Saturday, August 27, 2011

Things I think I think - in 800 words

We've been through enough on the "I AM (not) ANNA" issue, that I needn't say more. On the issue that is. What I said a couple of weeks ago, is coming out in different forms today. So, to maintain my uniqueness, I need to say something different.

I need to say what I think.

Or (more accurately) what I think, I think:

I miss the days where I could listen to music while doing absolutely nothing. I write this as I am listening to the intro for "Where the streets have no name" on my phone using headphones. And it's not the same. I close my eyes (yes, I can type quite a bit with my eyes closed) and soak in the song for the while. So, do excuse me for a few minutes, while I am just re-living my past.

Ok, so I am back. It's quite refreshing to spend 5m 38s with loud music blaring into your ears. You should try it. Somewhere in those 5m 38s minutes, you'll probably realize that it's not that you miss the listening to the music, it's just that it's been quite a while since you spent 5m 38s without your thoughts disturbing you. And that's the reality of what I have become. I am unable to spend 5m 38s without a new thought, a new idea, a new opinion coming through and grabbing my attention.

You might say, that I think too much. Especially if every 5m 38s I have a new thought coming up. But I say, I think too little. If all I can dedicate on a particular topic is less than 5m 38s, how can I come up with an opinion that gives me a better understanding of the world? How can I decide whether Anna is right, or Rahul Gandhi makes sense, or whatever?

Are too many thoughts spoiling my (intellectual) broth?

Maybe that's what this is. This is a war on my attention span. For example I read in today's TOI, that 31 lakh respondents have voted for the India Against Corruption poll on their website. I am also told that 31 lakh (3.1 million) is more than the population of 78 countries, and that it is the fastest growing among the most visited websites in the world. And I feel proud of my countrymen and women who are actively participating in this citizen's movement enriching democracy. But maybe if I had spent a little more time on it than what I did, trying to analyze the information, I probably would have realized that for the active citizenry, it still counts for only 0.25% of India's population. And that is assuming that the TOI has taken enough care that only Indian citizens, residing in India are voting on this drive and that too only once. Suddenly the thought that 99.75% of India's population (according to the TOI) really hasn't bothered to drop in on the TOI website (even to look at the titillating photographs) is somewhat sobering and maybe even a little thought provoking.

And that is the core to the problem at some levels. My scales of imagination have dumbed down. I see someone put up their kids photographs, and it's almost like a demand of etiquette that I press the "Like" button. My internet connection may not be fast enough to support viewing of 3 mega pixel photographs, but I'll be damned if I don't "like" it or pass a comment worthy of a plastic smile. What I say doesn't matter, and really no one is bothered enough to read what it is that I have written. Someone will "like" it. I can use tools and implements to mask my hypocrisy and my lack of genuineness

Maybe that's why I'm all so restless these days. Maybe that's why Mika Singh songs are more popular than Kishore Kumar originals. Maybe that's why I keep thinking that my life is in the pits whichever way I look at it. Maybe that's why I need to blame someone for the junkyard of the life they have left me in. I can't blame Pakistan any more, I can't blame foreign hands trying to destabilize my life, I can't blame the CIA, I can't blame the politicians.

I can't blame anyone.

But when I think a bit about it, a bit more than 5m 38s, my life really isn't that bad. Granted, growing up wasn't quite what the marketing department told us, but what the heck? If Triumph of Good over Evil is given, and I am 100% confident in my "goodness", why should I worry?

Still with me?

Or did you already press the "Like" button the moment you saw a U2 song somewhere in the text?
"In life, there are only two truths, Music and Mathematics" – Bapu.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Putting your money where your mouth is..

The genesis of this idea comes from my friend Mohd. Haris, who calls his thoughts "erratic, random and sometimes stupid". But his idea of listing down things that people do in the full knowledge that they are wrong in doing so, yet do so with full approval from their conscience gave me an entrepreneurial idea.

It may not ethical, but hey, neither is the one the old man is fasting for. So here goes:

As mentioned, I as an individual, do things that I know are wrong, yet do them. I am in good mental and (mostly) physical health when I do so. For the sake of this example, let's just say, I know that I ought to not tweak my expense accounts, but you know, an odd fuel bill isn't so bad.. But now that I am protesting against corruption of the others, I must do something to show that I am not a bloody hypocrite. So what do I do?

That's where this new entrepreneurial venture comes in. Let's call it for sake of argument.

What is, you ask? Well, it is a customized portal which helps you to speculate on your own intentions. The intention has to be noble, (I shall not cheat in exams /  I shall not tweak on my expense reports / I shall not cheat on my wife/girlfriend, whatever). So I go to this portal, and say for the next 1 year (or 2 months or decade or whatever), I shall not do whatever it is that I know I am not supposed to do.

