Mangalore Madness and Maturity

Outrage is what I feel when I read of episodes like the one in the pub in Mangalore, when certain Ram Sainiks decided to violate personal freedoms.  And then I begin to question myself at a personal level: am I angry at the violence, or, am I upset that women’s rights were not respected? Of course I am upset at both. But what bothered me most was the victory of brawn over brain, again.

It is unfortunate that our country pretends to boast of an ancient civilisation and yet provides very little proof of civility. It has a tradition of debate and discussion which has been allowed to degenerate into polemics. And worse. For we have abandoned rational thought and given ourselves up to populism, which is just a step removed from the mob mentality. Do we lack the confidence in our beliefs to hold them up to scrutiny and debate? Or do we know in our heart of hearts that some of our beliefs do not stand the test of time, so we defend them with violence?

Then there is the issue of abuse of freedoms, and the clash of freedoms. This is a much more fundamental issue that begs many more questions in turn – some theoretical, some hypothetical, some almost heretical(!). Is my freedom to sit in a pub and drink coffee or something stronger of more value than your freedom to believe that it is wrong. Do I have the freedom to act on my beliefs? Or, do I have the right to impose my freedom on yours, because our freedoms clash?

Some of it is clear, to me at least. Freedoms must be upheld, but they bring with them some responsibilities. Such as keeping within the law, not harming others through thought, word or deed and the responsibility to use this freedom to do good. To refrain from what is unethical or wrong.

I hear that we have earned our freedom, nay, more – we have earned our place in the world. I wish I could agree. For what I see around me very often is blatant, and very childish abuse of these very freedoms. It does stink of a tantrum when a bunch of goons take to a pub as they did in Mangalore. It says to me that they cannot think of a mature civilised way of sharing opinions and bringing about the change they desire. ( I will not deny them the freedom to desire a particular change). Or, it is an acknowledgement of the baselessness of their opionion, so again, it is nothing more than the tantrum of an unruly child.

It is time that India and Indians moved beyond childhood, beyond teen tantrums. The nation is now ready to take its place on the world stage – and we must present a dignified front. Such tantrums do not behove a mature democracy like us. Grow up India!

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Slumdog Shame

Again, my motherland lets me down. I do not know which shame is greater – the shame of the poverty and brutality on display in the movie Slumdog Millionaire or the jingoistic fact free diatribe from the chatterati in the Indian media.

I hear comments like , “When they come to India, all they can see is the poverty.”  It is true that when visitors from the west visit India, they are in shock at the sheer scale of poverty  and dirt that is in their faces. There is much else to appreciate in India, but it must be done through the haze of dust, dirt and hunger. We are hurt, for our nakedness has been exposed to the world, again. Yes, truth hurts.

I hear too that “the voyeuristic depiction of the poverty is only for their commercial gain”.  And it is true, that at least this commercial movie is on target for great financial gain and does depict this poverty and trauma. But all great stories depict angst, pain and sorrow. All great stories are the telling of tribulations in the journey of  human endeavor against great odds. All great cinema and art force us to explore our emotions when faced with the tale of this struggle. And if this story is close to reality, raw and gut wrenching, then we are also forced to examine our reaction to it – emotionally and socially.

We have even had a mega filmstar bemoaning the fact that poverty ridden art cinema has always been appreciated more than his genre of commercial cinema. I am an avid follower of masala commercial cinema – and I am pleased to say that it is not as elitist as the gentleman points it out to be. It depicts poverty by the bucketloads, albeit with lipstick. He probably forgot the various poor angry young man roles he played, which made him ‘the’ mega star of the seventies. I am happy to be corrected on this  – but I would like to see a single movie that matches the sheer technical competence demonstrated in Slumdog Millionaire. Here I have a confession to make – I watch the bollywood stuff on the sly – it is great fun  to watch but it would be deeply embarrassing to be caught watching something that is just of such poor logic and so completely intellectually dead. Yes sir, do tell me of a movie that I will not be ashamed to talk about, and I will proudly wear the badge.

