Bhakts, AAPtards and Khangressis

If you are an Indian and follow politics, there wouldn’t be a single day when you wouldn’t hear/read one of these words. And these are not the only ones. There is “presstitutes”, sickular” and much more. The dictionary of Indian media, which is not just restricted to professionals but more and more citizen journalists, has seen a parallel vocabulary in the last few years to refer to different group of people – or if I may say, classify people into different groups.
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A few years back, it wasn’t like this. And when I try to deconstruct the entire scenario, couple of things comes to my mind.

The inherent culture humans adopted since centuries world over to follow individuals, not ideas
I have always believed that people follow ideas and not individuals. At least, that’s what rational minds do or everyone would do, if provided freedom. Of course, it is arguable and there would be a grey area to it. People who seem to follow an individual are not following an individual per se, but the ideas of that individual. So, ideally, the loyalty should be with ideas and not individuals.
However, ideas don’t have a face, individuals do. Ideas are abstract, individuals are physical. So, it’s easy to worship the latter than the former. And hence, perhaps, we have people essentially trying to find someone who can impersonate these ideas. That’s how religions built or chose characters that were representative of all the good ideologies and asked others to worship them instead of these ideas. Even outside religions, groups were created with a face representing those ideas and people were asked to worship these faces. Hence, ideas took a backseat while individuals were given the driver seat. However, this essentially means three drawbacks.

1. One cannot differentiate between criticizing an idea and criticizing an individual 
Unfortunately, these days, any criticism of an idea is also taken as a criticism on an individual. Of course, political parties have vested interests in doing that but even the citizens get carried away in that. This sets a dangerous trend where meaningful discussions lose importance and the conversations are focused on defending and attacking individuals instead of talking about the rightfulness and wrongfulness of the topic in hand. It happened in the recent Anupam Kher video that went viral.

2. Following an idea is confused with following an individual 
Secondly, it also builds an assumption that everyone who supports an individual, will continue to support her/him irrespective of the situation, which might not be the case. I remember a classic line from the movie “12 Angry Men” where the second last juror says ‘I don’t believe I have to be loyal to one side or the other” when he is confronted by the second juror for changing his vote. The second juror somehow assumed that the individuals were taking sides instead of taking rational decisions.
People can confront an individual on a given issue and support the same individual in another one. It is always possible!! It also helps in removing biases during debates/discussions when you know that the other person can get convinced if your point is stronger and, at the same time, you can change a stand at any time based on what facts you have on your plate at that time.

3. Contradicts the notion that no person is perfect
And this is more for people who feel an obligation to defend an individual, they support, all the time. A lot of times we hear, nobody is perfect. People make mistakes. Following an individual, instead of ideas and principles, makes you obligated to defend the individual even when he/she is wrong. And that’s when the whole argument moves away from “for and against the issue” to “for and against the person”. There would be some notions which would not make any sense at a given point of time and would perfectly fit in, later on.

We have moved from the time when a BJP veteran supported a hard core Congresswomen when she did the right thing and she asked him to represent India in an important UN conference in spite of him being an opposition leader because he was the best man for the job.

The rate at which the quality of debates is deteriorating and people are pitted against each other, soon we might see a day when we will only be talking about individuals and who said what but not the real issues.

Life Skills and the Gender Bias Around It

The other day, I was hanging out with couple of friends and a discussion on cooking skills popped up, which moved from how good cooks are husbands these days and then how women still score better in cooking. Suddenly, a friend said that she won’t teach cooking to her daughter since daughters aren’t just meant to do that, these days. She would instead ensure that her son-in-law knows cooking – for a change, that should happen too. Her point is, in a way, partially correct when she says she’ll ensure that her son-in-law knows cooking. But the other half is like taking it to the other extreme. A bias cannot be resolved by replacing it with another one.

Historically, Indian society has been biased towards men and women, with women expected to know cooking, housekeeping etc. while men expected to be the principal bread earner and feed the entire family. Nobody bothered if men didn’t know housework or if women didn’t work in offices. As time changed, women started to work outside homes, into the offices, once monopolized by males. However, the switch was one sided as parents taught their daughters to work outside but never taught their sons to learn household chores as well.

Cooking, doing laundry, washing utensils, vacuuming the floor, cleaning a toilet/bathroom/shower and ironing clothes don’t make you a lesser person. It is a part of, as I would call it, “life skills” which everyone should know irrespective of gender. This also means that if your son doesn’t know it, it’s a shame but not teaching that to your daughter doesn’t make a balance. In today’s world, when people move places it is important that a person knows to take care of himself/herself and the place where he/she lives. Especially in western countries, where domestic help is a luxury, knowing these basic things is absolutely necessary.

