I should apologise

Hi, my name is Ashok, I am an urban middle class Indian and I have a problem for which I am truly sorry.

In the past few days, the nation has been shattered by repeated incidents of women and children being subjected to sexual assault. The crime is appalling and the patriarchal culture that enables it is reprehensible.  But I feel compelled to say sorry for quite a few things I did wrong this week.

  • Indulging in social media debates: As an urban middle class Indian, this is a serious problem. I am addicted to debating policy and current affairs on social media. I don’t know why I do it and I certainly find it self depreciating. But I can’t seem to help myself. Not unlike junkies, I find the solution to all of the world’s problems and my own in a certain dependency and with this, it is social media debates. I promise to work on my self depreciating behavior and refrain from such debates, even if I find myself experiencing withdrawal symptoms.

 

  • My arrogance: Here I was citing statistics, studies and experiences with victims of sexual assault, to highlight how the death penalty is counter productive to the victim’s rights movement, going so far as to request the opponents to volunteer time with sexual assault survivors simply to understand the difficulties that will be created when death penalty becomes a reality. Why should a person with an opinion be obligated to verify their stance? The notion that an opinion has to be well reasoned is silly and for having believed that, I am arrogant. I am sorry.

 

  • My lack of empathy: In all the efforts at focusing on sexual assault survivors and what they need, I completely lost sight of the anxiety and fear and pain that people reading about sexual assault survivors feel. Blame it on my job, but sometimes I lose the ability to connect and empathise with the chamomile tea sipping charcoal juice cleansing middle class Indian crowd who is the worst affected by this endemic culture of sexual assault. They are the true victims. Every person’s grievance is subjective and to each, the grievance is substantial. For thinking of the plight of the affected party more than the plight of the person affected by the affected party’s plight, I am sorry.

All the things that I have done wrong and I am sorry for- I must also reflect on its genesis. Its the privilege to blame. It taught me to be self centered, focus more on myself, my opinions, my work, my experience and my wisdom and taught me less to be focused on the objective reality out there. It taught me to focus on my own suffering than the suffering of people actually affected by the ills of the world.

So from now on, I pledge to understand issues better, to keep aside my own anger and suffering to focus on the bigger picture and to pay attention to the people who know better than me. I will try to make it less about me and more about others. My privilege is a liability and my confidence really ought to be a little more vulnerable. My name is Ashok, I am an urban middle class Indian and I am truly sorry.

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Morbid Conversations on Social Media-Death Penalty for rapists

I am a member of the unique creed called the “Urban middle class Indians”. I find that a liability though, because membership in this elite club often implies the following, a) I suffer from excessive wisdom and knowledge about everything that I have no idea about, b) My activism is limited to facebook, twitter and linkedin, c) I have very strong opinions on everything without ever having done any real work in the grassroot, d) Excessive empathy to the point where I am more affected by the damage done to those reported in the news and e) I want the state to pay more attention to what I think is the solution, as opposed to an actual solution.

Make no mistake, my creed is highly successful. We successfully got the government to implement the death penalty for child rape even though every person who has worked with children who are victims of child sexual abuse have said that death penalty will lead to greater chances of rape turning to murder and it will aggravate the problems of under-reporting of crimes by victims of incestuous or acquaintance rape due to inherent dynamics associated ambivalent feelings towards the offender. That is a different issue though and this post is not about that. This post is about me because I am a middle class urban Indian and I am more important than everything else.

I have tried and continued to try to mitigate the ill effects of privilege, trying in the process to hold on to humility and investing myself in trying to learn more about what I have an opinion on and deferring my own views to that of experts, lest I cause wrong policy to be put in place. But I find my efforts half hearted. All said and done, the underlining tone in my head still remains “I don’t care what you think or what the reality of the subject is, my way is the highway and everything else is just the mud road that eventually leads off the cliff”. I don’t have any control over this confidence and despite best efforts by well meaning people, my confidence is unshakable just like Bill O Reilly.