And the chatter! How can there be so much chatter about something that has not even been seen. The movie releases in India day after tomorrow. How can so much fact free discussion be sustained? Should I be proud of the tradition of free speech and discussion, or should I allow myself to cringe at the fact that it is only so much hot air. Again.

Slumdog has been advertised as the feel good movie of the year. I must admit that I found nothing to feel good about. On the contrary, I was hurt, shocked and ashamed. Ashamed not only of the sheer poverty and filth depicted there. But ashamed that I could be a part of a system where I allow poverty to exist. Where I think it is allright to pay my driver, maid and chowkidar less than a living wage. Where I do not care whether their minimum standards for dignified living are met or not. Where human life and human dignity have value only beyond a certain wealth and power threshold. I am ashamed of the dirt. I am ashamed to be one of those that does not think twice before littering.

Above all I am ashamed of our achievers – the youth of the nation who seem to happily fritter away their spare cash in malls and discos, the new millionaires who build palaces for themselves, the young professionals who make sensible financial choices for themselves. For they have found the capacity to be blind. Blind to the lack of human dignity. Blind to the fact that they exploit the poor in the guise of employment. Blind to the fact that they have the potential to be the whole of the solution. Blind to the fact that they are sitting on a simmering pot, and it will blow up in their face.

And I am one of them….us.

Satyam and Truth

Following many discussions on Satyam and its failed ethics being representative of a greater malaise, I respond here:

My response is in three parts: Vitark, Action and my (wild card) Hypothesis.

Vitark:
Ethics differs from the law. In this case, there has been an infringement of what is right in both cases. I sense outrage in the responses I read below and wonder if it is because ethics (exaggeration) and values (truth) have been violated, or because the law has been breached, or is it because Trust has been brutalized. All three, I suspect. And it is the last that is the most damaging of the lot.
Ethics are hard to analyse, yet easy to preach. Our moral compass is set via nurture as opposed to nature – we are born grasping beasts built to survive the jungle. Unfortunately, this moral compass is a crude instrument – it cannot handle incremental violations. A Rs. 100 bribe is acceptable to it, a million dollars is a scandal. As a child, I was taught, if anything needs to be hidden from the rest of the world, it is wrong. I do not know if this test of ethics is still valid in today’s brazen world. What defines right from wrong – breaking the law? Hurting somebody? Public Censure?
Not Really.
Right and wrong, just as anything else is a matter of simple economics. Macro-economics. Things that are morally right are those that help to sustain the societal structure that has helped the group survive. Anything that damages the structure on (any) current economic success or equilibrium is considered wrong. Stealing is wrong, for it violates the concept of personal property, which itself is an incentive to hard work and economic sustainability. Profits are good, as they create means to pay for economic progress and societal sustainability. Relegion is right for it binds communities that will then work towards common goals. Fundamentalism is wrong as it engenders the cohesion of these communities to the detriment of further economic progress. ( I claim copyright on these lines!)
Action:
I propose, as academics, that we create a system where people in corporate life have a chance to reflect on ethics, values, professionalism and their own place on their moral compass on a regular basis. I volunteer to co-ordinate this effort. I have more concrete suggestions, if anybody is interested.
Wild Card Hypothesis:
In the medium term, I propose collaborative research work on the theme of Western vs. Eastern Ethics. I have wondered for years whether the colonised capitalised East has ever had a chance to evolve into a sense of ethics of their own, or were they always simply adhering to the letter of the law as set down by the White Chiefs. We Indians know the answer to that, in practice. The Mughal court practices of pricing favours was replaced by trader’s rules – just because it helped them bypass a game they could not win. Would love to work on this one sometime.
What do you think?

Is Twitter the new chapati?

A Century and a half ago when there was a revolution in India – they called it revolt or Mutiny, signals were passed from village to village via a humble chapati(Indian flatbread). The most everyday personal thing you could think of. The chapati was passed from village to village (not the same one presumably) and the act meant that you were in.

In the recent mumbai blasts, social networking sites such as twitter played a similar role. There has been much written on the role of twitter in conventional media and the blogosphere, can be quoted here. Mumbaikars who saw the event were reporting live, journalists were checking facts, blood was being arranged for hospitals, lists of the dead and injured were being compiled. Much good was done, more importantly, much energy and anger was channelised.