It also solves another problem. Often people, who don’t know these life skills, undermine the efforts of people who are doing it. Sometimes women themselves consider household chores as low grade work and disrespect the people who are doing it. Often we hear people asking, “So, your wife doesn’t work?” and the reply is mostly “No”, when sometimes, managing a house demands more efforts than office work. The moment we start answering “Yes” to that question, the entire outlook will change. When you get hands-on with any work, you realize the effort that goes into it and the importance of it. It is then that you start appreciating the efforts of the people who are doing it.

P.S.: As Michael Pollan rightly said in the URL of the source image – Cooking for yourself is the real independence 🙂

What’s Screwing Up Indian Television

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So this one night, I and my uncle were watching Tarak Mehta Ka Ulta Chashma and were discussing how the quality of shows that appear on Indian television have deteriorated over a period of time, except for few ones like TMKUC. Also, against the American shows, Indian television has a long way to go.

In about 80s and 90s, Indian television had great quality of television in all categories such as drama (Buniyad, Swabhimaan), crime (Tehkikat, Surag, Reporter), mythology (Mahabharat, Ramayan, Alif Laila), comedy (Dekh Bhai Dekh, Yeh Jo Hai Zindagi, Flop Show), women pride (Udaan, Shanti, Tara), teens (Hip Hip Hurray), kids (Disney Hour, Aladdin, Jungle Book), education (Turning Point, Surabhi, Bournvita Quiz Contest), reality shows (Movers and Shakers, Boogie Woogie) and so much more.

But come 2000s and all of that went away. And as the time progressed, it deteriorated further with storms of saas-bahu shows which were hyper dramatic, full of negativity and hatred, poorly written scripts and unrealistic set up, conquered Indian television. Negativity and hatred are very easy to sell. And that’s how these shows became popular and kept running for thousands of episodes.

There were shows that started off on a promising note of not being into that league, ended up in the same pile of garbage. For example, Kahi Kisi Roz was supposed to be a horror-cum-drama show, but the horror part faded away after first couple of episodes and what was left was just saas-bahu drama. Sanjeevani was supposed to be a medical science serial but the characters (doctors) in the show did everything else but to treat a patient. Compare that to a show “Lifeline” that was aired in 90s, was actually on doctors lives and day-to-day challenges they face in their profession. Very high quality show. Even in US, you have House, which is based on medical diagnostics and even the actual show sticks to the theme, along with other side plots. However, every episode of it spends 80% of the time talking about the diseases and diagnostics.

Big Bang Theory reaches the pinnacle of script writing. For me, to conceptualize something like that and then actually writing down a script on top of it which blends pure science and humor in a way that common man is able to understand, is difficult than climbing up Mount Everest. Numb3rs, that combines statistics into crime investigation in a very rational manner to solve criminal cases hits the ball out of the park when compared to stupid Indian shows like CID that has been running since decades for nothing. Indian television just doesn’t have space for something like BBT and Numb3rs. Even if it has, it’s just not ready to give that up.

A few days back, I read Harsha Bhogle’s Facebook post where he lambasted Indian media for highly negative attitude for something like sports. While he wanted to talk about all the positive things happening around Indian cricket, journalists were just not ready to listen to that and instead wanted some bites around things that will sell (negative stuff) because otherwise it won’t make it to prime time slot and they’ll lose their jobs.

For me, it’s a serious issue. Covering negative stuff is one thing, but hunting exclusively for it is far more serious indicator of where our television industry is heading.

Veterans

So I was into the US Social Security Administration office, waiting for my turn to apply for SSN.

