Wednesday, March 08, 2017

Good Wishes and a Rejoinder on Women's Day

Girls! Keep up the good work! And consider us all in it together.


A few requests:
  • Consider us your allies.
  • Ask for help. We mayn't not always know how to, but we do want to. We don't judge.
  • Don't keep saying "Men won't understand what it is to be a woman in this men's world." First of all, we didn't make this world. Why is it relevant to make a point like, 'Tum nahi samjhoge Rahul, Kucch Kuchh Hota Hai?' Secondly, why won't we understand? The real social disease is 'discrimination'; there's nothing so unique about discrimination against women, that in spirit, only they can understand it. We all have been victim of very severe forms of discrimination in a variety of ways: caste, economic, national, racial ... We mayn't get it exactly, but we do get it. Enough to be useful in helping remove it. No point belabouring the point.
  • And just to top it up, please do acknowledge that the suffering that women face is one of the many kinds of sufferings, all of which are quite severe. Certain amount of activism is good to generate social anti-bodies against atrocities. But to weed out the root cause requires intellectual analysis. Some of us should also give serious thought on what the social (or probably biological) processes and structures are which lead to all kinds of discriminatory practices (gender related practices being one of them) to get mainstream acceptance over time? Once you are done with your day's activism, I invite you to an evening tea with me to mull over such questions: Why not a Dalit Day, Tribalman's Day, Negro Day, Poor Person's Day, Senior Person's Day, Physically Challenged Person's Day etc. All these classes have suffered discrimination and inhuman atrocities of comparable order as women have?

In short, let it not be an all-girl's party. Let us boys in too and work alongside you.

Monday, January 30, 2017

Humanely Treating Our Domestic Helps

The other day, Sadiqa, our domestic help, came to work even though her daughter was terribly ill. That day, she did her work against continual requests from Shilpi to let it be and go back home. All the time struggling against a torrent of tears, she just said: "I would drop everything but finish your work, Didi!"
We can't put a value on the contribution of our housemaids in simplifying our day-to-day lives. And often, the sort of trust, love, honesty and sacrifice displayed by them is hard to explain. In our country, the overall terms of employment of these people is fundamentally unfair, as they are tuned to keep them in perpetual penury. It's a hidden form of bondage or slavery or serfdom where there are no visible ropes to bind them, no physical whips to crack. But there's a craftily designed social system which keeps them subjugated.
My heart bleeds to hear stories of atrocities meted out on domestic helps everyday. Of course, the newspapers are full of news of housemaids being raped and murdered (often the other way round too). Leaving alone such extreme cases, many people treat them like machines or beasts of burden. Here are some of the horror stories we have heard about how people treat the domestic helps, often right in our current neighbourhood:
  • Continuous haggling about salary. People driving SUVs to office and women splurging tens of thousands on online shopping just to stay on the top of fashion trends make a very ugly sight haggling with poor people for a mere few hundreds a month.
  • No leaves. Most people here has a five-day working week, and feel guiltlessly entitled to a cushy salary from that much productivity. However, they raise hell when the domestic help asks for a leave. Illness, personal emergency, rain and snow, festivals, national holidays -- nothing is a valid grounds for asking for a leave. Such false sense of entitlement; such double-standards!
  • Tasks beyond the terms of employment. Often, domestic helps are made to run to get grocery, chop vegetables, clean meat or fish, cook, massage the ladies, dusting and cleaning -- all things beyond what they are employed for, and without being compensated.
  • Mountain piles of vessels to clean. Shouldn't we be thinking a bit when adding one vessel over another about how it would be if we were to clean them? The tiny gesture of wetting the vessels would reduce the effort of cleaning them by an order. But, few people seem to have the sensitivity to do so.
  • Unsegregated waste. Waste segregation is mandatory in our complex. It's the residents' responsibility to segregate waste properly and put them in the current bins. However, there are people who drop all garbage on the floor in a wanton manner leaving it for the domestic help to collect them while cleaning the floor. The housemaid is forced to segregate them before tossing them into the bins. How much more sickening could someone get?!
We move about claiming to be well-educated people, God fearing people, socially aware people. But we treat our domestic helps, who are often more a family than employees, with such inhuman unfairness! Our hypocrisy is nauseating!