There is a lot that is similar between twitter and the humble chapati. Both were social media enterprises. Both were tools that were not originally designed for this purpose but were only the daily stuff of life. Both were intensely personal, tactile even. The chapati literaly is daily bread – you smell it, taste it, feel it and it feeds your hunger. Twitter too is close to the daily lives of many. They take breaks in their day to tweet, they connect with friends. The keyboard is their path to friendships, to information and feeds their social needs.

Both are mildly aspirational.

The chapati was shared amongst rural folk – many of whom were not sure if they could feed their family in the next season. It represented present achievement and future economic security. Twitter too represents a moment of technological gluttony, of satisfied achievement. You sit and chat on twitter (or tweet) when you are at a computer at leisure, even if for a couple of minutes. Your basic needs have been met and now it is time to move up the Maslow. The conversation represents the chance to be seen, be heard by millions. It is a way to get to know those who would not be easy to intereact with in the normal world. It represents future social mobility, something you could have got, and wanted, but were not sure of.

The chapati and the social networking sites are also fairly egalitarian. The chapati represented the lowest common denominator amongst rural folk, everyone could join in. Twitter too is amongst the easiest of all social networking sites – lowest common denominator for the internet generation.

It is a true meritocracy on twitter too – you grab attention by your wit, not by who you are. That, for me is social change. Power to the chapati, for it was the bringer of much that was good. And power to social networking too, for it has the potential to be the tool that helps us change for the better.

Safety or Security

My aunt keeps asking me – how did the government allow the Mumbai tragedy to happen? Is this not a failure of intelligence?
The question I countered with is: Are you willing to live in a police state?

A poem for a poem

In response to Prasoon Joshi’s poem that has touched the hearts of many, in the aftermath of 26/11 terrorist attack on Bombay  here is one of my own

Ab tak ki jo hamne dekha
kya woh kam na tha
ki yeh kahar phir dhaaya
dekho, ab angaar aaya
so rahe the ham jo kya
tumne socha ghar gaye
caravaan aisa hai bheja
tumne socha mar gaye
lalkaar hai hamne yeh suni
Tum ab yeh socho: idhar rahe
Ab tak ki jo hamne dekha
Socha samjh jaoge tum
Ab jo kafan tumne phenka
sar maathe baandh chale hai hum
auda darja jaat na kehna
is darya main sab ne behna
ab tak bahut ho chala, ab nahin
Ik Pal bhi aur na hai sahna.
अब  तक  की  जो  हमने  देखा
क्या  वोह  कम  न  था
की  यह  कहर  फिर  ढाया
देखो , अब  अंगार  आया
सो  रहे  थे  हम  जो  क्या
तुमने  सोचा  घर  गए .
कारवां  ऐसा  है  भेजा
तुमने  सोचा  मर  गए
ललकार  है  हमने  यह  सुनी
तुम  अब  यह  सोचो : इधर  रहे
अब  तक  की  जो  हमने  देखा
सोचा  समझ  जाओगे  तुम
अब  जो  कफ़न  तुमने  फेंका
सर  माथे  बाँध  चले  है  हम
ओदा  दर्जा  जात  न  कहना
इस  दरया  मैं  सब  ने  बहना
अब  तक  बहुत  हो  चला , अब  नहीं
इक  पल  भी  और  न  है  सहना
(This poem was read out at a candle light vigil at India Gate a few days after the attack)

India’s Junta

We have a saying in India: junta janardhan, which means the people are god. Or even more literally, the people are the wealth of the community.

Indian people have proved this again, and I am so very proud. the only terrorist to have been captured (and now the only source of information) was captured by the people. They saw the young men shooting at the police at CST station and rushed en masse to the rescue.  No fear, no self-preservation – this is the true generosity of the Indian spirit. This is why India will win time and again.

Gandhi too mobilised the masses when it was time for change. This is not only about resilience, this is not about tolerating another attack on the city. This is about standing up for yourself and creating the world you want and deserve.

