Anna Hazare – Talibanism?

This is Jeyamohan’s reply to a question on his blog.



Dear friends,

I seem to get a lot of such letters these days. What I find common in them is that, the people who cast doubts on Anna Hazare’s movement at its peak are the same ones that proclaim that they have lost their faith in him.

I had speculated – and written – earlier that the press and the government would gradually start a campaign of slander and character assassination on Team Anna Hazare. That has been our history: Anna would be forced to drink the same “medicine” that Vinobha [Bhave], Ram Manohar Lohia and Jaiprakash Narayan were force-fed.

It’s impossible to implicate a person like Anna in acts of corruption or misconduct. However, it IS possible to keep flinging accusations on him. The accusations that are continuously brought out in the media will try to tarnish his image. The media carried out such attacks even on a person like Jaiprakash Narayan who lived and died in such penury that he couldn’t meet his daily expenses.

Ridicule is an even more powerful weapon. These people – from Jaiprakash Narayan to Anna Hazare – are not statesmen who measure their words. Nor are they politicians who speak but cliches. It’s hard to get the better of such people [statesmen and politicians].

True social activists are likely to be those who have risen from the public. They talk in a language that the public understands and reflect its feelings. Their speech is mostly spontaneous, thus making it easy for the media to quote them out of context; to make them contradict themselves; to make them sound like prattle.

In times past, there have been many who have fallen victims to such tactics, chief among them being Jaiprakash Narayan. If you were to look up the English media of the seventies, you would see how his concept of a total revolution was ridiculed to such an extent that it came to be seen as some kind of madness. It would even make your blood boil.

I’ve been reading about the times of Lohia and JB Kripalani who were able to foresee the massive failure of Nehru’s economic model as early as the fifties! They realised that the triad of five-year plans, green revolution and urbanisation would ultimately end up destroying rural economy.

Jaiprakash Narayan has spoken about farmer suicides on many an occasion in the sixties. Lohia argued that the entire economic planning had to be redone with rural development factored in. Jaiprakash Narayan concurred, calling it the “total revolution”, and successfully made it a public movement. At first, the media supported it, [though] superficially, because the public looked at it favourably.

Jaiprakash Narayan’s movement was fundamentally against capitalism in India. Gradually, they began to make it an object of ridicule. Every speech of his was distorted. They painted him as an old man who contradicted himself. His statements were taken out of context and were used to construct a totally contrary image [of him]. What was astonishing was how, within a span of five years, Jaiprakash Narayan went from a man who had the whole of North India in a state of commotion with his cry for total revolution to a joker! The picture is not very different today.

Jaiprakash Narayan was an emotional man. He spoke from his heart on stage. “Beat them back” and “smash them” were phrases that he used in the colloquial Hindi that he addressed the people in. The media made news of these repeatedly and showed the Gandhian as a man who supported violence; as someone who wanted to threaten the whole structure of India; as someone who encouraged anarchy; and finally, as someone who incited youth to violence. By sowing seeds of disbelief in the Indian middle class, the media completely defeated his tremendous effort to turn the Indian government’s vision towards rural economy.

Many things can be found in common between JP Narayan’s movement and Anna Hazare’s. Anna’s movement too is fundamentally against the triad of Capitalism-Urbanisation-Corruption. It was founded on the reality of the abandonment and the decimation of farmers. Just like JP Narayan, Anna Hazare is not a politician either; he’s a public servant who has come from amongst the public. His language, therefore, is not that of a politician or a statesman. His voice naturally reflects the spirit / emotions of the people, which is what makes it easy for the media to ridicule it.

If the people who complain that “Anna Hazare doesn’t go the Gandhi way fully” acknowledge either that Gandhi’s way was right, or that Anna was going in the right direction until now when he has strayed away, that would be positive criticism. But they are bringing these arguments on only in order to destroy the enemy who is clearly visible to them. They have no intellectual honesty whatsoever in their argument.

Like they [the media] did to JP Narayan, the discrete words spoken by Anna or his team are being pieced together to form statements, which are then taken up by the corrupt section of our middle-class for ridicule and derogatory commentary. They engage in moot debates of why Anna Hazare said this and that, and whether his words are in accordance with Gandhian ideology.

Do you know why Gandhi was not awarded the Nobel prize? He said that if the Pakistan military did not help in providing safe passage to those who wanted to move to India, then there was the possibility of war between the two countries. The British press spun this as Gandhi’s threats to Pakistan; that he was opposed to world peace. The Nobel committee believed it. This campaign of slander against Gandhi continued for more than five years. When asked about this, Gandhi did not attempt to explain it, saying he had no interest in it.

Gandhi was not uneducated like Anna Hazare. Nor was he from a simple background who worked among the public. He was a barrister, a great statesman who had a tremendous control over his speech. Even he was brought down to this state. His words were misquoted and misinterpreted many times. He has been characterised many times as a racist, violent activist, religious fanatic and so on by the English press. There is, then, no surprise that Anna Hazare is being subject to a similar treatment.

There’s just one thing that we have to do: there is one huge difference between Anna Hazare and those that malign him. Anna is not a talker; nor is he a journalist; he hasn’t projected himself as a speaker of sharp words or a thinker of rare thoughts. He’s a public servant. He has proved his dedication, honesty and ability in that arena before coming to public life. Having been presented with an historic moment to be the people’s spokesman, he naturally speaks their language.

Why do we, the educated middle-class, not believe his past, his achievements, and instead trust completely the half-baked editors of the English press? Have we become so brainwashed? This is what we have to think about!

In every discussion about Anna Hazare, an important argument makes its appearance, particularly in English press articles written by the so-called star writers. (Most of these writers are are power brokers for capitalists – like Burkha Dutt and Rajdeep Sardesai). They repeatedly point out in all their articles that Anna Hazare is uneducated, incapable of speaking English, and a layman.

