The custom of the sea


Wow, little did I realize that I would have to read up on such an ‘interesting’ custom of sailors when I had to write a post on the prompt which simply said “Read the story of Richard Parker and Tom Dudley. Is what Dudley did defensible? What would you have done?”  Now, before you start figuring out what it is that Dudley actually did that was so controversial, let me first put up the disclaimer that this particular incident is not for the weak of heart nor is it particularly tasteful. I personally didn’t have an issue reading up about it or having to write a post about it, but I can clearly understand that most readers of this blog might find it distasteful and they can therefore stop reading this post right here and now. Any further reading needs to be done only at your own risk.

shipThe story goes thus. It is a custom among shipwrecked sailors who have been lost at sea for more than a few days to draw straws among themselves and allow themselves to be killed and eaten by the rest of the crew. Yes, it is a peculiarly civilized form of cannibalism that is accepted among shipwrecked sailors. This particular incident referred to which involved Richard Parker and Tom Dudley is known popularly as the Mignonette Affair named after the yacht which was shipwrecked in 1884 in which both these men were sailing. What is unique about this story is the fact that Dudley didn’t necessarily follow the ordinarily followed custom of picking straws for the sailor to be killed and eaten. Dudley and two other chose Richard Parker as the first victim due to the fact that Parker had taken particularly ill after having drunk seawater and was going to die in a few days anyway.

The irony of this incident is the fact that even before Parker could be eaten up fully by the survivors, they managed to be rescued. And given that they had made the choice of adopting cannibalism, all of them were put on trial. While a majority of sailors and men associated with the sea as a profession understood the plight of the survivors and why they had to make the difficult choice to survive, the fact remained that Dudley’s frankness and openness regarding the circumstances that led them to choose Parker as the victim surprised everybody in the courthouse. He was quite candid about the fact that while they considered the ‘custom of the sea’ of drawing straws to pick the victim, they ignored it due to the sheer practicality of selecting Parker for this purpose. And the judge, not following earlier precedents in this situation ended up convicting Dudley and his mates for the gruesome murder of Dudley. Read more about this incident in this particular NY Times article which actually is a book review.

As for the question regarding whether what Dudley did is defensible, I am of the opinion that whatever choices he made were made with a clear understanding of the consequences of the same and with the full consent of the other two survivors as well. All of them in the shipwrecked boat clearly knew that Parker had consumed seawater and it was only a matter of time before he died even without any intervention from their part. Does that mean I condone cannibalism?

No, I don’t, not by any stretch of imagination. But having said that, man, since times immemorial has been doing ‘whatever is required’ to survive and the fact that Charles Darwin’s book talks about ‘survival of the fittest’ being the only reason that man has evolved to become the dominant species among countless other species on earth means that man continues to do whatever is required to continue to survive and thrive. Using this logic, what Dudley did is understandable, although probably not condonable by law. In fact, most sailors and general public opinion was quite favorable towards Dudley and the survivors, but for whatever reason, the judge and law used the fact that ‘the custom of the sea’ was not appropriately followed in this case.

Given that this is quite a controversial and relatively distasteful topic, it would be quite interesting to read your thoughts on this particular topic in the comments section. Do read the article and then come back and post your comments here.


This post is written for WordPress Daily Prompts : 365 Writing Prompts where the idea is to publish at least one post a day based on the prompts provided.

Today’s prompt was Read the story of Richard Parker and Tom Dudley. Is what Dudley did defensible? What would you have done?”

