Thursday, 30 October 2014

Women...Wives... and Men!

This is the 14th article in the culture series

A business meeting - and a pointed comment or observation by a business person {well, ok - a man} that deserves a mention... "Men will look for 6000 - 8000 Rs Phones for their wives, but go for a 50000 value super premium for themselves". This was a comment that left us listeners momentarily stunned, but in total agreement.... I recounted this to my wife, who also agreed wholeheartedly. 

In itself, it is a perfectly innocuous comment; a simple observation of male attitude, intermingled with the Indian reality that in most cases, the male is the earning member - and thus may {or may not} have differing needs that necessitate a higher-cost phone. The point is not whether those so-called differing needs dictate a super-premium mobile phone; the point is the expression of attitude. The point is that the male does not consider his partner in life for things that he can use.. the possibility of  both using 25000 value phones {example} does not even enter into the male mind even for a moment, by and large.   

This is not an article about female infanticide, or any of the other serious issues plaguing our society. Neither is it an article about eve-teasing or any other crime against Women. This is an article about our attitude towards Women in general, and how we treat them. Further, at no point do I attempt to make a direct link between crimes and these attitudes. I am just chronicling a series of incidents that have occurred in my life, or those which I have observed. My only objective : to make people think. That's it. There is nothing else that can be done; 

It was just after my marriage, and I had returned to my residence. Let us leave locations aside; all of us are Indians. I was asked by someone - "How much did you get"? Me : "Nothing". They : "Then the girl's family was more powerful". Me : "No". This is the most serious of the incidents I am going to recount here. Look at this attitude-  the assumption that the boy must get something. 

Why, may I ask? If I am my parents' child, so is she. {My wife}. If my parents love me, so do her parents love her. If  I am marrying, so is she. In point of fact, she is leaving her home and all she has known - even her name - behind; for you. For both of you, so that you can come together and build a home and a family together. So what makes the Boy's family more  powerful, or the people in the driver's seat? It is a joint affair.  But that is the way it is, even among the educated. 

I have heard some of the most amazing comments from even highly educated and well-heeled persons, earning in the top income brackets, voice views that have stunned me. I recall a person who I heard advising someone who had just had a massive fight with his wife - give her a slap! Several people {more than several, in point of fact} have said in my hearing - wives should be put in their places, her place is in your bed, your home, your kitchen : as though she is your property!

It is not my point that these people treat their wives badly : they dont. In the large majority of cases - like 98% {guesstimate}, the people referred above actually are very considerate with their partners, and do take care of them. Sure, they are dominating; but they are also caring. Very caring indeed. But decisions are all taken by the male, period. In fact, in some cases, they actually treat them like kids, doing every little thing so that the ladies do not have to do anything in their absence. But they dont share decision making responsibilities, by and large, basis observation. 

But the key point in all the incidents above is the attitude involved : the treatment of women as secondary to the male, as pointed out in that slap statement, or in that statement of putting wives in their places, or in the mobile phone example. You call her your wife; you call her your life partner - but do you treat her as your partner? Or do you treat her as your property, or an immature kid, or someone to be mollycoddled? 

A wife is primarily a woman; a person who has been brought up in love by a loving family. She is a human being with equal rights within your home as well as your life. But this article also isnt about you males, as the title clearly states, with the emphasis on Wives and Women clearly indicates. It is about something that needs no elaboration. That "something" is something that only women can answer. And that something is an observation by a woman, which I happen to agree with totally. It was an observation that left me stumped and without answer.. 


"Women are the ones who are also responsible for this"

This is an observation that is pregnant with possibilities, and dangers - but also opportunities. It calls for a more active woman, a more demanding woman- a woman who is a true equal to her husband - even though she may be only a housewife. It calls for an entire set of behaviours at have the potential to change our society for the better...

For, simple observation also tells me that even an equal partner does not mean marriages break down - having seen several genuinely equal couples. But yes, it does call for a complete crushing of the super-inflated male ego. Further, it is also a manifest fact that the woman is actually stronger, capable of an entirely different approach to problems, and has a capacity to withstand pain and pressure which the male cannot even dream of. 

Zaraa Sochiye... 

These are the vows taken by the male in a Marathi marriage ceremony : 

Saptpadi - the seven steps (taken from the internet; but from memory, these seem to be about right... )

Vows to be taken by the groom :

1. We will share the responsibilities of the house, food and finance together. May God bless us with children and may they have long lives. 

2. You are only my beloved wife. I will love you and only you. I give commitment will provide strength and courage to you, my wife, always. 

3. The third step is for the growth of prosperity and wealth, and to educate their children . 

4. In the fourth step he thanks his wife for bringing auspiciousness and sacredness in his life. 

5. In the fifth step may the Goddess Mahalaxmi (Deity of Prosperity) make us prosperous and God bless us. 

6. In the sixth step the groom promises the bride that he will fill her heart with great joy and peace, time and time again.

7. This is the last and final step. Here the groom tells his bride that as you have walked seven steps with me you have made our love and friendship firm and inseparable. Now you have become mine and I offer my total self to you. May our marriage successfully last forever.



This was thought of several thousand years ago... 

Have we evolved as males? Or have we Devolved? Hard Words... too hard perhaps... but I hope I got you to reconsider... 