In India, such generosity is an everyday occurence, it is a way of life. A traffic accident, the annual all night snarl up in mumbai, a train derailment…any disaster is when the community seems to mobilise rescue faster and better than any agency can. there It was the masses who have helped me time and again when I am lost or stuck or in trouble. There is food, water, advice, transportation on call. Customised. Sympathetic. There are enough people around to instantly turn a car back upright and save the occupants.

Is this an organised mission? Yes, in the sense that tradition is an organised mission. Tradition is the holy grail in every Indian family. A family is known by its values of generosity, truth, ethical sturdiness and hard work. Grit is the stuff of everyday life, not a virtue. This is the force that is India. This is the force that needs to be unleashed.

A decade ago, the size of our population was a problem. Now, we say we have a large young workforce. The sheer numbers carry weight, it is these numbers that can bring change. Political change? Yes, if they chose to. Change in the way inteligence is generated? Yes, of course. Change in the way we tolerate poor quality in every service we receive. Certainly.

Should this or can this mass of people be organised? Should they be led and directed to certain goals? Is it time for organisations to be created or for agencies to step in?

Agencies tend to become bulky and bureaucratic. Slow to respond. A series of networks connected to each other will always have faster and more effective responses. Much has been made of networks such as twitter and their role in these blasts. Their strength came from their structure and process. Their strength came from the looseness of their networks and the free will in their motivation. It is structures like these that will be effective, when the will to change comes.

There is a mass of intelligensia in the nation ready to do something. Many are. The Indian psyche believes in the triumph of good over evil, of love over hate, or the story is’nt over yet. Watch the triumph of reason over terror.

my mumbai

They have attacked everything – releigion, politics, business; mumbaikars and travellers; the rich and the poor; body and soul. I am bruised and battered, but determined too. It is time that we make sure that humanty overpowers stupidity. It is time for us to be more than just the chatterati. It is us, it is now, it is the new satyagraha.

Roots Revisited

Finally America has a president who has some interesting ethnic roots. The ethnicity of the previous 43 presidents was either boringly similar or very well hidden. I was pleased and surprised to see that America could accept such non-conformity with tradition. For all the innovation and entreprenuership that thrives there, many of its traditions are as sacred as cows.

Notice the white shirts that CEOs, presidents and bankers wear. Notice the slavish devotion to quotodian fashion. Notice the big jewellery and firm lipstick of all Oprah wannabees. The rules that say that shorts are worn on beaches, female voices should be high-pitched for presentations and visiting cards validate the person.

Every nation has its own, no shame in it at all. They often define the stereotype, which, by definition does not mean everybody is like that. These are the characteristics that outsiders observe the most, either because these traits are so common within a group, or because they are so different from other groups.

What I find interesting here is the possibility that these patterns are so ingrained in us that in our unpretentious moments or in times of crisis,when we react by reflex, then these will determine our responses. An urban myth that I heard from an army officer – under torture, a person always calls out in their mother tongue. Another saying – you will turn into your mother (if you are a girl) and your father (if you are a boy). The behaviour patterns that you observed were absorbed by you and are a natural response to familiar stimulus, whatever role you are performing at that time. Here is another one – you always marry a person who is like your parent, or somebody who will turn into them. (I did! or at least, I thought I did not, but he did turn into my dad!) There is no significant data to support hypotheses like these above, though many of us continue to believe them.

Our roots often define who we are, both due to nature and nurture. Our genetics, our received behaviour patterns, our values and beliefs determine most of our behaviour in life. Our decisions are often based on misty memories of what happened before – often regardless of whether it worked well or not, often regardless of changing circumstances. It seems natural to do things in a particular way, call it a habit or call it a tradition. Conversely, it seems wrong to do things differently, it just feels unnatural.

Some of these patterns may be useful for us. For example, some traditions such as festivals bind a family and community together, especially if done in exactly the same way each time. They create patterns that resonate with emotions from yesteryear and acquire deeper meaning and comfort. Other patterns that helped us successfully manage stress before a big exam or match are very useful.  Other patterns are not very helpful – say, a smoking habit is definitely damaging. A pattern that causes us to react with anger each time something we expect and want is not achieved is not very useful. A pattern that leads us to lower our self esteem each time we face failure is quite dangerous, especially if we tend to repeat it.