Let the buyer beware…



  1. When we spend 50 ps to buy ourselves a candy, we are not too worried about what candy we buy.
  2. When we spend 10 bucks to buy ourselves a chocolate bar, we are still not too worried about what chocolate we buy.
  3. When we spend 200 bucks to fill fuel in our two wheeler, we ensure that the fuel meter is set to zero and all the fuel goes inside the petrol tank of our vehicle.
  4. When we spend around 1,000 bucks to buy a branded shirt, we ensure that the color and pattern is of our choice, the size and fitting is appropriate and that we are fully satisfied.
  5. When we spend around 50,000 bucks on buying a new electronic gadget, we do our homework, we ensure that we research various brands, features, compatibility with our existing devices, etc and then we go ahead and ensure that we buy the right model of the correct brand after having seen a demo of the product itself.
  6. When we spend more than a few lakhs of our rupees on buying a new car, we do more extensive research, we take a test drive, we might even take our family members out on a test drive, we enquire which dealer provides the best after sales service, the best deals and then buy the car.

What was the point of this whole rambling above? The point that I was trying to make was that as the amount invested in a particular venture increases, our commitment to ensuring that it suits the original purpose increases manifold. As the amount increases, we take additional steps to ensure that all the money spent provides us with desired (or in some cases, better than desired) returns. Right…..

I still remember one of the earliest concepts that I was taught in Microeconomics was ‘caveat emptor’, a Latin term which literally translated means ‘let the buyer beware’. To put this term in layman language, and in plain English, it simply means that sellers and service providers are at liberty to pretty much sell anything they want, in whatever condition they want, and it is the buyers’ responsibility to ensure that the goods/services they purchase meet the conditions for which they are required for. The only exception to this principle is if the seller actively conceals any defects or faults in the good/service.

Why exactly am I giving the readers of this blog a lesson in basic microeconomics?

Because I came across this hilariously funny article (which I have every reason to believe is fact) where during the recently held IBL (Indian Badminton League) auctions, the bidders bid USD 46,000 for Pradnya Gadre whereas her more illustrious doubles partner, Ashwini Ponappa went for a price of USD 25,000. Why? Because the auction organizers made a mistake in their brochures and listed all of Ashwini Ponappa’s achievements under Pradnya. [Link to article]

While the organizers might have made a genuine mistake, my question was, what the hell were the bidders thinking about? Were they relying only on the organizers’ brochures for information regarding the players they were bidding for? Did they do any other homework at all before bidding? Do they even care about the game of badminton? Or are they participating in the IBL only because they foresee it to be the next big sports league of the country like the IPL? Just what the hell is going on…

It is a sad state of affairs when people who are willing to spend USD 46,000 have no clue as to the achievements of the player they are buying, and have also ended up buying the wrong player.

Wonder when sports other than cricket will get any kind of respect, attention, and the love of the paying public in this country…

Image courtesy: Google image search for ‘caveat emptor cartoons’


Overparenting….yes, there really is such a term


Yes, there is such a term called ‘over-parenting’. Read this Wikipedia article about the same.

I first heard (or actually read) about this particular phenomenon some months ago when I read this article about the book ‘Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother’ written by Amy Chua. You can read enough and more articles supporting and against this particular book and its concepts all over the internet, just google “Tiger Mother” and you will find hundreds or even thousands of articles.

What prompted this post was the fact that I came across this article in Firstpost about how today’s parents put too much pressure on their kids to perform well not just at school and academics but also outside of school, in the playground, at home, wherever they are, whatever they do.

My wife and me noticed the fact that most of the lanes around where we stay in Bangalore are crowded with pre-schools/play-schools and how all of them seem to have some or the other summer camp going on. From teaching kids painting, dancing, crafts, and all other assorted types of hobbies. We have started this daily walk habit and everyday we take a different route to walk in, and everyday we notice new pre-schools and play-schools, but one theme is common, all of them are in the Summer Camp season right now. This led to both of us wondering what we used to do when we were kids. And the consensus was that we pretty much used to spend time either at home, or at an uncle’s house with our cousins doing nothing focused, playing games at random, enjoying the summer sun, and the glorious outdoors with minimum adult supervision. Yes, we might not have realized our true potentials as painters, dancers or singers, but we turned out Ok, didn’t we!!!