On the other hand, to hell with the well meaning people. I see the news with all the reports about ghastly crimes against women and children. I am so traumatised sitting in front of the computer, with a home over my head and sipping my earl grey tea or cleansing charcoal juice. What do the contrarians know? It is not as if their wives or mothers or sisters or daughters have been raped. I don’t know the contrarian very well, but if they don’t support the death penalty, the women in their lives must have grown up with special security by highly trained women commandos of the NSG (because women commandos as we all know don’t commit sexual assault). Its not an assumption, its a fact, my fact. And my fact is bigger than your fact.

So while you go about trying to figure out how to help victims of sexual assault cope with this new complication in their life, I will book a counselling and therapy sessions. All the wisdom that I have and the confidence I suffer from is very difficult to cope with.

 

Death penalty for rapists: Fighting fire with fire causes an inferno

In the wake of the rape and murder of a 8 year old child in the state of Jammu and Kashmir, India seems to have woken up to the reality of all that its misogyny and patriarchy has managed to achieve. Overnight, citizen activists have taken to the streets, demanding, among other things, the death penalty for rapists. In sexual assault cases leading to death of the victim, the death penalty is already prescribed under the provisions of Section 376 of the Indian Penal Code. Whether it is already there in the rule book or not, the real question is, will it have any deterrent effect. I seek to explore some of the nuances around the death penalty debate so that the pro death penalty camp has more to think about before they decide which side of the fence they wish to be.

 

Does death penalty deter crime? In the criminal justice system, an accused is first found guilty or innocent. If found, guilty, the court holds a separate hearing on sentencing of the convict and then arrives at a quantum of punishment which best serves the case before it, while also conforming to the guidelines laid down under the law.

 

In India, at present, the conviction rate is around 24 to 26% across the nation in sexual assault cases. This in turn means that out of every 100 cases of rape, 74 cases result in acquittal setting loose the alleged rapist. Even if we assume that in 24 percent of the cases, the death penalty is applied, the statistical probability of an a person committing a sexual assault finding freedom, if caught, is 74-76%. So applying death penalty in a minority of cases simply does not serve the purpose of a caution against committing the crime.

 

So keep aside the death penalty for a second- first ask for better investigators, better training and more manpower for our investigators. Ask for police reforms. Ask for better witness protection programs so that the victim and his/her family can be protected from threats and inducement. This way, unlike in other cases, evidence won’t be tampered and a conviction may still be possible. You want to take time off the comforts of your everyday routine, make it count. Ask for what is needed, not for what you think is needed.

 

The case of the girl in J & K, is part of a small minority of sexual assault cases in which the perpetrator is unknown to the child or not a relative. The real issue in India with reference to Child Sexual Abuse is incestuous abuse, which is a significant majority of the cases reported to the criminal justice system. In this domain, reporting is a huge issue because children are either pressured or induced to refrain from reporting the blood relative who has perpetrated the crime. What better way to induce a child not to report than by telling the child that his/her act of reporting will likely cause death of his/her own father or cousin or sibling.

 

Often times, victims in such emotionally difficult situations find the harsh punishment of law a deterrent to report. As experts have already pointed out, further enhancing the harsh punishment to death penalty could only aggravate under-reporting instead of mitigating it. So when you ask for the death penalty, are you sure it will help the case of the beneficiaries of the punishment, namely the victims or do you think it will only complicate their case a little more?

 

To this, you may have a question- whats the point of a victim reporting if he/she doesn’t want the perpetrator punished? This question is fair although it is the product of never having listened to victims. Often times children have no interest to see the perpetrator being subjected to cruelty for the crime. They want the perpetrator to be restrained from committing the crime again. They want someone to help them cope with the aftermath of the abuse, support them in their difficult road to recovery and help them find their sense of safety in life again. We insist for higher reporting because when a child reports a crime- it enables the state ecosystem to deliver mental and physical health services to the child. As victims rights advocate, our first priority is to assist the child and enable the child to assert his/her right to bodily autonomy. The objective of punishing the offender is either incidental or a corollary to the aforesaid priority. Therefore whatever comes in the way of the child reporting is a big red flag in our dictionary.

 

As I presented these arguments calling for the recognition of the bigger picture, another death penalty advocate said that she is unconcerned with the bigger picture. All she wants is the death penalty for the brutes who victimised the child. But that is where the flaw in the pro death penalty argument lies- it is a policy stand and policy is concerned with big picture. An exception cannot be the policy. So if you are unconcerned about the bigger picture, then please don’t make a policy argument. Because policies designed to address individual case studies, often victimise more people than it assists the larger cause of justice being served.

