Day 1: pottery class

Nishi-san runs the place and is the head potter here. He has an apprentice too—Ginto-san. Or at least it seemed so. Today was the first day of an hour long session. I arrived on time and was greeted by Nishi-san. I made the payment for the course (4 sessions for now). I was given a basket to keep my belongings and an apron but of course I had taken my own apron. I wore it and asked if it was okay and was given a nod. Then Nishi-san directed me to the wheel and had clay mounds ready. He sat down and instructed me on how to make a bowl! In a very matter-of-factly way he described the steps as he moved his hands working with the clay. I was nervous as always. I had to get it right. I told myself to calm the f*** down and remember why I was there.

Throwing on the Potter's Wheel with Brecken, 3/4 to 4/22, Thursdays, 6:30-9 pm FULL
Throwing on a wheel. Picture courtesy: Google images.

And so began my attempts at “throwing”. (When you take the clay and put it on the wheel and gather and shape it it’s called throwing.) Anyway, the task was to first achieve a strong bond between the wheel and the clay mound and then to gently apply pressure using the palms of your hands pulling it upwards while maintaining a constant pressure and then pushing is down using your two thumbs and gathering again and repeating the process until you finesse the task. The bit about achieving mastery is of course self-imposed. The physics is simple—prevent wobbling and keep the mass uniformly distributed so that it all rotates together along the vertical and there are no torques generated. Of course to achieve this feat is something that takes people months, as Nishi-san noted. But I’m not going anywhere anytime soon.

While I was struggling Ginto-san was observing and he soon appeared to help me. He simply held my hands and showed me. I haven’t experienced this kind of camaraderie in a very long time. After all, in academia cliques are a norm and all identity is derived from belonging to one or many of those. To be different and yet have a sense of belonging seem mutually exclusive when they are actually complementary to each other. To quote from the Ubuntu philosophy of the Bantu people of Africa:

Umuntu, Ngumuntu, Ngabantu.

In Zulu.

It means “I am because we are”. The whole nurtures the individual who then becomes part of the whole.

intellectual property rights protect: science and innovation or global north’s greed?

The latest development where the global north has quite blatantly come out with its classic moralism and blocked a plea led by India and South Africa to waive off patent rights for COVID vaccine production. And, India is one of the largest exporters of vaccines and generic drugs in the world — it has the “infrastructure” to manufacture the vaccines.

Well? I’m not surprised. That’s exactly what the IMF and WTO are there for. What does that mean? Read “The Divide” (linked on the archive page) to find out.

Kashmiri chai, but why?

Today I made kahwa, i.e. kashmiri chai. It’s a decoction made by simmering fresh green tea leaves along with a pinch of baking soda, some spices such as star anise, cardamoms, and cinnamon along with chopped almonds and pistachios if you are feeling too precious 😉

Now, the fun thing about it is that a chemical reaction between chlorophyll and baking soda gives it a distinct pink color which is observed when the decoction is mixed with milk as seen in the picture on the left below. Picture courtesy: Flour & Spice food blog (where I found the recipe).

But, what I obtained wasn’t really pink. It was beige instead, image on the right above. Now, this was really frustrating given how long I had to wait to devour it — have to say it was delicious. Rich and warm with mellow notes of spices; would make an excellent winter drink.

Why didn’t I get a pink tea? Because I used a Japanese roasted green tea which was quite old and the chlorophyll content wasn’t enough for the nice pink to develop. Here’s where I found this explanation.

Anyway, I have this batch of Kahwa to finish until next time. I hope to enjoy a pink Kashmiri chai some day.

going back to the start

Hard times. A call for introspection. To face oneself and ask: how did I come so far? How did I cope?

But, before I console myself, how long before this can end? Why should this miserable struggle continue? And, to what end. It’s kind of tiring. This world and its people and their apathy.

Give up and become one of them. Listen to what is being told and follow your patriarchal overlords’ whims and fancies. Pretend, yes, pretend that the extreme power imbalance has no consequences for their personal judgments. That power does not corrupt. That it is the way of the world. Run, run for life, for yourself, and for all that you ever stood for or they will out do you.

Or stand up, as always. For what is right not only in your judgement but in the large scheme of things. There is no race, and you know this. It is you and your choices in this world that matter. What you do with your life and how you do it. Remember abbu and what he used to say. Summon your inner self, reprimand it even. Have faith in people, they will lend to you what you need. They will. It might take time. Not all hope should be lost. Do what you think makes sense and you will eventually find yourself among those you wish to be with. And even if that does not happen, it should be enough — the deed. It should be enough to keep you going. Stop chasing undeserving people and things. It is pointless to seek from those who simply cannot give.

on the origins of social inequality

Here’s an article by anthropologist David Graeber and archaeologist David Wengrow shedding light (archaeological evidences and studies left out from the mainstream) on some notions widely held in the social sciences and the popular metasphere regarding the emergence of hierarchical structures in “complex” hunter-gatherers societies. They challenge the contemporary idea that to form an egalitarian society means to take a retrograde step, one that would involve dismantling/giving up the plethora of complexes we have built as a civilization. After all, what do the hippies know about sophistication.

Here’s a (brilliant) talk they gave three years prior to writing that article. Their research has culminated in an upcoming book: The Dawn of Everything.

Also, a graph by Jason Hickel (an economic anthropologist at LSE) based on data from the World Bank:


why do we do things just like that?

In this article David Graeber talks about our innate tendencies to seek pleasure. (Also, this is where he, quite rightly, refers to Richard Dawkins as a militant atheist.) Here’s an excerpt from the article:

“My friend June Thunderstorm and I once spent a half an hour sitting in a meadow by a mountain lake, watching an inchworm dangle from the top of a stalk of grass, twist about in every possible direction, and then leap to the next stalk and do the same thing. And so it proceeded, in a vast circle, with what must have been a vast expenditure of energy, for what seemed like absolutely no reason at all.”

academic posters in mathematical physics

I wrote about designing posters and general experience at various conferences here. That was around mid 2019. I had a vastly different and rather engaging experience at a workshop that was organized in Australia later that year. Don’t know. There is something quite wrong about the way in which these conferences are organized if you look at it from outside the neoliberal bubble. Of course, knowledge acquired by a group must be assimilated and disseminated and it always has. But, science as an institution that it is now was an invention of industrializing Europe at the expense of its colonies and in many ways is still a centralized hierarchical ensemble although it pretends otherwise. A good reference that provides a critical lens is a book by Jonathan Marks titled “why I am not a scientist”.

for beginners in quantum physics

MIT OCW video lectures: I did the whole course including the problem sets and it changed my life!

Ghatak and Loknathan’s book: Wave function formalism but first few chapters have great problems.

Shankar’s book: Linear algebra formalism.

Gamow’s popular science book: Mr. Tompkins explores the atom (and more titles). Great fun when reading as a first year undergrad.

cover photo from