The reason for the deterioration in our ability to think, and the ruin of our society is the very same English, the half-baked doctrines and the translated philosophies that these educated geniuses were taught in educational institutions. They are unable to understand the crores of our masses. Instead, these “educated” elite act as the mouthpiece of the gentry who believe in the right to exploit these people.

Anna Hazare came from the lowest rungs of society; he’s one of them. He may be called a product of the reaction of the people of India to Gandhi. He did not learn Gandhian ideology and then decide to act on it. Rather, he started working against the degradation that he saw around him using Gandhian ideology. He found Gandhi through his development plans.

Anna Hazare’s views can be understood only when seen from this perspective. When he went to Ralegaon Siddhi, it was a village notorious for its production of country liquor. Using only his righteousness, he attempted to create a change. He brought back the Panchayat system that had been around for hundreds of years, removing from it the caste-based elitism. He made sure that people of every caste were equally represented and could participate equally. He made those people realise that no development plan would be possible without such participation, and achieved progress. I’ve seen this myself in Ralegaon Siddhi. It’s probably the only village in Northern India that gives the power of village governance to Dalits.

Anna Hazare claims only that they opposed the dominance of alcohol using the Panchayat system. He did not formally learn the Gandhian way and go there attempting to implement it. He went there as one among the people, and worked as one among them. It is natural that he shares some of their beliefs. Any man in his right senses would agree that alcoholism destroys the rural economy. Anna might have attempted to establish a form of ostracism or some such punishment against this social evil.

The media, however, carefully paints a different picture. Anna Hazare is not the dictator of Ralegaon Siddhi, and is quite unlike the omnipotent zamindar of Tamil movies. He’s merely the public servant who lives in the town’s temple. His simplicity is what powers his righteous authority. He speaks not about his authority, but about the authority of the village Panchayat.

There are local reasons for Anna Hazare’s views that political elections were unnecessary there. He felt that if people lost their unity because of party politics, it could disrupt the big developmental plans for the village. Moreover, the decision to prevent party politics was not made by his individual authority: it was a Panchayat decision. The traditional method of making decisions by public discussion was what was followed there. Whether that decision was right can be judged only by factoring in that particular environment. It [that decision] has produced fantastic results there. In contrast, Panchayats formed by party politics have led to corruption and ruin. The reality is that [in such places] politics divides people to the extent that no one can effectively challenge the authority of the Panchayat.

The picture portrayed by the media is one in which Anna has banned politics for his personal gain. His achievements and his dedication that led to them have been conveniently ignored; the image of a village landlord with a belt in his hand and a villainous laugh is what is being depicted.

Anna Hazare was involved in these activities in the eighties. He did not look beyond that village, nor did he have any dreams beyond it. He was “discovered” only after the Indian Gandhian movement and environmental groups publicised his achievements. When I went to Ralegaon Siddhi, it was 1987. Even then, it struck me that he had no goal outside of Ralegaon Siddhi. He met with corruption and governmental repression as an honest social activist. That’s how he became involved in Maharashtrian and national politics.

I don’t think anybody has ever described Anna Hazare a man without faults. He’s just a man who moved towards Gandhian ideology through practical actions. Just that. Gandhian ideology is unlike religious ideology which has completeness and purity as its attributes – it’s more a vision and a set of practical guidelines for achieving that vision. Each Gandhian moves towards that vision with the help of those practical guidelines to the best of his / her ability.

How can one be completely faithful to Gandhian ideology? By doing nothing other than talking about it! A person who steps into the field serving others and facing consequences will have to explain it in many ways, moving away from it on occasion, and on other (rare) occasions, moving against it. We call Anna Hazare a Gandhian only because both his village economic reforms and his national war against corruption have been achieved in keeping completely with Gandhian ideology.

It’s heartening to note that our educated middle-class geniuses have no doubt whatsoever about what Ahimsa is, what righteousness [Dharma] is. The Gita calls them “Sthithaprajna”s. Even Arjuna, having heard the Gita directly, did not reach that state. Nor did Gandhi. Gandhi had his doubts about what Ahimsa was right till the very end of his life. He called for soldiers to fight for the British in the First World War. He thought that the British were righteous forces at the world level and therefore that they shouldn’t lose. He thought that the British would give India democratic rights, and that India would do well to learn what it is to exercise the rights of a democratic society.

There were many among Gandhi’s own students / disciples who thought that that went against the principles that Gandhi talked about. He could not convince them by rhetoric. He then stopped with, “I act on the promptings of my conscience.” When Gandhi went to villages campaigning for enlistment, the public was both shocked and confused. He pleaded with them to believe him. It was only their trust in his honesty and integrity that led them to follow him, not the power of his clear ideology.

He [Gandhi] was not very clear in his mind about this till the end. That was why he read and re-read the Gita. Where the poor were being killed in religious riots, he asked the military to take severe steps and bring law and order. He didn’t think that it was against Ahimsa. However, he did speak against victims of violence retaliating against the aggressors; he advised forgiveness instead. He explained that it was the way of ahimsa. Then and now, his Ahimsa allowed for both idealism and practicality at the same time. Our geniuses do not understand this.

Gandhian ideology is not a perfected one. Laurie Baker, the man who insisted on a bar in his Gandhian village was a Gandhian too. Even Lech Wałęsa who was a drunkard was hailed as Poland’s Gandhi by his followers!

Gandhian ideology can be understood at many different levels:
1. Social outlook. It can be defined in terms of its facets like distribution of power, denial of a centre, moving towards completeness in small steps, and denial of consumerism.
2. Gandhian politics. Seeking unity instead of divisiveness. Seeking progress through compromises. Fighting for rights using Ahimsa.
3. Personal morality / virtue. Based on individual honesty, simplicity, and moderation / continence.

