Wednesday, November 08, 2017

Better late than stupid

He stood at the traffic signal. He watched other two-wheeler pass him by and get onto the adjacent lane where traffic moves in the opposite direction. He knew they would block the traffic in that lane, and also that they would never realize this. Even if they did realize it, they will never change. He kept lamenting the sad future of his country while staring at the rear end of the public bus that stood towering in front of him.
A traffic congestion situation
The bus moved at a snail’s pace. He was certain he could have reached the other end of the road faster on foot. But he couldn’t leave his beloved two-wheeler in the middle of this slow moving ruthless traffic. Moreover, he needed his two-wheeler to cover the rest of the distance beyond the end of this road.
Time went by. He was certain he could have eaten his dinner at home by now. Some more time went by. He was certain he could have watched Thor: Ragnarok by now since the time he entered this road. Instead, he was on the same road, moving painfully slow towards what felt like a faraway infinity. He was certain that if he were a mathematician, he could have devised some new theorems on infinity based on his personal suffering.
He was famished now. But he still wouldn’t take the other lane to drive ahead of the bus. His principles wouldn’t allow him to do that! His moral code of conduct stopped him from obstructing path of other vehicles by entering their lane. But others, he realized, had no such moral code of conduct. They were like water, seeping through whatever holes and gaps they could find in the dense traffic. But he wanted to be strong and stand like a rock, as an example to be followed by everyone. But nobody cared. And he knew that. Some even stared at him as if he had lost his mind. But he wanted to follow his common sense and not become a part of traffic congestion at the other end of this road, where there is no traffic signal and such meaningless senseless driving ethics cause dense knots of traffic that looks beyond comprehension to be resolved.
Yet such knots get resolved, given enough time. He wondered whether he would move behind the bus long enough to watch other people grow old and die and their children take their place on the same road, then few decades later their children and so on. He wondered if he would spend enough time on that road to witness Darwin’s theory of evolution play out in front of him. He wondered if he would spend enough time to witness the sun turn into a red dwarf, or perhaps even the end of the universe.
He finally reached the junction at the end of the road, took a left turn and sped towards his home. He felt like he was traveling at the speed of light. He felt such monumental relief, similar to the feeling of releasing one’s pee in the toilet after stopping it for hours. He felt victorious without having done anything. Perhaps, good things come to those who wait, he wondered.
Wait, now he did feel like peeing. That made him drive faster towards his home.
As soon as he parked his two-wheeler outside his house, and started climbing the stairs, he looked at his phone. 15 missed calls. And he was an hour late. An hour that felt like eternity. He wondered if he had been driving a car instead of a two-wheeler, maybe he would really have witnessed Darwin’s theory of evolution play out in front of him! He shook his head in disbelief and muttered to himself that none of the guys have any driving sense, they will never evolve.
Perhaps the street dogs that cross us while we’re stuck in the traffic jam may end up evolving as superior beings to us while we continue to cut corners and maintain healthy traffic congestion at the junctions. And then witnessing our traffic, the intelligent dogs might wonder, why do humans bark so much while driving?

Thursday, November 02, 2017

Secret Superstar - Choosing the lesser devil

(Minor spoilers ahead. It reveals the plot but the plot is so simple and predictable that it wouldn’t matter!)
While the movie Secret Superstar is about a teenager trying to achieve her dream of becoming a singing sensation with her mother’s unflinching support, what stood out for me in the film was the difficult choices the main character (the teenager girl, Insia) had to make to realize her dreams.


Secret Superstar Devils — Insia’s father and Shakti Kumar

At the core of these difficult choices was the decision to choose the lesser devil. On one side was her father, who terrorized everyone in their house, and on the other side was Shakti Kumar, an infamous musician ostracized from music community. Her father was the devil she had known all her life and knew what to expect. Shakti Kumar was someone she only knew through news, award functions, reality shows etc. on TV. At one point in the story Insia has to make the difficult choice of choosing between these two devils. While she wants to move as far away from her father as possible, she just can’t do so. And she hates Shakti Kumar, he disgusts her. He is the last person she would want to meet, let alone seek help.
Eventually, circumstances and her desire to pursue singing pushes her to make the difficult choice of choosing Shakti Kumar (no surprises there) over her father. As a viewer I may feel the decision was easy, but when I imagined myself in her situation, I don’t think I’d have had the courage to take this giant leap of faith. Shakti Kumar may have turned out to be a sexual predator or may have exploited Insia for her beautiful voice and then left her without giving her any payment or credit. Choosing unknown devil, no matter how bad the known devil may be, is never easy. Perhaps only an strong unflinching desire to pursue your passion (or a purpose) can help you find the much needed courage to surrender yourself to the mercy of the unknown.
That’s what is truly compelling about Secret Superstar. The chance that a person (irrespective of age) may be forced to take due to circumstances and how one’s passion can be a guiding light to achieve one’s dreams. While the film takes a fairy tale approach, in real life when we make such choices, we must make an informed decision. Each one of us pursuing something beyond one’s comfort zone and societal norms will face many unknown devils, but if our faith and passion is strong, we must find the courage to take that giant leap.
Not a blind one but an informed one.