Wednesday, 29 October 2014

Do We Really Want Change - 3: The Hard Reality

This is the 3rd part of the articles : 







In the first part, we looked at our gullibility, and our tendency fawning & hero-worship of personalities, juxtaposed against our real problems. In the second part, we took a look at our history of tolerance and diversity, compared to our modern day habit of rising intolerance & impatience. In the 3rd and concluding part of this mini-series, I shall attempt to put it all together and get a glimpse of the direction we are in


In order that we do the above, it is critical that we remind ourselves of the problems India is currently facing : 


  1. we need lesser corruption at the lower & higher levels; 
  2. we need good growth, ease of doing business; 
  3. we need equal growth for all sections of our society;
  4. we need a functioning and decent state and central government and their related organisations; 
  5. we need a free Lokpal, CBI, Police, Judiciary
  6. we need a strong defence framework, without the current problems that it is beset with
The points above cover nearly all aspects, from security to law enforcement; from education to economics; from health to corruption and from growth to equality for all. It is also deliberately circumspect; leaving out one critical aspect - tolerance, which I have alluded to elsewhere, in considerable detail. It is best if that point is left out of this debate due to its contentious and subjective nature.

Let us start from a simple contemporary example : the recent Swachh Bharat campaign. I am on record praising it for its plus points, as it targets the pusillanimous habits of us Indians - which  I had noted as early as in January 2012 : Our Attitude Regarding Civic Responsibilities. I quote : "On any given day, we can see innumerable examples of Indians putting their country to shame - spitting on the road, breaking red light, parking in no parking zone, not helping people in need in accidents, peeing in public, ignoring corruption incidents, ignoring broken public water taps"


How many of us took the trouble to note that there has been little systemic change in the overall garbage collection pattern? As I will document with Photographs in a subsequent mail, there has been little or no change, with garbage heaps in the middle of the colonies or in towns still being a regular feature as on date 27th October 2014.  I intend to give this campaign a fair chance : let some time pass. Let us see the results; if they are beyond my expectations - My India will benefit! However, as on date, I  can still see mounds of dirt piled everywhere. And there is precious little pressure on the Government to introduce systemic change, which I allude to here : Swachh Bhaarat Campaign



"Similar scenes of neglect can be spotted across the length and breadth of India. Clean India requires an efficient and functioning garbage collection and disposal system. It requires a network of public facilities like dustbins, urinals etc. It requires a functioning and diligent municipal and governmental machinery in each and every state, district, tehsil, taluka and pargana of the nation. Do we have that? Far too obviously, we dont. 


Simply cleaning up the streets once is not the answer. What happens to the waste after that? Is there a cohesive action plan to deal with this waste on a regular basis? Is there an action plan to ensure that the people who are responsible for this do their duties? That they dont collect the trash and create a stinking heap somewhere in public? That the  garbage vehicle come regularly, and dumps the trash not in the street, but in a landfill?"


As can be seen from the example above, this is no small task; it is a gargantuan enterprise spanning a multitude of Government-People interfaces, straddling a multitude of functional areas. This is a task that requires robust administrative systems, thorough follow-up, execution excellence and ground-up reform. And the sad part is, the hard reality is that among the people at large, there is precisely zero interest or awareness regarding these points. 



Our attitude is - Narendra Modi will do it. The BJP central government will do it. But on precisely how he will do it, no one is interested, putting blind faith in him. I dont contest his skills -  he stands as one of the finest leaders to lead India - that is not the point of the article. The point is our lackadaisical attitude towards the crying need for strong performing institutions and government bodies in our nation, and the abdication of our responsibilities in making this  happen by the self-abrogation of our duties, passing them  to one persona, to one individual - whosoever may that person be. 


We are fine with grandiose words and flamboyant statements; that is to be expected, given that we are an emotional people. But in doing so, an educated and aware people should be equally aggressive in demanding strong performing institutions of a democratic set-up : our total silence on this, and other matters {some of which I refer to below} prove beyond any shade of doubt that we as a people have abdicated our duties and are content & satisfied to pass these on to some other person, without the attendant checks and balances to ensure performance. That is the vital point - the hard reality that the vote alone is not the only check there is on a Government in a democratic set-up. That is what cuts to the core of the issue - the hard reality, which exposes us as a people; the fact that we as a people do not realise the extent of the power we wield in our hands by virtue of us being in a democracy. 

This same attitudinal issue can be readily seen in any number of other matters vital to the nation : The problems besetting the Defence Establishment, Education, Health, Police Reforms, Agriculture, CBI, Infrastructure etc. The problems of the Education sector, to take another live example - are known to the majority of the people : Lack of standardisation with the proliferation of boards, poor teacher attendance in the interiors, outdated curricula, rampant fees monopoly in top schools, disinterested teachers, etc. Similar can be said of any number of problems facing the nation : lack of proper defence equipment, genetic crops and their problems vis-a-vis their benefits. 

Look at any major issue that is plaguing the country : the one overarching factor that leaps out at you is the lack of a concerted debate in the Media and Social Media space, beyond the average article that crops up sporadically. These may appear sporadically, but they are very, very far from being a concerted campaign. These articles are fundamentally different from being a debate; they are simply eye-candy to push sales and revenues, as they do not incite positive action from the readership, who read, forget and move on. Further, due to the manifest lack of emotive connect with the readership or audience, these tend to be isolated, and not huge outcries which can lead to serious pressure on the Government to clean up its act.  Critically, the readership / audience reads or listens repeatedly, time and time again, without doing anything about it. 

A debate involves active and/or passive participation from both sides of the story : The Media as well as the readership or Audience. Good, positive stories from the Media should ideally or optimally lead to positive and constructive action from the people : which can take any form : social media pressure, communication with the Government or the MP/MLA, Bureaucrats etc. This manifest lack of constructive communication with the Government and its representatives and officers is what has lead to the political class ignoring the genuine needs of the electorate. By contrast, more emotive  but lesser vital issues become headlines with regular follow-ups and Media outcries, and further lead to protests and other activism that is neither constructive nor positive.

We are a people that can take to the streets in protest for any number of frivolous or relatively unimportant issues; but decry any effort at registering our dissatisfaction on the serious issues. Over a period of time, this has lead to the political class driving us on those emotive but lesser important issues; such that now, engaging the representatives and officers of the government in two-way discussions or seeking help from them is considered impossible. This has actually created a chasm between the leadership and the people. The people, on their part, have apparently come to accept that this is the way things will continue to run and cannot change.