Among the people who can be called Gandhians today, most have tried to follow, and have succeeded in following, at least one of these. EF Schumacher was a Gandhian, but he followed just the first principle. Martin Luther King was a Gandhian, but he followed just the second path. Vinobha followed just the third aspect.

Hence, to reject Martin Luther King on the basis of his character would be absurd. Even Gandhi attained the fulfilment of his ideology only towards the end. Gandhi has supported wars in the beginning. To expect someone to start at the peak of Gandhi’s achievement and then move forward from there is just being silly, nothing else!

Anna Hazare believed in Gandhian economics within the limits of his character and he has achievements to show for it. As a believer in Gandhi’s code of personal morality, he has remained faultless in his private life. He has also taken up politics the Gandhian way.

To be a Gandhian, one does not have to accept every one of Gandhi’s lines and live exactly like him. Anna may differ from Gandhi in certain respects and may even believe that violence may be necessary in certain situations. He may have picked that up from the practicalities of life. Gandhi was a practical man too.

From the perspective of Gandhian ideology, we may be able to argue that Anna Hazare’s belief is wrong. We may reject that aspect of his personality. But to label him a Fascist, comedian or fool, and to make him look as someone against Gandhi himself is just abject slander. The English media in India has always been guilty of character assassinations; that’s the poison that they dished out to Gandhi too.

I’ve written in detail about village self-governance that was originally put forward by Gandhi. I have deep reservations about it. I’ve blogged about those reservations too. I feel it’s impossible to establish a system of self-governance in a village or a province that goes against the global economic trend. It just wouldn’t last long. It may, at most, last a generation – that’s all. That village will have to keep fighting against the whole world, it will have to close all its doors. It will be able to survive only by penalties like village controls and ostracism. It’s a short-lived dream at best. In the article that I’d written in Malayalam after my visit to Ralegaon Siddhi, this is what I had mentioned.

Gandhi’s village Panchayat system and self-governance need to be expanded upon and adapted to our modern times. I consider the approach of people like JC Kumarappa and EF Schumacher to be the best.

There are only two types of people among us. There are those who fear Anna Hazare – they require just one reason to reject him. They immediately start heaping criticism and slander on him on the one hand while rationalising with words the mountain of mistakes and dishonest acts of their leaders.

Then there are the believers. These require a messiah, a man who is infallible. They are always searching for faults, for failures. They feel relieved when they find one. “Ha, he’s a mere mortal too”, they chuckle! Even if Gandhi were to appear before them today, they would seek out his flaws first! Really, are things being / going to be said of Anna that have not been said about Gandhi?

The one among us today is a man of action who, in his boundaries, his possibilities, his practicality, tries to implement the Gandhian ideology. Hence, he’s a Gandhian. He’s not a bigger Gandhi than Gandhi, nor is he a messiah. That his honesty has survived, intact, the slander of all these critics is what surprises me. It’s enough to examine those that slander him for just half an hour, or follow their activities for a week to realise the rot in their own private lives.

A man has arrived today who not only speaks for them but is also from them. His is a massive contribution – he insists on rectitude in public life. He appeals for the common virtues that we have compromised. No political party has the integrity to ask for these since they have all compromised it in one way or the other. Without doing so, it wouldn’t be possible to handle the election-politics. Only a person like Anna who stands apart from it can do so.

Capitalism permeates every corrupt practice of our election-politics. Capitalism runs our media. Most of these media persons are merely power brokers. They see Anna Hazare as someone opposed to them, which is why they’re out to destroy him. They use every trick in the media trade to achieve that goal.

When I was in a political movement at its peak, I learnt a fact that shocked me. In Tamil Nadu, many industrialists extend financial support to Naxalites and encourage them because their prime enemies are the left / right communist unions. These extreme right-wingers help weaken the unions by criticism and slander. Because these extremists never grow to any significant strength, there’s no danger caused by them.

This is what Indian capitalism does. The real danger is fighters like Anna Hazare who have the support of the masses. They can be destroyed by the “extremists” – who can never garner enough public support – by slander and allegations. These paper tigers can never get much support from the public. It’s the voice of these “extremists” that we hear now.

On the other hand, there are those that speak a thousand truths while concealing excessively religious fanatic and terrorist tendencies. The media makes use of them too.

Anna Hazare is a great opportunity for India. An historic moment awaits us. Whether we seize the moment and be successful, or lose it and embrace failure in the same way that we lost JP Narayan, is a question that will determine our future. That question can only be answered if we are able to conduct a private conversation with our conscience.


Anna Hazare and his movement

A while ago, I read an article by the Tamizh writer Jeyamohan (posted originally on his blog) that I really enjoyed. It explained what Anna Hazare was attempting. Here’s my translation to those of you that don’t read Tamizh. (Those of you who can read Tamizh, here’s the original.)

In my search for Gandhi many years ago, I have been to Anna Hazare’s village, Ralegaon Siddhi, and have written about his achievements. He progressed naturally from village governance schemes to a fight against corruption. That fight has grown naturally, organically, from a fight against the corruption that was rife in Maharashtra’s politics to a nation-wide movement. That in itself is proof that his is a Gandhian struggle. Every Gandhian movement has six general characteristics:

1. It’s not born out of theories or philosophies; it arises from practicality. Gandhi evolved Satyagraha from the struggle against the racial discrimination that he observed in daily life in South Africa, not from any book that he had read.

Anna’s war is, likewise, a natural outgrowth of the struggle that he was involved in against the contemporary evil of corruption in administration when he sought to reform village governance in Ralegaon Siddhi.

2. It’s never directed from top down; it always starts as a grassroots movement, from the realities of every day life in villages. From there, it goes national. The loud roar for India’s freedom started in a small village called Sambaaran as the voice of a few farmers united in their fight for better wages.

