Tuesday, December 14, 2010

The Argumentative Indian

Attracted by the author’s name and the title of the book, I bought Dr. Amartya Sen’s “The Argumentative Indian” a couple of years back. I never had any opportunity to know about him other than repeatedly reading the title (only the titles) of articles about him in all mass newspapers and magazines when he was honored with Noble prize. Finally, I woke up his book from the shelf only now to start reading it. I had just finished reading Imagining India before starting with this book. Now I feel that it would have been better if I had read this book before Nandan’s imagining. Sen has spent more time than Nandan on history. Thanks to his Bengali background - he deals with the controversial issues more firmly and openly.

When I bought the book I was thinking that he would have made good fun of Indians for wasting their time in arguments instead of doing anything constructive. I expected a lot of sarcasm. Only now do I realize that that is not how a Noble laureate would view things. He talks more about the argumentative nature of us, which is nothing but our respect for democratic values and openness to discuss out things instead of being close-minded and adamant about one’s own views. To narrow it down, we could look at it as a detailed account on secularism.

He brings in a lot of interesting views about Indian history. It looks like he has done an objective analysis of Hinduism. It is very evident from the way he has talked about the two great Indian epics Ramayana and Mahabharata that he has good admiration for the religion. He also talks about his grandfather’s contribution to Hinduism. The information he has shared about his grandfather also tells us that he is yet another achiever from the elite India and not from a pitiable background. It only goes to say that Abdul Kalams are still a miracle in our land.

He talks about Bhagavat Gita with the right spirit. The conversation about right or wrong against your duty is well articulated. He doesn’t ridicule Hinduism as a religion anywhere. It was interesting to read his explanation about his remaining an atheist despite his grandfather’s inclination towards Hinduism and the grandfather’s openness to let him think the way he wanted to. This is one common thing that I have seen across all atheists of our land – either they are given the freedom to think on their own by their elder family members or do they take that freedom on their own.

He also reassured my beliefs about religion-based politics. He questions every crooked move in rewriting the history by BJP when it was in power. Only after reading his book do I know that BJP stooped to the level of even removing the part that contained Gandhijs’s assassination by Godse. So unbelievable! He has also talked about other manipulations that they tried to do with the Indian history. Even if they wanted to do radical changes, they could have gone slow. They need not have rushed so fast that they were caught on wrong foot so embarrassingly. This is where they have a lot to learn from Congress, I guess!

First time when BJP came to power, as an ordinary youth with no knowledge on who stands for what, I expected them to make Dr. Sen their finance minister in the same lines as Congress made Manmohan Singh. Sometime later I heard a right wing supporter saying Amartya Sen is yet another pseudo-secularist from Bengal like the communists. Then I realized the reason why BJP cannot go with him. Only now do I fully understand how ignorant I was to think like that.

Every book would have some overused words. One such word in this book is “heterodoxy”. It just means unorthodoxy. It is this character of a society that allows them to go beyond boundaries. It is very clear from his advocacy that he doesn’t want to be swayed by the stereotyped Indian beliefs and ethos. He has his own judgments about his culture, which is not influenced by the popular beliefs of his own parents or grandparents. One of my weird beliefs is that a true intellectual is not someone who builds on what his parents or grandparents have told him, but the one who starts everything from zero (either ignores what was inherited or challenges it) and builds his own belief system. So, according to that belief, Dr. Sen is a true intellectual.

He also talks about how Indian society is superior compared to the western ones in terms of giving their share to the women much early in the history, even before the modern day civilization and feminist movements. He talks about how lower caste characters also have contributed to our argumentative tradition. He sounds very reasonable in questioning the right wing politicians. But, I am not sure if he could show the same courage in writing about other religions, which is what is the strongest question raised by our Hindu right wing politicians and activists. May be, like many of us, he also takes the liberty of being a Hindu by birth.

He also talks about the long-debated Dravidian theory (of course, in his own style) that claims that not all Hindus today were Hindus originally. It contends that Hinduism was followed only by a few groups whereas the rest of the population just worshipped various other things in their own crude way. He says why one cannot represent 80% of Indian population under the banner of Hinduism. It is just a word that many of them don’t even understand. It’s not their ignorance. It is just that it was not their belief originally. It is some of our other orthodox groups that included them also in the process and told them to follow all the rituals as they do.

He also honestly discusses about barbaric invasions done by the Mughals. But, I still believe that no one that claims to be neutral dares to question other religions in this land. If BJP or Hindutva politics has to die, there has to be another force that could be as forthright with other religions as they could be with Hinduism. He talks as though Aurangzeb was the only intolerant Mughal, but what I couldn’t understand is why he could not quote anyone other than Akbar as tolerant in that league.

His piece on Gandhi and Tagore is interesting. I knew that Tagore was a towering figure in the pre-independence India but I never thought he was so big to be compared with Gandhi. Having grown up hearing about all sorts of comparisons between Tagore and Subramanya Bharathi, I only knew him as a poet and writer. Loved the discussion around the differences of opinions Gandhi and Tagore had around idols, religion, nationalism, patriotism, etc. One passing thought that I get is that Gujarat has always been very religious (not necessarily communal) and Bengal has always been liberal and leaning leftwards. Irrespective of whichever party one belongs to, their ideological stance has some influence of the inherent inclination of the land. I think that is why even the Congress party is alleged to be ideologically sliding towards right in Gujarat and left in Bengal.

His detailed analysis into where all Gandhi and Tagore had difference in opinion is good, but at times it sounded more detailed than required for an ordinary brain. When you are on a mission like a nation’s independence, it is not worth magnifying little differences in the approach two individuals have for the same cause. I am hearing first time about Gandhi’s answer to the question by British media, “What do you think of western civilization”. I loved Gandhi’s answer, “I think it would be a good idea.”! It just goes to say how good Gandhi was in making his point.

Yeah, it’s worthwhile talking a bit about Gandhi’s oratory skills at this moment. Most of my fellow countrymen think Gandhi always tried to avoid conflicts at all costs and he was a very weak person by nature. What most of us have not heard of in our text books is that he was a great orator. Some of his speeches feature in the world’s best speeches ever made. He would not have succeeded in bringing a whole nation (rather pieces of independent territories) together but for his powerful oratory skills.

By the way, what the author tries to say here is that Tagore was objective in his judgment about western civilization unlike Gandhi. I think Tagore need not have taken that comment so seriously, as it was just meant to trigger some self introspection for the British. I think Gandhi did achieve his objective by making that comment. Otherwise, it wouldn’t have been spoken of so much in their land as well as ours.

The discussion around Gandhi’s nationalism versus Tagore’s humanity was very interesting to me. I am on Tagore’s side on that. But it was also interesting to know Gandhi’s point of view that says, “Nationalism is a mean to Humanity, like war being a mean to peace.”! May be, we couldn’t interpret what he meant to say.

I didn’t know that even Bangladesh has taken Tagore’s poem only as their national anthem. We should say Bangladesh has paid back appropriately to him even after the split as he was dead against splitting Bengal when the idea came up much earlier in the history. It is interesting to know that even Sen has spent his childhood in places that are part of current Bangladesh. Now I understand some feelings of Taslima Nasreen better, which she had shown in her novel ‘Lajja’.

It was good to know that Bengal’s two top most intellectuals after Tagore, i.e. Satyajit Ray and Amartya Sen, studied in the school founded by Tagore himself in Shantiniketan. It seems Indira Gandhi also studied in Shantiniketan. Sen has talked about Ray also at length in the book. Cinema being the most powerful Art form of our times, it is good talking about the legends from there as well. Ray undoubtedly is the best movie maker of all times in the country. He was the first ever Indian to receive the Oscar award, that too, for his life time achievement. One common thing between both Tagore and Ray, as told by the author, is that they were open to other cultures. They never had any apprehensions about adopting any good from the western world. It is good to be open-minded and objective, but I also don’t see anything wrong in using all opportunities to show your disgust in all forms against your enemy, in this case it is the British, as done by Gandhi.