As our token numbered approached, a 60-70 something man opened the door and shouted my token number. I raised my hand and proceeded towards the direction he pointed out.
“C’mon in, young man”, he said.
A pretty neat desk with only a computer, key board and a mouse on it. All the less essential items were on the table behind him. The partition wall at his desk had a number of things. But what caught my attention was the Veteran Creed that read out.
I am a VETERAN!
I have seen and done things that many will not understand.
I am a WARRIOR
A member of the team spanning the world
I have served my country proudly and now standby to serve my brothers and sisters in arms
I will never accept defeat
I will NEVER QUIT
I am a VETERAN!
As I was reading it, the veteran asked, “Am I reading this correctly? First Name, Last Name and Middle Name” – confirming the mother’s name in my passport.
“No, its like the First Name, Middle Name and the Last Name. And the middle name there is the first name above that – that’s my father’s name”, I clarified.
“Oh alright. I love Indian passports. You guys mention both of your parents names in passport. I like it. I don’t see that in other passports and it surprises me.”
It kind of drove me into two parallel thoughts. One was on how US manages to respect their heroes and instilling pride in them, something where India still struggles and has a dire need to correct it. And not just arms, but even critical services like firemen, policemen, traffic policemen etc. Perhaps the reason why people think these are some of the most thankless jobs in India. It is not the pay that hurts, but lack of general respect in the society which hurts these people who risk their lives to make our life safe.
On the other hand, the veteran was happy on a small gesture of mentioning parent’s names in passports. I am not completely sure but I guess the general perception is that Indians do well when it comes to respecting and treating parents well. Although, I don’t subscribe to the stereotyping by Indians that American kids are spoiled and they ill treat their parents, since I have seen American families and their bonding. But of course, if American kids might not be mentioning their parents in their passports, it may be because the parents leave their kids on their own once they are 18. And that’s where it is different from how it works in India.
Before I could say something on the Veteran Creed to make him feel a bit better, he stacked the papers and said,
“So, young man. You are good to go. You should receive your document in next two weeks. If you don’t, just let us know and we will help you out. You have a great day!!!”

Why I Try to Travel to a Place and not Visit

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While going to Dallas on a United flight, I came across this cover story in their magazine, Hemisphere, by Nicholas Dorenzo on his three days trip to San Juan in Puerto Rico.

Beautifully written, it made me want to go there instantly. More so, because his travel actually involved lot of interaction with the locals and understanding of the history, culture, cuisines and customs of the place rather than just tick marking the spots. Of course, that’s why it made it to the cover story. But the point is very few tourists indulge in this kind of travel.

It’s in the last one year, that I have tried to make deliberate efforts to move away from conventional traveling methods of most of the tourists. Luckily for me, I have had a chance of staying in some of the most happening places of the world like London and Paris. And thus, got a chance to interact and make locals as friends as well. And that’s how I understand how overrated the so-called “tourist attractions” are.

For example, unlike what people think, Paris is not just Eiffel tower or Mona Lisa. For me, Paris is about taking a nice morning or evening walk along the river Sienne or enjoying street dance in the evening at Champs-Élysées or listening to live music in a metro or enjoying the breathtaking view of the city from the top at Sacré-Coeur. And perhaps much more. Eiffel tower doesn’t excite me and Mona Lisa is overrated.

It’s my Day 3 in the US and yesterday I went to New York city. While I got to see Times Square and a huge Christmas tree decorated at Rockefeller center, what really excited me was the breathtaking view of the NYC from my friend’s office on 23rd floor. What I enjoyed the most was a heart to heart conversation with another friend while relaxing on a chair with a view of evening lights out on Lexington avenue. What intrigued me was the depiction of the history on the walls of Port Authority station. Yes, Manhattan skyline is exciting but not beyond 10 seconds.

I guess one life is not enough anyway to see everything. And no matter what you do, you’ll miss something or the other (drawn from a dialogue in one of the Bollywood movies). So it’s better to enjoy fully, whatever you see.

Recently, my aunt and uncle made a trip to South America. I loved the way they captured last level of details of the places they visited and explained it when they uploaded the photos on Facebook. Certainly inspiring and showed that they actually “traveled”, instead of “visited” South America.

Traveling is evolving and the trends show that people are opening up to being more unconventional in the way they travel. In India, for example, couple of years ago, package tours were on the rise. However, off late, with more and authentic information available over internet through sites like TripAdvisor, all that people ask for are good deals on tickets and prepare their itinerary on their own. With better highways, road trips is the new fad. So much so, that in last one year I’ve came across three stories of people driving down from India to Europe.

If it continues, soon, the unconventional might become the new convention.

It’s An Abbreviated World

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At the lunch table today, I was having a conversation with one of my colleagues who looked a little relaxed after a long time. Her projects had drained her out off late and perhaps, after a long time, she has some relaxed time.

“How is your project going on?, I said.
“Finally its reaching completion. But there’s another one which is going on crazy. Although I’ve got a good practice of handling crazy projects in last couple of months, so this one is manageable”, she said.
“That’s cool”, I said.

” It looks like my professional life is all about three letter abbreviations. My projects, client names, divisions with which I interact. They all are abbreviated to three letters”, she said before enumerating them to me.