Anna’s movement started from Ralegaon Siddhi – a village in Maharashtra – not from New Delhi.

3. Gandhian struggles always place immediately achievable objectives in front of people in order to get a large number of them to participate. They progressively gather more and more people as the objectives become higher. Sustained and stubborn progress marks the Gandhian struggle. Initially, Gandhi did not start his movement with the demand that the British leave India; he merely opposed the Roulette Act.

Anna waged a battle against the corrupt Forest Department in Ralegaon Siddhi which, through the Right To Information Act, has now progressed up to Lok Pal. It will continue to march on.

4. Gandhian struggles always place notional actions at the forefront. The burning of non-Swadeshi goods or the salt march could not, by themselves, get us independence: they were just symbolic of notions. The notion of the people’s freedom to do what they need to, and their unwillingness to be exploited by the British government. These actions sent an explicit message to the government that the bigger goal was India’s economic independence. The British government clearly understood it.

Anna’s war is not merely limited to the RTI Act and the passing of the Lok Pal bill; these are but symbols. The real war is about giving citizens the right to question a corrupt government, to monitor it. This inner meaning is not lost on the government.

5. The true Gandhian struggle involves everyone and does not restrict participation. Anyone who agrees with the aims of the movement can get involved. Religious activists like Mohammed Ali and Shaukat Ali took part in it, and so have Hindu religious activists and casteists. Gandhi brought everyone together and tried to express the collective strength.

Anna Hazare’s struggle is bringing together leftists, moderates and extremists, and attempts to assert the people’s right against corruption.

6. True victory in a Gandhian struggle is achieved only when there’s a transformation in people’s minds. The continuous series of struggles highlight the fact that at some level, in some way, people have agreed on a common principle. This unity becomes a political power centre, and this is what a Gandhian struggle truly aims for – not to defeat anybody, but to make the people involved in the struggle validate themselves.

In the eighteenth century in India, the great kingdoms of India splintered into smaller ones. The rulers of these smaller territories indulged in their whims and fancies of endless wars and tyranny, and that’s when the British landed. They established the rule of Law. They did not participate directly in looting and pillage. The common folk, therefore, approved of them as protectors and subsequently, rulers. That’s how the minority British reigned over India. Any government sustains itself by the support of the people, and nothing else.

The British, however, through indirect economic exploitation, sucked away wealth that India had accumulated over 2,000 years. For the first time in Indian history, millions of people were devastated by famines that were a direct result of such exploitation. Consequently, people migrated eastwards to New Zealand, Sri Lanka and Burma, and then on to West Indies via Africa as refugees. The British, for all their talk of fairness, were systematically destroying India.

To explain this truth to the uneducated common man who blindly trusted his British masters who enforced the rule of Law was no mean task. For nearly thirty years, Gandhi conducted struggles continuously and made the poor of India realise this truth. That was the net result of those struggles. The moment the British government lost the people’s support that it had enjoyed, it couldn’t continue its reign. The only question was when and how they would leave India, not if.

Society’s transformation will be the measure of any victory that may be achieved by Anna’s struggle. Corruption in public life is one of the biggest challenges that India faces. The only reason such corruption is able to thrive is the support of the common man. Step by step, Anna Hazare is fighting to eliminate that support. He is trying to paint a picture of the deleterious – nay, destructive – effects of such corruption, and getting them to discuss it as the single most important problem facing us.

If this war that is being waged on many fronts continues for many years, then the tacit support that such corruption has received over the years will be gone. People here will reject corruption with the same fervour that those in European countries have shown. That will be our victory against the vicious disease of corruption, which has also been our biggest obstacle to progress and greater development.

Any authority has always dealt with Gandhian struggles in one way, and one way only. Since it’s a gigantic people’s movement, conventional weapons won’t hurt it, and hence they wield two conceptual weapons. Contemporary Gandhian fighters like Martin Luther King, Nelson Mandela, Aung San Suu Kyi and the Dalai Lama have all been subjected to attack by these weapons. Slander, and disinformation. These two can fatigue the foot soldiers who fight towards a goal. It can even divide them.

The British Government continually heaped slander on Gandhi. Their media spoke about them loudly for thirty years. These lies are being perpetuated by many even today. They ridiculed his struggle as an absurdity. Even the people we consider to be intelligent and well-informed have spoken of his fight against the Roulette Act (while the whole country was under the British rule – which was what he should have fought against, according to them) as foolish. They gave him pejorative labels (“North Indian”, “Gujarathi”). The British government was producing many more such people who labelled Gandhi.

This is precisely what’s happening today. Our rulers and politicians, who thrive on corruption, have the media in their pockets. Against them, Anna stands bravely alone. The only thing standing in the way of his enemies’ outright propaganda is the fact that he stands to lose more than he gains.

Gandhi did not fight against the British; he fought the fear that had installed itself in the hearts of the public who, over the course of two hundred years, having been oppressed by tyrants and ravaged by famines, were not ready for it. Every struggle against the British has always been abandoned in a few days by the common man in India. Cases in point: the Maruthu Pandyas, the king of Pazhasi, and even the Sepoy Mutiny. In many battles, the British had only a dozen or so soldiers on the field, but the sad historic fact is that we have been frightened even by such a ridiculously tiny number!

Gandhi’s greatest achievement is that he rooted that fear out. He won them small victories, and avoided fighting their army entirely. Instead, he made the people face their civil government by a non-violent, mass revolution. It took fifteen years for him to rid them of their fears. Only then did the Congress get the support of the people – its struggles became the people’s struggles. Thus did he ultimately achieve victory.

Anna Hazare is fighting the cynicism that has India in its grips. He addresses the people who have become disillusioned with ideals, and have opted instead for cheap practicality and explict selfishness. If he is able to eradicate cynicism from the minds of the people, he will have achieved victory.