Tuesday, December 06, 2016

Fighting Judgemental Behaviour

Judgemental behaviour means all actions and attitudes demonstrating a preconceived opinion about a person or a group. Have you ever been witness to statements phrased in some way, but seeming to mean the following?
  • You are an expatriate? So, you are a gold-digger and don't love your country.
  • You are a Non-vegetarian? So you are cruel.
  • You are busy and successful? You must be an over-ambitious, haughty and selfish person who neglects his family, friends and relations.
  • You are poor? You must be a moron.
  • You are an Asian or African? You must have come here to take away my job.
  • You don't dress like me? You must be a slut/un-modern person.
I confess, some of the above are from my own experiences: I was bullied by my peers in my childhood for my (premature) intellectual inclinations. I have been a target of direct and indirect verbal attacks from some of my relatives who have construed my choice of career (and moving away from my native town) etc. as my selfishness or ambitiousness. My holding a PhD has been unfairly treated as being equivalent to my being an 'academic' (read un-practical), conceited and arrogant person. I have been judged as un-smart for not dressing up in a particular way! The list goes on. Whenever such remarks were made at me, there's been one thing common in all of them: they have never confronted me; they never gave me a chance to defend my case. All these remarks were made behind my back, or in the garb of casual social jokes, or as indirect insinuations. My attempt to confront and seek clarifications mostly have gone vain: they simply didn't reply, blocked me, laughed asking me not to take a joke personally, so on and so forth.

Such opinions are formed on shaky and unrealistic grounds (insecurity, jealousy, pseudo-science, family sob stories, cheap literature and movies etc.). They take shape before or in absence of adequate interaction with the concerned person or group. They are closely associated with personal or collective ego, and hence, often dictate a person's/group's behaviour long after he/she/they have been proven wrong. For example, a person who has been mistreating economically disadvantaged people as inferiors will find it very humiliating when he has to treat them as his equals.

Judgemental attitude leads to bitter, unfair behaviour, sarcastic and blaming statements, discriminatory and damning attitude. The concerned person feels the presence of judgementalism but feels helpless against it, because such behaviour is often indirect, seemingly casual and brief. The consequences of judgemental behaviour are severe, leading to broken relations and shattered self-esteem. It often leads to feeling of guilt which can't be pinned down to anything in particular. In the extreme case, such behaviour leads to class discriminations and racism.

We always battle against judgements: as perpetrators as well as victims. Both predicaments lead to sorrow. How do we fight judgementalism?

For Victims

  • It is impossible to make everyone happy. Consider this case as a casualty.
  • Know the truth. Know well that what's being said about you isn't probably correct. Look at yourself in your entirety and understand that an opinion of the kind must arise from a viewpoint which is accidentally or deliberately not considering you in your full-dimensions.
  • Empathise. Judgemental people are mostly battling against some insecurity, guilty feeling or jealousy. By passing judgements, they are trying to hide their own weakness by turning the spotlight on you. They are internally in pain. Feel their pain, and forgive.
  • Take no nonsense. Fight against unfair show of judgemental behaviour. Most judgemental behaviour comes veiled in indirect insinuations and sarcastic remarks. Confronting them means taking a risk of being put in a silly spot by the statement 'this is not about you!' or 'I was just kidding!' The judgemental person wants to keep the option of continuing to hurt you by not being confronted. Confront him/her. Either the person will cower down, or he/she will lash back with all his/her venom. Fight back. Make it clear that what they think of you is their business, but how they behave with you needs to be acceptable.

When we are judging

  • Are you not guilty of exactly the same thing which you are charging the other person of?
  • Are you above all those vices you find so hateful in the other person?
  • Have you given the other person a fair opportunity to know that he/she is being judged?
  • Have you given the other person a fair opportunity to put forth his/her side?
  • Have you considered all aspects of the other person's life and personality before passing a judgement?
  • What is your actual reason for taking a narrow view of a person's position? Is it indeed your 'personal view' as you might want to put it? Or does it arise from an unwillingness to look at the matter critically and holistically?
  • Think of how many good experiences are hidden in the treasure-house of a beautiful relation. Every single person and a relation with such a person is a potential source of these beautiful experiences. You mayn't have the bandwidth to develop a great relation with everyone around you. But to gnaw away at an already existing or a potential relation with your own hands is nothing but stupid.
There are big problems which big people solve: climate change, corruption, diseases and illiteracy. Who will solve those little problems which chip away silently at the lives of millions -- billions? These are ordinary problems, hurting ordinary people. They have to be solved by ordinary people like us. Judgemental attitude is one such problem. It's seen in every family, every friend circle, every work place -- every day. We all do it; we all fall victim to it. Both ways, we all suffer. Let's go over the above points, and try and throw away this little epidemic of a bug out of our lives.

Fountain Pen and the Life

The most insightful of thoughts can be written in the most beautiful of handwritings thru' the most precious and joyful of writing experiences -- all with a Rs. 40/- fountain pen, a bottle of ink costing Rs. 20/-, both enough for a lifetime of writing joy.