Sunday, October 29, 2017

Birth of a predator

In my previous post I had talked about what more should be done to go beyond Hashtags. Today I'm going to discuss why and how predators may be born in our society.

Nobody is a born predator. At a fundamental level, even though we're animals, we still yearn for higher level things like love, companionship, trust, and so on. However, we tend to take the easy way out whenever possible, and this is true in case of pleasure as well. We are all looking for instant pleasure, even at the cost of others. This particularly happens when we feel we have an advantage over the other person. Such thinking in the past led to slavery and exploitations in different ways. Recent resurgence of MeToo movement is an important evidence that such animalistic behavior is still rampant in our society.
Interestingly, the incidents have been rising over the years, perhaps due to more people becoming vocal about it (a useful and healthy development towards a better society), or such incidents have actually increased (a disturbing trend). Assuming the worst, i.e., the latter case, I would share following reasons which are, in my opinion, leading to an increase in such incidents in today's times.

1. Pornography.
It was nothing short of miracle that I almost completed 4 years of my college life without watching pornography. My batchmates argued that every guy needs to watch such videos to know what to do at their wedding night. And I counter-argued that such "education" wasn't needed since Early man didn't have any videos to guide them to procreate! Sadly pornography is not about education but about instant gratification of sexual desires. There is too much ugliness and violence in pornography and it can hamper more than help a young mind in understanding complexities of their body post-puberty and respectful interaction between him/herself and their companion.
During the last semester of my Bachelor's degree program, I succumbed to the idea of watching pornography, perhaps not to feel left out as the only guy who hadn't seen pornography during his college days! But I wish I hadn't. If I could go back in time and sleep early that night, I happily would. Because once you watch pornography, its difficult to undo the effect it can have on you. I couldn't go back to being "accha baccha" anymore! Any girl I looked at after that, I felt that, simultaneously, a predator was also looking at her from within me. This made it almost impossible for me to have normal conversation with a girl. This is horrible for a 22 year old boy who never had a girlfriend. In such situation, a person tends to watch more pornography, which makes it even more difficult to talk to girls. This vicious cycle can pull you down and keep you there. That's why pornography should not exist, whereas it might be increasing in quantity due to availability of internet and tools to make videos.
Add to that, the increasing number of disturbing reports of molestation and rape makes a pornography addict even worse about himself and can lead to depression and severe inferiority complex. For many years after college I lived in this fear that I might end up becoming a predator myself. I constantly kept "one hand distance" as taught to us all in school, from girls and in closed crowds, kept both my hands in my pocket to make sure I don't touch any female (or even male) in a wrong manner.
It gets even worse when others don't get it and sometimes laugh it off. My friends told you that since I'm a guy, obviously you'll be attracted to girls, unless you're gay, and then they may tell you that being a guy, isn't it better to feel attraction to girls. They'll tell you its normal, and its no big deal. And when I shared my fear of becoming a predator, most of them laughed, maybe because I don't look like one. Either they don't understand the difference between attraction and lust or they were avoiding the topic. Attraction is often healthy but lust is what awakens the predator. And pornography is the easiest way to awaken the predator.

2. Advertisement.
Its atrocious that the advertisers need six pack abs or size zero figure models for selling soaps and flavored drinks. Times of India and some other news bulletins are flooded with pictures of women, and these days men too, flaunting their perfect bodies, barely wearing any clothes. Earlier I had reasoned that it was because those models were poor and couldn't afford clothes of longer length but I knew it was a silly reason I gave myself to look away from the harsh reality. And the reality is that the advertisement world has been trying to appease our animal side that enjoys watching semi-naked women and men. And this, in my opinion, is also leading to our predatory tendencies coming to the surface. Consider this scenario - a person looks at nudity in advertisements, on TV, and billboards, which makes him/her desire for more. Daily exposure to such advertisements only leads to increase of thirst for such pleasure which may lead to an innocent person becoming a victim. In the opposite scenario, if advertisements were not selling scantily clad men and women, people would focus more on the product and what it offers, and make better choices while shopping. Moreover, they wouldn't unnecessarily be turned on every now and then, and would be able to focus more on what truly matters: family, work, friends, personal health and growth.

