• Contemplating alternate histories - What if Hitler had won? What if Alexander hadn't died so young? What if Amithabh Bachchan had used a contraceptive? - has always been a favourite pastime of people who have nothing else to do.  And since I, by virtue of writing this column, and you, by virtue of reading it, have amply demonstrated the lack gainful activity otherwise available to us, I will attempt to explore the following possibility for our benefit :

    What if India was the home of Rock N Roll ?

    Or, what if, instead of chiefly classical and film music, India had gone down the path of rock, pop, techno, rap and all those other very American forms of music?

    To aid in this idle speculation, perhaps it would be convenient to try and visualize (technically, verbalize, but I digress) what a retrospective written in a music magazine, say Rolling Stone, would look like today if history had taken a different turn. Without further ado :

    The most influential artistes in Indian music history - a

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  • Reader, Interrupted

    One of the aims of the novelist, writes John Gardner in his The Art of Fiction, is to create for the reader "a vivid and continuous dream". Well, these days, I find that dream to be full of interruptions.

    I'm not referring to doorbells, phone calls and mysterious thumps from next door. Rather, it's the distraction caused by having access to the Internet. The lurking sense that there are e-mails to be checked, tweets to be followed, status updates to be noted, headlines to be scanned or new videos of Rebecca Black to be made fun of.

    The ease with which all of this can be accomplished means that it's a temptation to be constantly wrestled with, and more often than not, I find myself pinned to the ground. And the more often one enters that kinetic, frenetic arena, the more difficult it is to settle down for a period of sustained, single-minded attention.

    Nicholas Carr, in his much-discussed The Shallows, maintains that the Web destroys focus, quoting neurological studies to prove that it

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  • To Hell With Family Values

    As news items go, this one is both absurd and sad: the authorities in Bhakti Park, a 90-acre-complex in Wadala consisting of 24 buildings, have banned its residents from going to the terrace. The reason for this is two separate incidents, in different parts of the city, of housewifes pushing their kids off the building, and then jumping themselves. By cutting off access to the terrace, these authorities presume, they can prevent such copycat suicides.

    I'd assume that if someone wanted to pop themselves, they could easily find other ways of doing so, like jumping off their own balcony. But leave aside methodology: while these recent incidents are tragic and poignant, and unusual in that they involved the murder of children, they are not an anomaly. Almost every day, you can open the newspapers and read about some housewife somewhere killing herself. (It is so commonplace that I wonder if it should be even considered 'news'.) A week ago, in fact, my fellow Yahoo! columnist Deepak Shenoy

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  • With the RBI restricting the number of banks, and then who can own banks, they effectively narrow the playing field to a few entities, many of them owned by the government. The banks' lack of competition is compensated by RBI regulation, but that regulation sometimes leaves a lot to be desired. Especially when it comes to pre-payment penalties.

    You'd think banks would love their money back, if you tried paying it back earlier. But no, it seems. They charge you a penalty for early payment, typically 2-3% of your outstanding balance. It's strange, this charge. Why wouldn't they want you to pay a fee just to pay back?

    Their answer is that they're really scared of keeping money unused. The minute you pay back, they now have to lend that money out again, which they say takes time. And they lose interest in that time, which is why they need to charge you. But it's a hollow argument, because like all things financial they make a generic statement and oversimplify matters, or use complex terms

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  • Afghan intelligence may have jumped the gun in announcing the death of Mullah Omar. Even so, it is clear sections of the Pakistani establishment are planning to facilitate a summary execution of the grand mufti of the former Taliban regime in Kabul. When this does happen — and it is a question of time — some of the issues raised after the recent killing of Osama bin Laden will return.

    Could the senior leadership of the Taliban and Al Qaeda — as opposed to foot-soldiers who actually execute acts of crime and terrorism — be tried in an American court, in an international court or even a special tribunal on the lines of the one set up in Nuremburg to bring to justice the Nazis? It is important to thrash out these questions once and for all, rather than have the same tedious debate each time there is an Abbottabad-type operation.

    As surely as F follows E, the killing of Laden had farce follow euphoria. There were murmurs of disquiet in liberal circles about the manner in which the Al Qaeda

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  • Point of No Return

    Some are born dictators, some achieve dictatorship, and some have dictatorship thrust upon them. Syria's Bashar al-Assad falls in the third category. Faces are hardly infallible guides to character, but comparing Bashar's to those of his father Hafez and elder brother Basil is instructive. Bashar's grey-blue eyes would seem compassionate had they not been set so close together. The fuzz on his upper lip appears always a little short of a proper moustache. His chin recedes radically, making for a triangular head that sits on a disproportionately long neck. It's as if a sculptor had five different ideas of how to mould a bust, and finished the job hastily, leaving its elements unresolved.

    There was nothing unresolved about the features of Hafez and Basil al-Assad, or of charismatic rulers in the neighbourhood such as Muammar Gaddafi, Ayatollah Khomeini and Saddam Hussein. You could easily imagine these people ordering the bombing of civilian settlements and the massacre of thousands, as

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