Isn't life a lot like that? The quality of the experiences you fill it up with have little to do with the physical resources you spend on it. The quality of our life is merely a reflection of our own quality.

Thursday, October 27, 2016

(Foreign) Travel Best Practices

Below, I share a few observations and insights about the do's and don'ts of travelling, particularly travelling to other countries.

I start with a few disclaimers. One, I don't want to pass even a covert message that I am some kind of a professional globe-trotter who has hordes of knowledge about what works and what doesn't when you are travelling. Two, this post is not meant to be a compendium of travelling tips. These are a few of the observations very specific from my experience. Three, what I say below applies to people who are travelling for business or tourism; but may be not to those who are emigrating. Four, this is aligned to Indians travelling abroad, but may apply well to others.

Avoiding Goof-ups

One of the things which can mar a travel like nothing else are moments of anxiety. Delays, missed flights, lost luggage, passport, documents, money, getting stranded in an unknown/strange/dangerous place ... these are all best avoided. What can we do to avoid them.
Prepare/plan early. Preparing a foreign travel is very complex. Arranging funds, tickets, visa are the most important aspects of this preparation. Air tickets are much cheaper if purchased early. Finding out about the visa application process for the country of visit will help save last moment trepidations. It's always good to get in touch with someone in the circle who has either travelled or has stayed in the concerned country. Several finer details like the best way to travel inland, best hotels, places to visit etc. are best got from a person who has gone through the whole thing, rather than just browsing the Internet. Early bookings save money, but come with committing to a plan. Beyond a point, too fine grained a plan could backfire in several ways. First, it definitely rules out certain possibilities. Second, it may suffer over-fitting problem, in the sense that too much detailing makes it brittle. Such over-fitted plans may crumble if one of the components of it fails. As an example, there was a delay in our Bangalore-Heathrow flight. My colleagues had booked their onward train tickets for a train leaving within 3 hours of the original landing time of the flight. Obviously, they missed their train. In the process, they lost several hundred pounds.

Hence, it's more a matter of trade-off. Save money and last minute anxiety by planning early. But keep it sufficiently flexible for the novelty and fault-tolerance aspect. To be precise, I would say, it would be a good idea to make all the major bookings (e.g. long haul flights, and multi-night hotel bookings) early, and leave out the finer details (e.g. how will I spend my weekend in XYZ?) to later research.
Be connected. While travelling to a new place, it's good to know someone who stays there. Have their contact details with yourself, and share yours with them. Let's also accept that travelling abroad is expensive, and if we are to book hotels for every night we stay there, it would drill a hole in our pockets. Staying for a night or two at a friend's place is not merely a trick to save money. It provides a much needed window to catch up. And yes, don't forget to ask them clearly about their convenience and willingness to host you. Try and not be a burden.
Have backup plans. Identifying components of a plan which can fail, and providing backup options, is also a part of good planning. For example, if a flight/train gets cancelled, and you get stranded in a city, it would be good if there's someone in the city who would be ready to give shelter for the night, or you have enough foreign currency with you to be able to rent a hotel room.
Single-process. In airports, railway stations, buses, etc. it's best to avoid haste. Getting hassled and hasty is a very effective preparation to drop something (e.g. money, passport, credit card), or forget something (hotel room key inside your hotel room). I typically go very slow, and take my time to satisfy myself that I am done with doing one thing, before proceeding to the next. For example, if I decide to take coffee at the airport, I sit and have it in peace, and then proceed to security checking. Similarly, at the ticket counters, ATMs etc., I handle my things in a completely single threaded manner: tickets, travel card, cash, luggage. Remembering the 5S principle (of 'a place for everything and everything in its place') is a great idea. Of course, this means that I slow things down, and have to make up for the time by starting earlier than others. This, to me, never seems like a bad idea. I also am conscious that this sometimes comes across as clumsy and irritates bystanders. I consciously avoid feeling agitated by annoyed stares from strangers in such situations.

Your Attitude

Meeting with foreigners outside one's own country is sometimes a source of anxiety. How should we behave with foreigners, particularly when we aren't in the safety of our own country whose methods and means are well-known to us? I have found the following very helpful.

Pride. Wear your cultural pride on your sleeves. We know of many problems in our country. There's no harm talking about them. But there's a thin line between being critical, and being downright disparaging. Being reasonably knowledgeable about one's own country and culture earns you respect. People seem to find India particularly interesting. So, it's nice to be able to help others with interesting bits of information. But there's no need to fake knowledge. On a related note, don't accept outright racist or discriminatory behaviour. But, don't raise hell if you merely suspect discrimination. Be forgiving to involuntary mistakes.