A few months back I read a facebook status of one of my friends where he tried to find reasons for why we use so many acronyms. To look cool? To save time? For marketing? There might be few others as well. However, we are rapidly moving to the world where abbreviations are penetrating very quickly into our lives.

The bus in our city is BEST or BRTS or DTC
The train ticket we book is having a URL that says IRCTC
The phone that we use is HTC (High Tech Corporation – how many of you knew that?? 😉 )
The laptop from which I am posting this is HP.
The milk that we consume everyday is AMUL.
That Ganesh idol that got immersed few days back in the sea was made up of POP
The watch that your father has cherished is HMT
That car that you dream about is BMW
Almost all the B-schools are known by acronyms – IIM, XLRI, MDI
People don’t go to Cafe Coffee Day these days. They go to CCD (pron: Sis-d)
The southern side of Bombay is proudly called SoBo.
Delhites enjoy shopping and hanging out at CP while they live in GK
The last play you watched was perhaps at NCPA
When was the last time you updated your FB status?
You probably forgot to RSVP that invitation your friend sent last week.
Youngsters remember classic movies through abbreviations like DCH, ZNMD, YJHD.
People express their condolences in RIP

And these are the things outside professional environment. The speed with which our world is getting abbreviated is a little scary.

Off late, I have seen people who abbreviate their names in their email signatures. Just the initials of their first and the last names. Sometimes just the initial of their first name. O yes, that’s how I should be recognizing them!!

Sometimes abbreviations backfire too. Nobody would be want to abbreviate Wisconsin Tourism Federation, South Lake Union Trolley, Semiconductor Equipment Communication Standard, National Union of Teachers, Short Term Disability, American Symphony Orchestra League or Tamilnadu Advanced Technical Training Institute,

No doubt that abbreviations makes things easy. But sometimes it takes the whole essence out of the terminology and trivializes the whole idea behind setting up that terminology itself. And in worst cases, it can embarrass you for life.

Movie Review: Manjhi – The Mountain Man

“Manjhi – The Mountain Man” takes you through the painful journey of a so-called low caste Bihari who takes on a mountain to avenge his wife’s death.

Story (5/5):
Based on a true story, the movie depicts how, the determined Dashrath Manjhi carved out a road through a mountain using only hammer and chisel in spite of all the bashing received from the fellow villagers (including his father), conspiracies by the village head to stop him and fake promises by the government. In the backdrop, the movie spends some significant time in the build up of the entire story, which is the life of Dashrath Manjhi before the incident – introducing the audience to the rampant and barbaric view of caste based discrimination in Bihar during 50s and 60s, which is prevalent to some extent even today, not just in Bihar but across India. The story is extremely well written and thoroughly researched. It is a story that deserved to be told to the entire country.

Acting (4/5):
Apart from Nawazuddin Siddiqui, the movie doesn’t boast of any big names. However, with the support cast of NSD stars – (late) Ashraf Ul Haq and Pankaj Tripathi – and the promising Radhika Apte, acting is one of the strongest departments of the movie. Their hard work behind projecting the characters is evident and the Bihari accent never sounds taught. The dialog delivery is impeccable and does great justice to the writer who wrote them. Some of the dialogs are very profound and will keep you pondering over it. A special mention for Radhika Apte who has rose like a phoenix through some of her recent performances in short movies – That Day After Every Day and Ahalya – and upped the benchmark in Manjhi, complementing and competing with Nawazuddin, in terms of acting.

Direction (4.5/5):
Ketan Mehta has done a stupendous job in terms of ensuring the movie doesn’t lose momentum at any point of time. The flow of the story moves back and forth between the years before his wife’s death and after the death. But never, for once, it loses audience attention – full marks to the editing team for that. Some of the scenes are a complete surprize in terms of conceptualization and executed to perfection. His depiction of the socio-political scenario in Gehlaur during 50s and 60s through various incidents that Dashrath Manjhi and his wife encounter shows the depth of research that has went before shooting the movie. Some of the scenes are gruesome (even though a reality at that time) and makes you cringe. At one point of time, it reminded me of Prisoners which had a similar aura.

The Mountain:
I would also add the “mountain” to the list of characters as the movie also portrays how its relationship with protagonist evolves over a period of time. Although the movie celebrates the victory of a man over a mountain, it also portrays Manjhi’s relationship with the mountain and its evolution from his childhood till he carves out the road through it.

Overall (4.5/5):
Overall, the movie is a must watch. It shows what strong determination can achieve against all odds.