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Week 6: Traveling to Jaipur

It is hard writing a weeknote when you don’t work. The reason I started this was to have some sort of accountability with all this time I now have available to invest wisely in making important decisions about my future. Honestly, I am yet to do that. There has been no concrete routine for over five months and a lot of moving around. What I need to figure out are the things I need to prioritize in this chaotic state — my health.

I need to

  1. Wake up by 6 AM
  2. Run in the morning and yoga in evening
  3. Eat more colored vegetables and yogurt
  4. Meditate more
  5. Give up sugar

I am having trouble with all of this at the moment and I need to learn to incorporate all or most of this in my daily and unpredictable life.

This past week has included two sets of red eye flights and a trip to Jaipur for the Literature Festival. The festival lasted for five days and since I traveled all the way to Jaipur and brought a lot of saris with me, I made sure I attended most of the talks and took a lot of notes, which will hopefully help me.

I have also been menstruating so as per usual my emotional state has been a quagmire. I need to go to a doctor and see if I have Premenstrual Dysphoric Disorder (PMDD), since this is proving to be quite crippling. It is hard to be around people when you are feeling particularly self-critical or self piteous. You can either try to ignore the voice in your head or get mired in a pit of self fulfilling critiques. There have been exactly two instances in this past week when I have been safe from this self-critical feeling

In the first instance I attended a music performance as a part of the Rajasthan Kabir Yatra at the Rajasthan Rural Arts Program Museum in Jaipur. It was a cold afternoon and the performance took place at a very unassuming venue with people sitting on the ground covered in white sheets. There were Champa trees on either side of the stage which looked knobby because it was not flowering season until March and there were brightly colored flags above us. Shabnam Virmani was playing the tambura and next to her a man was keeping time with his manjira. She sang with a voice powerful and resonating and it silenced my brain for a little while. She sang of solitude.

Image on the right: Music performance by Shabnam Virmani. Image on left: illustration of a knobby Champa branch

I meditated for a few hours at a vipassana centre in Jaipur. The rooms were made of mud and were darkened with curtains. It was a relief to be there in that quiet, observing sensation as best I could. By the end of the day my brain was quieting down again.

Notes — supplementary

I was wondering if i should tweet my notes from the different panels, but since my partner is much better at this, I decided to summarize my notes below instead:

Day 1

Mapping the heavens Priyamvada Natarajan

It was a fast and informative talk. I missed a couple things she mentioned.

She started with the importance of mapping things (Catalan atlas, which used the first Compass Rose) and presenting a general time-line of the most important discoveries in Cosmos starting with solar-centric view of our system and, in 1998, the discovery of dark matter and energy [Zwicky first discovered this dark material from the speed of Coma Cluster galaxies (1933) and then in more detail studying the deflection of light from galaxies (1937)].

She also talked about gravitational lensing (cluster galaxies act as gravitational lenses by bending light from a distant light source to the observer) and how this helps map out the actual shapes of the galaxies and about the properties of dark matter (WIMP — Weakly Interacting Massive Particles).

Then she discussed black holes (feasting and fasting black holes), the event horizon telescope project (to capture the first image of a black hole) and the LISA mission (LASER Interferometer Space Antenna, a space based gravitational wave observatory)

Ancient DNA: Who are we and how we got hereDavid Reich and Daniel E Lieberman

Both speakers, David Reich and Daniel E Lieberman are involved in the study of ancient DNA.

They began by discussing trends in ancient DNA extraction and genotyping.

Things that make a difference within our own bodies are more different within populations than between.

They took us briefly through the movement of humans coming out of Africa and the evidence available for Homo sapiens mating with Neanderthals and Denisovians. About 39,000 years ago ancient humans displaced the Neanderthals and because of this about 2% of our genome comes from Neanderthals.

They talked us through genetic variations and how about 85% of variation that exists in the genome exists within a population and not between populations. Things that make a difference within our own bodies are more different within populations than between.

They stated that Natural selection is just a by-product of: differential reproductive success, heritable similarities and heritable variations.

They mentioned that the global population has reached “mutation saturation” and that we actually see every possible mutation in every single generation of humans now.

They briefly mentioned the Dual Inheritance Theory: where human behavior is a result of genetic evolution and cultural evolution and because there are changes happening to our environment constantly, it causes a mismatch dynamic.

Day 2

Where does fiction come fromAndrew Sean Greer, Ben Okri, Sebastian Barry, Tania James, and Vikram Chandra

There were some interesting thoughts on how a writer reads, what they look for while reading a novel — “Finding that moment in the book when they author has put their neck on the line” and comparisons between short stories and novels — “short stories are like looking through binoculars you cant see well but you cant stop looking at it and suddenly everything falls in to focus. Those moment of rapture are not there when you are writing a novel.”

Translations: an equal musicArunava Sinha, Daniel Hahn, Manjushree Thapa and Pushpesh Pant

This was an interesting group of translators and the differences between translating in India and outside were apparent.

In Britain, translating could be considered a career while in India since there is no money in it you are doing this primarily because you love it.

Their main advice to multilingual writers was to read books in different languages and translate them as this gives writers a intimate perspective that may not have occurred to them before.

There were also discussions around the freedom while translating books, especially like Harry Potter, where the feel of the words should come across as opposed to the translation being accurate. We came across a fantastic Quora response about the Hindi translations for spells in Harry Potter which encapsulates the same thing.

Gene Machine and the culture of science Venki Ramakrishnan

The Nobel laureate in conversation with Priyamvada Natarajan, first started with an introduction to his work on the ribosome, an ancient molecule older than proteins and DNA.

He then went on to talk about the culture in the science and how most young scientists have this impostor syndrome. More so if they are from minorities or are considered ‘outsiders’.