 

Lastly, children holding placards in favour of death penalty for rapists? Really? Is that the community we want where we teach our children that violence has utility, that too, to stop violence? Its ironical that even at our best, our society is more full of anger and hate than empathy for the victim. Faced with the plight of the victim, the rapist occupies our attention for we are obsessed with what we do to him than with what we ought to do for the victim. We ask that the rapist be killed but we do not ask for better support services for victims. If we choose anger and spite over empathy towards victims, our priorities are misplaced and the resulting desensitisation towards violence will only aggravate crimes against women and children, not mitigate it.

 

-Ashok G.V.

When she made time travel possible

Dear Gowri

At 4 years of age, you continue to inspire awe at just how much you have grown. Clearly constructed sentences, being able to feign anger, fake crying and most of all little white lies- the transformation is as cute as it is a little tragic. Allow me to give you an example- chikappa only said that we will take you to Funky monkey. But to your big friend Aparna, you reported that Chikappa mentioned we will go to both Funky Monkey and Time Zone. Upon confrontation, you quickly changed the topic to divert attention from the white lie. Alas, you have now begun the process of turning into an adult and as difficult a road as it is, I am sure you will do a good job of walking it.

 

I have fallen completely in love with you since the day I held you in my forearms. That moment, when all I could see was a tiny face wrapped in a bundle giving me the most subtle of smiles, became my undoing. Whatever illusions of detachment I held became shattered by the tiny creature that you were and remain. As you embark on the journey back home thousands of miles away, I wonder what you will be like the next time I see you. Will you have anytime for your chikappa at all or will your peers now remain the beneficiary of your time and energy? I suppose you joining hands with my wife to beat me up, is nature’s subtle way of reminding me that you are your own person, with your own choices and at best, if I undertake to be bound by your dictates, I shall remain a spectator of your journey, but never the driver nor in fact even an actor in it.

 

But what I most certainly have learnt is the power of experiences and the marvel of memory. Every moment spent playing with you, talking to you, watching you and hearing you speak and feeling your hand in my hand- it ceases to be moments and becomes instead, the sixth sense. As I reflect on the moment you arrived here last year, I am able to not just remember the day you arrived but I can go back in time and remember the way the house looked when you arrived, what you said and how the time was spent, as if it were happening all over again right in front of me. It is as if the present version of me can enter into the past version of me and replay the whole day and everyday thereafter with you anytime I want. Indeed, love is what allows us to transcend the limitations of time and space, not by allowing us to travel back and forth in time, but to simply manifest the reality that we have experienced in those moments of profound joy. You have, in these four months taught me, that the limitation of time is but the limitation of our mind and with the right incentive, it can be unshackled.

 

As you grow up, you may forget all that you did as a 4 year old. But I doubt I ever will, for you have imprinted yourself onto my consciousness. I hold on to your 4 year old version even as you grow older, stronger, wiser and smarter than yourself and I. It shall always dictate the way I perceive your words and actions. Your childhood, starting from the day you were born to each and every moment thereafter, will forever entitle you to my empathy and gratitude. After all, my greatest happiness is also my greatest debt, for the joys you have inspired can never be repaid nor accounted for.

-Ashok G.V. aka Chikappa

What my niece and Kungfu Panda taught me

Dear Guyyi Gubbi,

A by-product of my present context and circumstance is that I am simply unable to spend enough time with you, as I would have ideally wanted to (which is to be there everyday to see the marvel which is your every word and every action). Distance, air tickets, visa, passports and other excuses notwithstanding, the primarily reason for this inability is simply the absence of will and ingenuity, both of which I hope to have one day in abundance.

 

But between long intervals, when you and I meet, I am astounded and amazed at who you are. There are many kinds of intelligence ranging from the spelling bee winners to prepubescent kids with Phds. They constitute the spectrum of human intelligence that we all know and recognise. You may or may not fall within that spectrum and that only time will tell. But there is one part of your wit that I have seen in the two days you are here and that is what I wish to discuss, lest the absence of this thought and this author later in your life, deprive you of validation that you have earnt and deserve.