Still with me? Seems doable? I think so, but probably not practical. People will come in and pledge whatever the hell they want to pledge.

That's where's USP lies. The pledge stands valid, only if I am willing to put some money down in an escrow account for the duration of the pledge. It will have rates like you have at the temple for pooja, Cheat on taxes = 20% on taxable income, Cheat on girlfriend = 1 lakh, something.. But something substantial.

Once I've pledged it, comes the second catch. I have to provide phones and email ids of 10 friends who will be told that this is what you're planning to do. Unless they validate that you are truly capable of paying up, the pledge doesn't come through. Once they validate me, they will be told that should they ever catch me doing whatever it is that I am betting that I will not do, if they report me to, they will get the entire money, post due diligence based on current savings rates. They are free to forward to anyone they like to add more sets of watchful eyes on me.

Should I successfully avoid getting caught over the duration of the pledge, I get the escrow money plus interest.

- Acts like a fixed deposit of sorts
- Acts like a deterrant. I know I can tweak my expense reports, but if I were to get caught, I might end up losing 1 lakh..
- Makes me a bit more honest.
- Friends watch over me, but have a financial incentive in ensuring that if I am doing wrong, I will get caught. If I don't get caught, no harm no foul.

- Suddenly, har ek friend zaroori nahi hota hai :)
- Is it ethical?
- Can you think of anything else?

What do you think? Will work? Should I fast for this??

Friday, August 19, 2011

Shaanth Gadaa-dhaari Bheem..

Dear Sender,

Thank you for your photos, SMSes and Facebook messages. As you said, there is indeed a widespread fervour and nervous enthusiasm that this time we will be able to get a realistic change. There are people from my office, young and and old, who are actively participating in this movement, and Mr. Hazare is truly championing a movement that is bound to bring about change. Needless to say, if we didn’t have corruption, we’d be a better place to live.

However, I must be true to myself and admit to you that this movement is not one that I would like to be associated with. Not that it is not arguing for the right thing - I am not the person to judge that. People believe that someone is taking advantage of them, and they have every right to protest. However, deep inside this protest smacks of usual human hypocrisy.

In the last five and some years that we have been back in India, I must admit, I have paid bribes. I have paid bribes to public prosecutors, to police inspectors, sub-inspectors and havaldars, to traffic policemen and RTO bureaucrats. In each of these cases however, the bribe paid was to help me (or someone I know) get out of something that could be perceived as wrong on our part. In these 5 years, I have not had a single instance where someone has asked me for a bribe when I am in the right. Even the bribes we give when we need something that is our right, at some level it is to help us jump the queue. That someone asks for a bribe, is one thing, in which I am complicit too. In light of this, who am I to protest against corruption, when it has helped me achieve my ultimate end?

However, this is not the corruption which bothers me.

This morning, as I was on my way to work, I approached a traffic light at Mobo chowk. As I approached it, the light turned red, so I slowed down. However, before I reached the junction, along came a gleaming, golden Honda City cutting across me. It was coming from the cross street, however given that their signal was red, decided to take the free left turn, then take the U-Turn (to come to my way), and then take the free left turn available to us. Since the divider wasn’t quite the biggest, it pretty much amounted to a straight road for him. However I reached there before him. And I stopped my car since I was to wait for the red light.

I was definitely in the right of way. I was well within my rights to stop for the right turn. But my action was deliberate. I didn’t want this suit wearing, goggle totting gentleman to take advantage of this loophole, while I was doing what is right. But this gentleman didn’t quite see it that way. He thought I was being a smart Alec. Swearing at me, my mother, my sisters, and everyone else, he went from behind my car, and carried on, while all the way making me aware of my incestuous relationships with all my female relatives.

It sounds funny, but it’s not.

Corruption, is not only monetary. Corruption is (as I read from the Webster Dictionary website) "an impairment of integrity, virtue or moral principle". The monetary portion is, if anything, the most easily retrievable impairment. And on this count, I must say that it is not just the politicians, government machinery or the bureaucrats who are corrupt. This morning, on my way to work, I encountered at least 3 instances where someone failed this so-called corruption test. Whether it is people riding on the wrong side of the road, breaking a traffic light or even for that matter not wearing a helmet / seat belt, we do it not because it is right, but in the full knowledge that it is wrong yet there is minimal chance of getting caught. And it’s not just traffic sense (or lack of it) that I am talking about. Whether it is the shopkeeper who prefers the cash transaction to the 2% service tax he would have to pay for debit card transactions, or the buyer who prefers to get the stocked item for this “discounted” price, each one of us has at some level actively participated in cheating the rest of our country. We seat our kids on bikes and break traffic lights with impunity. To us, and to our kids, this has become acceptable behavior. Differentiation between right and wrong, has become primarily a one-way street, where everything done by us is automatically considered right.

