Monday, 9 March 2015

The erosion of sensible opinion

As kids, we used to ask a popular riddle:

Which one of these sentences is correct?
An egg yolk is white. OR
An egg yolk are white.

Most, who’d heard it for the first time, would have a go at the error in grammar. There was, after all, even emphasis on it when it was asked. The correct answer, though, is neither – an egg yolk is yellow. The riddle works because choosing between the options that are ‘given’ to us is so ingrained in our behavior, that we fail to consider an alternative. Or the fact that there could be something wrong with both of them.

We fail to consider, that real life issues are not an examination, where you HAVE to choose between the given choices. Especially not, when those choices are two extremes promoted by a sensationalist media. It is important that we interpret “We are free to make our own choices” to mean that we are free to ‘create’ our own choices as well.

The problem starts when closed-minded thinking begins to enter the minds of the common people. Every issue is brought down to one question and two options – Yes and No. Do you think that reservations should exist – Yes or No? Do you think that PK should be banned – Yes or No? And it gets better – Do you think that women can have it all? Yes or No? Everyone doesn't even agree on what ‘all’ means here. Yet, you have news channels and random ‘social experiment’ YouTube channels showing graphs for people’s responses.

image source: Text mine.

Based on these responses, in the recent debates on PK, the AIB roast and the Delhi gang rape documentary, as well as in the enduring debates on racism, feminism and casteism, the media, and by extension the people, have started branding everyone into one of two extreme categories –

One category, is where you are branded as a revenge driven victim like this:
A hateful, yelling, spoilt and rich freedom of speech pretender.
A loud, spiteful female supremacist.
A selfish and greedy person over-capitalizing on a tragedy.

The other, is where you get branded as an orthodox conservationist like this:
A short tempered person with misguided morals, but who considers oneself Alok Nath.
An indifferent male chauvinist.
An entitled by birth replacement of a stereotypical pre-independence Britisher.

Then comes more of the fun. While the media (if you are lucky and unlucky enough) will brand you into either one of these, you can even get branded into both!  Because, as we say for driving – everyone who drives slower than you do is a moron, everyone faster is a maniac. So you get your own, ‘personalized’ branding from anybody and everybody.

It is said that every debate has two sides. That is exactly why we should not be having debates. We should be having discussions. We should start asking ‘How do you think that we should resolve casteism?’ rather than ‘Do you think that reservations should exist?’ Only then will the moderates start speaking up, and we will come up with pragmatic solutions to problems. Attacking each other from two ends of the opinion range is an act of cowardice and laziness performed in the knowledge that there will always be extremists to support you on either side. The media loves to sensationalize. Twitter loves to outrage. Should we not be more sensible than that?

Wednesday, 1 October 2014

In support of Sarita Devi

For anyone following the Asian Games in Incheon, the Indian boxer Sarita Devi's 'loss' to South Korea's Park Jin-a (variantly Jina or Ji-Na in the media) should be a disappointment. There are often allegations of favouritism for host countries in boxing and other contact sports, but rarely has favouritism been as blatant as what is being done this time in Incheon. Sarita had dominated the bout so thoroughly, especially rounds 2 and 3, that the word favouritism falls short. Match-fixing, it is. There were also protests over Indian boxer Devendro Laishram's loss, and in fact, a Mongolian boxer chose to do a sit-in protest in the ring! Boxing apart, football (yes, soccer for some) and wrestling have also come under shadow.

In Sarita's case, she had landed much more clean and aggressive punches than her rival had, who resorted more to clinching (being hugging-ly close to your opponent so that he/she can't punch). After her match Sarita stared in disbelief and in an emotional outburst on the podium, refused to accept the bronze medal and hung it instead in Park Jin-a's neck. This action has come under considerable criticism from some sections of the media as being 'unsportsmanlike' and 'undignified' . AIBA is in fact, considering disciplinary action.

What this section of the media doesn't realize is that dignified behaviour was thrown out of the window when the judges unanimously (Yes!) awarded Ms. Park the bout 3-0. Sportsman spirit involves being honest and accepting a fair loss. But it does not involve silently watching as injustice is done to you. In fact, you would expect a good sportsman to raise his/her voice against injustice, though in this case, the victim is she herself. Another incorrect line of thought is that she should not have come to the medal ceremony if she did not want to accept the medal. Firstly, any idiot would be able to see that her outburst was spontaneous and not premeditated like David Francis, the AIBA supervisor claimed it was. I would love to challenge him to take the event's video to a human lie detector to prove this. And even if it was, the kind of 'protest' that the AIBA seems to like is meekly sitting in your own room, crying to yourself while everybody else cares zilch and the medal ceremony goes as smooth as honey. No AIBA, this and perhaps worse, is how a real protest will and should go when someone has got the guts to stand up against injustice.