The hard reality is  that, basis the arguments presented above, it is quite apparent that we as a people, do not care enough about the real issues that need to be tackled. Sure, we care about them - but we dont connect with them on the same emotional plane as the other issues. Had that been the case, lack of police reforms, educational reforms , lack of defence preparedness, black money etc would have generated the same level of outrage as some of the other pointless rages that have enveloped the nation time and time again.  

The hard reality is that we are in a comfort zone; we have adjusted to this level of activity, and the current levels of involvement. We do not really want change - or, at least - we do not want to be the change agents. We want to enjoy the benefits of change; but do not want to take the trouble to actively do anything positive and constructive to bring about that change. That is why, when a charismatic leader comes along - we idolise him or her, depending on him or her to make some changes, but shy away from engaging with  the new leadership in a  constructive fashion. A few engagements do not matter in a nation of 1.27 Billion; and the rest of us are not interested or are a part of the bystander brigade. 

In the next mini-series, I shall attempt to chronicle my thoughts and analyse this seemingly illogical behaviour of this Bystander Brigade, as well as what avenues they can have in a democracy to put the heat on the Government in a peaceful and democratically acceptable fashion. Stay connected with my blog for the next series : India's Bystander Brigade

Thursday, 23 October 2014

A Different Diwali Greeting...


राष्ट्र-लक्ष्मी की वंदना करते हुए
क्यों न मनाएं दीप पर्व 
कुछ इस रूप में,

संस्कार की रंगोली सजे, 
विश्वास के दीप जले,

आस्था की पूजा हो, 
सद्‍भाव की सज्जा हो,

प्रेम की फुलझड़ियां जलें, 
आशाओं के अनार चलें,

ज्ञान का वंदनवार हो, 
विनय से दहलीज सजे,

सौभाग्य के द्वार खुले, 
उल्लास से आंगन खिले,

प्रेरणा के चौक-मांडने पूरें, 
परंपरा का कलश धरें,

संकल्प का श्रीफल हो, 
आशीर्वाद का मंत्रोच्चार,

शुभ की जगह लिखें कर्म 
और लाभ की जगह कर्तव्य,

विजयलक्ष्मी की स्थापना हो, 
अभय गणेश की आराधना।

सृजन की सुंदर आरती हो, 
क्यों न ऐसी शुभ क्रांति हो।

मनाएं स्वर्णिम पर्व
इस भाव रूप में, 
क्यों न मनाएं दीप पर्व 
सुंदर स्वरूप में।

Poem found on Facebook... Author Unknown; 

Happy Diwali, Everyone! May Lord Ganesh Bless India; May Goddess Lakshmi shower her blessings on India; and May Goddess Saraswati Bless India with "Sadbuddhi...


Tuesday, 21 October 2014

India, Pakistan and The West

India and the Pakistan problem... I have been hearing a lot on the streets from people - the final solution, or words to that effect. We Indians are now getting tired of the constant violence. It is a common strand of discussion here among normal civilian citizens- let us finish Pakistan once and for all. Ek Jung- one war, end it all. Aar yaa paar ki jung. A last fight to the bloody finish with Pakistan.

Or, it is a fervent advise to the Government  that we should be more assertive militarily, and strike the terror outfits operating from within Pakistan, or statements to that effect; statements that advocate a much more aggressive posture as compared to the current calibrated and measured response, which is reactive, firm and yet non-escalatory, with a clearly held olive branch of talks. 

Much the same threat has also been voiced by our politicians as well, with one major political leader - an erudite, highly respected and incorrupt man - openly declaring words to the effect that "one more repitition of Mumbai 2008 - and all bets are off" Tolerance levels Pan India are at historical lows, and even a small incident can set off a chain of events. 

Blunt, Frank and Straight - Modern India is in no mood to accept further bloodshed of any sort, at least in my reading. We dont want to absorb anything, or change the bloody world. We just want to be left in peace. We have no illusions on that score and trust me, that is precisely what our Foreign Policy also speaks, with its clear reaching out to the neighborhood, as well as other steps. The message is clear - dont push us. We know how to push back, and very, very hard. Observe the steps of both the UPA as well as the BJP on that score, right from the Diplomat incident to invites to China, and strategic support - unequivocal openly voiced support to Russia in open defiance to the West.

I dont think it is feasible for India to hold back from responding anymore, if recent events and forces, Political positions are anything to judge by. And please trust me, non-Indians- on this point, nearly all India stands united regardless of religion, political dispensation or whatever. This is not an issue that can be ignored anymore; something has to be done to reign in those idiots to the West. This cannot be ignored; not with the rise of the ISIS.

Or can we just ignore Pakistan, and move on in the hope that things will be all right? Can we continue on our path of growth, with our justified dreams of regional and world leadership, in the backdrop of the problems we have? What happens if there is another attack? Can we so easily dehyphenate? Esp when the world does not want to dehyphenate the 2 of us? Can we pretend that we have larger roles to play in the world, and never mind the terror? Can we be assured that Pakistan wont foment trouble for us? 

Most critically, how can we lay claim to genuine global recognition, when the same globe does not realise, and does not want to realise, that the one nation to pay the heaviest price, and pay it willingly, quietly, is our India? To my mind, the two are not reconcilable; you cannot brush these things under the carpet for ever. You cannot have a global recognition, in the backdrop of manifest, crystal clear and provable duality of treatment as is the current situation. There will come a time when this duality will rub people the wrong way. Perhaps, this process of alienation has already started... with India's crystal clear pro-Asian tilt...