Curiosity and respect for other cultures. Equally important is not to put up a jingoistic face. Some of the most engaging exchanges with foreigners happen when they compare notes about their countries and cultures in a pleasant and scholarly manner. There should be a sense of equality and mutual respect in conversations between people from different geographies and cultures.

Things which always work. There are certain attitudes which always work (at least in my knowledge), regardless of culture and geography. A happy and smiling demeanour is way more effective and impressive than immaculate dressing and stylish mannerisms. Politeness, helpfulness, honesty are culture neutral attitudes which will always earn you respect and acceptance. If you are a guest to someone, appreciating their hospitality is a very right thing to do. Good work ethics like punctuality, keeping of appointments, concern for quality are always good in any professional setting.

Trying to fit in. Trying to blindly imitate someone's dressing style, mannerism and accent is useless and disgraceful. A decent, clean dress is good enough for almost any place. It doesn't make sense to be overly concerned about appropriate dressing beyond a point. Of course, if the climate demands a particular way of dressing, by all means, you should be flexible to change your dressing style. Also, reasonable degree of cleanliness and personal hygiene is important. Avoiding smelly clothes, leaving the bathroom clean after use, are more of little gestures of courtesy to people around you than anything. Similarly, faking accent is a useless ploy. Instead, if you are a good and articulate communicator, you are going to be miles ahead of anyone who breaks his head in sounding like an American or a British. In short, while we all are humans and are fundamentally similar, we should celebrate our little variations and try not to be apologetic about being different from others at a surface level.

Things to avoid

Certain things which are less of a concern in our (and in one's own) country may be more seriously taken elsewhere. It's good to be careful and conservative on such things. Avoid giving frank opinions on religion, sex and politics until an environment of trust has been developed. Don't take photos of strangers if possible. Never post the photos of people, particularly when seen in a family setting, on social networks, unless with express permission. Be careful in your exhibition of affection to people. In India, touching a person of opposite sex affectionately still raises eyebrows, but doing so with a child is acceptable in general. Elsewhere (where women are an empowered lot, and children are more vulnerable), the scenario seems quite the opposite. A shake of hands -- whether it's a person of the opposite sex, a child, or an elder -- to express any form of warmth is quite safe in most cases. Going anyway beyond this should be done after sufficient evidence of its acceptability.

Staying out of the way of dangerous/illegal behaviour, e.g. getting excessively drunk, driving without license or training, drugs, visits to prostitutes, trying to carry illegal/prohibited substances through the ports etc. is definitely a good suggestion.


In my opinion, the most fascinating aspect of any place are its people and their lives. Ask yourself the question: what's unique about the place? Prior reading and conversation with locals gives you a true idea, and helps you shape in your mind what it is about that place that you would really like to learn and experience: its art forms, food, history, geography? Merely standing in front of a monument and clicking a photo is one of stupidest ways of wasting your time and money. Sorry, my personal opinion. In my recent visit to UK, I deliberately avoided London, though I passed twice through it. London is a major hub, and I anticipate several occasions in future to visit it. Instead, I chose to get up and close with the British countryside, its town-life and its history and culture. I had drives and walks in the wild fields and hills. I walked miles on the pavements of York. I spent time in the living rooms of British people, both recent immigrants and long-term settlers. I couldn't be any happier with my decision.

In summary, I would say that while travelling it's a good idea to try and maximise experience and enjoyment, staying within safe limits. A visit to a new place, whether within the country or outside, should be a source of personal enrichment, rather than a tick on a map, and matter of show-off. And this happens through taking a genuine interest in the place and its people, rather than posing for photographs before famous places.

Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Oppressors and Common People

What enables oppressors to show such unity? Look at mafia, terrorists, smugglers, corrupt politicians, businessmen, imperialists. They all are hand-in-glove when involved in something vile. Somehow, their teams are extremely strong, despite being much smaller than the number of people they oppress. It's got to do with the common urges which drive them to do what they do. Greed, ambition, anger, fear, ego, vanity etc. are very potent motivators and unifiers.

On the other hand, common people never seem to come together? Because most people are cowards. They would rather hide behind their busy life etc. than come out in the open and speak out. They fear unpleasantness and messing it up with the 'important' and 'influential'. They would sometimes even turn against the very people who are trying to stand for them, just to avoid being marked as an agent of change in the existing social order. And agents of change are a set of creatures oppressors hate the most, and go to any length to get them out of their way.

The dominating emotion among the masses is fear. And here's another way fear works: as a paralyser, which is exactly the opposite of how it works on the oppressors. 