Are we condemned to repeat the patterns that we inherit? Must we continue to do things the same way? Easy to say no to traditions – and outward signs of patterns. Even Obama managed to underplay his middle name during the election. Of course we can have blue lights instead of yellow this festival season. Of course, you can stop covering your head and walk with your head held high – though this one must necessarily be tougher than the lights. Why? Because the lights merely affect memory and surface emotions. The covering of the head went deeper than that and was linked to values and beliefs.

The ones that are slightly tougher to change are the beliefs that we build for ourselves that often damage us in the long run. Beliefs like: ‘when I have too much work to do, I get stressed and smoke.’ Or a belief like,’I am no good at sports’, or ‘I’m not lucky at all’. These beliefs are debilitating. They create barriers and hurdles to success. They must be kicked out. But can they?

It always boils down to choice. You have to recognise that every action of yours represents a concious choice that you make. When you cross the road to go towards your office, you are making a choice. A good choice – to be a productive member of your community. When you let your boss get you down, you are making another choice – a bad one this time – of ceding emotional control to another person. Awareness of this freedom of choice in behaviour patterns is your first step to change.

The steps after this one follow in quick progression. What is good for me? Does it help me achieve my goals? Does it make me happy? Does it validate or conflict with my chosen values and beliefs? Will I look back on this with pride? Soon these questions become part of your daily habit, and soon each decision each behaviour will lead you on to freedom and success.

Anxiety to Success

All of last week, I was in a room full of people who recognised that they could be very successful if they were not afraid of their hurdles. (Sort of coach retraining for me) We worked on techniques to remove the fear of those hurdles and be able to go past them. The techniques were wonderful, really effective. But the whole day left me wondering – how silly can we get? Is that all it takes for us not to be a success? Just a bit of fear?

Just felt like I was in one of those persian riddles that my (Indian) grandfather was so fond of: What is the smallest and biggest thing on earth? Answer: Fear. Anxiety

(I made this one up, of course)

That too, is a part of the issue. Fears are so irrational that very often you cannot tell anybody about them at all. They demean you and disempower you at the same time. You recognise that and then of course, the fear is a bigger issue than ever.

I hate this anxiety thing. It stops me from doing things, getting things. My rights, my joys, my life.

It’s got to go. Its ridiculous. Its a Boggart (for you Harry Potter readers), and the the strongest charm against it is “Ridikulus!!”  With faith and conviction. With the realisation that laughing at it shrinks it.

There we are: we are able to control it already, its ours to play with now.

Have you tried that?

No, not a self deprecating laugh, you stuck-in-your-ways! If you know how to laugh at yourself, then do it properly! Make it a circus laugh. For you are a clown, if you give in to that silly (got to pop that balloon of) anxiety! Pin it down with laughter, go on, pop that silly balloon!

Sorry dear, did you want to keep that balloon? Its gone now.

If you want another one, you will just have to blow another one up for yourself. Too much work to it though. I would’nt bother.

If you really like balloons, lets blow one and fill it with sparkles and fun. Lets fill it with a bit of hope, a bit of good, a bit of love. Anything else?  We can blow up lots of good balloons whenever we want to. We can surround ourselves with them.

Sounds Facetious? Try it. It works beautifully.

Will it last? Of course it will, if you want it to.

The anxiety is as much a figment of your imagination (and faulty forecasting systems) as the balloons are. None of them is real.

What is real is the jobs you have to do. The goals you have to achieve. What is real is the people around you and the good you can do to them and to yourself.

Get on with it!

(This glimmer of resolve, this spark of a goal is your first success, celebrate it)

(c) This material is copyrighted. Please ask permission before re-using. Please use the comment box below. The above is a partial rendering of a coaching solution. Any use is the responsibility of the user. I will be happy to discuss more and offer my complete professional assistance to clients.

Pretentious, Unending Gab