How can we reconcile this manifest duality - calling India a great nation etc, and supplying arms to, and ignoring Pakistani antics, by the west? Iraq was destroyed merely on suspicion, whereas Pakistan, the ONLY nation to actually threaten a Nuclear Attack on another - {India} was not even considered for consideration for even an admonishment. India has seen 43000+ deaths due to Pakistan, and indirectly the USA, as their arms flow into Pakistan; as they started the Jihad nonsense in 1985 {Afghan misadventure}. Other examples from around the world can be readily found.Is this model sustainable? How can we play a larger global role, with trouble surrounding us on all sides in Asia? 


 Call it wishful thinking, but I still feel that if the world wants to, it can make Pakistan come to its senses by assertive action - like isolation, or severe pressure or joint action. Sure, it would mean severe internal issues for Pakistan; and massive kickbacks at the West as well as the Government; which is precisely why the West does not want to do anything about it, forgetting they created the problem in the first place, making it their moral obligation to clear it up. {Well, ok, The USA - UK} 

It is living in a dream's world if I were to believe anyone would do the above out of the goodness of their heart. Straight, Frank and Blunt : Only one nation has done anything selflessly : India, period. So we can be sure the above is not going to happen. Well, my respectful submission : study the period 1930 - 1939. In detail.. Study how the WW2 started, why it started, why it happened. The parallel is perfect. The appeasement of Germany led to WW2; the appeasement of Pakistan has led to the unprecedented rise of Islamic Terror. And while you are about it, study the WW1 in detail, and especially what happened immediately afterwards; and compare to the present, History repeats itself. 

This time, it is not the perpetrators who are paying : thanks to technological advancements, it is the criminals and the unconnected innocents who are paying. Read that "unconnected" bit as "India". That we are right is easily proven: Despite having 150 Million Muslim Citizens, India is an ocean of peace and calm in a relative sense, while the rest of the world implodes; even the West has been jolted by the inroads made by the ISIS. Our wish is only to protect this hard-fought peace; it has come at a price heavier than anything paid by anyone on the planet; given we are not responsible for even an iota of what transpired. And that seems to be rather difficult to do at this point in time. 

A peaceful nation can only ignore or forget the past and the present reality around it for so long; beyond that point, inaction can be equated with stupidity. An old maxim fits here : beware the temper of the quiet man. Everyone would do well to remember that.

Add to that Pakistan's assumed importance as a gateway to Afghanistan; yet again refurbished due to the rise of the ISIS. And who benefits? Pakistan. Smart, very smart indeed. Heads I win, tails you lose. 

Today's newspaper had an interesting article - our - aah, what was it - bosom friend, cohort, brother, partner etc etc whatnot - The USA, who else - is building a dam in POK, despite Indian objection. Even the World Bank backed off when India objected. Strident objections, might I add. And, only 20 days after the Modi visit. Interesting, isnt it? What  strategic partnership? Note - India does not repeat not repeat not have any repeat any repeat any friend on this planet, Russia aside. Even Israel, due to US pressure, is not reliable. And the Indian Government knows this. Watch Putin's visit. Low-key, but bet you that some pretty important decisions will be taken. Guaranteed. 

Despite the manifest fact that we have paid a higher price than any nation on this planet due to terrorism, no one will step forward to help. 

The key, the absolutely vital key, is to dissociate Pakistan from the West; to force the West to act. We should, in my opinion,, albeit layman's opinion, start building serious pressure on The West to quit the bullshit with Pakistan, and use - really use - the UN. One way that occurs to me is to threaten to pull out of the UN. Or we could actually quit; it wont make much of a difference. And make the reason clear : it isnt because of Pakistan, but because of the unequal nature of the body. 

Properly done, we could set off a cascade reaction. There may be other ways to do the same; the objective is clear - make any support to Pakistan by The West untenable; you could threaten retaliatory action, like cancelling arms deals, stopping business, or stopping relations of any sort. 


Unless The West steps aside, I dont think military action is an option. Because, all on its own, Pakistan knows that a Nuke attack will only ascertain extinction for Pakistan. After a Nuke, Indian Public, Armed Forces or Government will not stop at anything less than annihilation, in my opinion. And Pakistan uses the Nuke bluff only and only to terrorise the West, which is too smart to understand. Too smart by half.

As regards a strike on Pakistan, only an Armed Forces Officer is in the proper place to comment; only such a person has the requisite exposure and knowledge. We, as civilians, should in my opinion keep silent about such options, and trust our Armed Forces and Politicians to take the right calls. So far, save for once, they have been right each and every time. An exemplary record, if I may say so. 

A strike would decidedly have a significant downside. The key aspect here is the overall geopolitical situation, which is not in our favour. A unilateral attack from our side can only lead to international intervention due to the Nuclear bugbear, which is exactly what Pakistan wants. Doing that would be playing into Pakistani hands. Personally, I am sure that the Nuclear threat is just a bluff : we are certain to give a disproportionate response. That would mean certain obliteration for Pakistan. Second, it would leave Pakistan's owner & master the USA with no option but to participate in the response, and step in. For Pakistan, it means complete destruction and/or dismemberment. That is 100% assured. 


And that is what is Pakistan's play is : it is buffing. And those morons in the West are too smart to see through this, the biggest bluff ever perpetrated by any nation. I would request people here to watch state department interviews on youtube - Pakistan is always viewed as a strategic location. Always and everytime. This is blinding the West to the reality; the grand bluff. A master play by a genius - credit where credit is due. Hence, every time there is tension on the border, everyone from The Western Media to The Western Leaders begin their nightmare scenarios, forcing intervention.

And that is why, an aggressive posture, combined with an olive branch vis-a-vis Pakistan is the only way out of this; this is where the current Government is excelling. It is holding out an olive branch - while being far more aggressive than its predecessor. The message is in equal parts to Pakistan as well as its owners in The Great West : We are in no mood to take any nonsense. Unless the West gets out of the way, and stops propping up Pakistan, no solution is feasible... 