When too many people have too many opinions about something it is good to put them in different buckets and analyze each of them objectively for pros and cons. It is better than accepting one as the right one and rejecting the rest. Dr. Sen interestingly classifies the researches on India into three groups and makes it very clear as to who said what and for what they said so. All the three approaches, i.e. curatorial, magisterial and exoticist, had their own agendas (some of them hidden). At a high level we shall define each of them as follows. The curatorial approach is the most objective one that doesn’t have any hidden agenda to prove any point to anyone. The magisterial one tried to prove a point to the imperialists that we were inferior and we had to be ruled by them for the good of us. The exoticist one tried to identify all exotic things in India, i.e. things that were unique and strange. Unique about us and strange to them! This classification helps us identify the right ones to be rejected or to be read for just fun.

The Iranian scholar Alberuni comes with an open mind, learns Sanskrit, collects all information first hand and understands everything about us before telling the world what he understood. He is supposed to be one of the best outsiders to have explained India to the outside world. Whereas, James Mill who is classified as the magisterial one never visited India nor did he learn Sanskrit or any Indian language before writing huge volumes about India. The biggest problem with the magisterial viewers was that they dismissed all our achievements in mathematics, science, astronomy, logic, etc. They just viewed us as a bunch of barbaric lots. I don’t think it would be irrelevant to apply this kind of a classification even for the researches done within India across regions and states. Any takers!?


The connection between India and China has been there from time immemorial. There are evidences of that right from first century itself. China has always enriched India with its innovative products and India has done that in the form of Vedic literatures and religious scripts, mostly Buddhist. He talks about how Chinese silk was popular in India in the first millennium itself. I remember very well in my childhood there used to be a material called “china silk”, which was very popular among the youth at that time. It used to be a shiny material, which would attract people’s attention wherever they go, irrespective of whether it is night or day. It would shine under both sunlight and street lights. A good number of scholars have travelled both ways and exchanged a lot of knowledge. Some of them have even stayed for around 10 – 12 years in the other country before going back with the takes-away to the mother land. In the process, some have even changed their home to the other country.

Xuanzang is one such name that sounded very familiar, though I would have misspelled his name if I haven’t read this book. Unfortunately, we don’t find our history books so interesting at the time when we had to find them so. Else, we are introduced to them so early when we are not matured enough to understand and find them interesting. All I remember about Xuanzang is that he had a long enough – funny mustache in my elementary school text book, due to which he was left untouched by my classmates, who generally used to draw mustaches and beards to those who didn’t have them and enlarge them to those who had normal mustaches and beards (we used to do it with lot more hatred to the British viceroys as we were taught that they were the ones that harassed our people and looted our wealth). Most of the times, we used to copy his mustache on other faces. Only now do I understand how great Xuanzang is and how good he was with our people when he was here.

I find this whole Indo-Sino story very important. We have been complimenting each other as good neighbors throughout the history. China has always been fond of being central to the world, but it is only now is it becoming a problem for its neighbors and the world. He has put it very well how China tries to place itself in the center of the world by calling India the west. Unlike the popular belief, it is not just Buddhism that was offered by India to China, there were many other things that went from here. For that matter, to the whole world, this has not just been a birthplace of some popular religions, but of various other important things that have been forgotten now.

China’s resistance to Buddhism initially stemmed out of the insecurity of losing its superiority if they adopt a religion from another country. This kind of nationalism is present all over the world, I guess. Calling my own culture as the best without even making an attempt to know about others’ is an easily sellable idea in any culture. Most of our people who say that their language is the best today do not know any other language than theirs, right?! It is the same issue.

China has historically been a good production unit. India has been a good market for their products and a trader of their products to the central and west Asia. They have accomplished lot more stuff than us by having a non-democratic setup, whereas we have proven our maturity by remaining democratic against all odds and despite all its problems. It is still something that makes me look down on China. If you can’t even allow your people to decide what they want, what is the point in growing to whatever level you are at? The author says that the famines are generally not a phenomenon in democratic nations. So, we have another reason to prove why democracy is superior to all other models, though it accommodates everyone including the problematic ones.

He has clearly differentiated between famine control and hunger eradication. While China has not been very successful on the former and managed the latter better than us, we have been the other way around. It’s such a pain to watch huge amount of grains rot in store rooms while hunger remains a major problem for major part of the nation. He says we have been worse than most of the poorest countries on this front. Shame! Shame!!

His view on gender inequality is interesting. It is not an independent issue, but it is connected to many other inequalities. As he says it is a problem only in lower class not in upper class. We have had female prime ministers in most of South Asian countries, which is still not a reality in most of the well-developed western countries. According to him, that itself is an indication of how gender inequality is not a problem in our upper class. I have a slightly different view here. All those who became prime ministers were not just from upper class, but they were also from the most powerful political families in their respective countries. No upper class lady grew from grass-root level to the top post. They all came through the back door. So, it is still not easy to close the case with such a conclusion.

My views on nuclear bomb are the same as his. The reasons that I have also are the same as his. He has supplied some more supporting arguments. This kind of reading helps strengthen the beliefs one has, although it doesn’t give a chance to understand the opposite views. Somehow there is an attraction towards wars and bombs among common people. They don’t understand the kind of impact they can have on human lives unless they have lost their own loved ones themselves. All those who talk about war like cricket match have to be forcefully joined in army. They would understand how difficult it is to fight wars and lose valuable lives. We are just fascinated by the idea of power that the bombs generate. It is an unknown and meaningless fascination.

I think it was Bill Clinton if I am not wrong. He asked a simple question, “Do you feel safer after the nuclear tests by both India and Pakistan or before?” Dr. Sen also answers why the developed nations are justified in saying countries like India and Pakistan should not be having nuclear weapons when they themselves already have them. The simple reason is that the control mechanism they have is far superior to ours. He also talks about why disarmament is not possible as long as the top five weapon sellers are the only permanent five in UN Security Council. I always wondered why all those who made huge noise about India’s ability to make an atom bomb did so for so many years if it was so simple for a country like Pakistan to make it within a few days from the date we made it public. He also talks about what kind of personality Dr. Kalam is and how such a soft person has got so much of fascination towards the power that the bomb generates. It is also aggravated when it is mixed with nationalism.

Discussion on faith versus reason is very interesting. He says if they had been just following the tradition, i.e. the prevailing faith, the prophets would not have come out with so much new ideas and scriptures for the future generations, which has formed the basis for most of our current faith. So funny! But, I think, some people are born with reasoning ability and they go on to create new things such as scriptures, whereas, most others do not possess any such ability and they were just born to blindly follow what their parents teach them. They also create, but not anything new. They only create the same conflicts and fights between peaceful groups of people. They are just created by their gods and parents to spoil the harmony of the land in which they are born.

One major take away I have from this book is about his views on Akbar. Though we studied them in schools, it was not the right time to take them into our head for any other purpose than clearing the history exams. I am interested to know about Din-Ilahi now. Even today, at an age when there is so much broad-mindedness, our so-called educated elite preach something outside for the survival and practice something else inside. Victims of hypocrisy! It is so unbelievable to know that a king who lived many centuries back had Inclusiveness in his blood vessels.

60 years back, secularism was the best way forward for the country that had so many varied religions. Today, it is in question. We are to choose between pseudo-secularism and communalism. To me, that only indicates the failure in implementing secularism. If we were truly secular, we wouldn’t have had to deal with this question of pseudo-secularism versus communalism. We were not. We have given huge room for communalists to justify their stand, too.

His detailed account on calendars and their origination from our lands clearly indicates that we were far ahead of others in civilization and it is only in later periods we have lost everything to the invaders including our self-esteem (though we know that there are many other evidences to prove this theory). I am wondering if we would have been another China or a different country (or countries) altogether with different problems and different feel-good factors had we not been invaded so many times by so many different people.

He has also recognized the separatist views based on other factors such as region and language almost a decade back itself in his discussion on Indian identity though he doesn’t subscribe to it. Keeping that identity and its meaningfulness alive is always going to be a challenge for us as we are united by a unique model that has not worked anywhere else on this planet. Is there any other country that has so many different languages, religions and cultures co-existing peacefully for longer than 50 years with most of its neighbors sharing some of the same languages, religions and cultures? I think this is one thing (separatist views) that needs highest amount of attention at the moment if we want to keep this country intact. May be, had he written this book now, he would have written about it in detail, I guess.