 

The drive to our home from the airport at an unholy hour when I am typically in slumber (as most adults are, all the time in fact), I was kept awake by your animated narration of the Kungfu Panda brand of movies and animated series. Your attention to detail in that story was no doubt impressive. But later in the day when you pretended to be tied down like Tylon only to break free, I felt goosebumps. When you perceived the world within that film and brought it to the outside world, adapted it to meet your requirements for intellectual engagement and introduced all of us into it, it is a sign of intelligence I wish I had.

 

In you, I saw what lies at the foundation of the success of visionaries, imagination. I suspect that when Einstein arrived at E=MC2, he could visualise it in a many that he could contemplate but could never fully articulate. At the foundation of Tesla’s incredible ideas, lied his ability to imagine what is possible and through sheer effort, he validated the hypothesis that was introduced by imagination. Similarly, I am certain that the greatest of musicians could see the music that they moved the world with. Apple as successful a brand it is today, is the product of a man who never lost his imagination, Steve Jobs.

 

Human knowledge is the perception of a fact. Its evolution is made possible through two means- contemplation and articulation. Imagination is the means for contemplation. In many ways imagination is the friction between the two pursuits of the human mind- understanding of what is and understanding of what can be. The result like most other kinds of friction, is intellectual growth. That growth allows you to grasp subjects that can often be impossible to grasp through just learning processes. You, like many of your peers, have the gift of imagination and I am already seeing its many manifestations.

 

A key facet of imagination is empathy. The ability to put oneself in another person’s shoes requires imagination of what the shoe wearer’s world and reality is like. To you, it appears to come naturally. I was myself incapable of this at your age. Your reluctance to barge into chipakka’s cabin while he is in a meeting, reflects that empathy. Your decision to wait patiently instead of leaving to the pool without chipakka who was in that meeting, revealed your concern for me missing out that experience you felt is joyful. Finally, your contempt for the story of Tenali Rama feeding hot milk to the mischevious cat, demonstrated your disdain for inflicting hurt on anyone. These little things- adults are quite adept at taking for granted. But trust me when I say this, your imagination, the means to your contemplation and its manifestation, your empathy, will enable you to acquire knowledge in a manner that my lack of evolution will not allow me to grasp.

 

Make no mistake, each child is special. Every one of your peer is an extraordinary being in ways that they may or may not grasp. Your talent, at least for the moment, is your imagination and your empathy. Your inclination to make us grasp what you grasp, is special and I hope that you hold on to it for the rest of your life. Should you somehow manage to retain this trait, you will have what this world and its many problems badly need, imagination and empathy.

-Ashok G.V.

 

 

A Tale of two Institutions

Governments- you love them or you hate them, but you can’t live without them testing your patience. In many ways an individual’s relationship with the state is preparation for marriage, because you realise that the person on the other side, as annoying as he or she maybe, is also inevitable.

 

In the span of the last two years, I have had the good fortune of lecturing at both private and government institutions and in both instances, the faculties I have met and the students I have interacted with have astounded me and left me feeling inspired by what is possible for the future of this nation. But I can’t help but wonder, if these wonderful students and lecturers in private institutions enjoy certain perks that the ones in government establishments don’t.

 

This question emerged after a little bit of a exchange of some pleasant conversation around a not so pleasant topic- providing a travel allowance bill for expenses that I wasn’t even claiming. It so happens that the Government in its infinite wisdom has mandated that copies of the individual’s boarding pass is to be secured as proof of the journey having been made. However, like always I had destroyed the boarding pass and therefore I offered to provide an undertaking that I had in fact completed the journey for which the boarding pass was sought. The news didn’t inspire appreciation from the faculty at the government institution. She seemed a little flummoxed and while pleading her position as a government employee asked the question, “I don’t know what prompted you to destroy the boarding pass….”. Perhaps she was inquisitive or perhaps she was being rhetorical. The naïve individual I am, I decided to answer her question.