3. Repressed society.

We don't openly talk about certain "taboo" topics. MeToo has been a bold move to break away from such a construct. Good news is that its working. But it must continue, not just on social media, but also within our homes, and especially between a child and his/her parent/guardian/teacher. Such interaction is of utmost importance because parent/guardian/teacher are the authority figures for children in their formative years and wholehearted support from them would give these children strength to talk about such incidents, get the predator punished and also help them grow up to become strong and empathetic adults. While many have confessed about their ugly experiences to their friends or girlfriends/boyfriends and even spouses, this has often happened much later in life. Such confessions are always helpful but nipping the issue in the bud will be more effective.

In conclusion, building trust and focusing on delayed gratification can go a long way to discourage birth of predators. We must foster trust among each other so that we could freely talk about such issues, the way one talks about an injury or illness, and also understand that certain pleasures must come after certain effort. Preying on someone else for one's own pleasures not only makes the other person suffer, but the predator themselves suffer for such pleasures do not last long and they look out for more, making themselves miserable in the process.

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

MeToo - Are HashTags enough?

I had an animated discussion with my wife regarding recent resurgence of HashTags to promote yet another social cause, only this time I wholeheartedly support and feel it is very important (actually the second part of this statement was the result of my wife convincing me that it was important, but that's not important here!).
While sharing our sentiments online gives us momentary relief and a sense of community, and also encourages people to share their experiences and not suffer alone, we should not stop there. In the past there have been instances of sudden rise of HashTags and Profile Pictures, but such instances died down like a wave dies down after reaching the shore. But our shore is nowhere near, when it comes to #MeToo.
(Read: http://edition.cnn.com/2017/10/17/us/me-too-tarana-burke-origin-trnd/index.html)
#MeToo is a good first step in the right direction. But what next? Do we feel complacent because we've at least start talking about it? Its good that we have but talking doesn't remove the danger. And the danger is real and still lurks nearby. There is more to be done. In my opinion we can begin with the following:
1. Be vary of predators. In pre-historic times, living in a jungle and forgetting that we share the jungle with lions and cheetahs, would have cost our lives. Similarly we must not forget that predators exist in today's world also. They look like an ordinary person, and are sometimes a near/dear one, which makes it difficult to spot them. Nonetheless, we must, firstly, survive like we survived in pre-historic times, by evading such predators.
Best way to do that is to take obvious precautions. These may seem "ancient" and "outdated" but so is the mindset of the predators we are up against. Hence, we should pay heed to what the older generations teach us and warn us about/against. Coming home early and not venturing out at night won't make you less of a "modern" person. Moreover, despite how "modern" we feel we are, we are still living in a jungle and humans are still animals, at least in certain aspects. Just like we take precautions to not fall sick, we should also take precautions to stay safe. Because falling sick is not our fault but we do suffer because of it, and I don't think we should suffer anymore when it is not our fault.
2. Educate everyone you can. It is sad but true that some predators have already been born and are here to stay till they die. To prevent birth of future predators, we must educate everyone we can, that includes our own children, other children, and other people who may not be children anymore but are willing to understand and behave properly. Moreover, we must remember that any form of permanent change in a species takes time (Darwin's theory of natural selection). But here it is not the nature but we humans who will bring about the change in our species through teaching people about mutual respect. And maybe, just maybe we will witness the change as the reduction in the number of predators in the next few generations. We may not live long enough to witness such momentous change, but we must be the ones to initiate it.
HashTags are good. Becoming the change you want to see in the world, is better. Participating in gradually changing the mindset of this world, is best.
Let us make #MeToo not only a symbol of a bad past experience but also the building blocks of a safer and happier future, by shouting: #MeToo will make a better future.

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

The Howling Maid

Today morning while having breakfast, I heard a maid shout at the top of her voice at the woman behind closed doors of her house, to pay her for the last month's work. The woman, apparently, seemed not to care. The caretaker of our apartment came to resolve this issue and tried to talk this maid into leaving. The maid said that she had worked very hard and deserved every rupee that was being denied to her. She then added that the woman was accusing her of theft and hence wasn't paying her and had even threatened to call the police. Nonetheless, the maid was determined to stay put until she was paid in full.
The maid left after about ten minutes, for reasons I'm not aware of. But it made me realize something important, what if the maid was telling the truth and the woman was lying just to get back at the maid for something else she had done to her, or perhaps the maid didn't do anything and the woman's attitude was unsympathetic. I am not sure whether the allegation of theft was true but based on her voice and tone it seemed that the maid badly needs the money she had earned and deserved.
What I don't understand at all is, why give someone a chance to steal anything from your place? Why keep precious valuables lying around in the house? I've seen the tendency to carelessly keep one's important at some place and over time forgetting about it, in almost every household I have visited or know of. We seem to get too comfortable in our own home but forget that we are inviting an outsider who is probably less wealthy than we are, and may therefore have a tendency to steal things. Would we not have taken care against predators had we lived in a cave in a jungle? Then why consider some outsider to be a saint, when (and I am sure of it) everybody has heard of stories of maids stealing from their master's homes sometime or the other. Instead of enticing her to steal by keeping things in the open and then accusing her of stealing when things go missing (even if it may be your 10 year old who misplaced it), why not keep our valuables safe?
You may argue that, can't one live the way one wants in one's own home. Sure you can, but it is your home only because you occupy it at the moment. Moreover, its like saying, can't I eat the way I like because its my body. And you know where such thinking leads to.
Stop blaming others. Instead organize your life such that you minimize such incidents. That will not only help you retain a maid for longer time without any bitter feelings that is so rare these days, it will also provide you with some peace of mind, which I dare say, is rarer still.