The oppressors often hold positions of influence, and once in a while do their bit to keep the system going. This could easily be construed as a service to the common man. But it's a delusion. A parasite needs the host to remain alive to be able to suck its blood. An intelligent parasite will go to the extreme of helping its host survive when it's about to die, because if the host dies, the parasite can't survive either. An intelligent parasite will also want to keep its victim deluded that it is actually a helpful guest, who should be allowed to suck its host's blood once in a while as a payback for its services. British, when they were here, also built bridges and buildings, apart from looting the people in immeasurable proportions. And even to this day, we punish ourselves by saying that their coming to our land did us a lot of good, whereas the reality is they kept sucking our lifeblood for two centuries, and left us scarred for centuries to come.

The common man -- lazy, ignorant, fearful -- is happy to lead a subjugated life as long as the oppressors keep them away from the need to understand things and take things in their own hands. They are afraid to take responsibility, to fail, to deal with the discomfort of understanding and learning. When the common man stands up to say something, he cowers back down after seeing the menacing look in the eyes of the oppressor which seems to say: 'Speak, and I will drop everything.'

An oppressor -- a social parasite -- will do everything in his means to keep the masses deluded about the true nature of its relation with the oppressor. One of the most potent ways to do this is to keep the masses divided. Mass ignorance is a great ally of the oppressor. People who are divided can easily be dealt with by a handful of oppressors. When the voices of the people come together, it is a beacon of death for the oppressors. Hence, it's a universal characteristic of the oppressor to try and kill communication. A group of sufferers is a formidable force. A lonely sufferer is puny in comparison. He is so afraid and lacking in confidence that his voice can be silenced for ever with a rap on his knuckles.

I now gradually realise why Netaji and Gandhiji were such great leaders. Because they could make millions of cowards come out on the streets and take up a gun or fill jails. Respect!

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

The Evil World of Advertisements

If we were to believe the TV commercials, the biggest problem plaguing our Earth are dry and dull hair and oily/lifeless skin of women. The world will be all happy and satiated if you could solve these problems with all those shampoos, conditioners, fairness creams etc. which by the way are biggest scientific invention ever. Problems which come close to the above in their severity are:
  1. Your not having that one perfect party dress/jewellery which they are selling on their website.
  2. That child in your house who's waiting to turn into the next Einstein or Tendulkar by consuming that health product with a 100 nutrients.

In this day of rising feminism, it's surprising how they get away by saying that:
  1. inner glow of your skin is not a result of a healthy body and mind but can come by an external application of a cream
  2. 'taking care' of yourself doesn't mean empowering yourself with knowledge strength and confidence and spreading message of equality, but making your body hair your most nagging concern while going out with boys.
  3. being a good mother is not teaching your student fundamental life skills but making him drink a health supplement.

I really feel that these commercials are destroying what little good our feminist friends are doing to help women of this world stand up for themselves. One of my good friends, who was doing some life-changing work in advertisements, and since has taken to the debased profession of being a professional artist, had but one thing to say about her past profession: PURE EVIL!

Monday, June 20, 2016

Thoughts on Father's Day

My father excelled as a father.

  • He allowed me to become what I had the potential to be.
  • He gave me all the advices he had, good or bad, but to his best capabilities.
  • He supported me materially while I needed his support.

I failed as a son.

  • I left them back there in Nagpur 'to make it big in life.'
  • 'I am not beside them' when they are ageing and getting afflicted with diseases.
  • I have turned into a doting husband, father and a good person 'without staying a doting son.'

I am indeed a doting father, and yesterday on the Father's Day, if I related to that day, it was as a father more than as a son. And here are a few things I can say about how I plan to be a good father:

  • I will allow you to become what you have the potential to be.
  • I will give you the material support.
  • I will always be with you morally.
  • The gist of my love for you is that I will always want you to be happy, wise and successful.
  • I will show my emotions to you.
  • I will not pretend to you to be stronger, wiser, richer, more liberal than I actually am.
  • I will not appeal to my authority to make you behave in a particular way.
  • I will lead a life of my own to the last day. I will be true to myself as much as to you.
  • I will not behave well just because I want you to behave well.
  • I will not make my fatherhood appear as a sacrifice for you.
  • I will not expect purchased gifts from you.
  • I will not expect you to be by my side in my old age.
  • I will feel happy when you become a good husband, father and person, because that's what you are here to be.
  • I will celebrate the fact that you are an individual who is not the same as me.

All I will every expect from you is to know that I love you from the bottom of my heart. My love for you is not because I have played a role in your being born, but because I have closely observed you grow into a person from a little bundle in my arms on January 24, 2009.

Please just give this much. Please never ever doubt that I love you and want nothing else from you!