 

The boarding pass contains sensitive personal information in a code. In the right hands or the wrong ones, it could yield rich data that can be misused for all kinds of things. Therefore, out of concern for my own privacy, I always shred the boarding pass many many times as soon as I have completed my journey. In the digital age, one can’t be prudent enough after all. In other words- I was prompted by my awareness and understanding to shred the boarding pass, a necessity our own government which is paranoid of national security is unaware of, from the looks of it.

 

However, I also wanted to ensure that I didn’t put the faculty in a difficult position and looked up government regulations on the subject. Turns out, that my faculty friend didn’t have much to worry about. The Government circular of 2014 actually says that where original boarding pass is not available, the concerned individual can submit the Travel Allowance bill with a written undertaking. Having represented the government of India and government institutions, I would like to believe that our government is not that anal. Governments can’t be anal, only its people can be so. What can I say? once a lawyer, always a lawyer. Couldn’t help but provide some legal advise.

 

My research into the shredding of the boarding pass for an expense of Rs. 5,000/- was driven by empathy for the faculty in question as well as a certain anxiety that I might have unwittingly painted a legitimate transaction as an illegitimate one, by not having a paper to fortify my physical arrival and departure at the institution’s campus. Witnesses to my presence and absence be damned, the boarding pass seemed to be the only credible testimony of my existence on those fateful days at the fateful place. In hindsight, anxiety for what? If folks in the bureaucracy realised I was anxious about a 5000 ruppee transaction, they might have enrolled me into a group support program authored by the Suresh Kalmadis and A Raja’s of the world.

 

Contrast this with a similar journey I had undertaken for a private institution- far from being required to explain the perils of boarding passes in today’s world, I was treated like royalty, hosted well and sent off even better. Make no mistake, the people, the faculties and the students in both places touched my heart and left me with a life time of good memories. But while the good faculties were allowed to be good, friendly and hospitable in the private institution, the good faculties in the government institution were working in an atmosphere of irrational red tape, misplaced sense of accountability and therefore had their hospitality and warmth trumped by the coldness of government’s paranoia…over Rs. 5,000/-. Why curtail them in this manner?

 

Indian’s excel at cons, no doubt about it. I am sure travel allowances have been used for a little unjust enrichment on the side. Even Amazon and Flipkarts fell for refund scams. Yet, the difference is that Amazon and Flipkart are willing to perceive the erring individual as an aberration, government institution’s policy outlook is driven by the assumption that aberrations are worth more focus than the honest common man. The result is that the government’s ability to forge good long partnerships with interested, keen and self respecting individuals is constricted.

 

A fundamental rethink is needed on such trivial issues. The excellent men and women who drive our government institutions must be allowed to work in an enabling atmosphere where they represent the government establishment, as a friendly and an easy partner. Instead today, the government is painted as an ever suspicious spouse doubting the moral and financial fidelity and integrity of its partner, that too over a paltry sum of Rs. 5,000/-. For the good and women in these institutions to truly make an impact which we all know they are capable of, they need to be trusted so that in turn they can make outsiders feel trusted. Perhaps then, our public institutions will truly come of age.

 

Fighting a Battle Gandhi Style

As a tradition, every October 2 nd , I would always write a little about Gandhi and all
that the man represented to me. I found myself lacking the inspiration this year.
Perhaps it was my work schedule or perhaps it was simply the controversies
emerging around Gandhi, be it his celibacy experiments, endorsement of the caste
system or his view of the original inhabitants of Africa. Heroes tend to disappoint and
therefore make heroes of no one, said a social media commentator on some of
these controversies.

 

In many ways, Gandhi is a testament to the Buddhist saying, “Emptiness is form and
form is emptiness”. His reputation and perception and his very identity has remained
flexible and fluid and I therefore find the defence of Gandhi or the offence against his
actions and words, premised on him being a fixed being. He was anything but that. A
deeply flawed man and yet his perfection lay in his acknowledgement of his
imperfectness. After all and be advised, he did not christen himself a Mahatma, we
did.

 

But I cannot also deny that this imperfect man, through his life, ideas and legacy has
left us with many worthwhile arts of battles and wars. In response to Winston
Churchil referring to him as a half-naked Fakir, Gandhi responded stating that he
was unworthy of being called a fakir, let alone a naked one which is a more difficult
task. In one swift sentence, Gandhi had made caricature of the leader of Britain
which acted as the hallmark of European resistance against Hitler’s Blitzkrieg. In
many such anectdotes from Gandhi’s life- I find useful strategies to combat day to
day situations.