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The carrot, the egg, and the coffee bean

Got this in an email.

A young woman went to her mother and told her about her life and how things were so hard for her. She did not know how she was going to make it and wanted to give up. She was tired of fighting and struggling. It seemed that, as one problem was solved, a new one arose.

Her mother took her to the kitchen. She filled three pots with water and placed each on a high fire. Soon the pots came to a boil. In the first, she placed carrots, in the second she placed eggs, and in the last she placed ground coffee beans.

She let them sit and boil, without saying a word. In about twenty minutes, she turned off the burners. She fished the carrots out and placed them in a bowl. She pulled the eggs out and placed them in a bowl. Then she ladled the coffee out and placed it in a bowl. Turning to her daughter, she asked, “Tell me, what do you see?”

“Carrots, eggs, and coffee,” the young woman replied. The mother brought her closer and asked her to feel the carrots. She did and noted that they were soft. She then asked her to take an egg and break it. After pulling off the shell, she observed the hard-boiled egg. Finally, she asked her to sip the coffee. The daughter smiled as she tasted its rich aroma. The daughter then asked, “What does it mean, mother?”

Her mother explained that each of these objects had faced the same adversity – boiling water – but each reacted differently. The carrot went in strong, hard and unrelenting. However, after being subjected to the boiling water, it softened and became weak. The egg had been fragile. Its thin outer shell had protected its liquid interior. But, after sitting through the boiling water, its inside became hardened! The ground coffee beans were unique, however. After they were in the boiling water, they had changed the water. “Which are you?” the mother asked her daughter. “When adversity knocks on your door, how do you respond? Are you a carrot, an egg, or a coffee bean?”

Think of this: Which am I? Am I the carrot that seems strong but, with pain and adversity, do I wilt and become soft and lose my strength? Am I the egg that starts with a malleable heart, but changes with the heat? Did I have a fluid spirit but, after a death, a breakup, or a financial hardship, does my shell look the same, but on the inside am I bitter and tough with a stiff spirit and a hardened heart? Or am I like the coffee bean? The bean actually changes the hot water, the very circumstance that brings the pain. When the water gets hot, it releases the fragrance and flavour.

If you are like the bean, when things are at their worst, you get better and change the situation around you. When the hours are the darkest and trials are their greatest, do you elevate to another level? How do you handle adversity? Are you a carrot, an egg, or a coffee bean?

A lovely message, and a reminder that we can be what we we choose to be.

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What’s with the social networking craze?

Okay, all right! This rant is a couple of years too late to even pretend to be a surprised reaction to Facebook, Twitter, etc., but though I get these tools, I don’t quite get why people would want to Share their every activity. Or Tweet them to the whole wide world, for that matter. Like, “I went to the market today”, or “I ate a 24″ pizza :D :D ”; for eloquence, you can’t beat a simple “WTF” [pardon the language (if you understand what the acronym stands for)]. Gone was the time when children used to be worried sick about being caught using swear-words or invectives. These words have now entered the popular teen- and pre-teen-culture, and seem to have become accepted as well, their meaning be damned.

For some time, I got caught up in this let-the-world-know-what-I’m-upto craze, and then the whole thing started sounding more and more crazy to me. Why would I want everyone to know what I was up to, every hour of my day? Why would any one, for that matter? Is this some (partly) grown-up version of “I’m better” or “I have a better toy” game that kids play regularly? “Is your social network better than mine?” What is it about humans that makes them want to, at the risk of losing whatever little privacy they have in these days of the omnipresent Google street-mapping cameras, reach out to everyone in their circle, however faintly they’re connected?

I don’t have any answer that fits all these questions, but I do have some guesses:

  1. Emotional deprivation: it’s a reflection of people’s innate need to be accepted as part of some group, some circle. A need to be accepted. Period.
  2. Utility: services like Google Places, Foursquare and Yelp are conceivably helpful to people in discovering new restaurants, places of retreat, places to party, etc.
  3. Ego: some people simply want to brag about being rich enough to be in a certain location; their geekiness; themselves.

Obviously, these questions and answers / guesses merely scratch the surface of a deep, but clearly real, need for people to share their thoughts, actions, whereabouts with others, sometimes even inadvertently. The big question, Why, is something that professional sociologists are better equipped to answer than I.

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(No, I’m not talking about a certain individual who works at a company whose name is that of a fruit.)

They say every human has some basic needs: food, clothing are the most basic of these without which survival becomes ; shelter from the elements and medical facilities boost one’s chances for survival; education helps us make the transition from living to pondering the purpose / meaning of one’s existence.

On a more practical note, our studies at school, college / University help us earn a better living, or make the earning of a livelihood a little easier. It is unfortunate that our (so-called) education today is seen mainly as a means to earning a salary in a certain range, and not as something that can make our life purposeful. That’s a topic for a different post, so for now, let’s return to what is sometimes called the secular purpose of education: a job.

A job is often seen as the end of education (pun intended!), but what does a job really enable us to do? Save the world? Uplift the poor? Alas! Those are noble tasks that seem to be best left to those with a loftier ideal in life. For the rest of us, a job is a means to pay our bills; a vessel on which to sail smoothly through life without difficulties; a cause to lose ourselves in; less frequently, a means to find self-satisfaction. Commonly though, it’s the first and / or second of these. If that’s the case, then it shouldn’t really matter what we do: we may be farmers, butchers, construction workers, or IT workers, artists – it’s all the same. And that’s indeed true for many of us. We know not why we pursue our present profession and not something else.

