasons. No. I am not getting married again.

But we did buy our second home, I am again changing career tracks, and moving back home to Hyderabad after years. There are several other changes too, which we will talk about in the future. What I want to talk about today is about the move back home.

A few years ago, we moved from Hyderabad to London. And when the time came to move back to India, we had an open mind, sort of. We were open to other cities as well, as long as they were either Bangalore or Pune. So it was only natural that in a few months down the road, we found ourselves in Mumbai – a city I had never ever wanted to even visit and had never gone beyond its filthy, smelly, mismanaged airport.

Mumbai doesn’t make a good first impression.

As the plane touches down, all you see is a sea of blue – not the Arabian Sea, but the plastic sheets on the roofs of the sprawling slum just adjoining the airport. As the final glass door in the airport parts, you feel the waft of hot, moisture laden, stale air, and you think “Uh oh! What the heck have I gotten myself into?”

The ride home does nothing to calm you either. And what’s with these weird concrete tiles in the roads? You realize the slums near the airport are not an oddity and very soon lose count of their numbers. The filth overwhelms you. Almost all the buildings seem to have been built 20 years ago judging by the discoloured paint. The signs are mostly in Marathi and Hindi. You soon realize that for breakfast your options are either poha or vada pav. And that it was futile to attempt to talk to the call-center executives in English, even after you “press 1 for English”. Housing in Mumbai leaves you fuming. You are dependant on real-estate brokers to who you pay a fat fee when you find a good apartment. But it doesn’t end there. Every year when you renew your rental agreement you pay your broker again. This is like the obstetrician who delivered you showing up on your birthday every year demanding to be paid for the service rendered years ago. I could forget about every buying an apartment too. They do have matchbox apartments (Area: 350 sft. No really!) in a decent budget (that would get you a 2BHK in any other city). Then one day you spot an ad 2BHK apartments for 65 lacs only. And the area isn’t too bad, only at the outer fringe of the outer suburb. Look for the fine print, and there it is – “65 lacs down payment, balance on possession”.

No sir. Mumbai does not make a good first impression.

Whether your opinion on the city changes for better largely depends on your answer to a key question. “How much do you love the rains?”

For a monsoon worshipper like me, the first rains of monsoon washed away all the disgust and contempt I had for the city…most of it anyway. I had never seen such torrential, non-stop,  mindbogglinglybeautiful rain. The Mumbai monsoons are a sight.

In the month that follow you tend to think that the waterfall outside is a permanent feature of this world. There is a huge clap of thunder, frightening yet beautiful lightning in the hills at the horizon, and suddenly as you are watching TV, the lights go out. It is at that moment you realize that this was the first time you are experiencing a powercut in all these months, and before the thought sinks in, the lights are back. Not bad! Not bad at all.

Eventually someone turns off the shower and you decide to venture out. Except that your front gate seems to have turned into a portal to Narnia or someplace. The brown hills at the horizon? They are wearing a fresh bright coat of green, and is that a waterfall you spot? No! It’s several waterfalls. In the next few months, you make the most of the bounty of rainfall and visit as many of the hundreds (literally) of weekend getaways around the city. ( For a guy from Hyderabad, this is especially overwhelming.)

Over the past couple of years I have found, and grown accustomed to so many things that are unique to Mumbai and that I will miss in Hyderabad. The abundance of yummy street food, the night life (which I hardly ever too advantage of), the thriving theatre scene, malls with all the brands you can think of, good schoools. But most of all what I love most about Mumbai is that it lets you be ‘you’. If you are a vegan gujju, come right in, we have tonnes of you. Pan chewing UP bhaiya, join your kin (hide when MNS goons come around though), urban working couples? Feel right at home. Hot-likes-to-wear-tinyshorts-girl? Sure, nobody’s going to stare (other than that dude who probably came from Hy.. some other city.

So why are we moving back you ask? Well, sure Mumbai let’s me be me. But what I am, is a Hyderabadi. So home beckons.

Mumbai by numbers

For previous insights from The Undercover Statistician visit here.

11 days, 2 hours, 14 minutes Duration of a period in Mumbai when the night temperature dips from high twenties to mid twenties. Colloquially referred to as ‘sardi’ or winter.

3 The number of things that are not put between two ‘pavs’ and eaten in Mumbai. FYI, the three things are Screw driver, chyawanprash, cricket ball.

Though some claim that an outlet in New Panvel sells at least one of the three listed, this claim has not been verified.

141 meters The maximum distance that can be travelled through the city before a ‘fecal sighting’.

0.04 The total number of minutes of power cut per month one would experience on an average.

707 Km The smallest distance to be travelled for the nearest Andhra food eatery, this coincidentally is also the distance between Mumbai and Hyderabad.

(zero) The chances of getting a good south indian breakfast at about 7am on a weekend.

The number of times Jerry Seinfeld is expected to be in Mumbai. Compared to zero for rest of India.

55% The amount of actual Hindi words used when a Mumbaiya (thinks he) is speaking Hindi. The rest is made up of words like ghai, gardi, vatana, pauti, kaanda, etc.

>52 The number of unique places you can visit on weekends in a year.