 

While I will not share the specific illustrations of my applications of Gandhi’s
principles successfully to the many small and trivial battles within my family and
profession, both for reasons of privacy and to maintain the pretence of humility, I will
summarise the lesson for my readers.

 

When faced with an insult, a challenge or invitation to a fight, one has two options- a)
operate at the level of the insulter, the challenger or the fighter or b) change the
theatre of war/battle and engage at a level the insulter or the challenger or the fighter
is either unaware of or incapable of becoming aware of. The result often is a victory.
Gandhi’s Dandi march or the little exchange of words with Churchil is a classic
example. A racist bully like Churchill, could not comprehend a man who would not
get angry at his remark and instead responded with satire. Churchill was a bull
fighter. Gandhi refused to be the bull. Thus, no cow slaughter. My understanding of
Gandhian methods for day to day application can be broadly categorised into three
headings, a) Defining the desired result or victory, b) Defining one’s intentions and
motives and c) Defining strategy and approach.

 

But for this the term “victory” itself needs to be redefined in the mind of the Gandhian
fighter. When two people fight for stakes, there are three possibilities around victory
a) Securing of the stakes itself, b) Subduing the opponent even if it means losing the
stakes (a milder version of scorched earth policy) and c) securing the stakes while
subduing the opponent. If victory is understood either as b) or c), then Gandhian
strategy is not for you. But if victory is understood as option a), then Gandhian
strategy is one to consider. In other words, a Gandhian fighter is more a pragmatist
than a romantic at heart. He/She fights for a result and not to indulge the primal
instinct to beat down someone else for the purpose of feeling better.

 

That being said, Gandhian methods also requires careful introspection of motives
and intentions. If one employs passive resistance or peaceful protest, the intention or
motive cannot be that of avoidance. Even avoidance must be strategic. Retreat
today to fight tomorrow. One’s refusal to be the bull cannot be premised on the fear
of being slaughtered. Fear of being slaughtered is akin to fear of the bull fighter and
that fear itself is defeat, even if the slaughter is avoided 1 . Thus, employing a
Gandhian method where the real intention is to avoid confrontation or hardship defeats the purpose of Gandhian strategy. It might aid the cause of self preservation,
but it deals a death blow to the spirit underlining the need to engage in battle.
Gandhian method believes in triumph and not survival alone.

 

Lastly, the strategy and approach employed to pursue victory with courage is equally
important. Today’s protests, be it against Gowri Lankesh’s murder or the numerous
other instances, are spontaneous uprisings, peaceful and well intentioned no doubt,
but lacking in originality and independent thought. Many of them are results of
plagiarism, borrowing without shame, Gandhi’s own means of protest without the
need to improvise or adapt. But while challenges have evolved and character of
injustices has changed, we are still employing methods of Satyagraha employed
approximately half a century ago. Peaceful resistance must evolve to the situation it
confronts. Anything short of it fails.

 

 

When faced with an insult or challenge, always reflect on whether the response you
formulate is instinctive and spontaneous or whether it is rational, well thought and
logical. Delay the response by just a little bit to give yourself the luxury of honing
your response. I often find that the first three or response I initially conceive are
useless, but what follows can be effective. Delaying the response, reflecting on
strategy and evolving the responses fluidly helps. Sometimes, faced with an
unprecedented situation, the best thing to do is to do nothing at all.

 

 

As times change, Gandhian methods must evolve retaining essential values, but
assuming different forms and methods. Emptiness is Form and Form is emptiness
after all. Fasting may not work today, but satire and humour might. Marching through
the streets may not work today, but an onslaught of a hundred thousand letters to
the address of the erring person might just prove to be the wake up call (as the
methods Dr. Ravindranath Shanbhag from Udupi has shown). Gandhian methods,
premised on intellectual laziness and poverty of planning is doomed. The success of
Gandhian method is premised on Intellectual humility. In fact, the word “method” is
wrong, because a method is rigid. Gandhian experiments is more appropriate
because as the assumptions and variables change, the parameters of the
experiment also change. Always remind oneself that one’s approach is a hypothesis
and that hypothesis, by its very nature, is prone to and warrants improvisation.