Sunday, September 24, 2017

Newton - Idealism or Practicality?

In one of my favorite scenes from the movie, Newton's supervisor asks him, "Do you know what your problem is?"
"My honesty and sincerity."
"Your vanity in your honesty and sincerity."

Newton is a film about Newton (Nutan Kumar), perfectly portrayed by Rajkummar Rao who wants to make a difference. He is a fresher and as his first assignment he volunteers to serve as the presiding officer of an election booth in one of the Naxals infested areas. He does everything by the book to ensure the operation is a success. And when the operation doesn't go as per his expectations, he is devastated. In a scene towards the climax, you can witness his anguish and feel the pain of shattering of his worldview and idealism.
The polar opposite is Aatma Singh, played beautifully by Pankaj tripathy. He is a practical man who from his first conversation with Newton tries to discourage him from pursuing his operation. He understands the safety risks of the area under his supervision and was not interested in losing any more of his men or civilians to Naxal attacks. He even promises him a successful (fake) report for the election operation, to ensure that both of them maintain the image of a work well done.

Why did he do that? Was he not interested in serving his country by ensuring fair elections?

In one of my favorite scenes which was the main reason I went to watch the movie, Aatma Singh offered Newton to hold his rifle in his hands, "It is heavy, isn't it?" he said, and continued, "this is the burden of safety of our country, and this burden is on our shoulders."

It may not seem this way but Aatma Singh was as patriotic as Newton. The difference was in their perception. Newton was an extreme idealist, perhaps being a fresher and driven to make a difference. Aatma Singh, with years of experience in Kashmir, Mizoram and other terror prone regions, understood the risks of holding such election operations and used that to make practical decisions. Both were doing their duty, and that is why this clash between idealism and practicality makes for a riveting watch.

Even though Newton is being praised worldwide and is India's official entry as a foreign film to the Academy Awards in 2018, to me this film excelled to depict the clash of idealism and practicality that was a great learning and a useful takeaway for me.

What side do you choose, idealism or practicality?
And how far are you willing to go for your idealism or practicality?

Sunday, August 27, 2017

Toilet: Ek Prem Katha - A lesson for professionals

While the movie Toilet: Ek Prem Katha was marketed as a different kind of love story (more rooted in reality), I discovered that the movie also presents a lot of lessons that we as professionals can learn.
Keshav, the protagonist was faced with a daunting challenge (absence of private toilets), one of its kind that never happened in his village. But he doesn't give up and gives his best to address the issue. Consider Keshav as the organization or professional and his wife as the client in this scenario. Following are the lessons we can take away from his efforts in this scenario (SPOILERS AHEAD):
  1. Explore all options: Be it stealthily sneaking into other's house that has a toilet, with any vague excuse he could find, or driving his wife to a stopping point where a train stopped for exactly 7 minutes to use its lavatory facilities, to even stealing a portable toilet from a shooting set, he explores all options.
  2. Short-term solutions don't work: Even though Keshav was coming up with innovative solutions, each was fraught with some flaws. Having a difficult client (his wife) does push him to seek for the long term solution.
  3. Benefiting not only his client (his wife) but also rest of the village (society): Solutions proposed should be replicable and scalable and benefit the society at large. While the solution was already present, making it reach to the people in need for it is itself a challenge and something we must strive to do as good professionals.
  4. Sometimes solutions are there, but people are not ready for it: Keshav's fight was against the archaic traditions that prevented him to deploy the long-term solution in the first place. In our organizations also we might have to deal with outdated policies and processes. However striving to overcome such hurdles to deploy long-term solutions that are clearly better for the organization and the society at large is a worthy effort.
  5. Smart one-liners have high stickiness factor and using them to promote your cause is an excellent idea.
  • "Biwi paas chaahiye toh ghar mein sandaas chaahiye (if you want your wife to live with you, better have a toilet in your house)."
  • "yeh maamla shauch ka nahin soch ka hain (this matter is not about defecation, it is about our thinking)."
6. Lastly, the movie was about flushing out archaic methods that have lost their utility (since better methods are available) and moving into the future. As a professional, one must keep updating oneself about latest developments to stay in the race.

Radhe Radhe! (salutation)