Saturday, 18 October 2014

Do We Really Want Change {Part-2} : Our Cultural History Of Tolerance

This is the 4th article in the reality series, and is the second part of the article Do We Really Want Change?

The sad reality of growing intolerance is readily seen in Modern India in any number of facets of Modern Life. While it can be argued, and argued with conviction that intolerance is a fact of Modern Life regardless of nationality, the fact remains that this is a truism in India - a nation known not for intolerance, but for  the exact opposite. And that is what makes it an especially sad reality. 

While the divides that pervade modern life in India are a subject unto themselves, ranging as they do from caste to rich-poor to religion, and are thus beyond the scope of a blog-post; a few questions can nevertheless be asked of  ourselves in such outlets as blogs and social media. The first and most pertinent of these questions is what I deal with in this post - how is it that the most tolerant and open people on the face of this planet have been reduced to such a sad scene of rapidly breeding intolerance? 

Please note that I am not referring to religious intolerance alone- let me be specific on that point. I am referring to our growing rejection of competing but less prominent views - for example, our entire NaMo fan following, our decreasing acceptance of discourse and open sharing of views on contentious aspects, and increasing propensity to get into bitter fights over competing views. 

I am referring to our blind unthinking devotion to public figures, our habit of accepting anything without conscious thought, our herd mentality, our growing insecurity in the sphere of religion, our lack of peaceful or calm acceptance of divergent views - as was seen with crystal clarity in the recently concluded elections of a few months ago. 

At this point of time in our life as a nation, it is vitally essential that we, all of us, read these lines from Swami Vivekanand : "I am proud to belong to a religion which has taught the world tolerance and univerasal acceptance. I am proud to belong to a nation which has sheltered the persecuted and the refugees of all religions and all nations of the earth... Unity in variety is the plan of nature, and The Hindu has recognied it. The Hindus have discovered that the absolute can only be realised or thought of, or stated through the relative and the image, crosses, crescents are simple so many symbols - so many pegs to hand spiritual ideas on. The Hindus have their faults, but mark this - they are always for punishing their own bodies, and never for cutting the throats of their neighbours. - Swami Vivekanad, Chicago, 1893."

India is the land where people of all types of thoughts, religions, practices, lifestyles, skin-colours settled; where everyone was accepted, and their space respected; the land where Jews found peace; the land where religions were born and grew without concomitant violence on the scale seen elsewhere; the land where everyone was only a human being. That much is not conjecture; it is plain and simple fact. This is the India that was - a land of philosophy, and highly advanced people who were comfortable with themselves and their identity. 

This was a land at peace with itself; a land that had learned to accept radically different and divergent views and mindsets, religions and races without excessive pain and violence; where everyone had a place to stay, a land which was an open and welcoming land. It was also a land of deep thought and analyses, a land which gave birth to a stream of thinkers like Aryabhatt in science to Panini in Literature; it was  a golden land that was the cradle of civilization, civilised thought, and relative calm and peace. 

This was a land where open discussion was the norm rather than the exception. As late as the 1800s there are recorded events of open religious discourse and open vibrant discussion even on religious matters in an apolitical atmosphere of relative calm and quiet - a mature, advanced discussion between mature, thinking and highly civilized people - a land which was tolerent, quiet and at peace. 

It is this habit of openness, of questioning in an open, mature and highly civilized fashion that have  led to the famous scientists or thinkers or philosophers of ancient and medieval times to propound their works, and lay the ground for the advances that came later, as immortalised in that famous hindi song - Jab Zero Diyaa Mere Bhaarat Ne... It is this habit of tolerance that allowed people of divergent views to co-exist, and prosper together from pre-historic eras; it was this open habit that led to India being called The Golden Land. 

A look at Modern India will belie all of the above in its totality. We have become a people who can heckle a TV reporter for challenging one of our admittedly best Prime Ministers; where the slightest challenge to a famous figure leads to street protests; we have become a people and a land where open discussion on religion is now next to impossible. We have become a land where open discussion on the problems that confront India is totally absent and where in its place symbolic gestures can be idolised, of which there are examples aplenty. 

I have been deliberately circumspect in this article, as I want to avoid a head-on confrontation, and in its place just want people to think - why cant we accept views divergent to ours - be it in religion, or in politics? In both cases, I have alluded to real-world examples; in these matters, it is best not to be more specific. Why cant we stop idolising, rise above our herd mentality - especially when, given our history of tolerance, we possess the innate habit and inbuilt culture to do exactly that - be tolerant, thinking and analytical?

The key point here is that the problems the nation faces require a circumspect and thoughtful approach in some facets, and a mature, thinking and analytical approach in others. Our history is proof that we have both traits, and in abundance. High time we recognised our own potential, rose above these damaging habits, and took the nation to where it belongs - at the top of the totem pole- The Land Of Gold, Sone Ki Chidiyaa, The Land Of Noble People  {Aryavarta} - the land, nay, the wonderful land that it used to be. 

Jaago, Sonewaalon!

Wednesday, 15 October 2014

WhatsApped!

THE PROBLEM STATEMENT

The title says it all. WhatsApped! That is exactly what I was, as I noted 1086 messages on my mobile one fine day. I was flabbergasted, and literally stunned, and more than a little irritated. I have seen 100 messages, 200, and even 300 in a day. But 1000 messages? That is much too much, any which way you look at it. There is simply no way I was going to read all 1086 messages, that much was certain. 

Then my mind turned to my own addiction to WhatsApp - and I realised I was part of the problem, not a victim. I was both the problem as well as the victim of overload - not because I was a massive and active contributor to the stream of messages on a daily basis; but because I was an active reader of the jokes and other pointless messages. My participation was usually limited to Politics and news related issues, which make up less than 5% of the daily flow. 

