Saturday, July 29, 2017

Respect and Reverence

Respect makes you observe the person, opens you to allowing fundamental changes in yourself through close observation of the person, criticising the person and disagreeing with him. Reverence makes you do either or both of the following:

  • follow a person with blind faith, which essentially amounts to expecting to enjoy benefits from the moral standards of the other person without necessarily having to follow them yourself
  • makes you merely worship him, which is the same as closing yourself from answering for deviating, in the garb of false humility, from the standards (followed by the object of your reverence) which you know you should follow.
The side-effects of confusing reverence with respect may be more serious than meets the eye directly. One of the most glaring examples is that of spiritual gurus.

Reverence is based on a radical maxim that deepest insights -- typically spiritual in nature -- can be imbibed from outside of oneself, somewhat similar in principle to a company which tries to grow and flourish by acquiring another company. Spiritual growth, as per me, can happen only organically, through self-discovery.

Spiritual gurus often start their onslaught by saying that following them will lead to strengthening of your spiritual energies, which will then lead to great strides in spiritual growth. However, this often leads to a life full of rituals, all in the name of spiritual practices. The promised spiritual growth, which by definition, is very elusive and immeasurable, never happens. Instead, the person is drawn further away from people with habits and beliefs not aligned with the ways prescribed by the guru. This alienations starts at a social and behavioural level, proceeds through being intellectual alienation, and ends up by snapping emotional connection with anyone or any group which disagrees or dissents. This is the first step in the direction of radicalisation and intolerance.

The succour comes from the fact that disciples of the guru, going through similar experiences, are drawn closer and closer to each other. It is based on agreement in habits and ways of daily life, but eventually grows into alignment in beliefs and thoughts. This creates intellectual ghettos -- a bunch of disciples who are guaranteed to never disagree with the majority, and with overflowing eagerness to see their guru's statements proving to be true. The force which drives these people is infinite, inexplicable reverence for a so-called guide. External references are accepted only to the extent that they don't fall foul with whatever has been said by the guru. Such interactions between disciples can only create superstitions and pseudo-science: stories of air-travel and nuclear warfare being invented in India, astrology, energy fields around human bodies etc. etc. etc. Any inferences and conclusions drawn in interactions happening within such ghettos is intellectually mimed and very predictable. The basic standards of critical analysis, debates and scepticism are hardly met to allow any serious debate, and give no intellectual credence to these agreements.

These disciples keep reassuring each other that they continue to be the mild and modest people as they were; that no radicalisation has happened. And yet, here you have created, a fertile ground for raising an army of faithful ferocious soldiers who will use everything in their reach -- weapons or words -- to stamp out any voice of disagreements which dare question the absolute authority of the guru.

In short: Respect. Don't Revere.

Saturday, April 29, 2017

A Citizen's Contribution to a Sustainable Planet

The reality of human caused climate change has passed the stage when denying its presence would give any real solace. It's happening and humans are responsible for whatever will unfold upon our future generations because of it. The lasting solutions to these problems – if they ever come – must be spearheaded by governments. However, governments are constrained by other more immediate problems to deal with: economic development, education, health, national security, not to mention elections and vote banks. Individuals, on the other hand, are free to apply practices of sustainability quite directly. For them, the problem is that of replicating the benefits: how do I convince people around me to adapt these methods? Or how's it going to help if only I do it while most others continue living callously? Many of us have the tenacity to work towards a sustainable model of life at an individual level, but can't find the will to spread the word.

Anyway, parking the above very real and difficult issues, let's see what changes an urban citizen can bring about in his life to approach a more sustainable lifestyle. It turns out the steps are concrete, doable, have multiple benenfits, cost little or nothing, and immediately becomes examples for willing others to replicate – eschewing the need for explicit activism.

Reduce Vehicular Pollution. Vehicles contribute significantly to atmospheric pollution. Individuals can reassess their part in this major evil. Office commute is probably the single biggest reason why we travel on road everyday. We should ask ourselves if we are being considerate to sustainability in our choice of our mode of daily commute. For example, cars are a good choice if you have to travel a long distance, and there are at least 3-4 people travelling the same way. However, if our workplace is within a few kilometres of our residence, if we are reasonably fit, and if there is no one else to travel along with us, there seems to be no justification to travel by car. There are several other alternatives: car pooling, public transport, 2-wheeler and so on. For those willing to go a step further, walking and bicycling are not just eco-friendly, but also good for your health. For longer journeys, consider travelling on land instead of air if possible.

Water conservation. Water tables are plummetting around us. Water bodies which used to be a pride of our city's landscape have been gradually consumed by greed and corruption of the real-estate sector. Most apartment complexes in the city are now at the mercy of water tanker suppliers – which is much less a business than a ferocious mafia. Unavailability of pottable water has been quoted as one of prime reasons for possibly turning Bangalore into an uninhabitable city in the next one decade, as predicted by some experts. There are a hundred things through the day that we can do to conserve water. Bathing from a bucket instead of shower. Using RO filter reject water for mopping, cleaning and flush. Immediately repairing tap leaks. Ask your apartment management to ensure perfect maintenance of the sewage treatement plant (STP), organic waste converter (OWC) and rainwater harvesting system. Also, working towards having a centralised RO plant for supplying drinking water to the whole apartment complex would result in thousands of litres of water being saved everyday.

Waste management. Our cities are drowning in filth. Choked drains. Overflowing landfills. Polluted lakes and rivers. Contaminated ground water. Much of this filth emerges from our homes. What can we do to stop contributing to this hellish affair? Following the well-known mantra of reduce, reuse, recycle is a good starting point. We should start segregating waste at its source, so that only the most unprocessable of domestic waste ends up in landfills. Avoid plastic use (e.g. carry your own bag to grocery shops). Use printing judiciously at office. Encourage your apartment complex management to spend resources in keeping their STP and OWC in working condition.

Cut Down on Consumption. There's a lot of stigma around the topic of leading a simple life, these days. Never have people shown such fierce unity in anything as in voicing their right to consume blindly. However, the arithmetic of consumption and pollution is a straightforward one. Binge shopping, eating or any type of consumption has an environmental cost which we are not paying, but somebody else surely is, or will. Our addiction to electronic devices, AC and other electrical appliances are feeding off the thermal power plants, which are major contributors to carbon emission. Our seers and visionaries have cautioned against a life of greed and consumption for thousands of years. Our generation has now enough evidences to know that our seers were never as correct in any other matter. Cutting down on blind consumerism is no more a moral stand in our age; realities of climate change have turned this into plain common sense.

Debates on how governments and leaders should play a central role in shaping an environmentally sustainable society will continue. But consider the following: every bill or law enforced by government bodies will have to be implemented on the ground by citizens through daily practices and processes, whether willingly or under the whip. With a bit of awareness, it's not difficult to understand what those practices should be. Why can't we not go ahead and do them ourselves? At our apartment complex, we have implemented waste segregation entirely as a voluntary initiative; and it has worked. At an individual level, I and my family have been following most, if not all, of the above practices. And I am there to testify that this hasn't dealt a blow on the quality of our lives. These are not sacrifices, but just the right things to do. That 'nobody understands' is honestly a very lame excuse to keep following the herd marching towards the precipice. Let's get rid of our resistance to change, and embrace sustainability as the way of life. Let's not just leave a liveable planet for our children; but also teach them how to leave one for their children in turn.

The article was published in Deccan Herald on April 21, 2017. Here's the link.

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!