Another most important and interesting thing that I took away from this book is about the comparison between two Hindus and two Muslims. Gandhi practiced Hinduism in his daily life and advocated secularism whereas someone like Savarkar who was a diehard Hindu nationalist didn’t believe in the existence of god. I am still wondering how Hindu Mahasabha accepted him as its president. Likewise, Jinnah who was not very spiritual wanted a separate nation for Muslims and Azad who practiced Islam ‘religiously’ was opposed to it. This tells us the difference between being religious and spiritual and why they both need not go hand in hand. Personally, I get attracted so much by spirituality, but do not find anything appealing in religious politics. So, that made this point very interesting to me.

One very silly criticism I have on him is that he talks disproportionately more about Bengali sources. It is natural that a Bengali refers to Bengali sources more than others. There is nothing wrong in someone referring to his own culture as he knows that more than anyone else’s. It would have been better if he had referred to various other sources as well to give a balanced view. I couldn’t resist this as I was getting an impression in many places throughout the book (leaving out some exceptions) as though those sections are more about Bengal than about India. I know he surely didn’t make a conscious attempt to create any such image unlike some immature people who try to do that using every opportunity that comes their way, but even such an unconscious – natural bias (I can’t even call it a bias) is not good as it gives an amateur like me an opportunity to write a paragraph. Even if you look at the index in the end, Tagore is the most talked about person in the book. More than Gandhi, Nehru, Akbar and Alberuni! I think, Nandan was more balanced in his book that way. It certainly doesn’t mean that I forgot the role played by Bengal in the making up of this country from its earliest days. 

Finally… I come from a region that loves to show its love for anyone by making them their chief minister or bringing them to politics. So, I have a related question. The question is, now that it has become clear that the right wing would never make the first Asian Nobel laureate for Economics their finance minister, why not Congress do it? I know it might sound absurd but I think my question is all the more valid when there is someone like Manmohan Singh in PM’s seat and someone like Nandan Nilekani in a visionary role with cabinet ranking in his team.

Mr. Sen, aren’t you interested in the job?! Or, is it the Congress party that isn’t interested??!!

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Feelings Day!

It is an important milestone in my life today. I just joined my daughter in school. It’s a kind of emotionally charged day. I thought I would cry when I come out after leaving her. Luckily, they allowed my wife to stay there for sometime, which made things different. And, I ended up saving some tears for the next milestone. In the morning, when she left home, I was repeatedly reminded about the day she would leave home as a bride. I don’t know how I am going to handle that day. I don’t want to think about it. At the same time, I don’t want to avert thinking about it. It’s such a silly thing to think about it now when she is just three years old. But, I did think of today when she was born. It was indeed too early to think about it then. But, it did help me prepare for this day better. And, I never thought this day would come so fast. It has come now.

It’s not the first time to have experienced this kind of feeling. There have been many such days throughout. May be, the feeling could be different but one uniting thread across all such incidents is the feeling of separation. As I was driving to office after leaving her in school for the first day, mind roamed around all emotionally charged separations that happened in my life. It may not be so interesting to talk about for all of those who stumble upon my blog. I never used to find anything interesting about things that I hadn’t experienced. But, if I don’t write this down right away, I would have missed to record one of the most arousing feelings that I have ever experienced in my life.

I didn’t really find it very difficult to leave home at the age of seven to join the uncles in a nearby small town. The place that I left and the place that I left for were in close proximity. Any day I wanted to meet parents I could have reached their place in an hour. It is still one of the most defining moments of my life. I still regret for having missed the most wonderful relationship with mom so early in life. It created a never bridgeable gap with mom. Mom became like an aunt when aunts became like mom. Dad became like an uncle when uncles became like dad. I did have some lifetime gains by making that move. Could get a little better education! Could get a little better exposure! Could get a little stronger mind to face larger separations more easily later in life! Could get little more people to care about me in addition to the obvious two!

The next separation happened when I had to leave the uncle’s place also to join one of the best higher secondary schools in the area. I had to stay in hostel for the first time though it had been talked about for quite some time. No dad, no mom, no uncles, no aunts... All new faces! New friends! It was a difficult thing to handle. Many boys were crying on the first evening. Somehow the day passed successfully without much tears. The crying episodes started only in the evening. Though many boys were crying and I also felt like crying, I didn’t. At first, it was not the first time for me to have come away from home. This time, I had come away from my second home. Then, 15 years was too late to cry.  First few days (rather, evenings) went off in home-sickness. Later, it became so difficult to leave the friends in hostel even during vacations.

Then, I had to leave those friends forever without even taking autographs from them. How many different specimens within the same campus?! Had to deal with all of them differently! Dealing with different specimens differently and going back home at the end of the day was okay. You don’t get to deal with all dimensions of them. But, when you stay in hostel, you are with the same set of people throughout the day and night. All twenty four hours! So much of opportunities to get conflicts and fights! Having gone through all that, when you are about to settle down, you have to leave them. Forever! There is hardly one or two of them who are still in touch. But, that day, when we had to say that “bye”, it wasn’t that easy. Tried to cry, but I failed as it didn’t come naturally!

Then, I had to join the college, one of the most exciting places for everyone that has been there and done that. Unlike the previous place that was one hour away, this place was almost four hours away from home, the second home. It’s not that I didn’t feel like crying this time because of the prior experience. I did feel so. I still remember the late afternoon when I saw off my uncle after the admission in college. I was only thinking that all my new friends would be feeling like me. But, I was surprised to see some of them cry like kids. It was too funny for me to cry at that age though I also felt like doing it. I only felt whereas they did! Again, next few days, especially the evenings were tough. The hostel was on seashore, which made things worse by making the evenings very conducive to get home-sick. The same seashore made the college life more special later. We successfully sailed (sailing on seashore!) through that as well but there was another day to test our emotional intelligence (I know this is not the best word to be used here!).

Which is that? Another farewell day! This was a tougher day than the previous farewell day. There are two reasons. One, these friends stayed with for longer time. Two, this friendship was more matured. It would continue for longer time. Most of them are still in touch. It is also because we studied computer science, got similar jobs and the technology is helping us. This time, I didn’t fail to take autographs, collect phone numbers and addresses. However, leaving some of the lifetime friends was not easy. It was all the more difficult because we had tougher times ahead with more responsibilities to be delivered and promises to be kept single handedly and single mindedly.

Then, what? Studies over! Exams over! Fevers over! I had to get a job. Can’t get any job in places that are one or four hours away! Had to anxiously travel overnight to reach a city called Chennai. In order to start hunting for a job fulltime! All were worried at home, because, for us, who were twelve hours away from Chennai, it was such an adventurous thing to go there alone first time. Because, everyone that visited Chennai used to come back with lots of stories on how Chennai was unsafe for outsiders (I think this is an interesting piece of information for all of those who think Chennai is a safe place for all Tamils). That was how all our movies, TV serials and local magazines had introduced that city to us. In fact, they were not cooked up stories. They were absolutely normal and random incidents to those who lived there. But, for us, who went there first time, they were risks to be managed with mitigation and contingency plans. With not so much of communication facilities as we have today, wrote letters and made landline calls to the uncles there, somehow gathered courage after days of brainstorming as to how to do every minute thing after landing there, and left alone to Chennai in a direct bus with special instructions to the driver. Another memorable evening! All my cousins that were half my age (at that time) saw me off on the eve of a beginning of a new era in my life. What happened after that is miracle. I had no job other than looking for a job. Almost went to every nook and corner of the city in search of a job and memorized the route numbers of almost all important bus routes. Such a mysterious city got demystified in just six months. But, even today, when I land in Chennai, all thoughts that I had about the city before my first landing pass through my mind vaguely. That makes every visit to that place special. In addition, being the capital of and the biggest city in the state, it gets all the focused attention from the government, media and entertainment industry. All our leaders, stars and intellectuals live there. If not all, most! So, it’s very natural to have that kind of an attraction towards such a city.