We may complain, protest, demand against our elected representatives, but at the end of the day, the people we have elected are our mirror image. What they’re doing is, in my opinion, no way different from what I would do if placed in that position. We can blame the system, or we can admit that it us, you and me, who has created the system. We have created this system, because at some level we do condone this corruption. We condone it because we have, at some point or the other done the exact same thing that we’re now taking the moral high road against. Hazare’s protest is showing “civil society” a mirror, and supposedly intelligent, somewhat educated, people are demanding we change the mirror. Expecting highest levels of morality and “unimpeachable” integrity from our leaders, while demonstrating the exact opposite at every single opportunity is what we have come to.

As regards Hazare’s behavior personally, there’s something left to personal judgement. I was not around during Mahatma Gandhi’s time, and so cannot comment on whether he is Gandhian in the true sense. But something seems wrong, when he says that if you’re not agreeing to his demands, you’re not doing the right thing for the country. Gandhi succeeded in his protest, because his protest was simple. He told the British government, that they have no right to rule simply because they do not represent the people. And to prove his point, he simply followed the rules set by them.

As regards the Jan Lokpal bill, again I am probably not the best judge of that. Maybe it is the best thing since we discovered freedom from the British. But something tells me that it won’t quite be the solution we’re hoping for. Not because of its merits or demerits, but rather because it will create one piece of legislation, and that’s it. As a society we are used to proceeding with anything and everything that meets our ultimate objective, and legislations and rules and ethics that come in our way are mere occupational hazards.

What I write is boring, and I may be arguing without merit. It certainly doesn’t sound sexy enough to hit the front pages of the TOI - a newspaper which seems to have no hesitation in selling its front page and masthead to the highest paying advertiser. Maybe my protest against the protest is misguided and on the wrong side of history.

But that’s what is on my mind, and I will be damned if I don’t say so.

And to top Anna Hazare’s million Bollywood Twitter friends, I have some support from Hollywood:

Thursday, August 11, 2011

... Am in a Facebook state of mind...

What's on my mind?
The introduction of G+ is the best thing that can happen to someone who posts regularly on Facebook but really doesn't quite like it, because that someone sincerely believes that Google is the next best thing since mankind discovered God and FB is not Google, and stands for everything that is not Google, and therefore is the watchword for everything that is evil in this world, i.e. someone like me.

Not that I post more on G+. But now that there is G+, my self-loathing knows no bounds if I post on FB, and not on G+ (for reasons listed above) and it's a bloody bore to copy-paste. And now there's a Novak Djokovic to the Federer/Nadal debate with Twitter coming along, and it's just painful to say the same thing on 3 different forums. Particularly if, for some reason hitherto unknown to human intelligence, some poor soul follows me on all three media. Even I don't like myself that much.

I know, I know, I'm free to not put up status updates. It's a free, bloody country, and a freer, bloodier internet (unless you're in the harmonious People's Republic of China). But you're no one if you don't have a social profile. Even Anna Hazare has an FB page. So I have to keep up appearances. It's just something that has to be done, like shaving or tying your shoelaces. Somebody felt it was a good idea at some point, and so now we all do it.

But more crucial to the matter, is someone really interested in what's on my mind?

Has the "Like" button dumbed down our lives?

Do I really need to copy-paste what's on your mind, and put it on my mind, so that my friends "like" your mind or my mind or someone's mind?

Mind it, most of the outrage that spews on FB these days, can primarily be answered with "OK".

An OK that would mean something on the lines of:

"I see that you're outraged, and you probably have very good reasons to be outraged and you know what, you're really nice and all, but I really don't share your grievance, so can we all just move on?"

"I know you're incensed because when you were growing up everyone told you that if you do good things only good things will happen to you, and here you're doing all the right things but OMG is your life screwed or what?"

"You see, what they didn't tell you, was that life was just as messed up then as it is now. It's just that when you were growing up, they didn't want to spoil the surprise for you by telling that it's really not worth growing up, you know? You'd still have to pay the bills, you'll still have get the money on the table, and do whatever it takes to make sure that when your kids come along you tell them that only good things will happen to them if they did good things."

"You know, life is unfair. Live with it. We live in a world where the only fundamental difference between you and Rahul Gandhi, is that his dad didn't meet your mom at a café in London before he met Rahul's mom. It's neither your fault, nor Rahul's nor really anyone's. It's not really a fault. For whatever reason, your mom wasn't in London, and his mom was. End of Story. If your mom was there, and the son of Indira had taken a liking to her, we'd probably be making videos of you right now as to how you're looting the nation under the garb of democracy. I don't think you'd be complaining."

          Phew… Fit that in 420 characters, Zuckerberg...
Like / Dislike / +1, whatever…
We cool?