For a few others, a job is a single-minded pursuit. What of, is something that varies from individual to individual. (I deal in computer software, so it would be best if I limit my examples to it. However, no matter what profession yours is, the ideas I’m trying to talk about should remain the same.) A typical software engineer these days, at least in the country where I come from, has a vision that’s unwavering. A vision of a great amount of money making its way to his bank account every month. If the colour of that money were to match that of an American dollar or a British pound,  his joy is greater. In the steadfastness of this vision, he is willing to sacrifice any ideas that he may have had earlier in life of the kind of work he wanted to do. Money, to him, becomes, not a means to an end, but an end in itself.

Thus it is that you find these “yuppies” willing to sacrifice their time at the altar of their god: the bank balance. Time which they could have otherwise invested in creating a more well-rounded life for themselves; or finding a partner to live the rest of their lives with; to pursue their dreams. What these people have lost track of is the fact that the prime of their life is being used to gather money, probably in the hope that their fattened bank balance will enable them to retire early and enjoy life. Maybe it will, but what sort of life would it be if you couldn’t spend time with your kids as they were growing up; if you couldn’t put your heart and soul into interests that you had always wanted to pursue when you were younger and had the energy to go after it?

Life, I think, has to be looked at as a whole, not as fragments of unconnected times. To think that money alone can solve your need for happiness is to delude yourself.

Which is why it becomes essential to find out early on in your life what motivates you, propels you to become better, keeps your flame of passion burning. And once you’ve found it, never let it go. A job, until then, should only be a vessel keeps you afloat as you search your heart for what it truly wants in the sea of life.

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On speaking…

Heard somewhere:

Once upon a time an old man spread rumours that his neighbour was a thief. As a result, the young man was arrested. Days later the young man was proven innocent. After he was released he sued the old man for wrongly accusing him.

In court the old man told the Judge: ‘They were just comments, they were not meant to harm anyone.’

The judge, before passing sentence on the case, told the old man: ‘Write all the things you said about him on a piece of paper. Cut them up and on the way home; throw the pieces of paper out. Tomorrow, come back to hear the sentence.’

The next day, the judge told the old man: ‘Before receiving the sentence, you will have to go out and gather all the pieces of paper that you threw out yesterday.’

The old man said: ‘I can’t do that! The wind spread them and I won’t know where to find them.’

The judge then replied: ‘The same way, simple comments may destroy the honour of a man to such an extent that one is not able to fix it. If you can’t speak well of someone, rather don’t say anything.’

Makes sense, doesn’t it?

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Sardarjis – food for thought

Came across this in an email, and realised that the truly mindless people have been the ones who have taken delight in spreading jokes about Sardars which are, when you think about it, in bad taste. I’ve often been guilty of doing it too. To all Sardars, I am truly sorry, and am deeply ashamed of the insults I’ve helped heap upon your proud race. A race which has produced such courageous freedom fighters like Bhagat Singh. I’ll strive to remember this every time I see an email with Sardar jokes.

My friend told me about the following incident which I wish to share with you.

During last vacation, his few friends came to Delhi . They rented a taxi for local sight-seeing. The driver was an old Sardar and boys being boys, these pals began cracking Sardarji jokes, just to tease the old man. But to their surprise, the fellow remained unperturbed.

At the end of the sight-seeing, they paid the cab hire-charges. The Sardar returned the change, but he gave each one of them one rupee extra and said, ”Son, since morning you have been telling Sardarji jokes.. I listened to them all and let me tell you, some of them were in bad taste. Still, I don’t mind coz I know that you are young blood and are yet to see the world..

But I have one request. I am giving you one rupee each. Give it to the first Sardar beggar that you come across in this or any other city.’

My friend continued, ‘That one rupee coin is still with me. I couldn’t find a single Sardar begging anywhere.’

MORAL: The secret behind their universal success, is their willingness to do any job with utmost dedication and pride. A Sardar will drive a truck or set up a roadside garage or a dhaba, put a fruit juice stall, take up small time carpentry, … but he will never beg on the streets.

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Lessons from Movies – 5: Groundhog Day (1993)

Groundhog Day stars Bill Murray as a TV news anchor Phil who is assigned to cover an event called Groundhog Day (a traditional event to see if winter is going to continue longer than ‘usual’) for the third time in a row at a place called Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania. By a strange twist of the supernatural, the day, as is often said of history, repeats itself. Except that while history usually checks its repetitions, that particular day in Phil’s life doesn’t; it goes on and on. And on. He can’t seem to ever get past that day. Finally, resigning himself to it, he begins to explore his options. And finds that there’s more to life than he had realised.

It’s a hilarious movie, and I strongly recommend it. Its hilarity, though, is not the only good thing about it; it also has something you can learn from:

Lesson 1: Things are only as bad as you make of them. That is to say, things that happen to you aren’t always good or bad inherently – many times, it’s how you deal with them that makes them so.

Lesson 2: Think about this: When given unlimited time, what would you do? Now, think about your life: what is it that you think you can’t do?

Lesson 3: Anything that you do today, you can do better if you set your mind to it. Even the most ordinary job can be done extraordinarily well.

Lesson 4: There’s no limit to how much you can improve yourself.

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Lessons from Movies – 4: Bruce Almighty (2003)

This Jim Carrey starrer has him doing his usual antics and trying to win the love of the pretty Jennifer Aniston. Below the surface of hilarity, however, there are some questions for the philosophicallly inclined to ponder too. Such as, what would you do if you could really play God, even if only for a short while? Would you be able to handle the pressure, being a human though with the power of God? What does being a God actually mean?

Think about those, but read on for our usual lessons:

  1. Playing God is no joke, not even if you’re Jim Carrey ;-)
  2. If you are offered a chance to be God for a day, it would be wise to turn it down
  3. A toilet-trained dog is a good dog
  4. Don’t mess with God

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And I flew

Two weeks ago, a Saturday dawned bright and clear. I got ready for my morning routine of tennis after a big breakfast (I’ve been gravitating, so to speak, towards heavier breakfasts of late). I had also recently started cycling, but on that particular day, I had other things to do. I packed a couple of sandwiches, and off I went.