Then, it became very clear after six months, ‘If what I am looking for is a job in software industry Chennai is not the best place and that place is 350 kilometers away from Chennai and it is outside my state’. Then, I had to travel to Bangalore. This one became all the more scary because I was coming to an unknown place in all senses. Everything was unknown… people, language, food, weather, culture… everything! Today, when I look back, it all looks so funny. I need not have been that scared to come to the place where I have spent more time than in any other place (as of today). Twelve continuous years! I can’t imagine living in any other place with so much comfort. I have more friends here than in any other place. I have more memories about this place than any other place. I lived my life here better than in any other place. When I was on an implementation trip all across the nation in 2001, first ten days I could manage. Eleventh day, I wanted to come back to Bangalore. That was in 2001. Almost a decade later… today… this place means much more to me.

First, there was an IT job in a non-IT company. One and a half years passed in lightning speed with both the eyes focused on an IT job in an IT company. That happened in Blue Chip Computer Consultants Pvt. Ltd. This is where I have spent more time than in any other company. This is where I got more friends than in any other company. This company gave me more than what all other companies gave me (I am not talking in terms of monetary benefits). It gave me a break just with an intention to give me a break. It accepted me as what I was. I traded in my skills for money in all other places later. But there, I got both from the company itself. It's not that I don't get my skills developed in other companies as well, but it started from zero in Blue Chip. All roads lead to Rome. And, all roads that lead to Rome should also end in Rome. Then, you have to take a new road from there. My road with Blue Chip also ended. The last day was emotionally charged in true sense. I was about to (didn’t, this time also) cry when I was shaking hands with all colleagues on the last day, evening again. I have been having similar evenings after that. But, nothing could match that evening. Please check out the last mail that I sent from my Blue Chip email id that evening in the beginning of this blog. That was when I created this blog.

Then, the most exciting thing in any man’s life, the marriage, happened. There have been many sleepless nights discussing and fighting over all silly things under the sun, both before and after marriage. But, what remains as an emotionally charged separation (I know you would laugh at me for calling it a separation!) is the one that we had when I had to go to office after the shortest ever vacation (by the way, in literal sense, that's the longest ever vacation I have enjoyed so far! three weeks and four weekends are not short, right?) in life was over. I knew that there were millions of women that stay at home when their husbands left for work every day. It is not that they can’t stay alone at home or they invariably get into safety problems when they are alone. However, it was so difficult to kick-start the bike that chilly morning although there was nothing wrong with my bike, which was in a fairly good condition.

Post-marriage, all lines were disconnected and got into a shell of my own. I spent all my time with family as all of those who succeeded as well as failed in marriages told that it was very critical for successful marriage. The first time we had to separate was when I saw her off in Cantt railway station to my parents' place just few days before the function to formally send her off from my parents' house to her parents'. I came back home that night and cried like mad. Like never before! I have never been so mad before. Then, after a few days, we met and had the function as planned. After the function, we had to separate for a longer period, that was, about seven months. Though I knew that I would travel 700 kilometers up and down almost every weekend to meet her, that day – that minute was tough to handle. Today, looking back, I laugh at myself for that. Along with other men who laugh at me!

After that, the latest one is what happened today. Until there was a baby, I always missed my wife whenever we got separated however small the period was. After that, every time it happens, I miss my daughter more. I have been going through this for some time now. I know it is too funny, because I have felt the same thing when others were doing this for their children. But, now, I understand the feeling of billions of fathers that have walked the same path. Isn’t it a good feeling?!

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Democrazy?!

Democracy is the most popular model today despite all its drawbacks. All other models have larger problems (may be fewer) than what democracy has. So, not having any other model coming anywhere close to the popularity of democracy, all we could think of is about the changes that could be done to make democracy better, especially Indian democracy.

Though we have been boasting that we are the largest democracy in the world and keeping the democracy alive itself is one of the greatest achievements, I think that the results of last sixty years’ democracy are not very encouraging.

We have certainly done a lot of things, but they are far below standards. There is no point in giving statistics around things as basic as how many times we have had food and how many person-nights we have slept in last sixty years. By now, with so much academicians and intellectuals around, we should have at least ensured that there are no starvation deaths, no illiteracy and no record-breaking corruptions by politicians.

What has stopped us from achieving that? We have not had the right people doing right jobs. May be, after Nehru’s time, the quality of our politics has gradually gone down. We have elected a huge number of rogues, criminals and looters as our leaders time and again for various reasons.

Why did we do that? If we do a root cause analysis putting all reasons together the simplest answer we get is that our people are dumb. They don’t have enough education or knowledge to decide who is right and who is wrong for them.

Then, do we deserve democracy? No. It is only for a fairly educated crowd, not for us, those who don’t even know who stands for what.

So, if we have to choose the best model, what is that? Who will decide that?

Do we allow our IAS officers, the most intelligent lot in our system, to do that as they have the best understanding of our nation? How do we ensure that they don’t use all their prior experience with their cousins, our politicians, who were corrupted by the democratic system?

Do we allow Maoists, the mighty lot, to do that as they are the next strongest lot with strong control over seven states already? How do we ensure that whatever they suggest is in the best interest of our people as they don’t even seem to know the value of a life, that too, innocent lives that work for monthly salary from governments?

If we have to choose the best model it has to be done by the ones who are selected as the best by people. It is none other than our current leaders, of whom huge chunk goes under the classification of rogues, criminals and looters. So, to select the best model itself we need to select the best people, which is not the current set. On what basis do we do that? If we know the basis to select the best people then we have the model itself in place. We will deserve democracy then.

Can we exclude the dumbest of dumb people from the election process? What is the point in someone that doesn’t even know how his vote matters to him voting? If he is excluded from the process then who will represent him and bother about his wellbeing? He will end up forming an armed force to bring down the governments of the elite and snatch all their wealth by force to feed his women and children.

So, where is the end? There is no end. The nature will take its course. But, one question! Is he getting his due share now when he is able to choose his leader? Is he being represented or bothered about now? No. In either case he is not cared about. At least the brighter lot would get their share properly and there is a possibility of better treatment for the dumber ones also. The possibility itself is not seen now. It would also put some pressure on them to get brighter. What I am trying to say here is that like the way we have screening process for candidature why don’t we look at some screening process for voters also?

If corruption is a major problem and if the common man cannot identify their corrupt leaders, can there be a law prohibiting such foolers (those who fool) from contesting elections? Yes. It is there. If I am not wrong, the law at least prohibits the proven criminals. Likewise, why don’t we have a law prohibiting the fools (those who get fooled) from voting? Yes. We can have.

OK. So, shall we pass the bill? No. You can’t. There are obstacles? What are the obstacles foreseen in passing that bill? Nobody would support the bill. Why? It will only put them in trouble. Most of them that have to support the bill are sitting in that position only by the mercy of those who are to be screened out. Who would dig his own grave knowing that it is for him?

With all these limitations of our model, if we make an assumption that such bills could be passed successfully by the rulers, what are the top three changes that I would love to see in our current model?

1.      What I said just now. There should be a screening process for voters to ensure that those who understand the process do it. If you need a license to drive in this country, why not one for those who want to vote? If children and youth below 18 years cannot vote due to their immaturity, what about those who still remain immature even after crossing that age? If the candidature could be challenged for unlawful behavior by the candidate, why not the voting rights for selecting unlawful candidates (corruption is unlawful)? Every time I blame the politicians for something, one or the other middle class face shouts at me saying it’s not their problem and it’s ours, the voters. If I have to stop getting irritated with that intelligent answer, this is the only way out, I guess.

2.      The current model was designed almost with the same intentions of what we have today, but they have failed. It doesn’t want us to elect the top most leaders as we don’t have any close contact with them. Instead, if we choose someone whom we know (i.e. our legislators and parliamentarians), they would in turn choose the best person to rule us. Good thought, but it has failed. Why? More often than not, they themselves do not know why they are choosing someone or it is not in their control also. On the hand, their life goes on at the mercy of the top boss. This allows these guys to waste a lot of time in working behind the scene against the boss in exchange of huge looted money paid to them. I mean, the horse trading! If that has to stop, it is better the electorate elects its leader so that there would be stability at least. With too much of coalition games in recent past, it makes all the more sense to have stable government. The biggest risk here is that it would shut the doors for people like Dr. Singh. But, it would also do that for comic leaders from parties with little more than single digit seats.