 

We hear on every 2 nd of October, the cliched question of whether Gandhi and his
values remain relevant in today’s world. As a staunch lover of Gandhian
experiments, I feel lacking integrity when I say that Gandhi and his methods, in their
form and manifestation as documented in history may be irrelevant. Maybe Gandhi,
even as a historical role model has outlived his utility. So call the Gandhian
experiments in battle as something else.

 

But the usefulness of fundamentally altering the theatre of war, acknowledging the
unintelligence inherent in violence, resorting to unconventional strategies to throw
the enemy of their game and to win results without losing the good relations of
people cannot be disputed. To me Gandhi is relevant, but I will not fight to defend his
honour for as a pragmatist and a non romantic, my true allegiance is to his art of
battle and not to him. For through the former, I find myself honouring the latter.

1 The phobias of the world, fear of Muslims, Fear of homosexuals, fear of transgenders, etc., represent the
perpetrator’s fear of who they hate. The refugee haters don’t hate as much as they fear. Its ironical that civilised
nations with armies of might and weaponry find themselves unnerved and rattled by immigrant refugees fleeing
persecution at home.

Decision making

What a week it has been for decision making in India. The Indian Supreme Court struck down the instant triple talaq and also upheld the fundamental right to privacy. While doing the latter, it also vindicated one of Indian judiciary’s foremost tragic heroes, Justice H.R. Khanna whose dissenting note in the ADM Jabalpur v. Shukla, case is the stuff of legends within the bar and the bench.

 

Just about 12 years back, I made a decision to defy the herd mentality and take up the profession of law. Honestly, it was not an altogether uninformed decision. I liked debating, I loved writing and I enjoyed conversations. Seemed like the natural choice. Still does feel like a natural choice I admit, although my heart flutters a little more when I take up lecturing assignments.

 

But I did not fully appreciate the social consequences of this choice. In a society obsessed with science and mathematics and in more recent times Business Management, the choice of taking up the law was okay, no doubt. But as a lawyer, one is not a software engineer or a product manager in a high and fancy place. It is more a perception than it is a fact of course.

 

Exactly three years back, I decided to apply for a LLM at Harvard and Berkley. I didn’t get through to Harvard, got through to Berkley’s professional track LLM program and didnt end up going. I was an idiot, firstly for trying and secondly for turning down the LLM. But in hindsight I realise that choice was driven more by the need to live someone else’s expectation and someone else’s dream. It certainly wasn’t my dream then and if it was, it certainly was hazy and lacked clarity.

 

Decision making is inherently tough. Decisions have consequences, that are more often than not, difficult to foresee. Under these circumstances, it is important that one gets rid of irritants like societal expectations, family perceptions and just the general need to satisfy someone else’s expectations. I say so not just to improve one’s decision making, but also to prevent someone else from wasting time on the exercise I find myself indulging in every once in a while viz., wanting the approval of others.

 

As I write this post, I feel compelled to blow my own trumpet by describing the many good things I did following the decision to practice law. But that is a product of an insecurity and the desire to convince others of a choice I made or a decision I took. I should not do that, now should I 🙂

 

You can see what the other writers of the LBC have to say in their respective blogs.  MariaPravin and Shackman, Ramana

 

 

 

Future Shock

Colour television was a marvel, cable television was magic and cordless telephone was sorcery. As a child born in the 80s and growing up in the 90’s, I saw the onset of the future. Be it the aforesaid or email, pager or the mobile phone, the pace and the sheer possibilities emerging technologies left me feeling like I grew up in a world similar to Hogwarts and Harry Potter.

 

On the other hand- I find myself feeling as irrelevant as my parents and grandparents felt in my world. I can hardly relate to today’s music, lyrics or even cinema and literature for that matter. After having enjoyed the works of Fredrick Forsyth, his retirement from espionage thrillers has left a void in my world that even the best of espionage writers of today haven’t been able to fill. Having found myself moved to tears by the actor of yesteryear, Dr. Rajkumar, I am now offended when some critics remark that he was a little too dramatic for their liking.