The tennis was okay. My good friend since my college days, MB, had come back from India and, as usual, was at the court playing with the others long before I had even reached there. I waited a few minutes for my turn: we were five in all playing doubles, and it was one man out after every four games with a certain partner. One of the regulars had to leave a little early, and that suited me fine. Eventually, we broke up, and after our byes and the usual friendly banter, I got on the bicycle and started pedalling away.

The countryside where I live is beautiful. Green rolling meadows, brooks, huge fields, tall trees, fresh air, friendly people, lovely dogs, kids running around (spring was on!), elderly couples strolling by chatting away happily, young women going on horseback, and polite motorists giving way for pedestrians and cyclists, and all this just a couple of miles from the town centre: it makes you wonder how people can yearn for city life! I’ve been here just a few months, and I can’t imagine wanting to live in a bustling city like London, though I’m sure it has its charms too. Give me greenery any day!

Half an hour later, I reached my destination: Panshanger Aerodrome. Yes, ladies and gentlemen, the Practical Idealist who Believed He Could Fly was going to make his dream come true! And fly I did, for about an hour on a single-engine, twin-seater Piper Cherokee. I even did a few manoeuvres all by myself, though of course my instructor was keeping a very watchful eye out for any mistakes! In the skies, as we pilots know, it takes just one mistake to bring you down crashing, quite literally ;-)

I flew a Piper Cherokee (PA-28-140), and my plane’s “name” was “G-BEFF” (Golf Bravo Echo Foxtrot Foxtrot, in pilot-speak). The manoeuvres that I got introduced to were: bank (this is when the aircraft rotates about an axis that’s along the fuselage), turn (this is when the aircraft rotates about an axis that’s perpendicular to the fuselage and the wings), climb / descend (this is when the aircraft rotates about an axis that passes through its wings). To get a little more technical, you operate the ailerons when you want to bank (and eventually turn); you operate the rudder when you want to turn the aircraft (this, I believe, goes along with the banking);

If that was a bit too technical, here’s a simpler version. You have a control column, that resembles the steering wheel of a car, except that it’s not a wheel and it also can move up and down. Moving to the control column to the left or right banks the plane in the corresponding direction; moving it in or out raises or lowers the nose of the plane. There are also pedals that you can use to turn left / right. That’s it – those are the main controls of an aircraft. Not very difficult, is it?

Here are some pictures of the aircraft that I flew.

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Play for a win, or play for perfection? It’s all in the mind

I was playing tennis earlier today. We were just the three of us, so we played one man against a pair, and alternated every two games. Initially, the only thing I could do well was serve, but thanks to some hopeless hitting, I lost my service games rather quickly. Unable to win, and unable to hit a decent shot, I told myself that it was only a practice session, and that I could afford to concentrate on playing well, not necessarily on winning. Surprisingly, I started winning a few games, both while playing alone and playing with a partner. Three games in particular were really satisfying. In the first one, I was serving 0-40, and came back to win it with some good serving, setting up easy volleys for my partner to put away. In another (playing without a partner), I broke the serve of one of the best players here, and then held serve with a couple of aces and an equal number of service winners. Needless to say, I lost the next game ;-)

The insignificance of the morning session aside, the thing I want to talk about is the approach I had to the game today, and how it seemed to have made a difference. When I started off playing with an intention to win, I was losing miserably, and not getting any sort of timing or control on my strokes. But when I started playing with an intent to hit the ball well, my winning percentage improved. It reminded me of my college days when I would play to achieve perfection in stroke execution. (I had once mentioned to a friend of mine that I was trying to find self-expression on the sports field. That’s true of me even today.) Of course, winning mattered to me then even more than it matters to me now, but somewhere along the way, I had let the desire to win subjugate my desire to play a perfect game, and my game has suffered for it.

Age doesn’t always bring wisdom. In many cases, it corrupts our mind, making us forget our joys as children / young men when we toiled to develop certain skills, unmindful of the innumerable hours spent training our bodies and minds to obey our will. The joy of producing a well-timed shot – even if it is not an outright winner – is far greater than that of winning a point by waiting for your opponent to commit an error. Though all this may seem to apply mostly to amateurs, even professional sports-persons like the legendary tennis player Steffi Graf have been known to play with the hope of hitting “the zone” that some, or probably most, of us are familiar with.

Letting go of the desire to win lifts a heavy weight off your mind and allows you to be free and unshackled. This in turn lets you concentrate on the immediate present: you no longer play with a view to winning the entire match right from the word go, playing instead to win the point. Of course, if you continue to play well, you may just win the last point, which, at least as far as tennis is concerned, is the same as winning the match :-)

The quest to attain perfection is not necessarily an abstract pursuit. It’s an attempt to be the best you can be; it’s an attempt to find the latent superhuman in you; it’s a technique to detach yourself from expectations; it is a test of, and a push to extend, your limits. It is also a way to focus your mind, emptying it of everything but the present moment; a way to stay at the cutting edge of awareness. In many ways, it’s like a quest to attain the state of Zen – ever mindful of the goal called perfection, never of what that success might bring.

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The hunger for "more"

It occurred to me recently, though it may have been true much earlier, that we have successfully manufactured for ourselves a situation that I think is unprecedented, particularly considering its scale. It is something that makes us forget the bird in hand for the two in the bush. It makes us run constantly. It gnaws away at us, and makes us wish we were somebody else, someone rich, someone affluent. In short, it never lets us be at peace with who we are, or what we have. The situation is this: we want “more” from life, even if we don’t need more. Corporates want more profits every quarter, ostensibly driven by shareholders’ restlessness; employees want more salary with each job that they move to, though their work be the same; we want to buy newer gadgets all the time though the older ones work just fine; we discard our mobile phones which are old but in perfect working condition in favour of new ones; we “move up” from a nice, comfortable two-wheeler to a four-wheeler; and so on and so forth. And the omnipresent advertising media is only too happy in letting us run after the mirage of a paper rose called materialistic fulfilment.