3.      The same thing needs to be done in local body elections as well. The recent changes in local administration give abnormal room for horse trading. It seems it has brought in a lot of good things, but in the process it has also got some big loopholes. All chairmen (union, district, municipal, etc.) are elected by the elected members unlike earlier when our parents used to vote to elect them directly. This makes the whole process a joke. Every member gets a lifetime amount to change side. They are literally taken into custody by the contestants for a week or so. In those few days, they are secretly taken to nearby resorts, hill stations, estates and what not (like the kittened cat shifting its place to ensure the safety of its kittens) to ensure they don’t get sold out. I have personally seen a guy become filthy rich after being selected as a member for union council (mind it, just a councilor). If all these have to stop, this overhaul is required.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Traitors, Betrayals and Siblings' Rivalry

All our epics, movies and stories have two characters, one hero and one villain. Hero is good and villain is bad. They are enemies. Enemy is someone whom you know very well that he would do everything against you. The epics and stories have also given an important place for traitors. Who is a traitor? How is he different from the enemy? Unlike enemy, the traitor is your own person who unexpectedly turned against you some day. The one that changed his side midway! He would have also become your enemy after that. At first, he is your traitor and then he becomes your primary enemy, more enemy than your enemy himself. What makes the traitors so special? They give the unexpected twist to the story. The story changes its course from that moment, which requires whole new approach, planning and strategizing. You don’t know much about your enemy, but you know very well about your traitor because he was your own man. On the other hand, your enemy didn’t know much about you, but has got good amount of information about you after your traitor changed side. These guys change side for many reasons. We as audience look at the big picture and take a side, but for them there may be various compulsions to take such a decision.

Brutus’s is the most well known betrayal in the world history. Every kingdom in history has a lot of betrayal stories to tell. Our epics Ramayana and Mahabharata have also talked about it in great detail. Our politicians do that on a daily basis. As I am writing this piece at this very minute, more than ten legislators who were part of our state government few days ago are planning in a closed room jointly with their erstwhile enemies (friends before that) to topple the government in another few days. When they came to this side a couple of years back, what they had done was also betrayal. In addition to betraying their own parties, they have been consistently betraying their people for time immemorial. Even in the Sri Lankan civil war, it is strongly contested that the alleged betrayal by a former top tiger is what brought the war to such a quick end. In many cases, even some of the good moves to expose the bad with good intentions are called betrayal by the affected parties. Irrespective of whatever it is, let’s find out what triggers this act of betrayal by someone.

Betrayal is way of life for some. They don’t have to think too much about taking that decision. Once they get bored at one side, they have to change side to prosper continually. They kind of get stagnated after a point. Their growth prospects saturate beyond that point. They have to go with the much needed break. This is very similar to the way we change companies for better opportunity. It is just a survival tactic for them. If survival of the fittest is the way of life here, how would they (the not-so-fit) survive? This is the only way out for them to keep their women and children away from hunger and all the worldly problems. Be with the fittest when you can’t be the fittest yourself! ‘Is it right or wrong?’ is not the analysis that we want to do. We are just trying to explore as many reasons as possible.

At times, when there are only two options, we just tend to choose the best of worst or better of worst. The more one suffers being with the best of worst the more he thinks about their evils than the other side’s. He has more reasons to teach a lesson to those than to the enemies, more so when he is into backend activities and not facing the enemy on a daily basis. He tends to think that the enemy might be better than these guys and change the side to get rid of all the current problems. When he changes the side he realizes that he is valued more here for all the information that he brought away from there.

The most critical of them all is the one that happens out of siblings’ rivalry. I have always wondered what makes Maoists join hands with Mamata Banerjee, who is dead against their siblings in ideology, the Marxists. What made Pramod Mahajan’s own brother his enemy and take his life when we were all thinking that he had enemies only in politics? What made the politburo members of his own party from other states vote against Jyoti Basu becoming the prime minister in 1996? What made the self-proclaimed savior of Tamils stop another Tamil leader from becoming the prime minister of the nation in 1997? What makes some of the national parties align with Dravidian parties who have completely different ideology (by the way, looting the public money is not their stated ideology)? What makes Pakistan support a far away friend in the fight against India? In a local body election in my place some time back, I have seen one of the communist parties joining hands with their enemies behind the scene to defeat another communist party when they were very much in the same alliance. What triggered all those is the siblings’ rivalry. Why does rivalry come to existence at all between siblings?

1.      The expectation is more from siblings than from enemies. When my brother is well-off, I expect him to help me more than he does to himself. I don’t understand his limitations. I just expect him to listen to me too much and help me unconditionally. When he doesn’t do that, I start working in closed rooms with the enemy. It’s win-win for both of us, me and the enemy. Both of us want to defeat the same person. It becomes easier for both of us as I have access to more information and places of my brother than the enemy does and the enemy has already done enough ground work to make my job easier.

2.      We are closer with our siblings than with others and we spend more time together in close contact, so we have more opportunities to have problems with each other. We have opportunity to create problems or to meet with problems everywhere, where we sleep, where we eat, where we play, where we dress, where we do anything that we do together. It also gives more opportunities to talk about the problem repeatedly and argue for each other’s side endlessly once there is a problem in place. Not just common places, we also have common people to share our problem, take sides and advice one of us or both of us. Instead of solving the problem, this makes things worse, when there is an easier solution of forgetting it for a while and moving on, in which case the time would have been a great healer. Any two individuals being together for long time is simply difficult. Whoever they are, be it parent-child, couples, siblings, friends, relatives!

3.      Beyond a point, the siblings start getting their own well wishers, who are more worried about one party’s well being than both the parties’ collectively. In these cases, the well wishers start pampering the respective parties in trouble to get into more trouble so that the relationship between the well wishers and the respective parties could get stronger. In a personal scenario, the spouses and in-laws are the example for this. Even in larger examples, there are spouses and in-laws. There are spouse countries that spoil relationships in diplomatic relationships of their partner countries. Sri Lanka has become like 'another' spouse to China now. China would ensure a bitter relationship between Sri Lanka and its sibling India sooner or later. There are spouse political allies who never allow their partners align with some particular parties. Left parties are such spouses in many states who don’t allow their mighty allies join hands with BJP.

4.      There is a natural human problem. I can see anyone else grow to any level but not my sibling. Nothing happens to me when a third party grows. But, there are many aspects that I have to be worried of if my own sibling is going to be above me. I will lose my respect. I will be looked down by others. I will have to listen to him/her. My spouse and children have to lie low in front of his/hers. Again, spouse and children stuff is just an analogy. It could be applied for entities of all size.

5.      Enemy is someone who has stated in uncertain terms that he holds opposite views on everything and has acted accordingly throughout. Whereas, I have been under an impression that my sibling is with me all along. Even then why is he doing things that I don’t like? Even if the things that he does are not as bad as our enemy’s, we find it difficult to digest because we think he should have thought like us and he should not have done it. We expect the enemy to be perfect enemy and the partner to be perfect partner, which is against the nature. It is only in movies that we could find a perfect hero that does only good and a perfect villain that does only bad. Real life equations are much more complicated than they look to be.

This is why countries have spy agencies, political leaders do not trust anyone, organizations have security policies and individuals are taught to take care of their siblings when they do well.

Tell me who is more worried about national security today. Is it external affairs or home ministry? This is why we need to keep everyone around us happy. As happy as we are! If required, happier!! That is why governance is not just governance. There is lot more to governance than administration. Otherwise, things will change but in the process the government itself will have to change. Wherever there is human element, there has to be sufficient energy going into spying the traitors and spying the spies in addition to doing the basic duties. There would be compromises made to please traitors at the cost of people, principles and ideologies.

Respect - Too Much Is Too Bad?

I don’t know how it was 50 years ago. But, what I have seen in my more than a decade long work experience is that those who have mastered the art of respecting individuals grow leaps and bounds. So are those who don’t give more respect than required too. It’s more obvious to more people today than some years ago that growth in any field is not purely out of technical competency but is decided based on many other factors including the people skills, which is one of the top most in the list. When we say people skills, it is not just respecting individuals, it also means handling them the right way. It is getting the most out of people by being good with them and treating them in the best possible manner, which also includes being tough with them when required. Needless to say, one need not be tough for the sake of being it or to test if s/he could be tough while feeling like that.