 

I find myself battling irrelevance. It is scary and I feel more conscious of it than I should. As much as I tell myself that I must turn with the world, my sensibilities have been conditioned and stimulated in a certain manner for so long, I am finding it difficult to retune them to accommodate the Justin Lins and Justin Biebers of todays world.

 

And yet, the future did not bring many of the bounties it was supposed to. Solutions and spirit of inquiry was to substitute prejudices. Boundaries were to disappear to make room for more people to people interaction. Yet today the information age has turned us into zombies and prejudices are becoming more entrenched than they were ever before. Boundaries, far from disappearing, are now emboldened in the hyper nationalist narrative which is stuck on correcting history instead of correcting the present and the future.

 

I have now made peace with the miniscule and irrelevant nature of my individual existence. I cannot affect what is not mine and that’s just what the future is. I am a victim of the future shock already. All I can now hope to do is to ensure my future generations accept the future and mould it appropriately instead of being shocked by it. I fear its now their battle more than mine.

 

You can see what the other writers of the LBC have to say in their respective blogs.  MariaPravin and Shackman, Ramana

The Resident Indian son

The antonym of the non resident Indian son is the resident Indian son. He is also known as the black sheep, the other guy or simply the guy who lives in his parents’ home (not unlike the stereotype of the man living in his mother’s basement).

 

At the outset, if you are the resident Indian son, you are many things. But it is easier to describe what you are not, which is anyone or all of the following,

  • Not a software engineer
  • Most likely not a science degree holder
  • Couldn’t make it beyond a bachelor’s degree without wanting to kill yourself.
  • Not talked about in family functions or gatherings.
  • Not the favourite child in the family functions and gatherings.
  • Not rich (enough and never can be)
  • Talented but not talented enough
  • Not marriageable material
  • Not cool
  • Not the role model

What experts can say that a resident Indian son is, that too with a reasonable degree of certainty, is as follows- he is the guy who everyone has to speak to about how awesome his non resident indian counter part is. Make no mistake, he is no underachiever. He is just the disappointment by omission. In other words- they don’t have bad things to say about the resident indian son. They just don’t have good words to offer either. After all he isn’t slaving away for one of those big companies that steal your data and profit from it.

 

But the resident Indian son has a lot going for him. One, he doesn’t patronize the country or its governance, even though the situation merits such patronizing. Of course his non resident counter part would argue that this is because the resident indian son is merely ignorant. That is unfortunately true. Unlike the conservative leanings of his non resident counter part, the resident Indian son likely endorses liberal causes like equal rights for gay people, mostly because like gay people, resident Indian sons are not particularly admired in our society (And lets face it given a choice, the resident indian son would also be declared illegal).

 

He is probably philosophically inclined. He views material pleasures like fancy cars and big mansions with detachment, primarily because unlike his non resident counter part, enlightenment is a compulsion and not a choice. He prides himself as the man who sold his non existent Ferrari before the big life changing heart attack, because lets face it, he can’t afford treatment for a heart attack. He isn’t impressed easily by wealth, especially the wealth of his non resident counterpart. Experts have a term for this skepticism- insecurity or envy, as the case may be.

 

The resident Indian son and his non resident counterpart share one thing in common- a love for Donald Trump, albeit for different reasons. While the non resident Indian loves Trump for his unabashed loathing of all things cultural, intelligent and Islamic; the resident Indian loves trump for highlighting the stupidity of his non resident counter part. Trump also made the resident Indian son feel good about his otherwise bad decision of not wanting to go to the U.S. to study and work. Trump, in other words, did what the resident Indian sons’ parents never could do- made him feel proud of his choice (non existent one) of staying back in India.

 

To the parents who view the resident son as the less accomplished version of the non resident counter part, remember this- the resident indian son is the watchman, the driver, the nurse and the caretaker. In other words the resident indian son is all your non resident indian’s son’s employees put into one multi talented individual and you guys get him for free. In other words, when there is something wrong in your neighbourhood, who do you call? The resident Indian son (for free). Treasure him, adore him and if you can bring yourself to, tell him you are proud of him (even though both of you know that ain’t true).