I further asked myself : was I really enjoying those jokes and messages? Answer : Some, I was; some I found gross and in bad taste; and some were downright offensive. Further, I asked myself, was I gaining any information from it? Unequivocally, no, I wasnt. Was I wasting my time? Answer - yes, I was, beyond even a shade of doubt. Was I wasting battery and memory space? Yes, I was. Was I going to read all messages, or do I read all messages? No, I dont. 


SELF ANALYSIS, AND DISADVANTAGES

These are relatively minor aspects & obstacles, and easily overcome by the simple expedient of placing groups or notifications on silent, and ignoring and / or deleting messages by clearing chat history. It takes less than a minute to do it across 7 groups. Simple, childishly so. Memory space can be freed by deleting snaps, videos and images, and turning off auto-download. But in doing so, I am firstly being less than honest with group members. And more importantly, I stand the real risk of missing an important message sent on the group. It has happened, you know. People do tend to forget that important things should be personally followed up individually. 

Then I began thinking - wait a minute. 1000-plus messages! What the heck? We dont talk to each other on the phone, say we are busy; but find the time to send each other a thousand messages, as well as the time and inclination to read them - judging from the conversations that go on? Just think about it : one thousand messages! Now that, I respectfully submit, is information overload - especially considering there is not an iota of information in all that lot. 

Then I remembered the fights that happen on WhatsApp groups, one of which I have been a personal part of. Fights on politics, jokes and any sundry item. Fights which go to the extent of relations souring and people breaking off. And all this over a written communication over a technological marvel that was meant to make things easy for us. 

And that is when the incongruity, the ridiculousness and the outright immaturity of it all hit me hard. Information overload, fights, time wasted - all over something so unimportant as a WhatsApp message. We dont communicate over the phone - but stay glued to the mobile for hours on texting, WhatsApping etc. We get into squabbles over this, we insult, and insult openly - unmindful  of the fact that the whole group is listening in, or reading in. For the record- this isnt about WhatsApp, which is an immensely useful productivity tool, as I cover below. It is about me, and people like me, and how we use this wonderful application. 


WHATSAPP AS A PRODUCTIVITY TOOL

As a utility, and a productivity tool, WhatsApp is a great enhancer and value addition. You can send snaps and images of documents for instant verification and / or feedback before sending hard copies; you can send images of competitive activities in the market, new products; You can share new ideas, plans and developments instantly over the entire team in the twinkling of an eyelid; and so on and so forth. It adds considerable value to the business equation in terms of efficiency added and ease of communication as well  as aiding decision making. 

As an entertainer, it has  great potential - I was a recent part of one such activity, wherein some of us bloggers got together to write a novel for a competition; in that, the power of WhatsApp was a tremendous boost, as each person could read the entire groups' views and participate as per his or her own convenience and time. We exchanged views, fought, argued, planned - but all of it was for some purpose : the completion of the novel, which can be found here : The 16th Hour. Yet again, WhatsApp proved a valuable tool and productivity enhancer, and much superior to mails and other forms of communication for the activity at hand. 

DECISION TIME!

When I put it all  together : the path was clear. Information overload, fights with friends and/or family, waste of time... it all added up to only one direction. Exit all family  groups; since they are friends and family - they will understand. I dont think being a part of a WhatsApp group defines family, at least. I cant run the risk of spoiling relations just because of a stupid fight on WhatsApp. And whether or not I am on WhatsApp, I will remain family, that is certain. Ditto for friends groups - put on permanent silent, or exit. 

Frankly, when  we get into silly fights with friends and family over status updates, WhatsApp jokes, it is time to take a call. When we get 1000 messages a day, it is time to ask ourselves some hard questions. Especially if some vital and informative messages get lost in the clutter of jokes and pointless messages that clutter up the board. 

People tend to forget- in a normal conversation, the words are lost, and not recorded for posterity. In a normal conversation, passive listeners have the option of moving away from two sparring fighters. In a normal conversation, an insult to another person is heard by only the people in proximity, who tend to intervene or move away. Well, in WhatsApp, the entire fight is in the open, and recorded for all posterity. 

WhatsApp is not meant for this - it is a productivity tool. It is also a tool for fun - but that does not mean cheap fun, or insults, or pokes. It also behooves a person to think before posting - would it hurt anyone in the group? Having seen huge fights {as different from disagreements}, I know that this is not the case. I, too, have been a party to a fight. And lost a relation temporarily. Once is more than enough, thank you very much. 

You dont like it, or it bores you - ignore it, like I find non-veg jokes risque and bad. Or leave the group; but dont insult and/or fight. And on being insulted, rather than respond - shut up, or leave the group; preferably the latter. And please limit those messages; but that latter bit is an individual matter - as I said, I didnt like it - so I quit the groups... having said that, I still cant see the point of getting 1000 messages, and not one person having the time to speak to each other over the phone! But that is me. Perhaps I am a bit old in the big, bold new world that has been WhatsApped, or TechApped! to be more specific... 

I prefer it the good old way...

meaning... "tring, tring... hello?"

Sunday, 12 October 2014

India-Pakistan : Joining Hearts Vs Pointed Guns

JOINING HEARTS VS POINTED GUNS : THE DEBATE CONTINUES





An effort of peace, of bridging the gap, in the backdrop of blazing guns... and not the first, either. I was part of one such initiative : Jodey Dilon Ko, which was an interesting experience. In this post, I had observed : "Will this interaction {culture + trade} bridge the divide? All that lies in the future, and depends upon a peaceful coexistence between the two of us, devoid of terrorist attacks, and cross-border violence. That is the core, the non-negotiable reality. The ball is firmly in Pakistan's court; I just hope the moderates in Pakistan win the day..."