Though I was conscious of this phenomenon six years ago, it didn’t really grab my attention probably because I thought, at that time, that what I’d noticed was not widespread. I didn’t recognise it for what it was – the entrenchment of a new set of values that have been successfully eroding the credo that had contentment and thrift as its mainstay. Which brings to mind the question, What happened to this thing that was valued so high that it was one of the most sought-after mental states in this country: contentment? Along with that question come others. What’s the need to go hankering for more? Why do we feel compelled to add more to life (more in terms of money and material comforts)? Is it a need that we’re trying to satisfy, or a want that we want to convert to a need? Does having more necessarily lead to more happiness?

It is possible to trace this insatiable hunger, I feel, to that period in time when satellite television came to India in a big way. Now, don’t get me wrong; I’m not one of those cultural, let’s-go-back-to-stone-age activists. I’m not a luddite either. On the contrary, I’m pro-technology, and all for progress. What I take issue with is the definition of progress itself.

Satellite television per se is not bad. Like most technologies, its becoming a boon or a bane depends on how we put it to use. Where I think we have not done well as a society is in these areas: i) Not understanding why we follow certain customs and traditions ii) Letting that misunderstanding turn to mistrust iii) As a consequence of the growing mistrust, believing that what / whatever comes from across the seas must necessarily be a good thing since so many people who live life in accordance with it are prosperous.

Scientific and technological advancements have long reached a stage where they can help us live a happy and comfortable life. We have upgraded our farming methods to ensure a plentiful supply of food all round the year, sometimes even when rains have failed; great improvements in scientific and medical knowledge have resulted in humanity conquering many diseases and ailments; we’re not too far away from terraforming other planets that we find capable of supporting life, and thus making science fiction become, yet again, reality. Yet, despite all these conquests of nature and natural phenomena that have satisfied our physical needs, we’ve failed to satisfy our innermost needs: the emotional, psychological, intellectual and spiritual ones.

So we have a truly unique situation: nations spend hundreds of billions, perhaps even trillions, of insert-your-favourite-currency-here on defending their territories in the name of national defence, but many don’t commit even a fraction of that money on making the lives of thousands of people in their own country, and around the globe, a bit easier to live; we think nothing of spending hundreds on buying the latest gadgets, but we ponder many times over donating even a hundred to, for example, the victims of the Haiti earthquake; if we do so at all, we feel we have done enough to expiate our greed and / or self-indulgence. The human condition has become so depraved that if we see a homeless person or a beggar, or even a decent-looking person asking for some change, we either turn a blind eye, a deaf ear, or shrink away in doubt / fear, instead of wishing to help them. Of course, the increase in the number of psychopathic individuals, or perhaps our increased awareness to their presence among us (thanks to the various media), may be one reason for such an attitude, but even so, it’s remarkable how easy it is to shed our compassion than it is shed our fear of the unknown.

Where is all this leading us to? Where are we going? Will we survive for long, or merely be blips on our planet’s collective memory?

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We’re humans, every one of us!

Out of the mouths of babes and sucklings:
“At the end of it, all are humans! How we look at things, how we deal with them, how we deal with ourselves, how we try and get over [sad events], how we get on with life without degrading ourselves. All in our hands.

The ball’s in everybody’s court. Upto [us] to play it.”

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Snow Lessons 101

Observations of a first-time snow-experiencer:

  1. Walking on roads after snowfall is not very pleasant, no matter how romantically snow is portrayed in countries like India (where I come from. Most people there have only heard of snow, but never experienced it directly).
  2. Further, walking after the snow has hardened can be extremely dangerous. I know, I have taken a few spills already :-|
  3. To restate the above point, walking on fresh snow is far easier (and akin to walking on sand) than walking on ice (thin or otherwise).
  4. Right after it snows, it’s a little less chilly.
  5. Snow flakes are beautiful. You can end up spending a lot of time just watching them fall.
  6. When the snow starts melting, it can get quite slushy. Yuck! This is when you really need those Wellington boots.

Feel free to add your own snow lessons. We can then publish Snow Lessons 102 :-)

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A new year, a new blogging tool

By now, you’ve probably noticed that the appearance of this blog has changed dramatically and, I hope, for the better. It has a cleaner look, utilises the available screen space more effectively, and is generally more pleasing to the eye. So, the question is, why change something that wasn’t broken?

Blogger is an impressive publishing platform that provides a lot of features right out of the box. Besides boasting of RSS and Atom feeds, comment moderation, scheduled publishing, superb integration with other Google services, availability of a large number of themes, the ability to GUI-edit and, if needed, hand-edit, the layout, posting through email / mobile, availability of desktop publishing tools like Live Writer, and numerous other features, it’s also quite popular and has the backing of the respectable Google brand name behind it. All this, however, failed to satisfy the craving for the ultimate level of control that I, as a programmer, had; the level of control that allows you to change just about anything on the blog.

Enter WordPress. For long, I did not really take the effort because I was busy with work and / or other commitments. (That’s actually a fancy way of saying I was too lazy to get off my backside.) However, when the New Year holidays lurked around the corner, I made up my mind to make the switch to WordPress, no matter what it took. It also helped that I had recently moved to a better web host, one who did not litter my pages with advertisements. The discovery of a free service called Everydns gave me even more freedom and control. And thus it was that I laboured yesterday and the better part of today to finally make the shift.

Now, it’s up to you people to tell me what was better – the Blogger blog (which, incidentally, is still alive) – or this one. Please feel free to speak your mind in the comments section below.

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