Having said that, our parents led less hectic and tedious lives. They didn’t have to travel 25+ kms a day to office, they didn’t have to drive through ‘road-rage’ filled traffic, they didn’t have to contend with as much pollution, they didn’t have to fight tooth and nail to get good appraisals and promotions, they didn’t have to worry too much about job security, etc. As parents nowadays, all of the above items are realities. As adult individuals, if we face so many problems, then just add the children variable to the equation and it is quite clear that today’s parents are screwed.

Today, we have to necessarily worry about our careers and the money we make simply because pot loads of money is what is required to ensure that our kids have a good future. Something as basic and simple as a pre-school costs at least INR 5000/- for a trimester, and I am not even talking about the world-class pre-schools, but regular neighborhood aunty-variety ones. A school admission in any decent school (meaning one with qualified, accredited, good teachers) does entail some kind of donation irrespective of whichever politician or policeman you know. Add to this the cost of uniforms, books, school bus, other related items such as stationery, accessories, etc, and all of this in today’s prices adds up to quite a bit.

And guess what, given the number of kids that are enrolling in decent schools, the competition for any decent degree such as a BE, B’Tech, B Sc, B Com, BA, etc has also exponentially increased. Making our kids employable is another costly story which I am not even getting into.

The above two paragraphs kind of explain why today’s parents are anxious to ensure that anything and everything related to their kid’s development and education happen without a glitch. Where today’s parents make the mistake is when they get personally involved with their kid’s learning (not education but the learning process itself). Today’s parents are not allowing their kids to make mistakes and learn from them. Yes, kids require hand-holding, but it is only when kids fall down will they learn that falling down hurts, but they also learn that when they fall down, all they have to do is to stand up, brush themselves off and continue walking once again. They need to learn that falling down is only a temporary setback and not a permanent one. As parents, our responsibility is to ensure that kids learn to stand back up on their own, learn to brush themselves off, and teach them to start walking again. We need to teach our kids how to overcome temporary setbacks, rather than taking steps to ensure that they never face setbacks or failures.

In fact, this wonderful article from The Atlantic goes on to talk about why parents should allow their kids to fail once in a while, as it makes the kids tougher, grittier and stronger to face bigger failures when they are older. This other article from The Atlantic talks about how parents from different parts of the world perceive their children’s state of mind, and it is interesting to note that American parents seem to focus more on the cognitive development of their kids whereas European parents seem to focus more on the state of mind of the kid. Europeans seem more laidback when compared to Americans in terms of how their kids develop ‘scientific skills’ compared to ‘life skills’. I personally would love my daughter to develop more life skills as I believe these will anyways help her pick up scientific skills later on an ‘as-required’ basis and thank God, my wife agrees with me on this.

Image courtesy:

English Vinglish and Diamonds are Forever



Wondering what the title refers to….well, given that I have run out of creative topics to post about, just thought I would try and get back into the groove of writing by providing short synopses of two wonderful articles I just read today. So, here goes….


The first article I read today (or actually the second one, but am quoting it first as it deals with the first part of the title “English”. Hey, it’s my blog and I can post it in any order I want, can’t I ???

Coming back, the Tehelka article [Link to article] talks about how English as a language has proved to be an empowering tool for various common men and women from various walks of life to improve their overall standard of living. From being a luxury sometime ago, English-medium education today is being viewed as an important necessity all over India today. The article cites examples of a survey of private schools in Hyderabad, a garbage collector from Delhi, a taxi driver in Mumbai, a Dalit writer, an educationist from Pune, and others to bring out the point that almost the entire country today considers English education as an important tool in equipping their children, the future generation for the future, which in their perception is going to be very ‘English-driven’, for lack of a better term.