I have been criticized for not being good at respecting elders in family many times as I am seen to be someone who takes them light. I thought it was not required with family members because they were just my own family members. It is not that I scold them or disrespect them by lowering the standard of the language. In their point of view, my gestures and the way I put forth my ideas are not respectful. To put it straight, I should always take their feedback and give respect to them by implementing as they suggest. Instead, I don’t even go to them for ideas nor do I attempt implementing any of their ideas if they just come on my way. Most of the times, my plans just get executed without anyone’s review. I never bother to get them reviewed neither to make my plans better nor to make the reviewers feel better.

On the other hand, I was convinced that respecting each individual I come across (irrespective of how good or horrible s/he is) is a key to professional success. Not only in professional life, but also outside the compound walls of my house, it is better to be respectful with everyone to avoid any unwanted problems. Ayn Rand tells in her book ‘The Virtue of Selfishness’ that all that we call as ethical behavior could be attributed to selfishness. In simple words, we learn a lot of good behaviors just to ensure that we have a peaceful life and not necessarily to make the living a better experience for others. I couldn’t read her book beyond a few pages after getting the gist of what she was trying to say, but I could relate to this point very well.

More than a decade back, I wrote in a poem in my college days, “Next to human beings, I am scared of snakes and dogs”. I don’t know how much you could relate to it or appreciate it, but this is one of the rarest lines that keep coming to my mind till today. It reflects me and my fears. So, it would stay on for a long time. I am scared like crazy about strangers. Snakes and dogs can just bite at the max. Whereas, everything ‘strange’ that I have seen so far has been done by ‘strangers’ (is there a pun here?), i.e. human beings only. All unprecedented crimes are committed only by human beings not by any other creature. So, I cultivated this virtue of respecting individuals just to be safe in this extraordinarily unsafe planet. For example, in a street fight, the guy that crosses the limit in his words gets slapped first than the one who is more watchful about his words (this is just a hypothesis that could be challenged, which is exactly what I am going to do in the remaining part of this post). This made me very conscious and cautious about my behavior with the strangers and outsiders.

Now, if we just go back to the home scenario, irrespective of whatever I do and speak, I am doubly sure that my family members will not do anything unpredictable to me. That’s the reason I have been least bothered about my modes of expression with them. It is just my personality trait and the reasoning for that. I have also seen the reverse phenomenon. They are extremely good with family members. They don’t even allow polluted air touching their loved ones, but wouldn’t hesitate getting into any bloody fight with strangers even for silly things like reserving a seat in the bus. Their reasoning is, “I have to see their face every day and live with my family forever. But I may never have to meet a stranger again or choose to avoid them if I want to, after the incident.”! It does make sense. But, my thought process starts mostly from safety point of view whereas theirs… I don’t know from where.

It’s so good to respect elders in our culture. I give too much importance to one’s age than required. I find it very difficult looking at an old peon working under a young officer. When the peon that is of the officer’s father’s age bends in front of the officer with respect, I feel so bad for that and curse everything under the sun. That scene would travel with me for days. This, I think, is an Indian phenomenon. It may not be a problem for others. I have been liked by a lot of elders for giving the due (sometimes undue) respect to them in outside world (uncles and aunts are still cribbing for my negligence). I have reaped good benefits by doing that. I have been more peaceful than those who disrespect them. But, I should also admit that I have got into a lot of problems by respecting people more than they deserve just because of their age. This is what I want to discuss with you today about.

I have come across a good number of nuts that think too big of them and expect each one to respect them in a better way than they are treated. It’s good not to be worried about their expectations because had we worried about it would we have fallen in the trap of listening to them and satisfying them, which has no end. These people just express their expectation about respect. On ignoring, they keep complaining. If you take their complaints seriously and start taking them seriously, you are gone. Their expectation would increase. You would have to keep on raising the bar, which would only land you in trouble. It is just good to be ignoring them than to listen. They are respect-beggars. They don’t know the difference between commanding and demanding respect. Unfortunately, they do not know that it comes automatically based on their behavior, not by demanding it.

The next category of people is the ones that don’t think too big about themselves, but we make them think so. They may not deserve that respect and they wouldn’t have got such respect from anyone else on earth. They wouldn’t have expected such respect from you also. They get overly excited on receiving your never-before-respect and start behaving funny after that. What happens with them is that they would like you for your right (only we know how ‘right’ it is) judgment about them because you are giving them that sort of respect, but would start playing with you too much as you are the one to entertain them so much ever in their life. They would think, ‘Okay, this guy thinks I am big. So, I have to keep showing my bigness to retain the respect.’! But, what they don’t realize is that in the process they would only end-up losing their respect. They would advise you too much every time they see you. They would find too many faults with you to prove that they are the best masters for you. They would continue all these until you get rid of them forever or slap and say “shut-up man”. They might feel bad after you slap as they would realize that they have lost the only person that respected them.

There is another similar category that is same as above but they wouldn’t even like you initially as much as the previous lot did. They would start treating you like human waste from the moment they realize that you respect them. For them, you are worthless because you are respecting them, who are more worthless than yourself. The more you increase your respect for them the more they would reduce it for you. They wouldn’t leave you till death, theirs or yours. For these clowns also, you are the first one to have exposed them to such a high level of respect ever in their life. How can they leave you?! Even if you slap and ask them to shut up, these guys would only feel bad for what happened to them but not for losing your relationship. They will take vacation from office and bitch about you all across the world for doing it to them. :)

So, all these are only taking us to a conclusion that we have to be very careful about deciding on the right quantity of respect to be given to each individual. Many a times, it becomes difficult for some of us to take it back or reduce it after giving too much of it. I have seen some people do it (taking it back or reducing it) very easily and successfully. They need not be worried about anything. They are the street-smart lots. Nothing is a problem for them. My profession has taught me that where there is no measurement there is no improvement. But, these guys need neither measurement nor any improvement. It is all ad-hoc for them. But, for us the sensitive lots, quantifying respect would surely help. Though it seems like we don’t lose anything by giving it too much, my opinion is that we do lose a lot by giving it too much to wrong people. The lot includes a piece of peace of mind!

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Obsessive Observation Disorder!

Observation is something that all of us human beings do on a daily basis. Those who do it more are supposed (more of self-supposition than by others!) to be more intelligent as they can foresee problems and understand hidden messages many times before the rest of the crowd does it. It has a good place in both science and philosophy. What I want to discuss about it today is not the science behind it and the philosophy about it or the benefits of doing it. It is the list of problems of doing it too much, i.e. overdoing it. I have been a victim of this many times myself. It has three major problems as far as I have observed (I want everything that I have done to be called ‘observed’, not as ‘seen’ or ‘heard’, as I feel superior about being a good observer!).

The first problem that I have observed is that all those who spend good amount of their time observing the people and objects around get addicted to the act of observation. It is like any addiction. Beyond a point it gets too much and becomes the sole of purpose of the life. Wherever I go, I just observe. ‘Observe… observe… observe… do nothing else’ becomes the mantra of life. I observe everything that moves and stays around. I observe many minute and hidden things that are not visible to normal human eyes. I spend too much time in observing that I end-up having no time to do anything else productive. I over-analyze things and come to too many conclusions, which are of no use after some time. When I go to meeting or training I focus too much on people and their behaviors, but fail to focus on the content part, which is more critical than the format. When I play a game I focus too much on observing aspects that are not to be bothered so much, but fail to win the game. When I drive I focus too much on noticing the beauties (not just the beauty that comes to your mind) on the roadside and don’t see the vehicle going in front, which would land me in a life-time trouble.