Today, as we stare at yet another violation in the backdrop of this peace process, it is time for us to try and analyse whether these efforts are worth it, or are they a complete waste of time and energy. This is especially so, since we now have a Government that is intent on a firm stance - no talks in the shadow of the gun. This is a shift, a significant shift, that cannot be ignored, as it has far-reaching implications


THE POLITICAL BACDROP

It has been a real pleasure, seeing the response from the new Prime Minister Narendra Modi, and the Indian Government : No Talks, No Discussions in the shadow of the Gun. This, combined with an invite to the Pakistani PM for the swearing in ceremony, sends a clear signal - we are open to discussions, we are open to talks : but not until the Guns stop blazing. This has now been firmly established as a non-negotiable reality, a bottomline for normalcy. 

This seemingly over-the-top and ultra-hardline response is welcome, since we have soft pedaled the entire Pakistani intervention and violence for far too long; virtually everything has been tried. We have been talking to them for donkeys years with absolutely nothing to show for it. It seems to me, a lay citizen, that even those Pakistani commitments actually made in talks arent worth the paper they are written on. And, while we talk, blood has continued to flow, the flow stemmed only by the iron-will of our security forces, and their incessant sacrifices. The price we Indians have paid for Pakistani violence has been heavy indeed - a price the entire world ignores in totality. It is a story written in large amounts of blood, and the blood-soaked words on the parchment of history are still wet. 

This response is in reality, only mildly tougher, and eminently reasonable : it stands as one of the Narendra Modi-led governments successes, and acts of sheer brilliance. All The Government of India is saying is : Talk to us, and only to us; Dont create trouble while we are talking to each other; No Violence; And No intervention. This is, any which way you look at it, a completely reasonable stance, and sets a paradigm in which some progress can perhaps be genuinely attempted. 

Critically, it sets a bar for the Pakistanis - a bar that will have to be reached by them in order to demonstrate their genuine commitment to peace, and order. We are willing to talk - it isnt on our terms, as some in the Media have reported it. It is simply that we are willing to talk in conditions that can foster calm discussion, negotiation, genuine sharing of views in a conducive atmosphere. This is a basic minimum for talks, for discussions that can lead to a solution, and a win-win situation - howsoever remote that may seem under the current set of circumstances. 


THE WAY FORWARD

It is in the backdrop above that peace moves and cultural interchanges have to be seen; it is in the above backdrop that the way forward has to be analysed. A full analysis is of course beyond the scope of this blog, but we normal citizens can at least get a grip on the entirety of the situation across the border, and view it in its entirety, not through our own views, opinions and experiences

There are 2 views in primacy - a view of enmity and perhaps open dislike, even hatred; and another view of bridging the divide or the gap, and moving on, side-stepping the violence. It is my submission that both are way off the mark; one being dangerous, and the other ludicrous.  On both sides, emotions can get away with themselves; leading to hasty statements. Such hasty statements, if made by people like you and me, may or may not have a significant impact; but such hasty statements made by someone in authority - perhaps influenced by public opinion, can be extremely effective in swinging things, if you get my point. 

The NaMo handling of this entire affair has set off jingoistic chest-thumping and showers of praise on side of the spectrum, with its attendant social media chatter. These are emotion-charged, and are extremely effective in building public opinion, which is vital in the modern world. While there can be no question that the entire matter has been handled with elan and class by NaMo, let us not go overboard. Please remember that Indians have died on the border; Indian blood has been spilt. Spare a thought for them. Fine, we didnt start the shooting, but that doesnt mean we celebrate or go over-emotional; not in this powder keg. 

A calm and satisfied response is, in my opinion, what is most called for : Calm and Satisfied since the violence has been  met, defeated, a stern message sent by an excellent Government, a hard spine has been revealed, and a tungsten core shown to the world, a view of a nation not in a mood for nonsense of any kind. That would also be the best support to this Government, and in keeping with our PMs quiet, firm and clear stance and words.

On the other side of the spectrum, we have events like the 2 referred to above, efforts which bring the people of the 2 warring nations together in cultural exchanges of views, or in trade, or other such peaceful activities. While no doubt welcome, we cannot set much store by such activities, for they completely ignore the ground reality of Pakistan, and its internal conflicts, and makeup; as also the one fundamental fact that is unalterable - Pakistan is in every way a nation that defines itself as Not-India. 

History is proof of the above - for example, even as the conference in Lahore was underway, and platitudes of peace were being stated, The Kargil War was being planned. There have been regular episodes of  violence from the other side, even as talks continued; terror was and is constantly being exported from that nation. This is a fact that cannot change; and is not likely to in the foreseeable future. What use is cultural interchange as a method of pushing peace, when that same nation is exporting terror to us? 

Cultural interchange can only bring about appreciation for each others similarity, or culture, or some such aspect. These aspects are of no importance in the sphere of politics and defence - and the issues are defence related issues. Further, the people of that other nation are in no position to alter the fundamental positions taken by their Armed Forces and politicians. Not now, not in the foreseeable future. Seen in that light, all such measures frankly make for good Media coverage, but have no impact on the relations between the two sides, inasmuch as the participants are completely unable to make a dent on their nations' policies on one side of the border. Enough said. 

That is why it is far better to me middle of the road on this - not go in for too much jingoism, and not go in for too much hoopla over peace initiatives. There is precisely nothing to celebrate about - we, too have spilt blood. Fine, they started it first, and we have responded emphatically. We are not to blame, but try and tell that to the families of the dead or should I say, the martyrs. 

If anything, let us be thankful for our open society, democracy and tolerance that has ensured internal peace within a sea of violence all around us; for the presence of a strong-willed Central Government which knows how to handle this matter. Let us be thankful to the Armed Forces and the BSF for keeping us constantly safe, and pray for them, for their well-being. May God grant them continued courage and strength; May God Protect them from harm

Once again, from the bottom of my heart, Thank You, all the martyrs who have given their lives so that we may live in peace, and for the men who put their lives in danger for us. We live in  dangerous times; that we a are calm and peaceful nation in a sea of violence all around us, is also a tribute to the selfless sacrifices of these braves who have given their lives for us...