The fact that English as a language is probably only around 2000 yrs old [Link to Wikipedia article] has come such a long way and today is universally accepted around the world as the common medium of communication, goes a long way to prove the Tehelka piece right. Wonder what all the so called ‘opponents of English’ and ‘supporters of mother tongue’ will have to say if and when they read this article


The second article [Link to article] (Warning: Really long and really old article from 1982) that I want to bring your attention to relates to De Beers and their almost 90 yr old monopoly on the Diamond distribution business. While all of us are aware (and women more so) that a diamond engagement ring is probably the best way for a man to propose to his loved one, how many of us know that this was not necessarily the case until the 1930s. It was only then that De Beers with the help of their advertising agency came up with this ad campaign which created the image of a diamond engagement ring being a symbol of everlasting love which created the famous by line “A diamond is forever”. This particular campaign went on to capture the imagination of the United States which was soon copied by Europe, Japan and the rest of the world.

The article provides great detail as to how De Beers the company went on to have a strangle-hold grip on the way diamonds were distributed and sold across the world and how they tightly controlled the demand of the gems so that the prices always remained high and they would make their profits on the same. Even when other diamond cartels were formed in Russia and Israel, the De Beers conglomerate proved savvy enough to win them over either by force or by negotiating them into their cartel. For a more brief version of the De Beers history read this article [Link to article] which ends with the bittersweet conclusion where the conglomerate has been bought over by its sole competitor as the family which ran it for so long is no longer interested in the business.

I personally had always wondered why diamonds had such bad resale value and this article answered all the questions about that. Wonder if there are similar stories for other precious metals such as gold, silver, platinum, etc. I guess I will have to see if the web throws up similar articles for these as well.


For readers who saw the title and came here expecting movie reviews, visit these links instead 😀

English Vinglish [Wikipedia link]

Diamonds are forever [Wikipedia link]


Image Courtesy: Google Images search for “Queen Elizabeth diamonds” 😀

The Mahatma, the Movie and Mindsets

January 30th, Martyrs’ Day, the day The Father of the Nation, Mahatma Gandhi passed away. One of his favorite bhajans was

raghupati rāghav rājārām,

patit pāvan sītārām

sītārām, sītārām,

bhaj pyāre tū sītārām

īśvar allāh tero nām,

sab ko sanmati de bhagavān


Literally translated it means


Chief of the house of Raghu, Lord Rama,

Uplifters of those who have fallen, Sita and Rama,

Sita and Rama, Sita and Rama,

O beloved, praise Sita and Rama,

God and Allah are your names,

Bless everyone with this wisdom, Lord.


Such a nice and small poem which still holds complete relevance in this day and age. When The Mahatma sang this song during the Dandi Salt March, its popularity soared so much that it remains to be sung to this day all over India whenever anybody thinks of him.

That being said, it is quite ironical that today was the day I read these three news items –

  • The controversy caused by SRK’s article in The Outlook magazine, now hosted on NDTV [Link]
  • The controversy caused by the TN Govt over the release of Kamal Hassan’s Viswaroopam [Link]
  • The pre-emptive ban imposed on Salman Rushdie by the West Bengal Govt [Link]

All of this leads me to wonder just like Kamal Hassan did, do I want to live in this country whose constitution (law of the land) calls it a democratic secular republic. Well, we do have democracy at least in name, to the extent that all of us who are more than 18 yrs old can vote (that is, if we can find our names in the electoral rolls and if somebody else has already not voted in our names).

However, given these headlines and based on various conversations that I have had with well educated colleagues, friends, family members and everybody in general, I struggle to find even 1% of secularism in this country. All of us are so tied to our belief systems, our prejudices, our notions, our stereotypes of how various communities are, how people from these communities behave, etc.

Most of us seem to believe that the only way we can live in India is to judge people, events and base our reactions and lives accordingly. Nobody seems to be willing to be just a little more open-hearted, welcoming of dissonance, welcoming of disagreements and overall truly secular, in all sense of the word.

Wonder if it is just me who is frustrated at all that is happening right now, or are there more folks like me out there thinking similarly?