The second problem is similar to the first one or complementary to that. What happens here is that those who spend long hours observing the world start looking at everything for fun. I get a special eye to sense things that others can’t see, but don’t see the simple things that one can’t afford to miss. Everyone looks funny. Every act seems crazy. Sometimes those who speak even at times of need become a spectacle. I kind of get critical and negative about everything in life. We are the people who murmur in all silent meetings and public gatherings. I become shy of even breathing in public. I neither stand up for what is right for me nor for others. I discourage those who do things that I can’t do. I am just a good critic. For me, observation is a superior act than doing itself. If I can't even use it to do things better when my turn comes, what is the point in doing it? Sometimes I become very talkative as I have observed too much to talk about. Sometimes I have no time to even talk as I am busy observing all funny things around. You have a view on everything, yet you don’t do anything. It is not that you should not have views on things that you can’t do (In fact, in one of my previous posts, I had strongly advocated having views on as many things as possible even if you can’t do anything about many of them), but it should not become so that you will only have views and not even try those things that you can do successfully.

The third one is a scientifically accepted point. All observations are biased. Those who observe just look for the wanted answers. I don’t see the right answers; I don’t see the good answers; I only want the answers that I already have in my mind. I just use my observations as a tool to confirm or strengthen my own beliefs. Nothing more! Nothing less! I don’t try to gain anything extra by observing. I don’t even use it to validate my beliefs. I am not open to opposite views and new avenues. This makes me close-minded, open to only supporting arguments for my own beliefs. This never enhances my knowledge laterally, but only strengthens my beliefs. It leads to selective observation and gets no new conclusions.  What I understood over a period was that such people should consciously challenge their own beliefs at regular intervals and look for opportunities to thrash them through their observations if they really want to make good use of their observation skills.

Let me conclude with the disclaimer. It is not bad to observe. I never meant to say “don’t observe” by writing this piece. It is a great gift to those of you who spend a lot of your idle time observing. It’s not that others don’t think. They just spend their time in thinking about things that they already have in their mind (I mean preoccupied with the stored data instead of looking outwards for inputs to start thinking about anything) whereas you spend your time in thinking about things that you are observing - sensing, i.e. seeing, hearing, smelling, touching and tasting, at the very moment. By observing things that happen around and by being aware of the environment, you avoid a lot of problems that others have no clue about. There are only three problems of overdoing it, but there may be dozen benefits that you may get by doing it appropriately. So, continue to observe everything around you and enjoy, but just be watchful of the addiction, negativity and bias while doing it. It would work wonders.

Wednesday, October 06, 2010

Accidental Railway Minister?!

The growing number of train accidents is disturbing the nation. May be, it would make us numb after some time if we keep hearing such news endlessly. I strongly believe they could be avoided to a great extent with the help of more responsible behavior and better laws. More so, because some railway stat says that 86% of the train accidents are caused by human error. On the other hand, someone clarifies that they are all system failures and not human errors. It is a very well known fact that both our systems and men are worse than those in other countries. So, I really don’t know which really causes all the troubles.

Irrespective of whatever it is, what comes out clearly is that the human lives are not valued by our governments as much as they are done in other parts of the world, may be, because they are too much in number. There is a dedicated page in Wikipedia to list down all the train accidents that happened in India. I don’t think any other country on earth has got such a page and a huge list in it. This is enough to prove how irresponsible our railways have been. Looking at the list, what I understand is that almost every year we have had a number of major accidents. And, especially in 2010, it has been too much.

Why 2010? The immediate thing that comes to my mind is that 2010 is the year that has given wings to the current railway minister’s chief ministerial aspirations. She is pulled between her priorities, between Bengal and Railways, between the responsibility entrusted upon her and the role she is dreaming of, between what is on hand right now and what is in mind of future. In the battle for supremacy what has won is her dream and what has lost is one of the world’s largest railway networks. I am more than convinced that she has failed miserably as our railway minister.

It’s time she resigns from her post as railway minister. I am one of the millions of people who want to see her as the chief minister of West Bengal throwing out the arrogant left front. But, I am not interested to see someone doing such a responsible job with no interest. So, it would be wise for her to accept moral responsibility for all failures in 2010 saying that most of her time goes into the issues of her own state, which is equally important for her and she can’t afford to ignore her people’s calls. She is on her way to becoming the chief minister of her state. That is the purpose of her journey. On the way, she has become a railway minister, which is accidental. But, that accident in her political career should not be a cause for many accidents.

She may be worried if her political rivals would take mileage out of this if she herself admits her failure. What I think is that if she doesn’t do this now and exit gracefully at the right time it would become very easy for her rivals to prove that she is only fit to shout in streets and is highly ineffective as an administrator. I am afraid if that is also true looking at the way the train accidents are happening with regular intervals. May be, Mamata the politician is more effective than Mamata the minister. How is she going to prove to her people that she would make a good chief minister then?

It would have been easy for Congress high command to throw her if she was a Congress member, like they did to Mr. Patil the home minister. But, unfortunately, she is the biggest ally in the coalition. So, they can’t afford to hurt her. They can’t do what they did to their home minister in the last innings to the railway minister in the current innings. But, it is required. A life lost due to the irresponsibility of any ministry is a life. I don’t have the data, but I think the lives lost in train accidents are more in number than the lives lost in terrorist attacks. What is under our control should be corrected first, right? I am sure the train accidents are more under our control than the terrorist attacks. May be, the losses are not highlighted as much as required, as there is no enemy here. We are our own enemies.

I don’t know what kind of punishment mechanism they have in railways in case of such failures. But, it has been proven repeatedly that they are not enough and they are far below the standards in effectiveness. No ground level action could prevent it forever. So, it is clear that we need to have strict laws to punish people at the top most level also. Only that would make them accountable to people. We would never lose anything by awarding such huge punishments. In a country of billion people, we have enough people to do their jobs in better ways.

Not just in railways, the law should become so strict that such failures in any ministry should bar its ministers from occupying any position of cabinet rank for a particular time period or forever. I have personally seen how much a driver suffers if he causes an accident ever in his career. If such tough punishments are possible for common men, why should it be not possible for these uncommon men and women? It might sound absurd now. You might say it is easier said than done. But, I am optimistic. Right to Information and Right to Education were absurd and “easier said than done” sometime back. They are reality today. So, if a government is committed to its people, anything should be possible!

Dr. Singh! I know you are committed!!

Tuesday, October 05, 2010

Classical Tamil?


Please understand the purpose of the post correctly. Before you start reading this, you may have to forget all the discussions going on around races and racism in India in the last few weeks. It's not on those lines. This was written sometime back with a different purpose, so please don't mix this up with such things.

There is always a complaint that Tamils are excessively proud about their language. I agree. It surely doesn't make them superior to others. If your language is older than someone else's or if it has more literature than someone else's, it is just a fact and there is nothing to feel superior about it. You can still feel proud about it, not excessively though. What makes them feel so? They truly believe that their language is an asset for them. The reasons are many. Antiquity of the language, the amount of literature they have preserved, strength of its grammar, vocabulary (though can't be compared with Sanskrit!), the love all their kings and their kingdoms had for it (including the kings that came from outside!), spread of the people that speak the language, their relentless efforts in translating every single scientific/technical term to their language, and more than all that, the simplicity of the language, etc. etc.

Invasion was way of life for a long time. Like everywhere else, there also, a lot of outsiders came, conquered and went. They also looted their wealth, harassed their people and did everything that any invader does. None of them could destroy their language. Everywhere else the language changed. Only there, it didn't happen. I mean, here also, the language changed but not completely. Everywhere else, the name of the language itself changed. New letters came in. New pronunciations came in. New languages were born. Only there, the same language went through change. At the max, only new words were introduced. It's the same letters that were there in the first available literature, which are being used even today. Even the same pronunciations are there today. Even today there are people who name their kids in pure Tamil, which is way different from what we are speaking today. There are many letters that are called Sanskrit letters, which have not been included in Tamil yet. They don't feature in original Tamil letters list. They are just given as supplementary. There are people who are against adding them to Tamil alphabets list for the reason that they won't be able to prove that Tamil is not an offshoot from Sanskrit if they do that.  They use those letters only in the borrowed words. Borrowed words? Yes. There is a list of words that they call "borrowed words", which are nothing but the pure Sanskrit words. For every such word, there is an equivalent Tamil word, which just doesn't sound like Sanskrit. But, most of the common men don't know those words. Including the priests that chant mantras in Sanskrit, everyone speaks Tamil so proudly at home.