He also spoke about the competition in science which is a double edged sword — “good for science and bad for the scientists”.

He then went on to crystallize a structure for a successful lab setting

  • people work in small groups
  • they focus on long term problems
  • there is stable funding for these problems
  • there is no hierarchy
  • they take hiring risks

The pair then discussed the current scenario in science where antibiotic development which must be spearheaded by governments and non-profits, since it is not valuable for pharmaceutical companies, they do not put much of their resources in it.

They also deliberated on how funding bodies should enforce changes in the scientific method to make it move to more open data collection methods with less emphasis on citation indices and impact factors.

They commented on how low R&D was as a priority for the Indian government where just 0.7% of the GDP goes towards funding research, unlike Israel or South Korea or Great Britain where the numbers are more like 2–3%. Private R&D in India is in an even worse state.

They also mentioned that the world must quickly come together to map out the ethical guidelines within gene editing and that this must happen as a concerted effort across the world. If one country on the planets permits wild west gene editing, citizens from all countries could go there for their designer babies.

They concluded with stating that freedom of movement — of people and ideas — is necessary for science to thrive.


Process: the writer at workÁlvaro Enrigue, Ahdaf Soueif, Colson Whitehead, Hari Kunzru and Yann Martel

  • On their process of working

— “I insulate myself with music, while working, it is that noise that protects me from other noise”

— “at the end of the day, I turn over the 3–4 pages and then turn them face up to edit the next day.”

  • On typing versus long hand

— “ I do not believe my own handwriting, i need to see the objectivity of the type”

— “there is something to the physicality of writing longhand or reading a paper book, the screen in just too abstract, it is scary”

— “there is something about thinking with a pen and assessing with a screen”

  • On what makes writing pleasurable

— “when you find a paragraph you had written before, that feels like it had been written through you, when the work feels like a meditation”

— “Finding pleasure in the vocabulary”

On success

— “ you are not a better writer for having written a good book”

Creativity and ConscienceAndrea di Robilant, Gurcharan Das and Veena Venugopal

This was a tense and awkward panel with Gurucharan Das stressing that private and public spheres must be kept separate which Veena Venugopal was very quick to point out was a false binary. He then continued on about observing the art objectively and it derailed a panel that could have been a lot more nuanced and interesting.

It was noted that this is the moment in history, a point of inflection where stories of victims are being heard.

It ended with a vague agreement that we needed constantly calibrate within ourselves how we can accept the art and criticize the artist.

The fog, the smog and the fluChristine Corton, Laura Spinney and Siddharth Singh

This was a riveting session was about the Spanish flu, the London fog and the Delhi smog.

  • The Spanish flu killed 50–100 million people (WWI — 20 million) and India was where the majority of fatalities happened. There was a synergy between the war and the virus.
  • At the heart of the Delhi smog is a developmental crisis at its core.
  • The Delhi smog really covers a geography from Islamabad to West Bengal.
  • More Indians die every week from air pollution that from all India-Pakistan conflicts combined.
  • What is required is a Paris agreement within India for all stakeholders — sectors involving transport, energy production, construction, Industry and Agriculture. The challenges faced by polluters must not be ignored.

Did the insertion of the London fog into the conscience of society through art and literature have something to do with clean air laws being enacted?

Why I am no longer talking to white people about race Anita Heiss, Chiké Frankie Edozien, Hari Kunzru, Kayo Chingonyi and Reni Eddo-Lodge

The panel had a discussion about racism and micro-aggressions even amongst people who would not consider themselves racist.

  • Racism is a social construct to uphold certain power structures, not a cognitive bias.
  • “When you challenge the notion that whiteness is normative (in all fields), your aspiration changes”
  • “As soon as you start leaning in to the discomfort, positive and meaningful conversations can be had”

Day 5

After TrainspottingIrvine Welsh

On his writing process

  • He works his first draft to loud drums, 20,000 words in one go.

I tend to the let the sub-conscious do a lot of the heavy lifting.”

  • while writing his books acts out his characters in a room by himself and this seems to make him go a little crazy so in order to rejoin society, he has had to learn how to de-role.

“Actors have a lot of good advice on how to de-role”

The Wonder of Pāṇini’s Sanskrit GrammarVikram Chandra

There was so much information in this talk it, I cannot put it all down.

Instead I will link a few resources that were mentioned and some pithy statements about Pāṇini’s genius.

— The only time something becomes a word according to Pāṇini’s grammar is when it is a part of a conceptual structure of a sentence.

— व्याकरण is the ‘study of Sanskrit’ and it also means analysis (or breaking things into its component parts)

Genes, our blueprint not our destiny Sharad Paul

  • The skin is our true mirror, you can have bad health and good skin
  • Walking, grasping and balance are the best forms of exercises for the brain and there have been studies that shown that the tango has been proven to be more effective for the brain than yoga or tai-chi.
  • Studies have shown that the fatter your gut gets, skinnier your brain is
  • If you are a slow metabolizer, drinking alcohol increases your risk of cardiovascular events.
  • Make sure the ratio of Omega-3 to Omega-6 you ingest is 1:1
  • Ancient man consumed about 1.5 mg of salt a day, we consume 3400 mg of salt a day.
  • Your karma (actions) becomes your genes — you eat rubbish and you become rubbish.

My husband and other animalsJanaki Lenin and Rom Whitaker

  • All populations are controlled by their access to food. When we provide excess food, things happen to the ecosystem
  • For a long time now, we have been following western models for conservationists, we should back and look at our own models on how to co-habitat with animals and bring those back into existence — “Tribal Technology”
  • We have to make space in our hearts and minds for animals.



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Preethi Govindarajan

Preethi Govindarajan

Puttering with data science. Thoughts are mostly derivative.