Saturday, 4 October 2014

Reality Series - 3 : Do We Really Want Change {Part 1}?

Do we, as a nation and as a people, do we really want positive change? Do we Indians really want to tackle the ills that plague our society, our polity; thereby creating an even more vibrant and forward looking society than we currently have? And do we Indians really care enough to walk the extra mile that is required for us to change? Most critically, do we Indians have the intelligence, awareness, the knowledge and the guts required to face upto our problems and our weaknesses?

Why are we so gullible, for starters? I admit that we Indians are a highly emotional culture, and thus adulation is a fact of life for us. Furthermore, given the hierarchical nature of our culture, some amount of hero-worship is both a given as well as good for national health. But cant we draw the line between following and blindly following? How can we allow emotional appeals to cloud our views 100% of the time? More critically, why cant we accept that even the most charismatic leader can make mistakes, or require inputs? Why arent we geared towards taking that in our stride, instead of over-reacting to any criticism? Why the growing intolerance, which is just another sign of our gullibility? 

Let me take the example of our venerable Prime Minister, Shri Narendra Modi. First, let me clarify : in my opinion, he stands tall as one of the best Prime Ministers India has had, at least based on current performance. Further, this article is not about Shri Narendra Modi - but about you, the citizen of India. This is about us, the people of India.

Why is it that we cant take criticism of any kind of our Prime Minister, even when it is given in constructive and/or analytical terms? Why is it that such people get verbal abuse, and deeply offensive remarks and leg-pulling? Dont we have a Democracy? In a democracy, doesnt a citizen have the right to analyse the Government, and hold divergent views? Then why the innuendo and the abuse?

Further, the kind of jokes, WhatsApp messages, and social media updates that are in vogue - like the Hanuman Chalisa Parody of Shri Modiji - isnt this a bit too much, a bit over the top? Or the constant derogatory and bad-taste jokes on other parties and politicians? Fine, we dont like their performance as political leaders - but does that mean we can insult them? Is that what our culture, our values teach us - to be so cheap, so insulting in tone? How can something so insulting, so downright ugly in taste and tone, be termed as fun? What values are we propagating? Is this fun? Further, since when has at least my Indian culture been so intolerant, so brusque towards other thoughts and POVs? 

Why cant we as a people, as a nation, analyse the policies, the statements and the performance of our leaders {at least we the educated classes}, instead of just building them up in sheer hype, which may or may not be based on substantiable facts? Isnt that what education is all about - being able to analyse and understand for ourselves? 

This is evident in any number of examples from contemporary life in India; the example above is just one current trend that is in vogue and is easy to relate to, which is why I have used it. Let me quote another example : MODI  = Master Of Developing India. Now, on what basis, may I ask? The moment you pop this question, you get a series of short-term numbers - given that not one of the fundamentals of the Economy is as yet anywhere near what may be called optimal {let alone ideal},  or facts that do not hold up to critical analysis in the cold light of logic, inasmuch as it is too early to state, or due to the presence of other attenuating factors. 

The incessant repetition of such statements has its impact, and gives it rub on the person being hyped up, or rather, to be specific - it rubs off on the way this person is perceived by the people at large. And we do this incessantly, without any conscious thought into the fundamentals of the situation. What is more, we belittle anyone who challenges the trend, and shout him down as a collective, dampening the other person's enthusiasm. And we do this without thinking that other person's viewpoint through, or trying to combat that person's POV with a proper come back. 

This has everything to do with change; it is the single most important parameter for change. The people must be open to the direction of the change; they must be willing to move in the direction of the change. Without this, change cannot happen. Without this, we stand the risk of a half-baked solution to the problems we face. 

India is a Democracy; and our culture is one of open thought, contemplation and analysis, where alien concepts, radically divergent views can co-exist in relative peace and harmony. This is a concept I will examine in detail in my next post; for this post, the learning is : Now that we have a good solid Prime Minister, the need of the hour is not Hero Worship. The need of the hour is letting him know we want change; letting him know clearly and in no uncertain terms that corruption, slow growth, scams are no longer going to be forgiven. 

He is already the PM; now there is absolutely no need of adulation. Blunt : he has been tasked by us to make India a better place. He has a job to  do, just like you and me. Whether or not you and I voted for him - he is now our Prime Minister. He is not  the PM of only those who voted for him - he is our leader. Set tall goals for him to achieve; ask for the systemic change we want. 

Remember that he is at the top of a long chain; and merely chanting the ridiculous "Jay Narendra Gyaan Gun..." or "Master Of Developing India" wont solve our problems. The entire chain in the Government needs to know that India wants change: 
  1. we want lesser corruption at both the lower and higher levels; 
  2. we want good growth, ease of doing business; 
  3. we want equal growth for all sections of our society - not just for the creamy layer; 
  4. we want a functioning and decent state and central government and their related organisations; 
  5. we want a free Lokpal, CBI, Police, Judiciary that can ensure zero scams 


We, the people are his power; if we go to sleep, he will find the process that same process of change a very hard and uphill task - and that is a simple fact. Why are we ignoring these realities?


The Biq Question that comes to my mind is, given that we as a people have stopped asking for these basics, that no one is even mentioning all these points, and are  focusing on idolising one man, and running after him in a show of blind unthinking faith : DO WE REALLY WANT CHANGE? Or do we want a reversion to our status quo, our respective comfort zones, where we can live without the encumbrance of personal risk to our businesses and jobs? 

Do we really want change? This is what I shall look at in the third part of this mini-series