Like all others, Tamils also go all around the world for their livelihood and learn the languages of the land (Bangaloreans! please excuse here... they don't do that in Bangalore because they feel at home here!). When they do that, people make fun of them for their accent and pronunciations. There are reasons for why that happens. Why they are made fun of? And, why they speak such a funny accent? That is what I want talk about today. Being aware of them helps both the parties (the ones that make fun and the ones that are made fun of) understand each other better. That's it.

Are there limitations in Tamil? Yes. Many. Then, is it not a classical language as people claim? No. I don't think so. They are unrelated. Just like every individual having their traits / personal attributes, every language also has its own traits and personal attributes. There is no language that has equivalent letters and pronunciation for all letters and pronunciation from all languages. For example, there is no equivalent letter for our 'zha' in English. In fact, no other Indian language has an equivalent for that, except for Malayalam. There are many things that English doesn't have. Likewise, no Indian language has an equivalent letter for 'Z'. Including Malayalam! Why am I stressing Malayalam here? Because, that's the perfect blend of both Sanskrit and Tamil. If that doesn't have a letter, we can be two hundred percent sure that no other Indian language would have it.

Bengali and Oriya do not have an equivalent for 'V'. If we write 'V' in English, they read that also as 'B'. When a lovely friend of mine from Bengal was asked to read out 'VB', 'BV', 'VV', and 'BB', with great difficulty he twisted his tounge and mouth so much and finally read it as 'BB', 'BB', 'BB', and 'BB'. It doesn't mean that Bengali is a weak language. It's the only Indian language that got Nobel prize for literature. So, such limitations should not be used to judge a language. There are much more such limitations in Tamil. Let's just see what they are and how to manage them - objectively. So, rest assured - I am not trying to prove that 'it is' or 'it is not' a classical language.

All Indian languages just take into account only the vowels and consonants when they are asked about the number of letters in their language. So, if you ask them, they would say a number around 50 to 60. But, if you ask a Tamilian, he/she would say, 247. People would just laugh, asking, "Did you have proper attendance in elementary school?". "Where did you guys get so many letters from, when you can't even pronounce the existing letters?", They ask with amazement. That's because vowels, consonants, allied letters and a special letter are all considered in counting - in Tamil. So, it's important that they are aware of the reason for the difference, too.

OK. Can they not even pronounce the existing letters? Yes. That's the reason why they can't learn other languages so easily. There is only one equivalent letter for all the following five in other Indian languages - KA, KHA, GA, GHA, and HA. All these five names - Kamal, Khaleel, Ganesh, Ghajini, and Hari start with the same letter. It doesn't mean that they pronounce the first letter the same way in all these words. We just have to change the pronunciation based on the context. It's only when people do not know when to change to what, they are made fun of. Many people know the difference in pronunciation but don't know the reason why there are not five letters like in other languages. Let's see that reason today. Another thing before we get into that - only KA in Kamal is a pure Tamil letter; rest all came from Sanskrit or other languages. But, there is something in their grammar, which explains the difference in pronunciation. The same letter that is used for KA in the beginning of a word should become GA or HA when it comes in the middle. So, a pure Tamil word would not have HA or GA as its first letter. It's only the borrowed words that have these letters as the first letter. It's only those people who had poor attendance in elementary school who make mistakes in these pronunciations. :)

Likewise, there is only one letter for CA, CHA, JA, JHA, SA, SHA, and SSHA. Why wouldn't others laugh? Let's see why they shouldn't laugh as well. They use the same letter as the first letter for Chandra, Jambu, Sabari, and Sharma. In some parts of Tamil Nadu, all these words are called Chandra, Chambu, Chabari, and Charma respectively. Only by the uneducated ones, by the way! What is called Saappaadu in other places is Chaappaadu there. Funny, right? Like in K series, as per the grammar, 'CHA' in the beginning becomes 'SA' in the middle. JA, JHA, SHA, and SSHA are all available only in borrowed words. In addition to all these, there is KSHA series also. Lakshmi is written as Latchumi and Kshatriya is written as Chathriya in Tamil. It's okay because they are not pure Tamil words. If London in English could be Landres in Spanish, why not the same logic here? Every language has some ground rules, which restrict its speakers from arranging letters in specific orders to form words. Tamil is not an exception. This is the reason why Tamil is different from other languages and Tamils are different from others. :)

Likewise, there is only one letter for THA, DHA, TTHA, and DDHA and there is again only one letter for TA, DA, TTA, and DDA. There is only one letter for PA, PHA, BA, and BHA. Tamils generally cannot make out the difference among all the four letters unless they studied Sanskrit or Hindi. But, the difference between T and D, TH and DH, and P and B could be made by all those that studied English because English luckily has different letters for them. When a north Indian asks me my name, I say "Bharathiraja", but it sounds like just "Barathiraja". Whereas, when they say, there is double stress on H. They smile and repeat "BHarathiraja?". I also smile back and say, "yeah, whatever!". That's the problem of using borrowed words. :)

On top of all these there is something called compound letters. KKA, CHCHA, TTA, DDA, THTHA, DHDHA, PPA, NKA, NGA, NJA, NDA, NTA, NDHA, NTHA, MPA, MBA, MMA, RRA, LLA, NNA, etc. They are there in Sanskrit as well, but they are handled differently in Tamil and Malayalam. There is no NKA, NTA, NTHA, MPA, etc. They just have to be pronounced NGA, NDA, NDHA, MBA respectively. You are not supposed to stress for the second letter in compound letters - like in NKA, NTA, NTHA, MPA, etc. In some languages, they are written as subscripts, which makes things even tougher. Telugu and Kannada follow this style. Luckily, Tamil does not have this difficulty - in addition to the existing ones! :)

More than all these, there is another very valid complaint. Only Tamils and Malayalis can understand what I am going to talk about. The complain is, more than three fourth of the people that speak this language called 'Tamil' can't even pronounce the word 'Tamil' properly. It's supposed to be pronounced "Thamizh'. This 'ZH' pronunciation easily comes for Malayalis but it's very difficult for most of the Tamils though they boast that their language has three different pronunciation for L. One of them - this 'ZH' thing is not even there in Sanskrit. It is only in Tamil and Malayalam. Whose mistake it is? Don't know! Thanks to the British. It's become stylish to say Tamil instead of Thamizh today, which saves a lot of more embarrassment, especially with Malayalis. :)

OK, let's now see the reason for the limitations. Yes. There are limitations. But, not all are actually limitations. The grammar mandates certain things which have become limitations over a period of time. For example, things such as KA becoming HA or GA depending on the context should be blamed on the grammar. Likewise, in compound letters, KA becomes KKA after K and the same KA becomes NGA if it is after NG. If you look at it differently, the grammar was written in such a way that we manage with fewer letters (Not an excuse, by the way!). Common letters! This is what we call portability today, right? More for less! Even CHA, TA, THA, and PA also change accordingly the same way. There is also another reason why there is so less complexity in Tamil (which has added to the complexity now!). They say that it was designed to encourage more communication. Any Tamil word is pronounced only with the help of tongue and it originates just from the tongue, they say. On the other hand, Sanskrit letters come from the stomach. You need to spend more energy to speak the same amount of words. It's said that Sanskrit is designed to give good exercise to all your inner parts of the body. Some people even say that this is the reason why Tamils are so talkative. :)

Now, finally the last question... "It's all fine. When all other Indian languages are following some rules, why you guys alone follow some other rules so adamantly?". Even if you don't have this question, please take my answer. I have never compared Tamil with Sanskrit though there are lots of people who do that. Sanskrit is so rich. That's why all other Dravidian languages borrowed so much from Sanskrit. I also don't believe that my language is the best language in the world. I don't want to do that even if that's true. Because, that pride doesn't help in anyway. Especially in an era where it can only help create more conflicts with others!

I also feel that you should take good things from anyone, irrespective of wherever it comes from, so Tamil also should have adopted the letters that it didn't have as its own and enriched itself. But, there are people who still argue that if we had adopted good things from others, we would have lost the natural beauty of the language and we would be speaking a different language and calling it Damil or Dumil by now. That's the reason why people don't spend so much time in enriching the language with new letters as they do with new words. Maybe because we didn't interact so much with the outside world, we never had to think about it before. Looks like this is the best time to start thinking about it seriously. Don't know who has the answer to this.

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