The only person who you could feel bad about in this incident is Park Jin-a who might have had nothing to do in this bias and her achievement will always be shrouded in a cloud of despise. There's a saying in Marathi, my native tongue, which fits here - ओलं सुकं एकत्र जळतं  (The wet and the dry burn together). Whether you are guilty or not, if you are part of a burning heap, unfortunately, you will have to bear the brunt too.

Monday, 12 August 2013


If anyone has not said 'Bublaboo' the moment I ever said 'Cincinnati', please know that you are an exception, that you haven't completed the sacred hymn of the Tooth Fairy, who is now going to turn you into an undead zombie.

After the furious procedure of applying for MS during the college exams and then the one lengthy wait, it soon became obvious that I would be joining the University of Cincinnati. Preparations began in full swing, and with it my friends' taunts! It's amazing to find how every meet suddenly turned into the "jaane ke pehle ki last" (the last one before leaving). And if you dare refuse such a meet, you have at least 5 pairs of eyes giving this look:

Only about a week before leaving, by when I had enough 'gori pata ke aana' and 'itni tayari to ladki ko sasural bhejne me karte hain' comments, did my schedule receive some consideration from those eyes.

Finally came the day I was waiting for- the day I was going to fly (I can already read the lame 'do you have wings?' joke in the minds of half the people. No, that doesn't fall into the Anish-type jokes category. Mine are far better :D ). The last day was of complete frenzy.. all the 23rd hour packing, juggling visitors, phone calls and door bells, and what not. I was alternating the whole day between states something like these:

Then, when all was done with and the emotional pangs stopped, we left for the airport, all the while making the last customary phone calls. By the end of the last phone call (and the last instruction!) I guess I must have beaten dear old Santa Claus in saying "Ho Ho" all the way. As we arrived at the airport, I saw a group of about 50 people surrounding an old man and thought that it was perhaps a medical emergency. That thought vanished as soon as a coconut went "CRACK" and everyone roared together  "Ambe mate ki JAI !!! ".

The check-in counters were quite empty. We had got in early and it showed! The cabin bags are often ignored while weighing, I am told. But that day we had the misfortune of getting all our bags weighed, including my regular cabin bag and a laptop bag. "We cannot allow you to carry this much weight, sir!", said the attendant. But then, like a magician who waits for the 'Turn' to settle in before going for the 'Prestige', he paused, and said "But, I will allow you to check-in an extra bag for free!". I though, continued with my previous expression:

Till now I used to think that ration shops had the longest queues outside them (my college office queues could come close, but no!). The queue at the immigration counter however changed that belief.

The flight had two stop-overs at Frankfurt and Newark. The Mumbai-Frankfurt flight was quite uneventful. Had a nice time with my travel mates on the way. At Frankfurt though, the plane gods seemed generous! The lady at the boarding counter, with a heavy German accent said something like "lkgmdlg business class seat become free. andu gundu thanda pani". Only when I actually compared my seat number with my friends did I realise that I had been offered a free upgrade to the Business Class! (Yeah, I can hear you guys yelling "dagabaaz" :D ).

The levels of politeness amongst people seemed to generally increase along the way. By the time I got off the Frankfurt-Newark flight I, in my own words, "had not used as many pleasantries in the past whole week as I had in those 8 hrs, 4 hrs of which I was sleeping"! Food was delicious, with extra-business class courtesy, except for the fork-knife problem during the pre-meal. Now, I know how to eat with all the cutlery, but a roll full of chopped stuff and dripping cheese is, in my opinion, best eaten by hand. Unfortunately, 3 people (all foreigners) sitting besides me did not seem to share my common sense. Ultimately I decided not to stand out, ate that with a fork and knife all the while resisting the urge to lick the oozing cheese clean!

The words 'cabin crew' would be somewhat misleading for the Newark-Cincinnati flight. There was, after all, just one person. Quite a jocular guy he was, keeping the passengers entertained during the flight delay due to the weather. And he even asked for an M&M (Gems- closer home), from a passenger complete with a colour choice!

Cincinnati, right from arrival, has seemed like a nice little city with both greenery and infrastructure. Indian cities have a lot to learn from cities here. If only there was more public transport rather than the reliance on cars, I would have been even more impressed. Activities with college mates have already started and I suppose I'll be playing my first game of football ( I might start calling this soccer inadvertently soon!) today. It's fun here... a new beginning, new skills, new friends... I sooo wish that my old friends and family had been here too. To all the loved ones back home, I am moved by the care and love you gave me. It will be great to meet you again... hopefully soon! Till then, do pay homage to the Tooth Fairy by yelling Cincinnati Bublaboo while doing the chakrasan!

Monday, 17 December 2012

Who's the donkey?

"MBA hi karna tha to engineering kyun ki?"
I call this question the Arindam Chaudhuri question, and the value I give to it is the same as what I give to Arindam Chaudhuri and his opinions- ZERO.

You will definitely be knowing Arindam Chaudhuri. He's the perennial 'Dare to think beyond the IITs/IIMs' guy. What really makes him think that his IIPM is beyond either of them is a point to ponder. Anyway, so he, as far as I know, threw this two pence worth question. It was then picked up by people from other fields and even the movie 3 Idiots. People doing an MBA after engineering have been called everything from idiots to gadhas (donkeys).

Image source
Worse, even the IIMs seem to have bowed down to it. They have started lowering the requirements for people from commerce and arts. And people haven't responded to it publicly because, perhaps it can't be responded to in a punch line.

Firstly, many people claim that business has got nothing to do with engineering. And they ironically proclaim that on the internet! So many technology based companies got where they are with absolutely no knowledge of engineering?

Secondly, if this was indeed the case then business should be done only by people who have got a bachelor's degree in it, namely BBA. Why do I, then, never hear this question being asked about commerce or arts? If business isn't only about engineering, is it only about commerce? And arts?

The simple truth is that there are more tech-based companies out there. An MBA is about a degree of management, not about working in a bank. You can't expect an engineer to remain a technician for all his life. Now, I myself don't plan to do an MBA immediately, but I feel for my other engineer buddies at whom this question is thrown in ridicule. Frankly, it's just that people love to get back at engineers. We would do well to remember that. So the next time someone says that to you, dismiss it as you would dismiss a gadha's braying.

Monday, 3 December 2012

The Problem of the Gods' Successors

Too often, when something goes wrong, or when someone commits a heinous act, we are quick to blame the religion of that person for encouraging them or perhaps planting such thoughts in their minds in the first place. Most often this is seen happening with Islam, but in no small measure has been happening with other religions like Hinduism, Christianity and others. But look carefully at the true teachings of any religion and you will find that all of them are exceptionally good, kind and strive to maintain peace and order. And yet we find faults with their beliefs. What we don't realise is that, it was not the God who perpetuated irrationality. It was someone else.

image source unknown

It is often said that there are many interpretations of the various holy books of every religion. And so there are sects in every religion who conform to a specific set of interpretations. And yet the creators of these religions believed in and preached a single philosophy. The problem was never with the God. It was with the so-called scholars of those religions upon whom fell the responsibility to carry forward those teachings after the God's time. They either failed to understand the teachings themselves, or could not do justice to them.

It is my belief that many of the age old customs that we are now brave enough to call 'draconian' originated with noble intentions. However they were conceptually so flawed that they were cosmetic attempts to find a solution without addressing the root cause. Take, for example, the now-thankfully-junked Hindu custom of shaving a wife's head when her husband passes away. In olden days men were seen as being protectors and I think the custom originated for protecting the widows from other men once their husband is no longer there, simply by making them unattractive. Again, this was a small bandage to a much deeper problem- mentality. Such things, of course, are not unique to Hinduism at all. You'll find them everywhere.

On a wider scale, this problem is not unique even to religions. The case of the Indian Constitution strikes me. When read in isolation, the Indian Constitution is extremely well written and stunningly detailed, taking into account a plethora of scenarios. But it needed to be changed with time. This responsibility was given to the Members of Parliament, the 'successors', with the hope that they will do justice to its spirit. What has happened to it today is hugely disappointing.

The question is the same everywhere. How do you ensure that after your time your words will be taken in spirit, and not be twisted to such an extent that people start cursing the original itself ? Can we find an answer to that when even the Gods had trouble doing it ?